Everything you need to know about the steps involved in marketing research. Marketing research was defined as the use of informa­tion, and the communication of findings and their implications.

Much ongoing research is used to monitor situations, but, there is an established, standard approach which can be termed the marketing research process. It is most obvious when setting up ad hoc studies but is present in all studies.

In planning and designing a specific research project, it is necessary to anticipate all the steps that must be undertaken if the project is to be successful in collecting valid and reliable information.

Thus, the marketing manager must know enough about marketing research procedure to be able to evaluate research findings.


Some of the steps involved in marketing research are:-

1. Formulating the Research Problem 2. Choice of Research Design 3. Determining Sources of Data 4. Designing Data Collection Methods 5. Determining Sampling Design and Sampling Size

6. Organizing and Conducting the Field Survey 7. Processing and Analysing the Collected Data 8. Preparing the Research Report 9. Follow-Up Action.

How to Conduct Marketing Research: Step by Step Process

Steps in Marketing Research – Formulating the Research Problem, Choice of Research Design, Determining Sources of Data and a Few Others

In planning and designing a specific research project, it is necessary to anticipate all the steps that must be undertaken if the project is to be successful in collecting valid and reliable information. Thus, the marketing manager must know enough about marketing research procedure to be able to evaluate research findings.


While identifying the problem, the marketing researcher commences his preliminary exploration of data resources that he hopes will help him gain insight into the nature of the problem. Because the specific problem is not yet identified, he necessarily does a certain amount of grouping around for information. This makes the preliminary exploration unit normal; and to a large extent unplanned investigation.

While dealing with the research procedure the following are generally the steps involved in handling a marketing problem through marketing research:

1) Formulating the research problem

2) Choice of research design.


3) Determining sources of data.

4) Designing data collection method.

5) Determining sampling design and sampling size.

6) Organising and conducting the field survey.


7) Processing and analyzing the collected data.

8) Preparing the research report.

9) Follow up action.

These steps are not a contrived sequence of independent steps; they consist of a number of interrelated activities. Each step depends to some extent on each of the others, and the first step must be planned with the second, third and remaining steps in mind.

Step 1 – Formulating the Research Problem:


The first step in research is formulating a research problem. It is rightly said that “a problem well defined is half solved.” Poorly defined problems cause confusion and do not allow the researcher to develop a good research design.

The necessary step in research is the situation analysis survey of available data regarding the problem and market, industry, its advertising dealer situation that can be gleaned from discussions from executives, available published materials and internal records. The researcher arrives at a hypothesis or a theory or presumption arrived at provisionally that may form the basis or guide as to the reason why certain things have happened, so that further investigation may be proceeded with along those tunes.

After the situation analysis, the analyst confines to formulate his hypothesis and refine his problem definition by going outside the company and talking informally with informed people like intelligent and efficient retailers, wholesalers, consumers and key men in the industry to get their point of view and in this way get the feel of the problem,

After a problem has been chosen, the next step is to formulate it precisely. This too needs a good deal of care on the part of marketing researchers. Formulation implies a clear statement or definition of the problem.

Step 2 – Choice of Research Design:


A research design is a framework or blueprint for conducting the marketing research project. It specifies the methods and procedures for conducting a particular study. The researcher should specify the approach he intends to use with respect to the proposed Study.

Types of Research Design:

i. Exploratory research focuses on the discovery of ideas and it generally focuses on the discovery of ideas and is generally based on secondary data. It is preliminary investigation which does not have a right design. This is because a researcher engaged in an exploratory study may have to change his focus as a result of new ideas and relationship among the variables.

ii. Descriptive study is undertaken when the research wants to know the characteristics of certain groups such as – age, sex, educational level, income, occupation, etc. In contrast to exploratory studies, descriptive studies are well structured.


iii. Causal research is undertaken when the researcher is interested in knowing the cause and effect relationship between two or more variables. Such studies are based on reasoning along well tested lines.

Step 3 – Determining Sources of Data:

The next step is to determine the sources of data to be used. The marketing researcher has to decide whether he has to collect primary data or depend exclusively on secondary data.

Sometimes, the research study is based on both:

1. Secondary and

2. Primary data.

1. Primary Data:


Primary Data is data generated from a survey, observation, or experiment just to solve the particular problem under investigation.


i. Fits the precise purpose of the organization

ii. Information is current,

iii. Methodology is controlled and known,

iv. Available to firm and secret from competitors,


v. No conflicting data form different sources,

vi. Reliable information


i. Time consuming

ii. Costly

iii. Some information cannot be collected


2. Secondary Data:

Secondary Data is data that had been previously gathered for some other purpose, other than the current research problem under investigation. It can be internal or external depending upon the relevance of information to the problem at hand.

Internal is secondary data that is already within the investigator’s firm that is, or should be, contained in the firm’s internal database. External is secondary data that is already available from other organizations or persons (in that your firm refers to as external databases if such information is computerized).


i. Inexpensive

ii. Quick to obtain


iii. Multiple sources available

iv. Obtain information that cannot be obtained through primary research,

v. Independent therefore credible


i. May be incomplete, data, obsolete,

ii. Methodology may be unknown,


iii. All findings may not be public,

iv. Reliability may be unproven.

A sincere effort must be made to look into the existing data with a view to examining their suitability for the research.

Step 4 – Designing Data Collection Methods:

Once the decision of collection of primary data is taken, one has to decide the mode of collection.

The methods available are explained briefly:

1. Observation Research:

In this method the data is collected by observing consumers without communicating with them. It is the systematic process of recording the behavioral patterns (or events) of people, objects and occurrences without questioning or communicating with them.

Conditions for using “observations” in research are:

i. The desired information must be inferable from observation of subject’s behavior;

ii. The behavior of interest must be frequent, repetitive or predictable and

iii. The behavior of interest must be of relatively short duration.


i. Avoids much of the biasing factors

ii. The researches see what people actually do rather than having to rely on what they say.

iii. The research is not plagued by the problems associated with lack of response by subjects who are unwilling or unable to respond,

iv. Economic in terms of time and cost.


i. Only behavior can be examined. It cannot be used to learn about motives, attitudes, intentions or feeling that underlie those and other behaviors,

ii. The currently observed behavior may bear no relation to future behavior,

iii. The behavior is one that occur infrequently.

2. Surveys:

In marketing research, field surveys are commonly used to collect primary data from the respondents.

Surveys can be:

i. Personal,

ii. Telephonic and

iii. Mail.

i. Personal Interview:


a. Most reliable method

b. Can select a representative sample

c. Complex questions can be examplainal

d. Can use visual material

e. Fast data-collection method

f. Can observe nonverbal communication.


a. Most expensive method.

b. Interviewer bias may affect responses

c. Expensive and time consuming.

d. Asking sensitive questions is difficult

e. Poorly trained interviewers can negatively affect responses.

ii. Telephonic:


a. Fast and convenient

b. Relatively low cost method

c. Can contact respondents at particular times of the day.

d. Complex questions can be explained.

e. Minimal time and effort is required to train interviewers.


a. Respondents can easily hang up.

b. Respondents can only be asked a limited number of questions.

c. Any visual material cannot be presented.

d. Cannot see respondent to observe non-verbal communication.

iii. Mail:


a. Least expensive method

b. Eliminates interviewer bias.

c. Respondents can complete the questionnaire at their leisure.

d. Can often reach people who may otherwise be inaccessible.

e. Sensitive questions can be asked.


a. Complex questions yield poor results.

b. Questions may be ignored by recipients.

c. Possible low return rate.

d. Lack of control of who completes the questionnaire

e. No opportunity to clarify confusing information.

f. Time consuming.

3. Human Observations:

Human observations refers to people (rather than machines) watching other people.

Types include:

a) Mystery shoppers – People that are employed by a firm to pose as consumers and shop at competitors stores to compare prices, displays, service performances and the like.

b) One-way mirror observations – The practice of watching unseen from behind a one-way mirror. Often used for product testing and with focus groups.

c) Shopper Patterns – Refers to drawings that record the footsteps of a shopper through a store. They show the flow of a representative sample of shoppers through a store.

d) Content Analysis – A technique used to study written material, usually advertising copy, by breaking it into meaningful units, using carefully applied rules. It attempts to determine what is being communicated to a target audience by objectively and systematically describing the communication’s content.

e) Humanistic inquiry – A method of inquiry in which the researcher is immersed in the system or group under study, rather than using the scientific method of standing apart from the system being studied.

Humanistic inquiry is a non-empirical method of recording and analyzing market phenomenon using two diaries (or logs) supplemented by participants observations using audiotape or video tape recordings, artifacts (e.g., shopping lists or garbage) and supplemental documentation (e.g., magazine articles, health records, survey data or census reports).

The Theory Construction Diary is used to document in detail the thoughts, premises, hypotheses and revisions in thinking developed by the researchers. The Methodological Log contains detailed and time sequenced notes on the investigative techniques used during the inquiry, with special attention to biases or distortions as given technique may have introduced.

4. Machine Observation Types:

a) Traffic counters – Machines used to measure vehicular flow over a particular stretch of roadway.

b) Physiological measurement – Refers to measuring the level of involuntary change in a person’s activation based upon the stimuli of interest. Activation refers to a person’s feeling of arousal, inner tension or alertness.

Step 5 – Determining Sampling Design and Sampling Size:

The sample is a sub group of the elements of the population selected for participation in the study. Sample design covers the method of selection, the sample structure and plans for analyzing and interpret the results. Sample design can vary from simple to complex depend on the type of information required and the way sample is selected.

The sampling design process includes the various decisions such as:

1. Decision Related to Target Population:

The target population is the collection of elements or objects that possess the information sought by the researcher and about which inferences are to be made. It is to ensure that the specification of the target population is as clear and complete as possible to ensure that all elements within the population are represented. This permits justifiable inference from the sample to the population at quantified levels of precision.

2. Decision Related to Sampling Frame:

The target population is sampled using a sampling frame. A sampling frame is a representation of the elements of the target population. It consists of a list or set of directions for identifying the target population.

Often the units in the population can be identified by existing information for example, pay rolls, company lists, government registers etc. A sampling frame could also be geographical; for example postcodes have become a well-used means of selecting a sample.

3. Decisions Related to Sampling Techniques:

Sampling techniques may be broadly classified as probability and non-probability sampling. Probability sampling is a sampling procedure in which each element of the population has a fixed probabilistic chance of being selected for the sample. Non-probability sampling relies on the personal judgment of the researcher rather than chance to select sample elements. There are many different types of sampling technique.

4. Decision Related to Sample Size:

Sampling size refers to the number of elements to be included in the study. Determining the sample size is complex and involves several qualitative and quantitative considerations.

For any sample design deciding upon the appropriate sample size will depend on several key factors:

i) No estimate taken from a sample is expected to be exact.

ii) To lower the margin of error usually requires a larger sample size.

iii) The confidence level is the likelihood that the results obtained from the sample lie within a required precision.

iv) Population size does not normally affect sample size.

Step 6 – Organizing and Conducting the Field Survey:

Having prepared the questionnaires and selected the sample design and size of sample, the next step is to organize and conduct the field survey. Two important aspects should be looked into – interviewing and the supervision of field work. The task of interviewing seems to be simple but, in reality it is one of the most different tasks in marketing research.

Supervision of field work is equally important to ensure timely and proper completion of the field survey. Market research interviewing in the field may not be the most highly regarded of jobs, but it is a vital one, the base on which rests all marketing research analysis and the marketing decisions which flow from that. Proper selection, training, supervision and evaluation of the field force helps minimize data- collection errors.

Step 7 – Processing and Analysing the Collected Data:

Once the field survey is over and questionnaires have been received, the next task is to aggregate the data in a meaningful manner. Analysis of data begins with simple frequency analysis and ultimately culminating in complex multivariate techniques such as multiple regression or discriminant analysis.

Data preparation includes the editing, cooling, transcription, and verification of data. Each questionnaire form is inspected or edited and, if necessary, corrected. In order to help the steps of interpretation, the tabulated data have to be manipulated into the best form of statistical summarization. Whether it be percentages or averages, the form of statistical summarization must be so selected as to fix the data to give greatest value in the imperative work which is to follow.

Step 8 – Preparing the Research Report:

Once the data have been tabulated, interpreted and analysed, the marketing researcher is required to prepare his report embodying the findings of the research study and his recommendation. Results are extracted from the analysis and interpretation of the data in the form of report presented to the marketer so that he can come to know the details of the problem and its solution. Generally, report is presented in writing but at times it may be orally explained.

Although report writing needs some skill which can be developed with practice, the researcher should follow the main principles of writing a report. Some of these principles are objectivity, coherence, clarity in the presentation of ideas and use of charts and diagrams. The essence of a good research report is that it effectively communicates its research findings.

Sometimes, a detailed marketing research study throws up one or more areas where further investigation is needed.

Step 9 – Follow-Up Action:

Although the marketing research procedure comes to an end as soon as the marketing research report is submitted to the marketer yet it is useless unless follow-up action is taken and the measures suggested in the report are implemented in their true spirit.

Steps in Marketing Research – 7 Step Process: Define the Problem, Analyse the Situation, Gather Problem-Specific Data, Prepare Report and a Few Others

Marketing research was defined as the use of informa­tion, and the communication of findings and their implications. Much ongoing research is used to monitor situations, but, there is an established, standard approach which can be termed the marketing research process. It is most obvious when setting up ad hoc studies but is present in all studies.

This comprises a number of distinct steps, but the emphasis at each step will vary according to the objective of the study, and will generally involve the following:

1. Define the problem.

2. Analyse the situation.

3. Establish objectives and agree cost/benefit parameters.

4. Gather problem-specific data.

5. Analyse the data to produce information relevant to the problem.

6. Prepare report.

7. Follow up to evaluate effectiveness of action taken.

In the following sections each of these steps will be considered individually in detail:

1. Define the Problem:

Problem definition is often very difficult to complete objectively and, as the initial stage in the process, is all too easy to omit all together. However, it is important both because it forces managers to think deeply about the reasons for collecting data, and to consider the value of information in leading to ‘better’ decisions.

Generally, an effective approach is to proceed on the basis of an initial definition of the problem and then reconsider the defini­tion after each of the subsequent stages has been completed. While this is good research practice, it has the significant disadvantage of being considered inefficient by pragmatic company managers. It therefore generally needs to be used with care to ensure that the credibility of the study is maintained.

2. Analyse the Situation:

An important characteristic of marketing research is that it is very common for the person who is initiating the research to have considerably more information about the subject at the start of the research process than the person who is to carry out the research.

This information is likely to be a combination of day-to-day experience result­ing from being involved with a particular market over many years and from receiving information produced by continuous research procedures on a regular basis. When brief­ing outside agencies it is extremely helpful to take them into your confidence regarding all aspects about the research and previous knowledge. Also the situation should be superficially analysed to establish the availability of existing relevant information

3. Establish Objectives and Agree Cost/Benefit Parameters:

It is generally necessary to establish objectives for the study to ensure that the research is properly focused, even when the problem has been adequately defined. Once the objectives for the study have been agreed, and the possible methodology, it should be possible to estimate the likely cost of the research in terms of time and resources.

This is essential since it is very easy to agree market research study objectives which cannot be completed within the time or budget available. As a result, it is often necessary at this stage to decide whether it would be preferable for the study to be carried out by a specialist out­side organisation such as a market research agency or by company staff.

The decision made is likely to depend upon at least some of the following seven criteria:

i. Cost

ii. Project urgency

iii. Research expertise required

iv. Product or service knowledge necessary

v. Objectivity

vi. Specialist resources required

vii. Confidentiality.

Sometimes the best solution is to use both internal and external personnel for different stages of the work. However, if external personnel are involved at all, it is essential that a formal brief is prepared so that their work can be properly costed and controlled. Time is often of the essence when considering marketing problems.

For instance, delaying the launch of a new product in order to carry out further research into the most suitable packaging could well cost more in terms of lost sales and product advantage than, at worst, might have been lost by the packaging not initially being ideally suited to the target market.

4. Gather Problem-Specific Data:

This should be carried out by considering data sources in order of the cheapest, most readily available information first, and only later, more expensive bespoke studies.

This is commonly:

i. Desk research/secondary data –

(a) Internal data

(b) External (secondary) data

ii. Then determine and collect required primary data.

The differences in these types of data and sources has already been discussed, although the techniques involved require reference to a specialised marketing research text.

The Purpose of Data Analysis:

The purpose of analysis is discussed here rather than techniques to produce information relevant to the problem. The techniques are too numerous for this text and again you are referred to a specialist text.

It needs to be stressed that the purpose of marketing research is to provide relevant information, not simply to present data. A primary necessity for useful information is that it can be understood without prior knowledge or interpretation. This involves analysing data and then putting it into context.

It is hardly surprising that the following adage is so well known-

There are lies, damned lies and statistics.

There are many other issues emerging from the same data. For instance the Mini of 1960 was not only crude in comparison with the 1990s version, but it required more fre­quent servicing and it was far less reliable. It is therefore difficult to carry out good comparisons using this benchmark.

Because of product and specification changes such as these, market research analysis over extended time periods is generally very difficult without specialist knowledge. This does not reduce the need to analyse any data pre­sented, since the effect of changing values is likely to be sufficiently significant to hide trends, especially in established markets. It certainly leads on to a specific type of data analysis described below.

5. The Analysis of Value Data:

Value data, whether collated from internal or external sources, can potentially be an extremely valuable source of marketing research information. It allows expenditure on dif­ferent types of product to be combined and trends over long periods to be compared with leading indicators to establish relationships which can be used for forecasting.

This type of analysis, however, needs to be done on a constant value basis. The importance is recognised in many tables showing national economic statistics which include constant historical (e.g., 1985) values or a constant value index based on a specific year. This approach is conve­nient for those preparing the data as new data can be appended to that already published.

It is not, however, the best approach for presenting marketing information. It is inher­ently difficult to relate the values of even a few years ago to the present and even more difficult to do this with the accuracy needed to draw sensible conclusions. Thus, for busi­ness applications, it is very much better to present historic data in present value terms for discussion and analysis.

The message is clear. First trends are revealing but must be considered in both value and volume terms. Second, when considering monetary values it is always easier to think in terms of constant or, better still, present-day values. Third there are often trends which get hidden as figures are lumped together. It is sometimes necessary to get to the detailed figures to reveal actual happenings in the marketplace.

6. Prepare Report:

Unless the information is properly presented it is unlikely to meet the requirement of the person who requires the information. The report should show the objectives of the study, explain how the study was carried out, detail any assumptions made and present the findings of the study clearly.

Data, whether directly applicable or as background information, is normally best presented in a series of separate appendices. Particular care needs to be taken with respect to the presentation of graphical information. The purpose of using graphics is to make the information easier to understand. It is useful to show trends and differences. Accordingly, it is usually inappropriate where the data is essen­tially static.

With the availability of modern computer presentation packages it is important to match the choice of diagram to the data being presented. Most packages include facilities for producing graphical data for use in presentations and these are generally unsuitable for written reports.

In particular, any diagram which presents two-dimensional data in a three-dimensional format should be avoided. These often look smart, but usually make the data more difficult to interpret properly without explanation. This is not the purpose of a diagram. When in doubt the best guide is to follow the approach used in most basic text books, except where these use three-dimensional diagrams. Common sense is usu­ally a sound guide.

7. Follow-Up Implementation:

This stage need not be formal but should be conscientiously carried out since it provides opportunities to understand how the methods used in the investigation of the issues and the presentation of the ‘offering’ could be improved on in future.