Standard Research Process

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The essence of market research is about creating models and estimating things. Commercial market research usually takes place in the following process:

Briefing: the client articulates what they want to know (i.e., their objectives for the research). Most of the time, they will either be conducting research to gain one or more of specific estimates (e.g., market share, advertising recall, predictions) or insights. This briefing can be done verbally or in writing; the written document is called a brief in England and Australia and a request for proposal (or, RFP) in the US.

Project scoping: the researcher works out what the client needs (and yes, that this stage follows briefing is because clients’ briefs are invariably inadequate). The project scoping needs to find one or more of: all the estimates the client requires; any hypotheses or theories of the client, and the behavior(s) in the market that the client wishes to change (most commonly, brand choice).

Research design: the plan by which estimates are going to be computed and models refined. Research designs are sometimes referred to as research methodologies. The 6Ws is a good aid memoir for making sure that all the detail of the research design has been thought through:

Who should be interviewed? What information should be obtained? When should the data be collected? Where should the data be collected? Why should the data be collected? What way should it be collected?

Proposal: this describes the research design to the client, along with pricing and timings. It is primarily a sales document. It is typically about six to twelve pages in length, but it can be as short as a one line email and proposals running into the hundreds of pages are not unknown for large projects.

Instrument design: questionnaires are written for quantitative research, data capture specifications for observational studies and discussion guides for focus groups and depths (in-depth interviews). See Basic Questionnaires and Advanced Questions and Questionnaires

Data collection: interviewing and/or observation (e.g., recording where people go in a shopping center). This will typically involve qualitative research, conducting a quantitative survey with a questionnaire or a both of these activities.

Data processing: erroneous data is identified and either deleted or corrected (cleaned) and text data is turned into categorical data (coded).

Weighting: the distribution of the sample on key variables is compared to what is believed to be the correct distribution; if the distributions differ, a weight is computed to correct the sample (this is discussed in more detail in the next chapter).

Analysis: estimates are computed and models are refined. This can take many months, in the case of large strategic pieces and government reports, or may be as limited as a bit of reflection in the shower for a fast turnaround qualitative study. This is discussed in more detail in Basic Data Analysis and Advanced Data Analysis

Reporting: sharing the results with the client. Most of the time this is done with a presentation and a PowerPoint document, and perhaps an online dashboard.

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Research Design