Exploratory research and data collection are undertaken when the problem or research question is still fuzzy and
management wants additional information before undertaking further research. It is likely to include the study of
internal records, customer complaints, financial analysis trends, and discussions with distributors and suppliers. It is
likely to involve the consulting of experts and environment analysis described in the Market Orientation module.
This is the sensible way of boiling the problem down to its essence; what is the real question that needs to be
answered, the real problem that needs to be studied? Most importantly, is it fundamentally a problem with product or
service design? If it is, it needs to be addressed immediately because it may take months or years of new product
development to fix.
Descriptive survey research is typically used to describe customers, either small numbers of customers in-depth, or
large numbers of customers by survey research. It typically gathers descriptive profiles of customers and is used to
measure customer satisfaction, study product use and segment customers. It answers the who, what, here, when, and
why of consumer behaviour. It can be cross-sectional or longitudinal. Cross-sectional research studies a “cross-
sectional” sample of customers’ responses at a specific point in time. For example, if business students were asked
“How satisfied are you with the college of business?” the responses would reflect a cross-section of student
satisfaction. In contrast, longitudinal research involves the repeated measurement of the same customer and
addresses customer responses over a period of time. Longitudinal research is almost always undertaken in modern
company customer database mining so as to measure changing customer purchase behaviour, channel use,
satisfaction and, of course, profitability.
Cause-and-effect research is used to explore the question “Does X cause Y?” such as the effects of a price decrease
on sales and the effect of TV advertising campaign spending on sales. This sort of applied research is done on the
metrics dashboards of managers.
2. Qualitative Consumer Research
Qualitative research includes methods such as observation and in-depth interviews with customers, suppliers and
middlemen. Many anthropology majors trained in appropriate observation and interview methods are now employed
in market research and design firms. They study ethnography, the way of life of people. The details on using
observational research to understand how the customer uses the product or service are described and examples are
presented in the next Segmentation and Positioning module.
Talking directly to customers and observing their use of the product or service seems so obvious, yet some firms do
not do enough of it. Instead, they may rely on survey research where too many steps and interpretative judgments
separate customers and decision makers. The vivid impact on managers and engineers who listen to customers’ own
words and see how they use a product in their homes, in their office or on their production lines is lost if customers
are not observed using the product. As a consequence, the voice of the customer is not heard clearly enough
throughout the organization and has less impact on informal and formal decision-making. In short, the organization
is less market oriented.
Plastering photos taken during the customer visit around the room keep this voice heard in decision-making. The
heading of a cover story in Marketing News, February 2006, was “The implications of a photograph of a home are
countless. For a marketer; an image is worth several hours spent in focus groups or interviews.” In the 1990s,
Whirlpool took photos of several hundred refrigerator interiors across several hundred randomly sampled
households. They found that the modern refrigerator was used much more as a beverage cooler than they had
thought and much less for storing meat and vegetables. Their interior design of their refrigerators did not meet the
needs of their customers. The new refrigerators have much more beverage space and have been very well-received
The Swedish furniture retailer IKEA employed anthropologists in Japan to study 100 families over several months.
This is after their first attempt to enter the Japanese market failed. It led to a redesign of the furniture sold and a