Marketing is a very commonly used or rather misused word not only in the corporate world but also in our daily lives. Anything which sells is marketable. Our marketing textbooks are inundated with different definitions for marketing. The American Marketing Association (AMA) uses the following: “The process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.”
Marketing has constantly evolved over the years as our needs have changed, the economic climate has undergone its share of trends, and socio political scenarios have witnessed dramatic shifts in balance. What a customer might give importance to today may not be important tomorrow. Marketing is a process which requires a certain amount of planning and execution. Marketers are faced with some common issues about designing products, understanding customer demand, ensuring that one can use the available technology, budgetary constraints to develop a product which meets the end consumer’s demand. Marketing identifies gaps in the lives of their customers / end consumers and creates products which help solve this problem. At the outset of marketing a product there is also need to create a promotion plan followed by distribution and sales. The 4 Ps of Marketing helps understand the cycle better – People, Place, Promotion and Price.
It is difficult to promote one of these factors over other in terms of importance given how each one correlates to the other. To illustrate better Price as a factor can influence the demand either way – the higher the price the lower the demand but in some cases depending on the product type higher price might become a quality indicator in which case the demand could be high. That’s how brand value can be created; the same reason applies to buying an expensive watch like the Philippe Patek [Switzerland] simply because people are comfortable with the high quality factor, the brand value and workmanship involved in creating the watch. Although this might sway into an exclusive domain/slot for other reasons, it’s a collector item, has an exclusivity factor attached and lastly increases the brand value of the person who owns one.
The reason that there is so much emphasis on marketing is because all businesses depend greatly on the outcome, it is because of customers that all businesses exist. Marketing helps address the needs/demands of these customers. It is critical for any marketer to understand what motivates the customer while buying a product. Consumer behaviour and buying behaviour is a process – one identifies a problem, conducts internal and external research, is influenced by culture, work groups, family during the decision making process and eventually after much contemplation buys a product/service. “It is the process of grouping customers in markets with some heterogeneity into smaller, more similar or homogeneous segments. The identification of target customer groups in which customers are aggregated into groups with similar requirements and buying characteristics”. [Aaker A. David (2001), p 30 – 45]
This process can be extremely complex and very demanding on the consumer who is new to the product line and still trying to determine the importance of acquiring the certain product/service. This is where marketing research plays a very integral part for marketing managers who need to influence consumer behaviour. Marketers need to have information conforming to various criterions about consumer behaviour, market trends, changing economies and demand and supply. This information is what helps give the edge to a marketer over another. Samsung electronics VS Sony would vie for a part of the market segment and they can only do so if they know what the consumers want and have the capacity to provide it at the right time, place, for the right price through easy mediums.
Marketing research is the single most important tool that marketers should use to understand the customer. Philip Kotler’s quote helps enhance the role market research plays in strategic marketing decisions, “Marketing management is accomplished by carrying out marketing research, planning, implementation, and control”. It is market research which facilitates strategic decision making process in most companies who want to keep ahead of competition and survive in this fast paced global economy.
The 'mantra' of marketing research is primarily addressed at understanding the problems and pains that are faced by the end consumer. Once a marketer is able to understand these real problems, it enables him / her to take more qualified decisions on what products / solutions need to be created to address those consumer issues. Research is perhaps the most important subset of marketing in the true sense because it is so focused on the end problems. In today's marketing and sales environments, the real business issues stem from the fact that companies are developing solutions that they believe has a place in the market and 'hard-selling' those to their target audience.
This is logically a flawed way to market one's products / solutions. It is imperative to begin with the issues that plague the end consumer and then work backwards to ensure the solutions that can be developed. To ensure this take place effectively, market research provides the foundation stone on which marketers can rely on hard facts from consumer behaviour, likes and dislikes, issues consumers are confronted with in their daily lives etc. “More often than not a marketer will commission research that could reveal the presence of multiple market segments.”
[Marketing (UK) 2005, p19]
Marketing research has developed over time to take a more influencing role in the overall decision-making by marketing managers. In the past, research was thought of as an unimportant, expensive and time consuming in many industries. Hence, it took a back seat in the overall development of products and services to customers. In time, as the business scenario developed with end customers becoming more choosy of the solutions that they wanted and as choices of solutions grew in parallel, marketers realized that they had to take a more proactive approach to this 'problem-solving'. No more was it a matter of creating and selling.
This slowly developed into a model where understanding the problem in more detail provided not only a better suited product / solution to the end customer, but also enabled marketers to take on competition more effectively through product or service differentiation. For example, being able to understand how consumer’s view their soaps in comparison to the soaps of competition, Unilever can communicated the differences and value benefits in their products more effectively to their target audience through advertising and their marketing messaging.
Hence, the business environment saw the rise of market research and it found its place in the marketer’s book of 'must haves'. So how does market research really work? There are 2 broad classifications for market research tools that are used in contemporary business scenarios:
Primary research: Obtaining information on the end consumer directly by shop surveys, questionnaires, interviews etc is an extremely accurate form of gathering intelligent information on the end customer. It provides information directly from the 'horse’s mouth'. There is little possibility of the information being adulterated by third-party bias or by intermediaries. Additionally, the information gathered in this manner is usually very suitable for consumption by the specific company carrying out the research. This is because the questions and motives that are put forward to the target audience if from the perspective of the specific company. Even if this were outsourced to a third-part, there is an element of bias that tends to creep into the information gathering. However, having to maintain such a high degree of interaction also has its cost perils attached to it. This is why the more preferred choice is -
Secondary research: More often then not, market research companies conduct surveys and gather market data and consumer behaviour and sell it to companies within those business verticals. For instance, a company such as Gartner (one of the world's largest market research companies), conducts regular market audits on specific industry verticals and would sell reports on the future of the healthcare market within Western Europe to companies such as Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline etc. From the company perspective, they would rather have the 'experts' carry out the research activity and pay for it - it saves them time and valuable resource. On the other hand, the information gathered through these sources can also be very generic, whereas the need of the hour might have been to gather more specific information on a focused area.
Marketing research is what helps marketing managers to understand the tools of the trade ands the best ways/mediums to influence the decision making capacity of their end target audience. There are reasons which motivate the consumer to spend money on products and services. These motivations would help marketing managers create a more suitable environment using place, people, price and promotion which can all come together based on information gathered through marketing research. It is through marketing research that marketers can achieve this goal which will lead to creation of demand in the mind of the consumer. Marketing research influences the design of the product, the promotional tools, the place and lastly but more importantly the price. Let’s take the example of marketing research and how it might influence consumer behaviour while buying a car, consumer motivation would be dominated by the environment created which makes them more in inclined to purchase a certain brand over others.
A consumer might look at a car and think of size[compact, economy, family or SUV], the engine size which will lead up to better performance on the road, faster acceleration, which will give the consumer a sense of power which might just boost the consumer’s self esteem and ego. Consumers are complex and if we differentiate the target audience by way of gender then it is marketing research which empowers the marketing managers to apply different marketing techniques to capture the two diverse target audiences. The factors which influence and motivate men are very different from women, the shopping patterns are different and lastly the four Ps importance level on a scale of 1to 5 is a separate issue all together.
To conclude successful marketing is dependent on information which is timely adheres to the current economic climate. The product shelf life has changed and become so sporadic in terms of stability that marketers need to constantly adapt and change to meet consumer demands, stay ahead of competition and still be able to design new products based on the changing demand of the target audience. Market research is also inexpensive dependent on which medium is used, questionnaires are a cost effective way to gather market information about successful trends and also dissatisfied customers. In the larger picture market research has the ability to ascertain important trends about changing population numbers, socio economic climate, legal developments, foreign investment, all are factors which impact the way market trends move forward.
This information is strategic for managers to design programs, products and services to keep ahead of competition and their go to market strategies. Unlike earlier when companies considered market research a low priority, it has taken a turn for the positive with more companies investing more money and resources on market research to gain crucial information about consumer, market trends and competitive strategies. Lastly given the trends of globalization market research helps understand different local and cultural environment which enable companies to win and influence the buying behaviour of new market segments. On all levels market research is an important criterion while redesigning old products, create new product lines, enter foreign markets, gain an edge over competition or keep up with changing market balance and the future will witness more investment in market research.
1. Brassington, F. & Pettitt, S. (2003) Principles of marketing. 4th ed. FT Pitman
2. "Satisfied customers: high returns, low risk.", Marketing News, 2006, Vol. 40, Issue 2, p26
3. On average, market research is flawed, Marketing (UK); 12/14/2005, p19-19, 1p, 1c
4. From the internet - [http://www.casro.org/media/Importance%20of%20Research.pdf]
5. Aaker A. David (2001), Strategic Market Management, New York, John Wiley and Sons Inc.
6. Kotler, P. (2003) Marketing Management (11th edn), USA: Prentice Hall, Pearson Education Inc.
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