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Market Research 101 - Problems, Alternatives, and Questions

Step 1. Articulate the Research Problem and Objectives


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The market research process consists of six discrete stages or steps. They are as follows:


  • Step 1 - Articulate the research problem and objectives
  • Step 2 - Develop the overall research plan
  • Step 3 – Collect the data or information
  • Step 4 – Analyze the data or information
  • Step 5 – Present or disseminate the findings
  • Step 6 – Use the findings to make the decision

The task of the first stage of market research is to articulate the problem that the research will address. This includes defining the decision alternatives, and the research objectives. At first blush, this seems like an easy step. Aren't marketing problems easy to spot and easy to articulate? Beginning a research project falls into the category described as it looks easier than it is

It is important not to define the market research problem too narrowly or too broadly. In the first instance, a market researcher may find that the actual problem has been missed because the focus was too narrow. Or even if the right research question has been addressed, other important variables may not have been considered, such as barriers to prevent copying by other competitors. In the second instance, too much information is likely to be collected - at considerable cost - and most of that data will never be used. The information is simply not sufficiently germane to the problem.

It is important to realize that it is not always possible to know the sweet spot in terms of scope until the data collection has begun or has been underway for a time. A change in the problem statement in qualitative research does not necessarily reflect poor planning. In fact, it may indicate new learning and the iterative nature of qualitative research.

Writing a problem statement to guide the research is both practical and important. A problem statement clearly tells what is intended to be accomplished by the research, and so it is a very practical step with regard to obtaining resources to be used to conduct the research. Writing a problem statement is important because it points to how open or closed the research can be in it approach. Open research is associated with qualitative research approaches and closed research is associated with quantitative research approaches. Quantitative research seeks to identify the relation among a set of variables. Qualitative research aims to gain some understanding of a phenomenon.

A market research project attempts to fill some gap in the knowledge about a phenomenon. In conventional research, this task is facilitated by a formal literature review. In market research, it, research questions tend to come from internal clients about how to achieve a certain marketing objective or another. One of the best ways to identify that gap is to jot down all the questions that the market researcher or others have with regard to the research topic or situation. When the stream of questions dries up to a trickle, it is time to look for categories under which the questions can be grouped. These become the sub-categories. Either before or after creating the subcategories, look for an overarching question. This overarching question will be the first draft of the problem question.

An important difference between conventional research and market research is that the later is decision driven. Backward-mapping from the business decisions that are likely to be made assists the business manager and the market researcher to be on the same page with regard to priorities and aims of the research. That said, it is not unusual for a market research project to be exploratory, descriptive, or causal than decision-mapped research. Exploratory market research seeks to provide insights about the nature of a marketing problem, come up with new ideas, or suggest a range of possible solutions to be considered. These, then, might drive the identification of the business decisions. Descriptive market research might attempt to determine the magnitude of a marketing variable. Some market research is experimental in form and aims to test a cause-and-effect relationship.

Now you are ready to take a look at step two of the market research process: Research Instruments.


Kotler, P. (2003). Marketing Management (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., Prentice Hall.

Glesne, C. and Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing Group.

Lehmann, D. R. Gupta, S., and Seckel, J. (1997). Market Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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