Various methods of conducting market research are used to find out information about emerging markets, needs of target markets, threat of competitors, market trends as well as customer satisfaction with products on offer. McNamara (2000) noted that companies must engage in market research in order to meet the ever changing needs of customers.
Since Coca-Cola is about to introduce a new product – Carmel flavored coke – thorough market research must be conducted beforehand. Market research entails the use of various tools all geared towards generating useful and relevant data. It is through market research therefore that a company learns a great deal about customers, their needs and the best way to meet those needs (McNamara, 2000).
Given that the product on offer is a new one, a market survey entailing questionnaires and interviews, a focus group forum and a study of documents that display previous studies are applicable tools for this study. Specifically the firm should first use available research generated documents in order to map out a detailed study for instance spending patterns or demographic figures about population distribution from the census bureaus in target countries. Data from local trade organizations and chamber of commerce would enrich the basic study and provide a road map for further research. Coca-cola may also conduct focus group discussions which are basically “brainstorming sessions done in small groups” (Nelson, 2004, p. 221). Lastly a survey could be conducted on randomly selected consumers of the product. This could be done by specifically dispatching questionnaires to households for instance seeking customers’ attitudes about the carmel flavor in coke. After dispatching questionnaires the researcher could conduct phone interviews to randomly selected consumers in order to gather data about their preferences.
Different Research Approaches.
Research can be conceived from two approaches: qualitative and quantitative (Davies). In both approaches various research tools, divided in to primary and secondary are used. What do all these terms mean?
Nelson (2004) pointed out that Secondary market research is based on information sourced from studies previously done by for instance by government agencies such census bureaus, trade associations, professional bodies or chamber of commerce and is available in publications such as magazines, the web, books or even newspapers.( p. 212)
He added that secondary research may be required at preliminary stages of research to determine what is already known or to inform the research design. In the coke case for example, data on spending habits of target population may be useful in configuring the packaging and pricing for the drink. He however cautioned that at times it may be the only study especially if it yields the required data (p. 213).
The relatively low expense is its main advantage as no new research needs to be commissioned. However its major drawback is that the data used in the analysis may be outdated and therefore yield inaccurate results. Furthermore, previous studies may not have targeted the same issue that the current study requires (p.218)
Apart from information from the above mentioned external sources the company may do with internally generated data as Davies (2000) advised. In the case of Coca-cola for instance previous customer complaints and comments or data from previously conducted research by say research and development department could yield important and probably sufficient data thereby do away with the externally sourced data.
On the other hand primary research is “research tailored to company’s particular needs” (allbusiness.com, 2009). According to Nelson it is research based on an original plan which entails, data collection and analysis of subsequent results. By employing tried approaches such as surveys, interviews or questionnaires it is possible to get information about a target market. Focus group discussions also known as consumer panels are also carried out in primary research. In these “a small group of people meet together with a ‘facilitator’ who asks the panel to examine a product in details” (allbusiness.com).
It can be seen here that primary research delivers more specific results and is more controlled than secondary research. The basic difference between primary and secondary methodologies is in the originality of data: primary unearths primary data while secondary research relies on data captured in earlier studies. In addition primary research may come after secondary research particularly in a case where secondary study is done to determine the entry behavior of customers. “Secondary research lays the groundwork and primary research helps fill the gaps” (allbusiness.com). Thus by employing both types of research, Coca-Cola will get a well rounded view of the market and therefore have relevant information as they make the important decision of introducing the new product.
Apart from the primary - secondary dichotomy, research can also be seen in the light of qualitative and quantitative dimensions. It is important to note that the four dimensions overlap as shall be exemplified. Davies (2000)differentiated the two approaches and according to him quantitative approach yields mostly numerical data while qualitative approach attempts to capture a holistic picture about the state of affairs thus going deeper that the ‘how much’ of quantitative research. When researchers interview respondents for instance, they seek to get data that they may fail to get by merely observing. By interviewing coke consumers a researcher is conducting primary qualitative research to find out what is in consumers’ minds – “what they think or how they feel about something”(Davies 2000)) – in this case carmel flavored coke.
As far as the primary research is concerned, Nelson (2004) differentiated between qualitative and quantitative approaches. According to him information from focus groups and interviews with customers generates qualitative data. He noted that such interviews have open ended questions (they do not require ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers). In the above mentioned case these could be information on likes and dislikes, special customer requirements and their trends in consumption of such a product. For the focus group discussions Coca – cola would have to rely on trained personnel to conduct meaningful forums where issues surrounding the product are thoroughly evaluated.
On the other hand the survey method suggested earlier falls under quantitative primary research (Nelson). Fruitful interviews may be conducted for example in the place where the coke is being sold by asking the consumers either structured or unstructured questions that are aimed at “eliciting information which can later be compared and contrasted” (Davies). According to him further questions may be asked by way of telephones in order t reach those that for instance stay away from the shop setting.;
Davies (2000) added that interviews need not be formal. Casual informal talks with consumers can yield important data too. An informal interview setting therefore attempts to simulate a natural type of situation for collection of data and relies on the interviewer to put the interviewee at ease form the start.
Why quantitative? Quantitative research is statistical. McNamara noted that in survey, hypotheses about the market are set before the study and tested during the study using statistical means. Random samples of individuals in the target population are selected and surveyed. When the correct process is followed the survey findings represent the attitudes and behaviors of the entire population (McNamara, 2008). If findings from sampled coke consumers indicate that 70% approve the drink then it can be concluded that 70% of the population under study approves it, with minimum error. It therefore provides a kind of a snapshot of the market at any given point in time. Nelson argued that it is expensive and time consuming but produces accurate results.
Concerning secondary research Nelson (2004) argued that the original (primary) research dictates whether it is qualitative or quantitative (p.220). If for instance a researcher refers to a research report for a market survey conducted earlier on by the same company, then it should still be considered within the realm of quantitative research.
Whichever method is adopted for research reliability and validity should be guiding factors, cautions: “reliability is the appropriateness, meaningfulness and usefulness of the inferences researchers make based on the data they collect, while reliability refers to the consistency of these inferences over time” (Frankel and Norman, 2000, p. 506). For quantitative research reliability is addressed by using an instrument severally to arrive the same results while validity is assessed through a variety of statistical procedures such as split half. (Frenkel and Norman, 2000 p. 506) Concerning qualitative approach, researchers may triangulate instruments (use different instruments to collect data) and desist from drawing hasty conclusions concerning findings in order to improve reliability and validity (Frenkel and Norman, 2000 p. 507)
There has been a considerable debate among scholars surrounding the issue of research methodology and how market research should be conducted. Some feel for instance that qualitative research is less scientific while others hold that quantitative approach is narrow. The fact is that neither of them is better than the other; each approach is unique. Both have strengths and weaknesses as seen earlier in this paper. A decision on whether Coca cola or any firm should proceed with primary or secondary research should be informed by cost, time, availability of personnel and many other factors. In the case of carmel flavored coke, a mixed mode is proposed.