The marketing research process seeks to identify consumer perceptions and attitudes in order to create successful products and promotional campaigns. Several research methods, such as the Likert scale, measure consumer attitudes in a quantitative fashion. Other methods, such as shadowing and behavior mapping, use qualitative observational data in order to interpret consumer perceptions. Regardless of the research methods that are used, the process of uncovering consumer perceptions and attitudes involves defining the problem, developing a research plan, collecting the information, analyzing the information, and making a strategic decision.

The Marketing Research Process

A solid marketing research plan begins with a definition of the problem it wishes to solve. Often that problem is centered around a set of consumer perceptions. For example, a company that wishes to re-brand a line of tortilla chips due to lagging sales will design a research plan whose objective is to uncover the perceptions and attitudes that are driving the lack of sales volume. A secondary objective of such a research plan might be uncovering what types of tortilla chip attributes, including flavor and package design, will cause consumers to purchase the brand over the competition. Another important step in the research process is determining what types of methods will be used.

Research Methods

When conducting marketing research, two types of data sources are used. A good researcher will use a combination of both primary and secondary data. Secondary data involves the use of existing research that was conducted by someone else for another purpose. Primary data is new research that is gathered for the specific research problem at hand. There are several methods in which to collect primary data. Those methods include:

  • observation
  • focus groups
  • surveys
  • behavioral data
  • experimental research

Quantitative Measures

A popular method of measuring consumer perceptions and attitudes is the survey. A survey consists of closed-end and open-end questions that prompt consumers to reveal thoughts about a particular company, a product category, a product idea, or a purchase situation. A Likert scale is a widely used question format that asks consumers to numerically rate whether they agree or disagree with a particular statement. Likert scales are used to measure consumer attitudes. Respondents indicate whether they have a positive or negative attitude towards a statement and the responses are weighted by researchers using a numerical scale. For example, a question in the Likert scale format might ask survey respondents whether they believe that airline fees for checked luggage is appropriate. Respondents indicated whether they strongly disagree, disagree, are neutral, agree, or strongly agree.

Qualitative Methods

Qualitative research methods mainly involve observational techniques or open-end questions. Consumer shopping patterns may be tracked and observed with or without direct permission. Actual purchase patterns and how the purchase decisions were made reveal potential perceptions about a brand of toothpaste or a promotional incentive. Open-end focus group questions might ask participants to give opinions about the taste of a newly developed product. Opinion data collected through qualitative methods are then analyzed to determine why a consumer might choose one particular product over another.