Technology, social change and the need of market research

We tend to think that the technology is a quite recent development, but the truth is that it comes from the beginning of the human history. It has always been a crucial factor for the social change and for the change of our lives. Inclusive relatively simple inventions such as stirrup.220px-EnduranceStirrup

“This invention, that allows a horse riders remain firmly seated in the saddle, produced a major social change. This medieval innovation led to a completely new form of attack-combat on horseback in which a fast-moving warrior could stab or chop his opponent without fear of falling to the ground as ungentlemanly. This new form of struggle, in turn, brought new demands to the fighters. A free citizen simply could not take up arms and be fit for war. The new combat technique required many years of training, not to mention the huge expense in horses, assistants and equipment. Thus was born a social aristocracy-new-class of knights-and with it a new set of role models to the needs of affluent lifestyle of a warrior on horseback. “Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup,” writes Lynn White Jr. (1962, p38) “but few have had so catalytic an influence on history”

What reality lies beneath this story which is relevant for market research? The rapid social change produced by new technology challenges our society as a whole, our society´s organizations and our everyday life. The primitive society was simply organized: tribes, low ranking (hierarchical), barter base economies and perhaps some differences regarding gender and age. As new technologies were emerging, as the example of stirrup, society is getting more and more complex, more hierarchical.globalization_b_1293566053-150x150

Spinning jenny, steam engine and many other inventions encouraged strong changes. Industrial revolution affected greatly European and American society. The rapidness of the changes over the last two centuries has increased exponentially. The estates of the middle age gave way to social class from the Marxist viewpoint. In recent decades, the Capitalism-communism antagonism gave way to the so called “globalization”: international integrating, multinational corporations, the dissolution of “old” social inequalities from the industrial society; the emerging subcultures, lifestyle and way of living, consumption, the rise of the Internet and the “network society”, but also climate change.

As a result, socities become more complex and all the countries over the world become economically and culturally interdependent. The 2008 crash in US eventually led and still lead to recession in most Western countries, any ecological catastrophe in Asia could eventually affect us; immigrants from all over the world habit the more and more dense urban areas. And no society, no organization can scape from this reality. Governments, countries, but also companies and other organizations, as well as families and ourselves are constantly challenged by these rapid changes.

So, why is market research needed? As a manager, researchers or consultant, the rapid social changes will constantly chalSNA_segmentlenge your organization. We are bombarded with messages that society keeps changing and technology keeps developing faster and faster, making extant professional knowledge obsolete at the speed of lighting. In conclusion, change is ongoing, and every issue in a company is exposed to change or the threat of change in the near future. Personnel, customers, government, environment, investors and suppliers´ relations might not be a problem when a company is doing well. But as “time are a-changing” such relations must be assess continuously. Sometimes, intuition based decision making is not enough nowadays to lead a company in the right direction. More systematic approaches are required.

Corporatte strategy, marketing strategy, organizational structure, business process reengineering, mergers and acquisitions, financial management, downsizing, outsourcing, relationship marketing, alliances, globalization and green policies may and must generally be based in any kind of previous research.

References

Craig J. Calhoun, Donald Light, Suzanne Infeld Keller. Sociology. McGraw-Hill, 2000.
Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.
Gummesson, E. (1999). Qualitative methods in management research. Sage Publications, Incorporated.
Oliveto, Guillermo (2008). Market Research Explained. ESOMAR.
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Qualitative methods for market research. The subject.

After providing in the previous two posts a brief definition of both terms “qualitative method” and “market research“, we are in a position to clarify what Qualitative methods of market research subject is about (see about for further details on this blog). The main objective of the subject is learning how to collect text (and images) information systematically in order to understand the relation between buyers and sellers of a specific product or service that occurs or might occur in the future in a part of the worldMore specifically, the subject will aim the managing of the below qualitative research techniques (as well as its respective emerging online variant)

  1. In-depth Interviews
  2. Narratives
  3. Focus groups
  4. Verbal data
  5. Participant observation and ethnography
  6. Visual data: photography, film and video

Furthermore, a number of secondary objectives must be pointed out. Apart from the collection of information itself, it is necessary to emphasize the importance of the research process as a whole. In other words, you as researcher may manage the above techniques but it would be pointless if you are not aware of a number of steps that all researchers must bear in mind when developing a research project and that forms what is called “research process”. This process, that will be addressed in future posts, goes from the mere formulation of the research question to the final presentation of the results.

Finally, ethics of research, origin and history of market research as well a brief theoretical approaches overview complement the secondary objectives of this subject.

Below you can find the main references taken to the production of the material for the subject´s content.

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.

Gummesson, E. (1999). Qualitative methods in management research. Sage Publications, Incorporated.

Ibáñez, J. (1979). Más allá de la sociología: El Grupo de Discusión: teoría y crítica. Siglo XXI de España Editores.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Mella, O. (1998). Naturaleza y orientaciones teórico-metodológicas de la investigación cualitativa. Santiago: CIDE, 51.

Silverman, D. (2011). Interpreting qualitative data. Sage Publications Limited.

The meaning of qualitative methods

Throwing an eye over the definition provided by oxford dictionary will make easier to understand the meaning of the term qualitative method. The word “method” refers to “a particular procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, especially a systematic or established one”. On the other hand, if we claim the same source for the word qualitative it means “relating to, measuring, or measured by the quality of something rather than its quantity”.

In other words, a qualitative method is a particular procedure for approaching something systematically in order to measure it by the quality rather than the quantity. The mere definition of the term is usually made in opposition to “quantitative method” which essentially refers to a procedure to describe something regarding the size. But above all, a qualitative method is about text. The “closed-ended question” usually set in survey questionnaires are replace for “open-ended question” that ask the respondent to suply text responses.

It is important to add that the qualitative methods are originally rooted into social science, it is, psychology, economy, sociology, anthropology but also management science. Although social science´s approach was in its origin more akin to the quantitative method, several scientists noticed, since the end of the XIX century, the limitation of the quantitative approach to the study of human and social behavior. The central argument has been that the application of a survey and experiment research squemata does not take sufficiently into account the differences between human beings and the object from the natural sciences.280px-Bronisław_Malinowski_among_Trobriand_tribe_3

On the contrary, qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews or observation were considered more appropriate to understand the human behavior. Curiously, it was a polish anthropologist, Bronisław Malinowski, who first applied, at the beginning of XX century, what is considered the oldest qualitative method: “participant observation“. By mean this method, he conducted several fieldworks in order to analyze patterns of exchange in aboriginal communities, mainly in Africa and Australia. He remains the hallmark of ethnographic research today.

Perhaps, quantitative approach is still dominant, but the truth is that the qualitative one has also experienced a great development up to date, giving room for many theoretical and empirical positions. Apart from participant observation, other methods as focus group, in-depth interviews and ethnography are an essential part of today´s social science and, specially, regarding market research industry.

References

Craig J. Calhoun, Donald Light, Suzanne Infeld Keller. Sociology. McGraw-Hill, 2000.

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.

Mella, O. (1998). Naturaleza y orientaciones teórico-metodológicas de la investigación cualitativa. Santiago: CIDE, 51.

Lewis, Philip, Mark NK Saunders, and Adrian Thornhill. Research methods for business students. Pearson, 2009.

Oxford dictionaries http://oxforddictionaries.com/

The meaning of market research

(The current post may be considered as the starting shot for a number of post to be publish over the next four month as part of the didactic material of the Qualitative methods for market research subject from Master in Management in the Faculty of Economics of University of Gdansk  (See about for further details) Despite the relation with many of the previous post about research methods in general, the next months will be addressed more specifically qualitative methods related issues)

Although the meaning of research has been addressed in a previous post, suffice it to say here that it is “a detailed study of a subject, especially in order to discover (new) information or reach a (new) understanding”. It is important emphasize that research has to do with discovering new knowledge and improving our understanding of some specific topic. For this reason we can find as many sorts of research as subjects. Social research, economic research, biological research and, of course, market research, among others.

But what does exactly market research mean? A simple glace to the meaning of “market” will make easier to understand the exactly meaning of the term. According to Cambridge dictionary market may refer to “the people who might want to buy something or a part of the world where something is sold”. From this definition we can deduce three important elements: the existence of a relation between a buyer and a seller of a specific product, the fact of having place in some specific place, that may be physical, like a city, or simply a street, or virtual, like on the Internet; finally, it is important underlying that a market may refer both to something real, it is a real relation that is already happening but also something that may happen in the future. In other words, the potential sales of a product may account for the meaning of market.

So that, how can we define correctly the term “market research”. It is a process of understanding the relation between a buyer and a seller of a specific product or service that occur or might occur in a part of the world.

It is necessary to add that the market research´s final aim is always to help organizations make decision, i.e. you may work in any organization, in a government, in a service industry company, in a factory or in a finance or human resources department. Even though your function or role may not include the word “marketing”, your organization or department will have customers. The role of market research is precisely to provide information about these customers (real and potential) in order to make the best decision.

Having said all this, here’s a complete and consistent definition of market research: “It is a process of understanding the relation between a buyer and a seller of a specific product or service that occur or might occur in the future in a part of the world in order to help organizations make decisions”

Gathering information by mean both quantitative methods, such as questionnaire or content analysis, as well as qualitative methods such as in-depth interviews or focus group, are an essential part of the market research process, although not the only one, as we will see into details in future posts.

References

Cambridge Dictionary Online. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/

Flick, U. (2009). An introduction to qualitative research. Sage Publications Limited.

Martínez, P., & Rodríguez, P. M. (2008). Cualitativa-mente. ESIC Editorial.

Oliveto, Guillermo (2008). Market Research Explained. ESOMAR.