This article concludes our three-part series on marketing research methods. Following the blogs on primary and secondary marketing research methods, this article explores research designs that use mixed methods or the mixing of different approaches.
As a reminder:
- Secondary research seeks out and scrutinizes data that was previously collected, analyzed, and organized for use in making decisions. When you go to your favorite Internet browser and enter a search request, you are conducting secondary research as you seek available data on the subject.
- Primary research means you collect new data through methods such as online and telephone surveys, conducting face-to-face interviews, observing your target audience, or moderating focus groups or town hall meetings. Primary research is divided into qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.
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An academic definition of mixed methods generally describes a research study that uses both qualitative and quantitative methods.[i] From a practical and pragmatic perspective, I am defining mixed methods as any research using two or more methods. Consider the overlap areas in the following Venn diagram that shows the three types of research discussed in the earlier articles. The overlap areas depict research using a combination of methods.
- Secondary + Qualitative
- Research US Census data by zip code for metro area to develop demographic profiles.
- Conduct mall intercept studies in one or more zip codes having the most favorable demographics for the firm’s product or service; then, enrich the demographic profile with attitudinal data to better customize messaging and visual elements of promotions and advertisements.
- Secondary + Quantitative
- Find existing reports on the most important features of checking accounts to consumers.
- Conduct survey with both existing customers and non-customers to confirm the most important checking account features to the firm’s customers.
- Qualitative + Quantitative
- Conduct focus groups with consumers regarding health insurance features.
- Conduct survey to test the importance of health insurance features among the firm’s policyholders as well as consumers who have policies with competing firms.
- Secondary + Qualitative + Quantitative
- Perform a market analysis regarding utility firm market shares.
- Administer survey to inquire about opinions and purchase behavior regarding utility firms, and ask participants for permission to follow up in a focus group.
- Conduct focus group to explore further attitudes about utility firm services.
There are four special types of research that when done well are a mix of marketing research methods. The remainder of this article explores these types of research. These types of research include:
- Needs analysis
- Case study
- Program evaluation
- Digital analytics
Before commencing any marketing project whether the project concerns product development, new market expansion, new communications, or pricing enhancements, a needs analysis is step one. Basically, a needs analysis is a clarification of the current situation as well as an understanding of the desired future situation in order to develop a path between the two. A needs analysis consists of informal conversations, review of documents and data, and sometimes more formal research, such as a surveys or interviews with key stakeholders.
A needs analysis includes many questions, such as the following regarding a possible website re-design:
- What are your current weekly visitor counts, engagement statistics, and other metrics? (a review of existing digital analytics)
- What comments have you received from your visitors and clients?
- What design criteria led you to the current design?
- What issues have led you to think about re-design?
- What internal groups and individuals are most affected by website changes?
The answers from the questions above help the project team decide their next steps. If sufficient data is available from the needs analysis, it may be appropriate to draft a new website design. Often, the project team may recommend additional research with key stakeholders, including current website visitors, before moving forward with a re-design.
A case study seeks to research an issue, program, or situation in a variety of ways to get a total picture, including important context. Case studies often involve methods such as observing research participants, having informal conversations, or conducting surveys and/or interviews.
Observation and informal conversations are known as ethnographic methods. Ethnographic methods require close attention to what is happening, the people involved, as well as the environment within which people and things interact.
The study could be a single case, such as a leadership development program conducted over a one-year period, or it could involve multiple cases, such as a comparative case study for each of three vendors that conducted leadership development courses over a one-year period.
Case study is not appropriate to project findings to a large universe, but it allows the study of the particulars and complexities that cannot be accomplished by a survey or even multiple interviews. A case study allows for deep understanding of people and programs, so that we can craft stories. From these stories, readers can decide for themselves if the story is pertinent to their own situation.
Findings from a case study can become the foundation for a larger quantitative study that can appropriately project findings to a larger universe. If you would like to read more about case study research, I recommend The Art of Case Study Research by Robert E. Stake (1995).
Program evaluation is conducted when you need to determine whether a program worked or not, and how you might tweak it to make it even better. Best practices for program design and development include identification of key metrics to track and analyze as the program is being developed. Since numbers don’t explain the “why” of a situation very well, program evaluation usually involves multiple methods and works well as a case study.
Program evaluation is critical to improving programs of all types including marketing, education or training, and operational projects. Formative evaluation occurs during program development. Summative evaluation is conducted after a program’s conclusion or as an annual review.
I’m a fan of Dr. Michael Quinn Patton’s premise that “evaluations ought to be useful” (p. xx).[ii] Useful evaluations require that you identify stakeholders in an initial needs analysis and you involve stakeholders in the design, development, and implementation of the evaluation. Through this stakeholder engagement, the evaluation is more likely to result in actionable decisions and not another report filed on a shelf or in a file drawer.
Brian Clifton, PhD is an internationally-recognized Google analytics expert. Brian’s definition of digital analytics concerns capturing, analyzing, and further understanding “digital footprints.” He says that[iii]:
Digital Analytics is about following those digital footprints to understand the people and the experiences that leave them.
Digital analytics involves much more than website traffic. It includes mobile apps, email, social media, and anywhere a customer or prospective customer can leave a digital footprint. Digital analytics is much more than reviewing and summarizing numbers. Gary Angel, a serial entrepreneur and former Ernst & Young (EY) partner who led EY’s Digital Analytics Practice, identified the following analytics[iv] tasks:
- Extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) of data into a system for analysis
- Manage the database with structures, hierarchies, and labels attached to the data.
- Statistical analysis to uncover patterns in the data
- Descriptive analytics and reporting with use of data visualization and other tools
- Model-based analytics for business models, decision trees, clustering models etc.
- Data journalism to transform the analytics into a story that can be communicated to business decision-makers who are not necessarily data savvy
An Analytics Manager may conduct additional research to better understand what is behind the numbers, or the “why” of the data. The Analytics Manager, a business-savvy researcher, collaborates with a data scientist counterpart to identify the most pertinent data, ensure the data is captured and labeled correctly for analysis, and to appropriately compare data with multiple digital sources and benchmarks.
This concludes our series of marketing research methods. We created a research guide that includes the information on marketing research methods and how to minimize bias in your research. You can access the guide by pressing the button below. Go ahead, it’s free!
What methods of research do you use most? Which methods do you find most challenging? Join the conversation below.
[i] Creswell, J. W., (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. CA: Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications.
[ii] Patton, M. Q. (2008). Utilization-Focused Evaluation, 4th Ed. CA: Thousand Oaks, Sage Publications
[iii] Clifton, B. (2017). Define: Digital Analytics. Online resource: https://brianclifton.com/blog/2015/06/16/define-digital-analytics/
[iv] Angel, Gary (2015). (Re)Defining the Data Scientist. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/redefining-data-scientist-gary-angel