Translating Management Problems Into Marketing Research Questions

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  • 0:04 From Problem to…
  • 1:32 Understand the Background
  • 2:18 Uncover All Relevant…
  • 3:25 Formulate the Research…
  • 5:09 Roles & Responsibilities
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Research questions help organizations set long-term strategy to resolve management problems and to ensure the business remains in lock-step with a customer's needs. This lesson explores how to use research questions to stay relevant in the long term.

From Problem to Research Question

Big box retailers and the Internet have revolutionized the way customers select and purchase goods and services. In the earlier days, stores like Walmart only posed a threat to the smallest independent grocery stores. However, as the chain expanded, Walmart began to pose a real threat to other big box stores like Target and Kmart. All three retailers were competing for essentially the same customers. One of the two stores competing with Walmart used research questions to help them plot a new strategic course that kept them relevant. The other competitor is poised to collapse due to bad strategic decisions and a lack of direction.

Defined simply, a research question is a question that will inform strategic decisions within an organization. The first step is the problem statement, which turns a problem into a research question to accurately identify the problem and state it clearly. One of the most common mistakes in research is defining a problem too broadly. Research questions should begin with a very specific and narrow definition of the problem that must be solved. For a retailer like Target or Kmart, the problem statement might be something like:

  • A customer segment (customers buying TV sets) is being lost to Walmart at the rate of 3% per quarter.

Understand the Background

After defining the problem accurately and succinctly, it is time to collect and present hard evidence supporting the problem statement. In this example, a spreadsheet that demonstrates the price differences of several key electronics would be an excellent place to start. Other potential sources to prove the problem might be the creation of charts demonstrating the loss of customers purchasing electronics over time or a map demonstrating that geographic proximity to a competitor has an impact on customer behavior. Either the problem statement or the background information should include a clear statement about why researching the particular issue is important and what its consequences might be if there was a failure.

Uncover All Relevant Information

Even when the background of the problem has been well documented, it is often the case that information or supporting evidence remains sketchy or missing. Before commissioning a full market research project, executives should take steps to ensure that they have all relevant information. This task sounds easier than it is because as the saying goes, 'You don't know what you don't know.'

It is at this stage that outside consultants may be able to provide guidance as to whether or not sufficient evidence exists to move forward, or whether more raw data is needed before the process can proceed to the next stage. In the case of Walmart's competitors, additional evidence might be how and when customers buy and what factors other than price they consider.

Simultaneously with identifying missing evidence, a list of the required decisions begins to form. As the evidence comes together and the research question solidifies, it will become increasingly clear what strategic and tactical decisions must be made.

Formulate the Research Question

After taking all the critical information into account, it is now time to formulate the all-important research question. The importance of choosing a good research question cannot be overstated. Poor research questions will result in erroneous conclusions leading to bad business decisions. Before presenting what a retailer like Target or Kmart might use as the research question in this case study, let's consider a few examples of bad research questions:

  • How can we lower the price of our TVs so that customers buy them?

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