We have Big Data so we don’t need marketing research anymore, right?

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Marketing research seems to be getting mixed up these days with direct marketing, customer relationship management, media planning and other aspects of marketing and advertising. Some almost seem to view it as computer programming.

Faster, cheaper and better than ever, marketing research, if anything, is now needed more than ever. Here are some of the questions successful companies use marketing research to answer.

  • Who uses our product category? How do they differ from those who do not?
  • Who knows about our brand?
  • Who buys our brand? Are there segments of consumers with different purchase patterns, demographics and things they want from the category?
  • What media do they use? How best to reach them?
  • How do they shop our category? Is the purchase for mostly themselves or for others? Is it mainly impulse, autopilot or planned?
  • Where do they shop?
  • What other brands in the category do they buy? Where do they buy them?
  • Why do they buy our brand more (or less) often than competitors’ brands? What do they like most and least about our brand…and the competition?
  • Is our brand frequently confused with other brands, for example, because of package or brand name?
  • Are there groups (segments) of brands in our category that compete more directly against each other than with other brands?
  • Do the brands in our category have distinct images that are associated with purchase patterns?
  • What about price? Is our brand seen as low end, high end, as providing value for money? Does this match the positioning we’ve tried to create for it?
  • How much would our sales change if we raised or lowered our price?
  • Are there missing SKUs in our lineup? Conversely, are there SKUs or variants we should drop?
  • How do consumers define the category? Is it different from the way we do? What other categories do we compete against?
  • Do we understand the ways people actually use the products in the category, e.g., how and for what occasions? Do purchase and usage differ by occasion?
  • Is our product difficult to understand or use?
  • If we change the formulation of our product, will consumers notice? How will they react?
  • What do consumers want that is not now currently offered by any brand in the category? What do they think of our ideas for new products?
  • How well is our marketing working? Should we reallocate spend to achieve better ROI?
  • Do we need to adjust our mix of marketing channels?
  • Do we need to adjust our mix of distribution channels? 
  • Do some kinds of people respond more (or less) to our marketing? How is our marketing (and competitors’) marketing changing consumers’ expectations for the category and their purchase behavior?
  • What role does seasonality play in our category?
  • How do in-store promotions and shelf placement come into play?
  • Sales are rising/declining/flat – do we understand why?
  • Oops! I almost forgot advertising pre-testing. It’s so obvious.

Marketing research is especially useful when answers to important questions such as these can be tied together to permit a “drill down” perspective. Primary research with specific marketing objectives in mind is nearly always required since most of the data we’ll need are unavailable. Multivariate statistical methods are particularly helpful in tying all these answers together in meaningful ways and reducing the risk of spurious findings. In some cases they can be used for predictive analytics in addition to understanding the Why driving the What.

There are also market entry feasibility studies in which a brand or, in some cases a whole category, does not exist in the country being studied. This typically requires a considerable amount of background and secondary research and very often a mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches.

I’ve focused here on “traditional” marketing research because these basic client needs often seem to be overlooked in the blogosphere and other media. Sexier things – but not necessarily more important things – grab our eye.

I hope you’ve found this useful!

About the Author:

Kevin Gray is President of Cannon Gray, a marketing science and analytics consultancy. He has more than 30 years’ experience in marketing research with Nielsen, Kantar, McCann and TIAA-CREF.

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