Last week we looked at the role of external data in quality management systems. This week we look at the role of primary data.
Gathering primary data can be complex, often requiring special skills or knowledge. Many organisations contract specialist research agencies to carry it out for them. However, it is often important for front-line managers to be consulted about the questions to be asked and about the use to which the information obtained is to be put.
The aim of this section, therefore, is to help you to appraise the market research produced by others. We look first at three main sources of primary data before turning to the detail of the quantitative and qualitative methods of generating it.
Syndicated research Some market research companies have ongoing research programmes, the results of which they sell to a number of clients. Some of them can be standard research, such as the A.C. Nielsen store audits, which provide information on retail purchases by consumers in a number of countries, or the TGI (Target Group Index) of the BMRB (British Market Research Bureau), which has followed the fortunes of some 5,000 brands in the UK for more than 20 years.
Syndicated research has the advantage of shared cost, but its value depends on the standards of quality and rigour various companies have. Some syndicated research can be ad hoc: a research company, perhaps specialising in an industrial field, sees a topic which it believes will be of interest, conducts the research and sells the results ‘off the shelf’.
Some research organisations with ongoing programmes, especially those conducting opinion polls (for instance Gallup) will sell ‘space’ — or more accurately interviewer time — on the back of their surveys. Clients can ask for one or two simple questions to be added at the end of the main 'omnibus' survey of a large sample.
One approach to researching customers is to track the purchasing behaviour of a carefully selected panel of individuals. The data from these individuals' behaviour — as opposed to their opinions — reveals important information about repeat purchasing and brand switching, which is almost impossible to obtain with other methods.
Panels are used to generate television viewing numbers. These numbers are important to the television channels, but perhaps more importantly to the advertisers who pay for space on these channels. Households are selected so that a panel adequately represents the entire population.
For example, there should be the same percentage of single households and households with one child, two children and so on in the panel as there is in the population as a whole.
Each panel household is given a device to record its members' presence in the room when the television is on. Each member of the household has a button to press, or a number to key in to register that they are in the room. In many cases the channel being watched is automatically recorded.
This system claims to record what people watch, rather than what they say they watch, although it does not record their concentration on the programme (or more importantly the advertisements) while they are in the room.
This is the staple diet of the market research industry. A specialist custom research company is commissioned by a client to undertake a specific piece of research. The research company then accepts responsibility for all aspects of the research. There are companies which cover, or claim to cover, all types of market research. On the other hand, many companies specialise in particular fields.
For example, there is usually a distinction between those which specialise in consumer and in industrial fields. Equally, there are clear distinctions between those involved in retail audits and those conducting questionnaire surveys on individual consumers, and between those running focus groups and those carrying out in-depth psychological interviews. These will be discussed in a later section.
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