Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Marketing 101: Primary Data Collection - Research

In this edition of the Marketing 101 series we will take a quick look at Primary Data collection.  So far we have been discussing data that is considered secondary.  Secondary data was collected by someone else.  Whether it was your sales department, or a comScore research report that you purchased, it was created by someone else other than your department.  It did not involve any of your department interacting with existing and potential customers to collect data.  It was not collected with your marketing objectives in mind.

There is nothing wrong with secondary data.  You cannot perform any Market Intelligence without secondary data.  It is a great and necessary starting point for any of your research.  Secondary data is critical when you are defining the problems and objectives that are the focus of your Marketing Intelligence initiatives.  However in most cases, you will need to collect primary data of some kind in order to have the information you need to make real decisions.

What is Primary Data?
Primary Data is research that has been conducted by your organization, first hand. It is also known as Field Research.  It is usually more reliable than secondary data, because it is usually more accurate since you collected it yourself.  Primary data is specific and relevant to your products and services. However, Primary Data is often very time consuming to collect, and usually costs more to create than purchasing secondary data reports. You must take special care when collecting primary data.  It needs to be relevant, current, and as unbiased as possible.

Primary Data is relevant when it directly applies to your company's products and services.  It is relevant when it relates to the problems you are trying to solve, and the marketing goals of your organization.  Primary Data is current when it is recent, and directly corresponds to the profile of your customers TODAY.  Primary Data is unbiased when your subjects have been honest and open during data collection.  When constructing your Primary Data collection plan, you must consider research methods, contact methods, the sampling plan, and your research instruments.

Research Methods consist of observation, surveys, and experimentation.  Contact Methods typically consist of mail, phone, personal interaction, and various online methods.  Sampling Plans take into account units, size, and procedures.  Research Instruments typically consist of questionnaires and other mechanical instruments.  Let's start with a quick discussion of Research Methods.  There are three typical ways that Primary Data is collected in marketing: observation, surveys, and experiments.

Observation is the collection of Primary Data through observing people, their actions and the situations they are in.  Observation may be the easiest research to do.  Typically, observation is also the most cost effective method.  Observation can also give you data that people aren't usually willing to tell you themselves, such as their feelings, emotions, attitudes or the motives behind their buying decisions.

How does observation work?  It's extremely simple.  Take a restaurant franchise owner.  He may be planning on opening another location.  He may also have little or no money to pay for marketing research.  However a lot of the data he needs he can collect himself.  He can get into his car and drive around town, observing the traffic patterns.  He can see where his clientele goes to shop.  He can see what time the traffic appears.  He can call real estate agents and ask them for lease prices for different properties.  He can drive around and look for areas that don't have his type of restaurant, looking for areas of little competition.  He can do all of this for just the cost of the gas in his car.  You can do this yourself.

Surveys are the most common method of collecting Primary Data.  Surveys are the best way to get the descriptive information that you need for your marketing intelligence.  Simply put, surveys collect data by asking other people a series of questions about their personal knowledge, emotions, attitudes, preferences, and buying behaviors.  Surveys can provide you a wealth of data.  There is always a golden nugget, a piece of data that can give you the insight you need to figure out the direction of your next campaign.

However, there are drawbacks to the data you collect via surveys.  Often people just don't recall some of the information that you are asking for, and as a result, they are unable to answer the questions.  Therefore the response that they give will not be the complete truth, it may be something that they feel you want to hear.  Sometimes people are unwilling to provide information that they might deem "private".  This prevents completely truthful responses, and it skews the data that you are analyzing.  If the responses seem too good to be true...they just may be.  

Primary Data can also be collected via experimentation.  Experimentation is the practice of gathering data by selecting matched groups of people, giving them different treatments or scenarios, controlling related factors in their environments, and checking for differences in their responses.  Experimentation gives us what we call "causal" data.  Causal data helps us explain cause and effect relationships.  Experimenting helps us try to answer "why" someone is doing something, and what influences their buying behavior.

A common example of experimentation is price testing.  To the buyer, price will be the final emotional factor that determines whether or not they will give us their hard earned money.  Depending on the product and market segment, price may be the most important factor.  How do you know what price is the right price?  You have to test it.  Many companies will test certain prices when collecting primary data on a new menu item that is being developed.  How do you think McDonalds knows how much to charge for a Big Mac?  They tested how much they can charge for that Big Mac, looking for that magic number that will provide the most sales and the most profit.

In my next post we will continue this exploration of Primary Data by examining different contact methods.


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