Increasingly, management is being taken to be a critical production factor alongside the other factors of production. It therefore follows that the success of a business enterprise is largely hinged on the ability of management to make superior decisions. However, for managers to make effective decisions, they not only need a supportive decision making environment but also a set of tools to enhance their ability to correctly analyze and interpret information so as to advance the agenda of the business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Marketing research is one such tool.
Marketing Research as a Management Tool
The relevance of marketing research as a decision making tool for management cannot be overstated. According to Blankenship, Breen and Dutka (1998), marketing research can be taken to be "the systematic design, collection, analysis, and reporting of data and findings relevant to a specific situation facing the company." McDaniel & Gates (1998) further note that essentially, there are a number of roles (functional) played by marketing research when it comes to aiding management decision making. These roles are identified as the descriptive role, the diagnostic role and finally; the predictive role (McDaniel and Gates, 1998).
When it comes to the descriptive role of marketing research, the primary aim is to avail factual statements. Statements which may be sought in this case include the beliefs as well as attitudes of consumers towards a given product. In regard to the diagnostic role, the main goal remains explaining actions or data. For instance, in this case, the management of a firm may use marketing research to seek ways of making alterations to service or even product offerings in a way that better serves both existing and potential clients. Finally, the predictive role of marketing research seeks to merge the diagnostic and the predictive roles so as to come up with a prediction of the findings or results of a projected marketing decision.
It can also be noted that today, businesses are increasingly using both customer satisfaction and quality as weapons of competition. Therefore, for firms to remain relevant in a competitive environment, they have to remain focused on both client satisfaction and quality enhancement. When it comes to the measurement of customer satisfaction so as to find out whether a given firm's set standards are being met, the relevance of marketing research cannot be overstated. According to Boone and Kurtz (2011), organizations today are increasingly utilizing marketing research to monitor client satisfaction levels.
Marketing Research and the Internet Today
In the recent past, the Internet has been experiencing tremendous growth and with this, new ways of doing things have emerged. Research collection as well as dissemination is one of the areas that have experienced dramatic changes as a result of the accelerated Internet growth. As Needham and Dransfield (2000) note, with the number of people owning personal computers on the increase, the use of the Internet for research purposes will continue to experience new developments. With the ever increasing number of Internet users, researchers and marketers alike continue to identify opportunities that enable them to access target segments in a cost effective and efficient manner. For instance, it is possible today to reach previously unreachable remote segments across the world thanks to the broadening demographics as a result of the increasing number of Internet users. According to Keillor (2007), there has been rapid growth in the use of the Internet as a marketing research tool. According to the author, companies are frequently using their websites in their marketing research efforts by way of collecting visitor information. This is more so the case for those firms which derive a significant portion of their revenues from online sales. The information collected in this case could be used for a myriad of purposes including website customization to suit the needs of clients, complaint handling etc. However, though the growth of the Internet has brought about new possibilities when it comes to the conduction of marketing research, a number of technical as well as ethical issues have also come up in regard to the responsible usage of the Internet for purposes of undertaking marketing research.
Ethical Issues and Considerations
It can be noted that the Internet is highly susceptible to abuse when it comes to marketing research undertakings. This is largely because though it remains relatively cheap and easy to access, the Internet also comes across as particularly difficult to regulate. This explains the reason why some research surveys conducted over the Internet fall below the stipulated standards of the industry. Indeed, the erroneous usage of the Internet to conduct marketing research does significant damage to not only the credibility of derived findings but it also disregards the goodwill of respondents. It is with this in mind that quite a number of bodies have been formed in an attempt to level the playing field by formulating guidelines which govern the use of the Internet to conduct marketing research.
According to the National Statistical Service Website (n.d), some of the bodies involved in the drafting of Internet marketing research guidelines and policies of fair use include The Market Research Society of Australia (MRSA) as well as The Association of Market Research Organizations (AMRO). These two organizations according to the National Statistical Service are primarily charged with the promotion as well as the protection of the marketing as well as social research in Australia in a way that makes a significant and lasting contribution to the region's well being.
Some of the ethical issues that have gained significant prominence in the Internet era in regard to marketing research include the abuse of respondent privacy, research findings misuse and unauthorized collection of data. Unauthorized collection of data in this case could take the form of tracking the behavior of visitors in a Website through the installation of tracking cookies. According to Maynor (2006), the failure of an entity to avail an advance notice informing the user that his or her data is being collected taints the data collection initiative hence effectively making it unauthorized.
It can be noted that in an attempt to maintain high ethical standards going forward when it comes to marketing research as the Internet becomes more popular, some ideal principles have been put in place. These principles ideally guide both the process of undertaking the marketing research as well as the reporting of the results of such an undertaking. In brief, these include;
1. Ensuring that the Participation of Respondents is Voluntary
In this case, there is need to desist from unnecessarily intruding on the Internet respondent's privacy. The guiding principle here remains that any information considered irrelevant to the project should never be sought from the Internet respondent. Further, in seeking their consent, all the material facts in regard to the nature and purpose of the research must be disclosed to the Internet respondents.
2. Disclosure of the Identity of the Researcher to the Respondent
By fully identifying itself including its contact details, a firm carrying out marketing research helps the Internet respondent make important inquiries in regard to the legitimacy of the project as well as its validity. With this information, respondents can make informed choices on whether or not to participate in a survey.
3. Safeguarding the Rights of Internet Respondents to Remain Anonymous
It should be noted that unless the respondent avails an express consent to have his or her identity revealed alongside the information volunteered, efforts should be undertaken to safeguard the anonymity of such respondents. Further, the information volunteered by the respondent must and should be used only for that purpose to which the respondent gave his or her consent. As Evans and Rooney (2010) note, when their anonymity is guaranteed, Internet respondents tend to be more honest.
It is important that marketing researchers post the above statements in a location where the Internet respondent is able to access them. Further, such statements must be easy to comprehend.
5. Proper Maintenance of Data Security
When undertaking marketing research, companies should ensure that there is adequate online security to safeguard the transmission of data or information to and from the respondent. This is to mean that the computer servers should not have flaws which could easily expose such data to third parties.
6. Safeguarding the Validity as Well as Reliability of Findings
Whether the information derived from a marketing research undertaking is for the internal consumption of the commissioning company or for public consumption, the sampling methods used must be scientific and all the research findings limitations must be disclosed. This is especially important if such information is to be relied upon by the management as a guide to decision making.
7. Having an Opt-Out Option in the Case of Unsolicited Mails
According to Haugtvedt, Machleit and Yalch (2005), it is highly probable that the misuse of unsolicited mails could be informing the decreasing response rate of Internet respondents. With this in mind, it is only reasonable for marketing…