Defining “Marketing Research” by Scientific Principles

April 23, 2012

Terry Grapentine and Roy Teas advocate in the spring 2012 issue of Marketing Research magazine for a revision to the American Marketing Association’s definition of “marketing research.”  They argue that the current definition is not sufficiently grounded in scientific principles and is missing the all-important reference to theory which they consider a key component to “knowledge creation,” which in turn “is crucial in developing marketing strategy.”  Grapentine and Teas call on textbook authors as well as the AMA to integrate the idea of theory and theory development into their discussions (and definitions) of marketing research and thereby promote a theoretical perspective – along with more scientific thinking – among marketing researchers.

What I find particularly interesting in the Grapentine-Teas plea for a theory-based approach to marketing research is the defense they wage in support of their argument – specifically, the idea that “theory expands knowledge sources.”  What I like about this is that, by embracing the research tools and methods from various related disciplines, such as sociology, marketing research design can bring an elevated, “holistic understanding” to our studies.  And this is good because a more-encompassing way of designing marketing research addresses the fundamental objective of our research, which is to understand how people think and what motivates behavior.

Grapentine and Teas also talk about the potential “barriers” to their redefinition proposition; highlighting the anticipated negative commentary that a theoretical approach in marketing research is too-academic and/or too-expensive for the speed-over-quality mentality among many marketing researchers.  This indeed may spell doom for their effort, but their cry for a more scientific basis to our marketing research designs, even with the acknowledgement that compromise – between true scientific rigor and the reality of research in the corporate world – is inevitable, is very welcomed.

In June 2011 I wrote a blog post where, not unlike Grapentine and Teas, I argue for “Taking Research Design to Higher Ground” and wonder “why researchers continue with the long-standing habit of avoiding honest experimentation and debates regarding their research methods.”  I conclude:

“The marketing research industry is jammed with talented researchers who understand great research.  Yet industry researchers have historically found themselves trapped on a never-ending wheel chasing the next research assignment, sometimes at the expense of good design.”

Like Grapentine and Teas, I encourage marketing researchers to step outside their “comfort zone” and think first and foremost on the strength of their designs.  Even if practical considerations impede a scientific path, marketing researchers owe it to themselves and the end-users they serve to question every design in terms of its ability to return reliable, valid results.

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