Research experiments

Research experiments involve a more rigorous approach to research design than is necessary in straightforward interview or observation research surveys. The point of research experiments is that they make it possible for the experimenter to investigate cause-and-effect relationships between variables. What factors influence sales, and by how much, for example? Since almost all real-life situations, particularly sales, are the outcome of interaction of many variables, it is necessary for the research programme to be designed in such a way that the variables under test can be controlled by the experimenter and the effects of other identified variables measured independently. To identify the effect of advertising on sales, for example, price, distribution levels and external factors such as weather must also be measured, to isolate their effects. When several interacting variables are under consideration, specific experimental approaches need to be used to make it possible to isolate statistically the effects being measured. Some of the experimental approaches in common use are discussed in Chapter 12.

Although these are the most technically complex studies to mount, they are the most rewarding because they make cause-and-effect relationships statistically explicit. For the manager wishing to exercise control through decision making, such knowledge is invaluable. Knowing how responsive a market is to advertising, price cuts, and so on, makes for greater marketing precision. The difficulty in practice lies in the fact that the more important management problems are typically multivariate. Even if the manager were able to identify all the relevant variables, many of them would be difficult to measure precisely, for example, the 'innovativeness' of buyers in an industrial market. Interaction between variables, such as price and sales support, will also complicate the picture. The more complex and imprecise the measurement of variables becomes, the less easy it is to justify the time and expense demanded by experimental research.

Experiments known as 'testing' are used heavily in the area of direct marketing. Traditionally, direct marketing has invested a large amount in testing creative formats, the timing of campaigns, offers, pricing and audiences. Test programmes may use samples of 20,000 or more to ensure that the limits of accuracy (explained in Section 7.4) associated with any results are very small. This allows subsequent rollout of the full programme to be profitable at perhaps very small margins.

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