Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Marketing Research Report: Now and in 1964

The information obtained from marketing research is useful for analysis and decision-making. McDaniel and Gates (2008, pp 5-7) state that research is a fundamental means of understanding the environment, and how organizations and individuals exist, work, compete and make decisions. They go on to say that research provides data on the effectiveness of organizational actions, and insights into organizational changes needed to change the outcomes in the environment.

Furthermore, research is the basis for exploring new opportunities in the environment. Research helps segment the environment, and match segments with the characteristics or the product or action. Reporting research findings is an essential part of making it actionable. Johnson (2009, p. 1) advises us “the research report, the final step in the research process, requires thoughtful preparation and presentation.”

What are the key components to a research report?
With one interesting exception, the key components of a research report have not changed much since Boyd and Westphal published their Marketing Research text in 1964. Some forty years on, McDaniel and Gates (2008, p. 468-9) still have the following elements:
  • Title Page: The name of project.

  • Table of contents: A list of major sections.

  • Executive summary: Key findings and recommendations.

  • Background: Strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

  • Methodology: although Boyd, et al organize this with three major subsections, the research design, collections methods, and sampling.

  • Findings: A summary of results for every question in the survey.

  • Appendices

Boyd and Westphal have these same sections but also include a major section on Limitations. They note (1964, p. 575) that “A good report sells the results of the study, but it should not oversell. Every project has limitations.”

McDaniel and Gates (p. 470) tell us that the report interprets findings to arrive at conclusions using induction and then deduces recommendations from the conclusions. Induction starts (pp 470-2) by examining one-dimensional tables and then it cross tabulates to see how characteristics both independently and in tandem affect the dependent variable. A recommendation explains how a differential advantage can be obtained (p. 472). Finally, contrary to popular belief, the report does use pictures and graphs.

How would you incorporate those components into an effective research presentation?
Rubin and Babbie (2005, p. 661) admonish us to know our audience. They emphasize that the report writer must distinguish between professional colleagues and business readers. It is critical to not make assumptions about the existing knowledge of business readers. They go on to say that with business readers it is best to keep terminology simple and clear.

Furthermore, summaries and visuals appeal to business readers as does expressing the implications for their area of operations. Neal (1998, p. 23) recommends that we take time to explain complex analysis and data to our business audience. Doing so will build confidence in the research.

Boyd and Westfall (1964, p. 570) say that to make the report effective, start at the beginning. The report writer must keep the study objectives in mind when writing the report. The writer should be selective of what is included in the report, making sure it is related to the objectives. McDaniel and Gates (2008, p. 468) likewise suggest keeping the report strictly oriented to the objectives. They say, “The genesis of the report and the researcher’s thinking are the objectives provided by the client….”

McDaniel and Gates further tell us to be storytellers (p. 468). With mountains of information, the challenge to the report writer is how to package it into a coherent message. Story telling helps. They finally inform us that Microsoft PowerPoint is not only used for the oral presentation but often for the written report (p. 470). This has been my experience at work. Vendors, including prestigious firms like Booz Allen, submit final reports as PowerPoints. It is fitting with our over burdening workloads.

How does the written report differ from the presentation in terms of its function and format?
Boyd and Westphal (1964, p. 579) say the oral presentation demands “greater use of dramatics”, in other words more use of visual aids. They also suggest that transparencies, what we now call PowerPoint slides, make greater use of “headline style” writing. McDaniel and Gates (2008, p. 473) note that the presentation is an assembly of stakeholders who need to get “reacquainted with the research objectives and methodology.” They say that a copy of the full report along with the visual presentation should be handed to the participants.

The presentation must succinctly express the following (p. 475) as part of the persuasion process. First, interpret what the data mean and the impact on the organization. Next, we have learned something and does this new knowledge reveal new opportunities? Finally, what could be done better? This last point goes to the Boyd and Westphal inclusion of a Limitations section in the report itself.

McDaniel and Gates (2008, p. 476) offer the possibility of using Web technology to publish the presentation. We have done that at work. It is easy to publish a PowerPoint as a self-contained Web page or as an attachment to a blog. The blog allows for community feedback and commentary. We deal with an organization of lawyers, so we still need the face-to-face and the cross-examination in person, even if we post on a Web page


Boyd, Harper and Ralph Westfall (1964). Marketing Research Text and Cases. Richard Irwin.

Johnson, E. (2009). Communicating Research Results & Managing Marketing Research. Retrieved on July 11, 2009 from

McDaniels, C and R Gates (2008). Marketing Research Essentials. John Wiley.

Neal, William D (Spring 1998). The Marketing Research Methodologist. Marketing Research.

Rubin, Allen and Earl Babbie (2005). Research Methods for Social Work. Thompson/Brooks/Cole.

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