The Stuff Nightmares Are Made Of… and SMstudy

Were you ever required to write a research paper in one of your classes in school?

One of our editors here at SMstudy used to be a public school English teacher. He remembers the anxiety that the traditional research paper assignment caused some of his students. They complained of stomachaches, headaches and sleep deprivation due to nightmares.

He recalls telling them that they still had to do the paper and do it on time, and they didn’t have to like it. He could have been nicer, but that was “back in the day,” and we all know how bad it was “back in the day.”

That experience is not very different from what some marketing professionals undergo when facing a marketing research project. Like the rare students that loved (cough cough) doing research papers, there are professionals who relish marketing research. Yet, a significant number of professionals prefer jumping directly to the creative aspects of getting a product or service to market without all the number crunching and bean counting that often accompanies market research.

The first obstacle our colleague’s students had to hurdle was understanding what a research paper is. That is also true for marketers. Simply put, “Marketing Research is the systematic process of collecting, processing, and analyzing data to provide required information to decision makers,” according to Digital Marketing, a book in the SMstudy Guide to the Sales and Marketing Body of Knowledge series (SMstudy® Guide). When this is understood, the marketer can begin the project.

The first step for the students was to answer the question, “Is my topic researchable?” To answer this, they had to determine if others had written about their topic and if those writings were in a form that the students could understand. Even though they are on similar topics, a doctoral level paper on the precipitation characteristics of hydrocarbon molecules in aerosols doesn’t help a high school student researching air pollution.

“In marketing research, the first step is to define the research problem and objectives of the research,” says Digital Marketing. Like the students checking to see if others had written about their subjects, the marketing professional will use background information to evaluate the research problem and move forward, “Background information puts the research objectives into context, helping the researcher understand why certain research objectives are being pursued… The background information provides hints to the researcher regarding what information he or she should be looking for and where to look for it.”

“Once the research problem is properly defined, the next step is to choose a research design that can address the problem and objectives,” says the SMstudy® Guide. Choosing a research design—“a set of guidelines or a blueprint that specifies the methods and procedures for obtaining and analyzing the required information”—involves many of the same concerns the students had determining if their topics were researchable. The marketing researcher checks to see if his or her own company, industry associations, educational research institutions, competitors or others have already compiled and published the needed research.  Using these resources, called secondary data sources, is also the least expensive method to provide appropriate and accurate information and data.

At times a marketing researcher may be faced with no previously published research. In this situation, primary research must be done and the researching team develops and utilizes tools for gaining data directly from the marketplace. These can be surveys, questionnaires, pilot programs, test marketing campaigns and many more. Primary research is more time extensive and dollar expensive than secondary research.

Not every marketing professional enjoys marketing research, and that’s why research companies exist. After all, research projects aren’t really scary enough to give professionals nightmares and they are easier with a bit of understanding and help.

For information on how to get a copy of Digital Marketing by SMstudy, please visit SMstudy® Guide.

For additional interesting and informational articles on sales and marketing, please visit


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