How to Get Information for Marketing Decisions


Information is the cornerstone of modern marketing. It binds the marketing system together by providing data on the needs of customers as well as building a picture of the external press­ures and internal capabilities determining the firm’s ability to meet the market requirements profitably over time.

The manager of the smaller firm has greater access to his cus­tomers and shorter lines of communication. These give him major advantages over the large corporation executive. He is seldom cut off from customer comments, attitudes and needs. Despite this, his intelligence gathering capability is often not used to the full. This reflects a lack of recognition of the poten­tial value of information and a failure to plan its role in the firm.

Marketing Decisions

The marketing-oriented firm works hard to ensure that the gathering, organisation and use of information from the market place is geared to effective management decisions. The retailer hearing an assistant say, ‘You’re the sixth person today to ask for that but we don’t stock it as there’s no demand’, and the engineering firm convinced that it is their level of after-sales service that sells their product but ‘we still offer the lowest prices in the area’ already have some of the data to improve their market position.

Collecting this information and organising it to answer ques­tions, solve problems and meet customer needs is the sphere of marketing research. The array of sources ranges from the firm’s own records and staff to government, private and commercial agencies and ultimately to specially commissioned studies. In fact, many managers starting off on the information gathering effort find the sheer volume of data the greatest deterrent to its use. This is why a clear brief which identifies the questions, problems and issues is vital. To specify the data needed and plan its uses effectively, the variables affecting these issues need to be identified. It calls for careful thought before the search starts. But the firm which recognises that there is a problem is halfway to solving it.

The prime source of data for the manager of a small firm is inhouse information. This includes sales records, dispatch fig­ures, stock details, details of inquiries and orders, and the ma­terial that can be gathered by salesmen, delivery staff and top management. It appears very easy to collect this information, but it is often so badly organised that the value is lost. Hard thought about what facts are required is necessary. Simplifi­cation of the material can provide massive advances in access. This can be as simple as rounding figures to tens, hundreds or even thousands while ensuring that simplification does not lead to distortion. Specific problems can be examined by deeper analysis of company records.

Oceania Motors had always emphasised high service levels and good quality in its new and used car sales. The high costs were paid for by high levels of repeat purchase of replacement vehicles by customers. A progressive deterioration in turnover forced a rethink about the overall approach. Before changing policies, the managing director checked his assumptions about levels of repeat purchase from company sales records. He was shocked to find that, during the 1970s, they had fallen from over 60 per cent of sales to less than 20 per cent. Further data analysis led to other important findings.

The most important of these was the picture from govern­ment sources of the changing population profile of the area. It emerged that their home town had changed from being largely self-sufficient in jobs to being increasingly dependent on a major city and several new towns. The middle management groups -on which their business has been built increasingly worked for large city-based firms. A research report by their trade organisation pointed out the rapidly growing proportion of managers obtaining company cars. Rival car firms, based [r\ the city, were winning this business. This information was only part of the store collected and disseminated by the government Any executive who has felt, when filling in government forms ‘how useful it would be to know about my competitors’ is most of the way to recognising the value of government information because it is all published somewhere, albeit in a form geared to government requirements while protecting confidence.

This information is supplemented and made more relevant to specific industries by material published by such bodies as trade associations, industry research associations and commer­cial services. Much of this information can be purchased if firms are not members of their trade associations. Recently, industry research associations have become more marketing oriented. A number of commercial publications now exist pro­viding detailed marketing intelligence.

Marketing

Much information is available through central, university and polytechnic libraries. They often employ specialist staff to assist inquirers. One Manchester-based electrical equipment manufacturer regularly uses the information gleaned from various publications in the Manchester Central and Manchester Busi­ness School Libraries to direct his activities. Some libraries, such as the City Business Library and those of certain chambers of commerce, have outstanding reputations for helping the practical businessman.

Sometimes the need may emerge for a more structured and scientific approach to information gathering. This is the sphere of market research. British firms are fortunate in having access to large numbers of highly skilled and reputable research agencies. These offer systematic and formalised investigations of both general topics and specialised areas. There are costs in­volved but these should be related to the value of the infor­mation and the potential pay-offs. A number of firms have found that, within their limitations, business studies students at colleges and universities have been able to assist with research.

We are now seeing an information and communication revol­ution. Smaller firms are well-placed to take advantage of the opportunities offered to those able to respond quickly, positively and flexibly to market conditions. However, this depends on their willingness to look outside, and build up and use a pic­ture of the market place.

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About the Author: Marie Mayle is a contributor to the MegaHowTo team, writer, and entrepreneur based in California USA. She holds a degree in Business Administration. She loves to write about business and finance issues and how to tackle them.

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