A marketing research study may be either exploratory or full scale. Exploratory research is conducted when the researcher does not know how and why certain phenomenon occurs. Here, the hypothetical solutions or actions are explored and evaluated by the decision-maker, e.g. evaluation of quality of service of a bank/hotel/airline. Here, the quality cannot be assessed directly as tangible features are not available.
The purpose of exploratory research is to know the unknown. Exploratory research determines fruitful alternatives that the executive would not have perceived. This also narrows down the scope of the investigation. Exploratory research is undertaken to get the answer to the following question. “What alternative courses of action might solve the problem and thereby reach the final objective?” This research is unstructured in character. Exploratory studies are important. They may provide adequate information on a decision situation or may greatly facilitate the design of formal research studies.
To explore means to find out or discover. Exploratory research is conducted in order to find out causes/reasons behind a specific marketing problem. It is the starting point in all types of research projects. The purpose of exploratory research is to define the marketing problem precisely, collect required information/data relating to the problem and identify alternative courses of action in order to deal with the marketing problem. For example, advertising campaign of a company may not give positive results in terms of sales. The failure of campaign may be due to many possible causes relating to advertising copy, media selected, faulty pre-testing, faulty illustration give, wrong timing of ad. campaign or finally inadequate follow-up measures to the ad. campaign. In the exploratory research, the possible causes will be identified, the most appropriate causes will be selected, hypothesis will be developed and research activity will be conducted accordingly. Survey of consumers, retailers, sales executives and sales-force will be useful for exploratory research. On some occasions, small scale sales survey may provide useful data for exploratory research.
In exploratory research, the stress/focus is on the discovery of ideas/causes. For example, sales may be declining for the last six months. Quick study may be conducted to find out the causes/factors responsible. Such causes will be listed. Here, an exploratory study/research may be conducted in order to find out the most likely cause so as to introduce suitable remedial measures.
The objective of exploratory research is to generate/discover new ideas. The secondary/published data can be used for exploratory research as such data are easily available. If the services of respondents are used (for survey purpose), they should be given full freedom to express themselves. The same rule should be made applicable to focus groups. Exploratory research is useful for the study of marketing problems about which sufficient information/details are not available. Exploratory study needs to be flexible in its approach.
Exploratory Research is used:
To define the problem more precisely
To identify relevant courses of action i.e. find the most likely alternatives, which are then turned into hypotheses.
Isolate key variables and relationships for further examinations.
Gain insights for developing an approach to a problem.
Establish priorities for further research.
Once a hypothesis is formulated, research is used to determine if the hypothesis was correct. Hypothesis is tentative answers to questions that serve as guides for most research projects
Exploratory research may also be involved when the perceived problem is much less general; it is used to develop the most promising hypotheses. The findings of exploratory research should be regarded as tentative or as an input to further research. Typically, such research is followed by further exploratory or conclusive research. The analysis of primary data is qualitative.
In general, exploratory research is meaningful in any situation in which the researcher does not have enough understanding to proceed with the research project.