MBA Marketing Research Project Guidelines
This document communicates the guidelines and expectations for the marketing research project.
Additional details may be provided depending on the nature of your particular project.
A Consumer Behavior Focus
The vast majority of marketing research dollars are spent in an effort to describe, explain, and/or
predict consumer behavior. The reason is simple – consumers are a complex phenomenon – far
more complex than any business model, financial market, tax code, supply chain, or
organizational chart. The truth is that most companies and organizations are terrified that they
don’t really know who their customers or potential customers are or what these customers
“really” want. There is an underlying fear that competitors understand the customer better and, in
doing so, will serve them better. Keeping up with consumers is hard. Their perceptions,
emotions, beliefs, and preferences are constantly evolving as they navigate myriad cultural,
social, spiritual, physical, and cognitive environments. No degree of logic, expertise, or
experience can provide a magical portal into their hearts and minds. If we hope to create and
nurture relationships with consumers, we must stay close to them, interact with them, listen to
them, and learn how to respond to their needs appropriately. Only research can provide
organizations with the requisite information.
Accordingly, we shall focus our projects on elucidating aspects of consumer behavior. Some
projects may have a more applied focus, such as understanding how consumers respond to online
consumer reviews or how gift cards impact spending behaviors. Other projects may focus more
on improving the tools we use to try to understand consumers (i.e., “research on research”).
Research firms and departments routinely conduct both kinds of research, as managerial projects
pay the bills and “research on research” creates and enhances one’s ability to produce value-
added insights in managerial projects.
Most, if not all of your projects will execute an experimental or quasi-experimental methodology
and will employ some form of qualitative and/or archival research. (We will do questionnaire
development as a class). The types of data analysis used may vary significantly from project to
project depending on the research questions at hand.
I. Overview of Project Activities
Below is an overview of the activities that comprise the project. This is not an outline of the
project report but rather an organized list of things that we will be doing to produce the report. It
is intended to give you a sense of the scope and nature of the project.
A. Specify the research problem and objectives.
• All good research improves our knowledge by filling a gap, enhancing accuracy, or
establishing boundary conditions. Thus, our first task is to identify the specific ways in which
our current knowledge is deficient. In other words, why would our client/manager want to
allocate precious and scarce resources to our project?
• Having identified a knowledge deficiency, we need to propose a solution for addressing
it. This is a focusing task. One of the most common problems in research is a lack of focus,
which leads to trying to do too much. When we find ourselves spending a lot of time wondering
what the right methods and measures are, it is a sure sign that we lack focus.
• Remember that the purpose of research is not to make decisions but rather to inspire decision
makers. If a decision maker wants us to produce research and make decisions, we are no longer
researchers but instead management consultants and should expect to be compensated at a higher
B. Design the key study or studies.
• All research ultimately seeks to describe, explain, and/or predict something. This “something”
is typically an outcome or effect that is of managerial interest. For example, a manager who
wants to make a decision about the type of background music to play in a retail space may
hypothesize that “higher tempo music makes people walk faster, which leads to less time for
shopping, which leads to less time for deliberative decision making, which leads to lower sales
of high involvement products.” To aid the manager, we may seek to design a study in which we
measure shopping time, product type, and sales.
• Just as we seek to observe or measure outcomes of interest, we are also interested in
determining the impact or influence of marketing decision variables and other “causal”
factors. For example, in the preceding example we might systematically vary the tempo, volume,
and/or genre of the music to better understand consumer responses. In some cases we can not
actually vary a factor (e.g., gender) but we may still think about it as a potential causal factor of
• There are many ways to carry out the same research idea. Thus, we must make choices
and specify a particular study procedure. That is, we must figure out the logistics of
running the study. It should be very clear in our minds how the study will transpire,
moment by moment. As multiple persons will probably be gathering data, it is important
to ensure uniformity of the protocol. We also need to understand or anticipate the
influence of various “contextual” factors that are not of focal interest but nevertheless
may influence the outcomes of interest (e.g., lighting, questionnaire wording or modality,
researcher-respondent interaction, etc.)
C. Design the collection method (i.e., study materials).
• Typically, the data collection methods will contain both the stimuli (i.e., words, pictures,
sounds, or objects that we create and/or muster in order to vary causal factors of interest) and the
measured outcomes of interest. We must think very carefully about all of the data that is
required to test our ideas, including various participant factors (e.g., demographics,
psychographics, individual differences).
• Just as important, we must think about the analyses we are planning to run. If we don’t
measure the responses in the right way, we may not be able to analyze them or we may
be forced to use crude techniques that only partially answer our questions.
D. Sample the relevant population.
• As best as we can, we will administer our questionnaires to people that are appropriate
for the study at hand. In most cases, a minimum of 75-100 respondents is necessary to
have a chance to extract insights. Some study designs may necessitate a larger sample.
If using online blogs, chat groups, etc., we want to be able to document them well and make sure
they are relevant.
• We will discuss the much misunderstood concept of sample “representativeness.”
• You may collect data online or offline.
E. Analyze the data and write the report.
II. Summary of Deliverables
A. Report (75% of product grade)
• Hard copy, typed, double-spaced, 12 font. (see section III for suggested outline and level of
• Soft copy of the hard copy in word processing format (i.e., no pdfs or other image files)
• Grammar and spelling are important/count.
B. PowerPoint presentation (25% of project grade)
• We will be creating a “deck” of slides that could be used to present the research to
management or a client.
• You will be presenting the findings in class.
• Visual appeal and spelling are important/count.
C. Supporting Materials (must be turned in to receive project grade)
• SPSS file containing study data if doing a survey. Printouts of blogs, chat groups, focus groups
depth interviews, and electronic copies (word docs) and listing of web addresses.
Experience-based tips on getting the report done:
• Write/draft the report as you go! Don’t wait until you are done with all of the data collection
and analysis. The details will not be as fresh and you will have many other things on your
plate. Teams who have followed this advice in the past have not only done very well, they
have completed the project earlier and with smiles on their faces. Happiness is a choice.
• Everyone should be involved in the data analysis in some form. Managing and interpreting
the data constitutes the major, value-added activity in the project. The world is full of good
ideas, interesting data, and poor analysis.
• Division of labor and specialization can sometimes be a good thing. Just make sure everyone
is comfortable with the way it is divided. There will be a peer evaluation.
III. Generic Outline for the Written Report
A generic, but detailed outline for the report is provided in this section. A couple of other
comments are provided below.
• Artful, effective deviations in structure and content are welcome.
• The expected length is 15-20 pages (double-spaced, excluding appendices). It is possible to
write an effective report that is shorter. In contrast, reports that are longer than this are
usually lacking in cogency and clarity.
• It is not good practice to include reams of output in the appendices. Instead, this sends up a
red flag that the report contains uncritical or unfocused analysis. All output should be clearly
labeled and referenced in the written portion of the report. Otherwise, it does not belong in
A. Introduction (1-2 pages)
• What is the general area of research?
• Why is the research necessary?
• What will be accomplished in this research?
• Hint at the results (tease the reader – make them want to read more)
B. Background and Theory (1-2 pages)
• Review relevant prior research. What do we already know about this topic?
• We are primarily interested in peer-reviewed literature, not unsubstantiated (i.e., nonempirical)
opinions or commercially motivated observations in magazine articles or
o The best place to start is Business Source Premier. You can search for many types
of articles and, in most cases, access pdfs if you are on the BU network
o The next place to look is Google Scholar. Sometimes you can dig up an article that
isn’t in Business Source Premier.
o Another good place to look is Web of Science.
• Building on what we learn, we can develop our own theory about why things happen.
Based on our theory, we can state some expectations or hypothesis in terms of the study
factors and responses. Note that we are making a distinction between our explanation of
something and the data we will be using to test the explanation. The former is abstract
and logical while the latter is concrete and factual.
C. Methods (3-5 pages)
o From whom did you collect the data?
o How were they recruited to participate?
o Provide some descriptive statistics.
2. Procedure and Materials
o Describe how the study was conducted. The focus here is on logistics. Give enough
detail so that the reader gets a sense of “what happened”
o Describe any materials that are pertinent to the study (e.g., pictures or stories used
as stimuli). Provide justifications for material choices where appropriate.
o This is where you state the formal design in terms of factors and response variables.
o Indicate exactly how the factors are manipulated and how you assigned participants
to receive the manipulations (e.g., random assignment)
o Describe the response measures (scales and observations) and any other measures
that were taken.
o Provide evidence of the reliability and validity of the measures.
D. Results (4-5 pages)
1. Manipulation checks. Were the factors varied as intended? What evidence do we have
that this is the case? It is important to have some evidence so that we don’t end up
wondering if non-significant effects were due to failed manipulations rather than poor
measures, an underpowered sample, or an incorrect theory.
2. Tests of theory/hypotheses
o This is where we want to report analyses of the data from the main study design
o It may help to organize the analysis according to the response measures
o Report all necessary statistics. In many cases a table may be desirable as a summary
o Where possible, complement the analysis with a graphical depiction of the data
o Do not editorialize. That is, do not comment on whether the results are “good” or
“bad” or what the potential implications are. The results section should be objective
and factual. Let the data tell its own story in this section.
o Be sure to indicate where the data are consistent or inconsistent with the research
E. Discussion (1-2 pages)
• Summarize the key results
• Reiterate for the reader why the research is necessary and important
F. Implications (1-2 pages)
• Given knowledge of our results, what are the implications for other researchers or
managers who may be affected by our findings?
G. Limitations and Future Research (1-2 pages)
• All research has limitations because there are only so many factors that can be examined
at one time.
• Focus on limitations that are unique to this study as opposed to philosophical issues that
could be applied to virtually any inquiry.
• Be sure to maintain a distinction between potential and actual limitations.
• Limitations usually present an opportunity for future research to improve our knowledge.
Discuss any particularly promising avenues for future research to advance your inquiry.
• What would be your advice for researchers thinking about running a study similar to
yours? For example, were there any special challenges in terms of measurement or
logistics or stimulus construction?
• Given our likely time and budget constraints, the samples may be limited in terms of size
(sampling error) and representation (non-sampling error). To what extent are we
concerned about these factors in terms of our own data?
o Hint 1: sample size impacts the power (sensitivity) of statistical techniques to detect
o Hint 2: sample representativeness does not mean that your respondents must
physically or demographically resemble the population of interest. These variables
are often completely irrelevant. What matters are the dependent variables…do your
respondents resemble the population in terms of the processes underlying the
specific responses gathered?
• What notable observations, if any, can we make about respondents’ reactions or
behaviors during data collection (i.e., respondent-based non-sampling error)?
• Copy of stimuli and/or questionnaire used to generate and collect data
• Coding sheet (i.e., the “key” for getting the variables and data from the questionnaire to
the SPSS data file)
• Other selected output that is too large to place in the body of the report itself
IV. PowerPoint Slide Deck
Follow the basic outline of the written report, but be very selective in terms of content and detail.
There are two important reasons for this.
• First, design the presentation to be about 20 minutes long. This corresponds to the typical
manager’s or client’s attention span for research results : )
• Second, in order to be interesting and effective, the presentation should focus more on what
you found and less on how you found it (this is good advice for any type of research
presentation). Remember, the intended audience may be fairly strong in terms of analytical
thinking, but not necessarily well-versed in the specific techniques being presented.
Presentation Assessment (dimensions weighted equally)
A. Presentation quality: how well the presentation communicates. A good presentation is one
where the recipient is provided with good transitions between ideas and doesn’t have to
work hard to understand the main points. Use diagrams and pictures wherever possible in
place of numbers and in place of long chains of logic.
B. Content quality: the in-depth thinking underlying the analysis and recommendations;
ability to include only the most pertinent issues in the presentation.
C. Use of the time limit: Tailor the level of detail to the time limit. Simply adhering to the time
limit is not sufficient. We could, in theory, adhere to any time limit by rushing through an
over-prepared presentation or by dragging through an under-prepared presentation.
Marketing Research Project Ideas (Samples)
We Love to Hate You Managerial Issue: Some people love to hate a given brand, team, school,
store, etc. Why? Is it the object itself, or is it an underlying cause or activity. When these people
form anti-brand communities, what are the effects on the companies? How do such anti-brand
What is a Consumption Orientation? How has it affected consumers, firms, and society.
When do customers become mobs? How “dense” do they have to be?
What do virtual worlds really mean for consumer behavior in (1) the virtual world and (2)
spillover into the real world? In short, how do people (a) act differently in virtual worlds and real
life, (b) change their real life behavior due to virtual world activities, etc.
Price endings. How do people evaluate different price endings (as far as fairness goes)? Do
certain endings get preference over others? Does this vary according to how large the purchase
is? (e.g., 9.98 vs. 49.98).