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I have selected eight dissertations from North American and British universities each of which addresses topics and issues of relevance to either academic or commercial research practitioners. Two of the North American dissertations feature the Internet. The first examines Internet market research and the second uses the Internet as the source of data for an investigation of negative word-of-mouth communications.
The impact of technology on market research practice is frequently the subject of papers at market research conferences. Sometimes the technology promises much but delivers little in the way of actual benefits to costs, process or recurring problems, such as declining response rates. There have been many papers in recent years on market research using the Internet and, indeed, most market research textbooks now cover the subject in some depth. A recent doctoral dissertation from Kathryn Gibson Kelly (2003), “Marketing research on the Internet: strengths and weaknesses in a business to business study” (The Claremont Graduate University), focused on the efficiency and effectiveness of Internet-based market research in B2B markets. She reported that global on-line research spending was estimated at 461 million dollars in 2000 and was expected to reach 800 million by the following year. It was further estimated that B2B studies only accounted 25 per cent of this spend despite the sampling frame problems usually associated with B2C on-line studies.
Kelly’s experimental research involved parallel telephone and Internet research amongst financial executives on the subject of technological practices employed for management reporting and data consolidation. In terms of efficiency, Kelly found that the cheaper/faster claims made for Internet research are true but only under certain circumstances. Specifically, Internet cost efficiencies increase with sample size. The telephone proved more efficient for smaller samples. The Internet interview was also quicker for most respondents and allowed more respondent control over time, pace and place contributing, according to Kelly, to a better interview experience.
Whilst many research agencies undertake similar controlled experiments on Internet research, this particular study is valuable in that there is full reporting of the experimental conditions and the findings.
Traditional marketing wisdom states that consumers are more inclined to tell others about their negative experiences than their positive ones. This widespread belief, combined with the communication efficacy of the Internet, keeps marketers awake at night according to Peter James Newman (2003) in the introductory chapter of his doctoral dissertation, “An investigation of consumer reactions to negative word-of-mouth on the Internet” (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).
Word-of-mouth communications have been notoriously difficult to research because, as Newman states, researchers have had to rely on consumers’ memories of communication exchanges. However, the Internet affords opportunities to capture such communications almost as soon as they occur via the transcripts of text-based messages and the responses to them posted on the Web. Transcripts of exchanges can be downloaded for subsequent coding and analysis.
Importantly, Newman’s study of such Internet exchanges revealed that negative word-of-mouth is not inevitably bad news for the company. The impact of the negative communication may be offset by someone providing positive word-of-mouth about the company or brand or when someone suggests that a situational variable beyond the control of the company was to blame. Furthermore, recipients of negative word-of-mouth assess the credibility of the source of the communication before making judgements on the company.
The next two very different dissertations have a common theme in advertising. Julien Cayla spent nine months with an Indian advertising agency working on projects for multinational clients. The resulting dissertation, “‘A passage to India’: An ethnographic study of the advertising agency’s role in mediating the cultural learning and adaptation of multinational corporations” (2003, University of Colorado at Boulder) demonstrates the ways that advertising agencies work with their multinational clients to represent and actively construct the Indian consumer and create markets.
However, the prize for the most intriguing dissertation title must surely go to Hadley J. Mozer’s (2003, Baylor University) “‘Don Juan’ and the advertising and advertised Lord Byron”. The life and career of Lord Byron (1788-1824) and the birth of modern advertising were covered, and Mozer’s study explores “some ramifications of that coincidence”. The study explores the rise and nature of advertising during Byron’s life time, his attitudes toward advertising as expressed in Don Juan as well as his involvement in advertising. The study demonstrates that the cult and culture of celebrity is nothing new and, as Mozer argues, the advertising activity that surrounded the publication of Don Juan heralded present day promotion and hype.
Full details and abstracts for these four dissertations can be obtained from the UMI ProQuest Digital Dissertations database, which can be located at: wwwlib.umi.com/dissertations
I have selected four dissertations to illustrate the wide range of marketing topics covered by recent dissertations from British universities. J.E.M. Williams’s (2002) dissertation, “The role and uses of market research in small and medium-sized exporting companies” (Plymouth), involved depth interviews with exporters, export market research suppliers and support organisations. This was followed by a survey of industrial SMEs. The research revealed that SMEs gather export information less than they make export decisions. Importantly, a shortfall was identified between the level and type of information support that SMEs needed and what was on offer from the market research industry and government export support programmes.
Although focusing on supply chains, J.M. Frances’s (2002) dissertation, “From field to fridge: innovation in UK food retailing” (Open University) will be of interest to all those who are involved in retail research and marketing. Frances writes that the thesis was organised around the question of how UK supermarkets came to dominate the UK food market and points out that the research illustrates how markets can be structured and controlled by strategic reconfiguration of supply sources and customer outlets.
C.S. Bugge’s (2002) dissertation “The end of youth subculture? Dance culture and youth marketing 1988-2000” (Kingston) questions whether youth cultures are organically formed or commercially created. Bugge writes that the research illustrates the crucial role that marketing plays in the formation and communication of youth cultures. Indeed, argues Bugge, Youth Subculture is now a concept more readily employed for selling lifestyle to consumers than a reliable model for understanding young peoples” culture.
Finally, in this selection of dissertations, L. Ryals’s (2002) dissertation, “The total value of the customer and targeted marketing strategies” (Cranfield) will be of interest to researchers working in the related areas of marketing metrics, customer relationship management and segmentation. A model for defining the total value of the customer is developed and tested. The model incorporates risk, as it is argued that shareholders” value involves both risk and return, and assessments of customer relationship values that go beyond traditional profitability analyses.
Full abstracts for these dissertations can be obtained from: www.theses.com