Before explaining the methodology it is important to note that some planned and some unplanned changes have taken place since the original research proposal.
The original research topic of: An investigation into the traditional principles of marketing in light of emarketing [in the aviation industry] was changed. The new research topic is: An investigation into the traditional principles of marketing [the marketing mix] in light of the impact of Ecommerce within the aviation training industry.
The reason for the above change was that, after discussion with the supervisors involved in the research project, the study seemed too narrow (Bryany 2003). It was decided that such a narrow study would be of no use outside of the aviation industry and little use outside of the case study organisation. In order to attempt to make the study more “useful” the research scope was widened from the field of emarketing into the discipline of ecommerce. This change also had the benefit of making the overall study more suited to the MSc course, ecommerce, rather than just a small part of it, the emarketing module.
To further address the concern of narrowness within the industry of aviation training, while also attempting to make the study more useful to people who are involved in other industries that are rapidly becoming more ecommerce intense, a broader sample than originally suggested was used. This strategy not only promoted the usefulness of the research (Evaluating 2003) but also disseminated more accurate results through better sampling. Originally the proposed approach involved conducting an interview with a marketing officer at a specific aviation training facility known to the student, however, due to this possibly overlooking a better suited case study organisation a selection of organisations were first evaluated using a structured framework in order to select the most appropriate one. The most appropriate one was deemed to be the one that had the most active involvement in ecommerce due to the study’s aim to examine the impact that ecommerce had made.
While it was decided that the original research plan may have been narrow in design the actual field of marketing was also an area that needed to be addressed. Marketing is a field, like many others (Blaxter et al 1996), that already contains lifetimes of research and incorporating the whole marketing process into this study would be impractical so in order to give more focus to the theoretical side of study [while still broadening its practicality and usefulness] it was decided to focus on the marketing mix.
Due to the above changes the secondary objectives of the study also had to be modified so the actual approach was as follows:
- Identify the fundamental principles of the marketing mix and how they have evolved over time.
- Select a case study organisation to test the fundamental principles of the marketing mix against.
- Test which of the fundamental principles of the marketing mix apply within the case study organisation with consideration for the evolution of the marketing mix process.
- Develop and present an argument presenting the results of the study. Consider whether the traditional principles of the marketing mix are still valid in the case study organisation.
As with the original research proposal once the secondary objectives have been met the overall research project will be completed. This approach is advised by Campbell (1994) as it creates an easy to follow targeted plan which allows the researcher better focus.
The changes to the study explained above, while making it more practical and useful; still leave it within the scope of the researcher’s interests and future career. As stated by Blaxter et al (1996) these are two of the most important factors for consideration when undertaking any course of study as it is the main decisive factor in seeing it through.
The approach to the research process
Before starting out on the research project the student needed to evaluate approaches to it in order to decide upon which route to take. Of the many approaches to research Bassey (1999) describes two “paradigms” which most researchers will fit into. They are the positivist paradigm and the interpretive paradigm. According to Bassey the paradigm that an individual fits into depends entirely upon their perception of reality. It is beyond the scope of most studies [philosophers have debated reality for lifetimes and are no closer to a definitive answer than they were when they first started (Smith 1997)] to elucidate the differences between these approaches or to fully explain them, however, the main factors that were taken into consideration when deciding upon the appropriate approach are detailed below.
The student rejected the positivist approach at the outset due to the personal belief that the method is dated. While many variables can be tested using a positivist approach it is illogical to hypothesise that every single “experiment” has only one possible outcome. The positivist research angle relies only on what can be measured and codified (Szmigin et al 2000) to use as absolute proof of a reality. This age old approach takes the assumption that everything that happens in the universe happens because of a law, cause or effect that can be broken down using mechanical scientific reasoning (Trochim 2000). Because of the nature of this research positivist researchers expect that no matter who carries out the research the same conclusion will ultimately be reached as the researcher is an insignificant variable within the overall research process (Bassey 1999) which is carried out to discover the one possible truth to a situation. This idealistic [in the opinion of the student] approach did not blend well with the student’s intention of carrying out interview[s] as a primary tool in collecting qualitative data.
Quantitative data is often viewed as more concrete than qualitative data as it has only one reality, is unambiguous and is measurable (Research 2003). Positivists would argue that this, along with the fact that the research has no influence on the data, makes the data more valuable. Quantitative data is always measurable in numeric terms and would include data such as the number of respondents to a questionnaire who answered in a certain way or the ration of cars on the road in relation to motorbikes.
Wolcott (2001) highlights a potential flaw with quantitative data in that it is often impossible to capture complex data or opinions within it. If quantitative data was the only type of data in existence, it would not be possible to codify people’s opinions which would limit research.
Qualitative data as defined by Strauss et al (1998) is any kind of research that produces findings that are not arrived at by means of statistical procedures. Multerud (2001) argues that the advantage that qualitative data has over quantitative is that it is more flexible allowing it to harness data that would be difficult to quantify while allowing accurate descriptions of complicated phenomenons.
Wolcott (2001) highlights a potential downfall with qualitative research is that it is open to the interpretation of the researcher. While it is recognised that this could also be seen as a strength (Creswell 1997) it is impossible to ignore the fact that personal involvement could be detrimental to the findings. The fact that the individual researcher’s interpretation of qualitative data is actually valued means that there is a strong degree of chance that different researchers may end up with different results making this method inappropriate for the positivist approach.
It is important to realise that, even though qualitative and quantitative are often presented as useful in different circumstances, they are not opposites but instead they complement one another.
“All quantitative data is based upon qualitative judgments; and all qualitative data can be described and manipulated numerically” (Trochim 2000)
Trochim (2000) highlights the fact that, usually, quantitative data can be converted to qualitative and vice versa. Sometimes this action can add value to a research project.
The student intends to collect qualitative data through an interview process to establish the effect ecommerce has had on the theory of the marketing mix within the aviation industry. Due to the fact that many positivists attack the method of data collection used by interpretive researchers [see the following paragraph] the following bullet points originally put forward by Sherman et al (1988) to defend the validity of qualitative research are included:
- Qualitative researchers want those who are studied to speak for themselves, to provide their perspectives in words and other actions.
- Qualitative researchers attend to the experience as a whole, not as separate variables. The aim of qualitative research is to understand experience as unified.
- The context of an inquiry is not contrived but arises out of the particular circumstances that prevail. Nothing is taken for granted.
Due to the nature of the data that will have to be collected [explained above] the student will be following the interpretive research paradigm. Not only does the researcher feel more comfortable with the concept of people being reality rather than there being a single reality “out there” to be discovered (Bassey 1999) but this approach allows for more appropriate research techniques to be applied within a case study type research project. The interpretive approach, also known as the phenomenology, ethnomethodology, hermeneutic and social anthropology (Bassey 1999) approaches assume people are the centrepiece of a piece of research. As an interpretive researcher the student realises that people all see the world differently therefore there are different understandings of reality. The common ground people share as far as the interpretation of data goes is nothing more than similarities in the way in which they see the world (Bassey 1999).
The goal of this research project, bearing in mind the interpretive approach, will be to advance the knowledge of the researcher, and readers of the paper, by describing the behaviour within a case study organisation in an attempt to gain a theoretical insight as to the effect that ecommerce has had on the process of the marketing mix. A successful result will be to create a meaning that other people can share and appreciate. Due to the nature of this approach the findings will not be concrete.
The actual research undertaken
The idea of the first section of the study was designed to identify the fundamental principles of the marketing mix. This is accomplished using secondary research; Knowledge Base (2003) defines secondary research by saying:
“Secondary research describes information gathered through literature, publications, broadcast media, and other non-human sources. Secondary research is in general easier to gather than primary.” (Knowledge Base 2003)
The sources used in secondary research can usually be fit into one of three categories either primary sources or secondary sources or tertiary sources. It is important not to confuse primary sources with primary research which is examined later. A primary source is raw, unedited, uninterpreted and unevaluated information [often newspapers/letters/diaries]. A secondary source is one which digests and analyses information which is taken from a primary source [often scholarly periodicals/books] . Finally, tertiary sources are sources that compile and digest secondary data [reference books] (DVC Library 2003).
One of the advantages of secondary research is that it is relatively easy to conduct it from an external point of view without getting personally involved in the research, this is not always the case with primary research [looked at later] in which people can become personally involved due to the fact it is often their own research project. On the flipside a negative aspect of secondary research is that you are often using other people’s work which often means that the information you are using is not designed for the specific purpose you are using it for. There are various methods of overcoming this issue, usually just extracting the parts of the data you require is sufficient, however, this can mean that you have to use several sources to extract several pieces of useful data meaning everything you would like is not in the same place (KnowledgeBase 2003).
The reason why secondary research makes up the bulk of this section is because it very academic in nature and much of the required information is historical. This means that the only viable source was existing literature. There is also the issue that this section analyses various different existing theories therefore the information regarding those theories must come from existing literature.
In order to ensure the validity of the secondary sources used care was taken to make sure websites were relatively up to date and journals came from a reliable location [Emerald full-text]. All other literature used was either written by or published by reputable names.
Following the academic study of the various marketing mix models the structured framework (Rao et al 2003) was applied to a sample of six aviation organisations in order to establish their involvement in ecommerce.
Trochim (2000) explains sampling as the process in which units are selected to be used within a research project. There are two kinds of sampling suggested by Trochim, each of these contains several sampling methods. As with the research philosophy it is beyond the scope of this study to address each of the approaches [or sampling processes], however, it is important to identify them:
Probability sampling: –
A method of sampling that utilises some form of random selection process. To use a valid probability sample there must be some formula applied to the involved population that guarantees each member of the sample population has an equal chance of selection. Methods of probability sampling include:
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified random sampling
- Systematic random sampling
- Cluster random sampling
- Multi-stage sampling
Nonprobability sampling: –
The nonprobable approach involves no randomness at all and is viewed by most researchers as a weaker alternative to probability sampling (Blaxter et al 1996) because there is a strong chance that the general population will not be represented by the results of the research. Methods of nonprobability sampling include:
- Accidental sampling
- Hazardous sampling
- Convenience sampling
- Purposive sampling
The aviation training facilities that had the framework applied to them were selected using the convenience sampling method.
Trochim (2003) argues that convenience sampling is much more common today than most researchers would like to admit, this is because they tend to justify their research methods after it is complete by matching it to a method viewed as more authentic – in a way reverse engineering their research. One case put forward by Trochim is the popular use of American college students as a sample he argues this sample is not one that represents a true probability sample and instead one that is done for researchers convenience. For a more in depth look at Trochim’s argument the reader can review his website [see bibliography]. According to Trochim convenience sampling is the most common form of sampling in use today.
The justification for this sampling approach is that the idea of applying the framework to the selected organisations was to then carry out more research on the organisation that the framework ranked as the most advanced in terms of ecommerce. This meant that potentially any of the selected organisations would need to be willing to participate in further study therefore only organisations that the student knew would be willing to participate in that study [from previous experience within the industry and organisations involved] were sampled. This approach also kept the study within the scope of the student’s career prospects [as the majority of the organisations were ones known to the student] as highlighted in the original research proposal. The downside of this approach was that it leaves the research open to the criticism that the sample used is not entirely applicable to the population at large.
While there could be an argument presented that the approach to sampling was weak it would be impractical, within the given timescale, to conduct a random sample which constantly selected the most appropriate organisation for further research as one that would be unwilling to help. There is also the counter argument that a sample of six aviation training facilities cannot present a realistic representation of the industry due to the sample size, remember the idea of applying the framework was the reduce the narrowness of the research which it did.
The convenience sample also catered more to the interpretive approach than the positive approach as it does not involve the use of theories or numbers as a part of a random selection process, relying more on “common sense”.
The framework was applied to the sample of aviation training facilities by the student. The approach to this was to examine the company websites and evaluate them against the framework. The strength of this approach was that it did not allow for input from the organisations involved meaning that their bias would not be incorporated into the research. These companies were written up in order of least to most involvement in ecommerce to simplify the results for the reader.
Once the final decision on the case study organisation was made, International Aviation, a degree of primary research was carried out.Primary research is defined as:
“Primary research describes information gathered through interaction with other people. Primary research can be gathered through meetings, one-on-one interview, focus groups, and surveys.” (Trochim 2000)
At this stage the intention was to test which of the fundamental principles of the marketing mix would apply within the case study organisation and the approach to this was to interview the marketing officer at International Aviation. The reason why the interview technique was chosen was that, according to the paper Research Methods (2002), interviews are a proficient method of capturing qualitative data, which was the kind of data that would be required in the study [especially since the interpretive approach was being used].
The interview was to be a semi-planned loose-structured interview as advised in the paper Teaching Clinical Psychology (2003). This meant that the main body of the interview was to be made up of general open-ended questions which the interviewee could elaborate upon, McDowell (2003) advises this as the best approach through which to probe an interviewee without leading them. Information was only to be volunteered to the interviewee if the interview was losing focus. The loose structure for the interview was to be the Borden’s (1964) twelve point framework, each of the points was to be raised and then the interviewee was to be left to discuss the use of that aspect of the framework within the organisation.
If the interviewee seemed to evade a question or leave it unanswered one of the following techniques (Trochin 2000) would be used to attempt to gain a more complete answer depending upon the situation the interviewer would have to think quickly and apply the appropriate technique:
- The silent probe: –
This is a powerful method of provoking a response that is built upon the cultural fact that silence is often seen as uncomfortable and this could possibly provoke the interviewee to continue discussing what they were asked (Bassey 1999)
- Overt encouragement
This technique is the method of directly encouraging a further response from the interviewee (Trochin 2000)
Simply asking the interviewee to elaborate on a comment can provoke a deeper response (Trochim 2000)
Asking for clarification, as suggested by Trochim (2000), is a way of getting the interviewee to reword something that they have previously said in the hope of them including something that they previously omitted.
This technique involves repeating back to the interviewee something that they have just said in the hope that they will elaborate on the topic. For example if someone described a journey where they were delayed and found it frustrating they a reply of “so you were frustrated on your journey” could possibly provoke a more extensive reply (Trochim 2000).
The interview was written up as a paraphrased transcript rather than a full transcript because the interviewee preferred a note taking process to the taping of the interview, taking a complete transcript from notes would be impossible. Bassey (1999) supports the paraphrased transcript over the full transcription of an interview as he says useless information and waffle can be eliminated allowing for better focus.
At this stage the research underwent a metamorphosis. After reviewing the interview both the student and supervisor decided that, with the existing research, a more feasible hypothisis would be to test the theory that was developed during the academic examination of the marketing mix process [secondary research previously described]. The following hypothesis became the focus of the research:
To test the unquestionable academic strength of Borden’s (1964) twelve point framework as a generic marketing mix model in an ecommerce intense organisation.
The reason for this change was that, although the interview did provide some insight into the nature of what aspects of the marketing mix applied within International Aviation, it was not enough on its own. It appeared that much more research was necessary. The reason for this was that while it was possible to draw reasonable conclusions as to what areas of the marketing mix were in use at International Aviation it was not possible to state for certain which aspects were not in use at all. Due to the approaching deadline it was decided that a change of direction was more feasible than further research.
Testing the academic twelve point framework is useful from a research perspective as testing an old theory in modern times is a way of checking if it has survived over time and, when completed, this approach would test the theory both academically and practically.
In order to test this academic theory in the practical world the paraphrased transcript of the interview was scrutinised for evidence of other marketing milestone theories that were previously examined. This gave the research, which previously had an academic intense standpoint, a practical balance. This is why the research conclusions are concerned with the practicality of the twelve point framework and not the original research question.
An ethical consideration
While carrying out the research the student came across a paradox which presented a problem to the research ethics. The organisation that was to be interviewed did not want to be named but agreed to the use of a pseudonym in order to protect its identity. The researcher had to make the decision to either name the other organisations that had the framework applied to them or to use pseudonyms for all involved. The decision was made that, out of respect for the organisations, no organisation would be named, especially since they were not voluntarily involved and informed consent had not being gained. Furthermore some of evaluations of the levels of ecommerce within the sample organisations did not enhance their image as modern companies.
The paradox referred to earlier was one raised through Bassey (1999). He advises that all researchers leave a paper trail for other researches to follow if they should ever decide to question or further the research. The use of so many pseudonyms has limited the paper trail within the research as a whole and totally destroyed the paper trail within the primary research. While this is unfortunate, under the circumstances there was no alternative as respect for the organisations and people involved within them was critical to the production of an ethical piece of research. Bassey (1999) states that as a researcher one of the most important things is to respect fellow human beings who are entitled to dignity and privacy.
The validity of the research
One of the strongest areas of the original research proposal was the section entitled “the validity of information”. The techniques assessed throughout that section were applied to the overall research process in order to certify the research was valid. It was noted that the most likely critique of the research would be the way in which information was collected. The most probably “angle of attack” would be the lack of science and statistics (De Ruyter et al 1998).
In order to test, while at the same time prove, the validity of the research the following steps were taken:
- As suggested by Yin (1994) the paraphrased transcript of the interview, along with the notes made during the actual interview that the paraphrased transcript was taken from were shown to the interviewee to verify their accuracy.
- The concept credited to Miles et al (1994) of using diagrams and models throughout the report in an attempt to create a more clear picture has being implemented, examples include the marketing timeline and the updated hierarchy of human needs.
- While the interview was not taped out of the respect for the wishes of the interviewee the concept suggested by Nair et al (1995) of recording research data electronically to ensure accuracy was applied to the analysis of the organisations websites. Each website that was to have the ecommerce framework applied to it (Rao 2003) was saved locally [wherever possible due to website control codes etc.] should it be taken offline for any reason during the research process. These are not included in the Appendix as this would reveal the identity of the organisations involved.
- All secondary research relied only upon reputable sources. Where possible the most up to date sources were used and a variety of sources were used where possible to triangulate (Riege 2003; Flick 1992; Perakyla 1997) the data.