The aims and the context of research

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The two articles chosen have both practical rationale and academic reviews. O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 note the increasing networking theories used in describing marketing in SME's and how traditional marketing theories is inappropriate to small firms. Their research which was based on a semi-structured interviews with owners and senior executives, of 60 small companies across a wide array of industries in Northern Ireland, with the use of qualitative study aiming to discover how small firms use networks to make marketing decisions and some of the problems associated with them.

Similarly, Gabrielli, V. & B. Bernardo, 2010 noted how to identify the gap between the theories and practice of integrated marketing communications (IMC) in SME's. Their research adopted a more quantitative approach, whereby questionnaires were submitted to 210 manufacturing firms. They proceeded by identifying different communication behaviours within SME's, using factors and cluster analysis. On the other hand, they also discuss about how basic marketing communication principles are universally applicable to both large and small business.

The research objectives /questions/hypotheses addressed

O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 research uses qualitative methodology in the study of owner-manager networking in SME's, by adopting grounded data analysis associated with theories of networking in SME's. They claim that small firms are distinct entities, and to recognize the extreme differences between their larger counterparts. They adopted a qualitative approach, with hypothesis derived from other literature which is tested by grounded data analysis theory, (Glaser, 1978, Glaser & Strauss, 1967), with the aim of discovering how small firms use networking to make marketing decisions. O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999, research also views marketing from a network perspective, and in doing so attempt to overcome problems associated with traditional marketing theories.

On the other hand, Gabrielli, V. & B.Bernardo,2010 adopted a fairly conventional quantitative technique to study Integrated Marketing Communication(IMC) practice, by doing statistical analysis to discover how far SME's are from IMC principles, by discovering the gap between the theory and practice of integrated marketing communication in small-and medium-sized enterprise. Their questionnaire stem from previous research than in qualitative observations and other pertinent literature. Gabrielli, V. & B.Bernardo, 2010 had a specific question in mind as- are SMEs able to implement an IMC program aligning goals, messages, activities, and organizational process? Therefore quantitative approach was the best approach in order to identify the current situation of IMC in SME firms. The questionnaire approach used contained six different sections, leading to different results.

A comparison and evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the articles

Structure and writing style

Although both articles talk about communication in SME's, both adopted a different research approach to get hold of their results. Nevertheless, both articles use a standard research structure as (Introduction, theories, methodology, study/result, conclusion, references) as these are standard structure for management and social research papers.

Gabrielli, V. & B.Bernardo, 2010 article uses simple and clear font size which makes it easier to read, than O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 article.

Literature review or discussion of theory

O'Donnell, A. &C.Darryl, 1999 approach suggests the problem associated with traditional marketing theories within SME's. Even though it has a long list of references in their research, there was also not a specific hypothesis to be tested. Hence, it goes on to investigate how small firm owner-managers network activities contribute to marketing decision making. However, it does not show clear use of literature in their discussion, it rather paves the way for other researchers to follow. O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 go on to argue that "any study should be designed to build upon what has been learnt in previous studies" (Davis et al. 1985), but rather cited that their research is "essentially inductive and pure inductivist research works on the basis that there is no theory to consider" (Eisenhardt, 1989).

Gabrielli, V. & B. Bernardo, 2010 article uses a much better literature review technique. The authors have clearly used quite a number of interesting literature reviews efficiently although it does not have long a list of reference. They made good use of quite a number of previous studies to develop their hypotheses in order to explain their result findings. For instance, they referenced that "Marketing communications represent the voice by which companies can establish a dialogue with customers and other stakeholders; about their product/service offerings and/or other company issues" (Keller, 2001).

Research philosophy, design, methods

As mentioned previously, Gabrielli, V. & B. Bernardo's, 2010 article is a typical example of quantitative research method which minimizes cost. As most studies on marketing communication has been based on external qualitative observations made by other researchers on their own (Carson, 1990). With their intention to detect different firms behavioural profiles in marketing communication practise and how far SME's are from IMC principles, they thought this approach is the most effective way to adopt a firm's perspective and to investigate their beliefs, objective and their expectations.

In the case of O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 they based their research on semi-structured interviews with owners and senior executives of 60 small companies across a wide array of industries in northern Ireland, with the use of qualitative approach aiming to discover how small firms use networking to make marketing decisions and problems associated with it, by adopting a grounded data analysis associated with networking theories in SME's (Bygrave, 1989).

Data collection, analysis, presentation

O'Donnell, A. and C.Darryl, 1999 study adopted the grounded theory analysis, which provides a systematic structure allowing rich and social constructed knowledge to emerge from their data collection, making presentation clear and easier to read and also understand. Their result outcomes are clearly stated with bold headings giving extra scenarios for each point understandably and easy to interpret by the readers.

Their data collection was performed through two previous questionnaires from other research, one aimed at obtaining statement and questions from pertinent literature; second from a qualitative step, which consist of individual in-depth interviews based on eight manufacturing companies and eight communication agencies operating in the investigation territory. Questionnaires were in the form auto-fill computer web interviewing platform to allow respondent to fill questionnaires whenever they wanted, which also gives them time to gather information required to complete the questionnaire.

On the other hand, Gabrielli, v. & B. Bernardo, 2010 study was broad and complicated making result confusing to read and understand. Their results were in four sections with lot of complicated mathematical figures, making it difficult to explain and interpret. Secondly, it does not explain the methods used to establish percentage of result in their research. Although result was properly arranged in a mathematical format with different result topics, it makes it difficult to interpret and understand. Thirdly, it does not give a clear meaning to some of the abbreviations used in their result such as; BtoC and BtoB which confuses the reader to understand the point laid across.

Additions to our knowledge and implication for future research and practice

O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 research was published 11 years before the paper by Gabrielli, v. & B. Bernardo, 2010. Both research articles add some contribution to our knowledge. For instance, Gabrielli, V. & B. Bernardo, 2010 research partially confirms the idea that (Carson's 1990, Longenecker et al.'s (2003) "interpersonal communication is no longer the only way in which most SMEs communicate". It goes on to detect an initial gap between theory and practice in the range of communication activities adopted by firms.

However, Gabrielli, V. & B. Bernardo, 2010 findings have several limitations, as this is the first step survey conducted within SME's. In the same way it has been conducted within a limited area, on a fairly small sample and only among manufacturing companies. Although, comparative analysis does not show significant difference among industries, it would be interesting if the context of analysis can be enlarged in order to produce eventual industry or territory.

O'Donnell, A. & C.Darryl, 1999 show how a more appropriate methodology could be adopted for researching the networks and networking activities of SME's, as existing approaches are largely inadequate. However, their research gives a more disappointing research outcome. The methodology they used was potentially the best one, and it rather discussed the appropriate methods and theories to be adopted in such research areas, although, it goes on to investigate how small firm owner-managers networking activities contribute to making marketing decision. Consequently, their research does not give clear solutions to the problems cited in their research.

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