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This chapter presents the methodology that is planned to be used in this present study. A thorough discussion on diverse alternatives of approaches made for the research, the research designs, adapted strategies, selection of samples selection, and method of data collection and analysis of data are discussed. Specific choices made in this research proposal are also clarified in this chapter along with differentiation in tabular format. Finally, the critical questions as to how to handle the reliability and validity of the study are also presented in here.
Our research is mostly concerned with the studying of the specific factors of the role played by the social networking media in the development of the brand equity of a selected few of the SMEs firms in London.
As SMEs contribute more than 90 of the economy of any countries economy and there is a radical progress of online communities disseminating communication at lightning speed, our intention was to study the role played by the social networking media in the development of the brand equity of the SMEs. For this specific purpose we conducted a study to obtain answers to the following questions: What are the main tools of marketing and brand building used by SMEs at present?; How are social networking media different from conventional mass media in terms of brand building for SMEs?; Can SMEs consider social networking media as their prime tool for brand equity development?; What are the best ways for utilising social networking media to reach out to target audience?
In this respect we analyzed the data pertaining SMEs sector from London and its share within UK. The primary data that we used is through interviews with marketing personals representing various firms from 4 sectors namely IT, Retail, Financial Services and Travel. We used secondary data from the publication of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills report, London dated October 13, 2010 that is updated with the information pertaining to estimates of the private sector enterprises in the United Kingdom with area wise data. Finally we have also reviewed the Millward Brown Optimor's report on 'Top 100 most Valuable Global Brands 2010' that provided us an insight of the global growth of varied sector and facilitated us to analyze the potentiality of the brand equity.
Furthermore, for a better understanding of this behaviour, we have also conducted a non-probable sampling based on questionnaire designed to identify the role played by the social networking media in brand equity development.
3.1 Research Design
The purpose of any research is to provide basic direction for carrying out the research. And to carry forward the research it needs a structural design. Based on established and scientifically proved strategies we have designed the present research in to four categories namely Research Purpose, Research Approach, Research Method and Research Strategy to adapt the best among them. Figure-1 depicts the structural design of the present research.
Figure-1: Structure of Research Design
3.1.1 Research Purpose
As stated by Saunders et al., (2009) basically there are three categories to state the purpose of the research viz. Exploration, Description and Explanation. Needless to say all these categories differ from each other in several aspects that include the formulation of research questions or hypothesis and the collection of data. In the present paper all the three stated categories are followed. And the reasons thereof for adapting all the three categories of research purpose are explained as under.
Exploratory Studies: Adaption of exploratory studies became necessary for the present study as this researcher has to examine new interests involving a subject of study that itself is relatively new. The major emphasis of exploratory research is discovery of ideas and insights (Saunders et.al. 2009)
As the phenomenon of interest is considerably new in this present study we felt that more information is needed to clarify the concept and scope of study and to make us understand the problem in a better way. Thus, we conducted exploratory research to recognize the hypothesis well. For this our research carried out the techniques of literature reviews interviews, and case study.
Descriptive Studies: Babbie (2004) state that descriptive research is conducted to observe situation and events and the researcher describes what he/she has observed. The problem stated in our research paper is well structured. As such we employed to provide accurate snapshots of some of the aspects of our observations such as persons, events, situations and environments.
Explanatory Studies: To explain the relationships among the variables the present research we focussed on studying the situation of the stated problem through explanatory studies. This approach helps to determine the cause-and-effect relationship. Explanatory research aims to develop the theory precisely that can be used to explain the phenomena in a definite way. And the so developed theory leads to generalization of the theory. The explanatory study also facilitates to understand whether a change in one event could bring about a corresponding change in another event (Saunders et al. 2009).
Because of the little knowledge we had concerning the relationship between the social networking media and brand equity and how this relationship could be established to describe the development of brand equity through social networking and further relate it to the case study on SMEs in London all the above three categories i.e. exploratory, descriptive and explanatory studies are carried out for the present research.
3.1.2 Research Approach
Inductive vs. Deductive
The natural quality of the inductive approach is that it moves from specific observations to broader generalizations and theories. In this process the researcher begin the study with specific observations and measures and then formulates tentative hypotheses that can be explored. In this process the researcher might end up developing general theories and conclusions. As such this approach is feasible for the study of a small sized sample (Saunders et al. 2009).
The natural quality of the deductive approach of research is that it establishes more specific theories from the most general ones. In this process the researcher can begin examining the theories that are related to the topic of their research. And then they can narrow those theories such that they become more specific in nature relating to the research questions or hypothesis that can be tested. Than the researcher uses research methods mostly in quantitative ways to generalize the findings (Saunders et al. 2009).
Inductive approach involves building the theory.
Deductive approach involves testing the theory.
Saunders et al. (2009) states that the selection of the research approach mostly depends on the extent of the knowledge or the theories available that are related to the topic of interest. As the research problem was formulated based on the existing theory with an intention to create more knowledge about the specific factors, we adapted deductive approach for the present study.
3.1.3 Research Method
Qualitative and Quantitative are the two research methods that could be adapted for collection and analysis of data. Each of the method suggests different ways for collection and analysis of data. For the present research that involves varied data from varied sources, both of the methods have been viewed to decide upon the most appropriate one. The following table gives a brief of the differentiation of both the methods.
Quantitative vs. Qualitative
Quantitative method of research involves the collection technique and the procedure of analysis of data that generates or uses data that is mostly numeric in nature. (Saunders et al. 2009)
Qualitative method of research involves the collection technique and the procedure of analysis of data that generates or uses data that is mostly non-numeric in nature. (Saunders et al. 2009)
For quantitative studies, the vital skills that are needed for the researcher are the ability to develop and test appropriate hypotheses utilizing proper and standardised statistical techniques.
For qualitative studies, the researcher gives an exact representation of an objective reality. As such qualitative approach can be used for interviews, observations and analysis of text and documents.
In quantitative method of researching the statistical information that is generated and interpreted is mostly in descriptive information (Yin 2009).
In qualitative method of researching different techniques are combined covering multiple perspective of the phenomenon under the study with a deductive approach (Yin 2009).
In the present research we have found that there are complex connections between various factors that just couldn't be quantified numerically. Moreover we felt that there is a need to create a deeper understanding of the situation. Hence we have made a qualitative approach for the study.
3.1.4 Research Strategy
To fulfil the purpose of the study any research involves adaption of a standard strategy. This becomes important to answer the research question and examine the problem stated in the research. Mostly the choice of adaption of any of the research strategy is generally guided by factors such as the questions raised in the research; the aim and objective of the research; the philosophical foundation of the researcher. The choice of a research strategy could be anything like a case study, a survey or an experiment (Saunders et al. 2009).
For making a choice among the available three options of adapting a research strategy we have studied all of them in detail to arrive at an appropriate conclusion. The following is the presentation of our table study.
Case Study: Generally when a researcher wishes to conduct a case study, the most natural question that arises is whether to focus on one single case or go for multiple cases? Yen (2009) states that case study can be chosen as the most suitable strategy for a research when the phenomena that are to be investigated are complex in nature and are deeply embedded in the organizational context of any company. Yin (2009) further argues that the researcher can choose one case if it represents a unique or an extreme case in relation to the phenomenon of the study of research. Generally one case involves one case company. Still, such one company can also contain several intertwined sub-cases (as discussed by Yin (2009) for the embedded case design). Yin (2009) states an example for this: 'a one single and same company established in different markets can become the embedded case with the local markets as the sub-case and the corporate one as an umbrella case.
Adapting case study as a research strategy has its own advantages because of its multi-facet characteristics. This is evident from the studies of Saunders et al. (2009 and Yin (2009). Saunders et al. (2009) state that to answer the questions of 'why' as well as 'what' and 'how' case study can be conducted using both the exploratory and explanatory model of research. And Yin (2009) state that the case studies can be conducted utilizing either one or both of qualitative and quantitative methods for data collection and analysis.
Survey: To answer the most common questions like 'who', 'what', where', and how involved in a social research the research strategy of survey is mostly used. This strategy is the most commonly used among social sciences including business disciplines (Saunders et al. 2009). Saunders further argues that survey is mainly used when the research design adapts descriptive and exploratory research and when deductive research approach is made.
Saunders et al. (2009) goes on to add that the researchers can adapt the strategy of survey at a very low cost to collect a large amount of data from a substantial population. And the data are mostly quantitative and are gathered by questionnaire. Furthermore it becomes easier to analyse the collected data with various statistical techniques.
When the population is too large to be observed directly and the researchers' main interest is in collecting original data concerning the population the strategy of adapting survey could be the most preferred strategy argues Babbie (2004). Barbie also states that probability sampling collected with care can reflect the characteristics of a larger population from a group of respondents taken for the study. This strategy can also lead to arrive in the same form from all the respondents through a carefully constructed questioner.
Apart from questionnaires and interviews structured observations can also be employed for collection of data in survey research. Still questionnaire remain as the most commonly used tool whilst adapting survey as the strategy for conducting research.
Experiment: To answer the questions 'how' and 'why' using the tools of exploratory and explanatory method the strategy of experiment can be adapted in a research. The strategy of experiment can be employed both in natural and social science research (Saunders et al. 2009).
The process of experiment in a research is both simple and complex in nature and is employed to study the existence of any casual relationship between the independent and dependent variable. Before adaption of a strategy we have also made a thorough study for the possibility of conducting an experiment for the present research. Our findings of the process of experiment are presented here.
The process of experiment in a research involves setting up of members into two groups that are basically similar in all aspects. Of the two groups one would be the experimental and the other control group. Initially a dependent variable is measured and compared for both the groups. After comparison of the variables a planned intervention or manipulation is placed for the experimental group. Here the intervention or the manipulation is an independent variable. After placing the independent variable the dependent variable from each group is again re-measured. This facilitates the researcher to make a comparative study of the derived results both before and after intervention/manipulation and further assist the researcher to establish any existence of casual relationship between the independent and the dependent variables. Saunders et al. (2009) argues that this strategy of research can be both applied to laboratory or field experiments.
Our table study reveals that adaption of experiment as a strategy for conduct of the present study could not only be typical in nature but also has the complexity of being expensive and complicated. For such reasons we adapted case study as the strategy because it also tend to answer the research questions and encompass the research tools: explanatory, descriptive, exploratory and help with the deductive approach made.
For the aforementioned reasons and the novel idea of the present study this research will be conducted as a case study with SMEs in London as the case study and some of the sectors like IT, Retail, Financial Services and Travel as sub-cases of the study.
The intention is to create a profound knowledge about the case and to investigate deeply into the organizational context of the case.
3.2 Sample Selection
When we conducted a table study for adaption of sample selection for the research we understood that the division of sampling techniques can be of two types namely the probability and the non-probability. In certain cases of research i.e. the small group possibilities are such that every possible case or the entire members of the population can be explored to collect and analyse data. But when the interest of a research consists of typically large group encompassed with too many cases or members it becomes impossible for collection of data from all the sources. Such circumstances lead to employ sampling procedures.
Probability vs. Non-probability
Creates Statistical Interference. This is because here each of the unit or element of the sampling frame has an equal chance of being included in the sample.
Rely on Personal Judgement. This is because it is not possible to make valid inferences as samples may not represent the entire population.
Used to statistically estimate the characteristics of the population incidental from the sample.
Facilitates to evolve generalized theories from the samples about the population, but not statistical standpoint.
Generally associated with survey and experimental research strategies (Saunders et al. 2009).
Used mostly in case study research (Saunders et al. 2009).
Our intention in this study is to gather information regarding the role played by the social networking media in the development of brand equity. To adhere to the research problem and questionnaire this research will be performed utilizing non-probability sampling. For this a judgmental selection has been used to choose four sectors that will be investigated and respective employees be interviewed.
3.3 Data Collection Methods
Data collection methods are of two types, secondary and primary data. Babbie (2004) states that the main distinction between these two types of data is that primary data is collected for specific anticipated study and the secondary data are collected for another primary purpose. And both the primary and secondary data yield quantitative and qualitative data.
Generally primary data is collected by observation, interviews or questionnaires and the secondary data is mostly the raw data that includes published summaries. Secondary data may also include data collected by other organisations, governments, or data gathered by research organisations (Saunders et al. 2009).
For the present study in this research it is important to gather information, views and opinions from the persons who are responsible for the information and branding of the chosen company.
But because of the narrative nature of the present research problem and questioner that is being looked into we decided to build primary data through search on the company's website and interviews with the officials and the secondary data from the government published statistical report.
3.4 Data Analysis
Babbie (2004) argues that quantitative analysis is the numerical representation and manipulation of observations. This is to describe and explain the phenomena that these observations are reflected. And qualitative analysis discovers the underlying meanings and patters of relationships non-numeric examination and interpretation of observations.
Saunders et al. (2009) states that through in-depth interviews and or first-hand observations raw data is generated. And this data is analysed through qualitative method. The key step in processing all such data for analysis is through classifying and coding all the bits of data. This is in terms of theoretical concepts.
Babbie (2004) further states that the qualitative data processing involves creating and assigning codes by reading and re-reading the data files.
For the present study whilst analyzing the interviews conducted with the questionnaire, probabilities cannot be ruled out that numerical descriptions to the answers are given. On the other hand they could be categorised using a qualitative data analysis.
3.5 Reliability vs. Validity
Two of the most important indicators for the scientific nature and performance of a research model are reliability and validity. For any research model it is important that the measurement of the data results should be as accurate as possible to the reflection of reality.
And for any study the research model is valid if it tends to achieve its objectives and reliable if the results are accurate reflection to the variables that are being measured (zebrasone.eu).
Reliability vs. Validity
Estimates the extent to which the data collection technique yields consistent findings.
Estimates the extent to which the data collection method accurately measure to the intention of the study.
Measures how sense was made from the raw data i.e. the degree to which an instrument measures with similarity (Saunders et al. 2009).
Measures the degree to which the study is measured to what was supposed to be measured by the researcher for the study (Saunders et al. 2009).
Figure 2: Reliability versus Validity
Source: Columbia Centre for New Media Teaching and Learning 2009
Figure-2 shows three possible situations concerning reliability and validity. In the first segment of the picture though the target is hit consistently it is missing the centre of the target. This shows that the value measured for the respondents is not correct. This measure is reliable but not valid. In the second segment of the figure we find that the hits are randomly spread across; still missing the centre of the target. Through this model we may get valid group estimates but cannot anticipate consistency. The third segment is a clear indication of hitting the centre of the target. This segment is both reliable and valid.
True to Bell (1987) a case study complements and puts flesh on the bones, and adds an important third dimension - actual practice to theory and findings. For the present study the methods used to carry out the research were a case study, literature and documentary evidences.
The density of the issues raised by the research questions (role of social networking) and the cavernous nature of the research problem (brand equity) was such that it itself required extensive review and a profound research. Moreover the need to study the impact and implication of the study on the case study (SMEs in London) the methodology of the research had to be chosen carefully. This becomes important as Edwards & Talbot (1999) have noted that the case study can be used in practitioner research to illustrate a set of principles, to provide some detailed description of a topic of interest, or to explore a field of study and gather information on it. The intention is to create a profound knowledge about the case and to investigate deeply into the organizational context of the case.
As Edwards & Talbot (1999) point out, questionnaires are useful on the minus side; as they provide neither depth nor a good return, the present study had to be focused on background information accessed from a distance this became necessary because the focus of the present research is not a well-researched topic.
The present research involves analysing interviews wherein the probabilities of numerical description to the answers couldn't be ruled out as such qualitative data analysis is adapted a research method.
To adhere to the research problem and questionnaire in the present study we utilized non-probability sampling.
Our intention regarding the present interest was to create a deeper understanding of the situation that compelled us to make a qualitative approach towards and study. And to create more knowledge about the specific factors we adapted deductive approach.
Because of the little knowledge we had concerning the relationship between the social networking media and brand equity and how this relationship could be established to describe the development of brand equity through social networking and to further relate it to the case study on SMEs in London exploratory, descriptive and explanatory studies are carried out for the present research.
3.7 Research Limitations
Lincoln & Guba (1985) says that the trustworthiness of a research mostly depends on "what counts as knowledge?" and the general purpose of any study of research tends to include knowledge production, understanding, and prediction.
We focused on the first two purposes of a research i.e. production of applied knowledge and process the knowledge; both of which are suitable for developmental research (Richey and Nelson (1996).
Still this research had some shortcomings. And the potential shortcomings are the sources for bias that include the large amount of data and the complexity of the stated problem. Probabilities are such that our study might have missed some important information or we might have even overweighed some of the findings. This might have happened due to larger focus on a particular and large set of data.
Moreover, our personal involvement with the course might have also increased the possibility that the observations that we recorded highlighted particular incidents and ignored others.
However, we have taken every care to fulfil the major objective of the research i.e. what counts as knowledge.