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There are two main research approaches pertaining to social research; positivist approach and interpretive approach. Although the two paradigms comprise many elements which separate them, it can be considered that positivism concentrates on description and explanation, while interpretivism concentrates on understanding and interpretation.
3. 2. 2 Qualitative Vs. Quantitative
"Quantitative and qualitative research methodologies differ in the philosophy that underpins their mode of inquiry as well as, to some extent, in methods, models and procedures used" (Kumar, 2005, p. 17)
It is generally accepted that qualitative methods are underpinned by an interpretive philosophy, the methods employed require that the researcher engross themselves in the research in an, "effort to uncover the meaning and significance of social phenomena for people in those settings" (Ragin 1994, p. 90). Phenomenological research efforts attempt to gain deeper understanding of the social construction of the world and aim to, "describe the social world more validly" (Baker 1999, p. 240). Essentially, researchers endeavour to comprehend social experiences from the point of view of those in the chosen environment.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, a positivist approach employs quantitative research methods. A quantative researcher views the world objectively and is centred on realism (Walliman 2006, p. 19). Rather than immersing themselves in the research environment, the researcher is independent from the study. In contrast to attempting to gain a deeper understanding and interpret meaning, quantitative methodology presents an abstract reality defined by existing ordered relationships.
3. 2. 3 Research Design
Although the methodologies exist as a dichotomy, there is validity in taking a mixed methods approach to research design and employing methods from both qualitative and quantitative practices. In line with the objectives set in this study, a mixed methods approach is advantageous as the findings can be triangulated and strengthened (Baker 1999). Baker (1999) also points out that not only can a quantitative study be enriched by comparison to qualitative data; but a qualitative study can gain strength from parallel quantitative findings. As the study will collect data in a field with relatively few precedents and is examining an environment which has experienced considerable upheaval, it is appropriate to gather qualitative data to gain understanding of the research environment. These qualitative results should offer a subjective perspective to compliment and deepen the quantitative data collected and analysed. As Daymon and Holloway (2002) suggest, it is important to understand the environment being studied from the perspective of those within it.
3.2.4 Content Analysis
As previously discussed it was deemed appropriate to carry out thematic analysis on secondary data pertaining to financial institutions in order to assess their marketing approach to the student population in NI. This goes some way towards gaining a deeper understanding into the research environment before embarking on quantitative research, which it is suggested is most suitable when collecting data in a, "well researched area" (McQueen and Knussen 2002, p. 29) where theory is well established and many studies have already been carried out. Due to the lack of previous research in the environment, it was fitting that supportive data collection took place.
Krippendorff (2004) suggests that the strength of content analysis is that is, "makes sense of what is mediated between peopleâ€¦and content", (Krippendorff 2004 p. xiii). Mayring (2000) describes qualitative content analysis as, "an approach of empirical, methodological controlled analysis of texts within their context" (Mayring 2000, p. 5) The goal of this stage of research is to identify common themes and poignant features from information which is freely available in the media, but to do so in a manner which extracts meaning. Secondary data looked at included; advertising literature distributed by banks, online content and other activities carried out by the banks - such as sponsorships, events and incentive schemes.
Mason (1996) advocates the use of document analysis as a highly legitimate and, "meaningful" (Mason 1996, p. 73) method of social research. Mason posits that a researcher choosing to utilise text and/or non-text based documents may do so for a number of reasons, for this particular piece of research the researcher considered it apt to analyse print communications distributed by the banks as it is believed they act as a, "form of expression or representation of relevant elements of the social world" (Mason 1996, p. 72). It was regarded that the use of document analysis over a range of Northern Irish banks would allow the researcher to identify common and relevant themes or poignant features which were used to create not only a framework of comparison when analysing the results but to aid in the construction of questionnaires. Due to time constraints and lack of radio/TV advertising carried out by the banks within Northern Ireland the research only analysed print advertising. The research did however, also take into account other activities undertaken by the bank, such as sponsorships and incentives offered by the banks - this analysis was be in support of printed literature to try and provide a more holistic approach to the campaigns.
Babbie (2004) contends that content analysis is particularly relevant in communications research, as it helps to answer the overriding questions of, "who says what, to whom, why, how, and with what effect?" (Babbie 2004, p. 314).
3. 2. 5 Interviews
There is some criticism of the use of content/document analysis in social research, May (2005) suggests that despite the wealth of insights which can be derived from documents, research based upon this method can find itself subject to misinterpretation. In order to go some way toward addressing this; a supporting structured interview was undertaken. A face to face interview was conducted with an industry professional working within a financial services marketing environment as the marketing manager of a well known Northern Irish bank - this was in part to gain supporting information pertaining to material analysed. The interview was predominantly structured, with some scope allowed for deviation if felt necessary by the interviewer or interviewee. A structured interview was though most appropriate, as Kumar suggests one of the advantages of conducting a structured - rather than unstructured interview, is, "that it provides uniform information" (Kumar 2005, p. 126) this assures the researcher of the, "comparability of data" (Kumar 2005, p. 126). This was especially important as the data collected from the interview was analysed alongside data collected from other sources in a different demographic.
Interviewing a professional at the heart of the issue also helped the researcher to gain an alternative perspective and to glean some understanding of the motivations and stance of the banks when marketing to the student population. This benefited the data collected from document and activity analysis, alleviating some of the scope for misunderstanding whilst also supporting the conclusions reached by the researcher.
The data collected through the interview not only informed the subsequent data collection but also strengthened the positivist approach taken. By allowing the researcher to analyse the data from two viewpoints it further removes the researcher from the research environment and adds validity to a predominantly quantative study. This may go some way to addressing some possible limitations.
Walliman (2006) advocates the use of interviews early in the research process as a useful way of building knowledge of the subject area; therefore a semi-structured interview was also carried out with the student finance ('Money Management') advisor at a university in Belfast. It was felt that this alternative viewpoint would not only aid the researcher in their understanding of the environment, but it would also add an additional dimension to the study by providing access to a wide variety of student perspectives through the advisors experience. The interview answers helped immensely in supporting the development of the questionnaire. The data collected from this interviewee was also through a semi-structured interview, again this was felt the most fitting method to allow for ease of comparison and integration of results. If the study had been wholly or majorly a qualitative study, the researcher may have chosen an unstructured style to yield richer data but in the instance a more rigid style was used. The interviewees were invited however, to speak freely or add anything that they felt pertinent to the study which the researcher may have omitted within the interview schedule; this was to allow the richest possible data to be obtained from the semi-structured interviews. The interview schedule was formulated so that - although the respondents were from different backgrounds, some questions were kept the same to obtain the various viewpoints, and both interviews followed a similar pattern and composition, for ease of analysis (see appendix # for details).
It is pertinent to highlight however, that although the interviews were carried out in a similar way in accordance with the style of the interviewer and appropriateness of method, the interviews were very different. This was due to the fact that what was required from each interview was diverse and distinct from each other. Results from Interview A, carried out with a marketing manager in a well-known Northern Irish bank were used in support of the content analysis to identify themes and create a framework delineating the approach to marketing by banks toward students. As previously highlighted, this was then used in contrast to results yielded from students. Interview B, carried out with the money management advisor in a Belfast university was conducted to help the researcher gain an insight into the field of student finance and to aid in the development of questionnaires (then distributed to students).
Prior to the interview taking place, interviewees were asked to sign consent forms (see Appendix #) and respondents were fully briefed on the nature of the study and were given the option to decline to answer any questions they felt not relevant or inappropriate. Both interviews were held over approximately 40 minute periods and conducted at the office of each interviewee.
Interviewees gave permission for the interview to be audio recorded for the purpose of allowing the researcher to fully follow the conversation at the time, and allow for transcription at a later stage ensuring no data was lost (see transcription, Appendix #). It was decided that transcription would not be condensed in any way and would be fully transcribed this would include any poignant pauses, intonations or non-verbal cues - it was felt that this was proper for the nature of the conversation and the researcher was not experienced enough to confidently condense the data at this initial stage.
3. 2. 6 Questionnaires
In order to explore the attitudes and behaviour of students toward banks and furthermore, how their future choices might be affected in light of the recession data was collected through the use of questionnaires - which were informed by the literature review and preceding interviews (see appendix # for details). Black (1999) indicates that positivist research will allow the researcher to ascertain group, "tendencies" (Black 1999, p. 9) which will be important in making industry recommendations and to inform future comparative studies. The use of questionnaires followed the precedent set by many previous studies (as discussed in the literature review). The use of questionnaires in this instance was fuelled by various factors; the construction of an online questionnaire ensured ease of distribution and was of a less obtrusive nature for the respondent. It was hoped that this would secure a higher response rate. Kumar (2005) suggests that a questionnaire should be enjoyable, easy to follow and highly interactive to emulate a conversational feeling for the respondent - by using an online programme the interactivity and ease of use was implicit.
It is suggested that closed questionnaires are advantageous as this allows the researcher to, "make point-by-point comparisons" (Gomm 2004, p. 158). By structuring a closed questionnaire, the researcher had complete control over the data captured and could design the questionnaire so that the data captured and conclusions drawn could be comparable to the qualitative data collected. However, it was felt that an entirely closed questionnaire may limit the data collected and not allow for the research to reach its full potential, so it was decided that the questionnaire should also allow for some open content in order to retrieve the richest possible data (see appendix #).
3. 3 Limitations of Study
It has been cited that "it requires considerable expertise to select the appropriate research design in relation to a specific research question and the analysis and interpretation of results requires research and market experience" (Berlamino, 1992 cited by De Ruyter and Scholl, 1998). Greater research experience may have enabled the researcher to create an improved research design. However, considerable care has been taken in formulating the research according to established practices within the research literature, and relevant research articles. As suggested by Brown (2010) if the research had been carried out by a team of two or more, as opposed to a sole researcher - the analysis stage could have been enhanced.
The literature was conducted in such a way to provide a detailed insight into previous studies for further discussion and also to provide a holistic overview of the research area. The inevitably in such an expansive area of research however is, that some pertinent studies may not have been highlighted, many issues arose which undoubtedly would have proved very useful in addressing the overall research problem such as the introduction of the internet. However, due to the restrictive time limit placed upon the researcher it was simply not feasible to include all of these aspects as part of the research. From the literature review, the research addressed the topics of branding, consumer loyalty and relationships, and the theory of an integrated marketing mix - although research into these areas is undoubtedly an advancement of knowledge (which will be discussed fully in Chapter 5) it is recognised that the study was limited to these areas and there were a plethora of other issues raised in the literature review which would have enhanced the research even more if time and experience permitted.
The study adopted a mixed methods approach in order to gather and analyse the most useful data within the limits of time and resources, however it may have complimented the study to employ further qualitative methods, for example focus groups or interviews with students to aid in the construction of questionnaires and to further discuss the issues raised in questionnaires. It is also of note that again due to time constraints, the views of participants were gathered at a specific point in time, rather than gathered over an extended period - which in this case, due to the recency of the recession would have been advantageous (Brown 2010). A longitudinal qualitative approach could have also proved extremely successful.
3.4 Ethical Considerations
No ethical problems were identified with the research area or question prior to undertaking the study. The research proposal was submitted and passed by the ethics committee before the commencement of the research (see Appendix #). All appropriate ethical considerations have been however taken into account during the course of this study. Prior consent has been sought for all participants using an approved consent form (these will be kept on record under the sanctions of the Data Protection Act). The personal details of all participants have been edited, both on interview transcripts and questionnaires to guarantee anonymity.