The second important phase of the preliminary investigation is called the informal assessment. This is an unstructured search of the marketing environment. It enables the researcher to become familiar with the problem setting. This is particularly important for the outside consultant who needs to become acquainted with the company, its customers, its products, and all of the marketing conditions surrounding the problems. It is also wise for the company researcher to refresh his/her knowledge of those internal factors bearing on the problem and also to discover the external elements involved.
The informal investigation goes beyond merely "getting acquainted" with the problem and its marketing setting, however. The final result of the preliminary investigation is the creation of a set of research questions. In marketing research, these questions can be stated as a tentative explanation of the problem that the research is designed to solve. For example, if a marketing manager is trying to solve a problem that involves an important loss of market share in a particular area of the country, an informal investigation might reveal three possible reasons for the decline in market position. These reasons, until verified by thorough study, can best be stated as research statements:
- The decline in market share is the result of increased competitive advertising in the area.
- The decline in market share is the result of the text marketing of a new product by a major competitor.
- The decline in market share is the result of "stock outs" at the retail level caused by a trucking strike in the area.
In attempting to verify one or more of these hypothetical statements, the researcher examines company records to uncover new sources of information or to discover relationships in old data with bearing on the current problem. Interviews with company executives and operating personnel are often conducted. Interviews are also conducted with various persons outside the company whose opinions might be expected to have some relevance to the problem. The preliminary search is always limited to obtaining an insight into the problem and into possible solutions for it.
in the final phase of the preliminary investigation, the researcher analyzes the results he has so far obtained and restates them in the form of research questions to be tested in the subsequent research steps.