Contemporary Approaches to Marketing Research

Abdulla Salameh
On The Market Research Proposal For

Al-Wakra Independent Secondary School For Boys

An assignment submitted in part fulfillment
of the requirements for module 2 (MK4S02) entitled “Contemporary Approaches to Marketing Research”, taught by Mr. Robin Croft, The Module Leader, Award Tutor and Principal Lecturer

Glamorgan Business School, University of Glamorgan, Treforest, Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff

CF37 1DL, UK

June 2008





  1. 1.      Introduction
  1. 2.      Objectives
  1. 3.      Hierarchy of Information
  1. 4.      Methodology
  1. 5.      Reporting Requirements
  1. 6.      Accuracy
  1. 7.      Resources
  1. 8.      Timetable
  1. 9.      Quality Issues
  1. 10.  Terms

June 2008


1. Introduction:

Since it was established in 2005, Al-WakraIndependentSecondary School for boys has effectively secured its student targets of 600 students per annum, surpassing the targets in student segments such as non-Qatari and non-Arab students. However, the school is lacking in that marvellous success when it comes to attracting new students to its recently-implemented International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).

Hence one of the most fruitful directions for research to follow would be exploring how the school can convince more students of pursuing an IB diploma and therefore give them an extremely rewarding programme of study. The researchers need to identify how families within the community make decisions about where and what to study, how they gather data and transform it into information in order to make the decision and what they take into consideration when they make up their minds as to what constitutes an appropriate school and course.

The management of the school recognise that this may mean launching awareness campaign to explain the benefits of IBDP, designing new curricula, employing highly-qualified teachers and modernising the premises of the school to meet the needs of implementing the Programme. Channels of conveying these ideas might also need to be revised to ascertain whether or not they ensure enough positive response.

2. Objectives:


2.1 To assess how families and students conclude on the best curriculum and school and the nature of the key factors used in the decision-making process.

2.2 To gain an understanding of efficient means of communication (marketing strategies) that will raise the number of students enrolling onto the IBDP.

3. Hierarchy of Information:

The table below classifies the information needed in order of importance (A being essential and most important, B being desirable and C being useful but least important):

  1. How parents and students obtain information about schools and programmes: in a planned way or randomly.
  2. Sources of that information- word of mouth, internet, newspapers, etc.
  3. The decision-making process, e.g. who decides and what influences them?
  4. Factors considered to reach a decision: location, qualified teachers, curriculum, the school’s reputation, etc.
  1. The number of students interested in pursuing higher studies in high-ranking universities.
  2. Information related to students unlikely to think of joining IBDP.
C       Information about other IBDP schools which have successfully met their studenttargets.

4. Methodology:

It should be possible to accomplish this programme of research within the narrow timescale allocated and given the initial budget proposed. Since the research project to be conducted in this case seeks to discover general information about aspects regarding familial decision-making rather than providing an accurate description for something that is occurring, qualitative research (which is exploratory by nature) is better than quantitative research (which is descriptive). However, desk research is also used for its helpfulness in collating and analysing secondary data regarding other similar IBDP implementations. The recommended methodology is therefore:

4.1   Desk research to gain background knowledge of similar studies made as well as provide useful insights and relevant implications that will help to get the maximum from the research budget.

Journals and existing research to include:

a)      School Leadership Management

b)      Supreme Education Council Website:

c)      Journal of Research in International Education

d)      European Journal of Education

e)      International Education Research Database

f)       European Journal of Marketing

g)      Journal of Consumer Marketing

4.2   Structured observation of family behaviour within the school at the 3-hour parents meeting held from 5 to 8 p.m. (which suits the work schedules of the majority of the parents) to launch the IBDP, i.e. what aspects of the Programme they discuss most, do they use the brochures, the nature of their inquiries before, during and after the inaugurational lecture, etc. This will be done by two observers in the school unnoticeably taking notes about the behaviour of parents and students. They will note how long families stay at each display, how they interact with each other, what are the most recurring themes in their discussions, etc.

4.3   In-depth one-on-one interviews (each one lasting for one hour) with 10 parents (quota sampling: 5 males, 5 females) who attended the meeting to ascertain what attracts them about IBDP, what they like, dislike, whether or not they will register their children for it, whether or not they will recommend it to friends, etc. These interviews are conducted in the school, designed to capture the often complex decision making behaviour of respondents and will be taped (audio and visual) for later analysis.

4.4   Focus group of parents with students in the 16-18 years range within the school. The chosen sort of sampling here is the stratified one (5 parents, 5 students) and will last for 2 hours. This group will explore general themes about how beneficial joining the IBDP would be.

4.5   A 90-minute workshop conducted within the school with students chosen via cluster sampling (5 students doing the 1st year of the Diploma and 5 doing the 2nd one) and run by specialist moderator to ‘test market’ some aspects and activities within the Programme for their appropriateness for the students and to explore with them what they like about the school and the IBDP.

4.6   One group interview (lasting for 2 hours) within the school with the IB teachers who will deliver the Programme to give them the opportunity to suggest ideas for improvement. Consensus sampling is utilised here as the number of IB teachers is only 5.

5. Reporting Requirements:

A PowerPoint deck of slides (which functions as the presentation and the report) will be produced. It will summarise all the specific areas of the research project undertaken, offers conclusions and outlines implications for the school. Six E- and hard copies of the report will be produced.

6. Accuracy:

Due to the nature of the type of the primary research chosen which is all qualitative and exploratory by nature, accuracy will be defined in accordance with how much effective information is acquired about people’s communications needs and their responses to and views about the Programme. The quality of the finding from the research is directly dependent upon the experience, skills and sensitivity of the group moderator or interviewer.  Therefore, interpretation of the results is judgmental and may contain bias. However, the objectives of this research project are to explore ideas and to gain insight into the definitions, characteristics, meanings and descriptions of IBDP in the minds of parents and students. These ideas and insights can, in return, be used to produce an initial understanding of the problem and so identify themes for future, more detailed research.

7. Resources:

Specialist moderator to work with teenagers                                                  QR     4000

Focus Group and interviewing expenses

(15 parents at QR 300 each and 15 students at QR 100 each)                               QR     6000

Refreshments                                                                                                   QR        3000

Tapes and printing of reports                                                                         QR        500

Total                                                                                                               QR 13500 (Approximately £ 1875, where 1 GBP = 7.2 Qatari Riyals)


7.1 Staffing

Since the number of high-achieving students interested in pursuing an IBDP is comparatively low, two members of staff will be allocated to the project. They will conduct the interviews, observation and focus groups. They will also liaise with the manager of the school to ensure the quality of the research meets client expectations and produce and present the outcome report.

7.2 Ethics

All interviews and focus groups will be conducted within the guidelines set out by the Market Research Society and in accordance with its Code of Professional Conduct (which protects the confidentiality of respondents. For more information, please visit: Personal information storage will be within the UK Data Protection Act 2001 (as Qatar does not have acts dealing with these issues and the researchers are UK graduates).

The teenagers’ focus group will also be conducted within these guidelines, specifically The Market Research Society Guidelines for Research among Children and Young People. Written parental permission will be sought prior to the group meeting and parents may be present during the teenagers’ focus group. Copies of the guideline are available on The Market Research Society website: Appropriate attention will also be paid to the Child Protection Act 1998. All research data and reports will be confidential.



8. Timetable:

Once approval has been given for the plan work will start on the design and structure of the interviews and focus groups in the week commencing 6 April 2008 with a final report to be presented in the week beginning 25 May 2008.

Proposed Timing of Market Research Proposal

  week 1(06/04) week 2(13/04) week 3(20/04) week 4 (27/04) week 5 (04/05) week 6 (11/05) week 7(18/05) week 8 (25/05)
Design of interview questions & focus group topic guide
Recruit focus groups
Carry out observations
Summarise observations
Conduct interviews
Transcribe and summarise interviews
Conduct parents with students focus group
Transcribe and summarise focus group
Conduct teenagers’ focus group
Transcribe and summarise
Collate and analyse all results
Draft report
Final report

9. Quality Issues:

The researcher managing this project is a qualified and experienced professional specialising in Education Industry. CV and client list are available.

The research assistant has been with the company since leaving university three years ago. Both are members of the Chartered Institute of marketing and The Market Research Society in the UK.

10. Terms:

20% on awarding of the contract

40% on commencement of contract

40% on completion of contract

Critical Commentary of the

Market Research Proposal for



GlamorganBusinessSchool, University of Glamorgan, Treforest, Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff

CF37 1DL, UK


Purpose – The purpose of this commentary is to show how the research design, while not being perfect, was the best way of conducting the research given the limitations imposed.

Design/methodology/approach – This paper takes the form of a critical review.

Findings – There is no perfect solution, no right answer.

Research limitations/implications – Other ways that could have been chosen were not ultimately chosen for reasons mainly related to accuracy, budget and timeframe.

Practical implications – Further attention should be paid regarding issues of bias and compromise.

Originality/value – By methodologically identifying the choices made in the proposal, but at the same time highlighting other ways that could have been chosen, this paper contributes to the attempts to show that all research shall always be a matter of compromise.

Keywords: bias, compromise, desk research, observation, depth interviewing, focus groups
Paper Type: critical paper

June 2008                                                                    


This document is a commentary that critically examines the research proposal for Al-Wakra independent secondary school for boys, exploring how the school can attract more students to register for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP). This review looks at the basis for carrying out the research and how the research methodology is derived.

To begin with, as stated in their contracts with the Supreme Education Council, all independent school operators in Qatar need to be very aware that they should try as realistically as possible to positively single out their services without putting unbearable burden on their budgets. Also, “… small businesses …”, Goodman (1999, p. 112) argues, “As customers of other companies … often perceive value in … gaining the most satisfaction/utility for their money”. Thorpe (2003) has even gone as far as stating that

“particularly during the early phases of project development, the actual process of doing the research may be a fairly low priority. More important at this stage is a research buyer (the client) who feels that they are being listened to and that their needs and those of the company they present are understood.”(p. 187)

Herein lies the importance of choosing the school as the venue of the research. The school seems to be a good place for the research project since it costs nothing in terms of room hiring, is near (for most of the parents and students live in the neighbourhood area) and is perhaps one of the best natural places for parents, students and school management to meet as parents, students and school management. This appears to be so especially when compared to other places such as a restaurant or a meeting room (where other side effects may affect behaviour or performance). As Puri (2007, p. 389) notes:

Qualitative research as a whole seems to be moving in the direction of ‘natural’ contexts … Increasingly, we are finding that interacting with people in their natural environments leads to a far more vivid understanding of consumer lives, and far sharper insights.

However, the school can also affect people’s behaviour as they are expected to behave in a certain (perhaps formal and restricted) way in educational institutes.

The choice of timing, it would appear, has also been advantageous. A parent–teacher conference is a time when important people in a student’s life can in an interested manner discuss the student’s achievement in school. It’s a chance for parents to inquire about ways of improving students’ achievements and for the school to introduce IBDP as a solution. Nevertheless, night-shift working parents may miss it and those attending are likely to come exhausted after a long working day. In addition, the fact that this meeting is convened shortly after launching the IBDP tends to have a negative effect. O’Neill and Palmer (2001, p.182) have warned that

… the major preoccupation of many organisations with measuring perceptions during or immediately following service consumption may have little relevance to service quality perceptions which are important in subsequently forming future re-purchase intentions.

Yet ensuring a good setting to raise awareness regarding the newly-launched course alone is not likely to gain IBDP wide currency, so perhaps there are other problems to define. It might be a problem of not using various and proper means of communication effectively and in a ‘planned’ way. It is a fact that the school is using websites (,,, mail, email, phone calls, post cards, the school newsletter, notice boards, the school sign, local radio stations and so on. Nonetheless, the result is often that the receivers are bombarded with loads of unorganised information – to which they usually turn a deaf ear – for lack of a clear information policy on the school’s part. Hughes (1997, p. 61) puts it thus:

Information strategies place the emphasis squarely on “information” and treat information as the resource it is, a resource which must be managed and exploited in the same way as, for example, finance.

More importantly, lack of thorough understanding of the decision making process by means of which the family concludes on the suitable syllabus seems to be a critical issue as well. Examining the school’s perspective on it tends to show that it is implicitly assumed that the parents are the ones who decide. This is clearly manifested in the means of communication adopted. However, Tinson and Nancarrow (2007, p. 160) have another story to tell:

Understanding the household decision-making process is complex … Undeniably however, children and adolescents are often involved in family decision-making and at a younger age (Roedder-John, 1999)… Indeed, [Kuhn and Eischen (1997)] argue that the child rather than the parent may in many instances be the primary decision maker. [Italics added]

Thus, it is crucial that the information obtained from the research helps Al-Wakra management gain a better insight into the familial decision-making process by means of which the family opt for the most appropriate programme of study at the school and the most used sources of information by parents and students. Hence “success in the information stage translates into knowing the types of information needed to make the decision, finding it, and transmitting it quickly to the decision makers” (McNeilly, 2002, p. 29).

Yet what type(s) of research would best serve that aim and why? The choice of any research method relies heavily upon the case under study. This research seeks to explore motivations, behaviour and decision-making process. Therefore, rather than using quantitative research, which generates information in “… the form of numbers that can be quantified and summarized …” (Golafshani, 2003, p. 598), qualitative research – which, as Ekanem (2007, p.114) remarks, allows “access to the meanings that guide human actions” – will be mainly used.

Introducing a new service (especially of a higher level than the previous ones) requires higher levels of imagination, originality and ingenuity, and “… to neglect qualitative research methods in marketing can stifle innovation, creativity and new ways of thinking that are the very essence of successful marketing” (Milliken, 2001, p.71). In other words,

Qualitative researchers can, having undertaken a scenario based study (possibly using focus groups, in-depth interviews and the Delphi method), formulate a more focused research project that is based on identifying how a number of contingencies can be prepared that will lead to higher levels of customer service being introduced.(Trim and Lee, 2006, p. 210)

That is why, when used properly, the findings of qualitative marketing research can exert a great deal of influence on board level thinking and actions. This is, after all, the main reason behind conducting this research qualitatively in spite of Patton’s (2002) warning that qualitative research is “time consuming, intimate, and intense” (p. 35).

As the first step of this research plan, desk research is conducted. Defined by Holland and Poppy (2007, p. 1) as “…the identification and analysis of information that has already been compiled and published in some form or other”, it can be used highly effectively to offer leads which help the school makes the most out of the research budget. The previous and current framework (mainly based on other schools’ experiences in implementing IBDP) that desk research provides allows for parallels to be identified and trends highlighted. Furthermore, in addition to its usefulness in identifying and monitoring competitors and customers, desk research may also provide some quantitative background data such as the number of students doing IBDP in Qatar (which is useful in understanding the current state of the IBDP service in the Qatari market). However, the amount of information available for desk research may be very limited and its findings can be superannuated or inadequate.

Observation is also employed in this research proposal. It is a primary approach of gathering data by mechanical, electronic or human methods. The observer may or may not have direct questioning or contact with the observed whose behaviour is being recorded. It can be used qualitatively or quantitatively and “has been classified in terms of various dichotomies … human versus machine; structured versus unstructured; overt versus covert; natural versus disguised; participant versus non-participant” (Boote and Mathews, 1999, p. 16). In this case observation is used: qualitatively, because the nature of the research project is highly exploratory; overtly, for sheer ethical reasons; and directly, where the researcher is simply taking notes of the people’s behaviour, i.e. what aspects of the Programme they discuss most, do they use the brochures, the nature of their inquiries before, during and after the inaugurational lecture, etc. Nevertheless, in observation, the results can be critically biased by, for instance, what the observer chooses to observe. Therefore, one of the good attempts to overcome this issue for good research design could be taking cognisance of what Rowley (2004) described as “the potential for subjectivity at all stages in the research process, with sensitivity to the researcher’s own prejudices, priorities, preconception, values and knowledge bases.”(p. 209).

Machine observation could have been done by cameras; however, that would have been highly costly and time-consuming since the school needs to buy and fix them. That also would have made interpreting data more difficult.

In order to further ascertain attitudes and motivation, depth interview is carried out as well. Webb (1995) defines it as “… an unstructured personal interview which uses extensive probing to get a single respondent to talk freely and to express detailed beliefs and feelings on a topic” (p. 121). As the definition implies, it is one of the best methods for in-depth probing of personal beliefs, values, opinions and internal attitudes about IBDP. It also relieves the interviewee from social dynamics and conforming to group pressure; but this, in return, can be a great disadvantage because “… the impact of sociability pressures, relating to both decision-making and consumption, may be an important arbiter on the value of respondent interaction”(Stokes and Bergin, 2006, p. 28). Another disadvantage is that in-depth interviewing findings, drawn from the responses (which are difficult and time-consuming to interpret), and the selection of the (small and non-random) sample can be crept into by the interviewer’s personal opinion (who should be highly skilled and therefore very expensive to hire).

Survey questionnaires could have been conducted, whereby obtained data can be easily transformed into numbers. However, that would have destroyed the uniqueness of the findings and wouldn’t have provided a deeper insight into people’s real feelings.

Besides, two focus groups are used to test market IBDP. On the one hand, the first one will be with guardians (dividing up them into strata and taking samples from each sub-group) who are considering enrolling their students onto it. On the other hand, the second will be with the students themselves (where they are divided into groups and a random sample of these clusters are selected) to see what they think about the Programme. The venue of the two focus groups is the school’s meeting room (which is equipped with audio and video recording equipment and where they will be told that the workshops are recorded for research purposes).

Focus group is a qualitative research methodology which moderators employ to discover new insights, understand consumers’ attitudes towards and perceptions of IBDP and use its results for the subsequent stage of the research project. Gibbs (1997, p.1) suggests that “the main purpose of focus group research is to draw upon respondents’ attitudes, feelings, beliefs, experiences and reactions in a way in which would not be feasible using other methods, for example observation, one-to-one interviewing, or questionnaire surveys”. Moreover, Wall (2001) points out that “focus groups are a relatively cheap, convenient and efficient way of reaching a large number of people, particularly where those people already belong to a group” (p. 24). Although Kitzinger (1994) argues that “… the one feature which inevitably distinguishes focus groups from one-to-one interviews or questionnaires” is “the interaction between the research participants” (p. 103), that interaction may still be dominated by outspoken respondents.

Thus, it is very crucial that sessions are run by a highly skilled focus group leader who ensures everyone gets a chance to speak freely, provides clear explication of the ethical considerations and the aim of the group, helps participants feel at ease, and facilitates dialogue amongst members of the group. Also, a highly trained facilitator is a must because “the way focus groups are organised and conducted is crucial in shaping the kind of results obtained, and therefore the way they will be perceived by different observers”(Bendell, 2001, p. 7). This is specially so not only when it comes to the teenagers’ focus group leader, but also to gender-related issues. Croft et al. (2007, p. 730) have intelligently remark that

… the job of a moderator will differ according to the sex of the group concerned. With female groups a main part of the moderator’s task is to keep the group participants on-subject whereas with a male group the task is to get them to talk freely.

Yet the moderator, no matter how highly qualified they are, will introduce their bias in writing the focus group guide, while leading the workshops and when interpreting the results.

To decrease the negative effects of that, more than two focus groups could have been conducted and more than one moderator could have been hired for each focus group. Prince and Davies (2001) advocate that “… moderator teams might be more appropriate than single moderators to overcome much of the bias in the way content and participation is manifested” (p. 215). However, budgetary and time constraints prevent that.

As far as the five IB teachers are concerned, they are interviewed as a group to gain an insight into problems and possible solutions of which mangers are usually not aware. It is important to differentiate between group interviewing and focus groups. This is summarised neatly by Gibb (1997, p.1):

Group interviewing involves interviewing a number of people at the same time, the emphasis being on questions and responses between the researcher and participants. Focus groups however rely on interaction within the group based on topics that are supplied by the researcher. (Morgan 1997: 12)

A group interview is more likely to be carried out with the already-grouped IB teachers and arranged to suit their normal meeting conditions. It is likely to be run in a more open and elastic manner than a focus group and this has the merit that the theme is likely to be more engaging because it can be adjusted more readily by the (commonly-shared) concerns of the IB teachers. In a group interview, although the researcher is also concerned to make sure that each teacher gets a chance to voice their opinions, the researcher has a wider margin of manoeuvring to pursue an interesting or relevant topic with one or two teachers. Teachers need to be encouraged to speak up their minds freely and keep confidential their colleagues’ contributions during the interview (to avoid intimidation from possible reporting of negative remarks to the schools’ management). Interviewers are also responsible for anonymising data obtained from the teachers.

A survey could have been conducted instead of that interview, but it would not have been able to deeply probe the problems presented as an interview would. This is specially so if some of or all of the IB teachers are not qualified (and thus are part of the problem).

Checking reliability and validity in qualitative research is crucial. Golafshani (2003, p.600) states that

Qualitative analysis results in a different type of knowledge than does quantitative inquiry because … [qualitative analysis] argues from the underlying philosophical nature of each paradigm, enjoying detailed interviewing … Thus, it seems … credibility of a qualitative research depends on the ability and effort of the researcher.

Therefore, it is vital that the researchers explain how they will interpret their findings and document their perspectives and assumptions. For instance, if the researcher is a parent facing difficulty in finding the appropriate programme of study for their children, it is significant to note or explain this association. One way of checking reliability and validity in qualitative research is via internal consistency, i.e. constant comparison of the results to see whether or not they are consistent within the project and another is external consistency, i.e. constant comparison of the results to see whether or not they are consistent with other similar studies. Shaw (1999, p. 65) suggests inductive analysis:

Figure 1: The process of inductive analysis

Analysis on site:

in the field when collecting data


Run the data open:

transcription & initial analysis of interviews & field notes


Focus analysis :

constant comparison of emerging themes and categorising of core codes


Deepen analysis :

compare substantive findings with established concepts in the literature


Present analysis to owners:

does the understanding fit & work? Is the picture accurate?


Write up thesis


Grounded Theory, originated by Glaser and Strauss (1967), can be used as well, whereby the findings are compared with classes already set forth by the researcher to ascertain whether the result fits or whether a new class should be introduced. Selden (2005, p. 126) describes it as helping “… shift some of the focus … from generalizations and verifications of statistical material to the exploration of new land to find even unexpected knowledge”.

To yet enhance credibility, findings could have been triangulated (cross-examined) and participants (especially parents and teachers) could have been asked to participate in interpreting results. However, triangulation has been highly criticised for several reasons. These reasons include, inter alia, the following ones:

First, it is sometimes accused of subscribing to a naive REALISM that implies that there can be a single definitive account of the social world … A second criticism is that triangulation assumes that sets of data deriving from different research methods can be unambiguously compared and regarded as equivalent in terms of their capacity to address a research question. (Bryman, n. d., p. 4)

In addition, the participation rate amongst respondents asked to take part in analysing results is not likely to be high and the budgetary and time constraints can incur no such risks.

In a nutshell, all research shall always be a matter of compromise – usually a compromise between what, on the one hand, the researcher would ideally like to find and what, on the other hand, is possible to figure out within a range of real world constraints.  In the case of this research proposal the nature of the problem, the budget and timeframe are all very restrictive (as a context) so there is a boundary to what the researcher is able to know.  Corollary to this belief is the fact that it is likely that the chosen methods are not perfect but should achieve the objectives within the time set, and within the budget allowed. These objectives are helping the school gain an insight into its (possible) IB prospective students (mainly by exploring the familial decision-making process) and delivering practical suggestions to develop its marketing strategy (which should be based on and guided by the family behaviour discovered). Both objectives can be best achieved via qualitative research. Although more focus groups – with more than one moderator for each – could have enhanced the validity and reliability of the findings of the research, its design, while not being ideal, is the best way of carrying out the research given the restrictions imposed. However, the findings of that research should state what is there, not what the management of the school should do. In other words, the research is not aiming at findings such as ‘x% students will consider enrolling onto IBDP’.




Selected Bibliography:


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[Accessed 5 June 2008, 04:00 p.m.], pp. 1.

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pp. 26-37.

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research”, Qualitative Market Research: An International Journal, 6:3, pp. 184-193.

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decision making”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 24:3, pp. 160-170.

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Suggested further reading:

Lee C. K. C. and S. E. Beatty (2002): “Family Structure and influence in family Decision

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Golafshani, N. (2003): “On Becoming a Qualitative Researcher: The Value of Reflexivity”,

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One thought on “Contemporary Approaches to Marketing Research

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