Human Dimension in Marketing Research: A Sense-Making Approach

By Natarajan, Vivek S.; Godkin, Lynn et al. | Academy of Marketing Studies Journal, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Human Dimension in Marketing Research: A Sense-Making Approach

Natarajan, Vivek S., Godkin, Lynn, Parayitam, Satyanarayana, Academy of Marketing Studies Journal


Marketing research is an important element of the marketing process. Typical models of research explain research as an objective process. However, like any other process, marketing research has human elements. Hence, there are subjective elements that are inherent to the research process. We employ the sense making approach to delineate these subjective processes. Sense-making perspective as applied to the marketing research process is discussed.

Key Words: Marketing research, sense-making


Marketing Research is an important element of the marketing process. Conventional marketing research models have not paid adequate attention to the human element in the research process. The premise of this paper is that human element affects the research process significantly. That element is a tacitly understood aspect of the marketing research process. To better understand the human element as it appears among those providing marketing research is essential for successful decisions. It enables us to better understand, for example, why do we decide to segment marketing in particular ways, how do we decide what research to initiate, and why do we tend to accept some findings and not notice others? To shed light on the human element as it relates to marketing research, it is helpful to return to the concept of sense-making. This paper uses the lens from the sense-making theory to flesh out the human elements affecting marketing research.


The common models of marketing research do not suggest how we arrive at the definitions and interpretations we do. Nor, do they shed light on why we make the decisions we do. They do not explain, for example, the behavioral factors drawing researchers to particular target markets, sample determination, and particular interpretation of data? In this section we return to the concept of organizational sense-making (Feldman, 1 989) to explain what triggers such decisions as they are made in the day-to-day marketing research deliberations. The concept of sense-making helps us to answer these and related question

Sense-making, in our view, is a source of insight into how marketing research is undertaken. Sense-making might be conceived of as an interpretive process (Feldman, 1989). Through sensemaking, individuals give structure to the unknown (Waterman, 1990) and make sense of circumstances as they occur (Huber & Daft, 1987) using retrospective accounts to explain occurrences (Louis, 1980). To understand sense-making, think of the proverbial blind men who collectively examined an elephant with each reporting his impression of the animal as touched. The result was a "... set of ideas with explanatory possibilities, rather than a body of knowledge, per se." (Weick, 1 995, p. xi) They collectively derived a view of the elephant by making sense of what was presented them. This process, in our view, is an integral part of the marketing research process as it unfolds among those participating. Our collective view of what is happening "out there" determines the research design, interpretation of the data collected, and the conclusions drawn from the data.

According to Weick (1995), sense making involves placing items in frameworks, comprehending, constructing meanings, and patterning to address these interruptions. Furthermore, sense-making framework will also address the interactions and frustrations associated with these interruptions. The sense-making process involves understanding, interpreting, and attributing the antecedents of sense-making.

In the following section we reflect on what triggers organizational sense-making and lift out properties of sense-making to apply it to the marketing research process. This portion of our discussion is important because the decision made by marketing research teams is not made in a vacuum. Marketing decisions arise from the interactions among team members and subjective judgmental issues from those discussions.

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