I stumbled across Davis (2020) because the title intrigued me. There are many different types of small businesses, and I wondered how the student was going to assess success in a qualitative, multiple-case study approach. Skipping to the interview guide, I see the problem. The novice researcher is having the participants answer the research question (my comments are in blue) –
- What are your primary marketing strategies that have helped you grow and sustain your business beyond the first 5 years of operation? First, the novice researcher appears to want the participant to do researcher’s job. Why not start with “What types of marketing strategies to do you utilize?” From there, a researcher can explore how much is spent, the components of the strategy, the timing of the expenditure, how results are measured, etc. Second, shouldn’t the researcher look at all marketing strategies used, not just the ones that “helped them grow?” That’s the purpose of a multiple case study; to compare how different units (companies, in this case) operate?
- What strategies were most effective toward your marketing efforts? I would think the novice researcher would do this. What is the role of the researcher in this study then?
- How did you address the key barriers you encounter when implementing marketing strategies? The researcher “primed” the participants to discuss obstacles without learning if they had any. Why do I say that? Because this interview guide was created a priori. I could see discussing obstacles, such as lack of funds, knowledge or experience, in the context of a discussion about marketing; however, how could one see into the future to “know” a barrier was encountered. Student Note: Know your research method and design before you start your data collection.
- How did the business skills you possess facilitate the effective implementation of the successful marketing strategies? Again, this would be researcher’s job to answer this question once the question of effectiveness was examined. For example, if a business owner thinks Strategy X is effective, but upon investigation and analysis of data it is learned that Strategy X is not more effective than Strategy Y and Z, then perhaps a business owner’s knowledge of marketing or the measurement should be included.
According to the novice researcher, four themes ’emerged’. Below are the themes and anecdotal quotes cited in the study. Again, my comments are in blue –
- Social media
- “A majority of business owners use social media as part of their branding and marketing strategy” (p. 66). So…if a majority of businesses use something, it must be effective, right?
- P3 states “I find that I get the greatest type of traction with Intragram” What does traction mean? What information does the participant use to assess traction? How does the participant measure effectiveness with Instagram? Do the number of hits or likes on a web site translate to an increase in foot traffic, purchases, or sales? Where’s the data to support a conclusion that social media is effective? The novice researcher states this theme aligns with the work of He et al (2017), another QUAL study, but based on the supporting information its pure speculation.
- P1 described their relationship with a local humane society (see Incentive Marketing below).
- P3 described how they leave their business cards with local businesses. I wouldn’t call that a partnership. But based on these two items, the novice researcher made this conclusion: “Small business owners who develop partnerships with other small business owners in their community are an effective marketing strategy in spreading brand awareness” (p. 71). Studies examining the antecedents of brand awareness have found that organizational inducements via the marketing mix, marketing inducements (e.g., word of mouth advertising, promotion), and consumer experiences have statistically significant effects. These concepts were not covered by the novice researcher in the review of the literature. In fact, the term “brand awareness” was used only once in the study.
- Incentive marketing
- P1 states “So every new adopter at the local human society receives a $10 gift certificate to my store, and I’d donate that gift certificate. That was also one of the main strategies I used.” How does one know if a strategy is successful until it’s examined and measured?
- P3 stated that “promotions, giveaways, and asking to tag three or more friends is very, very effective.” Not effective, but very, very effective(!). Since P3 probably doesn’t have a terminal degree in marketing, I would think someone exploring marketing in a terminal degree program, like this novice researcher, would dig deeper and ask questions about how effectiveness was measured. How long does the effect last? Is a ‘pulsing’ strategy used so as not to waste promotional funds when an effect is still active? I guess we’ll never know.
- P3 stated that “word of mouth was being leveraged better than the digital boards.” Here was an opportunity to explore with the business owner the depth of their word of mouth strategy, and validate the effect with data found in the corporate records (e.g., do they track referrals in their sales/accounting system?).
Using the novice researcher’s own words, these four themes were “primary strategies used by participants that play a key role in enhancing their marketing strategies for their business” (p. 66), and “the results of the study provided marketing strategies that small business owners can use to help sustain their businesses beyond 5 years” (p. 75). Perhaps the title of the study should have been: Research Strategies used by Four Small Business Owners in the Midwestern United States. But, who would read a study, let alone award a terminal degree, for a simple list.
A multiple case study research design was proposed, but not executed correctly. No information was provided about each business (e.g., products or services sold, revenue, date of origin), nor how much is spent on marketing by type of strategy (either by absolute $ or as a % of revenue). The interview guide was poorly developed. As a result, the novice researcher didn’t explore marketing strategies that were successful for each business in the case; she simply asked each business owner a series of questions about marketing activities they performed. This is another example of a non-case, case study.
I can’t believe the committee would have let this study go through, so I examined the terminal degree of each member. I’ll let you decide if this University (my alma mater) or committee did the student a disservice:
- Chairperson: Terminal degree in organizational leadership
- Committee member: Terminal degree in education
- Committee member: Terminal degree in management
With nobody on the committee with a marketing degree, the faculty were probably doing the best they can and relying on the novice researcher to be an expert in the discipline. The novice researcher may be an expert in marketing, but did not demonstrate that expertise, nor how to perform a multiple case study research design, in this study. Note to Students: The results of this study should be viewed with caution, it not ignored in their entirety.
Davis, J. (2020). Successful marketing strategies for small business sustainability (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (28086062)
He, W., Wang, F. K., Chen, Y., & Zha, S. (2017). An exploratory investigation of social media adoption by small businesses. Information Technology and Management, 18(2), 149-160. An exploratory investigation of social media adoption by small businesse