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 Listening to the Customer  posted by  duggu   on 12/9/2007  Add Courseware to favorites Add To Favorites  
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Prelec, Drazen, 15.821 Listening to the Customer, Fall 2002. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 11 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

A fishmonger and customer in Venice's Rialto Markets.

A fishmonger and customer in Venice's Rialto Markets. (Photo courtesy of Philip Greenspun,

Course Highlights

Several lecture notes, as well as detailed lists of readings and assignments, are available.

Course Description

The 15.821 + 15.822 Sequence

Marketing research may be divided into methods that emphasize understanding “the customer” and methods that emphasize understanding “the market.” This course (15.821) deals with the customer and emphasizes qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups, Voice of the Customer, composing questions for a survey). The companion course (15.822) deals with the market and emphasizes quantitative methods (sampling, survey execution, quantitative data interpretation, conjoint analysis, factor analysis).

The methods covered in 15.821 are often used in the “front-end” of market research project, whose second-stage is a quantitative survey. The quality of information gathered in the second-stage is greatly enhanced in this way.

15.821 is designed for the nonspecialist, e.g., someone planning a career in general management, product or project management, R&D, advertising, or entrepreneurship. 15.822 teaches analytical techniques that are standard in consulting or marketing research, and is ideally suited for students planning careers in those fields.

Objectives of 15.821

This course has three complementary objectives, namely, to:

  • provide a concise “user’s guide” to the most valuable and common qualitative customer research methods (focus groups, customer visits, interviews)
  • teach key skills for “do-it-yourself” customer research (preparing & conducting interviews, group discussions, surveys, and site visits)
  • through a full-course project, teach all the basic steps of a Voice of the Customer exercise

*Some translations represent previous versions of courses.



McQuarrie, E. F. Customer Visits: Building a Better Market Focus. Newbury Park, Sage, 1993. [Very well written; the topic is somewhat specialized, but many of the points apply to qualitative research in general.]

If you want need a good marketing research reference text you might invest in Churchill's Marketing Research. It has everything (almost). Also, Churchill is the required textbook for 15.822.

Churchill, Gilbert A. Marketing Research, 6th Edition, Chicago: The Dryden Press, 1996. [Plus: Comprehensive and precise. Minus: Dry, expensive.]

Lehmann, Donald R. Market Research and Analysis. 3rd Edition, Homewood, IL: Irwin, 1989. [Plus: Well written, sensible. Minus: Virtually no coverage of qualitative methods.]

You will need a tape recoder for your interviews.
Group Project (3-4 students per project)
This material is tough to learn from a textbook. Therefore, a major element of the course is a survey-based group project. It breaks down into seven tasks, which roughly coordinated with the seven weeks of the course:
  1. Selecting a topic and formulating a research plan
  2. Preparing for customer interviews
  3. Conducting and taping interviews
  4. Transcribing the interviews and identify customer statements or "voices"
  5. Interpreting or "scrubbing" the voices, and organizing into a hierarchy
  6. Proposing a new concept or solution based on the voices
  7. Writing the research report

A typical problem involves understanding the customers' perspective in a new market. You will have a lot of freedom in choosing the problem, as long as it allows application of all of the steps.

Group Project: 50%
Class Participation: 50%

Project reports are due in class.



  LEC #       TOPICS       KEY DATES
  1       Introduction        
  2       Case: Boston Beer Boston Beer Company, Storytelling       Pick Project Team
  3       Guest Lecture: Robert Klein, AMS       Pick Topic & Prepare Discussion
  4       Interviews, Consumer Behavior       Pick Topic & Prepare Discussion (continued)
  5       Guest Lecture Jim Ferry, B.I.G.       Conduct Interview
  6       Focus Groups: Boston Fights Drugs, Test-marketing a President       Conduct Interview (continued)
  7       Guest Lecture Christina Hepner Brodie       Complete and Transcribe Interviews
  8       Observational Methods       Complete and Transcribe Interviews (continued)
  9       'Scrubbing' Exercise       Identify and Scrub
  10       Generating Concepts       Identify and Scrub (continued)
  11       The Customer's Voice on Pricing       Create an Affinity Diagram
  12       Presentations        
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