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Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship

Reflections on methodologies for research at the marketing/entrepreneurship interface

Audrey Gilmore

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Audrey Gilmore, (2010),"Reflections on methodologies for research at the marketing/entrepreneurship
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Reflections on methodologies
for research at the

for research at
the MEI

Audrey Gilmore
University of Ulster, Jordanstown, UK

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Purpose The first issue of Journal of Research in Marketing and Entrepreneurship discusses
methodologies for research at the marketing/entrepreneurship interface (MEI) in the years between
1986 and 1998, based on the published symposia proceedings (the Blue Books edited annually by
Gerry Hills with others from 1986). The purpose of this paper is to consider research at the MEI and
summarises some of the methodologies that are used in this field.
Design/methodology/approach This paper carries out an overview of the different types of
methodologies used to investigate marketing and entrepreneurship at the interface.
Findings The paper illustrates that research at the MEI is alive and well, it has taken large strides
in the last 25 years. There are a large range of research designs and methodologies to choose from and
researchers are encouraged to continue to be innovative in their approaches to studying
entrepreneurs/owners/managers and how, why, when and where they do business.
Originality/value This paper shows that research continues to develop and expand at the MEI.
There is much yet to learn.
Keywords Research work, Marketing theory, Entrepreneurialism
Paper type Research paper

Over the past 25 years, researchers at the marketing/entrepreneurship interface (MEI)
have contributed to the academic understanding of the differences between successful
entrepreneurial marketing and traditional marketing practices. In particular this has
stemmed from the work of the University of Illinois at Chicago/American Marketing
Association MEI) Symposia and the Academy of Marketing Entrepreneurship and
Small Business Special Interest Group (UK). Research focussing on the interface
between marketing and entrepreneurship has its foundations in the marketing,
entrepreneurship and small business literature and much of the work is set in the context
of the marketing and entrepreneurship interface.
During this time, researchers from different disciplines have become interested in
marketing and entrepreneurship and the interface between the two. These researchers
have come from a variety of backgrounds such as business, economics, psychology and
sociology and brought a range of difference research techniques with which they are
familiar and applied to the interface context. Undoubtedly this has expanded the nature
of research in the field.
One of the key reasons for the focus on research at the MEI was that both practitioners
and academic researchers recognised that the marketing carried out by small firms is
different from that carried out by larger firms. Indeed, many companies were started up

Journal of Research in Marketing and

Vol. 12 No. 1, 2010
pp. 11-20
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/14715201011060876


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by entrepreneurially minded people and these people often spotted opportunities that
existing and/or larger firms had not or were not interested in.
Our paper in 1999 focused on the scope and nature of research based on the MEI
Symposium Proceedings up until that time (1986-1997). The paper commented on the
variety of methodological approaches relevant to MEI research. It summarised and
reviewed key trends in the MEI Symposia Proceedings and offered guidance on how data
collection could be designed and adapted to reach an in-depth understanding of how
entrepreneurs/owners/managers (EOMs) do business.
Contextual background to MEI research
In the early days of MEI, research identified that small firm marketing is different from
larger firms marketing. Overall research was concerned with exploring and
understanding how EOMs undertake marketing and how they develop business.
Studies of small business start up owners illustrated that they were not typical
business men/women. In going about their business, they were inherently
entrepreneurial. Over the years, there have been many discussions over the
meaning of the term entrepreneur or how we can encapsulate entrepreneurial behaviour.
Based on these discussions, a simple and hopefully useful definition of an entrepreneur
is someone who offers an innovative solution to a market-related problem. The focus of
much of the early research was the EOM rather than the firm and so research methods
needed to be able to encapsulate the individuals characteristics and decision making
behaviours. The difficultly of penetrating these individuals thought processes in order
to fully understand how they think when making decisions is well documented
throughout the early days of MEI research (Hills and LaForge, 1992). Clearly, the
process behind the decisions and action (how and why decisions are made) needed to
be understood. Therefore, many methodologies for MEI research were considered in
relation to their ability to penetrate how EOMs make decisions and why they do what
they do. In order to begin this process, researchers need to have a good appreciation of
the key contextual issues that influence EOMs and therefore inform research
There is plenty of scope for methodological developments which offer rigour and
choice for researchers in this area. The unit of analysis will vary depending on the
research problems to be investigated, but may be a specific project, the business unit, the
individual, the firm, its market or industry, even nations and across nations.
Research at the MEI as reported in 1999
Often EOMs gather information intuitively. They may use a variety of apparently
unconnected approaches to piece together a picture of market information that serves as
a foundation for decision making and action. Therefore, studies which allowed in-depth
investigation of the decision making processes of EOMs in the context of their business
situation are prominent.
The key focus of our paper in 1999 was to address the question what methodologies
are being used and how can they help us unlock the secrets of what happens at the MEI?
It found that although research using qualitative, descriptive studies were widely used
(39 per cent), there were also studies that used causal empirical research (28 per cent)
while other papers were conceptual (22 per cent) and/or anecdotal (9 per cent; Gilmore
and Coviello, 1999).

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The descriptive, qualitative studies involved a wide range of data collection

techniques including case research and depth interviews. There was also evidence of
mixed data collection approaches such as the combination of quantitative and
qualitative techniques. In addition, survey research was used to gather data from EOMs
about the nature of their businesses and current and future practices.
Given that it was important to understand EOMs, how and why they made particular
decisions in 1999, there was emphasis on the value of in-depth qualitative research.
At that time, the search for a suitable and appropriate research method that allowed
phenomena to be studied within its context led to a discussion of the value of qualitative
and mixed methods in the paper.
Initially, it is useful for researchers to understand the management decision-making
processes of EOMs. Such understanding is unlikely to stem from research administered
from a distance, since small firms should not be stripped of their context (Aldrich, 1992;
Borch and Arthur, 1995; Brown and Butler, 1995). In addition the level of understanding
required is unlikely to be achieved through a highly structured and orderly research
approach such as the traditional survey methodology at the outset. Bygrave (1989)
contends that entrepreneurship is not a smooth, continuous linear process and as such
should not be studied using methods that were designed for such processes. Instead
research should try to mirror EOMs decision-making processes which are in themselves
unlikely to be orderly and structured. In-depth understanding of the influences upon the
series of processes involved in EOMs decision making and activity benefit from a
research approach which allows the phenomenon to be studied closely (Gilmore and
Carson, 1996), longitudinally (Hornaday and Churchill, 1987; Bygrave, 1989), taking
cognisance of an insider perspective. Thus, it is unlikely that conventional quantitative
research will reach the required level of penetration (Daft and Weick, 1983). Studying
EOMs at the MEI is often not about testing variables, or testing techniques since isolating
and manipulating variables will create an artificial environment and will remove the
opportunity to understand the change processes inherently involved in human action
and behaviour (Patton, 1987; Easterby-Smith et al., 1991). Obviously, the closer the
research and the researcher can get to the actual decision making process, the greater the
richness of findings in providing a genuine understanding from the EOMs perspective.
The variability and flexibility of qualitative methods contribute to their suitability
for adaptation at the MEI, such as taking account of specific industry and business
contexts, individual owner/managers viewpoints and idiosyncrasies, organisational
circumstance and the development of situations over time. The use of a variety of
techniques helps achieve a wider and more in-depth understanding of the complex and
often vague processes and outcomes of EOM decision making in the context of wider
business activities. They permit the study of interactive and performance dimensions of
EOM activities within a natural setting over a longitudinal time period, if necessary and
so allowing data gathering in the context of a dynamic or change environment.
A brief summary and update of these methods is outlined below, followed by
consideration of the research in the field since 1999.
Reasons for using qualitative research methodologies for research at the
Different methodologies have been adapted to suit the nature of enterprises and EOMs
for use in research at the MEI. Research methodologies are chosen for their strengths,

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particularly in terms of flexibility and ability to explore the complex and interrelated
nature of EOM decision making. Qualitative methods can be combined to carry out
research that gets much closer to the phenomenon being studied and adapted to suit the
specific context of enterprises under study.
Qualitative interviewing and using a combination of methods as outlined below are
particularly useful for studying EOM at the MEI. These can be adapted and developed to
fit a particular research context. Firstly, qualitative interviewing is described to
illustrate how researchers can work very closely with entrepreneurs in order to gain an
in-depth understanding of how EOMs perceive their business and its environment.
Qualitative interviewing
When carrying out fieldwork at the MEI, specific consideration must be given to the
nature of the environment in which data gathering will take place; and perhaps more
importantly, the characteristics of the individuals involved in the phenomena under
study. Qualitative interviewing can be used for a one-off in-depth study or in a
longitudinal study where it will be useful to prepare for at least two visits to the key
The objective of qualitative interviews is to allow EOMs to describe their views in
relation to what they do, how, why, when and where. Therefore, a suitable interview
approach is one that takes account of the entrepreneurs characteristics and individuality.
In-depth interviews following a relatively unstructured pattern using the tell me about
[. . .] (Carson et al., 2001) approach for investigating business decision making activity,
allows respondents to describe opinions and views in relation to what they do, how,
when, where and why, in their own words. These in-depth interviews can then provide an
open, flexible, experiential and illuminating way to study complex, dynamic interactive
situations, such as management decision making and business activities. Such an
interview technique provides all the advantages of in-depth interviewing such as:
covering a wide area of interest, allowing the researcher to become familiar with
the areas of interest as the research progresses;
identification and exploration of the key issues as they are revealed due to the
open-ended nature of the interview protocol; and
allowing opportunity for further probing and examining until mutual
understanding is reached.
It is also critical to consider the language used for researching entrepreneurs. The
language used by the interviewer should deliberately exclude marketing and business
terminology but focus instead on what the informant does in relation to various aspects
of business. This is a vital prerequisite for understanding the entrepreneurs
motivations behind decision making and various behaviours. Previous studies have
shown that entrepreneurs will adapt the mode of the recipient to their views (Hills and
Muzyka, 1993). This is particularly so if the entrepreneur has had technology transfer
or prior knowledge in an area of business. Other entrepreneurial characteristics
contribute to a situation where the entrepreneur will quickly respond to an interviewer
in terms he/she thinks the interviewer will expect. For example, a need to be perceived
to be in control of the business, guiding its direction and in charge of his/her own
destiny. As a consequence of this, the entrepreneur will answer questions in the
language in which they are put. For example, if a question refers to marketing strategy

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the answer will be given using appropriate marketing strategy jargon. Analysis of
previous empirical data shows a significant correlation between the language of the
question and the language of the reply (Hills and Muzyka, 1993). In avoiding such a
circumstance questions should completely avoid the use of business terminology
(Gilmore and Carson, 2007).
Question variations and extensions can be used to encourage the interviewee to use
his/her own language and terminology and expand on descriptions of business activities
(Gilmore and Carson, 2007). For example, the first question in each interview may be
deliberately open and general allowing the interviewee to describe business activities in
his/her own way. Thus, the opening question might be: How do you do business? The
ensuing description of business activities and evolution of these activities may be
investigated by the use of some probing questions as and when necessary. Throughout
the interview, the following guidelines are suggested:
care should be taken not to interrupt the flow of interviewees response regardless
of relevance;
if the entrepreneur uses jargon, this should be ignored if possible or clarified
using non-jargon language;
remain silent as much as possible when the EOM is talking;
avoid engaging in conversations of agreement or disagreement;
remain detached but receptive, for example, by nodding frequently;
maintain eye contact as often as possible; and
where possible, use encouraging phrases such as: can you tell me more about
[. . .] and means of clarification such as: tell me what you mean by [. . .].
As research aims to achieve in-depth understanding, raw data should be recorded and
transcribed verbatim. Specific criteria for analysis (based on literature and experiential
knowledge gained during the research) can be developed and used to organise and
group the new data into manageable frameworks.
A study using qualitative in-depth interviewing can have a further stage where
follow-up interviews can be carried out, after presenting the key findings from initial
interviews to EOMs in order to illicit more detailed consideration of important themes
and issues pertaining to doing business (Gilmore et al., 2006).
A combination of methods
There are many advantages of using a combination of research methods to understand
EOMs and how they do business. A significant feature of using a combination of
techniques is that data can be collected and analysed holistically (Gilmore and Coviello,
1999; Gilmore and Carson, 1996). It allows the researcher to take account of the specific
characteristics of the firm and decision makers in question; and enables research to be
carried out within a relatively dynamic business environment. Thus, a combination of
methods will provide a useful means of studying the complex, interactive and personal
nature of entrepreneurial decision making. Some of the most commonly used qualitative
methods include focus groups discussions, surveys, observations studies,
ethnographies, conversational analysis, content analysis and in-depth interviews
(for further reading, see Carson et al., 2001, chapters 6-11). The use of a combination

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of two of more of these allows a variety of data to be gathered, for example, verbal
reports, observed occurrences, written reports, prior documentation, and data involving
researcher experience within a specific context.
Overall, a combined approach can increase flexibility and variety by using a
pot-pourri of interpretative techniques (Das, 1983, p. 301), thus accommodating the
study of phenomenon from different perspectives. Variability and flexibility will allow
techniques to be adapted for business and managerial situations. In particular, methods
can be adapted for research in entrepreneurial and marketing situations to take account
of specific industry and business contexts, individual owner-managers viewpoints and
idiosyncrasies and organisational circumstances.
The use of a combination of techniques can help achieve a wider and more in-depth
understanding of the complex, often vague processes and outcomes of managerial
decision making in the context of wider business activities. They permit the study of the
interactive and performance dimensions of decision making activities studied within a
natural setting and can be used over a longitudinal time period, and reflect a dynamic or
change environment. A combination of methods can be chosen to suit the purpose of
the research, and to build and develop understanding as the research time progresses
(Gilmore and Coviello, 1999).
Clearly, the choice of a variety of methods is important whereby each one contributes
some understanding about specific aspects of decision making and behaviours of EOMs,
and allows later research stages to build and develop on previous learning and
understanding. In this way, a combination of methods used can provide a rich portrait of
phenomena under study. This permits the researcher to learn about the inputs and
outcomes but also gain an understanding of the texture, activities and processes
(Belk et al., 1988, p. 449) occurring in the day-to-day operations and activities and the
impact of these occurrences on enterprise activity. It also permits further experiential
understanding of the worst and best scenarios in relation to the phenomenon under study.
The number of methods used can be expanded and adapted as appropriate for the
specific research topic to allow researchers to develop the best possible methodologies
for specific research problems or issues. To illustrate how this might be used in practice,
for example, a study could include:
a survey of EOMs in a particularly industry context;
in-depth interviews with key informant EOMs;
observations of the business activity of a specific company;
data comparison of competitive activity; and
analysis of appropriate company records.
This borrows from case research where a combination of methods are used to study a
small number of companies or situations but this combination of methods can be more
focussed on the specific issues relevant to how enterprises do business and take
account of the wider environmental context and circumstance.
Research at the MEI since 1999
Much of the research at the MEI still features a wide variety of methodologies, often
using a combination of techniques. Case studies and surveys continue to be widely used.
More recently some researchers have encouraged EOMs to used dairies to record daily

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activities which have then been analysed. In addition, a small number of researchers
have developed story telling techniques to illustrate EOM behaviour and activities.
The focus of MEI research is still on in-depth understanding, particularly in relation
to influences on the series of processes involved in managerial decision making and
planning activity. These benefit from research approaches that allow phenomenon to be
studied closely, longitudinally, and taking cognisance of an insider perspective. The
closer the researcher can get to the actual decision making process, the greater the
richness of findings, and the opportunity for genuine understanding. Although
qualitative interviews and the use of a combination of methods are still widely used,
today a wide range of research methods are being used at the MEI. Some of these are
briefly summarised below.
Traditionally in the entrepreneurial field, surveys were used extensively in
researching the nature and characteristics of entrepreneurs. Since 1999, surveys have
become more widely used in the MEI field. They are useful for focusing on a number of
marketing or entrepreneurial issues in the study of either EOMs or their markets.
For example, surveys can be aimed at EOMs as the key informants in a study of
MEI decision making. Many surveys have been carried out to ascertain EOMs
perceptions of the importance of marketing to their businesses, to gather information on
how entrepreneurial they think they are and many other marketing- and
entrepreneurial-related phenomena. Operationally, it can be challenging to carry out a
large survey in this field. Response rates are difficult to achieve as often EOMs do not
respond because their focus is primarily on their own firm and on day-to-day priorities.
Researchers at the interface (Schwartz et al., 2007) caution that comparing survey results
from different studies that utilise different datasets collected under different conditions
at different times may only lead to confusion regarding our understanding of MEI
phenomenon. They argue that similar firms ought to be analysed over time and results
compared over time. For example, entrepreneurial firms ought to be compared to
similarly entrepreneurial firms.
Observation studies in MEI research can be useful as a stand-alone method or used as
an additional method in the study of EOMs activities, how they act and react in specific
situations, and the impacts of their behaviour. Observations can be used to delve beyond
opinions and what EOMs say they do and focus on actual behaviour. Data from
observation studies can reveal insights into the behaviours surrounding the
implementation of marketing activity and any related EOM activities in different
Borrowing from ethnographic research frameworks, studies involving a researcher
living in firms for an extended period of time can also be useful in gaining understanding
of MEI phenomena. Being a participant in a companys day-to-day activities, attending
meetings and observing how decisions are made and executed can be very useful. For
example, it may provide insight into how company priorities are decided, the importance
and priorities given to some areas and not to others, the criteria used to differentiate
between important and less important issues, different managers positions, opinions
and recommendations in relation to each current issue and who has the final say in
decision making.
Content analysis of company materials can be useful for determining the history and
development of a company or departments within a company and other marketing- and
entrepreneurial-related information. For example, the development of the product

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and service range, distribution- and services-related activity, the promotional activity of
the company and how it has changed over time.
Conversational analysis can be a useful technique for EOMs. For example, they can
use this technique with different levels of staff involved in the delivery of a specific
product or service. Conversations with service frontline staff and supervisors regarding
the perception of their roles in a product/services delivery situation such as dealing with
customers and handling customer complaints can help EOMs understand the feelings
and reactions of staff and lead to insights in relation to improving service delivery.
Some studies have encouraged EOMs to record their daily activities in a diary
(Ottesen et al., 2007). This has been used for companies faced with a new competitor or a
significant change in their business environment. For example, EOMs in the fishing
industry in Norway were asked to complete dairies during a time when competition from
a company in another country was severely threatening their business and the whole
communitys way of life. The study highlighted the complexity of the problem and the
interrelated nature of the business with the sustainability of the community in a
relatively isolated coastal region.
Action research is a broad term and has been used in different ways. It is essentially
about a group of people who work together to improve their work processes. In relation
to research at the MEI it is useful where small teams or task forces can work together to
improve their work processes. For example, a small team could be a group working with
a consultant to run new computer software and incorporate it into their daily processes.
This kind of activity often occurs in business but it only becomes action research when it
is studied and evaluated in some way. This is usually carried out by an outsider who
tries to facilitate a change or improvement in activities in some way.
Focus groups are an extremely useful and often cost-effective method of
gathering insightful aspects about a research topic. It has been widely used for
researching consumers opinions of specific products and product characteristics,
services, promotions, distribution and customer service issues. It is also useful for
entrepreneurial and marketing management research. For example, focus groups can be
used to identify a range of opinions regarding a business issue and a manager may bring
a team together to brainstorm ways of solving a problem. The success of a focus group
depends on the moderator who must be careful not to bias participants responses.
Rigorous attention needs to be given to the wording of topics and how and when they are
There is evidence of researchers using other qualitative approaches such as writing
historical case analysis of specific entrepreneurial companies and using storytelling
(recommended by McAuley, 2007) to help illustrate the in-depth MEI phenomena within
its historic, industry and/or company context. For example, some studies of retailing
EOMs have illustrated how a business has evolved throughout two or three generations
of people from the same family, other stories have illustrated the development of
business in the context of social and economic change.
Clearly, there is plenty of scope for methodological developments which offer
relevance, rigour and choice for researchers in this area.
In 1999, we reported that interest in MEI is global. As far as we are aware, MEI research
started off in the USA and UK but quickly spread. Over the years, researchers from

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Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Asia and Africa have joined the MEI interest
group. In addition, MEI research is now cross-national, involving both cross-national
teams and cross-national data.
Research incorporating entrepreneurship and small business is gaining popularity
and it contributes to the increasing number of courses on entrepreneurship and
enterprise development. These courses reflect the recognition that small- to
medium-sized enterprises are critical to national economies and that entrepreneurship
is a field that generates strong interest for practitioners and policy makers. Over the past
decade, there have been many doctoral studies carried out within the entrepreneurship
marketing interface field, so there are many more researchers in this field and clearly
these people are passing on their knowledge to the next generation.
It is fair to say that research at the MEI has taken large strides in the last 25 years.
However, there is much yet to learn in this field, the scope for research is wide, there is a
large range of research designs and methodologies to choose from and adapt
accordingly and there is plenty of opportunity for new people to join in.
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Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.
Further reading
Coviello, N. and Munro, H. (2007), Integrating qualitative and quantitative methodologies
in entrepreneurship research: an illustration of network analysis, in Hines, D. and
Carson, D. (Eds), Innovative Methodologies in Enterprise Research, Edward Elgar,
Hills, G.E. et al. (1986-2008), Research at the marketing/entrepreneurship interface, Proceedings
of the UIC Symposium on Marketing and Entrepreneurship Interface, The University of
Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL (the Blue Books).
Corresponding author
Audrey Gilmore can be contacted at: aj.gilmore@ulster.ac.uk

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