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Chapter 9: Marketing Information Systems

Chapter Objectives
Structure of the Chapter
The Functions of Management
Managerial Roles
Decision Making
Components of a marketing information system
Chapter Summary
Key Terms
Review Questions
Chapter References

To understand the proper role of information systems one must examine what managers do and what information they need for decision making. We must also understand how decisions are made and what kinds of decision problems can be supported by formal information systems. One can then determine whether information systems will be valuable tools and how they should be designed.

Chapter Objectives

This chapter has the purpose of leading the reader towards:

· An understanding of the different roles managers play and how marketing information systems can support them in these roles

· An appreciation of the different types and levels of marketing decision making

· A knowledge of the major components of a marketing information system

· An awareness of the often under-utilised internal sources of information available to enterprises

· An ability to clearly distinguish between marketing research and marketing intelligence, and

· An understanding of the nature of analytical models within marketing information system.

Structure of the Chapter

The chapter opens with a wide-ranging discussion of the functions of management, the various types and levels of decision that marketing managers must make. This then comprises the first half of the chapter whilst the second pan deals with the main components of a marketing information systems.. Internal reporting systems, marketing research systems, marketing intelligence systems and analytical model banks are all discussed.

The Functions of Management

Clearly, information systems that claim to support managers cannot be built unless one understands what managers do and how they do it. The classical model of what managers do, espoused by writers in the 1920's, such as Henry Fayol, whilst intuitively attractive in itself, is of limited value as an aid to information system design. The classical model identifies the following 5 functions as the parameters of what managers do:

1 Planning
2 Organising
3 Coordinating
4 Deciding
5 Controlling

Such a model emphasises what managers do, but not how they do it, or why. More recently, the stress has been placed upon the behavioural aspects of management decision making. Behavioural models are based on empirical evidence showing that managers are less systematic, less reflective, more reactive and less well organised than the classical model projects managers to be. For instance, behavioural models describe 6 managerial characteristics:

· High volume, high speed work
· Variety, fragmentation, brevity
· Issue preference current, ad hoc, specific
· Complex web of interactions, contacts
· Strong preference for verbal media.

Such behavioural models stress that managers work at an unrelenting pace and at a high level of intensity. This is just as true for managers operating in the developing world as in the developed world. The nature of the pressures may be different but there is no evidence that they are any less intense. The model also emphasises that the activities of managers is characterised by variety, fragmentation and brevity. There is simply not enough time for managers to get deeply involved in a wide range of issues. The attention of managers increase rapidly from one issue to another, with very little pattern. A problem occurs and all other matters must be dropped until it is solved. Research suggests that a manager's day is characterised by a large number of tasks with only small periods of time devoted to each individual task.

Managers prefer speculation, hearsay, gossip in brief, current, up-to-date, although uncertain information. Historical, certain, routine information receives less attention. Managers want to work on issues that are current, specific and ad hoc.

Managers are involved in a complex and diverse web of contacts that together act as an information system. They converse with customers, competitors, colleagues, peers, secretaries, government officials, and so forth. In one sense, managers operate a network of contacts throughout the organisation and the environment.

Several studies have found that managers prefer verbal forms of communication to written forms. Verbal media are perceived to offer greater flexibility, require less effort and bring a faster response. Communication is the work of the manager, and he or she uses whatever tools are available to be an effective communicator.

Despite the flood of work, the numerous deadlines, and the random order of crises, it has generally been found that successful managers appear to be able to control their own affairs. To some extent, high-level managers are at the mercy of their subordinates, who bring to their attention crises and activities that must be attended to immediately. Nevertheless, successful managers are those who can control the activities that they choose to get involved in on a day-to-day basis. By developing their own long-term commitments, their own information channels, and their own networks, senior managers can control their personal agendas. Less successful managers tend to be overwhelmed by problems brought to them by subordinates.

Managerial Roles

Mintzberg suggests that managerial activities fall into 3 categories: interpersonal, information processing and decision making. An important interpersonal role is that of figurehead for the organisation. Second, a manager acts as a leader, attempting to motivate subordinates. Lastly, managers act as a liaison between various levels of the organisation and, within each level, among levels of the management team.

A second set of managerial roles, termed as informational roles, can be identified. Managers act as the nerve centre for the organisation, receiving the latest, most concrete, most up-to-date information and redistributing it to those who need to know.

A more familiar set of managerial roles is that of decisional roles. Managers act as entrepreneurs by initiating new kinds of activities; they handle disturbances arising in the organisation; they allocate resources where they are needed in the organisation; and they mediate between groups in conflict within the organisation.

In the area of interpersonal roles, information systems are extremely limited and make only indirect contributions, acting largely as a communications aid in some of the newer office automation and communication-oriented applications. These systems make a much larger contribution in the field of informational roles; large-scale MIS systems, office systems, and professional work stations that can enhance a manager's presentation of information are significant. In the area of decision making, only recently have decision support systems and microcomputer-based systems begun to make important contributions.

While information systems have made great contributions to organisations, until recently these contributions have been confined to narrow, transaction processing areas. Much work needs to be done in broadening the impact of systems on professional and managerial life.

Decision Making

Decision making is often seen as the centre of what managers do, something that engages most of a managers time. It is one of the areas that information systems have sought most of all to affect (with mixed success). Decision making can be divided into 3 types: strategic, management control and operations control.

Strategic decision making: This level of decision making is concerned with deciding on the objectives, resources and policies of the organisation. A major problem at this level of decision making is predicting the future of the organisation and its environment, and matching the characteristics of the organisation to the environment. This process generally involves a small group of high-level managers who deal with very complex, non-routine problems.

For example, some years ago, a medium-sized food manufacturer in an East African country faced strategic decisions concerning its range of pasta products. These products constituted a sizeable proportion of the company's sales turnover. However, the company was suffering recurrent problems with the poor quality of durum wheat it was able to obtain resulting in a finished product that was too brittle. Moreover, unit costs were shooting up due to increasingly frequent breakdowns in the ageing equipment used in pasta production. The company faced the decision whether to make a very large investment in new machinery or to accept the offer of another manufacturer of pasta products, in a neighbouring country, that it should supply the various pasta products and the local company put its own brand name on the packs. The decision is strategic since the decision has implications for the resource base of the enterprise, i.e. its capital equipment, its work force, its technological base etc. The implications of strategic decisions extend over many years, often as much as ten to fifteen years.

Management control decisions: Such decisions are concerned with how efficiently and effectively resources are utilised and how well operational units are performing. Management control involves close interaction with those who are carrying out the tasks of the organisation; it takes place within the context of broad policies and objectives set out by strategic planners.

An example might be where a transporter of agricultural products observes that his/her profits are declining due to a decline in the capacity utilisation of his/her two trucks. The manager (in this case the owner) has to decide between several alternative courses of action, including: selling of trucks, increasing promotional activity in an attempt to sell the spare carrying capacity, increasing unit carrying charges to cover the deficit, or seeking to switch to carrying products or produce with a higher unit value where the returns to transport costs may be correspondingly higher. Management control decisions are more tactical than strategic.

Operational control decisions: These involve making decisions about carrying out the " specific tasks set forth by strategic planners and management. Determining which units or individuals in the organisation will carry out the task, establishing criteria of completion and resource utilisation, evaluating outputs - all of these tasks involve decisions about operational control.

The focus here is on how the enterprises should respond to day-to-day changes in the business environment. In particular, this type of decision making focuses on adaptation of the marketing mix, e.g. how should the firm respond to an increase in the size of a competitor's sales force? should the product line be extended? should distributors who sell below a given sales volume be serviced through wholesalers rather than directly, and so on.

Within each of these levels, decision making can be classified as either structured or unstructured. Unstructured decisions are those in which the decision maker must provide insights into the problem definition. They are novel, important, and non-routine, and there is no well-understood procedure for making them. In contrast, structured decisions are repetitive, routine, and involve a definite procedure for handling them so that they do not have to be treated each time as if they were new.

Structured and unstructured problem solving occurs at all levels of management. In the past, most of the success in most information systems came in dealing with structured, operational, and management control decisions. However, in more recent times, exciting applications are occurring in the management and strategic planning areas, where problems are either semi-structured or are totally unstructured.

Making decisions is not a single event but a series of activities taking place over time. Suppose, for example, that the Operations Manager for the National Milling Corporation is faced with a decision as to whether to establish buying points in rural locations for the grain crop. It soon becomes apparent that the decisions are likely to be made over a period of time, have several influences, use many sources of information and have to go through several stages. It is worth considering the question of how, if at all, information systems could assist in making such a decision. To arrive at some answer, it is helpful to break down decision making into its component parts.

The literature has described 4 stages in decision making: intelligence, design, choice and implementation. That is, problems have to be perceived and understood; once perceived solutions must be designed; once solutions are designed, choices have to be made about a particular solution; finally, the solution has to be implemented.

Intelligence involves identifying the problems in the organisation: why and where they occur with what effects. This broad set of information gathering activities is required to inform managers how well the organisation is performing and where problems exist. Management information systems that deliver a wide variety of detailed information can be useful, especially if they are designed to report exceptions. For instance, consider a commercial organisation marketing a large number of different products and product variations. Management will want to know, at frequent intervals, whether sales targets are being achieved. Ideally, the information system will report only those products/product variations which are performing substantially above or below target.

Designing many possible solutions to the problems is the second phase of decision making. This phase may require more intelligence to decide if a particular solution is appropriate. Here, more carefully specified and directed information activities and capabilities focused on specific designs are required.

Choosing among alternative solutions is the third step in the decision making process. Here a manager needs an information system which can estimate the costs, opportunities and consequences of each alternative problem solution. The information system required at this stage is likely to be fairly complex, possibly also fairly large, because of the detailed analytic models required to calculate the outcomes of the various alternatives. Of course, human beings are used to making such calculations for themselves, but without the aid of a formal information system, we rely upon generalisation and/or intuition.

Implementing is the final stage in the decision making process. Here, managers can install a reporting system that delivers routine reports on the progress of a specific solution, some of the difficulties that arise, resource constraints, and possible remedial actions. Table 9.1 illustrates the stages in decision making and the general type of information required at each stage.

Table 9.1 Stages in the decision making process

Stage of Decision Making

Information Requirement



Exception reporting



Simulation prototype



"What-if simulation



Graphics, charts

In practice, the stages of decision making do not necessarily follow a linear path from intelligence to design, choice and implementation. Consider again the problem of balancing the costs and benefits of establishing local buying points for the National Milling Corporation. At any point in the decision making process it may be necessary to loop back to a previous stage. For example, one may have reached stage 3 and all but decided that having considered the alternatives of setting up no local buying points, local buying points in all regions, districts or villages, the government decides to increase the amounts held in the strategic grain reserve. This could cause the parastatal to return to stage 2 and reassess the alternatives. Another scenario would be that having implemented a decision one quickly receives feedback indicating that it is not proving effective. Again, the decision maker may have to repeat the design and/or choice stage(s).

Thus, it can be seen that information system designers have to take into account the needs of managers at each stage of the decision making process. Each stage has its own requirements.

Components of a marketing information system

A marketing information system (MIS) is intended to bring together disparate items of data into a coherent body of information. An MIS is, as will shortly be seen, more than raw data or information suitable for the purposes of decision making. An MIS also provides methods for interpreting the information the MIS provides. Moreover, as Kotler's1 definition says, an MIS is more than a system of data collection or a set of information technologies:

"A marketing information system is a continuing and interacting structure of people, equipment and procedures to gather, sort, analyse, evaluate, and distribute pertinent, timely and accurate information for use by marketing decision makers to improve their marketing planning, implementation, and control".

Figure 9.1 illustrates the major components of an MIS, the environmental factors monitored by the system and the types of marketing decision which the MIS seeks to underpin.

Figure 9.1 The marketing information systems and its subsystems

The explanation of this model of an MIS begins with a description of each of its four main constituent parts: the internal reporting systems, marketing research system, marketing intelligence system and marketing models. It is suggested that whilst the MIS varies in its degree of sophistication - with many in the industrialised countries being computerised and few in the developing countries being so - a fully fledged MIS should have these components, the methods (and technologies) of collection, storing, retrieving and processing data notwithstanding.

Internal reporting systems: All enterprises which have been in operation for any period of time nave a wealth of information. However, this information often remains under-utilised because it is compartmentalised, either in the form of an individual entrepreneur or in the functional departments of larger businesses. That is, information is usually categorised according to its nature so that there are, for example, financial, production, manpower, marketing, stockholding and logistical data. Often the entrepreneur, or various personnel working in the functional departments holding these pieces of data, do not see how it could help decision makers in other functional areas. Similarly, decision makers can fail to appreciate how information from other functional areas might help them and therefore do not request it.

The internal records that are of immediate value to marketing decisions are: orders received, stockholdings and sales invoices. These are but a few of the internal records that can be used by marketing managers, but even this small set of records is capable of generating a great deal of information. Below, is a list of some of the information that can be derived from sales invoices.

· Product type, size and pack type by territory
· Product type, size and pack type by type of account
· Product type, size and pack type by industry
· Product type, size and pack type by customer
· Average value and/or volume of sale by territory
· Average value and/or volume of sale by type of account
· Average value and/or volume of sale by industry
· Average value and/or volume of sale by sales person

By comparing orders received with invoices an enterprise can establish the extent to which it is providing an acceptable level of customer service. In the same way, comparing stockholding records with orders received helps an enterprise ascertain whether its stocks are in line with current demand patterns.

Marketing research systems: The general topic of marketing research has been the prime ' subject of the textbook and only a little more needs to be added here. Marketing research is a proactive search for information. That is, the enterprise which commissions these studies does so to solve a perceived marketing problem. In many cases, data is collected in a purposeful way to address a well-defined problem (or a problem which can be defined and solved within the course of the study). The other form of marketing research centres not around a specific marketing problem but is an attempt to continuously monitor the marketing environment. These monitoring or tracking exercises are continuous marketing research studies, often involving panels of farmers, consumers or distributors from which the same data is collected at regular intervals. Whilst the ad hoc study and continuous marketing research differs in the orientation, yet they are both proactive.

Marketing intelligence systems: Whereas marketing research is focused, market intelligence is not. A marketing intelligence system is a set of procedures and data sources used by marketing managers to sift information from the environment that they can use in their decision making. This scanning of the economic and business environment can be undertaken in a variety of ways, including2

Unfocused scanning

The manager, by virtue of what he/she reads, hears and watches exposes him/herself to information that may prove useful. Whilst the behaviour is unfocused and the manager has no specific purpose in mind, it is not unintentional

Semi-focused scanning

Again, the manager is not in search of particular pieces of information that he/she is actively searching but does narrow the range of media that is scanned. For instance, the manager may focus more on economic and business publications, broadcasts etc. and pay less attention to political, scientific or technological media.

Informal search

This describes the situation where a fairly limited and unstructured attempt is made to obtain information for a specific purpose. For example, the marketing manager of a firm considering entering the business of importing frozen fish from a neighbouring country may make informal inquiries as to prices and demand levels of frozen and fresh fish. There would be little structure to this search with the manager making inquiries with traders he/she happens to encounter as well as with other ad hoc contacts in ministries, international aid agencies, with trade associations, importers/exporters etc.

Formal search

This is a purposeful search after information in some systematic way. The information will be required to address a specific issue. Whilst this sort of activity may seem to share the characteristics of marketing research it is carried out by the manager him/herself rather than a professional researcher. Moreover, the scope of the search is likely to be narrow in scope and far less intensive than marketing research

Marketing intelligence is the province of entrepreneurs and senior managers within an agribusiness. It involves them in scanning newspaper trade magazines, business journals and reports, economic forecasts and other media. In addition it involves management in talking to producers, suppliers and customers, as well as to competitors. Nonetheless, it is a largely informal process of observing and conversing.

Some enterprises will approach marketing intelligence gathering in a more deliberate fashion and will train its sales force, after-sales personnel and district/area managers to take cognisance of competitors' actions, customer complaints and requests and distributor problems. Enterprises with vision will also encourage intermediaries, such as collectors, retailers, traders and other middlemen to be proactive in conveying market intelligence back to them.

Marketing models: Within the MIS there has to be the means of interpreting information in order to give direction to decision. These models may be computerised or may not. Typical tools are:

· Time series sales modes
· Brand switching models
· Linear programming
· Elasticity models (price, incomes, demand, supply, etc.)
· Regression and correlation models
· Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) models
· Sensitivity analysis
· Discounted cash flow
· Spreadsheet 'what if models

These and similar mathematical, statistical, econometric and financial models are the analytical subsystem of the MIS. A relatively modest investment in a desktop computer is enough to allow an enterprise to automate the analysis of its data. Some of the models used are stochastic, i.e. those containing a probabilistic element whereas others are deterministic models where chance plays no part. Brand switching models are stochastic since these express brand choices in probabilities whereas linear programming is deterministic in that the relationships between variables are expressed in exact mathematical terms.

Chapter Summary

Marketing information systems are intended to support management decision making. Management has five distinct functions and each requires support from an MIS. These are: planning, organising, coordinating, decisions and controlling.

Information systems have to be designed to meet the way in which managers tend to work. Research suggests that a manager continually addresses a large variety of tasks and is able to spend relatively brief periods on each of these. Given the nature of the work, managers tend to rely upon information that is timely and verbal (because this can be assimilated quickly), even if this is likely to be less accurate then more formal and complex information systems.

Managers play at least three separate roles: interpersonal, informational and decisional. MIS, in electronic form or otherwise, can support these roles in varying degrees. MIS has less to contribute in the case of a manager's informational role than for the other two.

Three levels of decision making can be distinguished from one another: strategic, control (or tactical) and operational. Again, MIS has to support each level. Strategic decisions are characteristically one-off situations. Strategic decisions have implications for changing the structure of an organisation and therefore the MIS must provide information which is precise and accurate. Control decisions deal with broad policy issues and operational decisions concern the management of the organisation's marketing mix.

A marketing information system has four components: the internal reporting system, the marketing research systems, the marketing intelligence system and marketing models. Internal reports include orders received, inventory records and sales invoices. Marketing research takes the form of purposeful studies either ad hoc or continuous. By contrast, marketing intelligence is less specific in its purposes, is chiefly carried out in an informal manner and by managers themselves rather than by professional marketing researchers.

Key Terms

Deterministic models
Internal reports
Marketing intelligence
Model banks
Operational decisions
Stochastic models
Strategic decisions
Tactical plans

Review Questions

1. What are stochastic models?
2. Name the four components of an MIS.
3. What were the functions of management that Henry Fayol identified?
4. To which management role does the textbook suggest MIS has least to contribute?
5. What are the 3 levels of decision making outlined in this chapter?
6. According to Kotler, what are the contributing elements to an MIS? it
7. Which elements of the marketing environment are mentioned in the chapter?
8. What differences are there between marketing research and marketing intelligence?

Chapter References

1. Kotler, P., (1988) Marketing Management: Analysis Planning and Control, Prentice-Hall p. 102.

2. Agnilar, F.. (1967) Scanning The Business Environment, Macmillan, New York, p.47.

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