‘Confusion’ is an important and ever more controversial aspect of marketing practice

‘Confusion’ is an important and ever more controversial aspect of marketing practice

Overview of the assignment:
You are required to write an individual assignment of no more than 2,000 words (the list of references / bibliography at the end of your assignment is not included in this word count limit of 2,000 words).
The individual assignment should be organised as a proposal for carrying out empirical research on a specific theory in marketing (confusion in marketing).

‘Confusion’ is an important and ever more controversial aspect of marketing practice, and one that has increasingly attracted the attention of marketing managers, academics, consumer protection agencies, and policy-makers.  It could be argued that marketing has always involved an element of confusing buyers, with information not always being disclosed and products or services on offer being misrepresented.  At present, confusion appears to be practised by marketers across sectors as diverse as financial services, utilities, telecommunications, hospitality and retailing, with such practices assessed by Drummond (2004) and others to be significant.  Examples of current controversies surrounding confusion business practices include complicated, lengthy and difficult to understand bills, several tariffs for the same product which are too complex to compare, composite financial products that clients do not understand, packaging and pricing decisions which make it difficult for consumers to compare products.

In your individual assignment, you should build upon the theory in question and explain what new research could be carried out on the theory and how it should be carried out.  It is expected that you will identify an aspect of confusion currently practised by marketers which has not been previously researched and which is significant (to theory development, management practice, consumer protection, or public policy, etc.).  This assignment is your chance to explain your research ideas about new, interesting empirical work in this area of marketing and how a researcher wishing to research the topic should go about conducting the research (i.e. what type of research should be carried out, how).

Students are allowed to exceed the word count limit by 10% (the + 10% rule therefore applies to this assignment).

Academic and Practitioner analyses of confusion in marketing:
Marketing scholars and business commentators have long analysed aspects, sources, and consequences of confusion.  The study of the topic of ‘confusion’ in marketing began more than three decades ago.  As a result, our understanding of business practices generating consumer confusion has advanced.  Below you will find some of the seminal articles on confusion which will provide you with an overview of the issues relating to confusion in marketing which are considered significant.

Balabanis, G. & Craven, S. (1997). Consumer confusion from own brand lookalikes. Journal of Marketing Management, 13, 299-313.
Brengman, M., Geuens, M., & De Pelsmacker, P. (2001). The impact of consumer characteristics and campaign-related factors on brand confusion in print advertising. Journal of Marketing Communications, 7, 231-43.
Chryssochoidis, G. (2000). Repercussions of consumer confusion for late introduced differentiated products. European Journal of Marketing, 34, 705-22.
Clancy, K. & Trout, J. (2002). Brand confusion. Harvard Business Review, 80, 22-34.
DeRosia, E., Lee, T., & Christensen, G. (2011). Sophisticated but confused. Psychology & Marketing, 28, 457-78.
Foxman, E., Muehling, D., & Berger, P. (1990). An investigation of factors contributing to consumer brand confusion. Journal of Consumer Affairs, 24, 170-90.
Foxman, E., Berger, P., & Cote, J. (1992). Consumer brand confusion. Psychology & Marketing, 9, 123-41.
Howard, D., Kerin, R., & Gengler, C. (2000). The effects of brand name similarity on brand source confusion. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 19, 250-64.
Miaoulis, G. & D’Amato, N. (1978). Consumer confusion and trademark infringement. Journal of Marketing, 42, 48-55.
Mitchell, V. & Papavassiliou, V. (1997). Exploring the concept of consumer confusion. Market Intelligence and Planning, 15, 164-69.
Mitchell, V. & Papavassiliou, V. (1999). Market causes and implications of consumer confusion. Journal of Product and Brand Management, 8, 319-39.
Mitchell, V. & Kearney, I. (2002). A critique of legal measures of brand confusion. Journal of Product and Brand Management, 11, 357-77.
Srivastava, R. (2011). Understanding brand identity confusion. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 29, 340-52.
Turnbull, P., Leek, S., & Ying, G. (2000). Customer confusion: the mobile phone market. Journal of Marketing Management, 16, 143-63.

Students are advised that commentary and analyses of confusion, as practised by marketers and businesses these days, are also abundant in the practitioner and business press.  Some examples include reports on confusion carried out by the Centre for Competition Policy, the EU and the BBC, and empirical research on these issues by, among others, consumer protection and consumer watchdog organisations.  Examples of some of their reports are provided below and should be consulted while working on your assignments:
BBC (2010). Gas and electricity bills designed to confuse. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11916422
BBC (2013). New energy tariffs are still too confusing. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22745009
Centre for Competition Policy (2008). Companies deliberately confuse their customers. Retrieved from http://competitionpolicy.ac.uk.
PRWatch (2011). Insurers deliberately confuse policyholders and dump the sick. Retrieved from http://prwatch.org/news/2011/08/10978/insurers-deliberately-confuse-policyholders-and-dump-sick
Saville, M. (2012). A trip back in time: bank charges have never been simple. Retrieved from http://conversation.which.co.uk
Smithers, R. (2011). Supermarkets ‘confuse’ consumers with product pricing. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/money/2011/nov/17/supermarkets-confuse-consumers-product-pricing

Format of the assignment:

There are four main components to the assignment:

Section 1). Introduction & Overview
In this section you will be expected to explain the importance and implications of your chosen research topic (the specific aspect of confusion in marketing which has not been researched yet, and one which you feel is important either from a theoretical or a practitioner point of view).  For example, if you are studying the impact of some aspect of confusion on consumer choice then you should discuss why this is an important area of study and how you feel your research can improve our knowledge about this topic, about consumers and their interactions with marketers and businesses practising confusion.  Normally this section will be reasonably short.  Please note that it is expected that you will state your research questions (or objectives, aims) somewhere in this introductory section.

Section 2). Literature Review
Your literature review should build on the introduction to critically analyse what research currently exists on your topic (e.g. the impact of some aspect of confusion on consumer choice).  It should NOT just describe other research, but analyse and integrate theories together to help you understand your research questions and (if applicable) help you develop your hypotheses.  The literature review will be the academic basis for the research.  However, it is expected not to make up the most significant chunk of your assignment.

Section 3). Methodology
BEMM115 is a module on methodology.  Therefore, the methodology section will be the biggest and most important among the sections in your assignment.  In it, you will need to discuss HOW you wish to answer your research questions (or hypotheses, if applicable).
You should identify and justify your research design(s) and/or research strategy(ies).
Next, you will need to discuss (and justify once again) the different methods you wish to employ for collecting and analysing data.
Information about the sample being used and why you feel this is a good sample should also be included.
You should also produce and discuss your instrument for data collection (interview guide or sample questionnaire), and cover the analysis techniques that may be useful.
The key to this section is an appreciation for how you wish to go about your research and why you feel the approach that you have chosen is the best approach.

Section 4). Conclusion
A short section concluding your assignment is also to be added towards the end.  In this section, you can reiterate the importance of your planned research – i.e. Why is this research needed?  How will it add to our knowledge about confusion as practised by marketers and businesses these days?  Are such research and its findings likely to be significant; would they affect practice, academic knowledge, or policy in this area?

While being critical to your overall argument, it is commonly expected that the first and last parts of the assignment (introduction and conclusion) will be shorter than the more substantive sections of the assignment (section 2 and – especially – section 3).

It is up to you how you organise the separate sections of your assignments and whether you add visual, supporting material such as tables, figures, photographs.  Please bear in mind that such supporting material is also included in the word count limit.
You may decide to clearly mark (or not) each section with sub-headings.  Irrespective of the approach that you take, you will be expected to cover all of the issues / aspects / ingredients of the assignment, as explained above, in this section of the coursework brief.

Please remember that this assignment is a Research Proposal, i.e. it asks you to only plan a hypothetical piece of research.
You are not expected to collect any data for this assignment i.e. you are not expected to actually carry out the empirical research that you will be describing in this assignment.  All you need to do is state what you wish to do in terms of carrying out additional research on the chosen topic.

Assessment criteria:
The assignment will be assessed according to the following criteria:
?    Argument and analysis logic; including coverage of the issues noted in this assignment brief.
?    Use of recommended and other material; including use of the general literature on research designs and methods, and the literature on confusion in marketing.
?    Originality of thinking; critical reflection; including reflection on the relevance and importance of the planned / proposed research to academics, practitioners or policy-makers.
?    Style; Structure and Presentation of your line of argument.

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