Obtaining Msi Support: the Case of the Pricing Research Competition

Diane H. Schmalensee, Marketing Science Institute
ABSTRACT - This paper describes the process for obtaining MSI support for scholarly marketing research. Support may be financial, or it may be in the form of data or expertise. The paper illustrates this process with the case of the four winners of MSI's pricing research competition.
[ to cite ]:
Diane H. Schmalensee (1986) ,"Obtaining Msi Support: the Case of the Pricing Research Competition", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 612-613.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 612-613


Diane H. Schmalensee, Marketing Science Institute


This paper describes the process for obtaining MSI support for scholarly marketing research. Support may be financial, or it may be in the form of data or expertise. The paper illustrates this process with the case of the four winners of MSI's pricing research competition.


Much of the research done by consumer researchers is eligible for support from the Marketing Science Institute (MSI). While not all subjects of interest to marketing academics are pertinent to MSI and marketing practitioners, there are many areas where their interests do overlap, and these subjects may merit MSI support. For instance, research on the effects of advertising on individuals, on the factors affecting consumer demand for durables, and on consumer response to price and to price changes falls within MSI's highest research priorities.

MSI supports academic researchers in several ways. It can offer grants of a few hundred dollars earmarked for surveys or small experiments. It can provide seed grants (of up to approximately $5,000) to support the early stages of research. It can give larger grants (of $10,000 to $50,000 or more in a few cases) to support major projects of particular interest to MSI member companies. It can provide a forum for researchers to share their ideas with business people and receive constructive feedback and advice. It can provide access to corporate or commercial data, and it can open doors for interviews.

This paper has two objectives. First, to describe the process for obtaining MSI support for academics needing research funding, data, or advice. Second, to illustrate this process with the case of the four winners of MSI's 1984 pricing research competition.


Step 1: Matching Researchers' Interests with MSI Priorities

The starting point for obtaining MSI support is the MSI Research Priorities, a booklet which describes the research topics of greatest interest to MSI. Every two years, MSI member company representatives and academics serving on various MSI committees select the priorities, or the topics with the greatest gaps between what marketers need to know and what is already known. These topics become MSI's research objectives, and all research proposals are judged by how well they match the Priorities.

The topics listed in the Research Priorities do not cover all aspects of marketing: They cover only topics of potential relevance to marketing practitioners. Researchers are advised to read the questions listed in the booklet closely and to call MSI for clarification or detail as needed. Generally, every researcher will have some interests in common with MSI's research priorities, but it is unlikely that all of a researcher's interests will be relevant to MSI.

Regardless of topic, all research supported by MSI is scholarly (intended to lead to publication) rather than consulting in nature. MSI does not favor one type of approach or methodology over another and supports all forms of research (such as theory or model development, case studies, or empirical or experimental work) as long as the form is appropriate for the study. Finally, MSI will consider supporting research on topics not listed in the Research Priorities if the proposed topics are innovative and have potential relevance for marketers.

As part of the evolving research priorities, international implications of MSI-supported research are increasingly important. Proposals should show awareness of existing research outside the U.S., as well as implications of the methodology and results of the proposed research for non-U.S. settings.

Step 2: Preparing the Proposal

MSI accepts two types of proposals. One is a pre-proposal letter that outlines the topics to be studied and the researchers' preliminary hypotheses. The purpose of this pre-proposal is to let the researcher obtain MSI's reaction to the topic and research concept before investing the time required to write a full proposal, but the more complete the thinking in the pre-proposal, the more likely it is to receive encouragement.

The second type is the full proposal. MSI does not have a required standard format or length, although brevity is appreciated by reviewers, and five to ten pages are usually sufficient. Successful proposals tend, however, to have a number of common elements. These elements are presented as aids to researchers and not as requirements:

1. Background. C includes a brief review of the relevant literature and statement of why the proposed research will advance knowledge. Typically, it also positions the research with regard to MSI's research priorities.

2. Research questions or hypotheses. C describes the issues to be studied, the researchers' initial insights or beliefs, and what should be learned from the study.

3. Research design and methodology. C describes in detail the approach to _e used, including sampling and interviewing methods, experimental designs, and analysis plans as appropriate. If the research is to be divided into phases (qualitative research and theory development are sometimes treated as a first phase, with quantitative research as a second phase), this is spelled out here.

4. Timetable and funding or support needs. C includes key research dates and an expected completion date, along with the researchers' needs for funding, data, or other support from MSI.

5. Expected outcomes or new knowledge. C proposals that include this section list expected outcomes, such as a new definition or framework, a new methodology, a better understanding of how key variables affect the marketing process, or new information to assist managers in making better marketing decisions.

6. Vita of the researcher.

Step 3: Evaluating Proposals

All proposals are reviewed by MSI's review committee composed of the President, Executive Director, and Director of Research Operations. Proposals passing this initial screening are usually sent for further review by selected reviewers with a special expertise in the field or by one of MSI's steering groups.

MSI has six steering groups covering topics related to advertising, marketing strategies, services marketing, packaged goods marketing, consumer durables marketing, and - industrial marketing. It also has a special interest group concerned with international or global marketing. All groups have both business and academic members.

The following criteria are considered when evaluating proposals:

1. Fit of the proposed topic with MSI priorities

2. Importance of the topic

3. Originality and intellectual appeal of the proposed research

4. Quality of conceptual development

5. Appropriateness of the methodology for the research

6. Feasibility or doability of the research

7. Qualifications of the researchers for that project

The evaluation process is intended to help researchers with their work rather than just offering a yes or no decision. Reviewers' comments and constructive suggestions are shared with the researchers when possible. Frequently, researchers are asked to revise proposals or to meet personally with interested business people to discuss their ideas before beginning work. Most researchers feel their work is improved as a result.

Step 4: Defining Mutual Responsibilities

When a proposal is accepted, a letter of agreement is prepared that outlines the responsibilities of the researchers and of MSI. Researchers select the dates for the halfway point and for the completion of the study. Researchers agree to prepare a written progress report at the halfway point, a working paper describing the results of their research for MSI, and a short (ten-page maximum) Management Summary of the working paper suitable for quick reading by managers. (Having a management summary and working paper printed and distributed by MSI in no way interferes with publication in a scholarly journal.) Typically, the papers will appear in the MSI working paper series before reaching journal publication.

MSI commits to supply funding, access to data or executives, or other support as requested in the proposal. It also often organizes mini-conferences or meetings between the researchers and interested business marketers. In some cases these mini-conferences provide a forum for enlisting the extra financial or data support needed by the researchers. In other cases, they provide the researchers with early feedback on their work or enable the researchers to share their results personally with MSI member companies.


At the 1984 ACR conference, MSI announced a competition for letters of research interest dealing with consumer response to pricing and price changes. This was an unusual step for MSI, undertaken by its Packaged Goods Steering Group to call attention to its eagerness to support research on pricing. Although the competition is a special case of winning MSI support, it illustrates how MSI researchers can work together with MSI to develop projects of mutual interest.

The process began early in 1984 when MSI's Packaged Goods Steering Group selected the subject of pricing as its top priority for research. The group identified five pricing issues on which it particularly wanted to sponsor research:

1. Factors affecting consumer perceptions of "cost" and the role of cost in purchase behavior

2. How price discounting effects consumers' expectations, perceptions, and behavior

3. Measuring the "value" of a brand and how it is affected by changing prices

4. Factors influencing the way retailers determine prices

5. Pros and cons of a price discounting versus an everyday low price strategy

In September, the steering group announced its competition to draw attention to its pricing topics and to initiate a stream of pricing research. The competition (which offered up to four prizes of $300 each plus a trip to meet with the steering group and discuss mutual research interests) asked academics to prepare a short letter of research interest describing their interests, hypotheses, and methodologies. These were not full-fledged proposals but general statements of which of the five pricing issues the researchers would like to address and how. This competition was announced at conferences such as the annual ACR and TIMS/ORSA conferences. and by mail.

Fourteen letters of research interest were received by the December 1984 deadline. These were reviewed by members of the Packaged Goods Steering Group (including representatives from Beatrice, Campbell, General Foods, General Mills, Gillette, Lever, Nabisco, Polaroid, Quaker and Warner-Lambert as well as Wharton, M.I.T., Vanderbilt, the University of Chicago, and the University of Florida). Four winners were then selected and invited to meet in February 1985 with the members of the steering group.

Two of the winners, Professors James Lattin (Stanford) and Sridhar Moorthy (Yale), were interested in how discounting strategies affect consumers, while the other two winners, Professors Carl Obermiller (University of Washington) and Valarie Zeithaml (Texas A&M), focused on new approaches for studying the relationship among price, quality, and value. At the steering group meeting, each winner described his or her interests and general approach and received feedback from the steering group. Based on this interaction, the winners then individually prepared complete proposals for MSI that incorporated the changes in emphasis or detail suggested at the meeting.

None of the final proposals remained exactly as originally conceived, and all four winners felt the process helped them improve and focus their work. For instance, Professor Lattin narrowed his focus from a general study of factors affecting discount depth and duration to the narrower study of the dynamics (specifically wearout) of consumer response to price discounts. And, after meeting with the group, Professor Valarie Zeithaml split her research on price, perceived quality, and perceived value of packaged goods into two phases (the first for executive interviews and qualitative research and the second for 8 laboratory experiment to develop measures and test the theory from the first phase).

As of Fall 1985, three of the proposals are under review by the Packaged Goods Steering Group. Professor Zeithaml's project has been approved and the first phase of the research is underway.

The process of obtaining support for marketing research through MSI is clearly a dynamic one, as the case of the pricing competition shows. The researchers and MSI work together to find the overlap in their interests and to strengthen the research. Marketing practitioners from MSI member companies are involved as reviewers and research sponsors or data sources. And, the process benefits all those involved.