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The Market Research Brief

29th February 2016 | Matthew Harrison, Paul N Hague, Julia Cupman, Oliver Truman

In this article the authors of the author of the 3rd edition of Market Research in Practice discuss what makes a good market research brief and why it’s imperative to get it right.

The Market Research Brief

What can be difficult about market research? One of the first things we learn as children is to ask questions and isn’t that what market research is all about? Every school child has been involved in designing some sort of simple survey so surely it can’t be that difficult.

In theory it isn’t difficult. It is all about asking the right question of the right person. However, when we begin to think about it, there are some complications. Who is the person that we want to interview and how easy will it be for us to get hold of them? How many people do we need to interview in order to have a reliable result? What questions should we ask that will get to the truth of the matter? Thinking through these questions and deciding what you need and what you want to find out is vital if you are to prepare a market research brief. 

A research brief sets out the objectives and background in such a way that the researcher can design an appropriate study. The brief is vital to the researcher who needs to understand the objective of the study and recommend an appropriate method.

There are five important components to a good brief:

  • A background to the problem: a list of the events that have generated the need for the study.
  • A description of the product (or service) which is to be researched: whoever is carrying out the research will need to know as much detail as possible about the subject of the study as this will have a big influence on the research method.
  • A description of the target markets: covering the geographical territories, the target audience (consumers versus potential consumers) and any specific demographics that should be included or excluded.
  • The objectives:  questions that need to be answered and what will use will be made of the answers.
  • Timing and budget constraints: every survey faces some limits on timing and budget and it is helpful to know these in advance.

These five components of the brief will allow the researcher to prepare a written proposal stating the problem, the objectives, the research method, the timing and the cost. This proposal becomes the contract between researcher and sponsor. The nature of market research requires some flexibility as there are sure to be questions that arise that were not originally thought of and avenues for exploration which are identified as the study unfolds.

Top tips for preparing a brief:

  • Scoping the survey is critical. Think about the different types of people you want to interview and which geographical area should be covered, and be clear about these from the outset.
  • Decide what information you want from the research and avoid adding more and more ‘nice to have’ but inessential questions and subjects. Beware of people who want to hijack your survey and, ‘while you are at it’, add a lot more questions.
  • In consumer quantitative research, make sure you have a sufficiently large and robust sample. A quantitative survey should have at least 200 respondents.
  • Different sampling rules apply in business-to-business research. Here the 80:20 rule is important, based on the premise that the largest 20 per cent of companies account for 80 per cent of industry sales. A quantitative survey in a B2B market should ensure that it includes a good number of these large companies so that it covers a good proportion of the market with a relatively small number of interviews.
  • Make sure that the processes you use for market research are systematic so that they can be repeated if necessary.

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