Use a Market Research Brief for Better Research

Becky Morehouse

Becky Morehouse

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One of the best ways to achieve maximum value when conducting market research involves using a research brief.

Like its cousin, the creative brief, a market research brief details the purpose, scope, timing, and cost of the research to be undertaken.

Importantly, the research brief is created jointly by the “client” (internal or external) and the research team to increase understanding, clarify responsibilities, and manage expectations.

Effective research briefs tend to answer three big questions:

  • What is the overarching question you want answered? (what)
  • Who has the answer? (who)
  • What is the best way to reach this audience? (how)

Related reading: 4 Questions that will Dramatically Improve Your Market Research

Here’s how these big questions are addressed in the expanded brief.

1. Project management  

The market research brief begins with an overview of who is managing–from both the client side and research side–the project. It includes a project team list and their specific roles and responsibilities.

2. Research objectives and application

The second component of the research brief outlines overall goals. This is the “what” component and articulates what you want to learn and how the findings will be used to help you achieve specific goals.

Your study might have, as an example, the following research goals:

  • Understand the college-choice characteristics used by academic achievers
  • Identify the media habits and influencers used most often by traditional-age students
  • Why former donors have elected not to give again

It is at this point that you state how the data will be used. You could state it will help:

  • Guide refinement of creative campaign messaging
  • Refine the campus tour
  • Determine why donors give

Research objectives should tie directly to your marketing goals and should focus on need to know—rather than nice to know—findings.

One important reminder: If you don’t have clarity about how the research will be used it might be a good idea to postpone the research.

3. Review of existing research

Some briefs include a quick look at existing research and show how the new research will build on previous findings or address deficiencies in existing research.

Depending on the research study you are conducting, you might also provide additional context by including competitor or marketplace research.

4. Target audience

Next, we identify the focus of the research. This is the “who” and involves clearly identifying the audience (population) you want to study.

For example, suppose you are going to undertake a study of donors. Would they be current donors (how defined), lapsed donors (how defined), or even prospective donors?

Or alumni. Are alumni students who graduated or merely completed so many quarters or semesters?

In many cases, it is wise to break larger populations into smaller subsets, or segments. A study of prospective students, for example, might include the following segments:

  • Traditional
  • Nontraditional/adult
  • Traditional transfers

Again, let your overall marketing goals be your guide.

While you want to define your target audience as specifically as possible, you don’t want the population to become so specific that it is too small to be practically reached.

As you refine your target audience, be mindful of how you are going to reach them. Will you utilize an existing contact list or do you need to develop and/or purchase an adequate list?

5. Methodology and techniques

This section of the brief outlines, broadly:

  • The methodology that will be used to gather or collect the data 
  • Sample sizes and projected reliability (if you are using quantitative research)
  • Whether (and what) incentives will be used
  • How the data will be analyzed

This section of the research brief must be developed in close consultation with the research team so discussions about expectations for sample size, audience reachability, and cost can be addressed at the outset.

The most common qualitative and quantitative data collection methods include:

  • Focus groups (qual)
  • In-depth interviews (qual)
  • Competitive analyses (qual)
  • Online surveys (quant)

6. Deliverables

One of the best ways to manage project expectations is to determine at the outset what the deliverables will look like.

At the very least, deliverables should include:

  • Overview of the research objectives, target audience, and methodology
  • Analysis and accompanying commentary, graphics, and implications/recommendations (leave the detailed tables and raw datasets for the appendices)
  • An executive summary of key results and most important takeaways

It is also important to clarify whether the findings will be delivered in Word, PowerPoint, or both, and what graphics will accompany the reporting.

7. Cost and calendar

This final section of the research brief summarizes the projected cost (real dollars and time) of the study and provides a calendar including milestones for project management.

As you can see, a market research brief is an outstanding way to add structure and an outcomes orientation to a research study so that expectations are managed and achieved.

I’m always available for further discussion about market research. Feel free to reach out to me anytime.

Read next: Research on a Budget

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