Excellent market research starts with a great brief

The best market research starts with a clear brief. My post aims to help you, the client, write just such a brief.


When you prepare a brief you are thinking through the details - why, who, how, when, what, how much. Of equal importance is how the details relate to the bigger picture of the business context. Writing the brief helps you crystallise what you aim to achieve as a business outcome.

Here's a guide to preparing your brief.

About your firm

An introduction to your firm is useful because it helps us understand the context of your specific needs. You should cover aspects such as:

  • Your firm's size (number of staff or revenue), office locations, major service lines, key client sectors served

  • Your strategic direction, position in the relevant market/s, key competitive challenges, and major trends in your client base

  • What's currently on the firm's agenda that's relevant to the upcoming research

  • Previous market research you have undertaken. When? With what results?

Why - Research objectives

This question is best approached by starting with your business objectives, and then asking what information is needed to confirm the business objectives, and/or what information is needed to inform the market-and client-related strategies for achieving it.

In other words, your business objective is the important question you want answered, e.g. "How should we change the way we deliver and price a particular service?" You must start with your business objectives. You'll know it is important if it is on the agenda of the CEO, or at least the CMO, of your firm.

When working on your research objectives, consider:

  1. Is the investment of time and money involved in completing a research study likely to be worth it in terms of cost-benefit? While you can't know exactly how useful research findings will be until you have completed the study, thinking through the possible answers to this question is a sound discipline.

  2. What information would be 'nice to know' and what must you know? Think critically about this! Don't waste time or money by including research objectives that are not relevant to the business objective.

  3. If you gather information from clients, remember you will raise their expectations that you will respond to their feedback. This is all-the-more important for transactional types of survey, where you are asking respondents about aspects of a particular, and usually, recent transaction.

  4. Are there any constraints or no-go areas of which your research provider should be aware?

Who - Target audience

With your research objectives in mind, start to define your target audience.

Your target audience will be those people who can give relevant and insightful information about your research questions and outcomes. If your research objectives are to evaluate your firm's performance in providing quality documentation over the last six months, then there is no point in interviewing clients who have not used your firm in the last year for example.

As such think carefully and be clear about who should - and who should not - be included in your target audience definitions, e.g.

  • Are they current clients, lapsed clients, those of competitors?

  • Are demographics relevant, e.g. position, location, gender, age, company size?

How - Research method

How will the target audience be sampled? Will you provide lists? Or, will you need your research provider to locate and recruit the sample?

Do you have a view about the sample size you will need?

Do you think your objectives would best be met through qualitative or quantitative research, or perhaps a combination?

Qualitative research methods explore why respondents hold their views and behave the way they do. This requires two-way interaction to ask questions and probe what lies behind the replies. 'Qual' is usually done by phone, face-to-face or in an online chat room. Some forms of 'Qual' are best done in small groups of respondents, while others are best done one-on-one.

Quantitative research methods gather numerical data to describe what respondents say and report they do. 'Quant' is done online or by phone with individual respondents.

Is it OK for the survey to be sponsored? By 'sponsored' we mean the respondents know at the start of the survey who is behind the survey-'sponsoring'-and interested in their views. Transactional surveys are usually sponsored, and a sponsored survey more often than not gets better response rates than an un-sponsored survey. But a sponsored survey is often not appropriate for many research situations, and may result in distortions, know as bias. Sponsorship bias is the effect on a respondent's answers of knowing who has commissioned the survey.

When - Timing

Market research often takes longer than most realise. It can take a good deal of time to finalise questionnaires and set up survey programming. This often requires setting up internal milestones such as meetings and decision deadlines. Also, consider whether public and school holidays may affect respondent availability.

What - The reports

What research findings do you expect from your provider? Reporting may range from simply giving you raw data in the form of tables or text analytics, to a full service that includes detailed interpretation of the data and recommendations.

As researchers and consultants, we strongly prefer to add value to the data by analysing and interpreting the results and making recommendations to your clients. This is one of the reasons why we need to know your business objectives at the outset, so we can contextualise how we review the findings, and think through their implications and advise on how you might act on them.

Another consideration is the forums in your firm where it will be most helpful to present and discuss your report findings.

How much - Research budget

It helps us (and you!) if you provide guidance on the available budget, even if only a ballpark figure. understanding and managing your (and our) budgetary expectations is crucial to a health commercial relationship.

Knowing what budget is available helps inform the realistic options to do the work, without wasting time on routes that are too costly.


Market research is a powerful business tool. Used wisely it adds value to any business. A well-prepared brief helps ensure our clients derive great value from our research products and services. And this provides the professional satisfaction that derives the members of beaton to deliver excellence, every time.

More on undertaking research from beaton


Grant Hollings is a Research Manager at beaton.