How to write a market research brief

In order to communicate the research aims and any relevant background information that potential suppliers might need in order to quote for your project, it’s best to prepare a research brief.

Some of the important points to include are:

  • The context for the project and a background to your organisation
  • The objectives for the research – what you want to achieve
  • The desired output – how you want to use the results and in what format it needs to be presented
  • The desired timescale and any key dates
  • An idea of the budget for the research project.

The market research agency will then be able to prepare a response, usually in the form of a proposal or a presentation, outlining how they would go about undertaking the project.

It’s important to consider the budget at the start and to be realistic about what can be achieved, but the main consideration should be return on investment (ROI), which is why remaining focused on the objectives is so important. Whether the ultimate aim of the research is to grow the business, increase market share or reduce complaints – consider how much this is worth to your business and how much you would be willing to spend to achieve it.

Sometimes it’s easy to give in to the temptation to cover too much in a research brief. For example, a company may want to find out the size of a market segment, who the leading players are, what their product ranges are, where their products are stocked, what the price is, what customers and specifiers think about their products as well as what the market looks like in other countries.

To be able to even begin to come up with a quote for such a request, this will need to be broken down and qualified. Issues around where products are stocked and what customers and specifiers views are will require a quantitative approach, while it may be possible to get to the other answers using qualitative research methods or desk research. And if your brief covers the ‘European’ market, it’s worth deciding what your definition is and which countries you would like to include.

It’s best to decide and communicate in your brief what the most important aspects are for your business – you could even consider ranking them in order of importance. As long as the main objectives are clear, it is more than likely that there will be opportunities to include additional questions and achieve a lot of additional insight along the way.

Something else that is important to consider when writing a research brief is that while it’s tempting to ask for a brief overview or ‘top line results’, unfortunately this is not how most types of research works and while agencies are happy to report in this way, it doesn’t mean that the project will be quick, easy and inexpensive to do. Sometimes it may be possible to achieve a top-down approach – for example, where there are existing statistics or figures in the public domain – but in the vast majority of cases researchers need to collect the data first, which will allow agencies to build up a picture and then analyse the numbers to produce meaningful results.

The process of gathering the data has an important purpose in itself – whether it is through desk research or interviews, this process has to take its time so that we can ensure we will get a good, representative sample, or a view from as many different sources as possible so as not to risk any bias. Yes, it’s possible to do a quick poll on twitter or via an online survey platform, but the results are unlikely to be robust enough to be usable for any kind of strategic decisions.

An experienced agency will be able to help you put together a research brief, but it is advisable to have the brief ready before approaching agencies – especially if time is of the essence, and if you’re approaching multiple agencies or going down the route of competitive tendering, as this will make it much easier to compare different proposals.

If you need help with a market research brief or have a project you would like to discuss, get in touch with MRA Research.

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