Setting Your Market Research Objectives

The other day a client asked me to do some research for her, “Sure” I said “what are you trying to find out?”   “I want to understand my branch customers more”.   “I want to understand my customers” is common goal for my clients, and on the surface seems like very good business objective:  however, as a research objective it is very broad.

Setting out your research objectives is the most important part of your study.  It is important they are concise and focused; otherwise you can end up knowing a little bit about a lot of things, yet still not have enough depth to make any strategic decisions.  So I thought I should write a post that talks you through setting clear research objectives.   Once you have clearly defined research objectives, the methodology you require will become obvious and you will have a frame work from which your questionnaire will flow.

The best way to set research objectives is to start with the decisions you need to make with the results.  This means going back to your business objectives to find out exactly what you need to understand about your customers to make this particular decision, and then take the time to investigate those one or two topics in more depth.

I find it useful taking an hour with a client to understand their business and what decisions they need to make with the results.   Here are some typical questions I would ask them to ensure I fully understand their issues, and the information they require.  Before you start your next research project you may want to think about how to answer each of the following:

  •         Who will be the end user of the data?
  •         What decision will it inform?
  •         What can the organization realistically change?
  •         Prioritise the information you need from most important to least important.

Next, I ask them if they have any ideas about what is causing a particular issue, or a hypothesis.   For example I had a client was trying to find out why their TV ad was not working.    I asked them if they had any ideas as to why it was not working.  They felt that perhaps the viewers did not like the characters in the ad.  So a possible hypothesis in this case could be “the characters are alienating our viewers causing them to tune the ad out” Just because we have a hypothesis it doesn’t mean we have to prove it right.   It is perfectly reasonable to prove it incorrect, and find another reason why an advertisement may not be working.    I mention this because many times a client will wonder why I haven’t asked the question, “Do you dislike the characters?”   That is a leading question, we need customers to spontaneously mention what they like or dislike about an ad. 

By taking some time to answer the questions above, and clearly laying out your research objectives, there is a much higher likelihood of your research study being a success, and providing you with useable information with which to make business decisions.

One Response to Setting Your Market Research Objectives
  1. matt castro
    January 29, 2012 | 12:15 pm

    Hi, Sara:

    Great post. So true that clear objectives need to guide our market research efforts. I wrote about a similar topic in a recent blog post discussing when to actually do market research. As part of a strategy process the market research comes after some prioritization of key issues for the business –> creating the reason and purpose for research.

    Good topic.

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