Writing a Market Research Brief: The Business Problem and Objectives

Posted by  D&M Research Team

POSTED ON  February 16, 2022


This post is part of a series designed to assist you in capturing and sharpening all the background information and business intentions that any research agency would require to deliver a focused and effective proposal.

Background and the need for research

It is important to understand you are briefing an outside party who may have limited understanding of your business and so this section is designed to educate them. All the information you provide should be relevant to the specific problem/opportunity.

The background should be so comprehensive that there is no new information introduced in the rest of the document. It should synthesise relevant existing market and consumer insight information, trends, past decisions taken in previous stages linked to the issue and set up the need for research.


A quick introduction about your business and the category that you operate in is very useful to a research agency, especially if you are tendering your project o0ut to multiple agencies who may or may not be familiar with your category and operation.

This doesn’t need to be too long but should cover the essentials such as the maturity of your market and brand, who the main competitors are, and whether the business and category is in growth, stable or in decline. It will usually segue nicely into the business problem, so it needs to setup and hint as to why you have arrived at needing to do research.

The business problem

Clearly define and describe the specific marketing/business problem that you are trying to solve including all the relevant critical issues facing the business which makes research necessary. This section does not seek to hint at the solutions, rather just what the actual problem is and why it needs to be solved for the business. Here are some thought starters:

  • Clearly state what the business problem is and what has brought you to this point.
  • Detail why this is important to solve. What are the risks and upsides of solving or not solving it?
  • What, if any, hypotheses or internally held beliefs exist that may need confirming or challenging?
  • What, if anything, has already been done to try and solve the problem?
  • What knowledge gaps need to be addressed to solve the problem?

The business objectives

This section should detail who you wish to influence with what initiative and to what end. This could be to solve a specific business problem/issue and/or to create or take advantage of a specific opportunity. It may be set as a simple target such as increasing a brand’s awareness, a tactical objective such as impacting penetration of a brand amongst specific consumers, or a more strategic objective such as repositioning the brand.

It reminds the research agency that you are a business with specific aims and that this research has a specific part to play in achieving that aim. The business objective(s) should be quite specific and succinct, so the agency is clear about what you are trying to achieve. It also gives the agency the opportunity to demonstrate their skill set by reframing the research aims and objectives to better suit your needs.

Research aims and objectives

The desire to do research usually starts with some sort of business problem that requires evidence to support a decision of going one way or another.

For researchers, it is the road map for the study and crucial to get right. Having said this, it is usual for the research agency to distil and refine these based on the briefing, the business/marketing problem, the business/marketing objectives, and the anticipated marketing actions.

Expect a good agency to make a considerable contribution here as it is their area of expertise to translate business/marketing objectives into research objectives.

This section should detail three areas:

  • Overall, what you anticipate the research will achieve
  • The specific areas that will need to be investigated to support the overall research aim
  • The decisions that will be made off the back of the research

A neat way to start thinking about setting up some objectives is to start thinking about the decisions you will make at the end of the research. After all, research provides evidence for decision making and if you cannot define or articulate the decisions you will make, then you are not ready for research.

Spend some time writing down your decisions as part of setting your aims and objectives. Express them in terms of a decision and be specific. It is better to have a set of smaller decisions than a big hairy one that is vague. Try to capture all the decisions you might need to make at this stage and write them down. Review, refine and organise your decisions into a succinct list.

Here is an example based on advertising testing and optimisation. Imagine your ad agency has pitched three new ideas to you for an upcoming TV ad. The agency has their favourite and you
have yours which are different. The types of decisions you are typically faced with in this scenario are:

  • Which of these TV commercial (TVC) ideas should we approve for production?
  • Which one is going to connect and resonate with customers the best to increase propensity to buy our product?
  • Which one does the best job of delivering its intended message?
  • Which one does the best job of linking to our brand and which one fits our brand the best?
  • What, if anything, should we change in the best ad to make it even better?
  • Which is most memorable and has the least wear-out factor?

Now that you have got your decisions, translate them into research objectives. We find that having an overarching aim with a list of supporting objectives is a very useful way of defining objectives. The objectives really are the decisions but translated into a language that research can address. Using the example above, this might translate into something like the following:

The overall aim of the research is to find the best advertising concept to take into production.

To meet this objective, the following supporting objectives have been developed. To identify:

  • Which TVC idea is the most likeable by those in the target market
  • Which has the best linkage to our brand
  • Which has the best fit to our brand
  • What messages are being processed spontaneously by viewers of each TVC idea and whether they are positive, negative, or neutral
  • Whether these messages are consistent with the intended messaging of the TVC idea
  • Which TVC idea has the least wear-out over repeated exposures
  • Which TVC idea has the greatest lift in propensity to consider or buy our brand

(Note that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of what an advertising research project would aim to achieve but gives a practical example of how you might translate decisions into research objectives.)

In the next post in this series, we’ll have a look at methodological considerations in a market research brief. Stay tuned!

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