Elements of a good Market Research Brief
Market Research Brief

Elements of a good Market Research Brief

The importance of having a good Market Research brief

Why do marketers sometimes complain about the market research results they are getting? The well-known comments during presentations range from “That doesn’t sound right”, “We’ve done another research that showed something else”, “We already knew that” or “Why can’t you just answer the questions I have?” A lot of this is caused by an unclear Market Research brief.

So why does this happen? At SPARC, we believe that one of the main reasons for such comments is a poor intake. A poor intake results in a poor Market Research brief to the supplier. Here are some (hopefully) useful tips on how you can get the information you need. Improve the outcome by improving the Market Research brief.


A Market Research brief is a document that helps a market research specialist to deliver the knowledge the business needs, in a timely manner. In some cases this will require conducting a market research project, but not always. Sometimes, it may simply be necessary to re-analyse previous work, in a different or more detailed way, in order to answer the questions asked.

At SPARC we encourage our clients to not always think in terms of requesting a Market Research project when they are looking for information. In fact we always first try to find other ways to get the information and insights needed. This is especially valid when budgets are tight, as cheap research is often useless research.



Quoting Arthur C. Clarke’s management “trilemma”, encountered when trying to achieve production quickly and cheaply while maintaining high quality. This is the basis of the popular project management aphorism “Quick, Cheap, Good: Pick two.” Unfortunately, you can’t have ‘m all at the same time.

A trilemma

Marketing is a profession where progression is often rapid and therefore the marketer may not be aware of all the information that is available within an organisation. In SPARC’s opinion, it is essential for Market Research specialists, who are more likely to have been in their position for many years, to appropriately advise and support their clients, and not be just order-takers. Design fit for purposes approaches, rather than copy-pasting what was previously done.

Unfortunately many research companies have become just that, which is such a waste of knowledge and opportunity to actually help the client with our expertise! We should be advising our clients about the best approach to deliver meaningful, actionable insights. And helping them write a good Market Research brief when necessary. Both parties will benefit from it tremendously!

When it has been established that a new research project is required, then the Market Research brief becomes the vital first step for getting the information that is needed, when it’s needed. At SPARC we preach it contains the following sections as a minimum:



This should provide all relevant information on your company’s situation and what risk or opportunity has been identified, as well as how and why this has been identified. Previous reports and studies that are relevant to the situation should also be mentioned and of course have been reviewed for answers before a Market Research survey is requested.



Clearly defined objectives are essential to the success of any project. In addition to the background, detailed objectives allow the best possible work to be carried out and ensure the research meets them as fully as possible.

Their precision will also avoid many of the comments mentioned above, since everyone will be starting from the same level of knowledge and understanding, and will have agreed that there is a gap in understanding that can only be met through the running of a research study.



Knowing what questions are to be answered and how the information obtained will be used, will help to identify the best methodology. For example if large investments will be necessary to action the results, then a quantitative study should be conducted, to ensure solid information and as reliable a result as possible.

However, when looking for your customers’ ideas, thoughts, feelings, issues and desires, you could find such answers through a qualitative study or perhaps from the analysis of social media comments online.

The methodology which is finally chosen will have a direct impact on the project’s pricing, so understanding how the results will be used will avoid any waste in resources.



These go hand in hand, both with each other, as well as with the choice of methodology. Normally faster is more expensive, as it requires a larger field force or online panel, and a tighter control of the project’s progress. It is also essential to understand any budget limitations, as one that is too small for say a large quantitative study should prompt the market research expert to refuse running it. As quoted above, good, cheap, fast, choose two!

One further point is that if timing is too tight, especially for the delivery of results, you may not have enough leeway should something go wrong in fieldwork, or there is the need for more time to analyse the output.



Although the Market Research specialist is the expert, any (internal) client suggestions about the respondents to contact or their preferred methodology to be used, should be clearly identified. If your client doesn’t believe in qualitative work, it may be unwise to rely solely on such a technique. I’ve known researchers that run tens of group discussions, just to have a “sufficient sample size of respondents to analyse.” If you are likely to meet such criticism, then I think it’s better to know before you start, so you can make relevant changes to the methodology!



If materials are needed to run the test, whether products, concept boards, advertising prints or videos, clear numbers of copies and their delivery date must be specified. Too often they are delivered late but the research results are still expected to be provided on the agreed date, which just puts everyone under unnecessary and easily avoidable stress.



Not all research needs a detailed report, often a presentation or summary of the results is sufficient, especially when timing is tight. Again, knowing upfront your client’s needs can impact both cost and timing and the likely success of the outcome.


Hope you took some learnings away from the summary of the seven major parts to a good Market Research brief. Of course, in reality there are many more sections that can be added to the Market Research brief, which are more dependent upon internal priorities and specific industry or category requirements.

At SPARC, we are more than happy to assist our clients in getting the Market Research brief right – it will help us deliver added value for our clients, every time!