Archive for October, 2010

Research Techniques 1 – How to write a good brief

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In the first of a new series of techniques articles, I am going to be tackling the thorny subject of writing research briefs.

This is probably the most important element of effective market or marketing research so it needs to be a) actually done and b) done as best as it can be.

It is such an important foundation for good research that I will always create a brief myself if one has not been prepared by a client or potential client!

Still the best article I have seen on how to write a good brief was written by Jean Sutton and published in the Marketer magazine in April 2006. Entitled “Spell It Out” it is an article that I continue to refer Chartered Institute of Marketing students to today.

I have used this article as the basis for a checklist for assessing the quality of a brief or proposal in assignment drafts as well as for gathering the key information we need at Bax Interaction to create effective research proposals that will deliver real value in their results.

You can see the checklist here brief-check-list.doc

So why create a brief in the first place? What’s the point?

There are a number of good reasons:-

1. To test the research needs internally.

What is it you need to know? What will we do with the answers when we get them? Who will make the decisions as a result?
A blank sheet of paper is not a good start point! It is much easier to add, amend or criticise something that has been written or more often typed. Test your draft brief with all interested parties internally to make it as robust as possible.
Keep it simple though. There is a tendency to look for a piece of research to deliver an answer to every conceivable question we might ask. What I call the ‘kitchen sink’  approach to research briefs. So –  we add a requirement for data on this and that and the next thing. This is unrealistic and needs a strong voice of reason to keep the brief focussed on the key decision or decisions that need to be made.

2. To pass these needs on in written form to a potential external provider or, if you are lucky enough to have one, an internal team or researcher. This is enormously valuable and removes much of the doubt that surrounds planning a research project at its early stages from a verbal “you know what we need” basis.

3. To ensure that the information obtained from the research is relevant and sufficient for decisions to be taken.
If it isn’t in the research objectives it is unlikely to be delivered to you in the findings! There is nothing worse than discovering that a key piece of insight, that is fundamental to making a decision, has not been gathered as part of the research process. This is invariably due to the research needs not being effectively captured at the briefing stage.

4. To clearly state the problems and opportunities faced by the organisation.
You need to ‘bare your soul’ here, as a client, to an extent. If the organisation is in difficulties which is the reason that research is needed, then say so in the brief! Don’t say that all is well if it clearly isn’t! A research agency is there to help not criticise. Say as much as you can about a possible opportunity that needs to be tested. Once again, the agency is your ally not a potential threat!

5. To get the best possible proposal for consideration.
A well written brief provides the best possible foundation for a proposal that will really deliver the results that you seek. Without one the outcome is much less certain.

So what are the key elements that should appear in a research brief?

1. Background 

    The organisation, its products and or services, what markets does it serve, what role does it play in the market(s) , what share of the market does it have (if known - often a research objective in its own right!), who are the customers, what and who is the competition (again, very often a key research objective in many briefs is to clearly establish who the key competitors are?), what is happening in the broad macro environment (these are the things that affect us all - Political changes – significant for many organisations at this time- Economic factors, Socio-cultural changes, Technological developments, Environmental requirements and regulatory factors (new legislation and regulations that place demands on the organisation). What is happening with the organisation that leads to the research need? As suggested above, are things going well or not so well? What threats does the organisation face that it needs to address with the insight that research can and does deliver?


2. Rationale or Business Objectives

What is the research being done for? What key decision or decisions will be made as a result? This could be as simple as selecting a communications design or making an investment decision on a new website to deciding whether to continue with a major sponsorship agreement, a key exhibition or whether to invest in a new marketplace or business unit. So this should include:-

  1. Where the research need arose from?
  2.  What are the key factors driving the requirement.
  3. What decision(s) need to be taken . These can be at a top level so might, for example be – “To decide whether to continue to invest in our sponsorship of the Table Society Conference in 2012 by the end of November 2011.”

3. Research Objectives

As Jean Sutton suggests in her article, one of the best ways to derive these is to work BACKWARDS from a ‘shopping list’ of what information you want to get at the end of the process.

So this might be; who is our major competitor, the size of a new market, the key players, attitudes and perceptions of new and existing customers, how many people would buy x at a given price, levels of interest in…, reactions to new ideas, ranking of issues and so on.

Research objectives wording can also lead the agency towards what methodology or methodologies might be needed. For example:-

To identify the potential for – quantitative

- To profile our customer base – quantitative

- To determine how a customer finds out about our product – quantitative

- To measure – quantitative

- To explore - qualitative

- To examine the attitudes of … – qualitative

- To compare perceptions of … – qualitative

As suggested above, these should be checked and double checked to ensure that the research objectives will deliver the insight you need from the ‘shopping list’ you have created.

4. Scope

This is important and helps to avoid the ‘everything including the kitchen sink’ approach to research. What market(s), what products or services, what media, customers only or customers and potential customers, which towns, countries and areas does your research NEED to cover?

5. Outline of possible method/ potential respondents

If you have done research before or are familiar with the methodologies involved you may have a clear idea on which you would like the agency to consider in their proposal. You may at least know that you only want exploratory research so would indicate that you would expect qualitative methods to be suggested.

Having thought your brief through thus far, you may also have considered who the respondents to the research should be. For example, you may wish to target existing customers and are prepared to make your customer database available to the successful agency for research purposes only.

6. Reporting and presentational requirements

This is where you inform the prospective agency on how you would like them to report their findings and progress to you. Do you want interim updates? Yes you do!

Do you want the findings presented formally in a face to face meeting with the key decision makers? Normally a good idea!

I tend to deliver a face to face presentation followed by sending a pack containing a copy of the presentation and a short executive summary enabling any queries or issues raised during the presentation to be addressed.

7. Analysis required

How much analysis of data do you want to receive? If you have undertaken research projects before this gives you an opportunity to state the type of analysis you would like to have. For example, cross tabulation, confidence levels, chi squared testing and so on!

A few years ago I was staggered to read that a number of research agencies were not providing recommendations unless asked! This strikes me as missing out on one of the most important reasons why you should outsource your research to a third party! An objective recommendation based on analysis of the research findings! I therefore always suggest that you include a specific statement to the effect that you will require the agency to make recommendations in this section.

8. Timescales, Special considerations and Budget

This section is very helpful to the prospective agency in creating a realistic proposal.

Think about the time deadline for the decision that the organisation needs to take. This gives you the end point that the agency needs to meet.

Are there any special considerations that the agency should be aware of. Don’t just dismiss this as unimportant. I have previously proposed overseas discussion groups based on the knowledge that the key players in a specific industry sector are all likely to be at an annual conference and exhibition during the time available for the research to be conducted. The other good example that springs to mind is researching teachers and head teachers during the school holidays! Not the easiest time to secure their attention!

I hear lots of reasons why you should not give a suggested budget in a brief! My argument to marketing students has always been that if you have studied research you should have a good idea of a) what is a sensible methodology for a set of objectives and b) broadly, what the cost parameters should be!

Even if you are not this comfortable with your own knowledge, the prospective agency needs to have some idea of what they can realistically propose. I have spent many hours on a detailed proposal to deliver real insight to a given set of business objectives only to find once it was submitted that there was a very low budget available. This was an important lesson and I try hard to get at least some indication of what budget might be available once I have a clear brief on what information is required.

So a written brief is very important to your gaining a positive result from your research. Hopefully, you are now more confident that you could write one. Alternatively, if you need help you could always call us!

Oh no…another email from a marketing company!

Friday, October 15th, 2010

“Oh no…another email from a marketing company!”

Bax Interaction has recently been sending out an emailing to raise the importance of doing research on your customers and potential customers.

Entitled “Oh no… yet another email from a marketing company!”, it tries to get the message across in a straightforward way avoiding any dreaded marketing speak.

It asks the reader 2 key questions:-

Question 1

Do you know what your customers and/or your potential customers REALLY think about you?

Question 2

What do they think about; your products or services, your last piece of promotion, your next planned launch or campaign, your competitors and so on?

This is really more than 2 questions – but it keeps it simple!

The punchlines were:-

• Your customers will tell a 3rd party i.e. BIL – but might not tell you it as it really is! (assuming that they are asked)

• BIL can provide answers to existing marketing issues

• And will recommend what actions to take

Finally the message provided a link to relevant testimonials within the BIL site to support the strong statements of capability made.