When it comes to market research, I’ve come to understand that the very heart of the process is the briefing stage. It seems like a no brainer. Get the brief right and your chances of a successful project outcome are greatly improved. Yet all too often I hear of research projects that have failed to deliver properly, because the briefing was inadequate. I must say, that if I wasn’t well versed in research procedures, I would find someone who is, and let them help me to ensure that my brief says everything it needs to. I wouldn’t short cut this. I also think that any research supplier, worth his or her salt, should be insisting that they advise and support the briefing process as part of their services.
I try to get my clients to lay out their brief in a basic, but clear manner that offers the researcher an unambiguous insight into what is required. Here’s my basic outline:
- Prepare a comprehensive Introduction
I like the idea of first describing what the client is all about, as an entity. It helps because it differentiates what might be needed to fulfill the research task. A huge multinational is likely to require something different to, say, a SMME, or an individual. Understanding who wants the research helps to frame the approach.
- Describe the need in broad strokes
What are we trying to accomplish, and why?
- Detail the Goals
This is where we get into the nitty gritty. I like to consult quite intensely at this stage. What I’m looking for are well-detailed objectives, that are specific. To me, this is the essence of the research brief, and it must be precise, so that everyone is aligned with the same levels of understanding, and will also have agreed on what can or can’t be done.
- Project Objectives
This is where we need to look at each of the individual goals and frame the way the project will inform and support the requirements of the goals. Once you’ve got this, it also allows the researcher to start picturing what resources will be needed, and the time it could take to get the job done.
- Budget and Timing
At the briefing stage, it’s unusual to have a clear sense of budget or timing. However, is possible to pin down a “not later than”, so that the research supplier has an idea of the resources, etc. needed to wrap up the project on time. It speeds up the negotiations, and provides for better budgeting.
It’s also an opportunity for an experienced researcher to point out whether or not it’s actually do-able in the time specified and manage expectations.
- Clear up the Deliverables
Agree upfront as to what the final deliverables will look like. That can help with both cost and timing, and affect the success of the project. A data dump? A detailed report with recommendations? Strategic workshops?
If you can get these 6 elements into line, then you’ll have gone a long way to ensuring that your brief makes sense. It’s vital, because it will directly affect what comes next: The serious art of concept, design, methodology, and all the other factors that need to put into place in order to ensure a successful project outcome.
It’s not uncommon to hear research suppliers whinging that the client is to blame for less than satisfactory results because, well, “that’s what the client asked me to do”.
I think it doesn’t work like that. I think that the responsibility for a decent brief ultimately rests with the research professional, not the client. Sure, the client will have a sense of what he needs, but if he’s not expert enough to explain his needs adequately, then the pro must recognize this, and step in to assist.