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Why Write a Research Brief? A novice’s guide to helping agencies give you a great proposal

Every brief is different, but we offer a couple of pointers on things you might want to think about.

Although we regularly work with verbal, evolving briefs, writing your own research brief is an excellent first step in any market research exercise. It helps the agency develop a relevant and appropriate research programme that meets your needs. The very act of writing a brief encourages you to prioritise the objectives and planned outcomes of the research. 

If the idea of reading about how to write a brie if too much, dial this number instead. +44 (0) 7976555108, otherwise please keep reading.

Planning the Brief

The more time spent planning the research, the better the outcomes are likely to be.

The starting point is always the business objectives or outcomes (or headlines if you’re creating content). – Involving the requirements of relevant departments at the outset saves time by ensuring all key business objectives are included in the brief.

There is often a tendency to include ‘nice to have’ issues, but the more focused the objectives, the more focused the result!

General Considerations

The methodologies chosen (whether by yourself or advised by the agency) will have a strong bearing on the timeline of the project.  For example, online is quicker than telephone research, but typically has a lower response rate if using a customer database.

Similarly, the scale of project (e.g. larger programmes of telephone interviews or individual depths interviews, or scaling up internationally) will affect timings.

Review periods that inform subsequent phase design or learnings can also add significant time, and need to be accounted for, e.g. moving from qual to quant stage.

But it’s always good to have your end date in mind so we can develop a feasible programme.

Having decided it’s a good idea to write a brief, what would be good to have in it?

Key Headings in the Brief

A brief should be concise, yet outline key information. The following headings provide a general template.

  1. Background or introduction to your brand
  2. Business objectives or desired outcomes
  3. Research or information objectives (which is often combined with point 2)
  4. Preferred Approach and Methodology (if known)
  5. Deliverables
  6. Timings
  7. Budget
  8. Contact Names & submission instructions        

1. Background

An overview of the business, relevant issues to the project, and details of recent study outcomes provides valuable background. Although time consuming, one of the most useful pieces of background information (particularly for business to business studies) is accurate information on the size and structure of the customer base or target audience. If appropriate, this should include who the most relevant audience is (e.g. particular job functions).

2. Business Objectives

Although we can work from research objectives, the results will be more actionable if we have a clear understanding of what the business is trying to achieve and how you’ve identified the need for research or information gaps.  

Defining ‘what success looks like’ can be a great help.

3a. Research Objectives – strategic research

For example, in a new product launch initiative, detailed information objectives might include determining optimum pricing levels for different customer or market segments, and identifying the most attractive product features. Alternatively, the objective could be identifying relevant messaging for each segment, without focus onto the product or service at all.

It’s not necessary to produce a comprehensive list of detailed questions, but defining the core information needed to meet the wider business objectives is an essential component of the research brief.

3b. Research Objectives – content research

If the key purpose of the research is to provide content, an idea of the desired headlines is always useful to have.  

Knowing the product or service features to be promoted or client’s desired positioning is helpful.

If you haven’t got that far, you just know you need engaging angles that’s fine too as we have a service that can help you come up with them: ContentPlay.

4. Preferred Approach and Methodology

You may know that certain approaches are distrusted by your colleagues, or have worked particularly well, if so flag them. You may have a preferred methodology, or not got a clue (which is fine).

We’ll review options, and if necessary, make additional recommendations.

5. Deliverables

Specify what you’ll need at the end to sell the results in. For example, is a full report or PowerPoint summary report is preferred?  Would you like to brainstorm the findings amongst key stakeholders in a workshop and build upon the implications, or give them a couple of bullet points? Or perhaps you just need data tables and you’ll so the rest.

It’s helpful to detail the number of presentations, interim meetings and workshops required.

6. Timings

The time it takes to conduct a research programme is largely driven by

  • difficulty in reaching the target audiences (or size of the sample list). For example, CEOs in FTSE100 companies or Finance Directors will be more difficult than general consumers.
  • the scale of the exercise (e.g. number of interviews), for example do you need to make legally robust claims, or just get an indicative steer on something?
  • type of data collection method (e.g. face-to-face interviews will take longer than online surveys).
  • length of the interviews/ number of objectives.

Offering an idea of the date when you need the research outcome helps us work backwards to just what is possible in the time.

7. Budget

Clearly larger budgets offer greater scope for larger and multi modal programmes (e.g. qualitative and quantitative research, greater targeting of discrete audiences etc.).

As the shape of bespoke research programmes vary it can be difficult to specify the budget, but a rough idea helps so we don’t go recommending a Rolls Royce when you’re in the market for a Fiesta.

Initially talking to an agency to get an understanding of ball park costs will save a lot of time later.

8. Contact Names

Often only necessary for large formal proposals, but useful nevertheless are details of relevant submission contacts, procedures and deadlines.

And possible, please give the agency sufficient time to respond with creativity

More complex research programmes inevitably take longer to design than simple, small scale studies. Typically, a more involved proposal (with more countries involved for example) will take a week to prepare and a brief costing a few days, or if necessary a matter of hours!

Executing research projects can take a matter of days to months, depending on scope and approach chosen.

Happy briefing!

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