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Why Marketing Doesn’t Always Get the Research it Needs, But Usually What it Deserves

Why do marketers sometimes complain about the market research they get? I’ve often heard comments during presentations such as “We already knew that” or “This can’t be right” or “Why can’t you answer the questions I have?” Here's why that happens.

Why do marketers sometimes complain about the market research they get? I’ve often heard comments during presentations such as “We already knew that” or “This can’t be right” or “Why can’t you answer the questions I have?” I am sure you have said something similar to yourself or been on the receiving end of such statements. What’s going on?

I believe that one of the reasons for such comments is poor briefing. Poor briefing by marketing which results in a poor market research brief to the supplier. If you too are sometimes dissatisfied with your results, then read on for some useful tips on how you can get the information you need.


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-analyze previous work, in a different or more detailed way, in order to answer the questions asked.

Therefore I would never encourage internal clients to always think in terms of requesting a market research project when they are looking for information. In fact, I would actively discourage it. This is especially valid when budgets are tight, as cheap research is often useless research.

Choose What You Need

As noted by Arthur C. Clarke, there is a 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.” Conceptualized as the project management triangle as shown below, this aptly applies to market research projects as well.

Project management 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 organization. In my 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 internal clients, and not be just order-takers. Unfortunately, in many companies, this is what they have become, which is such a waste of knowledge and expertise!

When it has been established that a new research project is required, then the brief becomes the vital first step for getting the information that is needed, when it’s needed. It should be drawn up to meet individual internal requirements, and as a minimum, it should contain the following sections:

1. Background

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. 

2. Objectives

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.

3. Decisions to be taken

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. 

4. Budget and Timing

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 tighter control of the project’s progress. It is also essential to understand any budget limitations, as one that is too small to 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 the 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 analyze the output. I always agree with the often quoted advice of Tom Peters, the American writer perhaps best known for his 1982 book, that he wrote with Robert H Waterman Jr and which is entitled, ‘In Search of Excellence’:

“Formula for success: under promise and over deliver” 

This doesn’t only apply to timing or market research either; it applies to everything else you have to deliver as well!

5. Research target and approach

Although the MR 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 companies – dare I say quite a few in the US? – that run tens of group discussions, just to have a “sufficient sample size of respondents to analyze.” 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!

6. Test materials and availability

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. 

7. Deliverables

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

So there you have it, a 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, which are more dependent upon internal priorities and the specific industry or category requirements.

The image used in this post came from Denyse’s forthcoming book Winning Customer Centricity, now available for pre-order on C³Centricity,, and Barnes & Nobles. Denyse will be presenting at IIeX North America as well; come meet her in person! 

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3 responses to “Why Marketing Doesn’t Always Get the Research it Needs, But Usually What it Deserves

  1. Very well said, Denyse. I have adopted the practice of writing a “research plan” that states, in a declarative statement, the decisions we will make when the study is completed (e.g., We will decide ____.) Then we write down the information needed to make those decisions, in question format. I find that making the decisions declarative statements helps disentangle decisions from information requests. When it comes to information needs, it is amazing to me how much people think they know about their customers, but have little to no data to support the belief. So in the process of writing down information needed, it is quite a challenge because most clients I have dealt with don’t have a firm grasp on the difference between “what I think is the case” versus ” what I know is the case.” Just as you said–and I know I am preaching to the choir–it is so helpful to write down the information needed before designing and implementing the study. I still marvel at the number of times clients will agree on the information needs and then, at the end of the study, claim they already knew it. I think there is something lodged in our brain stem that tells us if the information is logical, then we already knew it. Thanks for your blog on this topic. David

  2. A great summary Denyse, but you left out one of the most important aspects of any briefing – discovering what are the internal politics of the research? This will not be totally uncovered by any exploration of research objectives unfortunately. The assumption made here is that good research planning and design are a function of logical decisions made at the client end and all we need to do is use a checklist to extract that logic. However in my experience a lot of research is not really driven by marketing “honesty” or logic. Young market researchers invariably miss this point and its why clients end up switching suppliers, nothing to do with research capability. The most critical thing we need to understand is who and what is driving the willingness to spend money on market research? Is it because the ad agency and the client are in disagreement over something in the brand’s positioning strategy, or is it that someone from HQ is coming in a months time and we need to make ourselves look competent, or is it an available budget issue, lets spend it or we will lose it. I have seen all of these and I could go on, but to my mind finding out the real motivations and motivators behind the research is probably the most valuable information you can get in a briefing. Just who is driving the research and why?

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Denyse Drummond-Dunn

Denyse Drummond-Dunn

Founder / President & Chief Catalyst, C3Centricity