Starting Market Research: Identify Your Marketing Research Problem

How and why to create a problem statement for your market research

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Market research attempts to fill a gap in your knowledge about your business, market, or customers. Before starting, however, you have to articulate your research problem with a statement of the problem you want to solve or the question you want to answer.

Why a Problem Statement Is Useful in Market Research

Before beginning any market research, you need to define the problem that the research will attempt to address, including any decision alternatives and research objectives. Your problem statement will guide every step of your market research. It articulates what you want to accomplish with your research, which guides the type of research you need to conduct. Open research is qualitative and helps you understand a phenomenon, opinion, or set of behaviors. Closed research is quantitative and seeks to identify the relationships among a set of variables.

Once you know the type of research you need, you can decide on your research methods, objectives, and time frame. Knowing these will help you gather the resources you need and begin creating a research plan.

How to Identify Market Research Questions

Market research generally begins with research questions from internal clients or from your marketing department about how to achieve specific marketing objectives or understand consumer behavior.

Using these marketing questions will help you identify your knowledge gaps and create an appropriate research problem statement, which will guide the scope of your research.

  1. Compile a list of all the questions your marketing staff or researchers have relating to a specific topic or situation.
  2. Look for categories under which the questions can be grouped.
  3. Create subcategories with these groups.
  4. Identify an overarching question that can define the missing knowledge for each subcategory.
  5. Try to find a single question that unites all the subcategories.

Identifying the proper scope of your problem statement can be challenging. Define the problem too narrowly and you may discover that your market researcher has missed valuable information or failed to consider other important variables. Define the problem too broadly and researchers may waste time and money collecting unnecessary information.

If you can identify a single question that brings together your subcategories, that becomes the first draft of your problem statement. If there is not a single question unifying them, you may need multiple rounds of market research, each with its own problem statement, to address each subcategory individually.

Using Your Market Research Problem Statement

There may be a specific decision for your marketing, products, budget, or brand that an answer to your research question will help you make. In that case, you can use backward mapping to identify the appropriate priorities and aims of your research.

Other times, your problem statement may be more open-ended, which means your research can be exploratory, descriptive, or causal rather than decision-mapped.

  • Exploratory market research seeks to provide insights into the nature of a marketing problem, come up with new ideas, or suggest a range of possible solutions to be considered. It can help you identify new decisions or options that you didn't know were available to your business.
  • Descriptive market research attempts to determine the magnitude of a marketing variable. This information can be used to identify new opportunities for your business or market, as well as better understand the needs of your target customers.
  • Causal market research examines a cause-and-effect relationship. This research is often closed-ended. It can be applied to specific situations or used to identify trade-offs that your business or customers may have to make in the future.

Keep in mind that qualitative research often builds on itself. You may need to alter your focus or refine your research problem once data collection is underway.

A change in the problem statement does not necessarily reflect poor planning. More often, it indicates that your research has been successful and your team has identified where to focus the next round of research in order to completely answer your research questions.