For marketers, research is the foundation for informed decision making. Data gathered from research can inform new product development, AI, big data, and marketing strategies. Good research is designed to answer a single research question. But to get there, marketers must first determine the right question to ask.
A research question is about an unknown that the research will attempt to answer. It’s the reason for your research, and it keeps you focused on finding actionable answers. Taking the time to define the research question ensures that marketers seek out the answers to the right questions and ultimately create recommendations that drive results.
Think of it this way. Compare a doctor who rushes to prescribe medication to one who takes their time diagnosing symptoms. Which do you prefer? Aimless research can gather interesting information and facts, but taking the time to find the right research question will help marketers collect meaningful answers.
Based on the steps our own research team took when working with clients, here are some ways to come up with a succinct marketing research question:
Identify the problem.
The main goal of a researcher during this stage is to understand the need for research. Despite the benefits of a customer telling you firsthand what they think is the problem, their answers may not lead you to the right question. A customer can give you 12 issues instead of one, or they can list the symptoms of an issue rather than the root issue that needs to be addressed.
In order to combat these obstacles, researchers must ask probing questions that dig beneath the surface. For example, a customer might suggest that low social media engagement is the issue they would like the research report to solve. A good researcher might challenge them by asking questions like, “If we find the reason why you are having low social media engagement, how would you use it to improve your business?” The customer’s response may reveal information that brings you closer to the real need for the research.
Define the research problem.
The right research question is one that seeks concrete answers to real problems. The researchers in this step define variables that could lead to the problem stated in the step above. It is important for researchers to continue to work with their clients to reformulate the research question until they find the one that would truly meet the substantive needs.
An example of a problem could be low sales. This could be attributed to low sales team morale, poor packaging, gaps in public relations strategy, or shoddy products. These are all different variables that call for different solutions. Once identified, researchers should delve into these variables to assess their importance to the client, as well as the client’s willingness and ability to process them. Digging deeper means asking the customer a series of questions that explore each path, such as, “What percentage of your sales team has achieved their assigned goals?” “Or” Have you experimented with different packaging and measured their impact on sales? “
Typically, researchers and clients interact frequently to define the research problem. As in most team projects, the result of collaboration does not necessarily provide the right answer the first time. Group thinking, burnout and other factors can sometimes influence the quality of the problem defined. This is why researchers must dig deeper by questioning the question.
Challenge the question.
When considering the research question, think SMART. Test your research question by asking if it is sspecific sufficient to resolve the identified problem. Check if the question is mmeasurable – can you measure the impact of the proposed solutions? Test if the research question is afeasible given the availability and accessibility of the information necessary for its examination. Check the relegance – does your question solve the problem preventing your client from sleeping at night? Finally, be realistic with the project deadlines. Can the solution to this research question be accomplished in the ttime allocated for this project?
Realign yourself with the customer.
A hypothesis is a great way to provide more clarity on the validity of the question. It also presents a well-packaged predictive solution to the research question. This is where you inform your client of the issues that would be explored and come up with the hypothesis as a possible outcome. If your client has a different view, you should change your research question. Meanwhile, researchers should verify their questions by asking the following question: “If we were to find out that X causes Y, what impact would that have on future decision-making?” “
Take your time to find the right research question. The steps listed above are not limited to the sequence shown. Researchers frequently find themselves returning to the drawing board after verifying the issue with the client. It’s normal. To maintain momentum and motivation, remind your team that the right research question is a solid foundation for good research. It describes the research design, the sampling plan and the design of the questionnaires. A poorly worded question, on the other hand, leads to results of little value.