Writing a market research brief

Writing a brief for a market research project is key to making sure you the research provides the outcomes needed. It’s essential to the market researchers who will be undertaking the project, whether they are internal or external to the business or organisation. A market research brief helps those who execute the market research to have a complete understanding of requirements. With the details provided in the brief a market research supplier will be able to design the best research methodology for your project, and following from it would in some cases be able to even work on an outline of research instruments (for example a questionnaire or discussion guide).

A market research brief usually contains the following elements:


The background section of a market research brief should cover the broad history leading up to the need for undertaking the research. This could include a discussion of the business’ or organisation’s strategic direction, to help the market research supplier understand the context of the research. It helps suppliers understand what their client is aiming for, and will help guide the research in the right direction. The background section could also include information that is already available within the business or organisation, based on existing knowledge or previous market research that was undertaken.

Quality market research suppliers will often use the background as part of their desk research to help them prepare for the project. They would use it to search for additional information on strategic plans, policies, market reports, media articles and other publically available material on the industries or sectors that are relevant to the project. This provides them with a better understanding of the challenges that are faced by those involved, and of what information is available already through public sources.

Business objectives

Following on from the background section, a market research brief could then provide the strategic goals or objectives of the business or organisation.

In addition to this the goals or objectives of the specific business department, area, project team could also be listed.

Lastly, and probably most of importantly, the business objectives for the market research project need to be listed. These are the main reasons for the research to be undertaken. How will the research be used, what will be done differently as a result of the research?

Examples of business objectives for market research:

Business objective: Penetrating a new market with an existing service

Market research required as part of this objective could be a market exploration study, a market segmentation study, a market potential analysis or similar market research projects.

Business objective: Reducing the amount of littering in a city

Market research required as part of this business objective could for example be an exploratory study into people’s behaviours and attitudes towards littering, or a concept test for a marketing campaign, or a pre- and post-campaign evaluation measure the effectiveness of the advertising campaign.

Market research will often only solve part of the business objective, and will help an organisation or business achieve the objective by providing a missing piece of information.

Research objectives

These objectives should clearly indicate what the intended practical outcomes of the market research are. The research objectives define what the research should measure or explore.

Examples of research objectives

Market research: Customer Satisfaction research
Example research objectives:

  • Understanding customers’ satisfaction with products and services provided
  • Understanding customers’ attitudes towards suppliers in the market
  • Identifying unmet needs among customers or potential customers
  • Identifying opportunities to improve customer satisfaction

Research methodology

A research methodology is often not prescribed by a business or organisation, unless there are strong requirements for a specific methodology to be used. This could be the case when previous market research has been undertaken, and this needs to be repeated. In this case it is essential for the research methodology to be replicated in order for the results to be comparable. If the research methodology is prescribed, it is best to provide a description as detailed as possible.

However in most cases a brief would not contain a prescribed methodology, and this is left to the market research supplier to decide. Based on all other information provided in the brief the supplier will suggest the methodology that is most suited within the constraints that are given.

The remaining elements of a market research brief are more practical and probably shorter of nature, depending on the complexity of the project.

Target audience

Describe who or which groups insights are needed from. When describing target groups it is important to provide as much detail as known. This can be done by listing as many demographics as available. This could be for example gender, age group, place of residence or income in case of residents, and business size, industry, place of operation in case of business. When subgroups are identifiable within a target group and it is important for the research to highlight differences between them, this should be included as well, providing as much detail as possible on what differentiates the subgroups.


Provide the timing for the project. A market research supplier will usually work out timing for the different stages of the project, the important deadlines are those that matter to the business or organisation commissioning the research. In most cases the most important deadline is the delivery of the report. In some cases the period of fieldwork (i.e. undertaking of interviews or other type of research) can be important as it needs to align with for example the period of advertising. These kind of requirements can best be included in this section as well.

This section could also include the timeframes for delivery of a proposal, and an intended start date for the market research.

Available budget

There are significant cost differences between various market research methodologies. Providing a budget (or even a budget range) will help the market research supplier decide on the most suited methodology. If it is not possible to provide a budget, it is important to provide as much detail as possible in other section of the brief to ensure a suitable methodology is proposed by the market research supplier.

Contact details

The contact details section can be used to provide contact information relating to the project. in case the potential suppliers have questions.

Market research projects benefit significantly from a question and answer session between the business or organisation wanting to undertake the research and the potential suppliers. This can take place face to face, over the phone, and individually or in a group setting. A session like this helps the potential suppliers better understand the market research needs, and it will likely result in a more refined scope for the project. It will help the suppliers put together a proposal that is more likely to meet the intended outcomes of the project.

If there are any procurement rules that need to be met, these could be included in this section of the brief. Lastly the brief could indicate how the proposal needs to be submitted, in what form, and at what physical or digital address.

Once proposals have been provided by potential suppliers, a range of criteria can be used to evaluate or choose suppliers.