martes, 23 de octubre de 2018

What's the Question - Book Review

Marketing and market research professionals, especially if we have ever worked in consultancy firms, are used to being very methodical when working. We feel comfortable and confident with methodology, still leaving some room for creativity and project customization in spite of our structured way of thinking about everything. Methodology is a tool that helps us organize our thoughts in a project approach and development. It gives us clarity.

So we apply methodology in key processes such as the strategic marketing plan or the design of a market research project. We know pretty much how to define a sample, for instance, how to prepare a questionnaire, how we will analyze our data or show the results in our report. But to what extent are we methodical when defining the problem in a market research project? In that initial phase prior to the definition of the research in which we establish the framework, how should the analysis of the problem be addressed? If you are a marketeer, would you know how to draw up a good briefing for a market research agency? Do you know what you need to include to make the work of the agency easier? And as a market researcher, would you know how to extract the best information you need from the client (or from the briefing you received) in order to prepare your survey proposal? And this is very important because the better the briefing is, the better the proposal will be. And the more focused the proposal, the better the research and consequently the more optimal the results of the survey.

I personally believe that we sometimes do not give this part, which is actually the most important part of the investigation, the attention it deserves. Furthermore, I would dare to say that we do not use as much methodology here as we do in other phases. And that's precisely one of the things I liked the most about this book: it goes in-depth into this initial phase uncovering a thorough work methodology for it. Moreover –and this is the second thing I appreciated a lot from the book-, we can see examples and real business cases as we read, so it is easier for all of us the comprehension of whatever concept is fleshed out.


1) Properly conducting the problem analysis
Understanding "problem" either as a problem (something that is not working properly and needs to be fixed out) or as an improvement that you want to achieve regarding the current situation, a problem analysis is always a good investment in market research. It is a crucial exercise for setting a clear objective, defining unambiguous research questions and choosing the best method to answer the questions. In the book we find a helpful checklist that we can use in order to know that we are properly tackling the problem analysis.

2) Knowing in advance the decisions we are supposed to make based on the survey results
As it is said in the book, a marketing problem is like a puzzle. To make a good decision, a marketeer needs all kinds of information from various sources, the puzzle pieces. Market research is one of these sources. Since the purpose of market research is to help in decision making, it is necessary to know upfront which marketing decisions the research is supposed to help make. We need to know about the area (product management, innovation, brand management, communication, customer management) and also about the level (strategic, tactical or operational).

3) Making a distinction between the marketing problem, the research questions and the survey questions when conducting a market research project. 

The first part of the book describes the market research process from the beginning to the end and explains why a good problem analysis is very important. The second part of the book explains how the focus of a research project can be determined and how the necessary information can be obtained. 

Therefore this book is focused on the first two phases of market research: the problem analysis and the research design, which are the joint responsibility of the client and the research agency. Two documents are relevant here and are treated at length in the book: the briefing and the research proposal.

The Briefing
A good briefing is the best beginning for a market research project. It needs to show a little bit of background, the concept, the target group and the research. The book provides clear and specific ideas about what we should be asking ourselves when thinking of the briefing (what is the marketing problem for which the research is being used?, where does the question come from, what is the reason?, what is the company going to do with that?, what decisions can be made (and which ones not)?, who will work with the results?, etc.).

The research proposal
The key outcome of the problem analysis is what the book calls the Central Objective, a combination of WHAT we want to study (information) and WHY we want to study it (which decisions does one want to be able to make). The book recommends discussing these two things in separate sections in a research proposal, the management problem - which decisions does one want to be able to make - and the information problem -which information is needed to make the decisions-. 

  • It focuses on a relevant part of market research that IMHO is often taken less into account.
  • It shows examples and business cases which are very helpful to understand all the ideas developed while we are reading.
  • It displays extensive work methodology for this important part of the research. For instance, it provides a step-by-step plan for the problem analysis or it gives you full detail on what a good briefing should include. And we find some methodology at the end of the book (questions we can ask ourselves) in order to determine the best survey design.

  • Market research professionals, both quantitative and qualitative specialists. It's a fresh content and a useful resource in our job. We are very used to reading and studying about questionnaire design, data collection and analysis or reporting. This is a good book to get ideas and guidelines for our first part of the work: understanding the client's problem.
  • Marketing professionals: it is a good resource to help understand the connection between the two disciplines and the relevance of having an integral perspective in a market research project.
  • Business Management students in general, who take the marketing and market research itinerary at the university.


After so many years professionally dedicated to marketing and market research it is a real pleasure when you discover a book that you can still learn from and that can inspire you in your work. I must admit that I’m enjoying summarizing for me the methodology proposed in the book -especially in the first part of it-, because it will undoubtedly be very helpful in my work. And the book has also allowed me to incorporate a couple of interesting ideas in the slides I use at the university -in my market research classes- that I will be sharing with the students from now on.

Would you like to know more about the book? >> What's the Question

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