Start with the End in Mind: Make Sure your Research Leads to the Right Decisions

Market Research, Qualitative Research


“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

All marketers struggle with scarce resources to address business challenges. Perhaps in no other marketing area are resources quite so limited as in market research. Management does not want to invest in high-quality research. Respondents don’t want to participate, and if they do participate, it is challenging to get them to give valuable information. Sometimes it seems as if insight is as rare as hen’s teeth.

Therefore, it is critical that market research be planned specifically to lead to decision-making. Recently, L&E Research hosted a workshop in our Raleigh facility led by David Harris, author of The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires: How to Get Better Information for Better Decisions. (Click here to view the video of David’s talk.)

According to David, research is rarely organized to support decisions, and he wrote his book to propose a solution. His market research framework lays out a process for making the most of the scarce resources available to market researchers. Without cutting corners, David’s framework helps marketers focus their thinking to generate research projects that successfully lead to decisions and actions based on those decisions.

David’s Framework starts with three steps:

  • Plan research to support decision making
  • Conduct qualitative research
  • Plan the questionnaire

Note that the third step is to plan the questionnaire, not write it!

Planning for decision making before you even start to write the questionnaire is challenging, because marketers are born question-writers. However, it ensures that the research that you end up doing is specifically designed to support the decisions that need to be made.

Most decisions are made with a limited set of information, often as few as three to seven facts. And yet, research typically goes far beyond the information needed for the decision. In order to focus research for decision making, David recommends you write a research plan that identifies three things:

  • The decisions the research will support
  • The information needed to make those decisions
  • The design of the study that will collect that information

Answering these questions ensures that you use the best methodology (i.e., the most cost effective methodology that still delivers the information needed) to get the right and most accurate data. A bonus of this kind of research planning is that the questionnaires are shorter, enhancing participation rates among respondents.

Once you have focused on the information to seek, qualitative research can help you know what questions to ask, how to ask them, and who to ask. David advises, “In order to understand a topic, you need the insights that only qualitative research can provide.” Qualitative research allows you to hear the words and phrases respondents use when they speak about the topic, how they understand the metrics you need to collect, as well as what criteria they use in evaluating the topic.

Finally, you are ready to write the questionnaire plan. David recommends a matrix that identifies, for each decision:

  • What information is needed
  • How to ask the question
  • How the data will be analyzed

All of these factors, of course, influence the specific questions to be included in the research instrument, but note that you are still distinguishing between the information you need for the decision and the questions themselves. Maintain the discipline not to write any questions until the questionnaire plan is complete.

Without this considerate and thoughtful approach, you run the risk of completing research that goes astray, and is less than optimal in addressing the business challenge. Using David’s framework, you will find not only “something, if you look” (per Tolkien) but certainly the “something you were after.” Moreover, that “something”, will enable you to make successful decisions for your business.

Want to learn more about David’s market research framework? We’ve created a handy infographic that summarizes the first series of steps in planning your research and your questionnaire.