A market research plan, similar to a brief, is a vital document that details important information about your market research project. Though it is often an overlooked step of the market research process, an effective plan is often a critical factor in determining whether or not your market research efforts are successful.
Why? Because a well-thought through plan, more so than objectives alone, can be a vital instrument in focusing your investment. It ensures you know, ahead of the commencement date, the timeline, budget and desired outcomes from the project. It can even be used as a tool for receiving quicker sign-off from management when embarking on a new venture.
But it’s also important to remember that the research plan is not just for your team. To make full use of this document, it should be written in a way that can be distributed to agency partners as well — ensuring that your insight team and specialist partners are all working towards the same goal.
Tips for Crafting a Successful Plan
The first rule of writing a successful market research plan is to keep it short. The perfect length is between 1–2 pages, but as an absolute maximum try to ensure that it never exceeds 3. This will give you enough space to explain the background, scope and practicalities of the project while ensuring it is concise enough to be read in full. Throughout these few short pages, the tone of your plan should be informative. Remember that you are outlining information that you already know.
The ideal market research plan should be short & concise but explain all facets of the project from objectives to budget.
Write in a way that holistically encompasses all aspects of the project. Throughout the duration of your scripting, data collection, analysis and reporting stages of your project you should always be referring back to this document in order to remain focused. As any researcher knows, one of the biggest challenges in any research project is staying true to your original objectives.
With both exploratory and confirmatory research alike, new information is likely to arise which may spark other ideas or bring light to previously unknown issues. Remember these, but set them aside for further investigation at a later date. Travelling too far down the rabbit hole is the quickest way to overspend and under deliver on your original goal.
The 10 Elements of the Best Research Plans
First, let me preface this with a reminder: every project is different. A long term co-creation community will have different needs and requirements to a customer feedback survey or ad testing project. However, despite this — it is important to give equal consideration to all projects, and plan each with the same high degree of meticulous care. With this in mind, these are the 10 key aspects we recommend that all research plans should include:
1. Overview. Use this first section to outline the background to the problem that you are attempting to solve. Include background information on the business to provide context, as well as the circumstances that have led to the need for research. Overviews should be limited to 200 words at most, with most of the word count dedicated to the business circumstances & challenges surrounding the research.
2. Objectives. Arguably the most important aspect of the entire document, objectives should be in bullet point format. List 3–5 of the decisions or initiatives that the research will inform — this will become the remit of the project. Below are a few examples of both well and poorly written objectives:
Well written research objectives:
- Understand the channels in which our customers are most comfortable shopping, in order to decide which should be prioritised in the 2017 Q1 budget
- Develop an active co-creation community that contributes 2 user-generated product improvements for testing to the R & D team per month
- Learn what is leading to an increase in customer churn so that a new retention strategy can be put in place within 12 weeks
Poorly written research objectives:
- Survey 1,000 potential customers to find out how our products can be improved
- Develop a panel of employees that are able to provide answers to research questions on an ad-hoc basis
- Learn how our company is perceived in comparison to competitors and how we can stand out in the marketplace
3. Deliverable outcomes. This section acts as a list what you expect to be produced at the end of the project. This can include, but is not limited to: a target number of responses you expect to receive, descriptions of how the data should be presented and the extent to which the data will be used to inform future decisions. In long term projects such as panels or communities, this may include a target for the amount of decisions that research is expected to inform and/or a pipeline for new ideas in exploratory studies.
4. Target audience. Different to sample, your target audience describes the population that you wish to research. This can be defined by a number of factors depending on the nature of your project. Some of the most common include: demographics, psychographics, life stages and company/ product interaction.
5. Sample plan. The sample plan should be used to indicate the amount of participants you wish to research, as well as a breakdown of each group. This will be affected by the choice to use qualitative, quantitative or multi-method approaches, as well as the estimated size of the target population.
Target audiences & samples should be planned separately in research to better understand who the project applies to.
6. Research Methods. List the different research methods that you plan to use in your project. This will be used by your team and agency partners to ensure that the insight you need comes from the most appropriate tools. Be sure to include any non-traditional methods you plan to use as well — it’s important that your team are aware of how data will be captured, even if it is being gathered by an experimental technique.
7. Timeline. These usually take the form of a Gantt chart, but can vary depending on the scope and length of your project. Try to break down tasks as much as possible but be wary of dependencies within your chart. Be sure to schedule enough time in case some research tasks over-run or response rates are lower than expected.
8. Budget. Perhaps the most dreaded aspect of any research plan, budgeting is never easy. But by providing a breakdown of costs and outlining which elements of the project require most investment, a well-planned budget can be a benefit rather than a hurdle.
9 & 10. Ethical and Further considerations. Finally, you should outline any ethical/ other considerations or issues that may arise throughout the course of your project. Whether these are as simple as a conflict of interest or a concern about supplier relationships — this is your chance to address any problems that may arise before they do.
Free Market Research Plan Template
Use this link to download our free market research plan template. The template comes complete with each of the sections outlined above, with instructions on usage and tips on how to make the most out of it. Currently available in .docx format, please email email@example.com if you have any problems with the download.
What do you believe should be included in a successful market research plan? Share your advice with us in the comments below and join the conversation.