Preparing the brief

Armed with answers to the question posed in the previous section, the decision maker must produce a specific written definition of the research requirements. This forms the basis for briefing the research agency, so the clearer and the more specific it is, the better able the agency will be to meet the needs identified.

Preparing the brief will involve a consideration of the environment in which the decision is to be made and the resources available. It is usually helpful at this stage to involve other managers within the organization. The aim should be to agree the objectives for the research programme, and these should be distinguished from marketing objectives. An adhesives manufacturer with the marketing objective of attracting new users to a product set the research objective 'to identify groups who might have a use for the product and the attributes which appeal to them most'.

The second point to agree internally is the limitations of the research programme. What is it reasonable to expect the research to accomplish? Research does not make decisions for managers, it gives them more information to enable them to make better decisions. For example, research cannot directly predict the sales of a new product. What it can do is to measure the new product's acceptability, performance in blind trials against competitive products, and so on. Increasing use of research in mathematical market modelling is, however, improving predictive ability and is a major area of current development.

A third point for internal agreement is the action standards required of the research programme. Research prior to the launch of a new product may measure factors such as rate of trial, intent to purchase or preference. In these cases it is necessary to decide beforehand what figures will be acceptable for the launch to go ahead. A chocolate manufacturer sets a minimum score of 40 per cent preference for the launch decision to be taken. The reason for deciding action standards prior to the research programme is that if these are left until later it is always possible to persuade oneself that the results are good enough, whereas before the research is carried out a greater degree of objectivity is possible in determining what requirements must be met for the project to go ahead.

Internal agreement on all these points in the course of preparing the brief will ensure that the eventual research programme takes account of all essential information needs. This is generally better decided by a group than by an individual. The other reason for obtaining internal agreement at this stage is that organizations that hold their first meeting about proposed research projects with would-be research agencies in attendance may find themselves disagreeing about what exactly is required. Apart from presenting a poor view of the organization to the research agency before any working relationship has been established, this will probably result in a very poor brief being given.

Confusion and lack of clarity in the brief tend to produce confusing and unclear research. Adequate time and thought must be given to this process of preparing the brief before any research agencies are approached. The outcome of the process should be a clear definition of the research requirement committed to paper and approved by all appropriate people within the organization.

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