Market Research Problems, Alternatives, and Questions

Step 1 - Articulate the research problem and objectives

Conducting market research
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Market research begins with a definition of the problem to be solved or the question to be answered. Typically, there are several alternative approaches that can be used to conduct the market research.

The Purpose of Step 1

The market research process consists of six discrete stages or steps. The task of the first stage of market research is to articulate the problem that the research will address. This includes defining the decision alternatives, and the research objectives. At first blush, this seems like an easy step. Aren't marketing problems easy to spot and easy to articulate? Beginning a research project falls into the category described as it looks easier than it is.

It is important not to define the market research problem too narrowly or too broadly. In the first instance, a market researcher may find that the actual problem has been missed because the focus was too narrow. Or even if the right research question has been addressed, other important variables may not have been considered, such as barriers to​ prevent copying by other competitors. In the second instance, too much information is likely to be collected - at considerable cost - and most of that data will never be used.

The information is simply not sufficiently germane to the problem.

It is important to realize that it is not always possible to know the sweet spot in terms of scope until the data collection has begun or has been underway for a time. A change in the problem statement in qualitative research does not necessarily reflect poor planning. In fact, it may indicate new learning and the iterative nature of ​qualitative research.

Why a Problem Statement Is Useful

Writing a problem statement to guide the research is both practical and important. A problem statement clearly tells what is intended to be accomplished by the research, and so it is a very practical step with regard to obtaining resources to be used to conduct the research. Writing a problem statement is important because it points to how open or closed the research can be in its approach.

  • Open research is associated with qualitative research approaches and closed research is associated with quantitative research approaches.
  • Quantitative research seeks to identify the relations among a set of variables.
  • Qualitative research aims to gain some understanding of a phenomenon.

A market research project attempts to fill some gap in the knowledge about a phenomenon. In conventional research, this task begins with a formal literature review. In market research, research questions tend to come from internal clients about how to achieve a certain marketing objective or another.

How Market Researchers Identify Meaningful Research Questions

One of the best ways to identify the knowledge gap is to jot down all the questions that the market researcher or others have with regard to the research topic or situation. When the stream of questions dries up to a trickle, it is time to look for categories under which the questions can be grouped. These become the sub-categories. Either before or after creating the subcategories, look for an overarching question. This overarching question will be the first draft of the problem statement or research question.

An important difference between conventional research and market research is that the later is decision driven. Backward-mapping from the business decisions can assist the business manager and the market researcher to be on the same page with regard to priorities and aims of the research. That said, it is not unusual for a market research project to be exploratory, descriptive, or causal rather than decision-mapped research.

  • Exploratory market research seeks to provide insights into the nature of a marketing problem, come up with new ideas, or suggest a range of possible solutions to be considered. These, then, might drive the identification of the business decisions.
  • Descriptive market research might attempt to determine the magnitude of a marketing variable.
  • Some market research is experimental in form and aims to test a cause-and-effect relationship.

The Six Steps of Research


  • Kotler, P. (2003). Marketing Management (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., Prentice Hall.
  • Glesne, C. and Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishing Group.
  • Lehmann, D. R. Gupta, S., and Seckel, J. (1997). Market Research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.