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5 Ways to Turn a Business Question into a Behavioral Research Brief

Are you thinking of using a behavioral economics approach in your next market research project but you have some questions? Maybe this is a new space for you, and your usual process is optimized around commissioning traditional research. Or perhaps you tried a behavioral project once before, and you're not sure if you want to take quite the same approach the second time around. In any case, you know there is a lot left to discover in the consumer's unconscious mind. 

You certainly have business questions from stakeholders or other departments and need answers supported by data. How best to brief an agency to get there? What information and questions should you include, and how can you make sure the agency gives you the best response to help your company make an informed decision?

Whatever business question or research question you are starting from, you can translate it into a behavioral research brief – if you apply the right structure. Here are five ways you can do that:

1. Define the consumer behavior you want to change. 

Chances are, your customers are behaving some type of way right now, and you want them to do something different. This change could form the core of your brief. You might include topics like:

  • Who is the target customer, or segment of interest? [e.g. 18-25-year-olds living in cities]
  • How are they behaving right now? [e.g. Buying primarily carbonated drinks]
  • Where and when are they behaving like that? [e.g. In convenience stores, and restaurants during lunch]
  • How would you like them to behave? [e.g. Try our new organic iced tea product as a replacement for soda]
  • What levers do you have available to change the behavior? [e.g. We have distribution in 1,500 locations within the Northeast region, and we can influence packaging, pricing and potentially invest in point-of-sale marketing to catch the consumers' attention]
  • Have you considered other ways to achieve this change – for example, an advertising campaign or cutting your prices – but you're looking to bring about change in a less expensive way? [e.g. We have an advertising campaign underway in Q2-Q3 but sales are responding slowly and would like to support this with point-of-sale changes.]
  • What would be a measure of success? [e.g. Achieving trial by at least 400k additional customers or Additional sales of 1 million units/$2M in wholesale revenue]

2. Structure the brief around what your customers THINK, FEEL and DO.

What do you know (or believe you know) about how your customers think about your category? How do they feel about your brand? And what do they do with your products? Set out what you know, and what more you would like to find out. Perhaps there is a specific gap in your knowledge that you'd like to fill. 

Examples might be "What does 'value' mean to our customers?" or "What do female drinkers really want from a beer?" Perhaps you need a more general foundation to understand customer beliefs, emotions, and actions in your space. Either way, there are specific methodologies to explore thinking, feeling, and doing – and if you can focus on these three questions, they will give you an excellent structure for your behavioral research work.

3. Specify the business decision you are hoping to inform with this research. 

More often than not, businesses have access to a lot of information but still need research to make one key decision. That might be a Go/No-go decision, whether to launch a new product or not or it might be a question like “which ad campaign/marketing strategy has the highest chance of success?” In all cases, the business question will determine the best research approach -Think about this in a cascading 'waterfall' of questions and answers. A series of cascading questions with example answers is as follows:

Q: What is the business objective?
A: We want to launch a new product and achieve $30M revenue in year 1. 

Q: What is the business question that arises from this?
A: What should our marketing strategy be to ensure the new product is successful?"

Q: What questions could a consumer research project answer that will inform this business question? 
A: What are consumers looking for in this product space?

Q: What behavioral research approach will best answer this question?
A: Use story-hearing to identify consumer narratives that influence attitudes to our product category, and recommend how to tap into those narratives.  or Use cognitive interviews to uncover the unconscious barriers to purchasing in this category. 

This waterfall approach helps draw the right boundaries and define what research provides, and what decisions your marketing team must make.

4. Try out methodologies that you have heard about. 

Some examples might include:

  • Narrative research to explore the stories customers tell about your category and brand
  • Implicit testing to find out unconscious feelings about brands and logos
  • Nudge research to invent and test the most effective ways to change behavior
  •   Biometric measurement using specialized equipment to measure consumers' heart rate or brain activity while they watch an ad, or use your product

Suppliers can often advise you on the best method for your business question, so be sure to say whether you are definitively committed to a particular methodology or if it is just a starting point and you are open to alternatives.

5. Build on past hypotheses and existing research. 

Is there a specific heuristic or bias that you have encountered in speaking to your customers? Behavioral research is sometimes structured around particular heuristics, like anchoring (when customers get attached to a particular price point and it's hard to get them to reconsider) or status quo bias (where they stay with an existing habit because it's more comfortable than changing). If you already have a hypothesis like this from past research, why not mention it? A behavioral research agency will have experience in exploring these heuristics and can often provide some new ideas on how to defeat or amplify them if that's the right strategy!


A behavioral research brief will have a lot in common with your usual briefing template, but by following these tips you’ll have a head start in making your conversation with potential vendors more productive while ensuring your questions will be answered. Increased clarity from your team about your business questions and needs informs a well-defined behavioral research brief. This advanced work pays off in better conversations, more pointed contract negotiations, and, ultimately better insights.

 Get ahead of the curve and take a look at our extensive 30-page guide to behavioral market research. Click to download.



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