Researchers used to be detectives – searching anywhere and everywhere for information. Today, the more difficult challenge is managing in a world of information overload. Information and research today are more granular and specific than ever. Not only can vast amounts of data be quickly and easily delivered online, with digital transactional and loyalty data, those data can now be delivered in real-time.

So what then is the role of a researcher? It is to select the ‘right’ information.

However, before selecting the right information, we must first understand the business problem that needs to be solved. In almost every case, the first definition of the business problem or challenge is NOT the true problem that must be solved. To get to the true business problem, we must first ask the right questions, which is core to a better business strategy.

The examples we’ve selected show the difference between answering ANY question and becoming irrelevant to consumers, and answering THE question and growing the business with strategic direction and innovation.

 

You can’t get to business changing insights without first asking business changing questions.

  • What is our business or brand strategy?
  • What specific objective or problem are we trying to solve?
  • What hypotheses do we already have about this challenge?
  • Is research required to confirm or deny these hypotheses? If yes, what kind of research?
  • What actions must we take based on the insights learned?

In terms of defining a business problem, start with a business fact. As a generic example, the fact could be, “A successful retailer is losing market share in urban markets.” Then ask the ‘right’ questions. Instead of asking how the current offer could be tweaked to win in Canada (or the USA or the UK), consider asking the following to understand where to win:

  • What is our formula for success today?
  • What are the external and internal pressures?
  • Who is our target customer and where do they live?
  • Where will growth occur in the future?

Often times, business leaders do not take a step back and take stock of where they are today and how they got there. As a consequence, they risk missing the real problem at hand. They dive in to solve a specific problem instead of first figuring out exactly what their customers need from them in order to meet business goals.

These three lenses can help illuminate business problems:

  1. What do we know?
  2. What don’t we know?
  3. What do we think?

Before beginning research, it is often helpful to write out the ‘end in mind’ – the ‘speech’ that you hope to give after the research is complete, the speech that will direct the future of the business. Undertake some investigating. Identify whether anyone else is grappling with a similar business issue.

Remember, the first definition of the business problem is almost never the problem to be solved. Keep asking great questions until you get the right ones!