There are four key steps to identifying critical information needs and determining how consumer research might help: understand the request, understand the business issue, determine the research need, and identify critical information gaps.

In this post, we’ll tackle the first step – understand the request and the underlying reason behind it.

Though it seems basic, failure to formally address this step can have unfortunate consequences. The research could address the wrong problem or use the wrong methodology, key stakeholders might be missed, or the root cause of the problem might require an operational, not a consumer fix.

So how do we ask great questions that ultimately lead to better research and better solutions?

First, think like a journalist and ask ‘5W and an H’ questions. Questions that begin with who, what, where, when, why, and how yield far more information than closed-end yes/no questions. If you want to contribute to the problem solving, consider asking a skilled facilitator to lead the discussion. This frees you up to be a participant. And, sometimes it’s easier for a third party facilitator to ask tough, provocative questions that yield healthy discussion and debate.

Second, ask questions even if they have already been addressed in a research brief. Get to the crux of the issue and ask, ‘What is the problem you are trying to solve?’ This simple question can reveal different points of view on an issue and bring to light concerns that have been bubbling under the surface.

Consider questions like:

  • What will you do with the results?
    • Will someone have the authority to implement any recommended actions or will the results join other old reports in an unused file folder?
  • Who initiated the request?
    • Do they have a broad understanding of potential roadblocks or implications of the research, and will they champion it with the executive team?
  • Who else is involved?
    • Should stakeholders from other departments or geographical locations be included in planning and analysis stages to create buy-in and avoid future roadblocks?
  • Who will use this information?
    • Is high-level strategic learning required for the leadership team or more detailed executional information for operations?
  • What’s driving the timeline? Is the need for speed causing important issues to be cast aside or more appropriate methodologies to be ignored?

Two of our favourite questions, inspired by our founder Luke Sklar include:

  • If you didn’t do any research, what would you do instead?
    • This is a good indicator of how important research is to solving the problem.
  • What is the speech you’d like to give at the end of this?
    • This question will help get to the true motivation for the research request and start to uncover critical information needs.

When attempting to engage the stakeholder team, don’t be alarmed if the response to your questions is lukewarm. Here are some tactics to help generate engagement in tricky situations:

  • Build rapport and participant engagement by starting with the least sensitive questions. Read the emotions and personalities in the room before slowly escalating to more difficult questions.
  • Focus on asking follow-up questions. Follow-up questions are special – they signal you are listening to the speaker and are curious to learn more.
  • Encourage alternative points of view by framing questions with negative assumptions. For example, “Haven’t we had a hard time getting buy-in lately?”
  • If participants are reticent to participate because they want to avoid conflict, ask them to play devil’s advocate. Inviting people to take an opposing stance makes it safer for them to share difficult or controversial ideas.

As the discussion unfolds, use a flip chart to record what is said. This allows all participants to view the content and acknowledge key decisions made along the way. This will minimize misunderstandings or ‘spinning,’ and help ensure that everyone is aligned with the outcome.


Ready to learn more? Download our Sklar Wilton Research Decision Wheel for a template to help you categorize decisions to ensure your research plans are focused on the right big areas. Or, learn how we helped Sport Check unlock the subtleties of sub-culture and channel marketing to connect emotionally with their target audience and engage customers at all points in the customer decision journey.