What Is The First Step in The Marketing Research Process?

Implementing the marketing research steps creates a crucial basis for the success of the overall marketing activities and process. And everything starts from one point – the first step. What could be that first step?

As a marketer or businessman, you know that problems are the power which drives the business world. Everything starts with a problem that needs to be solved. It is the core, the root and the beginning of the majority of the business processes.

This page contains:

  • What is the first step in the marketing research process? Why is it so important?
  • How to define a marketing research problem?
  • Examples of marketing research problems.
  • Infographics in PDF for free download.

The First Step in The Marketing Research: Defining The Problem

Yes, the first step in the marketing research process is to define the problem.


While all of the steps in this process are precious, many experts think that defining the problem is the most crucial. Why? Simply, because this is the core basis for the rest of your marketing research steps.

To be your marketing research successful, you need to perfectly know what is the problem, the need. You need a clear understanding, diagnosis and formulating of the research problem.

In the end, most of the mistakes are made not because of wrong answers but because of asking the wrong questions.

The purpose of each marketing research process is to give you the right information you need to make decisions. You can receive the right information only when you have the right definition and understanding of the problem!

All the time, effort, and money spent for conducting the marketing research will be wasted if the problem is misunderstood and wrongly defined.

Management Problem VS Research Problem

Management Problem vs Research Problem infographic

By their nature, the majority of the business management problems are not easy to define.

And as a marketing expert, you have to translate the management problem into a research problem! This is a crucial point! Once you are able to see the problem from a research point of view, you can find a solution.

Example of management problem:
“How to expand your product group X market?”

To translate it into a research problem, we need to examine the various needs of the potential and current customers, to consider different market segments examples and define the target market, to find out how the current products satisfy the customer needs and etc.

Example of marketing research problem:
“To determine the various needs of the product X users and the degree to which those needs are satisfied by the current products.”

So, What is the difference between a management problem and a research problem?

Management problem focuses on actions and symptoms and relates to what the decision maker needs to do. Marketing Research problem is data oriented, focused on the cause and relates to what information is needed.

How to Define the Research Problem

The more clear your problem statement in the first step in the marketing research is, the more successful and focused your study will be.

The problem defines specific marketing objectives behind conducting the study. Your research methodologies and conclusions all depend on the problem statement.

So how can you formulate a clear problem statement?

1.  Specify the Market Research Objectives

First, you need to formulate a clear statement of objectives in order to conduct an effective research. These objectives will help you to measure and evaluate your project and process.

Good practice in defining goals is to use infinitive verbs such as:

  • To identify
  • To analyse
  • To establish
  • To develop
  • To describe
  • To estimate
  • To compare
  • To collect

More on the topic how to define marketing research goals, in our previous post: marketing objectives examples.

2. Review the Background of the Research Problem

It includes reviewing the history and the nature of the problem and the environment.

One of the best practices here is to study the similar problem in other organizations or the similar problem occurred in the past in your company. Also, you might need to study buyer behaviors, legal and economic environment and many other elements depending on the core of the problem.

Gathering background information has a crucial role in understanding and properly defining the problem.

For example:

If you want to measure the customer satisfaction in a given market, you need to consider many possible factors that impact customer satisfaction such as the location, the price, the level of customer service, etc.

How can you gather information for the background of the problem? Best ways and tasks:

  • Discussions with decision makers
  • Discussions and interviews with experts and professionals
  • Interviews with customers
  • Secondary data analysis
  • Qualitative research

3. Identify the Variables and Their Relationships

The research problem is associated with different factors. Those factors are represented by variables.

What is a variable?
A variable is anything that has a quantity or quality that varies.

Among the common variables within the market research are product price, competitor’s price, a demographic status of respondents such as education, occupation, income, and etc.

Be careful when selecting the appropriate variables when defining the problem. Identifying the relevant variables relates to determining the research marketing objectives.

Normally, each research objective directly reflects one or two variables.

Best practices:

  • Investigate which variables affect the solution to the research problem.
  • Define which variables are crucial to the solution.
  • Estimate the degree to which each variable can be controlled.
  • Identify the functional relationships between the variables.

4. State the Research Questions

Research questions investigate specific components and express the marketing research objectives in terms of questions.

You can assume the research questions as the questions that would be asked by the audience of your research.

There are many ways to help you identify your questions such as doing some online searches, consider questions used in previous similar researches and etc.

The formulation of the problem guides your overall research activities. This first step in the marketing research clearly tells you what has to be accomplished in order to find a solution.

Let’s see some examples of defined marketing research problems:

  • To determine consumer preferences and purchase motives/intentions for the new product X.
  • To identify what is the effectiveness of the current advertising campaign for the financial service X.
  • To determine the impact of various levels of price changes on the customer intentions for buying product C.


As you see the first step in the marketing research process has a vital role for the subsequent research efforts and for solving the problem in a successful way.

There is an old saying:

A Problem Well-stated is Half-solved

By nature, defining problems is not an easy task. However, defined in the right way, they are the half battle. Many marketing research failing from the start because the problem is poorly defined.

So take your time to accomplish the first step in the marketing research carefully and properly.

Download the Defining Research Problem Infographic in PDF

Defining the Market Research Problem Infographic


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