Editor's note: Rebecca Day is president and Reyn Kinzey is vice president of Kinzey and Day Market Research, Richmond, Va.

“What matters most to you?” That’s really the question behind all market research. But if you ask it that way, the question is hard for a respondent to answer – it’s too broad, there’s no context.

If you want to make it clear that you really do mean the question in its broadest context, you can ask: “What matters most to you in your life?”

Given time, respondents can and will answer that question but the question certainly opens up an existential rabbit hole of biblical proportions. It’s not the kind of question you ask a stranger sitting next you on an airplane, unless you’re a philosopher, a religious fanatic or an out-of-work psychiatrist.

But if you frame the question more narrowly, as we often do in market research and ask, for example, “What matters most to you when you watch the news on television?” you’re likely to get narrow answers: “Accuracy of the information.” “Reliability.”

Those answers are honest enough, true in their own way, but not particularly helpful, because we know that people do not, in fact, choose television news stations based on accuracy of information and reliability.

So, if “What matters most to you in life?” is too broad and “What matters most to you in choosing a news station?” is too narrow, are there ways to combine the two that will lead to better market research?

We think so, and we’ve been fortunate enough to find clients who think so, too. In this article, we’d like to briefly explain values research and provide some key definitions. Then we’ll explain why it’s important. Finally, we’ll provide a case history to demonstrate how values research can be conducted.

Roughly defined, “values research” tries to determine the relationship between what consumers value most in life and how they go about more mundane deci...