November 2012

The DIY Guide to Desk Research

Dear Reader,

When researching customers, competitors or your marketplace, you could spend a huge amount of time and money commissioning primary research to find out what you need to know. But you may not need to – there’s a huge amount of information already available. The internet has made information on customers, competitors and markets far more easily available.

So where should you start? How do you find the information you need? How do you cut through all the detail and noise? This issue of Better Insight will show you how, in our DIY Guide to Desk Research (sometimes called Secondary Research).

If you have any questions about Desk Research, click here to email me, or you can ask them via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Best wishes,

Martin Holliss


t: +44 1235 812 456

m: +44 7931 376501


The DIY Guide to Desk Research
What is Desk Research? 
Well, you could always click here (to find out on our website), but if you check on the internet (i.e. you do some Desk/Secondary Research!) you’ll come up with definitions such as these:
  • The use of information that has already been collected and is available for use by others.
  • The analysis of research that had been collected at an earlier time (for reasons unrelated to the current project) that can be applied to a study in progress.
  • Information collected from anything other than the original source, such as books or information gathering services.

In days gone by you needed to visit a library and pore over books and journals to find the published information you needed. And it meant manually requesting information from sources such as Companies House.

Then the internet was invented.
Now you can find whatever you need, if you know where to look…and if you have the time to sift through the thousands of websites and sources that might possibly contain relevant data.


Where Do You Start?
There are many ways in which you can use the internet and social media tools for Desk Research.
To get you started, here are five points to think about:
1. Explore the internet
The internet is a rich source of relevant data. Depending on what you need to discover, websites to visit might include companies, competitors, trade associations, government websites, market and financial analysts, newspapers, magazines and much more.
When you do your research, be creative with the keyword phrases you use for searching (even to the point of using boolean language). If you’re looking for information on suppliers of garden furniture, you might start with the phrase ‘garden furniture’. You can also search on phrases such as ‘suppliers of garden furniture’ or ‘manufacturers of garden furniture’. You can turn the phrases around so that you search for ‘garden furniture manufacturers’. And then there are all the options around the type of garden furniture – wooden, metal, wicker, painted, black, white, new, old fashioned …!
All these searches will give different results, and each will add slightly more to your knowledge.  Take a look in the resources section below for a link to a website that will help you with all this.
2. Consider using paid-for sites and sources 
While many sites are available free of charge, many others require paid for subscriptions. Generally, the most productive internet searches will use a combination of free and paid for sources. It’s worth asking probing questions about the range of paid-for sources that your research agency has access to. For a list of about 50 sites you can use, click here.
3. Read online diaries, blogs and forums
Researchers have long considered diaries a useful way of collecting information. People now write about their experiences of different companies and products online. This means that you can read blogs and relevant forums to easily find out what people think about your business and competitors!
4. Explore Facebook and Twitter
More and more big brands are using Facebook to discover what their customers think and want from them. It’s easy for you to review and analyse their activity as well…and is a rich source of market and competitor intelligence. While you may not tweet actively yourself, how many followers do your competitors have on Twitter (and who are they)? How has that changed over time and what are people saying? It’s all there for you to see – free of charge!
5. Use targeted ‘detective style’ telephone research
It may sound strange to recommend the use of telephone research in an article about desk research. However, it is rare that all the data you need will be available from desk research. By making a handful of carefully-targeted telephone calls you can discover a huge amount more, and be able to confirm and triangulate data discovered during desk research. For example, as an independent research consultancy, it’s amazing what your competitors’ sales, marketing, production and strategy teams will tell us when we ask and show real interest in their situation and experience.
There is a huge amount of information available to you – almost too much, and it can be a challenge to cut through it all to find exactly what you need. While it might seem that you can save money by doing it yourself, in the long run you will often save both time and money by working with an expert who knows what to look for and where to find it.


How do you use the internet to do your Desk Research and which websites do you find most useful?
Click here to answer this question on LinkedIn and share your views with the world. Tell us how you use the Internet to find the product, market and competitor information and data you need.
Use the Google Keyword Tool to help you get really creative with the keyword phrases you search for in your secondary research.
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