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Q&A: Secondary research – tips and warnings
July 02, 2008 Branding

Secondary research – tips and warningsGood research helps inform good marketing decisions. When your budget does not allow for customized market research however, is desk research (sourcing useful existing pre-published information; also known as secondary research) a reliable alternative?

The Internet has made millions of megabits of information accessible. There are however, issues of credibility and validity.

Gabriel Sim, an expert in secondary research, having set up library resources for many multinationals in Asia for over eight years, tells us more.

Q: When is secondary research useful? And when is it not?

“Secondary research is a good approach to examine large-scale trends.

Always conduct secondary research first. It helps to determine what is known already and what new data is required, all at very little cost.

Sometimes, you may find that secondary research isn’t sufficient for the task on hand. You should then consider customized research to (1) collect data that does not already exist; (2) when you need more specific results.”

Q: What are some precautions to take in secondary research?
“It is always good habit to adopt an attitude of healthy skepticism. Do not take the findings from secondary research at face value; always weigh the potential biases and analyse each source within the political and environmental context of each country. It is useful to integrate data from numerous sources in order to validate your information.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Is it authoritative? Who was responsible for collecting the information? Does the source have a reputation for reliability? Can the author be contacted for clarification?
  • Is it objective? How was the information obtained?
  • Is it current? When was the information collected (not published)?
  • Is it accurate? How consistent is the information with other information?
  • Does the information from all my sources seem to validate my observations?”


Q: What are some good free sources?

“There are many good ones!

1. Government departments
A wide range of reliable information and statistics, such as gross domestic product, external trade, manufacturing, employment & productivity, price index and investment, is provided by the national department of statistics as well as numerous government agencies.

For example, key economic and social indicators in Hong Kong are provided by the Census and Statistics Department of Hong Kong.

2. Trade libraries
In some places you can find trade libraries that are open to the public, free of charge. These include chambers of commerce, the Trade Development Council or the International Enterprise Singapore.

The International Enterprise Singapore for example, carries electronic databases such as OneSource, Business Monitor International and World Trade Atlas, as well as print resources such as country statistical yearbooks, industry reports, and trade directories. Should you need in-depth advice and personalised assistance, you may also want to speak to the library consultants.

3. Industry associations
Industry associations are an excellent source of information, sometimes free of charge. For example, tourism authorities have very good data on inbound tourists while the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association provides very comprehensive statistics on motor vehicles in-use.

4. Global associations
The United Nations, World Bank, and Asian Development Bank offer lots of free information on their website. For example, the UNCTAD Handbook of Statistics provides data on the analysis of world trade, investment and development for over 190 countries.

Product managers can also refer to the World Intellectual Property Organisation for basic patent and trade market data by country by residents and non-residents.

5. Newspapers
You can also try the research reports from business magazines such as the Economist (Economist Intelligence Unit), Businessweek or Fortune if you are a subscriber.

Many online local dailies provide a good overview of trends or industry developments. Some of the major English-language daily newspapers in Asia are important news sources as they are often informative, trustworthy, up-to-date, and accessible (online, RSS feeds). To name some of my favourite ones:

China: People’s Daily
Hong Kong: The Standard
India: Financial Express
Indonesia: Jakarta Post
Japan: Japan Times
Korea: Korea Herald
Philippines: Manila Bulletin
Singapore: Business Times
Taiwan: Taipei Times
Thailand: The Nation

6. Publicity materials from consultants
At times, you may find some key information from the press releases on studies and reports conducted by management consultants and research companies for their own promotional purposes. You can try the publications sections of McKinsey & Company (McKinsey Quarterly), Bain, AT Kearney, and Boston Consulting Group.

7. Embassies
Embassies are also very useful resource centres, especially when your research is targeted at a specific country.

For example, the High Commission of India in Singapore website provides links to useful information on India’s economy, export-import policy, relevant regulations, customs and investment policy.

8. Competitors and marketing agencies
Don’t hesitate to refer to press releases, conference presentations, thought articles, talks or sales pitches published by your competitors. Very often, they are interested in the same market information as you. Sometimes, your agencies will also share consumer research that they may have conducted independently with you.”


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