Unearthing Market Research:
Get Ready for a Bumpy Ride
Andersen Business Research Center • Arthur Andersen
So, here’s my new
twist on the topic. I work for a consulting firm and I search for market
data on a daily basis. In fact, it is an absolute expectation of my internal
customers that I will deliver information solutions that are, at least
partially, predicated on market intelligence gleaned from market research
firms. While once forbidden fruit, this type of information has become
relatively accessible and reasonably affordable. It can also be very difficult
and time-consuming (translate that as excruciatingly painful) to hone in
on just the exact desired piece of information one needs. The availability
of market research has come a long way, but the process of locating what
you need remains precarious and inefficient.
What Is Market Research?
Market research is intelligence about a discrete market. The definition of a market can extend from a broad industry (e.g., wireless telecommunications) to a specific market niche (e.g., handheld devices); it can cover a broad technology (e.g., digital video discs) or a specific technology application (e.g., digital duplication); a broad software development (e.g., ERP) or a specific software application (e.g., Peoplesoft applications for Human Resources shared services); its scope can reach across the globe, across a region, or focus on a specific country.
This intelligence comes in the form of market share and growth; identification and comparison of key players, products, and technologies; analysis of the current state of the market; predictions and postulations for the future; and statistical data — lots and lots of statistical data.
And how do market
research firms come up with this intelligence? Primary research is conducted
by targeting communities of decision-makers, trend-setters, and consumers.
Analysts, often consultants in their past lives, are steeped in a particular
expertise and think and write knowledgeably about their targeted area of
focus. They listen, network, and conduct interviews with other thought
leaders in their field. I should also mention that they are merely mortal.
In our fast-paced, highly competitive marketplace, there is a tendency
to view the word of these firms as gospel. Not quite.
How Do Consultants Use Market
Now to the most important question. Why do my consultant clients seek out this information? There are several reasons. To substantiate, demonstrate, prove, or disprove points to a client or prospective client. To include analysis, statistics, and forecasts from recognized research firms. These functions can be important for supporting a position or recommendation. There is another important reason for citing these sources, one researchers should not overlook. Clients expect to see key market research data included in reports. Failure to supply it can make the consultant appear less competitive. Frankly, we must quote key market research firms because our clients expect it and because we know that our competitors will. The key beneficiary of this game of one-upmanship? The market research firms, of course.
In a perfect world, we would have complete access to the full array of boutique services produced by key market research firms. For companies involved in any type of IT (information technology) consulting work, such as mine, that would include firms such as GartnerGroup, Dataquest, Yankee Group, Forrester, Meta Group, and Giga, just to name a few. In a perfect world, access to these services would be reasonably priced. Well, no world is perfect. Full access to this content is incredibly expensive and very few companies can afford this option.
While this article
will not detail the pricing structure for each service, I will say that
while each is very expensive, some are more so than others, and some will
negotiate price more than others. Unfortunately, when it comes to selling
content, most still function according to old business models. The services
lack the flexibility and creativity to package and price the content to
suit the specific information needs of the customer. Instead services tend
to force customers to purchase prepackaged content at set prices. To make
this harsh reality even worse, in some cases the content is chopped and
diced in such as way as to almost force you to subscribe to more than you
really want in order to ensure that you get what you really need. In a
perfect world, research librarians all over the globe would sing the praises
of market research firms. In the real world, a whole other song is being
The Negotiating Table: Getting
What You Want Out of the Deal
If your firm wants to subscribe to market research reports directly from research firms, expect the worse — then be prepared to negotiate hard. If you are not already very familiar with the content and the way it’s packaged, try it first — and insist on evaluating all the content. Do not assume that you can rely on the name service or the title of the category assigned to the content when determining the most relevant information for your internal customers.
In the IT industry, categories can range from very broad, e.g., Internet Strategies, to very narrow, e.g., Sales Force Management Software Applications. Sounds logical, but in an industry heavily focused on convergence, this approach to organizing content has its perils. Remember what I said about the tendency to chop and dice the content? Many firms replicate the same or very similar content in multiple places, which means you could pay twice for the same information. Firms also often take related content and split it amongst multiple services, hoping this will convince you to purchase more. Do not be surprised by the number of categories or service lines in which the reports are divided. After all, market research firms make money by convincing us of their breadth of expertise. By running tests on all the services, you can apply the old 80/20 rule and determine for yourself what you must have — and what you can live without.
Once you get past the organization of the content, prepare yourself for the interface. In brief, most are sluggish, unsophisticated, and lack precision. The interfaces assume a very simplistic approach to locating information, either with an option to browse by category or title, or with an option to perform a keyword search using a search engine that recognizes simple Boolean connectors but lacks the ability to perform nesting or establish proximity. Given how expensive these services are, how innately complicated and complex market research is, and how exact and minute the information is that users seek to locate, it is appalling how crude the interfaces are. Rather than honing quickly to what you seek, over and over again, the interfaces will force you to open and browse through numerous documents.
Don’t forget to ask about distribution rights under your agreement. Many of the firms have very strict guidelines about what you can or cannot do with their content. Do all internal users have the right to distribute the contents internally, or are those rights limited to “library” level subscriptions? Can your users include content from the market research firms in materials intended for presentation outside the firm, either in its entirety or in parts? Based on how you plan to use the material within your organization, you might have additional questions. The copyright issue is a big one and market research firms are extremely protective of their content. Your internal customers will need to be informed and regularly re-educated about the rules for sharing this information. Take my word: All your clients will want to share the information, and when it comes to copyright policies, clients often have very short memories.
Bottom line? You
must come to the table prepared to hang tough and hold your ground. You
are about to fork over a great deal of money and you should design a deal
that insures the greatest benefit from that investment.
Do Market Research Firms Give
Anything Away for Free?
Many market research firms do post one or two “free” reports each month, usually broad in scope but on a popular topic. In addition, some have a free alerting service that will notify you of new reports matching your interest profile criteria and provide brief summaries of the reports. Both Frost & Sullivan and Forrester offer this feature. Others, such as Datamonitor, even allow you to search across summaries of all their reports and, in some cases, to view tables of contents. Most post some discrete statistical data on their home page. Take a look at AC Nielsen’s site [http://www.acnielsen.com] for some great statistics on advertising spending on the Internet. If you take the time to explore the Web sites, you can often glean some quick, timely intelligence. But if you find something you like, grab it; the “free” content changes quickly. The firms are still defining their own models for free versus pay content. The vote is still heavily weighted in favor of pay, but there are some nice surprises out there. It’s always worth taking a quick peek.
One caveat about
the free access: Many of your internal customers will probably try to discover
on their own what they can get for free on these sites. That means that
you can expect a lot of e-mails requesting that you purchase the report
they just discovered online. Be prepared for a rough ride when you get
one of these requests. Many of the market research firms package reports
especially to advertise to non-subscribers on their Web sites; often when
you search the subscription-based content, you cannot find any “exact”
match. Go figure!
Locating Market Research:
So Many Choices
For this article, I have focused on accessing market research reports directly via subscriptions with the originating market research firms. The optimum scenario would be to subscribe to those firms whose reports you access most frequently; unfortunately, pricing structures might make this impossible.
The good news is that many firms are making their reports available to be searched and purchased per page via content aggregators. Dialog’s Profound was one of the first to introduce a new economic model for purchasing these reports that let you view exploded tables of contents, purchase discrete sections, and view or download your purchases in PDF format; this provided a richness of content not available in the ASCII formats of the traditional online databases. Profound completely revolutionized access to this type of information. Other online databases and Web products have followed suit, with Northern Light the most recent to enter the market race.
The online world is now well populated with platforms for accessing market research reports. That is the good news. The bad news is that the demand for market research reports is wildly confusing. If you already know which firms you want, you have to figure out which have made their content available through which aggregators. Most aggregators do publish lists of their content providers, but most only list names of individual market research firms in alphabetical order. If you need to conduct research in a market that you don’t know much about, you might not know which firms best fit your information needs. Investext has a wonderful table that details the scope and geographic coverage of each of its content providers; other aggregators would do well to follow the Investext model.
Once you know where to look, the hard part really begins. In most cases, the same market research firms have made their reports available across multiple databases. Unfortunately the exact report titles are not as evenly distributed across these systems. Varying embargo periods contribute to uncertainty about which service carries the most recent reports. Combine that with precarious search engines and you have a mess. Oh — one more hitch. A few of the big players only pretend to accommodate this new business model for selling their reports. GartnerGroup’s Dataquest has made some of its content available on Investext’s Research Bank on the Web, but you cannot view the table of contents and you cannot purchase discrete pages; it is the whole shebang or nothing. Personally, I think this is playing dirty and I hope that in the future aggregators will stand their ground and require that all the participants play by the same rules.
In most cases, in order to conduct thorough research and make sure that you have tapped into everything out there (or at least everything you can gain access to), you must repeat the same search across multiple databases. In my Research Center, it is not uncommon for us to run the exact same search through Research Bank on the Web, Factiva, and Profound. It is an incredible — but essential — drain on our time, a fact played out time and again by the vast differences in results that the “same” search yields.
How can one make
sense of all this? In part, the answer lies in questions — the ones you
ask the requestor who initiates the request. Consultants, and many others,
have completely bought into the gospel according to the market research
firms and often only want information from their favorite firms. We searchers
need to persist in feeling out what our clients really need. Market research
comes in many packages, and some of the information that is hardest to
glean by searching across full reports is easiest to find through other
avenues. Savvy, smart searchers can often locate statistical data, such
as market share, projected growth, number of subscribers, or revenue amounts
generated, more efficiently in industry trade journals, newsletters, or
even financial analyst reports, all of which frequently summarize key findings
of the market research firms. Combining tactical keywords with a string
containing the names of the market research firms (e.g., “gartner? or forrester
or yankee or meta”) works quite well. You might also want to include the
name of some trade associations as well, since these are also good sources
of market data. Applying this approach in files such Gale Group’s PROMT,
Trade and Industry, and Newsletter databases, and Responsive Database Services’
(RDS) Business & Industry and TableBase files can successfully yield
desired chunks of data without all the mess of searching across full-text
Why All the Complaining
Once, we only dreamed about tapping into market research. Now we only pray that we have the time, the patience, and the perseverance to wade through everything we do have access to. Market research firms need to stop dumbing down their sites, do a smarter job of organizing their content, index their reports (now that’s an original idea!), and create search interfaces that reflect the types of questions that researchers ask when they turn to these reports. While I am at it, blow up your current business model for selling your content and stop annoying and frustrating your customers. As for the aggregators who distribute market research firms’ content, set a standard for viewing and purchasing options — and stick to it. Information professionals around the world, make sure you are at the negotiating tables when your firm talks to the market research firms. Make sure you drive a very, very hard bargain.
|Short List of Sources of Market Research|
|Individual Research Firm Home Page||Always worth looking at; many give away some "free" intelligence, particularly statistical data.|
Market Research Center
|Links to sources of market research; focuses on advertising and entertainment industries.|
Business Researcher’s Interests
|Metasite of links to sources of market research.|
Information Sources on the Internet
|Part of the University of Strathclyde’s Department of Information Science metasite of links to business sources on the Web.|
Market Research on the Web
|Table of Contents to this excellent reference tool is available on the Web site with links direct links to many of the sites.|
|Association Web Sites||If you can not "guess" the URL, search for it on Yahoo! Be sure to include the expression +association in your search strategy (e.g., +restaurant +association). Yahoo! is the most comprehensive source for association links, but other sites to try are the Internet Public Library Association path [http://www.ipl.org] and the American Society of Association Executives [http://www.asaenet.org].|
Information’s Market Research
|Kalarama, which recently purchased FIND/SVP, has placed the Findex Directory of Market Research Reports on their site; combines free search and fee-based purchasing options.|
|MindBranch (formerly Publications
|An online provider of market research and analysis.|
Worldwide Directory of
Market Research Companies and Services
|This site, provided by the American Marketing Association, New York Chapter, contains a directory of market research firms.|
|The Marketing Research Association’s site also contains a directory of market research firms.|
|Directory of sources of market research firms and reports.|
Market Research Mall
|Gateway for purchasing market research reports; contains small number of information providers, but growing; decent free search engine.|
|Click on the Market tab located at the top of the page; note the option to have results shown by report (default option) or page.|
|Research Bank on the Web
|Market research reports are located in the Market Research group; exclusive to Investext are the text of key trade association reports, located in the Trade Association group.|
|Market research reports are located in the ResearchLine database.|
|Market research reports are located in the Company & Industry Center.|
|Dialog and LEXIS-NEXIS||Both
have files dedicated to individual market research firms, but the real
strength of searching these is tapping into the rich aggregation of secondary
sources which cull key data from the market research reports: ABI/INFORM,
Gale’s PROMT, Gale’s Trade & Industry, Gale’s Newsletter Database,
RDS’ Business & Industry, RDS’ TextBase.
When searching Gale’s database, try using keyword searching strategies such as market?(5n)share?; captur?(5n)market?; growth or trend?; forecast.
When searching RDS databases, take advantage of their excellent indexing.
|Susan’s List of Recommended Readings|
bibliography lists some of the best articles written over the past few
years on market research. Some focus on which sources to use and tips for
searching them effectively; others define what market research is all about
and the best approaches for integrating the hunt for this level of information
into your research methodology.
If time is of the essence, I would recommend gravitating towards the articles by Bob Berkman, editor of The Information Advisor, for sources and tactics for searching Web sites, and Marydee Ojala for discussion and focused intelligence on tweaking both traditional and Web-based interfaces.
“An Industry Research Strategy: Association Web Sites,” David Noack, Online User, Jan/Feb 1997, pp. 34-39.
“Benchmarking the Information Technology Analysts: Net Gain or Net Pain?,” Carol Beckman, Robert Schwarzwalder, Charles Myers, Online, Nov/Dec 1998, pp. 34-36 [excellent discussion of the “who’s who” amongst the information technology market research firms]. See also: “Analyzing the Analysts,” Bob Violino and Rich Levin, Information Week, November 17, 1997, pp. 38-68; “Gurus Hire,” Amy Malloy, Computerworld, October 20, 1997, pp. 90.
“Creating Your Own Market Research Report,” Marydee Ojala, Online User, March/April 1997, pp. 20-24 [discusses approaches for conducting primary research using secondary research; contains lots of great tips for effectively tweaking online databases to extract desired information].
“Directories for Locating Market Research Reports,” The Information Advisor, June 1999, pp. 6-8 [includes excellent annotated list of recommended URLs for directories of market research firms and indexes of reports; identifies the key features of each site with good hints about why you might want to use it, what you can expect to find, and what’s lacking].
“Find Market Research Report Data for Less,” The Information Advisor, April 1997, pp. 1-5 [includes a nice discussion of recommended traditional online databases and strategies for targeted keywords to use to hone in on market research data].
Finding Market Research on the Web, ed. Robert Berkman, Kalorama Information, LLC, rev. 9/99 [complete Table of Contents available on the Kalorama Web site, [http://www.marketresearch.com/tools_how_to_toc.htm] include URLs of all the discussed sites].
“Finding Market Share Data Online,” Michelle Bing, Online User, March/April 1997, pp.26-31.
“Freedonia Reaches Out to End Users,” Michelle Bing, Database, Feb/Mar 1998, pp. 38-40.
“Fulltext Market Reports on the Web,” The Information Advisor, February 1996, pp. 3-4.
“Industry Overviews: Turning Question Marks into Answers,” Marydee Ojala, Online User, July/August 1996, pp. 14-19.
“Inside Two Top Sites for Market Research,” The Information Advisor, February 1996, p. 8.
“International Market Research Mall,” Online, Nov/Dec. 1999, pp. 23+.
“Market Research Firm Sites on the Web,” The Information Advisor, February 1996, p. 5.
“Market Research on the Net,” The Information Advisor, February 1996, pp. 1-2.
“Market Research: The World Wide Web Meets the Online Services,” Michelle Bing, Database, August 1996 [although one of the older articles, it presents a solid overview of options for gleaning market research intelligence and recommends URLs for top-rated sites, many of which are still alive].
“Out-of-the-Way Sources for Market Research on the Web,” David Curle, Online, Jan/Feb 1998, pp. 63-68 [nice primer for those new to gathering market research intelligence and a friendly reminder for those who have developed bad habits and need to return to the basics].
“Profound: M.A.I.D. for the End User,” Susan M. Klopper, Jul/Aug 1996, Online, pp. 42-48.
“Profound for the
Internet: M.A.I.D. to Order for Professional Searchers and End Users,”
Susan M. Klopper, Jul/Aug 1997, Online, pp. 59-60.
“Shopping the Mall for Market Research,” Marydee Ojala, Online, Sep/Oct 1998, pp. 77-80 [nice discussion of the similarities and differences in market research firm coverage and variations in search and display options available in larger aggregators of market research content].
“Top Sources for Market Research Reports,” Marydee Ojala, Online User, March/April 1997, pp. 15-19 [excellent primer about the nature of market research, what kinds of information you can expect to find, and the facts and pluses/minuses of the traditional platforms (Dialog, LEXIS-NEXIS, Dow Jones, Profound].
“Using Search Engines
to Conduct Market Research,” The Information Advisor, September
1999, pp. 1-2 [tips and tricks for strategies for extracting market research
hits from the major search engines].
Susan M. Klopper is Director of the Andersen Business Research Center at Arthur Andersen. Her e-mail address is email@example.com