This is not a confusing note about school grades but it is a serious note about doing research. If you have attended our Marketing Research Futures seminar then you will know that I am passionate about the need for any organization to spend time and money on quality research at all stages of your business. After all, marketing is primarily about “knowing what it is that people want, need, fear and how your product or service can help fulfill that need.” And as explained in previous columns if you think you “know” what people want then you are a bit in the dark. Never use your own experience or your friends and family as a stand-in for understanding what real people feel.

Primary Research

Qualitative, quantitative, semiotic, ethnographic, automated research all can play a key part in all stages of your business. They are all generally called “primary research” – research undertaken as an original or primary investigation or substantiation or tracking of what is happening that you commission. My problem is that before you do that primary research you really need to be spending a lot more time on what is, in my opinion, referred to as secondary research. The use of secondary ( as in developed, written, published by others ) research should always be your first priority.

Now I don’t mean doing a Google search. I am guessing that many of you, like me, when confronted with some new subject has the first reaction to Google, Yahoo, Bing it. Fair enough. Except, that is a very “poor man’s” effort. As you surely know the big search engines only cover a part of what we know and also report it by popularity rather than quality. And of course, being universally lazy we all tend to only look at the first 3, maybe 4 pages of results of findings on the big search engines.

When I first entered the world of marketing I had already spent a decade as a trained librarian. I was used to helping people seek out a detailed list of bibliographies by looking thoroughly through library catalogs, specialist journal compilation indices and detailed specialist databases. So imagine my shock when I discovered most clients and most colleagues did almost no background investigation and reading with existing documents before commissioning “research”. Even more so I was amazed at the monetary waste of clients who fail to search their own records and in house document files before starting some new focus groups or ordering a survey. There is no excuse but laziness.

Too often I have seen clients who have no idea of the back data and research in their own files. Once for an office of Coca-Cola I had to point out that they were commissioning a new survey on exactly the same topic that different divisions of their company had also undertaken three times in the last five years. They simply had not kept a good record and a process of insisting that brand managers know about existing primary research before starting anything new.

The Three Key Types of “Secondary” Research

There are, I recommend three key types of “secondary” research that any company should insist all marketing staff are constantly updating themselves with, investigating and using in-depth before undertaking any new research :

1. Internal records

All that information that has come before. Because all too often they will have more inspiration, learning and new ideas embedded in them than new research can find

2. External Databases

There are many great sources of research, experience, learning and potential learning by simply doing some proper investigation. Never ever start a new project before looking at standards like the WARC database, the ESOMAR Research World database, a proper academic search of key marketing journals through your local university library ( note most of this material is not easily available on Google ).

3. Search Engines Searched by Experts

You might be one but if you think just typing your subject into a search engine will help, you are sadly mistaken. You can also use the new wave of machine learning / AI-driven platforms that will search, read, analyze all content across the internet. Do not list what is popular but do a full analysis of what is really happening and matters. Ask me about the SignificanceSystems platform I use.

Good research is not about finding instant answers. It is about understanding what really matters and to do that you will find there are an awful lot of sources you need to study before maybe wasting time and money on a new survey.

This article was originally published by ICE Business Times