Getting Data for Free: Unleashing the Power of Secondary Market Research

When you start talking about market research, many marketers suddenly have an urgent appointment across town that they have to leave for.

While we love data and insights into customer behavior and demographics, most marketers find the process of conducting traditional market research severely daunting.

Fortunately for those of us not professionally trained in the art and science of research, there’s the busy (and budget-conscious) version known as “secondary market research.” This method involves accessing pre-existing research to mine nuggets of knowledge without running a full study yourself.

Here’s how secondary market research works, and the best places to find the most useful data.

3 Types of Secondary Market Research

The upside of using this kind of market research is that it’s readily available. The downside is that you often have to wade through unhelpful sites and perform an absurdly high number of Google searches to find what you need.

To help you get started on this journey, here are the three most common sources of secondary market research.

Public Sources

Generally speaking public sources will originate in some sort of government department. The U.S. Government Printing Office makes quite a few publications available, as does the Census Bureau.

Through the Printing Office you can find state and metropolitan area data books, a statistical abstract of the United States, and a US Industry and Trade Outlook publication among many others.

We’ll go into more detail about particular publications in the next section.

There are a few downsides to this type of data: one is that the government isn’t exactly a rapidly moving vehicle. This means that you aren’t likely to find up-to-the-minute data on any particular topic.

Most research that you find through governmental resources will be at least eighteen months old, and possibly more. By the time they conduct the research, analyze their findings, and publish their report, most governmental data will be on its way towards becoming unhelpful to marketers looking to use it to drive upcoming campaigns.

Commercial Sources

To get data that’s disseminated in a more timely fashion than government funded research, you can investigate studies that are done by professional research firms. These will probably be more targeted and more recent, but they’re likely to be correspondingly more expensive too.

Many commercial sources of secondary market research will let you purchase a single study if that’s what you prefer, though most will give you discounts to pay for a monthly or annual subscription to all their research offering.

From a time saving standpoint commercial sources are still a win for marketers who are looking to shave weeks off their market research.

When it comes to budgetary constraints, however, commercial research may not turn out to be much cheaper than paying for a panel of respondents that are completely targeted to your demographic.

The deciding factor here is probably going to be frequency and specificity.

If you only want some basic data a few times a year, paying for single studies via secondary research from a commercial source will offer you superior return on investment. If, on the other hand, you need to regularly check in with your audience directly, conducting primary market research on your own will most likely give you a better ROI.

Educational Institutions

Studies conducted by educational institutions are an often overlooked source of secondary market research, even though there’s more research coming out of colleges and universities than practically any other segment of the business world.

These kinds of reports can also balance the pros and cons of governmental and commercial research by being more timely than government data and cheaper than commercial research.

One possible issue is that academic research is done for academic reasons, not business-driven reasons. That means that unless the study is run by the Business department you may not get the kinds of data that you’re looking for.

But if you want some insight into your audience’s behavior, psychology, or sociological motivations academia may be a great option for applicable, budget-friendly secondary market research.

Where to Find the Best Secondary Market Research Data

There’s no shortage of research out there. The trick is to find it without losing hours of your professional life. Here’s our collection of the secondary market research that seems most helpful to the widest variety of marketers.

Governmental Research Resources

  • Consumer Expenditure Survey: provides information on the buying habits of American consumers, including data on their expenditures, income, and family characteristics. The most recent data is for July 2013-June 2014. Free. Check it out here.
  • Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. Global megatrends for the next 20 years and how they will affect the United States. A great source of long-term strategy insights, it focuses on where the world will go socially, politically, technically and culturally. $55.00. Published in 2012, updated in 2015. See what’s inside.
  • Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2008-2018. From the Congressional Budget Office. Although published in 2008, it was updated in 2014. If you need some economic data this can be a good source; you can also purchase the updates separately. $14.00. See it here.
  • Economic Indicators, April 2015. A collection of metrics that impact the United States economy, updated every month. You can subscribe to get the update versions as they’re released. $5.00. See the April version here.
  • Exporters: The Wit and Wisdom of Small Businesspeople Who Sell Globally. Unlike some other government publications, this one is available as an electronic document at a reduced rate. It profiles 25 American business men and women who have created successful businesses in the global marketplace. $7.99 for the ebook. See the table of contents.
  • US Census Bureau. If you need information on demographics, this is the place to go.
  • American Time Use Survey. Conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this report offers insight into how Americans spend their time. Free to view here.

Commercial Sources of Market Research

Marketing Science Institute (MSI) is a nonprofit, membership-based organization that tries to bridge the gap between marketing theory and business practice. You can register with their site to get access to some of their reports, all of which are well worth an email submission. You can also pay for them on a case-by-case basis if they aren’t part of the public access, or drop $200 for an annual subscription.

Some current studies that are of particular interest to marketers:

  • Consumer Search Behavior on the Mobile Internet: An Empirical Analysis. One fascinating tidbit: “75% of all smartphone users cancelled a purchase in a store shortly before check-out in order to buy the product somewhere else.” Full study: $18.00.
  • The Effect of Content Characteristics on Consumer Engagement with Branded Social Media Content on Facebook. In this research, which uses 4,284 branded Facebook posts over an 18-month period, these authors investigate how content decisions “influence measurable consumer engagement outcomes (e.g. how many “likes” or “shares” posts are received or how many website traffic referrals are made).” Full study: $18.00
  • Television Advertising and Online Word-of-Mouth: An Empirical Investigation of Social TV Activity. The authors explore “how primetime television advertising contributes to online WOM about the brand featured in the advertisement and the television program in which the advertisement airs.” Full study: $18.00
  • How Free Digital Products Grow. Over 90% of the apps downloaded in 2013 were free, which “raises the question of whether our knowledge of the dynamics of conventional product markets can be applied to these new phenomena.”

The American Marketing Association often compiles and publishes original research, which you can access in their Resources section. Some are actual research reports, while others are short articles that originally appeared in their newsletters, so you may have to do some digging to find real stats.

Some current reports that you may find helpful:

  • Small Business and Social Media Presence. Investigates changes in small business investment in social media from 2014-2015. Free to download, includes infographic.
  • Webinar Benchmarks Report – 2015 Edition. Provides metrics on webinar registration and attendance, best times and days to deliver webinars, the average size of audiences and length of viewing times, and habits of viewers for on-demand webinars. Free to download.
  • Generation X: The Small But Mighty Generation. Few marketers seem to be focusing on this highly influential generation, but they should! Offers details about products and services Gen Xers use, as well as their values. Free to download.

Education Sources of Secondary Market Research

If there is a group of people more prolific than content marketers, it’s probably academics. As a result, there’s a constant onslaught of articles in dozens of academic journals that could be applicable to any number of marketing fields or topics.

Your best bet for finding relevant secondary market research through these channels is to have at least a vague idea of what sort of information you’re interested in. To effectively search, you should narrow the field down to ideas about a product, demographic, strategy, etc. so that you can create a search system to find what you really need.

Sciencedirect.com has a substantial database of journals, and they allow you to filter by topic, author, journal or book title, and date so you can get only the most recent research.

You can also filter to see only research that’s part of the Open Access network, meaning you can download it for free without a subscription to the journal in which it was originally published. If you find secondary research that’s not open, you can pay for individual pieces of content.

Take Advantage of Existing Secondary Market Research

Don’t leave all these great resources to whither on the vine! Set aside an afternoon, dive into a few, and see what golden marketing nuggets you emerge with.

Or, if you have a particularly difficult marketing strategy conundrum that’s keeping you up at night, see if someone else has done the legwork to get you closer to finding an answer. From government to commercial to academic sources, it’s likely that there’s data out there that can help.

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Andrea Fryrear
About the Author:

Andrea Fryrear

Andrea loves to dissect marketing buzzwords and fads looking for the pearls of wisdom at their cores. Her favorite topic is agile marketing, which she believes holds the key to a more fulfilling (and less stressful) marketing career for individuals and a more powerful marketing department for business. When not scrutinizing the latest agile methodologies, Andrea can be found on the volleyball court, at the park with her two delightful kids, or baking “calorie-free” cookies. Connect with her on Twitter @AndreaFryrear, or on LinkedIn.




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  • Great resource – thanks!

  • Afryrear

    So glad you found it helpful! We look forward to seeing around MarketerGizmo more :)