Getting ahead in business is all about identifying opportunities and executing on them. This, of course, is easier said than done. Desk research is a tool that will help you turn the motto from the first sentence into actual performance, by giving you the information and know-how you need to move forward.
What is desk research
Before we dive into the specifics of what desk research is about in business context, it might be useful to explain what desk research actually is. One good way would be to refer to a different name it goes by: secondary research. As the moniker implies, secondary research (as opposed to primary research) is all about gathering useful information from studies that have already been done by others. This means that, instead of starting from scratch, you interpret, collate, and analyze existing data sets.
Desk research is a well-established practice in business and scholarship, in part due to its potentially huge ROI. After all, it is much less resource-intensive to make use of things that are already out there, rather than build a team, design a methodology, and execute a major research project. Even if you want to do some brand-new primary research in the future, it seems obvious to review the existing information before you do so – it might save you a lot of money and effort. Either way, it makes sense to do some desk research whenever you want to gain some insights into any subject.
Main types of desk research
Desk research can be divided into two main types: internal and external. The types refer to whether the information analyzed is being sourced internally (from your organization) or externally (from somewhere else).
Internal research has a number of advantages, especially with regards to costs and resource consumption. This is because everything is done in-house – both the information and the researchers come from within your company. Another added benefit of this approach is that it essentially generates additional value from your work you have already done – any new knowledge gained this way is, indirectly, a result of the existing know-how developed by your business.
External research, while more expensive and resource-intensive, has the obvious benefit of covering a much broader scope of data: after all, no matter how advanced your organization is, most of the world’s information exists outside of it. This is where a sub-typology based on the source of information used comes in. The three main types of sources are online data, government data, and customer desk data. The first two need no explanation, besides perhaps the fact that some useful data may not be available online (such as print books or specialized journals), so it might make sense to visit a library or a book retailer for some more niche information. The last one – customer desk data – boils down to directly communicating with existing or prospective customers.
From theory to practice
The last few paragraphs might have given you the sense that desk research is a fairly rigid and structured approach that does not adapt well to individual businesses or sectors. This impression could not be farther from the truth. While the methodologies described above can serve as a starting point for your knowledge search, they are by no means an exhaustive list and should not be perceived as a set of limitations. Research – be it about the unused potential of your company, the weak spots of your competitors, or the pain points of your customers – can be conducted in any number of ways depending on your particular needs.
A wise man (John Donne, to be exact) once said that no man is an island. The same is true for companies. No business exists in a vacuum: all companies, big or small, operate in a competitive environment, where the technologies, best practices, and customer expectations can change in a matter of days. Another wise man (Francis Bacon this time) said that knowledge is power. Combine the wise words of the two, and the benefits of desk research will become immediately apparent: having as much knowledge as possible about your market, competitors, and customers can give you the power to succeed as a business.
Get started with desk research
We strongly believe in the power of research and knowledge. Whether your business is a brand new startup or an established enterprise, you can always gain something from research. Be it a new technology, an untapped market or a new design paradigm that will delight your existing customers – opportunities for growth are out there. But there is no way to take advantage of them if you do not go looking.
Are you looking to turn your company around, improve an existing process or launch a new product? Whatever the goal, desk research might be a great solution to create a strategy that will ensure your success.