Public data is a valuable resource for market and social researchers. For those who have limited budgets, public data may form the bulk of data available to them. On the other hand, even researchers who have commendable budgets eagerly wait for the newest set of public data to be released to understand the broader environment, the societal and cultural issues, that impact their industry.
Government statistics offer a bounty of free data collected using best in class, large sample methodologies. For instance, Statistics Canada offers population data about Canadians related to age, gender, income, education, household size, employment, and a variety of other basic demographic characteristics. Researchers who need to conduct research with samples that are representative of the general population regularly use StatsCan data to determine the distribution of various demographics within the general population so they can replicate those distributions within smaller samples that don’t necessarily use random sampling methods.
Government statistics may also provide industry data in areas such as retail, health, travel, agriculture, construction, labour, manufacturing, and so much more. For instance, Canada conducts frequent sales and retail studies that researchers can use to benchmark their own retail trade sales trends. Canada also conducts periodic health studies that researchers can use to benchmark their hospital patient satisfaction. These types of studies may not be conducted as frequently as you need them to be or within your region of interest, but a good researcher knows how to generalize from available data.
Statistics from social research associations are also highly useful. For instance, Pew research is an excellent resource for understanding the internet, technology, science, society, religion, and social and demographic trends in the USA. You might use Pew to help you identify that YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are the top social networks used by U.S. adults and therefore should be included in a questionnaire about media habits. Pew even shares their raw datasets which means you can sometimes cut the data in a way that better suits your particular needs. Although not all of the results will generalize to Canadians, Pew research is conducted with best in class rigour and as such is highly valid and reliable.
Google Trends is another excellent source of free data. If you require an indirect measure of awareness or affinity, Google Trends can be used to learn how major brands, companies, or famous people compare in terms of how people search online. You can quickly learn whether people search for Burger King or McDonald’s more, or how searches change over different time frames or in different countries. Unfortunately, Google Trends is only helpful for major brands that people regularly search for online. Data will not be available for local brands or SKU level data.
Though public data is highly beneficial for researchers, it is insufficient for brands with grand aspirations. Brands need detailed information about the emotions, thoughts, and behaviours of people who deliberately choose or don’t choose to buy their category or brand, information which can only be revealed through questionnaires, interviews, or focus groups. Do people love or simply like a brand? Do they buy it because it’s the best brand for them or because it’s the only brand their store carries? Does the packaging mislead or confuse them? Without SKU level data combined with the emotional aspects of the brand, brands can’t truly understand the consumer experience and the entire customer decision journey.
Government data is the perfect way to understand the broader society in which your brand exists. Data from social research organizations is a great way to provide further context within specific industries. But best of all, highly targeted consumer research allows you to hone in on specific details relevant to customers and consumers, your brands, and your competitors and create the most meaningful brand for your consumers. The full picture is revealed!