Using published reports

Many organisations provide published reports on markets, particularly in technology markets and pharmaceutical markets. Here we add some of our comments on what to look for from published reports and perhaps when to buy and when not to.

Types of reports

The types of report you have available to you will depend on the topic area and vary in quality and content. Grade one reports include government and quasi-governmental publications such as those from the UN or WHO. These are normally produced to high quality with detailed description of methodology and detailed findings and have been rigorously reviewed. Some may even have data in electronic format for your own manipulation and several years of data. Academic papers are also now likely to have data available or available on request.

Commercial published market reports on the other hand are often the next step down. The report are typically produced in one of two ways. Either the analysis house decides take a risk and research a market itself with a view to selling the end report, or they look to bring sponsors on board before starting the research.

Those reports that analysts produce and sell themselves are typically broad in nature and giving a topline view of a market or area including factors like the estimated size of the market and the shares of key players. This may be sufficient to fulfill general information needs (for instance in preparing a business plan for a financial investor) and can give a good basic background to the numbers around the sector.

An alternative are reports that are sponsored or syndicated studies which will have had some input from sponsors. If you have the opportunity to become a sponsor, this means you have some influence in the design of the study. But sponsorship comes at a price and it may be more effective to conduct your own bespoke research. Syndicated research like this has become less common with the wide availability of online research surveys.

For start-ups looking for information, because the reports are for sale, it is likely that there is a synopsis or press release that will contain the main highlights from the report. Sometimes this is all you want to know. However some care is needed over copyright, and you may not have permission to use figures in your presentations.

Also look at the table of contents and length of the report to gauge how much of the content will be useful to you. In some instances only one chapter or section might be of interest and this may mitigate against the total cost. However, some analysis houses will sell you just the chapter for a reduced fee.

Data collection

The key to the quality of the information in the report is the way in which the data was collected. There are three general approaches - a piece of primary consumer research is the approach taken for consumer markets by companies like Mintel or Euromonitor. These are then usually supplemented with information about key suppliers, possibly with quotes from the suppliers involved. It's important to look at sample size and range - a pan-European study may be good enough across the continent, but not have enough data for individual country analysis

The second approach are vendor studies where a range of companies operating in the market are interviewed or supply data. These are more common in business to business markets like IT or telecoms and are used to ascertain market size, share and forecast growth. However, vendors benefit if they overstate sales and growth projections, consequently some care is needed when looking at the figures. Even when these vendor studies work well, they tend to focus on current sales, rather than the installed base (or parc). If you are selling software for use on existing machines, the installed base figure is normally of more use, yet less widely available.

A third approach to reports is an 'experts' report where views are collected from selected opinion leaders. Often the opinion leaders come from specific companies and have an interest in sharing their company's view. However, the experts can provide valuable insights into the practicalities of working within a particular market based on real experience.

Alternatives to full reports

Buying the full report may prove too expensive. However, many of the larger analyst houses (eg Gartner and IDC) produce subscription based newsletters that prove headline information from their reports on a month-by-month basis. This can be more useful than buying a one-off report as you can get a sense of the trends in the marketplace.

Most companies also provide a range of additional ways of getting to the data, including long term subscriptions (which is of most use where several reports will be of use over time), or by providing library access time, where reported can be read by not removed from the analysts offices.

For some areas published reports may not be available or may be too general for your needs. This is where you start to need bespoke surveys either quantitative or qualitative. For some markets ringing around 30-40 potential purchasers can provide reasonable initial indications of market demand. See our section on the basic of survey research or contact us directly for professional help.

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