Confession: I bloody love data. There’s always a hidden story in numbers, especially if you’re prepared to look past the obvious and search for those little hidden gems that need teasing out. I’m particularly fond of creating surveys and get a little frisson of excitement when the results are returned and ready to be analysed. Desk research can be equally fruitful though if you know where to look.
Here are some of the resources that I turn to if I need data for a story, press release, blog or campaign:
All organisations are sitting on a plethora of data that can be used for marketing campaigns. The issue is that many marketing departments use their data to inform future campaigns rather than as the campaign itself. For example, a car retailer may know that more white cars are sold in the home counties than anywhere else in the UK (*I hypothesise by way of example) and so they ensure their stock is distributed in a suitable manner across the forecourts of the nation. However, what if the fact that more white cars are sold in the home counties became the story itself?
Another issue is that not all organisations record their data in a way that makes it easy to draw conclusions or to create storylines. However, with some forethought, it’s often possible to add new fields into data catchment forms or call centres questionnaires. Data can also be segmented by gender, by age, by spend, by items purchased or areas of interest and quite often it’s these crossbreaks that prove really insightful.
No business needs to reveal confidential information so where sharing real data becomes an issue, a percentage increase or a top five list can circumnavigate the problem whilst still being useful to interested parties.
Sometimes a campaign needs to go beyond analysing behaviour (who purchased what and when) and analyse opinion or sentiment. It’s not always necessary to involve the services of a research agency – it’s entirely possible to ask a business’s customers for their opinion as long as you do it in a GDPR-friendly way. Setting up a short survey on a website or emailing it to customers can generate results fast, especially if it is incentivised.
Whatever the survey is about, it needs to stand up to scrutiny in terms of not asking leading questions and be a large enough sample to be statistically sound. No campaign is ever going to get off the ground if the data looks suspect.
The frequency of the data depends on the data type – the number of divorces tends to be recorded once a year for example but labour market statistics are more regular, often monthly. ONS figures tend to get a lot of coverage but it is usually possible to unearth other storylines if you’ve got time on your hands to do some digging around.
The release calendar can be really useful if you’re awaiting a particular dataset as it gives an idea about when it will be made public but note, this is a moveable feast and things do get pushed back.
You don’t always have to look forwards, sometimes analysing historical data for trends can be equally interesting and campaign-worthy. For example, a health and wellness company working on menopause support might be interested in the number of women in the workplace over the past few decades. Archived data is available here and Nomis (an ONS service) is particularly good if you are after older labour market data.
As well as completing research projects for clients, many research agencies undertake their own research for their own marketing purposes. Depending on the topic, these get used in the media with varying success but can be a good source of data.
YouGov, AMA research, IPSOS MORI, GfK (as well as many others) all undertake their own branded research and whilst you might not be able to access an entire report without paying hundreds, if not thousands of pounds, you can quite often find blog posts and press releases that contain the most salient points.
It should go without saying that any use of a third party’s data should be credited but in most cases, it also adds gravitas to a story or campaign as well.
Charities and trade associations
Charities and trade associations are often absolute treasure troves of data as they compile statistics relevant to their cause over many years.
It’s worth bearing in mind that whilst some of the more ‘corporate’ charities and trade associations have significant marketing budgets, the smaller ones don’t and so they are often prepared to work with other organisations if they can benefit. This means you might be able to access some data that might normally be off-limits if you’re prepared to quote them or involve them in your campaign.
I haven’t included Google Trends here as I wrote about how to squeeze more value out of the tool last month but this is another good source of data, as are keyword tools used for SEO and a company’s own search data. By using paid-for keyword tools or free options like Google Keyword Planner, it’s like having a global focus group at your fingertips – you can get a hell of a lot of interesting results without paying a penny. Every year, Google releases its own report on the top search terms used in the past 12 months (the next one is due in early December) but this could easily be replicated for different industries or sectors.
Marketing should always be data-driven but rather than rely on it to inform marketing decisions, why not try putting it front and centre instead?