Secondary desk research

The international dimension of secondary desk research does not necessarily have to create insurmountable problems for the researcher. The problems of sourcing secondary data on international markets should be no greater than for the home market, and these are discussed in Section 4.2.1. Nevertheless, some additional factors need to be recognized.

■ Cost: Where a charge is made, the research will tend to be more expensive. This reflects the additional costs of collating data from international sources.

■ Language: Material prepared for an English language audience will generally be prepared in English. In international research, there may be problems with mistranslation, especially of technical terms.

■ Comparability: Any secondary data on international markets needs to be assessed for its relevance and comparability. It is necessary to ensure that the data being used is precisely relevant to the area of interest. Problems with secondary data include different definitions of markets and the environmental factors that affect them. For example, definitions of educational attainment and what constitutes the urban population of a country will inevitably vary.

Market definitions also vary from country to country. In some south-east Asian markets, for example, candied fruits are included within the sugar confectionery market. Many of the differences in definitions reflect key market variables, and awareness of these variables is crucial to success in international markets.

It is often tempting to force data into our preconceptions of how markets should be structured and this can be important if adopting a standard approach to international marketing. Often, however, it is crucial to appreciate differences. For example, in the south-east Asian confectionery market, medicated sweets are popular because of their strong flavours rather than for cold relief.

Even simple measures that might appear straightforward to compare meaningfully need careful thought.

For example, measures of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita are useful only to a degree. Measures of disposable income that take into account tax regimes, etc., may be harder to obtain, but more useful. Per capita GDP measures do not reflect the distribution of wealth within a country. Brunei, for example, has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, but this is unevenly distributed and does not affect general levels of spending power.

■ Grey areas: Certain sectors may not be included in the data. For example, in the food market the data may exclude the catering sector. In certain markets the informal trade from street markets may be important and this may not be included in official statistics. In other countries there may be a substantial black market operating, for example that operating currently in dutiable goods between France and the UK. If in any doubt the precise definition should be checked with the publisher of the information.

■ Timeliness: Data on certain international markets will be out of date, especially in fast-moving markets such as the newly industrialized countries of south-east Asia and in fast-moving sectors such as computer hardware and software. In certain developing countries the statistical data from which much secondary data will be drawn is subject to lags of three to five years.

■ Sophistication: In certain countries the level of data gathered and disseminated by governments will be very general, perhaps only comprising a four-figure customs classification code. This, for example, will look only generally at sweet biscuits as opposed to chocolate biscuits in particular (see Figure 15.1).


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Figure 15.1: The customs classification relating to biscuits. Some countries' data will only give data under the four figure code

The way to deal with these problems is as for domestic research. Where possible, the researcher should cross-check data from a number of different sources. In any case, a degree of healthy scepticism is needed in dealing with all secondary data. Above all, one should keep fully informed about the market of interest, both at home and abroad, by keeping up to date with current affairs through relevant journals and conferences, and by developing a network of relevant business contacts.

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