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Understanding your audience: Four tips for desk research

Edgar Allan | Blog | Four Tips for Desk Research

Pre-reading, if you’re game:

What is desk research?

Desk research is basically just any research you’d do sitting alone at a computer and looking things up. The internet is full of great information about pretty much any audience you might be researching…you just have to know where to look.

Here’s four tips for conducting desk research that we use at Edgar Allan to chase down the authentic thoughts, feelings and feedback of real people.  

1) Lean on your brand’s competitors

Go take a look at your brand’s competitors’ online reviews, and even their websites. Reading what people have said – good and bad – about these similar companies can help you take the pulse of the marketplace overall. Look for patterns. What are the themes that reveal themselves when people praise a product or brand? What kind of language do they use? What about complaints? Where are the commonalities What’s interesting?  

On a competitor’s website you can also kind of backwards-engineer messaging into what the brand at least thinks their audiences need.You can also make note of what audience needs from your other research are not being addressed. Is there opportunity for your brand? 

2) Go where the people are

Become a (benign) creeper. Community groups, Q&A sites like reddit and quora, facebook groups and other social communities are great places to get a peek at what audiences love, need, want and hate in an unfiltered, organic way. Just find the right party for your brand or industry and hang out and listen. Take note of the topics that come up regularly. The frustrations expressed in the threads.The questions asked. The success stories. Also, be sure to take a look at the emotional and descriptive words audiences use to describe interactions with your brand. Take good notes and enjoy the authentic voice of your customers.

3) Don’t go down rabbit holes 

A good chunk of time dedicated to cruising around on the internet is pretty enticing…and can send you a bunch of places you didn’t expect to go. Don’t get sucked in. There will be many avenues to follow, don’t get pulled off course and away from your goals. Oh, and about goals: desk research also benefits from the “three or so big goals” advice from our notes on interviewing. Jot down a few things you must accomplish with this research at the top of your notes page and glance there every so often to stay on track.

4) Know when to quit

Desk research can be this endless thing. There are so many potential avenues to wander down and so much to know. But typically you have a goal you need to achieve at some point, so knowing when you’ve collected enough information is important. It’s an art and a science. Your boundaries are often going to be defined by time or project scope, but you should also cultivate a feel for when to say “when.”

Personally, I find in any research project that there’s an inflection point in interviewing where I'll start hearing the same things over and over again. At that point, you might consider calling it, at least for chasing that particular theme. Just keep your goals in mind. At the point that you aren’t hearing new themes and the same things are coming up over and over, you can probably close the laptop and start applying that good, good research. 


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