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Conducting Discovery: Desk Research

The goal of Marketing Discovery | Desk Research is to strengthen your understanding of the real problem to be solved, the audiences you are solving for, what they care about, and what moves them to action.

This work consists of collecting information and data from internal and external sources (including academia, trusted news publishers, and government), analyzing the content, and identifying insights about your audience, their journey, their behaviors and preferences, as well as barriers and conduits to their success.

You’ll produce a research tracker to keep track of the data collected, and a research synthesis that documents your findings.

Findings from this phase will help inform further qualitative research in the next phase, as insights can be further unpacked and validated during audience interviews.

Why it matters

Desk research helps you create the foundation of your knowledge base and gives you insight into problems, opportunities, and hypotheses to test. It will be used to help frame more time-intensive qualitative interview research, and help you learn from others that have tried to solve your problem (or an aspect of it) already.

How it works

Conduct a literature review of all relevant research from government, academia, journals, and trusted news sources, as well as user data.

Mine the research to help better understand your audience’s:

  • Demographics - where do they live, how much do they earn, who is in their family, how educated are they, do they work, etc.
  • Journey - what was their path to where they are now, what are the differences between those in your audience who are successful and those who struggle?
  • Barriers - what gets in the way of your audience’s progress, how do the barriers get there, and how can they be removed?
  • Information/trusted sources - who does your audience rely on for information and advice?

Findings are compiled into a research synthesis document that highlights key takeaways about the audience’s demographics, the problems they face, and their journey. The findings should be enhanced with qualitative research interviews, and ultimately used to develop a strategic approach that reaches and activates your target audience based on what you have learned about them, their goals, and their needs.

How long it takes

Typically 1-2 weeks to scan, analyze, and synthesize relevant data and research.

Do it in a day

Time-box a quick “market scan” to what can get done in a day. Do an online search for news articles and published reports, and use Google Scholar or similar tools to review academic publications. You can focus your efforts further by looking at just one source (e.g., just news articles or just US Census data). Even one insight or unexpected framing of existing data can plant the seeds for improved communication.


  • Research synthesis
  • Insight template

Pro Tip

There are a lot of great research and data resources that can be tapped into for desk research that are free to use. A few of our favorite resources include:

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