Sources of Marketing Research Data for Enterprise and Government Agencies

Market research can be conducted in person, using field observations, and using published data resources such as US Government sources, trade and industry sources, and general business sources, libraries, and small business centers. Finding high-quality published data to inform your market research is essential to ensure your field observations are not situational or highly subjective.

Market Research Sources

Here is a guide to some of the top sources of market research data:

U.S. Government Sources

The U.S. Department of Commerce has regional service offices that can provide you with pertinent information. The government also publishes reports on specific industries, markets, and products.

  • American Statistics Index (ASI) — This is the best source for locating government statistics and is published annually, with monthly supplements, by the Congressional Information Service of Bethesda, Md. The ASI provides an index to all the statistical publications of the U.S. government in one handy location. The ASI is particularly helpful, not only because it contains an index, but because of its second volume, ASI ABSTRACTS, briefly summarizes the actual reports listed in ASI. It contains documents from the U.S. Census Bureau, CURRENT INDUSTRIAL REPORTS (CIR), the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and special studies by governmental agencies. Many libraries provide ASI access through the LexisNexis Statistical service.
  • U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook, published annually by the Department of Commerce, provides a general economic outlook by forecasting growth rates for the coming year and reporting on production in the past year. It can be a useful reference for anticipating trends in your industry.
  • The U.S. Census Bureau publishes more than 100 Current Industrial Reports on 5,000 manufactured products, accounting for 40 percent of all goods manufactured in the United States. CIRs provide information on production, shipping, inventories, consumption, and the number of firms manufacturing each product.
  • The Economic Census reports, published every five years by the U.S. Census Bureau, cover a variety of industries, such as retail trade, service, transportation, and manufacturing. These publications report on monthly sales figures and trends, information on sales by geographic area, zip code and merchandise line. The Census Bureau publishes the Annual Survey of Manufactures in the years between Economic Censuses.

Most federal government publications can be examined at public and college libraries that serve as depositories, or ordered from the U.S. National Technical Information Service National Technical Information Service and Government Printing Office. To gain access to government statistics files, it is necessary to visit the Census Bureau website.

In addition to the agencies listed above, state and local agencies that are likely to have useful statistics can be found on the State and Local Government on the Net Web site.

Trade and Industry Sources

Many of the trade references can be found in the Small Business Sourcebook, published by Gale Research of Detroit, Mich. The book lists trade publications, industry associations, trade shows and conventions, and venture capital firms and consultants active in each business.

For bigger businesses or those not listed in the Small Business Sourcebook, Gale Research’s Encyclopedia of Business Information Book can be useful. Arranged by industry, this guide lists trade associations and major sources of statistical information, including databases, directories, and major publications in the field. Additionally, Gale’s Encyclopedia of Associations or the National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States, published by Columbia Books of Washington, D.C. can be helpful. These two resources offer information on more than 30,000 trade associations and also list the major publications of such associations.

Sales and Marketing Management magazine publishes a yearly “Survey of Buying Power,” containing information on every county in the United States and cities with a population more than 10,000. This information includes:

  • Total population, number of households: The most important for many businesses because products are bought to serve a household.
  • Median cash income per household: How affluent a city or county is compared to its neighbors.
  • Population percentage breakdown by income: Income levels are broken down into several categories, and for each amount, it shows what percentages of households earn that much.

Competitors: You can request information directly from competitors.

Business Publications:  Local and national publications, newsletters and pamphlets exist for every industry imaginable.

General Business Sources

Media Representatives: This includes advertising space, salespeople representing magazines, newspapers, radio stations and television stations. Many of their companies have extensive research departments, and the information is free. Media Kits should be obtained from any potential sources.

The following publications discussed in this section are available at most public and college libraries that have business resources. Asking a librarian to help find them is necessary, as many are online.

Statistics Sources

  • Standard & Poor’s Industry Surveys: While designed for investors, these surveys can be a source of insight about your overall industry and major competitors. The “Basic Analysis” section gives overviews of trends and issues in the industry. The remaining sections define some basic industry terms, report the latest revenues and earnings of more than 1,000 companies, and occasionally list major reference books and trade associations. When using S&P Industry Surveys, look for the broad industry category under which your business falls to obtain the most complete data.
  • American Marketplace: Demographics and Spending Patterns. New Strategist Publications produce these listings of characteristics of U.S. Consumers.
  • Sourcebook of County Demographics and Sourcebook of Zip Code Demographics: ESRI publishes these volumes that identify dozens of local potential-customer characteristics annually.
  • Demographics USA, City and County editions: Trade Dimensions International publishes these volumes that are similar in concept but have little overlap with the Sourcebooks from ESRI.
  • Financial ratios that can be used to compare your company’s performance with competitors’ performance are published in Almanac of Business and Industrial Financial Ratios by Leo Troy, the Dun & Bradstreet Industry Norms and Key Business Ratios, and RMA Annual Statement Studies.


Business Periodicals Abstracts from H.W. Wilson Co., ABI/Inform from UMI, Business Source Elite and Premier from EBSCOhost, and General Business File ASAP from Gale/Infotrac are indexes to articles in major business publications that your library may make available. Ask a librarian how to use the indexes from home or at work.

For non-governmental statistics, refer to the Statistical Reference Index (SRI), published by Congressional Information Service of Bethesda, Md. SRI index reports statistical studies from major organizations and trade associations. A second volume, SRI Abstracts, provides brief summaries of the information included in these reports.