Introduction

Audience: This short research guide was created for students in BUS 478 (and other courses) who sometimes get assignments about analysing the strategic positions of companies.

Goal: My main focus with this guide is to lead you to a few key databases that are highly likely to be useful for your assignments, as well as to help you understand what types of information might and might not be published. 

There are, of course, many other databases, and no single resource is perfect. I've provided links to other relevant guides, each full of additional sources you could try. Explore further if the first sources don't have what you need!

News

  Businesses and their environment are constantly changing, and any strategic perspective on a company is, by definition, looking forward into a world that is largely unknown.

Many of the sources on this page look backward at what a company has already done. To analyse a firm's strategic position and recommend adjustments, you must also check news sources for a sense of what is changing today and in the near future.

 

Screen capture of the title slide of video: Actions vs Words: Understanding a Company's Strategies Using News Sources.
Start with Factiva to search in thousands of news publications at once, including many business-focused ones such as the Wall Street Journal and Chain Store Age.

Watch this short video to learn more about the role that news articles play in researching company strategies. Note that the video includes some useful Factiva search tips – be sure to watch all the way to the end!

This blog post also mentions one of the main Factiva search tips: the use of pre-developed "Factiva Expert Searches" to find news about strategic and competitive intelligence topics such as M&A activity and product announcements. Also watch this "3-Minute Tip" video about Factiva to learn about its value as a research tool.

And for still more on the value of news as a powerful business information source (plus to learn about additional news sources), check out this blog post.

Company information

  The companies you select for your final project will all be publicly traded firms, which makes it much easier to find at least some published information about them.

Nevertheless, you will inevitably encounter cases where the information you want (e.g., sales of a specific brand from a company with thousands of products) is not available. Remember that you can often make inferences and estimates based on information about the industry, key competitors, and market & consumer trends.

Not everything you hope to find will be stated explicitly!

Start with the website of your target company. Be sure to look for parts of their site dedicated to investors, prospective employees, and suppliers. Remember, though, that their site will likely only provide information that they either have to release because of regulatory requirements (especially financial data) or that they want to release because it serves their purposes.  

 Then check S&P Capital IQ to find financial data, lists of subsidiaries and products, M&A activity, strategic alliances, and much more about both companies and industries. Some of the same information will also be at your target company's site, but S&P extracts such information from many sources, then makes it easy to find and analyse. This screen capture will give you a better sense of the range of information available in "CapIQ."

Start by watching this "3-Minute Tip" on S&P Capital IQ at SFU, then get into more detail with these videos and browse the guides and tips in S&P's Academic Resource Center  to learn more about the database.

For additional sources with company financials and profiles, see my Company Information research guide.

Industry overviews

  Understanding the industrial context of a company – the major competitors, demand drivers, barriers to entry, degree of consolidation, etc. – is important if you want to understand and affect the position of a company within that industry. 

  Start with IBISWorld Industry Reports for reports on a broad range of industries in Canada, the USA, and China. For example: Commercial Banking in the US.

Be sure to also explore the Canada and US Business Environment Profiles in IBISWorld. These profiles provide insight into the key drivers that have a material affect on the performance of many industries. Topics covered range from exchange rates to crime rates, and in many cases the profiles cover both analysis & forecasts of those business environment factors.

Read this blog post for more on IBISWorld via the SFU Library, and, of course, there's also a "3-Minute Tip" video to introduce you to help you get started quickly with IBISWorld!

For additional sources of this sort, see my research guide to Industry Surveys.

Market analysis & data

  Detailed information on the sales of specific products is very valuable to companies. As a result, it's often either not published, or only available for a high price. 
 
Fortunately, some market research firms sell their data and analysis to academic institutions at a discounted price (see below), but you should still expect to have to work with broader or related information in many cases: even the best marketing databases don't cover every topic.

  Start with Passport for information on the markets of FMCGs (fast moving consumer goods) & consumer services in many countries. 

Passport includes data on market sizes, brand shares, distribution methods, and much more. Also search for reports (analysis) on key consumer trends and on company strategies.

  Check Frost & Sullivan for analysis of the markets for emerging technologies. See this blog post and this "3-Minute Tip" video for more on F&S. 

For more market data/analysis sources, try my Market Research and International Market Research guides.

Miscellaneous 

  No database will cover everything, which means that there are always going to be gaps.

In most such cases, you will need to gather related information on the industry, competitors, trends, etc., then use that information as the foundation for assumptions and estimates. Sometimes, though, even closely related information can be difficult to find.

If you are having trouble filling some of your information gaps, try the database below...

  Statista: A portal that integrates statistics from thousands of sources.

You can think of Statista as sort of a Google search engine focused on useful statistics, but without the many irrelevant hits and ads!

And, like Google, it can be great at unearthing odd stats that you can't find elsewhere. For instance, if you were searching for the population of fish (as pets) in Canada, the closest our Passport database would offer is an estimate of the number of "Other" (non-cat & non-dog) pets, but Statista finds more specific data and displays it in a pre-formatted chart. 

Always follow Statista's links through to the original sources in case they offer additional useful information. For example, the Statista chart I just mentioned on the number of fish kept as pets in Canada came from this report by Euromonitor (the publishers of our Passport database) done for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. 

Statista can also often help you quantify trends (e.g., fintech) or gather deep data on company-specific sales (e.g., Under Armour) or on product types (e.g., sportswear).

Want to learn more about Statista? Here are the many blog posts in which I've mentioned it, plus yet another "3-Minute Tip" video to help you get up to speed quickly.

Help

You are not alone! Here's a 5-step process to follow if you get stuck.
  1. Re-read your assignment to be sure you understand your instructor's expectations.
  2. Refresh your understanding of this sort of secondary research by watching this short video: Secondary Research for Business Decisions: Foundations for Estimates 
  3. Check for Help functions in each database. 
  4. Use our AskAway chat reference service to ask a librarian questions about research resources and strategies.
  5. Email me with details on what you are hoping to find and where you've been searching, and I'll try to suggest alternative ways to approach the problem. Note that this approach may involve a meeting (online), so may take a few days to arrange. Be sure to try the steps above first.

Final tip! 

Throughout this guide I've mentioned that not all information is publicly available, and that you will often need to make assumptions, estimates, and inferences.  These are not the same as random guesses or uninformed opinions!  You still need to gather the best information you can and use that as a foundation for any analysis and recommendations.

Remember what you learned about the 3 Rs in BUS 360W: using imperfect information in a business decision requires a careful evaluation of the gap between what you found and what you want, and you have to be ready to justify using each piece of imperfect information. These three short videos will provide a good recap of the role of the 3 Rs play in business decisions: 

Evaluating Information for Business Decisions: 

I hope these tips help.  Good luck with your research!

-- Mark

P.S.: This type of research in which you need to piece together bits of information from many sources, often in combination with well-founded estimates, inferences, and assumptions, is not easy, but it's also incredibly realistic. You will almost certainly need to do this sort of thing outside of university. Take this opportunity to practice and learn the skills involved, including critical thinking techniques.  
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Mark Bodnar
Business & Economics Librarian
mbodnar@sfu.ca