There are two different types of market research when it comes to information origin: there is primary research, and secondary research. In this post we'll see what they are, their benefits, their drawbacks, as well as when to use primary market research vs. secondary market research and why.
Let’s start with the primary research definition.
What is primary research?
What is primary research?
Primary research (sometimes also referred to as field research) consists of generating new information directly from sources. When it comes to market research for marketing or product development purposes, these sources could include for example potential target customers, or other people relevant for the purchase decision.
Primary research data is generated intentionally for the purpose at hand; the data wasn't available before you collected it, and that's primary research’s defining characteristic.
Examples of primary data collection methods could be interviews, surveys, focus groups, advisory boards, mock negotiations, etc., although if you're conducting primary market research by yourself, probably the most realistic tools to use are interviews and surveys, given their simplicity to put together (and lower cost, of course).
What is secondary research?
Evidently, if you’re going to do market research, you can use information that already exists. When our research is based on information that already exists, we call it secondary research (usually also referred to as “desk research”).
What we would do in the case of secondary market research, is look around (usually on the internet) for information that’s already available, and which we can use to gain a better understanding of our market.
Usually we wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, so it really can be done from the comfort of our desk. All the information already exists out there; we’re just gathering and analyzing it. We’re not generating new data.
What is secondary research? Secondary research (sometimes also referred to as desk research) consists of gathering and analyzing already existing information, that wasn't generated with the research's purposes in mind.
Note that secondary research data sources can usually be found both internally and externally (relative to your business).
Typical sources of secondary data include:
There are a lot of great secondary data sources out there that we can use to get a better understanding of our market before we even think about generating our own data through primary research.
And then, let's not forget internal secondary data sources, such as:
This is all valuable secondary data too; there are more secondary data collection methods besides looking for data online; don't forget to take advantage of what you already have available internally!
But what makes this internal data secondary and not primary, since we're generating it ourselves? Well, as mentioned before, the defining characteristic to distinguish between the two types of research, is whether the data already existed, or had to be generated to fulfil our research purposes.
And what are primary and secondary research advantages and disadvantages?
Primary research advantages and disadvantages
Most of primary research methods' advantages and disadvantages are probably easy to spot, right?
Primary research advantages:
But primary research disadvantages are unfortunately a bit of a pain:
But let's now take a look at secondary research advantages and disadvantages.
Secondary research advantages and disadvantages
On the secondary market research advantages side:
However, secondary research disadvantages can’t be overlooked.
After we see all the data we were able to gather about our market, other products and services in it, and what customers are saying about those products, we may believe that we have so much information that we have figured out what people would want our product or service to be like. After all, we now know so much!
However, unless we confirm our understanding by getting proper feedback, what we have are hypotheses. That’s it. Hypotheses. They may be right, they may be wrong, but until we test them, they are nothing but hypotheses that we should confirm before acting on them (especially if acting entails a big investment).
That said, when should we use each type of research?
When to use primary research, and when to use secondary research?
Personally, I see them as sequential steps in market research.
Secondary market research is a first step, that we use to build the bases of our knowledge about the market, identify knowledge gaps, and generate hypotheses to later test in primary research.
And then, primary research can be used to fill in the knowledge gaps we identified, confirm our understanding regarding what we have learned though secondary research, and confirm or disprove the hypotheses we generated based our preliminary understanding developed using the secondary data.
So, when I talk about market research broadly, I’m usually referring to primary research. That is, talking to potential customers or other purchasing process stakeholders to get their insights about the market and their opinion regarding an envisioned product.
I consider secondary market research so fundamental, that I usually just consider it a part of the preparation for primary research. I just assume it is done in any case. Even if you don’t do primary research (which I wouldn’t really recommend).
Without a good preparation in terms of desk research, the information we can get from surveys or direct conversations with people, even if helpful, probably won’t even be anywhere near as good as it can be if we prepare.
And that’s it for today! Next time we’ll dig a bit deeper into primary research, and take a look at qualitative vs. quantitative market research. See you in the next one!