Types of Research: Primary vs Secondary

Market research generally involves two different types of research: primary and secondary.
Primary research is research you conduct yourself (or hire someone to do for you.) It involves going directly to a source – usually customers and prospective customers in your target market – to ask questions and gather information. Examples of primary research are:
  • Interviews (telephone or face-to-face)
  • Surveys (online or mail)
  • Questionnaires (online or mail)
  • Focus groups
  • Visits to competitors' locations
When you conduct primary research, you’re typically gathering two basic kinds of information:
  1. Exploratory. This research is general and open-ended, and typically involves lengthy interviews with an individual or small group.
  2. Specific. This research is more precise, and is used to solve a problem identified in exploratory research. It involves more structured, formal interviews.
Primary research usually costs more and often takes longer to conduct than secondary research, but it gives conclusive results.
Secondary research is a type of research that has already been compiled, gathered, organized and published by others. It includes reports and studies by government agencies, trade associations or other businesses in your industry. For small businesses with limited budgets, most research is typically secondary, because it can be obtained faster and more affordably than primary research.
A lot of secondary research is available right on the Web, simply by entering key words and phrases for the type of information you’re looking for. You can also obtain secondary research by reading articles in magazines, trade journals and industry publications, by visiting a reference library, and by contacting industry associations or trade organizations. (Note: When you locate the research you want, check its publication date to be sure the data is fresh and not outdated.)
One excellent source of secondary research data is government agencies; this data is usually available free of charge. On the other hand, data published by private companies may require permission, and sometimes a fee, for you to access it.

Game Plan

Consider your research goals, and whether they can be met by secondary research, or require primary research. If you’re pursuing primary research, consider the amount you’re willing to spend, and the time it will take to prepare and conduct the research. For more detail on conducting primary and secondary research, read Understanding the Basics of Small Business Market Research.
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