By far the most widely used method for collecting data is through secondary data collection, commonly called secondary research. This process involves collecting data from either the originator or a distributor of primary research (see Primary Research topics below). In other words, accessing information already gathered.
In most cases this means finding information from third-party sources, such as industry research reports, company websites, magazine articles, and other sources. But in actuality any information previously gathered, whether from sources external to the marketer or from internal sources, such as accessing material from previous market research carried out by the marketer’s organization, old sales reports, accounting records and many others, falls under the heading of secondary research.
Advantages of Secondary Research
Secondary research offers several advantages for research gathering including:
Ease of Access
Before the internet era, accessing good secondary data required marketers to visit libraries or wait until a report was shipped by mail. When online access initially became an option marketers needed training to learn different rules and procedures for each data source. However, the internet has changed how secondary research is accessed by offering convenience (e.g., easy, nearly anywhere access) and generally standardized usage methods for all data sources.
Low Cost to Acquire
Researchers are often attracted to secondary data because getting this information is much less expensive than if the researchers had to carry out the research themselves.
May Help Clarify Research Question
Secondary research is often used prior to larger scale primary research to help clarify what is to be learned. For instance, a researcher doing competitor analysis, but who is not familiar with competitors in a market, could access secondary sources to locate a list of potential competitors.
May Answer Research Question
As noted, secondary data collection is often used to help set the stage for primary research. In the course of doing so researchers may find that the exact information they were looking for is available via secondary sources, thus eliminating the need and expense to carrying out their own primary research.
May Show Difficulties in Conducting Primary Research
The originators of secondary research often provide details on how the information was collected. This may include discussion of difficulties encountered. For instance, the secondary research may be a research report written by a large market research company. These types of reports often include a section discussing the procedures used to collect the data and within this may disclose problems in obtaining the data, such as a high percentage of people declining to take part in the research. After reading this the marketer may decide the potential information that may be obtained is not worth the potential difficulties in conducting the research.
Disadvantages of Secondary Research
While secondary research is often valuable, it also has drawbacks that include:
Quality of Researcher
As we will discuss, research conducted using primary methods are largely controlled by the marketer. However, this is not the case when it comes to data collected by others. Consequently, the quality of secondary research should be scrutinized closely since the origins of the information may be questionable. Organizations relying on secondary data as an important component in their decision-making (e.g., market research studies) must take extra steps to evaluate the validity and reliability of the information by critically evaluating how the information was gathered, analyzed, and presented.
Not Specific to Researcher’s Needs
Secondary data is often not presented in a form that exactly meets the marketer’s needs. For example, a marketer obtains an expensive research report that looks at how different age groups feel about certain products within the marketer’s industry. Unfortunately, the marketer may be disappointed to discover that the way the research divides age groups (e.g., under 13, 14-18, 19-25, etc.) does not match how the marketer’s company designates its age groups (e.g., under 16, 17-21, 22-30, etc.). Because of this difference the results may not be useful.
Inefficient Spending for Information
Since the research received may not be specific to the marketer’s needs, an argument can be made that research spending is inefficient. That is, the marketer may not receive a satisfactory amount of information for what is spent.
Many times a researcher finds that research that appears promising is in fact a “teaser” released by the research supplier. This often occurs when a small portion of a study is disclosed, often for free, but the full report, which is often expensive, is needed to gain the full value of the study.
Caution must be exercised in relying on secondary data that may have been collected well in the past. Out-of-date information may offer little value especially for companies competing in fast changing markets.
Not Proprietary Information
In most cases, secondary research is not undertaken specifically for one organization. Instead it is made available to many either for free or for a fee. Consequently, there is rarely an “information advantage” gained by those who obtain the research.
Learn More About Marketing Research
- What is Marketing Research?
- Why Undertake Marketing Research?
- What Are the Risks in Doing Marketing Research?
- How is Marketing Research Gathered?
- What is Secondary Research?
- What are the Types of Secondary Research?
- What is Primary Research?
- What are the Types of Primary Research?