Primary Marketing Research Tutorial

Data Collection: Primary Research Methods Tutorial

In this tutorial, we continue our discussion of how marketers collect research data by examining the methods used for collecting primary data. Unlike secondary research, where data is initially obtained by someone other than the marketer, the responsibility for collecting data under primary research falls to the marketer.

In general marketers can select from two basic approaches to data collections using primary methods:

Both methods offer advantages and disadvantages which are discussed in detail in this tutorial.

What is Primary Research?

When marketers conduct research to collect original data for their own needs it is called primary research. This process has the marketer or someone working for the marketer designing and then carrying out a research plan. As we noted earlier, primary research is often undertaken after the researcher has gained some insight into the issue by collecting secondary data.

While not as frequently used as secondary research, primary research still represents a significant part of overall marketing research. For many organizations, especially large consumer products firms, spending on primary research far exceeds spending on secondary research.

The primary research market consists of marketers carrying out their own research and an extensive group of research companies offering their services to marketers. These companies include:

Full-Service Marketing Research Firms – These companies develop and carryout the full research plan for their clients.

Partial-Service Research Firms – These companies offer expertise that address a specific part of the research plan, such as developing methods to collect data (e.g., design surveys), locating research participants, or undertaking data analysis.

Research Tools Suppliers – These firms provide tools used by researchers and include data collection tools (e.g., survey software), data analysis software, and report presentation products.

Primary research is collected in a research “instrument” designed to record information for later analysis. Marketing researchers use many types of instruments from basic methods that record participant responses to highly advanced electronic measurement where research participants are connected to sophisticated equipment.

As we see in the next sections, primary data collection offers advantages and disadvantages for the marketer.

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Advantages of Primary Research

Marketers often turn to primary data collection because of the benefits it offers including:

Addresses Specific Research Issues

Carrying out their own research allows the marketing organization to address issues specific to their own situation. Primary research is designed to collect the information the marketer wants to know (Step 2: Identify What is to be Learned) and report it in ways that benefit the marketer. For example, while information reported with secondary research may not fit the marketer’s needs (e.g., different age groupings) no such problem exists with primary research since the marketer controls the research design.

Greater Control

Not only does primary research enable the marketer to focus on specific issues, it also enables the marketer to have a higher level of control over how the information is collected. In this way the marketer can decide on such issues as size of project (e.g., how many responses), location of research (e.g., geographic area), and time frame for completing the project.

Efficient Spending for Information

Unlike secondary research where the marketer may spend for information that is not needed, primary data collections focuses on issues specific to the researcher. This helps improve the chances that research funds will be spent efficiently.

Proprietary Information

Information collected by the marketer using primary research is their own and is generally not shared with others. Thus, information can be kept hidden from competitors and potentially offer an “information advantage” to the company that undertook the primary research.

Disadvantages of Primary Research

While primary data collection is a powerful method for acquiring information, it does pose several significant problems including:


Compared to secondary research, primary data collection may be very expensive since it often requires a great deal of marketer involvement. Additionally, collecting primary research often requires the use of expensive research tools and methods to carry out the research.

Time Consuming

To be done correctly primary data collection requires the development and execution of a research plan. Going from the starting point of deciding to undertake a research project to the end point of having results is often much longer than the time it takes to acquire secondary data.

Not Always Feasible

Some research projects, while potentially offering information that could prove quite valuable, are not within the reach of a marketer. Many are just too large to be carried out by all but the largest companies, and some are not feasible at all. For instance, it would not be practical for McDonalds to attempt to interview every customer who visits their stores on a certain day since doing so would require hiring a huge number of researchers, an unrealistic expense. Fortunately, there are ways for McDonalds to use other methods (e.g., sampling) to meet their needs without the need to talk with all customers.

Quantitative Data Collection

In general there are two basic types of primary research – quantitative data collection and qualitative data collection. Quantitative data collection involves the use of numbers to assess information. This information can then be evaluated using statistical analysis which offers researchers the opportunity to dig deeper into the data and look for greater meaning (see Step 6: Analyze Data).

Certain information is by nature numerical. For example, asking a person their actual age or yearly income will result in a number. But under the right circumstances numbers can also be used to represent certain characteristics, which are not on the surface considered numerical. This most often occurs with data collected within a structured and well-controlled scientific research design. For instance, research of customers’ attitude toward a company’s products may include survey questions such as:

Place an “X” on the line that best indicates your impression of the overall quality of our company’s products:

Poor  _  _  _  _  _  _  _  Excellent

In this example each line, which represents a potential customer response, could be assigned a number. For example, checking the left-most line could result in the researcher entering a “1”, the next line a “2”, the next line a “3” and so on. Once research is completed this question can undergo statistical analysis.

While quantitative analysis is potentially used for all types of research purposes (Step 1: Identify Research Purpose) it is most critical for hypothesis testing. As discussed below in Step 6: Analyze Data, such analysis may prove very relevant by allowing the researcher to draw conclusions.

Quantitative Data Methods

Quantitative data collection comes in many forms with the most popular quantitative data methods being:

1. Surveys

This quantitative data method captures information through the input of responses to a research instrument containing questions (i.e., such as a questionnaire). Information can be input either by the respondents themselves (e.g., complete online survey) or the researcher can input the data (e.g. phone survey, mall intercept).

The main methods for distributing surveys are via postal mail, phone, website or in person. However, newer technologies are creating additional delivery options including through wireless devices, such as smart phones.

2. Tracking

With tracking research marketers are able to monitor the behavior of customers as they engage in regular purchase or information gathering activities. Possibly the most well-known example of tracking research is used by websites as they track customer visits. But tracking research also has offline applications, especially when point-of-purchase scanners are employed, such as tracking product purchases at grocery stores and automated collections on toll roads.

This method of research is expected to grow significantly as more devices are introduced that provide means for tracking. However, as we discussed in the Marketing Research Tutorial, some customers may see tracking devices as intrusive and many privacy advocates have raised concerns about certain tracking methods especially if these are not disclosed to customers.

3. Experiments

Marketers often undertake experiments to gauge how the manipulation of one marketing variable affects another (i.e., causal research). The use of experiments has applications for many marketing decision areas including product testing, advertising design, setting price points and creating packaging. For example, a marketing researcher for a retail chain may want to study the effect on sales if a product display is moved to different locations in a store.

Unfortunately, performing highly controlled experiments can be quite costly. Some researchers have found the use of computer simulations can work nearly as well as experiments and may be less expensive, though the number of simulation applications for marketing decisions is still fairly limited.

Qualitative Data Collection

Sometimes referred to as “touchy-feely” research, qualitative data collection requires researchers to interpret the information gathered, most often without the benefit of statistical support. If the researcher is well trained in interpreting respondents’ comments and activities, this form of research can offer very good information. However, it may not hold the same level of relevancy as quantitative research due to the lack of scientific controls with this data collection method. For example, a researcher may want to know more about how customers make purchase decisions. One way to do this is to sit and talk with customers using one-on-one interviews. However, if the interview process allows the researcher to vary what questions are asked (i.e., not all respondents are asked the same questions), then this type of research may lack controls needed to follow a scientific approach.

An additional drawback of qualitative research is that it can be time consuming and expensive and, consequently, only a very small portion of the marketer’s desired market can participate in qualitative research. Due to the lack of strong controls in the research design (i.e., not as well structured, fewer participants), using results to estimate characteristics of a larger group is more difficult. Thus, qualitative data collection is generally not used for hypothesis testing. This is not to say qualitative research is not useful, it is very useful if its limitations are understood. It is widely employed for marketing research especially for research for the purpose of discovery, and to a lesser extent, explanation.

Qualitative Data Methods

Qualitative data collection comes in many forms with the most popular qualitative data methods being:

1. Personal Interviews

Talking to someone one-on-one allows a researcher to cover more ground than may be covered if a respondent was completing a survey. The reason lies with the researcher’s ability to dig deeper into a respondent’s comments to find out additional details that might not emerge from initial responses. Unfortunately, individual interviewing can be quite expensive and may be intimidating to some who are not comfortable sharing details with a researcher.

2. Observational Research

The qualitative data methods involves watching customers as they perform activities can be a very useful research method, especially when customers are observed in a natural setting (e.g., shopping in a retail store, using products at home). In fact, an emerging research technique called ethnographic research has researchers following customers as they shop, work, and relax at home in order to see how they make decisions, use products and more.

3. Focus Groups

To overcome the drawbacks associated with personal interviews, marketers can turn to focus groups. Under this research format, a group of respondents (generally numbering 8-12) are guided through discussion by a moderator. The power of focus groups as a research tool rests with the environment created by the interaction of the participants. In well-run sessions, members of the group are stimulated to respond by the comments and the support of others in the group. In this way, the depth of information offered by a respondent may be much greater than that obtained through individual interviews.

However, focus groups can be costly to conduct especially if participants must be paid. To help reduce costs, online options for focus groups have emerged. While there are many positive aspects to online focus groups, the fact that respondents are not physically present diminishes the benefits gained by group dynamics. However, as technology improves, in particular video conferencing, the online focus group could become a major research option.


Data Collection: Primary Research Methods Tutorial   (2023).   From Principles of Marketing Tutorials.   Retrieved   March 26, 2023  from