Market Research

Marketing Research Methods

Market research methods might sound like an intimidating topic, but it's simpler than you might expect. We explain the basics of marketing research, including pros and cons of the different methods you can use.

There are two types of market research: primary research and secondary research.

Marketing Research Methods

Primary research is original information gathered for a specific purpose, whereas secondary research is information that already exists somewhere.

Both types of research have a number of activities and methods of conducting associated with them.

All market research, primary and secondary, should be designed to address specific business problems, market problems or marketing problems that you've prioritized as being important.

Let's take a look at both marketing research methods -- primary research and secondary research -- and consider their advantages and disadvantages.

Primary Market Research

As noted above, primary market research is research you conduct on your own.

The tactics you can use include interviews, focus groups, observation, marketing tests, data analysis, surveys, calling up competitors and similar activities.

Advantages of primary market research include the following:

  • You can get insights that are proprietary and that others don't have access to.
  • You can customize the line of inquiry to be very specific to what interests you.
  • You get first-hand access to the data, ensuring that it's not misinterpreted.

Disadvantages of primary research are that:

  • It can be time-consuming and expensive (although it doesn't have to be)
  • You may accidentally disclose what you are working on while conducting primary research, and it could get back to your competitors

Secondary Market Research

Secondary research is usually faster and less expensive to obtain than primary research. For this reason, noting the irony in the recommendation, we'd advice you to do secondary research first and primary research second.

There's no sense paying for primary research that can be procured faster and more cost effectively via secondary research.

Gathering secondary research may be as simple as making a trip to your local library or business information center or browsing the Internet.

In some case, analyst companies may have already prepared secondary research that could be useful to you but expect to pay for that research.

Joining a trade association can often be a good source of secondary market research information, as trade associations often publish annual reports that they create by surveying their members.

Being good at Google searches is an important skill for secondary market research. For example, you can do a search like this -- filetype:pdf -- to get all the PDF documents that are available on a site. PDF documents and Excel documents on analyst, competitor and trade association sites are often good sources for secondary market research.

The advantages of secondary market research include these pros:

  • It's much cheaper than primary research, in most cases (unless you have to pay for it)
  • You get the information you need faster.

The disadvantage of secondary market should be familiar to you by now, but, for the sake of closing things out, the list of cons includes:

  • You're not getting any information that other people don't have. There's no competitive edge in the inputs to your market research project if you don't do primary research.
  • You didn't do the work yourself, so you are relying on the execution and interpretation of others, which puts your market research project at risk if the secondary research sources did sloppy work.
  • Finally, secondary research may be dated. Primary research, in contrast, is new and fresh.

Getting Started with Primary and Secondary Market Research

If you're short on time but have budget to spend, it can be a good idea to hire a market research firm to conduct your market research.

Management consulting firms and integrated marketing agencies will also have research capabilities or have market research partners. If you envision needing additional outside support after conducting your marketing research, it's best to use a consulting firm or integrated marketing agency for market research, as it makes for a smooth transition to execution later on with a minimal learning curve.

The key is to narrow the scope of your market research before you get started. Identify the marketing problems you need to solve for and then define your objectives, budget and timeline.

Jumping directly into market research without first tackling these prerequisites is a recipe for disaster.

With a structured approach, you'll find the right balance between primary research and secondary research and set yourself up for success.

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