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4 Key Questions on Primary vs Secondary Research

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Primary and secondary research are the foundations of market research. Combined, they can provide companies with crucial information necessary to make strategic business decisions.

What is secondary research?

Secondary research, or "desk research", is the synthesis of information and data that has already been collected. Journals, books, import and export data, production data, and government statistics and censuses are all examples of secondary research. In today’s digital age, there is an abundant supply of secondary research easily accessible, and often free. This information can be useful for many research topics, providing a general overview of a market to showing market trends. However, it is often not detailed, specific nor recent enough to answer those common business questions. This is where primary research comes into play.

What is primary research?

Primary research, sometimes referred to as “field research”, is the collection and analysis of information and data that is not already available. This generates your own datasets and information, and the research methodology can be tailored to meet your own objectives. The results provide a company with new, strategic information.

Primary research includes interviews, store checks, surveys, focus groups, questionnaires and experiments. It can be both quantitative and qualitative.

Is raw data enough?

As the world becomes increasingly connected and digital, an endless amount of primary data exists but it is often useless if left raw with no analysis. There is data floating around, which by itself doesn’t tell us anything. But if you collate the information, connect the dots, find patterns, and analyze the meaning, you can create powerful information.

For example, if you collated internet sales data from various countries of a certain industry, you could assess which brands are most popular in which countries, in which months there are greater sales, and if sales are growing or shrinking among many other points. The data can even be used to predict future trends. This analysis helps businesses create strategies such as whether to enter a market or how they could improve sales.

Which type of research should I choose?

Good analysis incorporates both secondary and primary research. Often one approach will not provide sufficient results to answer common business questions such as “I am thinking of exporting medical devices to Colombia, what is the current market size and which channels should I target?” or “What is the size of the illegal market of tobacco and what is the fiscal loss?”.

To assess the current market size of illegal tobacco in a certain country, secondary research from a variety of sources will help to create the picture: The number of smokers in a country (World Health Organization), sales of tobacco (Euromonitor International´s market research database, Passport), overall population (World Bank) and news articles on the seizure of contraband tobacco. This information will allow you to calculate a population size of how many people buy tobacco, but not illegal tobacco. However, primary research such as interviews with actors across the supply chain, store checks in informal channels and consumer surveys will provide the crucial, up-to-date, data to be able to estimate the actual illegal market size and thus calculate the fiscal loss.

This combined methodology of primary and secondary research adds greater value to any research project and provides the strategic insights to answer important business questions.

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