The difference between primary and secondary market research

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The difference between primary and secondary market research

There’s little reason to leave decision-making to chance these days, with data available at every turn. Whether designing new physical or digital products, creating marketing campaigns, carrying out upgrades, or adding functionality to a website or application, we should make all our important decisions utilising qualified information.

To do that, we need to understand our market and know precisely who our ideal users are to explore their behaviours, desires, needs, and problems. Finding out about each of those essential elements requires a great deal of research.

Why do we need market research?

Hit and hope was the strategy of old, where designers and marketers made assumptions about who their most-likely customers were and what they wanted. Market research before the Internet wasn’t impossible, but it wasn’t anywhere near as accessible as it is today.

Technology and communication are a standard part of our daily lives, and the information those avenues provide is everywhere. As UX researchers, we know precisely how to explore all of those data opportunities, gathering the specific personalised information you need to create the best products your users and customers will be delighted to exploit.

Market research is essential for organisations to understand their target audience, consumer behaviour, buyer personas, user needs, desires, pain points, current trends, and more.

However, there’s no simple one-size-fits-all strategy, so we must consider various research methods to ensure success in defining and achieving our goals.

Examples of market research

With our business objectives and goals clearly defined, how do we gather the required information, and where will we find our ideal resource pools?

Market research consists of hundreds of opportunities, from our competitor analysis, customer feedback, market trends, pricing strategies, and consumer needs, to the possibilities for new developments.

Some of that information is readily available in the public domain; some will need to be gathered personally. However, it must all be relevant to your project and your ideal user.

How do you decide what you need and gather the data? It’s time to talk about the difference between primary market research and secondary market research.

Types of market research: primary vs secondary, qualitative vs quantitative

At first glance you’d be forgiven for believing that primary and secondary research types were merely stages of a pre-defined process; not so, in fact, in most schedules, researchers look to secondary market research before carrying out any of the typical primary research techniques.

What is primary market research?

Primary market research is custom market research gathered from primary data sources. It requires the business—or outside market research or UX research specialist employed especially for the task—to carry out a range of data collection methods directly from active or likely users or potential customers that fulfil their ideal user persona.

The methods used in primary research are developed from pre-defined goals to ask questions or monitor real and relevant participants that will deliver the information required for locating and solving specific problems.

Primary market research methods are exploratory by nature, looking into how a user may react or use a product and what their perceived problems are likely to include, stimulating the discussions and methods that provide the answers required to reach your goals and targets.

What is secondary market research?

Secondary market research is off-the-shelf market research. In this instance, the secondary stands for secondary sources of information.

This type of data was previously researched, gathered, and prepared to serve an alternative purpose, but is available to marketers and researchers in the public domain.

These readily available data sets and information typically come from industry and trade organisations, the government, media groups, and publications.

Internal and external secondary research

External data describes the type of information attained from other companies and organisations already discussed; however, not all secondary research material comes from outside resources.

Internal data can be found in a business’s own resources. Whether from previously carried out interviews and testing or from internal customer accounts, usage, marketing and sales metrics, these types of internal information can reveal existing insights into new avenues of research.

Qualitative and quantitative research

Primary and secondary market research can be both qualitative and quantitative.

Quantitative research delivers easy-to-quantify numeric data, for example, percentages, rates, and statistical data sets from surveys, polls, and questionnaires.

Qualitative research uncovers users’ feelings, behaviours, and opinions, providing explanations of pain points and issues experienced resulting from open-ended questions and observations.


Primary vs secondary market research: what are the key differences?

As you can see already, there are clearly defined differences between the two methods and stages, but more specifically, we can categorise them as follows:

  • Data sources – Typically, secondary research data comes from external agencies and organisations, whereas primary research data is gleaned directly from specific pre-identified ideal users.
  • Collection methods – Collection comes from the acquisition or purchase of off-the-shelf data vs personal research through interviews, questionnaires, surveys, and observations.
  • Cost – Depending on the methods or suppliers of each research type, costs and budgets can differ significantly. Typically, secondary market research methods tend to be less expensive than primary data research and collection.
  • Accuracy – Depending on the age of the research and the organisation carrying it out, secondary research lends itself to be less reliable than the information you’ve gathered and quantified personally.
  • Use – Both types, primary and secondary research, provide valuable insights into your projects and campaigns, but from different viewpoints and process stages catering to alternative requirements and goals.

Examples of primary and secondary market research methods

Primary market research types:

  • Surveys
  • In-depth interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Observations
  • Questionnaires
  • User testing/product testing/A/B testing
  • MVP testing

Secondary market research types:

  • Published reports
  • Government studies
  • Commercial marketing research data
  • Trade studies
  • Academic studies
  • Industry magazines and publications, and trade journals
  • Historical data
  • Sales and financial data
  • Industry trends
  • Research reports
  • Company reports and public records
  • Census data
  • Internet searches

Advantages and disadvantages of primary market research vs secondary market research

Advantages of primary market research options

  • Greater control over topic and budget
  • Specific to goals and the most relevant
  • Confidential
  • Reliable and accurate data
  • Specific to niche or hard-to-define markets
  • Data ownership – providing options for ongoing use in alternative projects or sharing and selling your findings to other interested parties.

Advantages of secondary market research options

  • Lower cost
  • Quick to conduct with faster results
  • Readily available
  • Often from public resources
  • Defined market focus
  • Valuable preparation for primary research stages

Disadvantages of primary market research options

  • Can be costly
  • Often time-consuming
  • More complex in methodology and defining the ideal tools for each situation

Disadvantages of secondary market research options

  • Less personalised and less specific results
  • Non-confidential, with data available to competitors
  • Buying insights and reports can become costly, with varying guarantees of valid and beneficial results
  • Pre-interpreted results could deliver inaccurate information for your requirements

Primary and secondary marketing research schedule

1. Define your goals

As with all research models and methods, it’s imperative to set specific goals, so everyone knows precisely what the organisation needs to achieve from its new product, system, upgrade, or app. The best outcomes are designed to solve problems, and your research is no different. However, depending on the information you uncover during your research, you may need to reassess and realign your goals to deliver your optimum final results.

2. Action your relevant secondary research methods

Gather any or all publicly delivered and readily available data into your chosen market, competitors, product, and industry. The goal is to understand existing information and create an overview of the market situation to base deeper exploration.

3. Design and deliver your primary research

With defined goals and a broad overview of your project field of operation, you can decide the best methods and tools to uncover the specific data that only participants can deliver.

4. Draw your conclusions and decide on the next step

Your data may deliver all the answers you need to move into production, launch your promotion or product, or apply to investors. Alternatively, it may suggest that further research is necessary or highlight unforeseen issues and eventualities that need consideration before moving forwards.


Understanding how primary research vs secondary research marketing methods narrows down essential design decision-making, we can use the combination to form the plans that lead to success.

Whether you need to collect that data through interviews, questionnaires, or surveys, or if it’s numeric data found on census sites, in libraries, or commercial data centres, you now know the difference and how both should be utilised in your strategies.

If you would like to know more about product research using either primary or secondary methods, email us at

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