Everything you need to know about secondary market research

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Everything you need to know about secondary market research

In a world where carbon footprints and climate crisis make the headlines every day, and the term “reuse, reduce, recycle” is becoming a mantra for a more ecological world, why shouldn’t marketers follow suit, if only to save a little money and speed up their processes?

Reusing and recycling data is the basis of secondary market research and, as such, provides easy access to inexpensive yet valuable commodities that pre-empt more costly EX research techniques.

With market research, mixing methods and tools tend to produce the most relevant data for specific situations. Secondary market research provides the broad strokes leading to the deeper dives of primary market research, which hones in on the finer details.

What is secondary market research?

The secondary market research definition looks like this:

Secondary market research gathers and compiles pre-existing data, insights, and information from internal and external sources, both qualitative and quantitative.

What is secondary research in marketing? Often called ‘desk-based research’, this method defines the goals you hope to achieve and the questions you need to answer. The practical part of the plan consists of searching and analysing pre-existing information found in surveys, reports, and more to achieve those defined goals and answer your questions.

What is the difference between primary and secondary market research?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that primary and secondary market research define stages of a market research process or in ranking studies in importance of value. However, neither is the case, as primary and secondary describe the information sources in this instance.

Primary sources of data and information come from interviewing and observing users and potential users personally, gathering first-hand information specifically designed for your project.

Secondary sources of data and information come from researching existing studies, surveys, publicly available information, or data from commercial studies.

Secondary market data is typically considered the broad stroke facts and figures regarding market size, industry operations, product value, performance, as well as how competitors operate, behave, and react.

Primary market data is considered specific information directly connected to particular features, stages, or operations of a project or product.

How is secondary research for marketing used?

Secondary research is typically used to set the groundwork for possible projects. Using existing data to decide if there’s value in an idea allows researchers to clarify opportunities and uncover competitor actions and potential pitfalls, shaping the direction of further research.

Internal sources of secondary market research

Internal secondary market research sources come from within your organisation. Businesses hold vast amounts of valuable data whether they realise it or not.

Most typically, however, secondary research data is sought from outside a business’s operations, despite some of the most valuable information and insight often coming from within.

  • Website and app analytics
  • Customer sales and service data
  • Customer feedback survey results
  • Pre-existing internal focus group results and reports
  • Transcripts of internal and external meetings
  • Previously conducted in-house research
  • Historical marketing operations
  • Email campaigns, responses, and communication

External sources of secondary market research

External secondary market research sources are those that occur outside your organisation.

External data comes from both public and commercial sources, many of which offer masses of free access to essential studies and data, yet others will only be made available at a price.

  • Government information resources
  • Competitor analysis
  • Commercial and trade magazines and journals
  • Commercial and trade reports and white papers
  • Commercial researchers
  • Educational research papers and journals
  • Online media
  • Research intelligence tools
  • Market studies
  • Analyst reports

Advantages of secondary marketing research

  • Is often quick to organise and conduct
  • A vast range of data sources
  • Easy-access data sources
  • Low-cost data acquisition/cost-effective
  • Provides a quick initial understanding of all kinds of topics
  • No training required
  • Helps to uncover the project value and define future study requirements
  • Provides an excellent base for primary research avenues

Disadvantages of secondary marketing research

  • Pre-existing data often has a limited shelf-life
  • No control of data specifics
  • The quality of the data is often questionable
  • The relevance of data is often questionable
  • Some data will require additional validation
  • The data you uncover is not exclusive, allowing competitors access to the same information

Basic steps of secondary research marketing

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all methodology to any kind of research, but a simple secondary research plan will likely include the following steps.

1. Define your goals and the questions you need to answer

As with any research project, defining clear goals is a necessity. Research for research’s sake rarely achieves anything essential. Therefore, having clear goals that outline what you need to confirm or uncover and what that information dictates for your project is paramount.

  • What’s the point of your research, what do you want to achieve, and why?
  • What can your competitors tell you about your hopeful new direction?
  • Are your markets general or specific targets?
  • What can you learn about your users, whether B2B or B2C?

These and similar questions can reveal a great deal from easily accessible and attainable data points.

2. What kind of data do you need?

Armed with a list of questions and goals, your next challenge is determining what kind of data will provide the enlightenment you require.

  • Is it quantitative or qualitative?
  • Is it in the public domain?
  • Can it be gleaned from existing reports and surveys?
  • Are industry journals likely to include your essential information?
  • Is it included in financial reports or behavioural studies?

It’s good practice to consider what data you need before blindly searching for anything connected to your project goals. You can save time and energy by operating efficiently in your methodology.

3. Where can you find suitable information and sources?

Now you’ve added your data requirements to your list of goals and questions it’s time to consider which sources are the most likely to hold your essential information.

Choosing reliable sources with validated results is imperative.

Also, it’s a wasted opportunity to consider your searches a one-time activity—set alerts and notifications for any new news or movement within your chosen keyword sets and markets. Follow your competitors on social media and within the industry, and sign up for their newsletters and blogs.

4. Access and collate your verified data

You’re ready to start digging now your data sources are defined. A research journal is handy for tracking meetings and appointments and documenting and categorising findings.

Verifying the data requires multiple checks: its date of collection, the source’s credibility, its relevance to your project, and its collection method.

At this point, it’s likely that you’ll have to reject some options but also come across additional relevant sources, so be sure to categorise and register any unexpected data source using the same guidelines.

5. Analyse the data to identify trends relative to your project goals

A mass of scrambled figures and feelings won’t help you produce the answers you’re looking for. Instead, categorising your data in a way that corresponds to your goals will make it easier to navigate and spot any possible patterns in your results.

When validating its usefulness, ask yourself what each data set means to your project, and rate its relevancy. Does it help or hinder your project, proving or disproving your essential points of interest?

6. Does the data achieve your goals and answer your questions?

At this point, your data shouldn’t just provide the answers that help you achieve your goals but also highlight any new pain points and gaps in your initial requirements.

If your data isn’t conclusive, it’s back to the drawing board with an updated set of goals. If it is, that’s great, and you can proceed to the next stage or decide that there’s no merit in pursuing a project with little chance of reward.

Using primary and secondary research together

For a closer look at the differences between primary and secondary research, we’ve recently posted a blog that does just that.

In it, you’ll see how you can utilise both research methods to create a road map from the idea to its eventual outcome, whether a new product, feature, service, or something entirely different.

Typically, however, an inclusive schedule will include the following stages:

  1. Define your goals – As in any research project, goals are our key drivers.
  2. Perform secondary market research – Reveal the bigger picture and the likelihood of the possibility of success within your project.
  3. Perform primary market research – With secondary market research highlighting the possible rewards of a project, primary research will pinpoint how potential users feel and use your product, revealing pain points, testing product flows, and delivering MVPs.
  4. Drawing conclusions from both data sets define how you determine your next steps.


With the excitement every new project brings, it can be far too easy to dive straight into the types of research that deliver specific, tailored experiments and observations that result in a beautifully functioning end product.

What is secondary marketing research going to add to your process? With a little patience, care, and anticipation, performing a round of initial secondary research delivers essential information that reveals the project’s merits as a whole. This layer of affordable and easily attainable data could save you time and money in the long run, dictating whether your ideas are bound for greatness or disaster.

If you would like to know more about how secondary research can advance your product development process, email us at hello@ux247.com.

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