Typically, research can be broken down into two separate categories that define the source of the information being provided. Primary and secondary research are terms used to define the ways to obtain information, primary by means of gathering information directly from the source and secondary being gained by means of obtaining information that has been researched previously.
Secondary research can almost be defined as “second-hand” research. All the information and data gathered is through primary research that has already taken place. Secondary research can be acquired through academic peer-reviewed journals, books, market research reports and other publicly accessible information.
Primary research is generally thought of as collecting original or new information by asking questions that have not been answered before.
Types of Primary Research
A lot of this research is performed by heading directly to the consumer. In marketing, the consumer can be a great source of information because they are the target audience, the ones who will buy your products. Conducting primary research can be helpful for consumer brands from the ideation of a product to after the product has been sold to the consumer. Before the release of your products, it can be helpful to gather the opinions of your potential buyers to help develop your sales and marketing strategy. Additionally, primary data collection can also be helpful to analyze your success across the board.
These are some of the most common ways primary research is performed:
- Interviews: An interview is probably what first comes to mind when you think about primary research. Interviews are a great way to ask questions in a one-on-one setting and can help you get ideas directly from consumers. Performing them in-person is best, but phone interviews can also be beneficial. Plan out your questions ahead of time and using open-ended questions can help you have a more productive interview.
- Focus groups: Generally, a focus group is comprised of a small group of people who are asked open-ended questions to spark dialogue, and often reveal interesting findings. Focus groups can be a cost-effective way to answer many of your questions, or even test specific products that you are planning to release in the future. Often times, focus groups can be used in the initial stages of your primary research to guide areas you might want to focus on or areas you hadn’t considered.
- Surveys: A survey is a great way to ask a large group of people questions about their opinions, behavior or knowledge. In the age of the internet, online surveys can be extremely simple to execute and are also fast and lower-cost methods of collecting primary data. Questionnaires are the instrument used for collecting data in surveys.
- Ethnography: Traditionally, ethnography is the study of people in their natural environment. For businesses, this can be extremely helpful in understanding your customers. Unlike some methods, this one focuses on observing and listening to people often in a non-direct manner.
- Experiments: Experimental research is known as the “gold standard” in research design. This form of research seeks to identify causal relationships between variables. In this design, first, the participants are randomly divided into treatment and control groups. Then, the researcher manipulates one or more variables only in the treatment group. Finally, the researcher compares outcomes between both groups. As a result of this design, the researcher can make internally valid claims that link cause and effect by isolating the effect of specific variables.
- Competitive Research: It can be helpful to take a look at your competition’s as a form of research. Especially when things are working well for them. Even in creating your own, unique layout, seeing what is not working for similar businesses can also be beneficial to the cause.
Any combination of the methods in the above list can be utilized to produce results. Using one or more in your efforts to perform your investigation will serve to provide more than enough information to serve your research.
The Difference Between Exploratory and Specific Research
Primary research can be separated into two categories that are performed differently for specific purposes. Exploratory and specific research are the two ways primary research is performed. In a lot of cases, both will be utilized with exploratory being performed first, followed by specific research.
- Exploratory research: Exploratory research is usually performed in the beginning stages of a research effort. The span of information being gathered can be wide, providing an environment that allows for the gathering of as much data as possible. Exploratory research will oftentimes be a lengthier process and can include interviews that ask a wide array of different questions.
- Specific research: Specific research is more clear-cut. A lot of research processes utilize specific research after the exploratory stage has been performed. It allows for a fine-tuning of the information gathered and can help the researcher get more important data while eliminating anything useless.
While primary research can seem like a more costly investment upfront, compared to secondary research, it provides an opportunity to accumulate information on a topic that has yet to be researched. Meaning that you will be able to gain new information and insight that others may not have access to yet.
Weighing the Differences
On the surface, primary research can seem to be a means to an end if your secondary research doesn’t provide the data you need. But both primary and secondary research can provide benefits to an organization, though often to get the granular data to make decisions, primary data is better. While collecting primary research may seem daunting it doesn’t have to be. Utilizing outside help to perform your exploration is always a viable option.
Although the names suggest primary may be performed before secondary research, the opposite is actually true. Perform your secondary research first to determine if the information you need is already available to you. If you come to the realization that the data you need isn’t out there, primary research is the way to go. Remember, you can perform the work firsthand or make things a little more convenient for you by outsourcing the work.