Key differences between primary and secondary research

There are two types of research that are often referred to – primary and secondary. What are they exactly, and what are the key differences between primary and secondary research?

When collecting research to help launch a project, make a change in process or start a business, you need to consider the types of research that already exist and also the research we may need to undertake ourselves.

Secondary research is data that already exists, produced by someone else. This can be from another business or through government data.

And primary research is data gathered by ourselves (or paying someone else to do it), usually for a specific reason that will help a business. 

Now that you understand the key differences between primary and secondary research, let’s look more closely at both, starting with secondary research.


Key differences: secondary research explained

Secondary research involves using data or research that has already been conducted. This can be anything from social media through to government reports. 

Although there are plenty of sources to choose from when conducting secondary market research, it can be much cheaper and less time consuming than primary research as you’re not starting from scratch. 

However, you need to be careful that the sources you are choosing are accurate and not out of date. Things can change quickly! If in doubt, using a variety of sources can help with verification.


How to conduct secondary research

Because secondary research is so widely available, it’s much easier to start doing it. Usually it’s as simple as using a search engine and then focusing on established reports. It may be a case that through conducting these searches you find various magazines, trade journals or industry publications that you didn’t know existed. 

Though these will likely cost money to access or subscribe to, it will be a substantial saving on conducting this research yourself. However, it’s good to be mindful that as a business your competitors will also have access to these resources. This is why you may choose to go down the primary research route after accessing secondary sources

It may also be that you can’t find the data you need via primary research, or you would like to dig deeper into the data the primary research reveals. Or it may always have been your intention to start with primary research to find out what’s readily available, and then target areas related more specifically to your organisation’s needs.

Let’s carry on exploring the key differences between primary and secondary research by looking more closely at primary research.


Key differences: primary research explained

Primary market research is conducted by yourself, or by a market research agency like Acumen who you commission. The information you are trying to extract needs to be credible, which can mean considerable preparation before the fieldwork is started.

You need to make sure your research is carefully targeted, otherwise it can make the research itself useless. This can be time consuming and also costly, but is an absolutely essential part of the whole process. 

A research agency like Acumen is skilled at all types of quantitative research and qualitative research. They can advise you on the best primary research methods to use, as well as recruit participants, provide all documentation and conduct analysis of the data gathered.

While it’s possible to do primary research yourself, it’s an area where skilled professionals like Acumen can guide you, producing results and outcomes that you may not be able to get to on your own.


How to conduct primary research

There are several research methodologies you can use to collect your data. Some common ones we’ll look at more closely here are surveys, focus groups, observation and interviews.

Surveys are fairly common. They can be widely cast and can include a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Surveys can be done online, as paper questionnaires, or over the phone.

Focus groups are group sessions done with would-be customers to gather their input and opinions. For example, you may run a focus group with parents and children when bringing a new toy or game to the market. Increasingly, focus groups are conducted online, saving money on venue and travel costs.

Observation can be done via accompanied shops, user testing, or observing customer shopping habits through data captured when they use their loyalty card. 

Interviews may give you the most insight as you can ask potential customers exactly what you want to know. But they can also be time consuming and therefore expensive.


Working with Acumen on market research

Hopefully this guide has answered all your questions about the key differences between primary and secondary research.

As a leading market research agency, we can deliver qualitative and quantitative market research if you decide that primary research is what you need next.

Our teams are skilled at finding the right participants for any study, and we have expert data analysts who work alongside our fieldworkers, providing integrated insights and outcomes on any research.

Take a look at our case studies if you’d like a closer look at the work we do. We deliver work to the highest quality standards, and have received multiple industry awards for our research.

Understanding the key differences between primary and secondary research is just the first step. Now that you know which would suit you best, or whether you need a blend of the two for your project, contact us to discuss getting the best outcome for your research needs.


Our award-winning team of qualitative and quantitative market researchers are ready to build a lasting relationship with you and your organisation today.