A man doing secondary market research in a library

Whether launching a new campaign, researching a potential marketing channel, or just snooping in on what the competition is doing, odds are you will encounter secondary market research at some point in your role. 

Secondary research can be a very flexible and cost-effective way to find answers to your problems and get a feel for the market — especially in smaller businesses and early-stage start-ups where you may not have the budget to engage in primary research. 

In this article you will learn what secondary market research is and how to conduct secondary market research.

What is secondary market research?

Startups and small businesses need to be strategic in their marketing efforts. The first step of being strategic is to objectively research and analyze the market. However, due to the prices of conducting primary market research, smaller players often turn to secondary data. Secondary market data, on the other hand, can be very cost-effective and can either guide further research or illuminate a problem by itself.

Secondary market research is when you use existing data, usually gathered for the purpose of answering a different question by someone else, to solve an issue that you’re facing. This can be anything from using your own internal data such as website traffic, product analytics, or transaction data; or external sources such as news articles and industry reports, social media chatter, and academic research.

Additionally, you will often find heaps of secondary data that was collected for other reasons than research such as official statistics in each country or other public records.

In contrast, primary research is when you or your organization collect the data for the purposes of answering a predefined problem. You may also have heard the term desk research, but this is synonymous with secondary research.

How to conduct secondary market research?

While using secondary data is a very flexible method to do market research you should nevertheless approach it systematically.

First you need to be clear about what question you’re trying to answer, i.e., your research question. Your research question has to be specific enough that answering it will actually help you solve your problem, but also not so narrow that you will have a hard time finding data and information. Once you have a good research question in place, you can start thinking about possible sources of data to answer it.

Once you have compiled a list of sources to answer your research question, you need to make sure that they meet your quality standards. These can be different based on where you got your data from, but one thing you should absolutely not do is to take any information you find at face value.

A simple way to organize pieces of information is to organize them in a Google Sheets document.

You need to look into how the data was gathered and make sure that the conclusions drawn from it are reasonable. A couple of things to consider are, for example, that if you are looking into reports made by agencies or other industry organizations, make sure to ask yourself what they are ultimately trying to sell and keep an eye open on whether this becomes obvious throughout reading the reports. 

If you’re working with academic sources, have a look at the methodology chapter. It can be very hard to evaluate the quality of an academic article — especially if you’re not used to reading them. A shortcut is to consider the journals they were published in but this is not a foolproof exercise.

Try to focus only on the high quality publications although sometimes you won’t have a choice and have to go into the lower quality ones. When that’s the case have a look at the scales of the quantitative studies (if used) and examine how participants were recruited and split into control groups and experimental groups in the case of an experiment.

Another example of how you can organize sources. In this case I was researching what motivates people to user platforms such as TikTok. This is the type of stuff that doesn’t get into the high ranking journal so I had to pay extra attention to the quality of the information.

If you are looking at a qualitative study, have a look at the coding procedure and see if it makes sense. If something seems off, make sure to take a note of it. By doing this you will quickly start cutting on if an article is not to the quality that it should be. This may be difficult at first but if you make a habit of it, you will quickly start being able to catch red flags in secondary research.

Now that you’ve made sure that you’re working with quality research, or at the very least you are aware of the possible shortcomings of the sources you are working with, you are ready to put them all together for interpretation. How to do this will depend on you. There are a lot of personal preferences to take into account. For me I like putting all everything into Google Sheets and organize into columns where I tend to make notes about the methodology when I’m working with questionable data. I always have a little cell for the findings and I will usually also make note of if there is any specific channel or example that is being used, but how you find it best to do is for you to figure out.

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