Second Things First: Secondary Research Is Your First Step

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Posted Nov 16, 2011
Kathryn Korostoff

It sounds a bit like a play on, “What came first: the chicken or the egg?” But when doing online surveys (a form of “primary” or original research), the first step is often “secondary” research.

Secondary research is any study, market data or research deliverable pre-published by a source other than you. Typically, this research costs money to acquire, though not always. It is usually based on information from surveys, interviews, and database mining. There are also scanner data, data released by large retailers and other third-party sources that are available for purchase. Examples of secondary research include Census Bureau data, encyclopedias, and analyst reports.Why is secondary research useful? It allows you to easily learn about a specific market or customer group. By getting the basics down first, you can now design a survey that won’t waste space gathering already-available information. Now you can focus your online survey on gathering truly fresh, unique insights.

Industry-specific Secondary Sources

In most industries, there are analyst companies and other third-party sources of data. Sometimes the research available for purchase is in the form of a report that might cost $2,000, or $5,000, or sometimes even $10,000. Other data are available in database form, and you typically pay to access slices of the data.There are some various websites to consult to find out what secondary research already exists. Research aggregators like and have databases that you can search. .

Government Data

The U.S. Census is a great source of data, and the government makes it publicly available. Also, the fabulous CIA World Factbook has details on key facts by country, which is very handy if you are doing global research and need contextual information.Wondering how you might apply census data? Let’s say you are doing a concept testing study to determine potential adoption of a new, luxury kitchen appliance product. Let’s imagine that your goal is to determine your potential target market size. For that type of product, you are going to be interested in households that have at least a minimum income level. You probably want households with, say, more than $50,000 a year in household income. The first thing you want to do is simply determine from census data how many households fit in the desired range. Five million? 100 million? Well, the answer is actually about 56 million. That’s a pretty important piece of secondary data for you to have. And it’s free.

Professional Associations

Another place to find existing, relevant data is with professional associations. Many professional associations fund research, sometimes even on an annual basis, as part of a membership benefits package. Such research is usually featured on association websites and in newsletters.

Start With Secondary

Secondary research is not necessary before every online survey project. But there are certainly many cases where you can maximize your market research ROI by collecting “easy” data first. Optimize your online survey by first leveraging data available from secondary sources. And BTW, I vote “chicken.”

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