The Difference Between Primary and Secondary Research

Market Research is Pivotal for the Success of Your Business

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If you're starting a new business, launching a new product or opening a new location, market research is essential for your success. There are two core forms of research: primary research and secondary research. 

Primary Research

Primary research is designed to meet your unique and specific needs. The research is conducted by you, or by a research firm you hire for the project. The research can include focus groups, surveys, interviews, and observations.


Unlike other forms of research, where you apply the work of others to your business, primary research aims to answer questions relevant solely to your company. For instance, if you are launching a new website and want feedback on its design and efficacy, your research firm would share it with focus groups to gauge their responses to the site. 

Primary research gives you more specific results. Usually, the research firm will use statistical models to come up with a sample group that is representative of your target audiences, making it very relevant to your business needs. Primary research provides two basic forms:


Exploratory research does not aim for a specific result or data point; it is more open-ended. It can help you identify problems and usually involves interviews or focus groups with extensive input from participants. For example, if you noticed your website was not producing any sales but you do not know why you would interview a focus group to see what the problem was.

They might say they found it hard to navigate or they found it overwhelming; without open-ended discussion, you would not get that valuable feedback. 


Specific research is very targeted in its scope. It is used to solve the problem that you discovered through exploratory research. Usually done through interviews, specific primary research usually involves interviews and is very precise.

In the example of your website, once the exploratory research identified the problem, that your website sales were down due to difficulties navigating the site, you would use specific research to test reactions to new layouts. One major downside to primary market research is cost. Running a study yourself or hiring a research form can cost thousands of dollars, making it inaccessible for many small business owners. 

Secondary Market Research

Secondary market research is when you use previously completed studies and apply the results to your own situation. It's easy to find using the internet or research journals and is usually free or low cost. The drawback for businesses is that the results are not specific to your business, and you may not be aware of all of the variables involved. The results may also be broader than your company's niche, making to more difficult to help inform your business decisions. 

What Kind of Research You Should Use

For many business owners, the best approach is to start with secondary research. By looking at regional data, community surveys and other available information, you can help identify your audience and market. Once you have narrowed down your target group, you can do lower cost versions of primary market research, such as sending out surveys or questionnaires.

Secondary research gives you a foundation to build on, while the primary research helps you identify specific needs.