Secondary research sometimes gets a bad rap. I’ve heard it called boring, difficult to find, and somehow “less than” primary in value in experiential marketing. The truth is, it can be all of those things. But it doesn’t have to be, if you know how to use it. Let’s look at both primary and secondary research for a minute.
Primary vs. secondary research
Primary research is a deep dive into an organization’s specific situation that helps inform strategic decisions. It is also referred to as field research and can be used to improve products, services, and operations. Sometimes it’s the best or only way to learn about a market, especially when assessing customer attitudes, values, psychology, interests, and lifestyle. If done correctly, it can be the cornerstone for a successful campaign or initiative.
Secondary research puts primary research in context through publicly-available documents that can speak to data points and trends. But that may not be able to address a company’s question from the right angle or depth. Secondary research is not obtained from scratch, it relies on information from balance sheets, P&L statements, inventory, and sales figures. This is where the “boring” stigma can come from. It can also include government reports and statistics, university research, and competitor data that has been publicly filed.
In my experience, it is easier to access data from publicly-traded firms because quarterly financial filings and transcripts from earnings can shed light on vertical and geographical investments, merger and acquisition activity, alliances, and important industry trends. You need to know what you’re looking for, so it’s best to have some knowledge of the market before you start. Secondary research can be difficult for someone who is new to an industry. They may not know some of the common language or jargon to search for. It’s not like you can do a quick Google search and find one document, review it, and call it a day. Secondary research that I’ve been involved with generally consists of income and balance statements, 10-Qs, white papers, case studies, briefings, press releases, and news articles.
While the methodologies between primary and secondary research vary, both can be time-intensive. It’s important, in both instances, to avoid tunnel vision. With primary research try not to get so caught up in your existing customer base or internal culture that you aren’t able to see the bigger picture. On the flip side, when looking at secondary research, it’s important to remember that the data you find might not be what you actually need. Often it might identify macro trends that only loosely apply to your specific niche or client.
Resources of note
Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful in gaining a broader perspective of market trends for our experiential marketing analytics.
- Street Events provides earnings data related to publicly-traded companies. It is sort of a one-stop-shop for stock information, financial filings, analyst guidance, press releases, and news articles. I find it valuable in my work as an industry analyst when I need to download quarterly transcripts and filing forms. Often times a MS Word version or PDF can be downloaded making it easy to highlight and save main points.
- The U.S. Census Bureau offers a cross-section of business and demographic data. It provides statistical data on a wide variety of topics including import/export, school enrollment, demographics, health insurance, and retail. This can be important for companies desiring to expand into new markets or make projections for their current business, based on macroeconomic conditions and industry-specific considerations.
- The Harvard Business Review puts statistics into a larger business context. It offers actionable information that can help businesses map a plan for anticipating and addressing issues. It has a division called HBR Analytic Services. The unit disseminates findings from primary research that it conducts concerning business management issues. The articles are easily-consumable and are occasionally published in mainstream sources such as USA Today, The New York Times, and CNN. This is an incredibly valuable resource because topics are searchable and relevant. Many are timeless. Most articles are free, while other reports are available for a nominal fee.