How Secondary Market Research Works

Team reviewing hybrid market research data.
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When a market research project is just a gleam in the eye of an investigator, the first question that is asked is whether the information that is desired already exists in some form. This is an important question for those who need to be good stewards of resources in a company.

But it is also an important question from the perspective of an accurate and complete researcher. If a market researcher doesn't know what research has been accomplished, it is not possible to be certain of the conclusions in the research at hand. Market research is based on solid searches of the literature.

Secondary research is the gathering and analyzing of data that was previously collected to serve a purpose other than the current reason for the research. In this way, secondary research differs from primary market research, which is the direct gathering of information from individuals in order to answer a specific and generally new research question.

Secondary market research can help conserve a firm's resources since the expense of designing and implementing a research study has already taken place. Secondary market research is usually thought of in terms of two categories: Information from internal sources (held by a particular company or agency), and information from external sources (held outside of a particular business enterprise, organization, or agency).

Secondary Market Research From Internal Sources

Secondary data can be "hiding in plain sight" as it can be contained in the existing company reports, in studies that were previously conducted by the firm, or in the form of direct feedback from stakeholders, such as customers, salespeople, retail employees, and longtime employees who hold company memory.

Secondary Market Research From External Sources

Most secondary data comes from resources that are found further afield, such as in the popular press, industry journals, and press, commercial reports from private research organizations, government publications and studies, and research published by trade organizations that focus on the state of a particular industry.

A challenge of using secondary market research is while information may be available, it may not be in the form that the market researcher or the client needs. And cobbling information and data together from disparate sources may lead to misinterpretation or incorrect conclusions about the findings and the generalizability of findings.

When this type of doubt exists, better and more reliable market research can be achieved through the use of primary market research. The differences between primary and secondary market research are summarized below.

Primary Market Research

  • Can be costly to conduct
  • Generates new data
  • Most current information
  • Completely customized
  • Subject to pilot testing
  • Time-consuming

Secondary Market Research

  • More economical
  • Reuses data already collected
  • Information from the past
  • Readily available
  • Precision may be lacking
  • May be time-consuming


The National Consumer Study conducted by Experian Simmons is a syndicated research survey that is sold to advertising agencies, college libraries, marketers, and publishers. The database contains over 60,000 data variables for consumer media usage behavior, 8000 brands, and 450 product categories. In general and aggregate terms, the database can provide a market researcher with a consumer profile of a product user, categories of heavy users, and identify target market preferences for magazines and television broadcasts.

Helpful Websites for Market Research

Proquest: This resource provides information about companies that can be sorted by industry, location, and size. This resource makes it possible for a market researcher to request company profiles, pre-addressed mailing labels, and telemarketing reports.

LexisNexis: Broadly sourced, this database includes information from CNN, Dun & Bradstreet, Ipsos, Market Research Intelligence Association, National Public Radio transcripts, The New York Times, and TNS (Taylor Nelson, Sofres).

Marketing power: This website of the American Marketing Association provides useful information to members on industry topics.


Solomon, M.R., Marshall, G. W., Stuart, E. W., Smith, J. B. Charlebois, S., & Shah, B. (2013). Marketing: Real people, real choices (4th Canadian ed.). Pearson Canada Inc.