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Marketing Research - Secondary Research

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012


Secondary data is data that already exists and has been collected by someone else for another purpose.  Secondary research involves the investigation of secondary sources of data. 

Sources of secondary data can come from within the firm itself – this is known as internal secondary dataExternal secondary data, on the other hand, is data that has been published by other organisations

What are internal sources of secondary data?

Every department within an organisation will have its own records that represent a potential source of valuable data.  For instance, records of past advertising campaigns within the marketing department can be compared with copies of invoices held in the sales department in order to judge their effectiveness and get ideas for future campaigns.  Past sales figures can also be used to spot trends and forecast future figures. 

The increasing availability and use of loyalty cards has given retail outlets the chance to gather a wide range of valuable information on customer buying habits, allowing them to target promotional campaigns more effectively.

Internal sources of data should always be considered as a first line of enquiry for any investigation because they are usually the quickest, cheapest and most convenient source of information available.  Internal data will also be exclusive to the organisation that generated it, so that rival firms will not have access to it. 

However, internal data may be incomplete or out of date, and, if a project is new, there may be no relevant data at all.   In such cases, an organisation may need to consider using external sources of secondary data.

What are external sources of secondary data?

There are several sources of existing data available from outside of the organisation that may be of value.  These include:

  • Commercial market research organisations – including MINTEL, Keynote and Euromonitor
  • The Government – e.g., Monthly Digest of Statistics, Annual Abstract of Statistics, Social Trends.  In addition, there are now a number of government websites, such as www.statistics.gov.
  • Competitors – company reports and websites are easily accessible and contain a limited amount of information
  • Trade Publications – e.g, the Grocer
  • The general media – to the archives of newspapers such as the Financial Times and the Guardian and journals such as the Economist are now accessible online, making them a useful starting point for research

What are the advantages and disadvantages of using secondary data?

Secondary data sources should always be considered by any firm conducting research.  No firm can afford to waste time and money conducting expensive surveys to gather data that already exists! 

However, secondary data may have been collected some time ago and, therefore, be out-of-date.  Because it has been collected for another purpose, it may be in the wrong format or incomplete.

The advantages and disadvantages of using secondary data will vary from source to source.  Government data, for example, is usually cheap or even free to access.  It is likely to be accurate and updated regularly. 

However, it may be too general and, because it is available to everyone, it is unlikely to give an organisation any competitive edge.  Some information on competitors may be easily available via company reports or websites, but these are unlikely to contain sensitive information or data that gives the firm a negative image.

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