Primary and Secondary Research in Marketing

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Critically analyse the effectiveness of primary and secondary research applied to product development (looking at qualitative and quantitative research).

Market research can be understood in terms of how the activity is carried out, designing questionnaires, planning respondent samples, methods of data collection and analysis etc, in other words the techniques of the discipline. The purpose of market research is to assist and improve marketing decisions; selecting the optimum alternative or even setting the decision-making agenda, i.e. what are the real marketing issues facing us? In any field, the basis of good decision making is having effective and accurate information available and using it accordingly.

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Almost any information required in or contributing to marketing decision making and the methods used to acquire that information, can be considered to be market research but, as a distinct and specialized activity, it is the provision of information about the market that is usually the central concern. People and organisations regularly need to understand the markets that they find themselves in, including the needs of consumers that make up these markets. This understanding can be intuitive and based on common sense, where many successful decisions have been and continue to be based on no more than instinct.

However, in competitive markets where implementing a decision may require major financial resources and where the costs of failure are high, there is a need for decision making based on more rigorous and reliable data. Additionally, many features of modern markets and marketing such as consumer diversity, internationalization and the ever accelerating pace of change, increase uncertainty and make the informal and intuitive approaches to understanding less secure.

The more formal techniques of market research, which have been developed and matured over the last few decades, generally offer a basis for increased confidence in decision making and so reduce some of the risks that always will be present in markets. The primary purpose for market research is risk aversion, to understand what the market wants, and not just what a few customers want and reduce the risk of developing the wrong product.


Product development is the phase in which the organisationdetermines if it is technically feasible to produce the product and if it canbe produced at costs low enough to make the final price reasonable. To testits acceptability, the idea or concept is converted into a prototype, orworking model. Concept cars for example are used in the development of newvehicles. The prototype should reveal tangible and intangible attributesassociated with the product in consumers’ minds. The product’s design, mechanicalfeatures and intangible aspects must be linked to wants in the marketplace.This includes the service aspects of the product, which are a vital componentof many products. Failure to determine how consumers feel about the productand how they would use it may lead to the products failure.

For example, the Sinclair C5 electric buggy car, was developed as a serious on-road, single seater car for city or country use. However, drivers felt unsafe in a small buggy, and campus students ended up using the remaining stocks on-pavement runabouts.

The development phase of a new product is frequently lengthyand expensive; thus a relatively small number of product ideas are put intodevelopment. If the product appears sufficiently successful during this phaseto merit testing, then during the latter part of the development phasemarketers begin to make decisions regarding branding, packaging, labelling,pricing and promotion for use in the test marketing phase.

With this in mind we can now move on to talk about theeffectiveness of the use of primary and secondary research in productdevelopment.


There are two types of data collection methods, they areprimary data collection and secondary data collection.

Primary Data Collection: this type of datacollection are usually observed and recorded or collected directly fromrespondents. This type of data must be gathered by observing phenomena orsurveying respondents. Primary data collection can be deemed as bespoke andtherefore time consuming and costly.

This process is more lengthy and complex, it is typicallymore costly, involving experimentation, sampling, survey methods, andquestionnaire construction. The acquisition of primary data often requires anexperimental approach to determine which variable or variables caused an eventto occur.

Experimentation: this involves keeping certainvariables constant so that the effects of the experimental variables can bemeasured. For example, when Apple tests a change in its AppleWorks wordprocessing computer program, all sales and marketing variables should be heldconstant except the change in the program.

Sampling: by systematically choosing a limited numberof units, or sample, to represent the characteristics of a total population,marketers can project the reactions of a total market or market segment. Theobjective of sampling in product development, therefore, is to selectrepresentative units from total population. Sampling procedures are used instudying the likelihood of events based on assumptions about the future.

Survey Methods: This includes interviews by mail,e-mail, or telephone and personal interviews. Selection of a survey methoddepends on the nature of the problem, the data needed to test the hypothesisand the resources, such as funding and personnel that are available to theresearcher.

Questionnaire Construction: A careful constructedquestionnaire is essential to the success of any survey. A questionnaire is abase document for research purposes that provides the questions and thestructure for an interview or self-completion and has provision forrespondents’ answers. Questions must be designed to elicit information thatmeets the study’s data requirements.

Observation Methods: This method enables a researcherto record respondents’ overt behaviour, taking note of physical conditions andevents. Direct contact with respondents is avoided; instead, their actions areexamined and noted systematically. Observation is straightforward and avoids acentral problem of survey methods: motivating respondents to state their truefeelings or opinions.

Secondary Collection Data: These types of dataare normally compiled inside or outside the organisation for some purpose otherthan the current investigation. Secondary data include general reportssupplied to an enterprise by various data services. Such reports might concernmarket share, retail inventory levels and consumer buying behaviour. Commonly,secondary data is already available in private or public reports or have beencollected and stored by the organisation itself. Because secondary data arealready available, which does save valuable time and money, they should beexamined prior to the collection of any primary data. Marketers often begin themarketing research for product development by gathering secondary information.They may use available reports and other information from both internal andexternal sources to identify a marketing problem.

Internal sources of secondary data can contribute to productdevelopment. For example, an organisation’s marketing databank may containinformation about past marketing activities, such as sales records and researchreports that can be used to test hypothesis and pinpoint problems.Organisations accounting records are also an excellent source of data, butstrangely enough tend to be overlooked. The large volume of data that anaccounting department collects does not automatically flow to the productdevelopment area.

Secondary data can also be retrieved from periodicals, censusreports, government publications, the World Wide Web and unpublished sources.Periodicals such as Investors chronicles, Marketing, The Economist, Campaign,Marketing Week, Wall Street Journal, and Fortune, print general informationthat is helpful for defining problems and developing hypothesis.

Other external sources of secondary data are Trade journals,trade associations, international sources, commercial sources, governments,books in print, periodical indices and computerized literature retrievaldatabases.


Broadly speaking there are two types of marketing researchmethods, they are qualitative and quantitative methods. The names describe thebasic difference in the results. Quantitative methods use samples large enoughthat there is statistical confidence in the results. Qualitative methods usevery small samples with no statistical significance. A complete research planincludes both categories of research. The mix depends on the stage ofdevelopment, the research objectives available funds, and other variables.

Often, qualitative such as a focus group can be used to better identify what the issues are to do with a new product. Quantitative research is then employed to determine how prevalent the issue or need is.

Qualitative research is the term applied to research that is considered exploratory or

conceptual. Qualitative research will provide context,insights, and ideas for more research. The idea for the use of this type of research method is to get the participants to talk about their experiences,give opinions about situations, and to react to scenarios or prototypes. The basic characteristics of qualitative research are, broad objectives; small samples, results tend not to be generalizable or target population; and it is best used early in order to identify issues and again later in the process to validate. The following methods under qualitative methods are the most commonly used. They are: review of secondary information, focus groups and related techniques (brainstorming sessions), and observations/ ethnographic studies (insetting where the product is actually used.

Quantitative research is the term applied to researchthat is considered conclusive. A researcher might use quantitative research totest hypothesis, describe the market or target population characteristics, andcheck relationships among variable. The results lead to formal conclusions andrecommendations to inform decision-making. The idea is to get enough responsethat the research will feel confident that the results reflect the market.

The basic characteristics of quantitative research are:defined objectives that include hypothesis, focused research design identifieswho, how, what, why and when, large enough sample to allow for generalization(projection of results), and heart of the research.

The most common quantitative research methods are: Surveys,which could be mail, telephone, online; usability studies; field testing;laboratory testing and conjoint analysis. Quantitative research is alsoconcerned with measuring aspects of a market or the population of consumersmaking up the market. This includes soft phenomena such as consumer attitudesas well as the hard things such as market size, brand shares, purchase frequenciesetc.

Quantitative research and sampling: Quantitative data on a market or consumer group can be obtained through carrying out a census on the general populace, so as to obtain the relevant measures from every single consumer or (in the case of business-to-business research) player in the market. In practice market research through a census is very rare; for one thing it is usually prohibitively expensive to obtain data from every individual (the government only carries out a population census once every 10 years) and even when the money is made available the timescales involved are likely to be too long to meet commercial deadlines. Quantitative market research is, therefore, nearly always based on more or less rigorous sampling methods which have in common the assumption that the data from samples can betaken to represent, within estimated levels of accuracy, the population or universe from which they are retrieved from.

Types of Quantitative Data: The range of information which can be and is collected through quantitative research is enormous if not infinite. In relation to deciding how data should be collected, all possibilities can be slotted into a simple threefold classification. They are: market measure; customer profiles or segmentation; and attitudinal data. Market measures quantify and describe a market. Common examples include: market and sector size; shares of the market held by suppliers or brands; penetration levels (what proportion of all potential consumers own or buy a product); purchase and consumption frequencies; patterns of consumption and seasonality.

A vital concern in any marketing is knowing and understanding the potential customer base, what type or organisations are they? What other types of products or services do they own or use? What is required to meet this need is customer profiling or segmentation data and it is quantitative in nature because reliable breakdowns are needed for the whole market or population

Additionally attitudinal data is also used in a quite general sense to cover concepts such as awareness, perceptions, beliefs, evaluations,preferences, and propensities. In other words they are, in their various forms, subjective and reside in the minds of individuals (attitudinal data is collected in business-to-business research but in the end it is still attitudes of individuals within organisations or companies, as such, do not have attitudes). Much of market research is concerned with attitudes and attitude measurement because attitudes are assumed to influence if not determine behaviour; understand consumer attitudes and the marketing may mould consumer choice in the products favour.

Level of Measurement: Depending on the stage of product development, research measurement can be used to focus on particular market levels and use techniques appropriate for find out the possible level of satisfaction that will be gained from using the product. For example,manufacturers passing on sales figures, in confidence, to a third party ( association) which collates them. Retail sales and brand shares are likely to be collected most accurately at the retail level through a retail audit. Patterns of consumption and profiles of consumers, however, will require data collection at the final level through some type of interviewing programme.

The market level from which data is required, therefore, has an important bearing on the research methodology. The size of a market, for example, can be estimated by grossing up the consumption levels among a sample to the total population within the market. With adjustments (e.g. for imported products, ‘shrinkage’ through the retail chain, etc) estimates also can be made of manufacturers’ and distributors / retail sales. However, in making such estimates various uncertain assumptions nearly always have to be made and this affects the reliability of the final data.

Frequency of Measurement: Market research data is often required at only a single point in time; the current market, the shares held now by each brand, the profile of current consumers etc. In such cases the research methodology is commonly designed as a one-off and the project(i.e. product development). It is also possible that at some future date it may be decided be the organisation to collect the same sort of data again and a similar research design maybe used but at the time the first project is considered this not to be of significant importance at the time. In terms of research expenditure, most market research budgets are taken up buying repeat measures through continuous research.

Continuous data allows important measures to be tracked overtime; movements in brand shares for example show progress (or decline) against competitors and changes in the trend provide an early warning to take action. Discrete trends also can be interrelated to other measures taken in the continuous research programme (e.g. media exposure) or independent variables such as economic indicators and all the data ca be integrated into a model which allows for predictions to be made or enables ‘what if’ questions to be answered. Continuous data can be collected from matched samples (each made up of different respondents) and in some applications this is the preferred approach. Due to the high costs associated with conducting continuous research, much of the wok tends to be syndicated with costs shared among a number of subscribers.

The nature of the respondent: The location of potential respondents may for example, influence any decision to use phone or visit interviewing. Other considerations may favour face-to-face methods but if the selected sample of say 50 potential buyers of a product is spread allover Western Europe, phone interviewing maybe ruled out if an important part of the sample is seldom found there; e.g. older people. Respondent’s personal attributes may also influence the research design.

Self completion surveys are not appropriate among an illiterate or semi-literate respondent group or where interest in the subject of the research is likely to be low. Similarly, the wording of questions may need to reflect respondents’ language skills and familiarity with terminology: computer jargon may have a place in a survey of IT workers but not among the general population. Where as is common, the sample is mixed in these respects, the design must actually work lowest common denominator assumptions. Access to communications and the status of respondents are also relevant to an appropriate design. While most business-to-business respondents can be contacted by phone, this will be less the case where shop floor attitudes need to be established or where workers are very mobile. In such cases respondents may need to be recruited away from their place of work.


The roots of the words qualitative and quantitative imply that one is based on quality and the other on quantity. There is some truth in this. Qualitative research is centrally concerned with the understanding rather than the measurement of things. The trouble is the lack of measurement means that it is never possible to be absolutely sure that the findings are correct.

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It is his inability to validate qualitative research that causes some consternation in relation to its use in product development. For example, the government recently commissioned little qualitative research as it is worried that the findings would not stand up to public scrutiny. More recently, though, since the 1997 General Election, interest by government in focus groups and similar had become a news item. The focus on quality and small numbers of respondents allows the research consultants to collect much of the data themselves in contrast to qualitative surveys where the numbers of interviews are too great for any single person to make more than a dent.

One of the strengths of qualitative research is that it deeply involves experienced and skilled practitioners in the subject who can lift data and turn it into creative research findings. Here too there are problems as well as advantages. Much of the information gathered through qualitative research depends on the skills of the practitioner.

Small numbers of respondents and just one or two people carrying out the interviewing allows more open-ended questions than in quantitative surveys. Open-ended questioning is the fabric of qualitative researchers. There is no hard and fast rule as to the break in sample size between qualitative and quantitative research. Most researchers would agree that 30 or fewer respondents would certainly constitute qualitative work.Others would argue that any sample much below 200 interviews is verging on the qualitative method because such low numbers produce findings with extremely large bands of error.

According to Goodyear (1990), qualitative and quantitative research differs in four important ways, they are: in the type of problem that each can solve; the methods of sampling; the methods of sampling; the methods and style of collecting information; and the approach to and techniques of analysis.


The research cycle is different depending on what stage of product development the research is done for. A typical research cycle would include most or all of the steps mentioned below. These steps should be regarded as categorised as a combination both primary and secondary research.They are:

Secondary Literature Search: An astonishing amount of information exists here, or is being collected about consumer needs, wants their behaviour, about markets, prices, opportunities, etc. A list of questions and assumptions is required at this stage to identify what customers would see in the product. One could use the internet to locate studies that relate to it. This is an inexpensive way to prepare for the other research steps. At this point the primary concern for the researcher are,opportunities, and potential of the product, and identifying information to help in formulating plans.

Exploratory Focus Groups: These groups enable the researcher to hear about people’s needs, wishes, current products (especially the strengths and weaknesses), how they compensate for what they don’t have, attitudes about the markets, etc. At this point the researcher is still thinking about opportunities, potential, etc, and looking for information to formulate plans.

Ethnographic Study: One may want to observe people using related products and services in real time. This helps clarify what is gathered in research studies and heard in focus groups. At this point the latter of opportunities still holds.

Large Scale Survey: The survey allows one to collect quantifiable information about assumptions, questions raised by the focus groups, planning, and general market conditions of the product from the general populace. At this point the researcher would already have concrete assumptions about potential customers, their needs, and the market in general. In this situation one is looking to verify those assumptions and ideas, with statistical confidence. Additionally one may want to conduct surveys throughout the development process to clarify issues, help you make choices etc.

Usability Testing and Laboratory Testing: the test here helps one to refine various features of the product as it is being developed. Are the buttons in the right place, etc? At this point a prototype is being built, according to the information already gathered through primary and secondary sources using qualitative and quantitative methods of research.As the major components of the new product are being put together, it’s best to test their functionality with real customers.

Prototype Focus Groups: These groups test the researchers execution of plans gathered previously. For example, do the features of the prototype meet their needs of the market? At this point specific information with regard to feedback about the look, feel, feasibility,etc of the prototype is gathered. (The researcher should expect at least two or three rounds of groups to refine the new product).

Field Test: This enables the new product to betested. Users put the prototype through its paces. One might want to makesure that the product is tested in a variety of settings to make sure theproduct goes through the range of possible experiences. At this point the producthas been designed and built. Now is to see how good the product is with regardto its market category, in which substantial evaluation has already beencarried out.


This paper has looked at the meaning of product development, thetwo types of data collection methods namely, primary data collection andsecondary data collection methods. Under primary data collection itidentifies, the type of primary data collection, namely, experimentation,sampling, survey methods, questionnaire construction and observation methods.Under secondary data, we have identified the use of periodicals, census report,government publication, trade journals and the World Wide Web as being the mostused method under this type of data collection. We have also described thetypes of market research methods, namely, qualitative and quantitative researchmethods

Under quantitative research we have looked at sampling, the types of quantitative data used, level of measurement, frequency of measurement, and nature of respondent or potential customers for the new product. Additionally, we have also identified a few differences in the use of research methods for product development such as the measurement of the concluded findings for a research etc. Finally, we looked at the research cycle with regard to what point of the cycle a new product would be evaluated and tested in real markets. The research cycle tells us about the use of secondary literature search, exploratory focus groups, ethnographic study, large scale survey, usability testing and laboratory testing, prototype focus groups, and field testing in product development.

It is worthwhile to conclude here that although secondaryresearch, which is based on already existing data or information; i.e. datafrom primary research is one that is collected directly from the source, whilesecondary research builds on primary research already gathered, one should notethat information gathered for secondary research might not be as accurate asone might expect. The reason for this is that, a secondary data collectionresearcher might not have been part of the primary research team, and thereforethe outcome of the results of secondary research to do with quantitativeanalysis might prove to be inaccurate in its use for product development.

Further work is required to develop this approach to see if the potential benefits can actually be realised in practice. Additionally, there should be a greater consideration of the issues involved in secondary analysis of single, multiple, and mixed data sets. Finally, some more specific guidelines are needed for researchers about the ethical issues to be considered when undertaking qualitative work that maybe re-used in the future such as being biased and not taking on board important issues that would affect the outcome of the product in the final stages of development.


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