Secondary market research is information that's gathered by a third party. Some examples of this type of data include government statistics, reports by industry associations, and analyses prepared by professional market research firms. Secondary market research is most useful for learning about your general industry (or market), your competitive environment, and your customers.
Secondary market research data is publicly available for use by your company or any other company, which means your competition can also use the information. The trick, however, is finding that data and then using it effectively.
Warning: Sinkhole ahead
Take the time to plan your secondary market research strategy. Novices commonly make the mistake of collecting information that's interesting but not particularly pertinent to the decisions at hand. Figuring out exactly what you need to know beforehand will save you considerable amounts of time and money. To learn more about various approaches to secondary market research, see the More information section at the bottom of this page for related articles. These articles provide strategies and templates for conducting market research effectively and cost-efficiently.
Explore your source options
Begin your secondary market research by exploring free sources. When you have exhausted those resources, work your way through inexpensive sources, and then go on to the expensive ones, if necessary. But remember, sometimes you get what you pay for. You should always be on alert for outdated or overtly biased information.
A number of free sources are available to you. Some of these free sources are obvious, but be careful not to overlook the less obvious ones. Don't neglect to investigate all of these sources as you do your research: existing sources, the Internet, and libraries.
Existing sources are the "low-hanging fruit" that you can access quickly. Ask around so that you don't miss any of the following sources:
- Customer data that has already been collected should be the first source you investigate. Most companies have more sales, geographic, and demographic data than they realize.
- Salespeople from your company often have valuable customer and market information based on their direct experience. Ask them for their input and for other helpful sources.
- Industry associations that you have already joined typically have useful market research.
- Government organizations that you already interact with (such as the Department of Agriculture or license or permit issuers) often consolidate useful information.
- Your competitors. Visiting them can yield valuable information about how they do business, especially in the retail industry. If you aren't sure who your competitors are, look in the yellow pages.
On the Internet, search for the words market research and the name of your industry (for example, market research construction). You might be amazed at the number of hits you get. Look for these sources in your search results:
- Market research companies offer some free materials on their Web sites. They also often have links to other valuable resources.
- Industry associations have some of the best market analyses available. When you visit their Web sites, don't overlook their press releases.
- Related-industry Web sites are a terrific source of competitive and industry (market) information. For example, mortgage brokers can learn about their competitors or industry trends by reading articles published on real estate brokers' Web sites.
- Competitors' Web sites often post articles and white papers that quote market research they purchased.
- Government sources, such as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, have a wealth of free materials.
Libraries are ideal for individuals who are more comfortable searching through hard copies. Consider your public library and your local academic libraries. Many public libraries have business resource centers staffed by helpful librarians. These business resource centers house extensive collections of research reports and marketing lists compiled by companies such as Dun & Bradstreet. Libraries also have numerous periodicals and microfiche archives.
Academic libraries associated with business schools are terrific resources too. Check with the schools in your area. Libraries are also good places to track down reference sources in which industry terms you might not be familiar with are defined.
Many of the sources mentioned so far also sell information. For the nominal cost of a subscription to a publication or service, or a membership in an organization, you can access an enormous amount of information. Most of these organizations have an online presence. Make sure to investigate these types of useful yet relatively inexpensive resources:
- Industry-specific publications, such as PC Week, Automotive Engineer Magazine, and Petfood Magazine are rich sources of detailed information.
- General business publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, and Fortune routinely analyze different industries.
- Industry associations and consumer groups almost always offer members access to specific and current market information, including updates on lobbying activity.
- Market research companies sometimes offer summaries of their research, which are much less expensive than the full reports.
Paying professionals for market data can certainly be expensive, but if they have what you need, it may well be worth your investment. The more expensive types of resources include:
- Market research firms that offer reports for hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some sell subscriptions that run as high as $50,000 per year.
- Industry associations that sometimes offer market research for resale.
- Market research analysts who can be hired by the hour to quickly collect and synthesize large amounts of secondary market research. You can also hire them for short advisory sessions. Make sure that any such analyst or firm you choose clearly understands your needs and has experience both in your industry and with the specific issues at hand.
Follow your plan to save time and money
Avoid spending more time and money than you need to on secondary market research, and avoid spending them in the wrong places. Always follow a structured, well-thought-out process for secondary market research. This process requires more time and effort up front, but the payback is huge. Properly conducted research eliminates rework and other productivity drawbacks in the future, while saving you time and money.
About the author Cindy Kennaugh is President of On The Mark, a Silicon Valley–based consulting firm specializing in all aspects of business-to-business marketing in the high-technology industry.