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Authour: Thuy Linh Do
Edited by Christine Keene
Secondary Research is a common research method; it involves using information that others have gathered through primary research.
- The information already exists and is readily available -> quick & low cost
- Helps guide the focus of any subsequent primary research being conducted
- Internal secondary data uses categories and breakdowns that reflect a corporation’s preferred way of structuring the world
- Secondary research may be the only available source of specific pieces of information (i.e. government data)
- The information lacks specificity or does not exactly address question of concern
- Some external secondary data may be of suspect quality or outdated
- Internal secondary data such as sales reports and customer databases may only describe existing customers
- Information is less likely to exist, particularly in developing countries, due to the lack of primary research conducted in unpopular markets or strict media control from the governments
This technique is performed in order to:
- Assess easy, low-cost and quick knowledge;
- Clarify the research question;
- Help align the focus of primary research in a larger scale and can also help to identify the answer; and
- Rule out potentially irrelevant project proposals (ex. The proposed work may have already been carried out).
This technique is also known as Desk Research.
There are two types of Secondary Research hence two types of data collected from this technique:
- Internal Secondary Data consists of information gathered within researcher’s firm (i.e. customers databases and reports from past primary research)
- External Secondary Data consists of information gathered outside of researcher’s firm (i.e. government statistics and information from media sources)
Using the Technique
Secondary Research can happen at any stage of the creative process. Each Secondary Research process involves 4 steps that can be repeated as necessary:
- Identifying the subject domain and where to acquire the information;
- Gathering existing data;
- Comparing data from different sources, if necessary and if feasible; and
- Analyzing the data
1. IDENTIFYING WHAT & WHERE
Before starting any Secondary Research, it is helpful to define the research topic/domain. Next, the researcher would prepare a list of questions to be solved by the end of the process. This step helps narrow down the topic and also allows researcher to have an active role in conducting the research. After identifying the research domain, the researcher would look at various sources of information and decide where to get necessary data.
Good sources of information include:
- Internal data such as databases, sale reports, past primary researches;
- Government statistics and information from government agencies such as Canada Business Service Centre (http://www.canadabusiness.ca), Statistics Canada (http://www.statcan.gc.ca/);
- Information resources companies (ex. Passport GMID or Datamonitor360); and
- Different media such as articles from respected magazines and newspaper, reports from university research centers or non-profit agency.
2. GATHERING EXISTING DATA
At this step, researcher looks at the topic and breaks it down in to keywords and their synonyms. For example, when looking at the topic: “What are the trends in woman clothing market?” the keywords would be “clothing”, “women” and “trend”. Accordingly, their synonyms would be “apparel”, “female” and “fashion”. Using these words to search can save researcher a lot of time in finding valuable data and also warrant no important information to be missed out.
3. NORMALIZING DATA IF NEEDED
Sometimes researchers would want to normalize the data to make it easier to analyze later.
Example for this step comes from a research project of area household income data in the US. The collected information came from 3 different sources: US Census Bureau Data (1997 data), a telephone survey of area residents (2000 data) and a published article (2007 data).
Raw information table
4. ANALYZING DATA
At this final step, the researcher should seek actionable findings to move the project forward. It is important to look back at the list of research questions from the first step and ask if they have all been answered and if there is any new question been raised. The most important goal is to come up with future actions for the project.
- Most of the time, Secondary Research would start during or after brainstorming process. Brainstorming brings in ideas or concepts/themes that would become the topic of secondary research.
- Topic for secondary research can also come from different stages of the creative process; basically, anytime a new question arises in the creative process, secondary research can be used to find the answer.
- Secondary Research provides answers to the uncertainties and questions, and will narrow down the subject domain making it easier for primary research to be conducted later on.
Other Points of Note
During the step of gathering data, researcher should make sure to verify the credibility of the information coming from the Internet. Screenshots or another method for saving important websites should be used for reference since the online data might be changed without notice.
For data such as reports and statistics, the best way to verify their credibility is to consult the appendix and references. Generally, the more detailed the references, the more trustable the data.
On it’s own, copying or summarizing information identified by secondary research has no value as far as the project is concerned. Secondary Research is of value when information is compared and analyzed, when the researcher performs a critical review of the data, and when the researcher comes up with actionable findings to move the project forward.
Other Case Studies and Examples
In Winter 2010, a design agency in New York City worked on the Fall Winter 2011 Advertising Campaign for the fashion brand Miu Miu. After the brainstorming process, several ideas and themes had been chosen for mock-ups. The ideas and themes were then divided into styles, and secondary researches had been conducted based on those styles as topics. The data were collected from different sources such as online image databases, women’s magazines, fashion magazines, art books etc. Most information was in the form of visual data. Information was arranged into mood boards for analysis.
By looking at internal data of the firm, which were the designs for the brand’s previous season’s ad campaigns, the researchers realized that the company was following a cliché approach to the project − the ads were all shot in a studio setting with similar looking models.
These findings led to a search for a new approach to the campaign that could make the Fall Winter 2011 ad unique. A brainstorming process was used once again and a final campaign evolved that met the expectations of stakeholders. The company used a 14 years old fashion icon to be the face of the brand and the photo shot was done in a home setting, with the model doing ordinary things instead of posing in front of the camera.
Without the process of secondary research, the campaign would have likely had outcomes similar to their previous work.
Resources and References
Collins, H. (2010). The theory & practice of research for the creative industries. Switzerland: AVA Publishing SA
Government of Canada: Canada Business Network. Guide to market research and analysis. Retrieved from http://www.canadabusiness.ca/eng/guide/2428/
Mcquarrie E .F. (2011). The Market Research Toolbox: A Concise Guide for Beginners, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stewart, D. W., & Kamins, M. A. (1993). Secondary research: information sources and methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
The Wallace Foundation. (2009). Workbook B: Conducting Secondary Research, Collecting and Using Data Resources. Retrieved from http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/after-school/collecting-and-using-data/Documents/Workbook-B-Secondary-Research.pdf