Primary Data VS Secondary Data

When it comes to the difference between primary data and secondary data in marketing research, many examples and types of data collection methods can be given.




Primary sources of data collection have their advantages (such as addressing specific research problems) and applications in data management and storage. On the other hand, secondary data gathering has also a range of benefits, best practices, and an important meaning in the marketing and data world.

On this page you will learn:

  • What is primary data and what is secondary data?
    Definition.
  • Primary data vs secondary data:
    sources, advantages, and disadvantages.
  • Comparison Chart – Infographic in PDF.

For each type of business to be successful, it is absolutely crucial to have a reliable information for the market and customer characteristics. This is where intensive research methods and data collection tools come to make it possible.

What is Primary data? Sources, Advantages, and Disadvantages.

Let's define it:

Primary data is information collected directly from the first-hand experience. This is the information that you gather for the purpose of a particular research project.

Primary data collection is a direct approach that is tailored to specific company needs. It can be a long process but does provide an important first-hand information in many business cases.

Primary data is original data – from the first source. It is like raw material.

Most popular examples of primary data sources are:

  • Interview (personal interview, telephone, e-mail)
  • Self-administered surveys and questionnaires
  • Field observation
  • Experiments
  • Life histories
  • Action research
  • Case studies
  • Diary entries, letters, and other correspondence
  • Eyewitness accounts
  • Ethnographic research
  • Personal narratives, memoirs

In fact, the source of primary data is the population sample from which you gather your data. The sample is selected by some of the different types of sampling methods and techniques.

Advantages of primary data:

  • Resolve specific research issues
    Performing your own research allows you to address and resolve issues specific to your own business situation. The collected information is the exact information that the researcher wants to know and he reports it in a way that benefits the specific situation in an organization. Marketers and researchers are asked to find data regarding specific market instead of finding data for the mass market. This is the main difference from secondary data.
  • Better accuracy
    Primary data is much more accurate because it is directly collected from a given population.
  • Higher level of control
    The marketer can control easily the research design and method. In addition, you have a higher level of control over how the information is gathered.
  • Up-to-date information
    The primary market research is a great source of latest and up-to-date information as you collect it directly from the field in real time. Usually, secondary data is not so up-to-date and recent.
  • You are the owner of the information
    Information collected by the researcher is their own and is typically not shared with others. Thus, the information can remain hidden from other current and potential competitors.

Disadvantages:

  • More expensive
    It could be very expensive to obtain primary data collection because the marketer or the research team has to start from the beginning. It means they have to follow the whole study procedure, organizing materials, process and etc.
  • Time consuming
    It is a matter of a lot of time to conduct the research from the beginning to the end. Often it is much longer in comparison with the time needed to collect secondary data.
  • Can have a lot of limits
    Primary data is limited to the specific time, place or number of participants and etc. To compare, secondary data can come from a variety of sources to give more details.
  • Not always possible
    For example, many researches can be just too large to be performed by your company.

What is Secondary data? Sources, Advantages, and Disadvantages.

What is secondary data?

Secondary data is the data that have been already collected for another purpose but has some relevance to your research needs. In addition, the data is collected by someone else instead of the researcher himself.

Secondary data is a second-hand information. It is not used for the first time. That is why it is called secondary.

Secondary data sources provide valuable interpretations and analysis based on primary sources. They may explain in details primary sources and often uses them to support a specific thesis or a point of view.

Most common examples of secondary data sources are:

  • Previous research
  • Mass media products
  • Government reports
  • Official statistics
  • Letters
  • Diaries
  • Web information
  • Historical data
  • Encyclopedias
  • Monographs
  • Journal articles
  • Biography
  • Research analysis
  • Dissertations
  • Works of criticism and interpretation
  • Financial sources such as profit and loss statements balance sheets, inventory records, sales records and etc.

Advantages of Secondary Data:

  • Ease of Access
    The secondary data sources are very easy to access. The internet world changed how the secondary research exist. Nowadays, you have so many information available just by clicking with the mouse in front of the computer.
  • Low Cost or Free
    The majority of secondary sources are absolutely free for use or at very low costs. It saves not only your money but your efforts. In comparison with primary research where you have to design and conduct a whole primary study process from the beginning, secondary research allows you to gather data without having to put any money on the table.
  • Time-saving 
    As the above advantage suggests, you can perform a secondary research in no time. Sometimes it is a matter of a few Google searches to find a credible source of information.
  • Generating new insights and understandings from previous analysis
    Reanalyzing old data can bring unexpected new understandings and point of views or even new relevant conclusions.
  • Larger sample size
    Big datasets often use a larger sample than those that can be gathered by primary data collection. Larger samples mean that final inference becomes much more straightforward.
  • Longitudinal analysis
    Secondary data allows you to perform a longitudinal analysis which means the studies are performed spanning over a large period of time. This can help you to determine different trends. In addition, you can find secondary data from many years back up to a couple of hours ago. It allows you to compare data over time.
  • Anyone can collect the data
    Secondary data research can be performed by people that aren’t familiar with the different types of quantitative and qualitative research methods. Practically, anyone can collect secondary data.

Disadvantages:

  • Not specific to your needs
    Here is the main difference with the primary method. Secondary data is not specific to the researcher’s need due to the fact that it was collected in the past for another reason. That is why the secondary data might be unreliable and unuseful and in many business and marketing cases. Secondary data sources can give you with a huge amount of information, but quantity does not mean appropriateness.
  • Lack of control over data quality 
    You have no control of the data quality at all. In comparison, with primary methods which are largely controlled by the marketer, secondary data might lack quality. It means the quality of secondary data should be examined in details since the source of the information may be questionable. As you relying on secondary data for your decision-making process, you must evaluate the reliability of the information by finding out how the information was collected and analyzed.
  • Biasness
    As the secondary data is collected by someone else than you, typically the data is biased in favor of the person who gathered it. This might not cover your requirements as a researcher or marketer.
  • Not timely
    Secondary data is collected in the past which means it might be out-of-date. This issue can be crucial in many different situations.
  • Not proprietary Information
    Generally, secondary data is not collected specifically for your company. Instead, it is available to many companies and people either for free or for a little fee. So this is not exactly an “information advantage” for you and your competitors also have access to the data.

Comparison Chart: Primary Data vs Secondary Data

As you see, there is a significant difference between primary data and secondary data. Still the both types have their key benefits and applications. Which type to choose?




The choice between primary and secondary data in marketing research depends on several considerations such as: the purpose of the research; availability of financial resources and time; the degree of precision required and etc.

Primary Data VS Secondary Data- Comparison Chart 2

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