Investigating the Role of Secondary Research

Does order matter in market research?

When we think of market research, we think of focus groups of individuals giving their opinions about a product, while a strategically placed mirror hides a group of marketers and brand managers recording every conversation for nuggets that generate exactly what they want to hear. And that’s not too far from the truth.

That’s a form of primary research, and it’s the dissection of consumer behavior through thorough examination of the people that make up the target audience. Through interviews and inquisitions with farmers, ranchers, veterinarians and ag dealers about buying decisions, preferences and lifestyle choices, brand and marketing managers can obtain insight about how consumers make choices. The open parameters also provide observations about the competition and why consumers might choose the competition. Finally, it offers a chance to win over new customers.

But there’s another type of research that’s just as important and gets overlooked. Secondary research.

Secondary research is that which has already been produced publicly via census, survey and other means of data collection to give statistical, quantitative and more objective information about your brand or product. It can also provide a larger frame of reference, such as how your brand or product compares to others through financial reports, trade publications and academic research. Ag associations that conduct independent research and publish annual reports would be a source for this, as would farm broadcast and radio surveys and information available on ag websites.

Is Secondary Research Primary in Importance?

The question is, should ag marketers consult this secondary research before primary research? The value of secondary research is that it lays down the foundation that primary research is lacking. So, though it sounds subordinate in importance, secondary research actually takes a leading role.  And it’s primary research that fills in the gaps that secondary opens, rather than the other way around. Likewise, there are facets within secondary research that might be the only available sources of information. These could be research statistics or government data, noting that often there are limitations to accessible materials.

The one caution of secondary research is that it can over-influence or “lead the witness” in the discussion process, when we consult with secondary research in advance of primary research. Because this can lead to a confirmation bias, the challenge is to use secondary research to inform without extending this risk.

Market Research as a Neutral Entity

To overcome this risk and to be most effective, market research requires a neutral third party to administer, observe and qualify its responses. The investment in this neutrality also enables more variance in your research options and provides for an environment where individuals feel most comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings about the products and services they choose.

Unfortunately, a neutral party isn’t always an option, so it’s necessary for researchers to always challenge existing hypotheses and consistently re-evaluate their beliefs, theories and ideologies as it pertains to respondents.

As you’re exploring the best avenues for market research with your ag brands, keep in mind the value of secondary research and how that may enhance your marketing goals. A little investigation can go a long way, without influencing the influencer.