There are two general sources of data, secondary sources and primary sources.
Secondary source information has been previously published and can be either internal or external. Company records and previously prepared marketing research reports are typical of internal secondary source material. External secondary sources are widely available and can be found outside the organization. Excellent bibliographies of secondary data sources are available, especially online. There are eight primary sources of secondary market information:
- public libraries
- universities—library facilities and bureaus of business and economic research
- government agencies—especially departments of commerce, agriculture, and labor
- professional and trade associations
- commercial publishers—especially trade publications
- research and nonprofit organizations
- conferences and personal contact
- computer-provided search systems
There are tremendous advantages in using data from secondary sources. In the first place, the expense of gathering information from secondary sources is a fraction of the cost of collecting primary data. The time required to collect data is also less. Frequently, the information required to solve a management problem must be obtained quickly. Thanks to computer technology, it is now possible to gather, merge, and reformulate many secondary sources of data. This capability has made secondary data even more attractive.
The inherent limitations of using secondary sources data are twofold. First, the information is frequently dated. Second, seldom are secondary data collected for precisely the same reasons that the information is sought to solve the current marketing problem. In spite of these limitations, the advantages of secondary research are so great that it is a common procedure not to proceed with the collection of primary data until after a thorough search of secondary information source has been completed.
Primary information is obtained directly from its source. It involves data that are not available in published form or in company records. It is gathered specifically to answer your research question. The sources of primary information, however, cannot be as easily identified as can the sources of secondary market data. Having identified the information required to help management solve a problem, it is usually possible to identify the person or persons possessing the information desired. In some cases, the information can be obtained from one of several sources. In other situations, the information can be obtained only by contacting specific sources. For example, a manufacturer of vitamins for children discovered that it was necessary to obtain information from the users (children), purchasers (parents), sellers (for the most part, druggists), and purchase influencers (pediatricians). Similarly, a manufacturer of feed for dairy cattle found it desirable to seek market information from farmers, feed dealers, and dairy specialists. Obviously, it is expensive to collect marketing information from multiple sources, and often it is rather time consuming. These two disadvantages are offset by the fact that the information so obtained is tailored to the specific problem at hand. Ultimately, the question as to which source of market information to use depends on the value of the information in relationship to the time and cost required to gather it.4