When you want to conduct market research that will tell you how your professional services brand is perceived in the marketplace, you have three main options: primary research, secondary research or a combination of the two. If you want the most accurate picture of your marketplace and brand, you need to understand the complexities of using primary and secondary research as part of your market research process.

Understanding Your Market with Secondary Research

Secondary research involves exploring existing research. Instead of conducting surveys and interviews yourself, you compile and analyze existing data.  This type of research can come in many forms, including:

  • Searching Google
  • Visiting your local business library and using their databases and other research resources
  • Reading books and articles
  • Using free or paid research reports from educational institutions or commercial information sources

Let’s say you are thinking of introducing a new type of consulting service. You have a hunch that clients will want this service but you don’t know for sure.  Secondary research may help you understand how many people are searching for this service in Google, whether this type of offering is trending upward or downward in demand, and how much competitors are charging. Without this information, how could you make a well-informed decision?

Below are some other common types of data that professional services firms collect during the secondary research process:

  • Market trends and demand for specific services and industries
  • Insights on which niches are saturated and which are open
  • Sizing of industries and niches in terms of revenue and number of consumers
  • Data on social media and search engine activity within certain industries
  • Data on which marketing methods are resonating with clients within certain industries

After putting in the time to get to know your market landscape, you should feel more comfortable making decisions about your brand and how it fits into the big picture.  

Advantages of Secondary Research

  • Gathering secondary data is much faster and easier than conducting primary research because the data is readily available and the research has already been completed. 
  • Secondary data is usually much cheaper than primary research. Often, you can access secondary data for free. On occasion you will need to purchase secondary data, but these fees are a fraction of the cost of conducting primary research.

Disadvantages of Secondary Research

  • The available secondary data may not exactly fit your needs. There are a finite number of areas covered by secondary research and often the specific data or market information you are seeking is not available. In these instances, you will likely need to turn to primary research.

Developing Your Brand with Primary Research

Primary research is where you’ll really discover the DNA of your firm’s brand. In primary research, you own the research and can tailor your approach to fit your specific research needs. With primary research, you are able to collect data directly from your clients, prospects, and other stakeholders—typically through interviews, surveys, or focus groups. As a business owner or marketing executive, you have a good idea of how your firm is different from competitors and what sets you apart in the marketplace.  However, there’s a good chance your perception of your brand is quite different from how the rest of the world sees you.  

Conducting primary research (sometimes known as custom research) is the most effective way to understand your brand’s perception, both externally and internally within your company. When doing primary research on your brand, you can capture a wide range of relevant data, such as:

  • How your clients, prospects, and got-aways (prospects that didn’t choose your firm) perceive your brand
  • What these same people believe to be important in a service provider
  • Who people believe to be your competitors
  • The key benefits that your firm offers over competitors
  • How people found out about your brand
  • How people prefer to receive marketing information (e.g., email newsletter vs. a telephone call)

Talking directly to the people who have interacted with your brand is a proven way to understand who you are as a firm.  Your unique selling points may become very clear after receiving this sort of direct feedback—and your position in the marketplace will become clearer.

When conducting primary research, consider partnering with a research firm that has both the experience and expertise to conduct the research properly. If your organization is new to research, primary research can pose many challenges, and if done incorrectly, can be very time consuming and deliver invalid results. 

Advantages of Primary Research 

  • The research is collected firsthand and all elements are controlled by you or a research firm.
  • If done properly, the data gathered from primary research should precisely address your specific research objectives.
  • Primary research can be used internally for strategic purposes. But you can also publish your research as content.
  • When the research is conducted by an impartial third party, clients and prospects are more likely to discuss matters they would never tell someone in your organization.

Disadvantages of Primary Research

  • Primary research can be expensive. Whether you are partnering with a research firm or handling the research internally, the cost of primary research is much pricier than secondary research.
  • Primary research is time consuming. Often, primary research can take months to complete. 
  • It’s not easy. Deciding on the methodology, finding the right sample, and aggregating and analyzing the findings can be challenging.
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Putting it All Together

When considering primary or secondary research, you don’t always need to select one or the other. Sometimes it makes sense to do both. A combination of secondary and primary research will allow your firm to both understand the landscape you live in and also determine how your brand fits into the broader landscape.  Avoid making assumptions and guessing what the market is like or how your brand is being perceived.  Spend the time up front to develop a thorough, well-rounded market research process and you will make better decisions and market your company more effectively.

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How Hinge Can Help

Hinge has helped hundreds of professional services firms research their marketplace, differentiate and position themselves, and build modern, research-based marketing programs.

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