Research approaches for gathering primary data



Researchers rely on data and information to answer questions, understand specific issues, or for hypotheses testing. They can obtain the data from the subjects directly or from sources that already store the data. When the data is collected directly for the project from the subjects, it is called primary data. When it is collected from other sources like databases, including government and private, or similar sources, secondary data is used. One major advantage that primary data offers over secondary data is that the researchers collect it specifically for their study. They ask specific questions that can elicit the data required for their study.

Research approaches for gathering primary data:

There are three main approaches to gathering primary data. They include:

  • Observation
  • Surveys
  • Experiments

Observational Research:

As the name implies, observational research involves gathering primary data by observing people. Under this method, researchers observe relevant people, actions, and situations to gather primary data. For example, a retail brand planning to open new stores in new locations might observe traffic patterns in an area, neighborhood conditions, and the locations of competing retail chains nearby. Sometimes simply asking customers is not enough to gain the kind of insight you need into consumer behavior. Therefore, consumer behavior researchers might need to observe customers to gain the customer insights they need.

Nowadays, the researchers do not just observe what customers do but also observe what they are saying. They observe customer communication across various channels, including social media, blogs, and other channels, to know what customers have to say about their brand. They routinely listen in on consumer conversations happening across various channels. Even structured and formal research approaches might not help you gain the input you may obtain by listening in on consumer conversations. 

Now a large number of companies are using ethnographic research. Ethnographic researchers observe and interact with consumers in their natural environments. Apart from the company researchers and managers, ethnographic researchers can include anthropologists and psychologists. Companies can gain important behavioral insights through ethnographic research. Companies also gain important insights into the whens, whats, and wheres of consumer buying. 

Sometimes observational and ethnographic research can yield extraordinary details that do not emerge from the traditional research methods. The traditional quantitative approaches seek to test known hypotheses and answer well-defined product or strategy questions. However, observational or ethnographic research can yield customer or market insights that people are generally unable or unwilling to provide. It can give the researchers important insights into unconscious actions and unexpressed needs and feelings of the customers.

Despite all these benefits, there are certain limitations of observational research. For example, it may not be possible for a researcher to observe attitudes, motives, or private behavior. Apart from it, they may also find it difficult to observe long-term or infrequent behavior. Finally, interpreting observations can also be very difficult. Due to these limitations, researchers combine observations with other methods of data collection.

Survey Research:

Survey research is the most widely used method for primary data collection. This approach is best suited for gathering descriptive information. For example, companies interested in knowing people’s knowledge, preferences, or buying behavior can ask them directly to find out. The leading advantage that the survey research method offers is that of flexibility. It can be used in a wide range of situations to obtain various kinds of information.

Marketers can carry out surveys that address almost any kind of marketing question or decision through mail, phone, online, or in person.

However, there are also some problems associated with survey research. People may not answer survey questions since they generally do not think about what they do or did and why? It is not always possible for them to remember these things. Apart from it, they might not be interested in responding to unknown interviewers or sharing information about things they consider private. Sometimes they may answer questions whose answers they do not really know to appear smarter or well informed. They may also try to offer pleasing answers to help the researcher. The busy people might find intrusion into their privacy resentful or might not want to take the time to answer survey questions.

Experimental Research:

While observational research is best suited for exploratory research and surveys for descriptive research, experimental research is best suited for causal research. According to Kotler, Experiments involve selecting matched groups of subjects, giving them different treatments, controlling unrelated factors, and checking for differences in group responses. Experimental research, in this manner, tries to explain cause and effect relationships. 

For example, a fast-food outlet wants to release a new product and wants to know what effect price may have on sales. Therefore, it could introduce the same product at two different prices in two different cities. If the locations are similar and the company has made similar marketing efforts for both, the difference in sales could be related to the different prices charged at the two different locations.