By Heidi Dietzsch
When a teacher asks, what do you want to do when you grow up, few children will raise their hands excitedly and answer, market researcher!
Rock stars, pilots and pixar animators would most probably top the list, while the more conventionally inclined want to become doctors and lawyers.
Despite the perceived absence of glamour associated with market research, it can be very fulfilling and interesting. The field is diverse and therefore a variety of characteristics make a good researcher, but the two core traits needed to be good at the job are analytical thinking and insatiable curiosity. When paired, these two characteristics create a researcher not only dedicated to the results, but also dedicated to the method.
No one specific qualification is required but a bachelor’s degree is usually a prerequisite. Researchers have degrees in various disciplines including statistics, business administration, marketing, social sciences and communication. In some cases a psychology degree is necessary, especially for qualitative researchers, while some positions require a master’s degree.
As a market researcher you are required to perform a variety of tasks, including: liaising with clients, designing questionnaires, managing fieldwork teams, moderating focus groups, undertaking ethnographic research, monitoring the progress of research projects, analysing and interpreting data, writing detailed reports and presenting results.
Successful market researchers also need to be friendly and approachable. They are expected to conduct personal interviews, moderate focus groups and brief fieldwork teams on a regular basis. All of these require good people skills and respondents need to feel comfortable in the presence of researchers. It is possible that their answers might be different if they feel under pressure, rather than being relaxed.
Market researchers need to have the ability to stay calm in stressful situations. Many nerve-racking scenarios can play out during the research process. For instance: you are conducting an online survey and the fieldwork period is nearly over, but you don’t have nearly enough responses to complete our sample. Or, you are moderating a focus group and half of the participants don’t show up. And this is one most researchers will be familiar with: you have a strict deadline to deliver the final research report, only to realise that your data set contains errors. When these situations occur – and they will – researchers need to be focused, think logically and solve the issue.
Excellent written and verbal communication skills, as well as attention to detail, are important. Researchers need to be able to write reports and present results in a clear and understandable manner that make sense to a variety of audiences. To interpret large volumes of data and telling an interesting story about it is an invaluable ability.
As a market researcher you will need the capability to adapt to rapid changes and will continuously have to embrace and master new technology. Today, the market research landscape looks completely different from 20 years ago and it will continue to evolve. Regular innovations disprove the saying that “there is nothing new under the sun”.
For instance, global research company Nielsen has developed the Consumer Neuroscience’s Video Ad Explorer (VAE), which delivers a comprehensive understanding of consumer response, evaluating non-conscious processing of attention, emotion and memory. This allows for the capturing of insights that might have been missed otherwise.
The rise of smartphones as the consumer’s constant companion, as well as the interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, has unleashed exciting data collection and monitoring potential. These tools have the inherent advantage of being present at the exact point of problem solving or “instant of intent,” as it is called in the industry. With no market researchers present to bias the data collection process – which can happen in focus groups, for instance – respondents can be remotely observed and asked about their activities, needs and feelings as they occur in the real world.
Most industries conduct market research, therefore an advantage of being a researcher is that you will learn a lot about different industries. However, many researchers tend to become specialists in a specific industry as they advance in their careers.
Another plus point is that the employment of market researchers is projected to grow 23% over the next 10 years, much faster than the average for all occupations. Employment growth will be driven by an increasing use of data and market research across all industries.
Young graduates who start their professions as market researchers have ample opportunities to build a successful career for themselves. The industry allows for a great deal of learning opportunities and growth, together with creativity and innovation. Some market researchers become great leaders and innovators. One such a person is South African Dr Jannie Hofmeyr, a senior global thought leader at the Kantar Group.
One of Hofmeyr’s biggest achievements was the introduction of the ConversionModel in the late 1980s. During this period the ConversionModel was a pioneering market research approach that considered both the customer and the market. More recently, Hofmeyr has been championing the use of expert systems and the integration of surveys with social media predictive analytics to disrupt the world of brand and image tracking. He also studies the link between brand relationships and actual buying behaviour.
There is no doubt that being a market researcher can be extremely taxing – demanding deadlines, difficult respondents, fieldwork disasters and data errors will always be part of the package. However, it is immensely rewarding when you are at the end of the research process and you’ve just delivered an insightful and meaningful report to your client. You’ve put in the hard work, correctly followed all the necessary steps, are confident that your findings are credible, and you know that your research will be used to make important business decisions.