By Anna Winkler

When completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, I carried out “market research” for my thesis. I designed a survey, half-wayish based on existing literature on the matter, then struggled to find as many willing participants as possible. Yes, this involved begging publically on social media. Afterwards, I turned to YouTube to understand the necessary analysis tools and tried my luck at running the data through SPSS.

This is all I knew about market research, and, had someone asked me then if I could imagine pursuing a career in it, I would have shaken my head vigorously. And, even though it is a growing industry, offering great job opportunities, I am not alone in my head shaking. The image of market research is quite bland; some might even say unsexy.

As part of a career event, ESOMAR put in front of us a diverse group of speakers discussing the role of market research in decision-making. The Behavioural Architects gave an interesting insight into applying behavioural science concepts to enhance qualitative research. Twitter and Crowd DNA then talked about a recent research project into the transferability of music fandom onto brand images. Both talks painted a more diverse, more interesting picture of market research. Yet, I could not help but feel sceptical when John Kearon, Chief Juicer at BrainJuicer, energetically announced during the subsequent panel discussion: Market research is sexy!

I grinned and thought to myself; After what I just heard, it certainly has the potential to be so, but market researchers aren’t quite successful at instilling Mad Men-like imagery not only in potential job applicant’s minds, but also those of potential customers.

Time and time again in our lectures, we are taught to base our marketing efforts on insights, not assumptions. Unfortunately, even in the age of Big Data, it seems that marketing still is not as efficient as it could be. A recent study showed, that 73% out of 600 CEO’s believed marketers to lack business credibility. Why is it, that an industry earning its income from quintessentially convincing individuals to buy into an organisation’s image, is so bad at marketing themselves to those paying their wages?

The panel discussion resulted in a similar outcome: Market research has a problem in marketing themselves to the outside world and marketing needs to produce more convincing outcomes. It reminded me of my brilliantly minded engineering friends; They produce genius concepts, but never quite manage to sell them to non-engineers.

Why not help each other out here? Market research, long seen as a scholastic discipline, is able to produce valuable insights based on proven concepts of behavioural science. These insights need to be commercialized, not hidden in page-long research papers. And maybe then, when marketers start actively applying these insights and with it start producing more efficient campaigns, will market research be seen for the valuable output it produces. Not its dusty image.

Until this happens, I am happy to contribute to the rebranding of market research. Turns out, it isn’t all that boring; fancy travelling to Nigeria and analysing people’s drinking behaviour while watching football? Doesn’t sound bad, now does it?

And the best news: You do not have to be a math genius to do be part of this industry. The discussion panel seemed convinced: You need a curious mind that strives to understand why people behave in certain ways. So if you enjoy channelling your inner Sherlock Holmes and have an ability to comprehend behavioural concepts, market research might just be your industry.

The event clearly presented how diverse the industry is and that it employs people from all backgrounds. I particularly appreciated the panel’s willingness to honestly discuss, that market research does in fact have an image problem. And it was great to see that firms like BrainJuicer or the Behavioural Architects are starting to redefine what this industry has to offer and how it can in fact be sexy. As for my head? Still shaking vigorously, but this time in a different direction.

Anna Winkler is a student at Hult International Business School

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