Few days back, on my trip from Mumbai to London, someone asked me what I do for living. I proudly told him that I am a consultant for a market research firm. He jumped on hearing ‘market research’ and asked if I worked for those hideous survey companies which keep on sending him long irritating feedback surveys every now and then. Taken aback I quickly added that although I work in the market research industry, my work involves analytics and related consulting and I won’t be asking him a single question. I remember a similar but a subtle incident that Catherine Fish mentioned in her Young Research Award speech in 2010, where someone had asked her about what she did. I won’t go too far into it, but you can watch Catherine’s presentation on the ESOMAR website. I believe that my experience was a common one, and not a one off.
It reminded me of another incident when a friend of mine, who is planning an MBA soon, asked if he would recommend market research as a profession. I didn’t have a direct answer. On one side, I am strongly critical of the direction in which industry is heading, but on the other side there are rays of hope. I tried to explain to him the pros and cons of the industry, but I guess he was more interested in a binary answer (yes/no). So he asked me to simply answer the question, “Would you recommend market research as a profession to your (future) kid?” I didn’t have a perfect answer. So I decided to cr my question by posting it on Linkedin’s ESOMAR group and an internal forum. The poll is still up on Linkedin if you want to get involved.
Out of 39 votes (as of March 21, 2013), 56% voted yes while 23% said No and 20% said maybe. While on an internal forum, out of 50 votes, 42% said No, 30% said maybe and 28% Yes. While it may be interesting to analyse reasons behind the difference between these two forums, I would like to talk more about the topic and the comments posted on the poll. On the internal forum, a researcher argued that before I ask if market research can be recommended 20 years down the line, I need to ask if market research would still be viable 20 years and beyond? He believed that market research won’t exist at this time and roles will be more about data and consulting strategy. While his comment got likes from some people, it drew sharp counter-comments from a qualitative researcher who believed that, irrespective of market research’s existence, qualitative will never cease to exist. The qual researcher added that qualitative will be accompanied by more technology and might move under the umbrella of consultancy, but will always exist!! Though he added that quantitative might be replaced with other generic cheaper options.
The input I gathered from Linkedin gave a different picture. While some responsible parents looked at this question via a parenting lens rather than a market research question and argued that parents should not influence career choices on their kids, some decided to take one or the other side. A researcher from New York was unhappy about the way market research had changed in last 32 years, from paid lunches and good salaries to long working hours and shrinking salaries. Others were more optimistic about market research and believed that although tools to analyse may be changing, concept of market research will remain unaffected. Some argued that working environment has changed in several industries and can also be attributed to type of company and business. Someone also added that more than a decade ago when SPSS was invented, salesman claimed software’s ability to make statisticians jobless yet we saw none of that happen.
So how would I vote? I am still into a maybe category. In the future I may convert to a ‘yes’ but given present scenario, I would tick ‘no’ on the ballot. For my last few blog entries, I’ve written about my personal disagreements with the way industry moves. On a different track, I would like to talk about something that worries several youngsters in the industry. Off the record, several young researcher lament poor salaries, bad bonuses and long working hours. While they do accept that market research provides better work environment than high-paying jobs in hedge funds or investment banking (which several consider an evil profession given incidents after 2008), money does matter. Being considerate to management and looking from their perpective, I would say that management can’t do much either. Research has become a commodity hence margins are down leading to lesser profits which impact money dispatched to employees and further impacting the quality of new talent being attracted. The only way out of this vicious circle can be via innovation. Companies need to get fresh talent from diverse backgrounds with their career growth linked to innovative paths pursued by them. Such steps will bring market research companies out of the vicious circle by bringing new techniques and help them differentiate on their offerings; which in turn will help increase margins and hence profits and salaries. Someone on Linkedin poll lamented extinction of creativity in the market research industry and I believe that instead of deploring we need to take proactive actions to bring creativity back in fold.
Talking about extinction, I would say that with so much of data being generated every day via digital mediums, the growing need for new products in developing world and increasing acceptance for insight supported decisions, extinction of market research seems to be too pessimistic. But the question remains that do we want to be content with small part of the research pie or do we want to grab the bigger pie which I believe the industry is better equipped for than tech companies. I would just say that instead of fearing change we need to accept that change can be good. Ending this blog on an inspirational note, I would like to point to some studies that I recently saw at a webinar by NewMR which showcased some interesting real life examples of innovative technique usage.
Preriit Souda works for TNS Global-UK. The views expressed are solely personal and do not reflect views of TNS or associated companies. Please note that comments on Linkedin are not published verbatim and if you disagree with my summarisation of comments please feel free to correct me on any aspects you feel may be ill-informed or biased.