By Julie Aebersold

If you believe the general public considers market research to be the centre of business decisions, mainstream media and politics, then you’ve got another thing coming.

Reality check; the world still views market research as clipboards tossed at uninterested folk and cold calls that interrupt family meals. A few months ago ESOMAR and Research Now led a global study to dig deeper into the public perception of market research. What they found is that although there is a broad understanding of market research, old perceptions die hard.

The most shocking statistic from the study found that over half (59%) of the 4,500 participants in the UK, USA and Germany associate market research with people interviewing them on the street with clipboards. What’s worse is that due to this savage reputation, a mere 45% of UK CATI respondents trust researchers with the information they provide.

So, researchers are annoying and untrustworthy. How does that make you feel?

Although researchers are well aware of the importance of market research (as am I), wouldn’t you feel better if everyone outside of the industry understood its value and purpose too?

And if you’re not offended by the way the public views your industry, you might want to consider how the quality of research is affected. A better understanding of research means more trust and better data. We improve this out-dated perception of market research, and we improve the quality of data.

So how do we do address these misconceptions? Don’t worry, there is a solution.

As a Future Talent Meets the Industry (FTMI) student volunteer at last year’s ESOMAR Congress in New Orleans, it quickly became clear that in order to change this old perception of market research, we need to reach out to the young people.

I spent the three days of Congress getting to know the other student volunteers, and similar to me, they were very keen to understand the ins and outs of the MR industry. And when you have a group this eager to learn your trade, you teach them.

I will say that the conference delegates were more than happy to talk to us. They encouraged us to ask questions and were genuinely interested in knowing why we chose to volunteer at Congress. The ESOMAR staff also encouraged us to attend as many presentations as we could. Plus, if there were sessions we were particularly interested in, we never had to miss out.

So then, where’s the gap? We can all agree on the importance of young researchers, which is why programmes such as FTMI and Young ESOMAR Society exist in the first place. And the ESOMAR team and all of the delegates were very involved in making our first Congress experience one for the books.

But the gap is somewhere between university and landing the first job. When you think about it, how do you end up working in market research? It’s probably safe to say you just, somehow, fell into it, didn’t you?

So you have to ask, how did we, as students, find our way to ESOMAR Congress in New Orleans? My story involves my background in marketing, where I just so happened to fall into the hands of a marketing agency that specialises in marketing for data, research and insight. So that’s me. However, I was the only marketing student there. The others were predominantly from two universities in the US; two of the very few universities that offer a master’s in market research. So yes, they were the few outliers who actually thought “I’d like pursue a career in market research.” But what about all of the other students in the world? All of the other students who have never even considered such a career path simply because they’ve never been introduced to the industry? After all, who wants to stand around handing out clipboards, eh?

Is this because young people have a misconception of market research, like the general public? Or is it because they haven’t been educated in market research as a career option?

The answer is yes. Yes to both. And while programmes such as FTMI are doing their part, it takes more than that. In order to change the perception of market research, we need to better educate our youth. How do students become informed about the industry if they’re never pushed to consider research as a career path?

We need to dig deeper and reach out to more universities; let our youth know that market research is a career option, and a very good one at that. Explain that the unique value and purpose of market research in real world business scenarios.

To the data, research and insight professionals

It’s time to face the stats. The reputation of market research has been damaged by an industry lifetime of misconceptions. Unfamiliarity with market research has led to out-dated perceptions and mistrust. The detachment between the researcher and the participant creates difficult barriers for gaining quality data. Lucky for you, the solution is loud and clear. We need a push in educating the public in the importance of market research to business and society. Researchers, it’s up to you to revive your damaged reputation. To put it in marketing terms, the industry is long overdue a rebrand.

To the future researchers and students…

Don’t hesitate to reach out to the professionals to seek guidance on a career path in market research. And as a student volunteer at last year’s ESOMAR Congress, I’ll say a hundred times over it’s an opportunity not to be missed. It’s certainly one of those hidden gems that not many know about – (similar to the unknown idea of a career in market research). I encourage you to learn more about ESOMAR Congress (in Amsterdam 2017) and learn the truth about the value, scope and purpose of market research through real-world presentations and the ever-important networking. Check out ESOMAR’s Future Challenge Meets The Industry programme where students from around the world are provided the opportunity to attend one of ESOMAR’s many global events: https://www.esomar.org/career-development/students-and-academics/future-talent.php

Julie Aebersold, Keen as Mustard, was a student guide and FTMI participant at ESOMAR Congress 2016, New Orleans. 

Share: