I majored in marketing, but I was working in a cooperative work program at a major research house. Basically what I was doing was going out and traveling throughout the country interviewing people on surveys. Later on I was hiring and training interviewers to complete the surveys the company had contracted. When I graduated they offered me a job, and I went into the client service area as an assistant project director. In my interviewing and supervisory career in the field, I had seen virtually thousands of different kinds of surveys. When I became a project director and started working with clients, it was more of the technical aspects of getting information for clients and answering the questions they wanted answered. The most difficult part of my job today-and it hasn't changed over the years-is to find out what it is the client wants an answer to. The stated objective of a study may have a myriad of different interpretations. Sometimes you are dealing with something very straightforward, and then again sometimes it is very politically motivated.
When I was in undergraduate school, I worked with a professor on a marketing research project. He was a marketing professor doing some special work for the government, and I was his assistant. That was my first exposure to marketing research outside the classroom. From there I got my M.B.A. and planned to move into marketing and brand management. At that time, when people started in marketing here, they started in the marketing research department. It was in essence a first-year program for the entry-level position in marketing. After a year in the marketing research group, the person would then move into our marketing department leading up the chain of brand management. When I got into the marketing research department here, I really enjoyed the work, so I chose to stay. We do not have that program any more. People who want marketing start in marketing, and people who want marketing research start and stay in marketing research.
Q - What does a career path in marketing research look like?
A - The entry-level position here is an [analyst] when you have achieved a certain level of competence and capability, you receive a promotion to senior analyst. A senior analyst has direct project responsibility. I would say an average length of time at the analyst level is roughly two years; but at the senior analyst level, it is really hard to say ... a minimum of a year and a half. It just depends on whether there is an opening at the supervisory level. The supervisor is the next level up, and the person in this position supervises the activity of the analysts and the senior analysts. The next step up is a group brand research manager, and that position entails supervising or managing two supervisor as well as all the analysts under them. Beyond that there is a manager of the department, and the next level is vice-president.
If you start as a coder you should keep doing it until you are good at it. If you are really bright, it shouldn't take more than three weeks or so. You should know what coding is and be able to sit down with any coding operation that is doing poorly and say "Okay, push all this stuff aside; I am going to show you how to do it." Then look for another opportunity either in that organization or elsewhere, because you have to broaden your experience. Maybe the next thing that you should do is to get into data processing or something like that. Learn another tool. Beyond that point, you should try to get into another facet of it. Maybe something like field supervision. I have done interviewing, but there are lots of people in this field who have not. You ought to learn the limitations of what an interviewer can and cannot do. This is rather critical, and it's something that you will not learn in college. Now you know the field, coding, and tabulations, and you are still in your first year or so. Now you are at the point where you could apply for a job as assistant or associate project manager. If you are good, you will move up.
Q - What differences do you see between the supplier side and manufacturer side of marketing research?
A - I would say that of every ten people going into the field, five or six go into a supplier firm, two to three people go into advertising agencies, and the remainder go into manufacturing. Typically manufacturers don't have training programs in market research. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.
I was with a supplier for ten years. I left because you only get part of the story when you are on the supplier side. I was very interested in finding out why I did things, the motivation behind the work I was doing. One time a client came to me and said, "I want you to do some product tests, and I want you to be as objective as you possibly can. We really want to know how our product does versus the competition's." So, we did a comparison product test. The competition's product won by a margin of 90 to 10! So, four weeks later this manufacturer announced that they were going out of this particular business. I didn't know the details of what was going on behind the scenes, but they obviously didn't think that they could compete when they were losing that badly, and they didn't want to work at research and development for the future in order to improve their product. So, they wrote off over $100 million. Knowing what I know now, I think they made a mistake. I know more about the situation and what they could have done. But as it was, I had no inkling of the kind of strategic thinking that was going on in the minds of the marketing people and in the management of that corporation. Having looked at the data, they were a 90-10 loser. However, there was a certain segment among the people interviewed who were very interested in that product. It was a small segment, but based on what I know now, the manufacturer could have made a lot of profit just aiming at that particular group.