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Few Basics Requirements for Being a Market Researcher

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One of the most important is certainly analytical skill. You have to know what the numbers mean. The second, and a close second, is communication skills. It is fine to know all about regression analysis and all the types of methodology, but if you cannot communicate what you have learned to your peers, superiors, and subordinates, then there is really no use in being here. I am dealing with people who have never used research, and they don't know what trends are and what methodology means. When you open up an Arbitron book, they get scared. If I can't communicate that data to them, then all my work is for nothing.

There are certain research programs, or research techniques, that are much more statistically involved than others, but most research is common-sense research. You are not always performing t-tests, nor are you always doing segmentation research, cluster analysis, or other types of statistical techniques where you need advanced statistics. To tell you the truth, there are people out there whose specialty is that kind of research, and if you need to do that type of work going into a project, you usually hire someone to do that type of specialty statistics. I think it is very rare to expect most marketing researchers to be a whiz in statistics.

How many hours do you spend on the job, and how do you spend them?

I may not be the right person to ask. My normal workweek is thirty-seven hours, but during stretches of weeks at a time I put in sixty to seventy hours. That includes working entire weekends, working until 11:00 at night, and staying up later than that. You see what happens is that I am working on one or two specific areas, and all research at that time goes through me. You have to meet your dates. There are times when my workweek is very light. The next couple of weeks it is going to be like that, but I have a lot of research out in the field right now, and it is all coming in within a week's time... eight projects. So I work between thirty-seven and thirty-eight hours in two weeks, so then I work seventy hours again. That is not what I really like to do.

It varies, I would say anywhere from fifty to fifty-five hours on the average. It tends to be cyclical. We had a real hectic time just before Thanksgiving. That tends to be a function of our trying to avoid conducting research from Thanksgiving to Christmas. We try to get everything in and out before the holiday season. I would say that January to April is a consistently high-level work period. Summers tend to be a little bit slower.

What advice would you give someone entering the field?

There are three basic organizations, if you will, where one can learn market research-an advertising agency that has a market research department, a supplier, a manufacturer. Typically suppliers are where you learn your basic market research.

My feeling is a person who wants to get into marketing research, just like a person who wants to get into marketing, has to pay the dues. They have got to be willing, although it doesn't always happen, to work for a relatively small amount of money in almost an apprentice sort of position. They have to understand that they are going to be doing all the unwanted jobs, and in the end, over the time of a year or two, they are going to learn the basics of a profession. I see a lot of young people today who come out with a good education and who aren't willing to do that kind of thing. It isn't very difficult, but the real genius of a market researcher develops with each study. It's better to work on ten little studies than to work on one huge strategic study with lots of perceptual mapping and things like that. When someone presents you with a problem, learn what type of design is used. You can have a political science background, or you can be somebody who dropped out of law school, or you can have a Ph.D. in statistics, but none of those things qualifies you to be a good market researcher. Experience in market research is what qualifies you as a good market researcher. I really and truly believe that a person who is willing to start at the very bottom these days has almost an unlimited future.

Well, assuming a person has had some basic statistics courses, my feeling is that you should take varied types of marketing courses. I would think a course on copy research, copy testing, or advertising in the most general sense would be helpful. I think a case-oriented marketing research course would be very helpful. The courses in which we had Harvard cases every week, with write-up's of the analyses and different areas to pursue were really useful. Unfortunately my marketing research course did not have that, but I have to believe that there are classic research cases, classic research stories out there, that would be extraordinarily beneficial for any undergraduate or graduate student. I think the beauty of case courses is that there was always so much data given. Some of it was nice to know and other parts were critically important to know in terms of where you should go with the decisions. I think the benefit of a case course is that it makes you think and you don't have to sit and memorize a chapter, which I feel in marketing is absolutely a waste of time.

Anything you'd like to add?

Information is power. What marketing research is trying to provide to management is good information in order to make decisions easier and less risky. The more information you have, the less risky the decision should be. However, there is a point where you break even. I consider marketing research an extremely fulfilling career.

I think marketing research is an excellent career. For one reason or other, most of the people I talk to fell into market research rather haphazardly. For me it was a casual discussion with some friends. You walk around and you talk to researchers and find that their educational backgrounds greatly vary-from none to a Ph.D. Walk around market research offices and ask, "When you were going to college, did you want to become a market researcher?" I have not come across one person who has said, "Yes, that is what I intended to do when I was in college."
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