By Gregg Archibald
As we all know, our industry is in the midst of dramatic change – which has been covered by this blog, and many other places ad infinitum (not really, it just seems like it). This isn’t the first change our industry has been through and it won’t be the last. And with each transformation, the skills and abilities necessary for good research have evolved. The easiest example is the tech skills required to execute research – very few were required when I started and many are required now. In one sense, the skills required today are very different and in some ways, the skills that make a good researcher are exactly the same.
And this is the issue that was confronted by a symposium hosted by the Michigan State University Master of Marketing Research program earlier this month. The goal was to identify the traits, skills, and abilities that the researcher of the future will need to be successful. The symposium was attended by about 40 industry leaders representing suppliers, clients, academics, associations, and a few straggling consultants. It was sponsored by Michigan State University, Coca-Cola, Vision Critical, and Chrysler.
To bring this back to the first point, it was widely agreed that making a difference in our respective companies and being the thought leader that many researchers aspire to be requires the same thing that it always has – a good understanding of business problems, a good approach to understand that problem, and the ability to find a solution from information. We could certainly debate some of the finer points of that description, but we’ll put that off to another post. The difference belongs to the tools that we have available today to solve those problems – Big Data (which, as far as I can tell, still suffers from a self-identity issue), geo-location, mobile ethnography, and the list goes on. But the real opportunity for the future is data synthesis, according to Simon Chadwick of Cambiar Consulting (and many other attendees). The researcher of the future will be required to integrate disparate data sets to see the “truth” of what lays behind the interviews, focus groups, surveys, CRM systems, social media, and so on.
So the task in front of the researchers of tomorrow is immense, and very achievable (we’re just not sure how, right now). The real need for the market researcher of tomorrow is . . . agility, according to Kim Dedeker of Kantar. And as the new tools, data sets, and methodologies are still very much in their infancy – it was widely agreed that that the traditional skills and traits are necessary, but insufficient. Let’s take a look at the management skills, beyond today’s basics skills like leadership, communication, critical thinking. To meet both the concept of synthesis and agility, researchers will need to be able to:
- Collaborate across functional areas
- Access information that is not actually owned by research
- Have cross-cultural awareness, work as an entrepreneur
- Contribute to innovation throughout the company
While there are variations and nuances, it was “generally” agreed that synthesizing the data into the right solution and navigating the cultural change with the new skills are the most important components of educating the researcher of tomorrow – but the MMR programs are not prepared for that change. Out of date textbooks (even with 2014 copyright dates), lack of case studies reflecting the new approaches, lack of data sets (some are 20 years old) for training, and other issues are holding these programs back to a great degree.
But it’s not only that, there is more focus on the technical tools than problem-solving. Two opportunities were brought forward to address this to some degree – and they are cousins of each other. We need to learn from those we are teaching by giving the student real world problems, the resources they need, and the freedom to solve without being encumbered by the structure of the process. Similarly, many of us could do ourselves a service through reverse mentoring – a process that is just as it sounds and has the obvious benefit of getting us “older” people the skills we need and providing the benefit of our years to those younger than, well . . . I want to stop talking about age . . .for obvious reasons.
So what do we need to do as an industry? Several organizations at the symposium made a commitment to help – from blog posts (see above) to case studies. Several initiatives were outlined as a result of the symposium.
- An effort to take better advantage of case studies that exist
- Development of the reverse mentor program
- Engagement with local bachelor degree programs
- Industry-wide communication of these needs
- A study on the traits of the successful researcher
- Internships designed to expose the future researcher to full opportunity
- Association outreach and education
And these are just a few. For a quick next step, look for a panel on this topic at IIeX North America this month. Expect to hear more in the coming months from me and others. If you want to help prepare young researchers (agencies, corporate researcher, whoever you may be), feel free to reach out to me and I’ll connect you to the right person.