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GRIT “Sneak Peek”: Emerging Research Skills

Data Science is clearly the skill most in-demand right now, followed by strong storytelling and critical thinking abilities. The ability to “put it all together” will grow in importance as careers progress.

Editor’s Note: The release of a new GRIT Report is always a major industry event, and the major report on Q3-Q4 2018 results is scheduled to be released mid-January. In anticipation of the detailed findings, we thought we’d provide “sneak peeks” into several of the major sections. We have three such sneak peeks scheduled for the Blog this week. Today, we have the third one, an overview of Emerging Research Skills, written by Allison Spoelhof.  It tells a clear and compelling story, and fits in quite nicely with a key finding in Ray Poynter’s post on Emerging Methods, that use of non-survey Big Data and Social Media analytics are growing. The researcher of the near future (if not the present) has to be conversant with the data science techniques needed to work with, and tell a story from big data. As Margaret Thatcher was famous for saying, “there is no alternative.”

In Demand Skills

What should researchers make sure is the shining star on their resume in 2019? Answer: Data Analysis or Data Science. When asked the question “If you could add one individual with a needed skill in your organization, what skill would it be?” nearly 35% of respondents gave an answer related to data analytics, data science, data modeling, big data or other analytic skills.  While our report in 2018 boasted design and storytelling as king, it took a slight dip and claimed only 20% of the responses. Clearly, organizations not only need employees who can tell a story but are also proficient in handling data.

The importance of other soft marketing skills is waning in favor of comfort and competence in data use and interpretation. Employers want to see market researchers comfortable with not only analysis but with handling large data sets and synthesizing data across many sources.

From one respondent, a comment summed up the essence of our overall findings: “I would love to hire someone with a graphics design {background} who gets research.  Infographics, storytelling, leveraging strong visuals, etc. is critical to reporting. Anyone who can blend graphics with research knowledge is an asset.”

This blend of skills it is what employers find valuable. It is important when it comes to data, to not only know it, but show it. Marketing research students and those seeking professional development should focus on fine-tuning their analytics skills, but ensuring that they don’t get so far into the weeds that they cannot relay the message accurately and sell their clients on their approach.



Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?

As we head further into our careers, data analysis will only continue to grow more important, and we will need to stay on top of those skills. However, our professional development should start to focus on some other areas as well in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.



Data analytics remains at the top, but it is followed closely by critical thinking, strategy and innovation. As we chart career paths in the research industry, development must begin to focus on the big picture beyond the data itself. It is important to think critically, as informed by the data, and plan strategically for the future. Respondents also felt that sales and business knowledge and storytelling and visualization are important skills to gain and develop as your career progresses. The researcher of the future will require not only top-notch data science skills but a broader, more strategic focus.

A few quotes from respondents stood out and helped to sum up the general tone of the future of marketing research:

“Agility, ability to master new skills, curiosity, ability to understand business problems NOT JUST methodologies.”

“Someone who has the ability to see through the clutter and find the best and simplest research solution, and also the ability to see when a larger solution is required. Someone who has one foot in traditional and in newer methodologies; old and new school working together works.”

“1. Basic understanding of new technologies in research, including applications/benefits of AI.  2. Ability to influence other parts of the corporation, especially when it comes to taking action on insights.”

The Big Picture

How we think will become just as important, if not more important, that what we do. Market researchers must remain current in technology and methods, but be sure to continue to sharpen their business edge and creative mind.  Certainly “niche” expertise will have a role, but the era of process-oriented or even core research design, a methodology-centric focus or singular analysis acumen, don’t appear to be the path to growth in the future. Instead, the long-predicted era of polymaths who are both comfortable with data from any source, and most importantly can deliver business impact with that data, seems to have arrived.  


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Allison Spoelhof

Allison Spoelhof

Director of Institutional Effectiveness, Northwood University