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The Skills Modern Researchers Need

There is always something new to learn, to grow into your career as an insights professional. Here are the four skills every market researcher needs to be successful.

According to a 2018 global survey conducted by Forbes Insights, in association with Treasure Data, only 13% of companies can be considered “leaders” in leveraging customer data. In other words, they may be conducting research and collecting data on their customers, but they are not actually activating it! On the flip side, those who are embracing customer data and analytics are getting a greater ROI and are the disruptive leaders within their markets. 

If only 13% of companies are aggressively using customer data to enact changes internally, what skills are needed in this modern world to transform data into actionable change?

1. Storytelling

We’ve talked about this before, but it’s such a fundamental skill in order for people to remember what you are saying. Super lengthy reports filled with charts, graphs, quotes, ones and zeros can be quite a bore to an executive who is used to high-level decision making! In order to cut through the noise, it’s important to create a compelling story. “Every memorable story needs both a protagonist and antagonist to drive the narrative forward.”  A mix of characters, structure, drama, and climax will round out a very memorable story to share.

Don’t forget the power of images and videos too though, as storytelling techniques in images and videos are just as effective if not more than storytelling with the written word. How cool would it be if we can present findings in a video or even art! Here at FlexMR, we are doing just that; we are birthing an art-focused reporting approach by creating postcards with artistic interpretations of the story the data is telling! Storytelling is a much more personal approach than a standard 50-page PPT report. Also, the emotional footprint a good story makes on a person means they will be much more impacted by what you are sharing with them.

2. Data Fluency

Data fluency assumes you are literate and fluent in the different data sources that form this “common language”, so you can communicate effectively with clients and colleagues. The sheer volume from different sources of data out there in the modern world these days is staggering. For example, according to IDC, in 2018, the world reached 18 zettabytes. One Zettabyte is approximately equal to a trillion Gigabytes!

Earlier this year, I attended a fabulous presentation by Research Rockstar’s Katheryn Korostoff in the Insight Association’s conference in New Orleans, and I think she wrote the book on this skill! Kathryn talks about how it’s important to create a data fluent foundation by understanding the big picture and how to recommend methodologies to meet the client’s “outcome centric goals”.  Additionally, understanding what different types of data are currently out there in the world in order to recommend the best methodologies for their business question. To hone your data fluency vocabulary, you should be aware of more than just surveys and focus groups, but over 15 different types of data/methodologies, for example:

  • Obviously, there are the more well-known data types: Primary vs. secondary research, Qual vs. quant, Big and small data.
  • But there are the lesser-known data-types such as Predictive, prescriptive, and descriptive data; Structured and unstructured; Attitudinal/behavioral/emotional data; Longitudinal data; E-commerce data; and Social media data.

Do you know what these all are? If no, tone up your skills by taking a class or reading more about it.

Become the data fluent expert so you can recommend more specific and appropriate methodologies and solutions to your clients that can answer their business needs, and you will capture their attention!

3. Empathy

This is, in my opinion, the most important skill that a researcher much possess, and the one that we need to work on the most. Just think about how we treat our market research respondents, our panelists, the people who actually take the time to provide us with their opinions? We pay them pennies on the dollar, offering them 30-minute surveys for a few dollars. It’s no wonder that panel companies these days have become such hot commodities!

With the lack of empathy and relentless drive for data, we have attracted “professional” respondents who are growing increasingly unreliable as they get to know what answers we think we need, rather than the ones we actually need. This subject is not a new topic in the industry and we have been making strides to get better, but we still have a way to go and it all relates back to empathy. As researchers, we need to learn to respect the time and effort our respondents are putting into our work, especially as we are asking for their expert opinion on such a vast range of different topics.

With more empathy and respect for the people who are fueling the decisions that brands make, I think we can make our reports and presentations more compelling and meaningful. I mean, in the end, being more empathetic and respectful of respondents’ time will generate higher quality data.  Higher quality data means more accurate and memorable insights!

4. Design Innovation

This disruption has not been so kind to businesses operating by the rules of the old model. We don’t have to watch their ads anymore. We don’t believe their marketing hype anymore. We don’t want to eat their junk ingredients anymore. We don’t have to buy from their stores anymore. And we don’t want the best of them to just be profit machines anymore. We want more, when we want it, how we want it, and at the price we want it.” – Idris Mootee

It’s important in today’s world to incorporate a “design thinking” mentality when it comes to innovation. If you haven’t heard of this term, let me elaborate: it’s a mindset that demands a human-centric perspective mixed with a scientific approach towards solving business problems. The technical, controlled, linear approach is no longer able to solve the complex issues of our modern world.

Gone are the days where only the Quantitative does surveys and the Qualitative does focus groups, we need to get away from these silos and instead embrace cross-departmental and collaboration between teams. In addition, our work environment needs to change. For example, to foster this design thinking, people need to be able to work in environments that allow you to be creative, both physically and metaphorically. You need that space to be creative and play, as that is where breakthroughs come from. By making these changes, we are evolving our skillsets and giving ourselves the ability to solve complex business issues of the modern world. 

Insights Activation

Let’s rethink the skills needed in today’s modern world for Insights Professionals. In order to make impactful changes, we need to develop our inner storytelling skills, be educated on the different types of data out thereby increasing our data fluency, changing our mindsets with design thinking, and finally, by being more empathetic with respondents and in our approach to research.

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