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A Day In The Life Of The Researchers Of The Future

How the combination of GRIT data, mobile ethnography, and the hard work of a lot of very smart people gives us a glimpse into the lives of Researchers of the Future.



Editor’s Note:  A few months back the ARF asked me to present on “The Researcher Of The Future” at re:Think 2013. We hatched an ambitious agenda for the presentation:

  1. To showcase data from the most recent GRIT study on the skill sets clients and suppliers were hiring for to adapt their organizations to new realities in the space
  2. Conduct a mobile ethnography study among the ARF “Young Pros” group to understand the attitudes and behaviors of Millennials working in the research space
  3. Moderate a discussion at the conference with a group of client and supplier side young researchers to get their take on he results of the findings from both GRIT and the ethnography as well as what the industry needs to do to attract and retain young professionals.

Ambitious though it may have been, with the help of a lot of folks at the ARF and the major contribution of Julie Wittes-Schlack and her team at Communispace doing the mobile ethnography project, we did indeed pull it off.

What we found in the GRIT data is that the in-demand skill sets in the insights function have very little to do with traditional analytical, methodological, or project management abilities and a whole lot more to do with strategy, data synthesis, and communication. We also found almost perfect alignment between suppliers and clients; both are effectively hiring folks with the exact same profile, which is interesting indeed.

As we dived into the “day in the life” Millennial study we discovered that the next generation of researchers are well situated to capitalize on these trends: they are flexible, dynamic, tech savvy and impatient with the status quo. During a period of disruptive change, it seems that the new entrants into the MR talent pool may truly be the ideal candidates to assume leadership roles, and they are champing at the bit to do it.

The panel discussion tied these themes together, and from what I can tell participants left it with a new understanding oif the changing face of human capital in our industry and inspired by the opportunity this shift presents for our industry.  For a write-up of the session itself, check out this commentary from MediaPost

Obviously I wasn’t able to be there in person, but my business partner in Gen 2 Advisors, Gregg Archibald, took over for me at the last minute. That’s him rockin’ the stage in the picture above. Below is the deck he presented on the GRIT results.

Julie and the Communispace team created a truly fantastic video summarizing what they learned from the mobile ethnography project. Here is Julie’s write-up of the results and the video. It’s not to be missed.

Thanks again to all involved for the opportunity to be a part of this very cool project; I hope we can do more interesting (and impactful) things like in the future as well.


By Julie Wittes Schlack

“Why do millennials have such a bad reputation?” a millennial plaintively asked in a recent mobile ethnography project that we ran on behalf of the Advertising Research Foundation for the Re:think 2013 conference just winding up. “I just read another article quoting ad industry execs talking about how millennials act entitled and spoiled,” she wrote alongside an uploaded photo of yet another article about her generation. “…How reductive and insulting!”

This understandably irate young woman was one of 34 market research and consumer insights specialists under the age of 30 whom we asked to share some of the highlights and lowlights of their days. Specifically, we asked them to report on at least one:

  • Frustrating, eye-rolling moment
  • Instant of personal or professional triumph
  • Promising tool or process
  • Moment when they felt they had a better way to answer a question or accomplish an objective than the more senior members of their organization
  • Moment when they learned something from a mentor

Some of their observations were surprising. As a boomer – equivalent in age to two millennials – I was taken aback by their low-level scorn for use of the telephone. (And the landline – fuhgettaboutit!) I was sympathetic to their resentment of being generationally stereotyped as spoiled or entitled. But primarily, I was encouraged to see that despite the frustrations – many of them tied to obsolete processes or tools – the moments of personal or professional triumph exceeded the eye-rollers.

What kept these young professionals motivated and engaged; what fueled them in their drive to change and innovate within their companies, was feeling heard and recognized. It was experiencing not just pride in their work, but reciprocity with their colleagues and bosses. As one young woman wrote, “I’m helping them learn new things just like they’re helping me.”

As we at Communispace have been saying since the last millennium, people want to be heard. The companies and brands that endure and prosper will be those that not only enable their employees to feel that way, but that also establish that kind of relationship with their customers.

But don’t take this boomer’s word for it. Just ask Honey Boo Boo … whoever she is.














Editor’s Note Update: Tom Ewing has a great deep dive into this post over on his Blackbeard Blog. It’s well worth checking out as well.

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3 responses to “A Day In The Life Of The Researchers Of The Future

  1. I am not sure couching the issues here in terms of demographic constructs is entirely helpful. There are pre Millenials in the research andninsight space who have the same views as younger people early in their careers. What I think you will find is that these older types have come from outside the traditional research (agency) career ladder. Addotionally it will be those who have engaged with new technology from a pre Windows world who have a natural ability to adapt or die and took up the spirit of collaboration needed as the world of work in
    marketing evolved rapidly. I think more useful would be to create some “personas” of the future “insighter” that highlights the behaviours beliefs and values that are needed. Not simplifying it down to a demographic phenomenon.

  2. Hi:
    Nice project. But I was struck more by the continuities rather than the changes. Consider the video on the Millenials: everything they say in there, baby boomers were saying in the 1980s. The technologies were different but the attitude, identical.
    And I can’t remember a time in my 25+ years in this business where the bar charts on skills wouldn’t have looked similar (though some of the labels might have changed slightly). Insight, story telling and sophistical data analysis skills have always been in demand and in short supply. The more things change….

  3. What I like about this is that they researchers of the future appreciate the experience and opinions of the past and present researchers. Its really important to combine skills and experience we can all learn from eachother. There is also a sense that they have a real passion about their careers which is refreshing.

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