Wooden blocks representing skills and talents

FEATURE2 January 2024

Preview of 2024: Skills and talents

AI Behavioural science Data analytics Features Innovations People Youth

Our industry contributors look at the skills that will be crucial for market researchers in 2024, from business acumen to technological talents. 

Looking ahead to 2024, what skills/talents do you see as being most vital to the industry?

Sabine Stork, founding partner, Thinktank
We need to obtain tech skills, but to be honest, I’m not entirely clear exactly what they are for a qual researcher. Is it a case of understanding prompts? Do we need to learn to talk to coders? Or is it, in fact, a case of investigating which skills are likely to be needed in future?

Sinead Jefferies, senior vice-president, Zappi
Many and varied skills. Clearly expertise in understanding how to harness the power of AI is critical, as well as the technical knowledge to make the most of that. We also, as always, need the ability to influence and persuade, founded on really strong commercial acumen.

The greater the role played by technology, the more we will see success coming from those who understand how to harness what that brings us and can help businesses navigate the multitude of data flows through clear communication and really strong collaborative relationships. 

Ben Shimshon, chief executive and managing partner, Thinks Insight & Strategy
As always, interpersonal skills to build relationships, trust and understanding. Be that with clients, customers, colleagues or citizens.

Hannah Rogers, business development director, Kokoro
The ability to link insight to tangible actions and commercial reality: we need to think about how knowledge will impact a business beyond the immediate objectives and ladder this up/down across functions. This means teams must have stakeholder management skills. We need to deep dive into the politics of a business to ensure messages land and change happens when and how it needs to.

Mark James, chief executive, Differentology
The pace of change in market research is scary, but also hugely exciting. As the market evolves, jobs will inevitably evolve too. At a basic level, I think all future researchers will need to be upskilled to have a working knowledge of ‘code’, as new sources of digital data and software emerge.

I can see future researchers becoming more multi-skilled, as the pressure to do more, with less budget, means existing teams (with the same level of resource) need to cover more bases. Whatever the future looks like, above all I think researchers will need to constantly adapt to the dynamic world around them. Cultivating a spirit of curiosity, and remaining open to learning, may well become the most valuable skill of all.

Amy Cashman, executive managing director of the UK insights division, Kantar
Our sector knows the importance of framing a question right, how to mitigate against bias in your sampling and the difference between correlation and causation. This is our bread and butter as researchers.

These are also crucial skills for using AI well. The information we get out of AI is only as good as the data or prompts we put in. If we keep honing these skills, there’s an opportunity for us to go further and faster with the benefits we can reap from the tech, and show market research as the dynamic, forward-thinking sector it is.

Crawford Hollingworth, global founder, The Behavioural Architects
As a behavioural scientist, I urge everyone to beware the sunk cost fallacy – this is not the time to be rearranging the metaphoric deckchairs.

Ray Poynter, chief research officer, Potentiate
The ability to understand business problems, and the ability to apply the right solutions and to craft business recommendations and then persuade your stakeholders to implement the recommendations.

Bethan Blakeley, research director, Boxclever
Anything that can make you stand out from the pack, and give your stakeholders more for less. I’m not talking about cost-cutting. How can you make those insights go further, resonate more, enable better decisions?

Joe Staton, client strategy director, GfK
The acceleration of moving from hyper generalisation to hyper specialisation.

Nick Baker, global chief research officer, Savanta
Technological and data capabilities. Our world is changing. ‘If you can’t build a car, make sure you know how to drive one,’ I’d say. PS... I don’t actually mean cars.

Peter Totman, head of qualitative, Jigsaw
Empathy balanced by critical thinking.

James Endersby, chief executive, Opinium
The three key people skills, obviously: communication, communication and communication.

Jane Frost, chief executive, MRS
How to narrow down all the skills vital for our varied and dynamic sector to just a few words? Building data competencies has been our mantra for years, and it absolutely still applies. We also need to ensure we’re nurturing storytelling abilities and creativity to turn data into valuable and compelling insights that will be listened to. This will need to be supported by business acumen, understanding the commercial context in which we work.

Briefing abilities have always been important and all the more so now, as we increasingly work with AI-based tools which rely heavily on effective briefs to create accurate outputs.

Jessica DeVlieger, chief executive, C Space
The industry will need more of what we term T-shaped individuals: those with deep vertical research expertise critical for navigating AI and refining best practices in recruitment, survey design, creative qualitative techniques, analysis and storytelling.

However, they'll also need a broader, more horizontal worldview: sector expertise will be increasingly crucial in driving action within businesses, coupled with comprehensive knowledge of the macro dynamics influencing human behaviour: the cost-of-living crisis, diversity, equity and inclusion, and sustainability.

Andrew Cooper, founder and chief executive, Verve
The skills to think creatively and differently about how to achieve more for clients with less budget. Which of course means the skills to gain insights using non-traditional techniques and being super on-it keeping up and leading with the use of AI approaches.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited
Curious T-shaped people who embrace new techniques and bring several strands of insight together to tell a complete story will continue to be in demand. Neuroscientists, data scientists and behavioural scientists who can see beyond their own discipline and help us understand the human at the heart of the business problem are a massive asset.