OPINION27 February 2015

A spotlight on skills


As market research and insight continues to evolve, savvy researchers can give employability a boost by harnessing skills that are in short supply. So, where are the gaps and how can the ambitious take advantage? Sinead Hasson looks over the past twelve months in from a skills perspective.

Brands are wise to the value that social can offer and are willing to invest in driving engagement on these platforms, yet high quality analysis of social data remains in short supply. While researchers are broadly comfortable analysing social, there are still widespread inconsistencies in the methodologies used. In Measuring Social is Harder Than You Think Ray Poynter explained that there is very little established practice for the measurement and evaluation of social, which is “holding back innovation”.

On top of this, at the Market Research Society (MRS) Connected World conference, Tom Ewing of BrainJuicer pointed out MR professionals have a tendency to focus on “finding a story”; studying what they want the data to suggest, rather than what’s actually there.

The industry is crying out for individuals that are accustomed to analysing this kind of data objectively. Those that are about to contextualise social data without inadvertently manipulating it, will stand out.

Making the most of mobile

Edward Appleton highlighted in Mind the mobile gap that the industry is currently in “catch-up mode” with regard to mobile data analysis as global mobile penetration far outstrips use in MR. TNS’ chief research officer, Jan Hofmeyr, also argued that researchers are “afraid of discontinuity” in their data, suggesting that the same mobile tracking mistakes are being repeated time and time again. According to Hofmeyr, common mistakes go from repurposing a laptop questionnaire for mobile users through to creating questions that are too long and repetitive, leading to lack of reliable data.

Both Appleton and Hofmeyr agree that individual researchers and the industry at large need to build better skills to harness the full potential of mobile data.

To this end, researchers interested in mobile may want flex their innovation muscles skills and start to challenge some of the existing methods, creating tailored approaches.

Decision time

A recurring theme throughout 2014 was the suggestion that researchers need to do more to support businesses in their quest to use big data. Collecting and using data are two very different things; we all know that there is plenty available but, as Stuart Rose, former managing director of Body Shop pointed out at the MRS Conference, some researchers “don’t know how to work with it”.

In May, GfK UK’s Colin Strong explained that to fully meet client needs, professionals “need an understanding of the academic literature around consumer behaviour, access to and ability to handle large scale data sets, and a facility to leverage this”. Big data can be used to discern sentiment towards the brand and assist in understanding the importance and implications of this insight.

Analytics and insights consultant William Towler argued that the root of the problem stems from MR only entering the work flow after the decision-making process had already begun.

In this area, professionals can focus on developing their big data expertise, which should enable them to better respond to big data discoveries and pay greater attention to the bigger picture by encouraging earlier use of MR.

The new researcher

To continue meeting client briefs and keep up with industry trends, researchers need to assimilate skills and knowledge from outside of the MR sphere. Earlier this year, Pernod Richard’s Martin Riley urged delegates of the Global Marketer Conference to expand their skill set. He said to become data experts, professionals must provide insight into sales, public affairs, public relations, customer relationship management and corporate communications as well as traditional marketing.

There is still a lack of understanding among senior researchers in these areas. Knowledge of sectors which overlap with MR will strengthen your ability to overcome challenges and stand out. As Decision Analyst Inc’s Jerry Thomas pointed out, “the value of different educational and experiential backgrounds and different viewpoints in solving complicated problems is time-tested and proven”.  

There are many ways to add additional strings to your bow. Since the industry is currently undergoing intense and rapid transformation, the opportunities for smart researchers to differentiate themselves from their peers through new ideas, approaches and skills are becoming more evident.

Sinead Hasson is managing director of Hasson Associates.