OPINION22 May 2023

The joy in our work: The benefits of research

Opinion People UK Wellbeing

It is important to recognise and embrace the benefits of working in the market research industry, writes Louise McLaren.

Cup that says 'I love my job'

Recently, a new child joined my youngest son’s class and I met his mother. Inevitably, she asked me what I did for work. I should have been prepared for this question.

But I never am, and I never do it justice. I tend to find myself saying I’ll try to explain it without resorting to jargon, and then find my brain latches on to lots of different examples and ideas to try to bring the experience of working in this industry to life for someone who sits well outside of it.

Someone with more psychological insight – or better communications skills – than me can perhaps explain why I am so poor at explaining my job in simple, accessible terms.

I know our industry is replete with jargon that is utterly meaningless to people who don’t work in marketing or wider business, and often individual companies have a whole load of their own acronyms without even realising it. 

If I’m going to be kind to myself, I’d say I struggle to explain our work in part because it’s so diverse, and I find myself trying to do justice to this variety because it feeds into my job satisfaction.

However garbled my job description may be, more often than not I’m met with the response ‘that sounds really interesting’.

And each time that happens I think – well, yes it is. I really want to find ways to celebrate the creative and intellectual satisfaction our work can offer us. At the very least to keep recognising this inside my own head.

Because our work can be intense, and I’ve written previously about some of the challenges we face as an industry, in terms of retaining and attracting talent.

It’s true that insight, or market research, is still not well-known as an industry and is often not firmly on the radar of education leavers. Other professional services areas have stronger associations with certain attributes. See yourself as creative? Then what about advertising? See yourself as strategic? What about management consulting?

We talk in the industry about the importance of elevating our profile in the boardroom and beyond, and about championing the value we deliver. This is important work to help ensure we thrive as an industry against difficult headwinds, and we do tend to hide our light under a bushel.

Beyond this, I do think we can tend to overlook the creative and intellectual satisfaction our work delivers, and just how interesting it can be. Whatever you find interesting, it’s an industry that caters well to people with diverse skills. You might not be really clear on what you’re best at on leaving education, but you can find a pathway here – whether you’re more left- or right-brain, and however extroverted or introverted you are.

Whatever your skills, the industry affords creative and intellectual satisfaction in the pursuit of analysing various inputs (observations, data, qualitative feedback, cultural signals) and spotting patterns, and then telling a story about it.

It’s fascinating because, beneath the patterns, it’s always about human beings. The ways they live, their hopes, fears, needs. The gaps between what they think and say, say and do, want and need. Plus how we interact with our contexts – our social circles, our wider influence groups and the planet.

For many of us, there’s an overlay in our work that requires us to contextualise this insight into people’s rational and irrational thoughts and behaviours in an understanding of culture. Within one country or in understanding differences between cultures.

Then there’s the creative pleasure of bringing all of this to life for our clients and stakeholders – because simple words or data points on a page often don’t cut it. There is the satisfaction of shaping and influencing strategy through our work, which comes back to the importance of recognising and trumpeting its value.

If like me you occasionally ponder whether this a career path that can last until retirement – which is an important question to ask – perhaps it’s worth stopping and considering what could really be better?

Yes, it would be ideal to have a lighter workload and be paid more it. Sure. But if you agree that our industry is a brilliant one to be in, then it’s worth plugging away and trying to make it the best possible place to be for each of us and for all of us.

Louise McLaren is managing director at Lovebrands