Back to School, For Insights Professionals
Now that school is back in session, when I walk my dog the streets are filled with kids with oversized backpacks trundling toward school. Some look like zombies as they stumble, still half-asleep, down the street. But at least they are headed toward learning. A recently released report by #NewMR’s Ray Poynter and Sue York suggests most researchers are spending very little time learning new skills.
According to Poynter and York’s #NewMR Market Research Knowledge Benchmarking Study 2018, 38% of market researchers had five hours or less of training in the past 12 months. This is at a time when there is an urgent need for researchers to think beyond the survey and pick up new skills.
I interviewed ESOMAR Director General Finn Raben, for my forthcoming book The Insights Revolution: Questioning Everything. I asked him about where he saw the industry going and what that meant for the skill sets insights professionals require. “The demands of the insights profession, moving forward, are very different from what was needed when we all came into the industry,” Raben notes. “That does have implications for the skill sets that we require.”
For the book I interviewed over 30 insights professionals, marketers and strategists from around the world. The consensus was that the skill set for the insights professional of the future will be radically expanded. A solid grasp of survey methodology, statistics, sociology and psychology will not be enough. The ability to comprehend cultural context, digital marketing, history, and predictive analytics will also be essential — as well the skill to synthesize these inputs into a simple message of: “So what? What’s next?”
In Australia, Telstra’s Elizabeth Moore says that, for her team, the skills needed have already changed. “It is quite a different skill set. It’s not just ‘pull somebody out of a research house and plug them into the team.’” She needs people who can extract insights from, and know when to use, multiple types of information.
“You need to be able to tell a story. You need to be able to string information together. You need to be able to look at the data lake, understand it, and understand what qual you need to wrap around that. You need an understanding of social media sentiment tracking, and when to use it, and when to commission traditional qual. You need to understand the business too. I think that we will see more people in insights roles coming from strategy companies, people who understand the way businesses work, and understand how to read a balance sheet, and what free cash flow is, and why EBITDA is important.”
“You must have this mindset of being a consultant while aiming to be fully integrated to the business,” says Anamaria Gotelli of Estée Lauder in Paris, “and look for solutions in a way that is easy to understand, like The Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.” Howard Shimmel, former CRO of Turner agrees with that, but also thinks the consultant qualities need to be coupled with other hard skills. “If I could ever build the ideal researcher, I would clone someone who’s a third McKinsey consultant, a third data scientist, and a third someone who’s got the current research skills and instincts, who is concerned about the quality of data, and who knows how to do surveys, to explore complex issues that you can’t address through big data.”
This requires a stretch from where we are at today, but it’s not exactly a foreign endeavor. London based researcher and editor of Insight Platforms Mike Stevens points out, “There’s a bigger range of data sources but, effectively, we’re talking about the scientific method. We’re developing a hypothesis, and we’re going to try and find the data points to prove or disprove it.”
ESOMAR’s Finn Raben believes market researchers are well positioned to make this leap: “I think we are still the best data manipulators and managers around because it’s in our blood.” But he recognizes that we must act quickly and decisively. “If we don’t adapt some of our teaching and training going forward, we may well be left behind.”
Those four in ten researchers that are getting five hours or less of training per year will most certainly be left behind. Poynter and York conclude, “. . . too many market researchers are not receiving enough training, something which we believe is endangering the future of market research as a knowledge-based, value-adding industry and profession.”
If we are going to pick up the skills we need to survive and thrive, we’ll all need to put more time into learning. It’s time for all of us to go back to school.