Marketing Research, Careers in

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Marketing research, by any name, essentially involves the collection, analysis, and presentation of data to answer some predetermined questions developed jointly by a researcher and a client. Individuals who are planning to engage in a marketing research career have a flexibility of choice that is not always obvious. The range of industries, types of companies, and types of data one can choose from for a marketing research career is surprisingly broad. Almost all industries—nonprofit organizations, multimillion-dollar manufacturing companies ranging from consumer goods to high-end industrial equipment, and even small Internet start-up companies—require marketing research specialists. Joining either an in-house marketing research department within a larger organization such as Kraft or Procter & Gamble, or an independent marketing research firm, which can range in size, is another option. The type of data that a marketing researcher works with is also flexible. One can choose to work primarily with quantitative (numerical) or qualitative data or with a mix of both. The data sets can range from economics and pricing, attitudes and intentions, secondary behavioral data, to management principles.

The advantages of such a selection are clear— more options and greater flexibility. The disadvantages, especially for an individual who is new to the field, are potential confusion and the need to explore widely for opportunities. Career guides usually have a very narrow definition of marketing research. Most refer to the description merely as a marketing function. However, there are many careers with different titles that reflect the responsibilities and challenges of a marketing research career. Therefore, it is helpful to look for jobs with descriptions other than marketing research. For example, terms such as "economists," "management analysts," "sales forecasting," "consultants," or "sales operations" may include many positions in marketing research. Marketing research books may be more helpful than career guides in understanding the functions of a "marketing researcher." Books such as The Market Research Toolbox: A Concise Guide for Beginners (McQuarrie, 1997) or Marketing Research: Methodological Foundations (Churchill and Churchill, 1998) contain valuable descriptions of the scope and challenges of marketing research.

The process of marketing research proceeds in stages. First, the objectives and questions for which the information is collected must be established. The types of objectives and questions can range widely, encompassing short-term, immediate needs such as, "What promotion should be run for the Christmas holidays?" to long-term strategic questions such as, "When should a new product be launched and how much investment should be made in it?" These objectives and questions will then guide how data is collected. If the objective is to understand better the acceptance of a new product idea by customers, then focus groups might be the right approach. If the objective is to estimate the rate of new product adoption in a target group, then the best data might be secondary data showing past adoptions of similar products by a similar group. The common data-collection methods include focus groups (where individuals come together as a group to share their experiences and perspectives on a particular issue), conjoint studies (which obtain ratings from individuals on different product attributes to quantify the relative utility of each attribute), experiments, and various survey methodologies such as by mail and phone. Internet surveys are gaining popularity and have the advantage of being quicker and cheaper.

Once the data has been collected, the marketing researcher must determine which statistical analyses to perform and what recommendations to present. Both univariate and advanced multivariate analytical techniques are common in marketing research (Rao and Steckel, 1997). Sometimes, qualitative data are also subjected to quantitative analyses, but in general, greater value is placed on quantitative analyses than on qualitative analyses. This preference is largely due to the generalizability of large-sample quantitative studies (assuming that the sample is representative of the market) compared to small-sample nongeneralizable studies. Also, many marketing and management teams like to have strong, "solid" data with which to back their recommendations. As highlighted in the title of the book How to Lie with Statistics (Huff, 1982), numbers, however, are not always "solid." It is the ethical responsibility of the marketing researcher to be honest and to present the data and its results without bias. The presentation of the results and recommendations are usually done orally, accompanied by the use of computerized graphics. These are sometimes accompanied by a more detailed, written project report.

Throughout the process of identifying the objectives and questions, data collection, and data analyses, close collaboration with the client is required. In fact, the ability to develop and maintain strong, long-term client relationships is essential for promotion consideration and success at the higher managerial and director levels. Moreover, close client relationships tend to encourage better answers to better questions—the driving force behind marketing research.

To be a successful marketing researcher, one must be able to think broadly and yet pay attention to detail. Breadth of thinking is required when analyzing client business needs and selecting, from a wide range of possibilities, the best questions, the best methodologies, and the key recommendations to make. These decisions require a general knowledge about marketing environmental factors as well as the advantages and disadvantages of many different data collection and analysis methodologies. Once these larger issues have been dealt with, one must be able to organize data collection and analyze the data efficiently and carefully. A seemingly small mistake of forgetting to remove one code from the data set can easily result in erroneous recommendations harming the client, one's division or company, and one's career.

Successful marketing researchers tend to have strong mathematical, statistical, and marketing backgrounds. In addition, the ability to think conceptually, problem-solve, and take initiative are additional valued skills. According to the 1999 Career Guide Management Consulting (Hunn, 1998), other personality factors such as confidence and the ability to communicate clearly are also important. Most marketing research jobs request at least a four-year degree in math, statistics, operations research, or business. The exact degree, however, depends in large part on the industry. For example, many health-care marketing research firms require degrees not in business or statistics but in the sciences. Similarly, new Internet start-up companies look for individuals who have a strong knowledge of the industry and technology, and look primarily for a computer science or engineering degree. Most companies, however, prefer an M.B.A. or a master's degree in marketing research. In fact, to rise to senior marketing research positions, an M.B.A. is usually required. There is also an increasing push toward hiring individuals who hold a doctoral degree because such individuals are valued for their ability to think conceptually. Most of the individuals who fall into this category also have a strong quantitative background. Without a four-year degree, one would need to enter the marketing research field at the most junior level, as a data-entry operator or interviewer.

The financial returns of being a marketing researcher start for new entrants at slightly higher rates compared to new graduates from business schools and can rise to income levels equivalent to chief executive officers of smaller companies. The social rewards are equally attractive. Many market researchers branch out from established companies to open their own research firms, while some become independent consultants to large corporations. Others who remain in a corporate environment have the option of heading large cross-functional marketing research departments or of transitioning into marketing.

Overall, with the growing need for a better understanding of the needs of customers, the outlook for the marketing research field is very positive. According to Ron Krannich and Caryl Krannich (1998), research analysts and consultants are in one of the most promising career fields. In fact, they expect this field to grow at a higher-than-average rate.

See also:Advertising Effects; Psychological Media Research, Ethics of; Research Methods in Information Studies.


Churchill, Gilbert A., and Churchill, Gilbert A., Jr. (1998). Marketing Research: Methodological Foundations, 7th edition. Orlando, FL: Dryden Press.

Huff, Darrell. (1982). How to Lie with Statistics. New York: W. W. Norton.

Hunn, L. Neil, ed. (1998). 1999 Career Guide Management Consulting. New York: Harvard Business School.

Krannich, Ron L., and Krannich, Caryl R. (1998). The Best Jobs for the 21st Century. Manassas Park, VA: Impact Publications.

McQuarrie, Edward F. (1997). The Market Research Toolbox: A Concise Guide for Beginners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Rao, Vithala R., and Steckel, Joel H. (1997). Analysis for Strategic Marketing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Eugenia Yew-Yen Peck

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