Careers in Marketing Research

Marketing research offers a variety of career paths depending upon one’s education level, interests, and personality. Most jobs are to be found with either research suppliers (firms that conduct research for clients) or research users (corporations that depend on marketing research for decision-making guidance). A limited number of marketing research positions are also available with advertising agencies, non-profit organizations, associations and various branches of government.

Positions with research suppliers (or research firms) tend to be concentrated in a few large cities; for example, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Dallas. Although research suppliers are found throughout the country, a majority of the larger firms (and entry-level jobs) are found in these cities. Research users (corporations, organizations, etc.), on the other hand, tend to be more widely scattered and found in communities of various size; for example, General Mills in Minneapolis; Tyson Foods in Spring-dale, Arkansas.

Women have long been accepted as equals in the marketing research industry, and some of the larger research firms were actually founded by women. Senior-level positions are increasingly filled by women executives, and many research firms are headed by women. At the college entry-level position of junior analyst, women are twice as prevalent as men! Obviously, young women increasingly are recognizing the opportunities that await them in the exciting field of marketing research.

There was a time when a decision to go into marketing research represented a lifetime career commitment. Once you were a marketing researcher, there was a good chance you would always be a marketing researcher. Today this inflexibility is not so prevalent. Now it is more common to see people transfer into and out of the marketing research department as part of a career in marketing.

Positions within Supplier Organizations

Research suppliers offer a majority of the entry-level career positions in the marketing research field. Many of the newer firms are entrepreneurial in nature and headed by a founder or partners. In smaller companies the founder-owner not only manages the company, but typically is involved in selling and conducting research projects. Owners of larger supplier organizations perform basically the same functions as top managers in other large corporations, such as creating strategic plans and developing broad corporate policies. It is also common in large supplier organizations to have managers that specialize in either a specific industry or type of research; for example, manager of healthcare research, manager of financial research, or political polling. Firms also may have a director of qualitative research, or a director of multivariate studies, Non-managerial jobs found in supplier firms follow.

STATISTICIAN — A person holding this position is viewed as internal expert on statistical techniques, sampling methods, and statistical software programs such as SPSS, SAS, or R-Language. Normally, a master’s degree or even a Ph.D. is required.

Tabulation Programmer — a person who uses tabulation software such as Quantum or UNCLE to create cross-tabulations of survey data. Tabulation programmers often are involved in data cleaning and data management functions, and may need knowledge of database systems. Normally, a bachelor’s degree is required.

SENIOR ANALYST — A senior analyst is usually found in larger firms. The individual typically works with an account executive to plan a research project and then supervises several analysts who execute the projects. Senior analysts work with a minimal level of supervision themselves. They often work with analysts in developing questionnaires and may help in analyzing difficult data sets. The final report is usually written by an analyst but reviewed, with comments, by the senior analyst and/or account executive. This position is usually given budgetary control over projects and responsibility for meeting time schedules.

ANALYST — The analyst usually handles the bulk of the work required for executing research projects. An analyst normally reports to a senior analyst. He or she assists in questionnaire preparation, pretests, then does data analysis, and writes the preliminary report. Much of the secondary data work is performed by the analyst.

JUNIOR ANALYST — This job is typically at the entry-level for a degreed person. A junior analyst works under close supervision on rather mundane tasks; for example, editing and coding questionnaires, performing basic statis¬tical analysis, conducting secondary data searches, and writing rough draft reports on simple projects.

Project Director — This position actively manages the flow of research projects, works out schedules, performs quality assurance checks, provides information and directions to sub-contractors and operations. Sometimes, the project director is also involved in questionnaire design, developing a tabulation plan, and report preparation.

ACCOUNT EXECUTIVE — An account executive is responsible for making sales to client firms and keeping client organizations satisfied enough to continue funneling work to the research supplier. An account executive works on a day-to-day basis with clients and serves as liaison between the client and the research organization. Account managers must understand each client’s problems and know what research techniques should be employed to provide the right data. He or she must be able to explain to the client what research techniques are needed in a non-technical manner. Moreover, the account executive must be able to sell the firm’s services and abilities over competing suppliers. Account executives work hand in hand with the research analysts to develop the research methodology to solve the client’s problems. This position often requires an MBA or master’s degree.

Senior Executive (VP, SVP, EVP) – Typically, this executive is overseeing several departments or teams of account executives, and has business development responsibilities in addition to managerial responsibilities. These executives are responsible for the hiring, training and development of account executives, analysts, and project directors, and spend much of their time in high-level meetings with major clients.

FIELD WORK DIRECTOR — Most market research firms do not have their own interviewers. Instead, they rely on market research field services throughout the United States to conduct the actual interviews. Field services are the production line of the market research industry. They hire, train, and super¬vise interviewers within a specific geographic area. A field work director is responsible for obtaining completed interviews in the proper geographic area, using the specified sampling instructions, within a specified budget and on time. Field work directors keep in close touch with field services throughout the United States. They know which field services have the best interviewers and can maintain time schedules. After a study has been fielded, the field service director obtains daily reports from the field service. Typical data reported includes the number of completed interviews; the number of refusals; interviewing hours, travel time, and mileage; and problems, if any.

Director of Operations — Larger research firms will have a large Operations function with a number of departments (data preparation, sampling, data entry, tabulation, questionnaire programming, control center, and so on). The Director oversees these departments, schedules projects, ensures quality assurance, hires and trains staff, and makes sure that research projects are properly executed.

Positions Within Research Departments and Advertising Agencies

Many manufacturers, retailers and other organizations have marketing research departments, although the fashion these days is to call these “Consumer Insights” departments. These companies, like Kraft, Wal-Mart, Frito-Lay, Sears, and Procter & Gamble, have research groups of varying sizes and responsibilities. Some research departments act like internal research companies, while other research departments function as internal consultants, but subcontract all of the work to research suppliers. Corporate research departments will often have teams within headed by Directors or Managers. Some research departments are organized by brand, while others are organized by research technique specialization. In some companies, competitive intelligence is a separate function, and in some companies it is a part of the research department. Also, in some companies, strategic planning is a sub-group within the research function, while in other companies strategic planning is a separate department. Organizational structure varies from company to company.

RESEARCH DIRECTOR — The research director (sometimes vice-president of research or even senior vice president) is responsible for the entire research program of the company. The director may conduct strategic research for top management or accept work from new product managers, brand managers, or other internal clients. In some cases, the director may initiate proposals for studies but typically responds to requests. He or she has full responsibility for the market research budget and, since resources are limited, may have to set priorities regarding projects undertaken. The director hires the professional staff and exercises general supervision of the research department. He or she normally presents the findings of strategic research projects to top management. This position often requires a masters degree and, in some companies, a Ph.D. The director often is viewed as the top technical expert in the department as well.

Theodore Dunn, research director of Benton & Bowles Advertising, one of the world’s largest agencies, provides a glimpse of the job of ad agency researchers:

Their job is to understand current and potential customer needs and to help translate it into advertising strategy. Then, through research, they provide creative information that helps in the creation of selling advertising. The effort is directed more against the development of the agency’s product and less against the development of the client’s product. In so doing, agency research departments are now better able to concentrate their efforts and then do it with fewer people.

The staffs of agency research departments today are better trained in the social sciences. Their training better enables them to measure and understand consumer needs and reactions. But more important than their training, they are better integrated into the process of developing advertising than was true just five years ago. It’s this integration of research into the agency process of developing advertising that makes for greater utility.

At Benton & Bowles, we have a formal system for coordinating the various services in the agency. There are five associate research directors, each of whom is responsible for research on specific brands and assigned to a core group, for each of his or her accounts. The core group is made up of account management and an associate research director. The group is charged by our management with developing agency advertising and marketing strategies for its brand. Its purpose is not only to take advantage of the individual services input but also to profit by the interaction of all people involved.

Because we have this system at B&B, the specific research tools we use are geared to the right problems. In feet, the creative person in the core group very often requests certain lands of information from research which is needed to develop advertising. When he asks for a study, he is looking for information, and you can bet he’ll use it and use it better than when someone just drops a research report on his desk, and that is the first he has ever heard of the project.

What kinds of research does the core group want? They want to know all they can about their consumers. Who are their best customers? How do consumers feel about existing products and brands? What are they like demographically? What are they like psycho-graphically? Socially? Does their product cater better to one demographic or psycho-graphic subgroup? How do consumers use the product? With what frequency do they use it? Who accounts for what volume? What’s the best position/promise for the brand?

From this they develop an advertising strategy. Creative people then use research to help guide them in making judgments about the best executions for die strategy. They want to know, for example, which of several initial executions on which they are working has the best chance of breaking through the mass of communications impinging on the consumer and being remembered. They want to know which best communicates what they want to say. Which does it most convincingly? Which best predisposes the consumer to buy? Sometimes they decide to combine elements of several commercials to develop a better one than any of their original alternatives. Sometimes they decide not to pursue another execution direction in favor of their original.

ASSISTANT RESEARCH DIRECTOR — This position is normally found only in large full-scale research departments. The person is second in command and reports to the research director. Senior analysts, statisticians, database analysts, syndicated data analysts, secondary data analysts,and data processing specialists usually report to the assistant director, who performs many of the same functions as the director.

Research Directors and Others in Limited Function Research Departments

Most research departments in corporations or advertising agencies are limited in their functions. Therefore, they do not conduct the research or analyze the data. Instead, they formulate requests for research proposals, analyze the proposals, award contracts to research suppliers, and evaluate the supplier’s work. Internally, they work with brand managers and new product specialists in formulating research problems and interpreting and implementing the recommendations of the research reports provided by the suppliers.

The research director and assistant director (if any) function in a manner similar to their positions described earlier. Analysts formulate and evaluate proposals and the work of research suppliers. They also help implement the recommendations. With the exception of a secretary, there is usually no other personnel in a limited function research department.

A Career in Marketing Research at 3M

In order to gain an appreciation for a career in marketing research, we’ll examine the career path in one company.
The challenges are tough and the opportunities available to marketing re¬searchers at 3M are almost limitless. The biggest challenge is that each re¬searcher has an annual goal of a set percentage of time that must be sold on approved projects. The opportunities presented by a large number of businesses, with thousands of products that need research information, are obvious.

The Corporate Marketing Research Department consists of about twenty-nine people. The marketing research project work is carried out by the analysts, senior analysts, supervisors and the two research managers. (The research manager for Corporate Planning Services works solely for the Corporate Planning and Strategy Committee.) Projects are obtained through requests from marketing personnel in the operating units or from sales calls made by analysts and senior analysts. A sales call may be the result of follow-up from a previous project, introduction of a new research service, information on new or expanded activity in the operating unit, or the introduc¬tion of a new analyst. All project requests take the form of a proposal that outlines the marketing situation, the information needed, how the information will be obtained, timing, and costs. The signed proposal, with an operating unit designated to be charged for the costs, is the authorization to proceed with the project.

The analysts are recruited from university MBA programs and from among 3M employees in other disciplines (i.e., engineering, laboratory, etc.) who have obtained an MBA while working at 3M and want to make a career change. The analysts’ career goals are in marketing management but they are interested in, and have an aptitude for, spending three years in marketing research. Just about all of the analysts have post-baccalaureate business experience with 3M or other companies.

In the first year about 60 percent of an analyst’s time is spent on research projects for operating units. The remainder of the time is spent in development seminars and classes covering sampling, study design, questionnaire design, focus groups, and other relevant subjects. The classes taken depend on prior experience and aptitude. All analysts take sales training from one of 3M’s divisional sales trainers. (They are expected to sell their time to cover their costs, so they are given sales training. Also, managers believe that sales training is very beneficial in developing the personal interviewing techniques required in many projects.)

One year as an analyst, with good performance, qualifies a person for a position as a senior analyst. This is a promotion and the senior positions require selling close to 100 percent of one’s time. The senior analyst is the workhorse of the project system, devoting time entirely to getting projects sold, completed, and reported.

The researchers’ projects, for the most part, are divided along sector and group lines. Therefore, an individual’s work will have an emphasis in a particular area such as industrial, healthcare, or imaging. However, if a project in one sector calls for an area of expertise that resides with someone assigned to another sector, that person can cross over for the project Flexibility is an important element in the personal development of the analysts.

The senior analyst becomes a supervisor in about one year and is given one or two of the beginning analysts to develop into a competent researcher and future 3M marketer. The supervisor still does operating unit work, handling some of the more complex projects, selling time in the 60-80 percent range.

Supervisors will have developed a special rapport with several operating units over the years and will invariably be offered a marketing position in one of the line units at about the time three years have been completed. Alternatively, the managers of Corporate Marketing Research will be asked for a recommendation to fill an operating unit marketing position and the available supervisors will be recommended for interviews.