You deserve it! Staying relevant as a market research professional
Staying relevant in an ever-changing market can be a challenge. No doubt. But there are tips market researchers can follow to make their research drive business results in a way that is appreciated, helpful, and keeps them relevant.
I share some of those tips in this article.
The mix of what has worked and what will work
One way of staying relevant does include figuring out the right mix in use of:
- old and established strategies
- newer strategies and tactics
Some established market research strategies and skills still work and are still needed. But it also happens that best practices change. Technology – when used well – can make our lives as market researchers easier as well.
Finding the right mix of the old and the new can make everyone’s lives easier. But change can also be hard.
“I was pretty annoyed with us as an industry,” said Ryan Barry, president of Zappi, on “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” about the time when he joined Zappi – a Voxpopme partner – as an early employee.
“We just didn’t seem to be able to get out of our way,” he said. “The industry was very grounded in what we always did being the answer to a lot of questions. I felt like if we could embed technology into the space we could elevate the game of consumer insights. That’s still what drives me today.”
Of course, the pandemic has forced some of the necessary changes.
“If people were holding onto ‘we’ve always done it this way’ and then every trend line and every assumption is actually factually irrelevant now they didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “That helped this industry.”
Maximizing available tools and culture
Ryan said he basically distills the overarching skills that market researchers need today into three areas.
That includes checking your own assumptions, the ability to question things, and unlearning strategies that are no longer helpful.
“Things aren’t linear anymore and the market can change overnight,” he said.
Curiosity also helps in discovering what people are actually trying to accomplish. Ryan shared the story of somebody preparing a PowerPoint deck for an executive. But the executive didn’t need the PowerPoint deck with all the data in it. They just needed the answer to one question.
“That’s a lack of discovery,” Ryan said. “Actually understanding your partners. Don’t be shy about asking the CEO ‘what are you trying to achieve?’ and you would have saved yourself about a week doing SmartArt in PowerPoint.”
This includes the desire to constantly improve yourself, your situation, and your team.
“It’s absolutely essential that you challenge things,” Ryan said. “But make sure you ask enough questions to know the context before you make an assertion.”
“If you are somebody who can’t take feedback I think that’s problematic,” Ryan said. “I can take feedback. I did something annoying to somebody on my team the other day and she felt very confident calling me out. And I felt very confident with that and the discussion we had afterward.”
Having the right leadership, the right vision, and the right collaboration can help us stay relevant as the market changes.
Keep in mind that people’s best doesn’t always look the same. Ryan said.
“You have to find the balance of tension and painting the ambitious vision of what the team needs to do and needs to accomplish,” he said. “But also fostering a psychologically safe environment so that people feel comfortable regardless of title, level, seniority calling bullshit on something.”
And leaders need to hold the space for teams to test and try new things, he said. While businesses are trying to change, legacy issues can slow down change to a halt.
Understanding the business impact
“Insights people naturally came up to be skeptics, to be introverted, to be in the data, understanding of marketing science,” Ryan said. “And now they are being asked overnight to become business people, storytellers, and creators, and are they being enabled to develop those skills? Are leaders giving them the space to get there?”
To get there, we need the right culture and the right mindset. I can only become a great storyteller if I make up my mind to become one, for example.
Business impact also goes beyond the rubber stamp. Ryan said it’s not uncommon that a company will contact Zappi because they heard “you can test ads overnight” and they will launch it on Monday and can’t make changes but need it to get tested.
Of course, testing – just like getting consumer insights – only makes an impact when the results can be used to make our strategy and implementation better. Just ticking the box to say “we did it” isn’t a learning culture.
Making it easy
With advances in technology and ease of use, market researchers should be able to find a way to make interactions with them easy. If it’s hard to work with somebody, the chances go down that people will.
The days of being a gatekeeper need to be gone. People need access to the insights to make decisions.
“We are just going to become irrelevant,” said Ryan about insights professionals who continue to play the role of gatekeeper.
Becoming a strategic partner
Consumer insights professionals can stay highly relevant when they become strategic partners to others in the company.
Think more of what does this mean? How can we make decisions from what we just learned? What are the best people to recruit for a study and what is the best way to get the specific insights?
“We elevate ourselves to be strategic in the way we think and curate multiple different vantage points,” Ryan said.
In real life, it could look like this:
- Marketer uses video surveys or the Zappi platform to get a look at what consumers are saying and what is working.
- Insights professionals provide context from behind the scenes based on additional knowledge they have about similar tests or surveys.
While some companies actively promote insights tools to be used by many outside the insights team, that’s not always the case, added Voxpopme Vice President of Marketing Jenn Vogel.
And, Ryan added, insights professionals shouldn’t worry about other departments messing up the software. They use software platforms all day already anyway and there are plenty of software tools out there that are easy to use.
“If you do this well, what you’ll do all day is deep consumer understanding,” Ryan said. “You’ll be able to understand what is actually happening in culture. And ask yourself, ‘did you get into market research to do surveys and project management all day?‘ The answer is ‘probably not.'”
What additional skills do insights professionals need to stay relevant?
“Having an experimental mindset is important,” Ryan said. “I’m skeptical when somebody is always 1,000 percent sure of themselves in those roles. Let’s test our assumptions.”
Trying things constantly is important and can include:
- new tools
- approaches to the marketplace
Constantly learning and unlearning matter for the insights pro of the future. If a strategy is outdated, let’s unlearn it and learn a new one.
We live in a pretty complex world and simplifying the complex is another skill that can help insights professionals stay relevant.
“Really take complexity and explain it in terms that can help a creator, a finance person, or whomever you are engaging with taking action,” Ryan said. “Personally, I get a lot of data thrown at me in my job and I get very few insights that are like ‘we should go left. We should go right. This is why.'”
Ultimately, people need and want insights and that’s the way for market researchers to stay relevant. Working together, evolving together can help move businesses move toward a bright future where they are even more relevant to their customers.