How MR learns


A few weeks back I succumbed to the temptation to make a prediction about MR in 2016, as dumb a tradition as there is and one that I have pilloried in the past. I wrote, ”Both buyers and suppliers will be emphasizing research fundamentals in their hiring and training programs.” Reactions like “wishful thinking” and “if only that were the case” were common. But I have good reasons to think that I just might be right.

First, there is no shortage of people who agree with me. As I noted in the post, respondents in the latest Grit Report—as strong an out-with-the-old-in-with-the-new group as you can find—cited “research fundamentals” as the third most in demand skill. Ray Poynter’s predictions for 2016 included one on training and competence building. To quote Ray, “2016 will see a big growth in programmes designed to share and inculcate key skills, key ways of framing and solving problems, and ways to evaluate different approaches.” The latest Future of Research Report from Cambiar characterizes the widespread lack of formal training for market researchers on both the client and supplier sides as “frightening.”

The Cambiar report is especially interesting because it invites us to think about how market researchers learn. To characterize it as “informal” understates the problem. Too much training is still on the job where people learn how to do one thing the way their particular organization does it. This is supplemented with webinars by suppliers promoting their offerings; conference presentations that too often are thinly veiled sales pitches; bloggers for whom every new technology is a disruption about to render everything we think we know about how to do research irrelevant; and an industry culture that values cheap and fast above all else.

The world was once pretty simple. There was no business problem that could not be solved, no greater insight uncovered than with a well designed mix of surveys and focus groups. The new world is very different with a wide range of methods and data sources. With that comes the challenge to make choices, hopefully informed choices, about the best way(s) to study a business problem and get to a solution. Being successful in this world requires a basic understanding of the underlying principles (science?) that distinguish good research from bad research. And, it requires a broad understanding of methods rather than a singular focus on a particular skill.

Of course, I could be wrong and the industry will continue to muddle along as it always has. The good news is that it’s hard to imagine it getting any worse, although I could be wrong about that.

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