What Career Paths Can Market Researchers Aspire To?
A recent Linked-In post by Saul Dobney (http://tinyurl.com/9nyk8jl) raised the question of what implications the potential adoption of the position “Chief Customer Officer” or “Chief Experience Officer” would have for Market Research, referring to articles in the Economist and Marketing Week.
The Economist article (http://econ.st/OJm7CH) describes the conflicting forces at work in many companies – struggling to respond better to the ever-more internet-empowered and demanding customer on the one hand, whilst on the other needing to look to cost-effective ways of actually interacting with customers.
The Marketing Week article (http://tinyurl.com/8g4epw2) takes a look at how customer experience is taking centre stage as a criteria for digital marketing success, and posed the question of internal ownership – should a CMO also be the CXO (Customer Experience Officer)?
Neither mentioned Market Research at all.
Which in itself got me thinking: how peripheral are we as a discipline if we’re not even on the organisational radar screen when it comes to taking ownership of the Voice of the Customer?
Who knows more – ideally – than the Research or Insights Department about Customer needs and wants?
Moving it on a bit – what gives us Market Researchers the right to play in the stakes for owership of the Customer’s needs and wants internally? And more critically – what if we don’t even raise our claim to this role? Will IT or Marketing departments take on the responsibility, overshadowing us?
Organisational structures are an important and in my view insufficiently discussed issue: what’s the right corporate organisational model for Market Research? Where do we fit best? Similarly: what is the ideal career path that an ambitious Researcher might aspire to?
Whether you’re Agency or Client side, these are key issues: the higher up an organisation our voice is heard regularly, the more influence overall Research is likely to have.
1. Influence is tightly linked to Data Synthesis
Insights are often gained by looking at various data streams on the same topic – CRM data, sales data, customer data, survey data, panel or tracking data, Trend data, internet marketing metrics, feedback from Customer Service….the list goes on. Research is the only corporate discipline in my view that potentially has the remit and the neutrality to pull all the above together and make sense of it.
It’s a huge, not to say overwhelming task if you consider how many categories many companies operate in, how much data is available constantly. Taking on this challenge is something that MR needs to look at seriously, and has implications for both Suppliers and Client-side researchers.
2. After “Insights” Comes Strategy
Imagine we become so familiar with all the data points suggested above on a category. Internally, the Researcher becomes the go-to person for many departments when it comes to intelligence issues.
The opportunity we have then is to put the “What Next” into practice: move from a description of a status quo to the strategic path of looking at options that present themselves as alternative course of actions, evaluating them in a structured manner. This is essentially about Strategy Planning. Researchers could easily aspire to this role in an organisation.
3. MR Needs to Influence General Management
To get to the level of strategic influence, it’s necessary to be close to where strategic decisions are made – in the Board room. Currently, research as a function invariably supports Marketing, which is fine. However, we need to have a voice at board level as well.
Ideally, we should aspire to having a dotted reporting line into General Management – providing an unbiassed view alongside Finance.
4. Chief Insight Officer
Why not have Chief Insight Officers? The concept fo CMOs is familiar, so why not a CIO, with a seat on the Board. Surely this is where the voice of the end-user belongs. I’d be curious if people reading this know of similar roles.
5. Marketing for Researchers?
One career path that ambitious researchers can take is to step into Marketing – or Planning in Advertising, maybe even Management Consulting. The logic of this is sound in my view: broaden one’s commercial awareness, experience hands-on the contingencies and trade-offs of day-to-day marketing and product management.
And: if there isn’t an established “route to the top” within Research, then Marketing is a more well-trodden path. It isn’t of course for everybody – the skill sets you need to be a great Marketer are arguably very different from those needed to be a great Researcher. Which brings me back to the need for a Board Level Insight Position, as a logical career path for a discipline that is core to the business.
Why do I think all of the above is important? My perception is that many of our industry’s “hot topics” focus on new methodologies, disruptive technologies, tools – this week it’s Nielsen and Twitter, a few months ago it was Google surveys, no doubt there’s more to come. Which is fantastic. We live in exciting times.
However: the real focus needs to be on impact and value, which are driven by many aspects that are arguably more important than a new technology. These include skill set levels, talent identifcation and fostering, and motivating career paths. What can MR do to attract top talent coming out of top universities – that to me is one cogent question that we need to discuss more. Part of that is providing attractive career paths.
So – fancy becoming a CIO of a Fortune 500 Company? Sounds more attractive potentially than becoming a Market Researcher, perhaps, to a different type of aspiring graduate. Certainly just as attractive as the CXO 😉
Curious, as ever, as to others’ views.