Hey, I'm always curious about that green grass over the fence.
December 16, 2008 4:45 PM   Subscribe

Please humor me and tell me about being a market research analyst.

I find myself increasingly curious about how consumer and provider/vendor (read: competitor) behavior and resources can be quantified and subsequently leveraged. I've read the bureau of labor statistics summary, but day-to-day, first hand experiences would be nice to know about (I uh, know nobody in the industry).

- What types of software/technical/quantitative skills are necessary? I assume a mad knowledge of statistics, sampling and survey methods, and a keen eye for when they can go terribly wrong, but what else?
- Are there certain personality traits that lend themselves particularly well to market research/analysis?
- What kinds of entry-level jobs and career paths are there for people in this field, other than what was mentioned here? Or is that it?
- What does the day-to-day routine or common tasks look like?
- Good stories? Horror stories?

posted by universal_qlc to Work & Money (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for, but I used to be a programmer for a marketing opinion research company. After the marketing brains developed a questionnaire for a customer, one of us would turn it into an online survey that would be sent to qualifying volunteers. The data would be collected, coded by the coding group where applicable (open-ended questions, generally), and then analysis would be completed by the marketing brains. I know they used statistical software to collate the answers, but I know there was a pretty extensive amount of experience and education behind it.

From my perspective, there were three entry points: programming, coding, or nearing completion of an MBA with an emphasis in marketing. At the time, we programmed in vbscript (with the assistance of a tool that automated the repetitive stuff), I'm sure .NET is more likely now. The coders (they read open-ended questions and coded keywords based on criteria provided by the marketing specialists) started lowest on the pole, but talent would get you moving pretty quickly. Near-MBAs spent their first year or so pretty much shadowing more experienced marketing specialists and doing grunt work. Most of management had started out as phone-bankers in the 80s and 90s; we didn't have a phone bank anymore, it was all done online, but we had a ton of people who'd started in high school part time and were still there 15+ years later.

I don't know if you'd get a job doing the actual design work without an MBA, so if anything that would be your place to start.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2008

I'd like to emphasize Lyn's point about the MBA. I'm a social scientist, heavy on the quantitative stuff, measurement, survey design, etc. When I moved to Colorado, I thought I would probably be able to land a marketing job with little difficulty. After about three months of job hunting, I ended up with a handful of interviews for above-entry level positions in all sorts of places - medical, crime, education research - and not so much as a callback from any of the marketing jobs I applied to, which easily composed the majority of the jobs I applied to.

Point is, I suspect they're looking for people who are both quantitative- and business-minded. I don't know how well-received a MechE would be. Then again, being able to talk the MechE talk might open up the realm of industrial marketing, and I have no idea how that might differ from consumer marketing.

I dunno, I have crawled all over to get work as a quantitative analyst, which I finally did (higher ed). MefiMail me if your interests expand beyond marketing.
posted by McBearclaw at 5:39 PM on December 16, 2008

It is a pretty broad field though and it depends on the organization. The high tech companies that I've worked for will take a masters in statistics instead of an MBA in the market research group. It depends on the size of the company and the group you are in. I started as contractor when the role only required a bachelors when the company I was working for was much smaller than the household name it is today. I specialized in qualitative work and basic descriptive statistics based research. For some of the more complex work, we'd hire the project out to a market research firm.
posted by birdherder at 5:59 PM on December 16, 2008

Well, there's more reasons to go in the "get an MBA" basket. Although there will be the little problem of getting in [somewhere good]....
posted by universal_qlc at 5:59 PM on December 16, 2008

I reckon essential reading if you are considering this occupation is 'Mister Squishy' short story by the late David Foster Wallace. It was published in his collection 'Oblivion: Stories' by Abacus in the UK and Aus.
posted by evil_esto at 12:51 AM on December 17, 2008

Like Lyn, I too used to program these beasts. Entry level is indeed either programming them, data-processing them (including "coding" of open answers) and then of course executing them, by telephone or face-to-face. From F2F to project assistant and onwards.

Statistics or marketing are good for the analysis end of things, and psychology or similar can be relevant in both the analysis of the results, but also in the formulation of the questions to begin wtih. Sometimes you are want the actual answer, sometimes you want a specific answer. How you formulate the question is vital.

Are you satisfied with X? - Most people will say no, cos of course, if you say you are satisfied then X will get all complacent, or raise their rates or whatever.

Do you think X do a good job? - Most people will say yes (unless they suck) cos they don't do a bad job...

On a scale of 1 to 6 (even number to force preference) how satisfied are you with the job X does? - will give you an answer much closer to the actual opinion.

FTR, I am out, I loved the opinion poll part, but hated the market research part because it is so unabashadly seekling to manipulate people into higher consumption.
posted by Iteki at 8:24 AM on December 17, 2008

I worked in market research in my first 'suit and tie' job, in the UK. The qualifications were not very stringent on maths- my entry level colleagues and I all had degrees, none of them in stastics. This may not be representative of all market reasearch as this company was fmcg focussed had a fairly good polling sample and the number crunching was done by a fairly robust computer program, we humans were there to make sense of the numbers on a human level and present to the client.

You asked about the day-to-day tasks. My entry level job consisted of get in. Look at monthly trends of buying by different demographic groups for a particular product. Note if there were any changes or trends. Try to figure out if these were seasonal (i.e. had the same pattern last year) or were related to advertising, the weather, changes in buyers habits etc. Then you'd make a PowerPoint presentation distilling the numbers and creating a story that explained them. You then e-mail or present the findings to the client.

Horror stories- having to analyse and give presentations on the chilled quiche market (I don't like quiche at all). Knowing far too much info about different fabric softners and their respective demographics. Sliced cooked meats and their growth in the past five years is an unfruitful opening gambit at dinner parties.

Good stories, again everyone judges the market as their own stall has gone and all that, but generally the people were good, and a lot of what you learned was useless but interesting as it concerns the way we live our lives. Getting an insight into how advertising has an effect (or not) for products was interesting.

Also one of our clients was Rizla, maker of rolling tobacco papers- my mate who had to present on it was shocked by their insistence that he was wrong to say that people used their product for anything other than 'legitimate' tobacco consumption. He had to remove all references in his presentation that suggested people were using them for dope. Apparantly it is due to the law in the UK proscribing drug 'paraphenalia'- hence why bongs and pipes in headshops have laughable signs next to them saying 'for decorative purposes only'.

As I say, you do pick up a lot of bizarre info and insights.

Regarding personality types we ranged from the rather geeky, the hideously corporate, the guys who could tell a convincing story; depends upon how much number crunching is done automatically, how much interaction you have with the client etc.
posted by Gratishades at 8:25 AM on December 17, 2008

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