Market research is not only alive and kicking, it’s the sexiest job in town

Market research isn’t dying, and by better portraying its diverse and compelling work, Lee Naylor says it still has the potential to be the sexiest job in town.

Lee Naylor - The Leading EdgeSlow and lumbering. Dead, but still functioning. It’s not a zombie horror film – it’s unfortunately a common misperception of the market research industry.

Conferences bemoan the fact that the industry needs to move on. We hear about how Big Data is leaving us behind and that we need to change rapidly or be left in our catatonic state. Data scientists with their big data sets are talked about as having the sexiest job in town, while your average researcher is a stereotypical dowdy librarian who is still punching books out.

The issue today is that market research is suffering – like many industries – as it blends with other newer disciplines and morphs into an area that is unclear and undefined. Many companies are integrating newer streams of business, adopting new technologies and looking at new competitors who didn’t exist just a few years ago.

This makes it difficult to go to market and talk about yourself when you can’t agree as an industry what you actually are, so let’s look at what the main skills are for researchers. They need to be able to:

  • Understand business, social problems and issues,
  • understand what data is required to answer those problems or issues,
  • analyse this information and convert it into sound business or social recommendations, and
  • manage process and clients


It’s consultancy, data science, account management and more. Market researchers can work across countries, on either agency or client side, and can work in SMBs, multinationals, or even a self-started operation.

So given this gamut of positivity, why aren’t people clamouring to join an industry that pays well and provides a skill set that is easily transferrable across businesses and countries?

Put simply, it’s because it is so multi-faceted and dynamic. It comes back to being able to define it in order to market it.

As data and information has increased, companies have created new tools, frameworks and technology to deal with it. Companies have evolved to specialise in data collection, simplification, analytics and, most importantly, consulting on the back of data.

The only way we can continue to successfully evolve alongside these changes is by ensuring we continue to attract the most talented brains across a range of sectors.

Market research is one of those industries that has managed to attract talent despite itself. I’ve had the pleasure of working with incredibly smart people during my career and seeing bright talent grow. We’re an industry that is intellectual, smart, multicultural and has a good gender mix. Imagine what would happen if we could get our story straight for those looking for a career choice. i.e. When we show them that if you want a career where you get intellectual stimulation, a fast moving environment and myriad ways to succeed.

I would go so far as saying that it’s not the one dimensional data scientist that’s the sexiest job in town, but the multi-faceted research consultant. And it’s time the industry got better at portraying how diverse and compelling its work actually is, to keep and attract the best talent and continue its growth trajectory.

That way, perhaps the only zombie trait we are identified with will be our thirst for brains.


Lee Naylor, managing director of The Leading Edge (an Enero Group company)




Image copyright: rangizzz / 123RF Stock Photo

Lee Naylor
BY Lee Naylor ON 18 November 2016
Managing director, TLE Sydney. Lee Naylor joined The Leading Edge in December 2010 as global head of disciplines. Previous roles include two years at The Nielsen Company as executive director, Consumer Research Australia, and 11 years as a research director at Research International.
  • John

    So how come the researchers got the US election so wrong?

    • Stu Reeve

      Quite simply opt in vs opt out

      • Howard Moskowitz

        I don’t understand that answer..opt in vs opt out. Please explain it in a bit more detail … the reason why ‘opt in vs opt out’ is ‘quite simply’ the answer. Thanks

  • Stephen Jenke

    Well done Lee in promoting Market Research as an exciting, interesting and engaging career. I like you, see the relevance of research and especially the value of insights and solving a multitude of business and social issues via sound research continuing.

  • Stu Reeve

    What has sexy and zombies got to do with it? If i channel GOT and have great abs will all be “rockin”?

    For the last 25 years i have heard the same content dressed up as new news. It is about time professionals in the industry get off the fence and put some skin in the game. You need to know process but understand category.

    Hide behind methodology and science at your own peril. Solve problems or at least be part of the solution, otherwise you are just a zombie quoting standard error.

  • Howard Moskowitz

    I’ve been in marketing research for 42 years now. From my perspective, marketing research is in trouble. WE are beset by a number of problems, and are unable to solve them. Here are four:

    1. We are in a ever quickening race to the bottom. We pride ourselves on getting data (respondent information) cheaply. The cheaper the better. The buyer wants cheap, we deliver cheap. Imagine what the buyer must think when the buyer chooses the ‘cheapest supplier’ for the job.

    2. Buyers say they want consultancy, but won’t pay for it. That’s right, they want consultants who can think, but not when the thinking ‘costs.’ So what happens? The sales people are thinkers, the doers are ‘grunts’ and the client is presented with a ‘executing team’ which knows how to get the work done cheaply, but can’t think their way out of a paper bag.

    3. In order to get business, the market researcher, whether client-side or supplier-side, looks for ‘new and different.’ This turns out to be a bright shiny ball, which amuses for a moment, differentiating the supplier, getting the sale, but not leading to the right answer.

    4.There is massive cronyism, because on the client side the buyer feels intimidated, and buys from friends. There has always been cronyism, buying from friends, but today the ‘friends’ on the supplier side just don’t have the experience that they did before. They may not be as experienced, nor as savvy.

    So when you look at the state of today’s market research you see people who say they are ‘in the know,’ keeping up, comfy with data scientists. But ask the corporation what is really need from the market researcher of today. That’s what will help us revitalize the field, morph it into what it should be in today’s world.