It is widely accepted that the most fundamental component to successful marketing is knowing the target audience, including what channels would be best used to reach them, their socio-economic status as well as their needs and desires. Being aware of these important factors allows marketing managers to develop marketing strategies that deliver targeted messages through appropriate channels to effectively brand a product or service such that it appeals to the target market and increases the company’s market share. Companies hire market research analysts to gather data, interpret feedback and advise on ways to successfully apply research findings. Even the best creative in the world has little effect if it isn’t put in front of the right audience.
Market Research vs. Marketing Research
Among experts, market research is differentiated from marketing research, although the two are closely related and go hand in hand in completing the entire picture with regard to market accessibility and product marketability. Market research is the process by which analysts determine the products and services that consumers in a given market are interested in. Marketing research, on the other hand, is the process by which analysts determine how best to market and sell these products and services by determining the most effective marketing strategies and isolating the best marketing channels for reaching the target market.
The Market Research Process
Market research analysts are the information gurus of the business world whose primary role is to bridge the gap between commercial ambitions and consumer demand. This is no simply task. The first step is to determine the main objective of conducting research- what exactly is the client company trying to learn about consumers?
Once a research goal has been established, market research analysts devise a strategy to collect data that reveals target market opinion. Some popular tools used to extract this information include surveys, polls, interviews and questionnaires. Much of this research is conducted online since the Internet tends to generate faster responses drawn from a vast number of participants.
After market research analysts have executed their research approach they will analyze, evaluate and interpret results and report their conclusions. These findings are then presented to the client company’s marketing director so decisions can be made about future sales, distribution and promotion tactics. Companies may also make deductions based on research to predict changing trends in the market and devise ways to adapt to them. It is at this stage that businesses receive answers to the questions they had originally posed, such as:
- Does this product have public appeal?
- How much will consumers pay for this product?
- What should be the target demographic for this product?
- Does this product design attract customers?
- Which companies present the most competition for this product?
The most common way to start a career in market research is through formal education. According to the United States Department of Labor, 71% of professionals in the field hold a bachelor’s degree, 25% hold a master’s degree and 4% hold a doctoral or professional degree. Many market research analysts often have a strong academic background in marketing and market research, but many hold degrees in business administration, liberal arts, statistics, qualitative research, computer science, social sciences and communication. There are several other closely related degrees that can similarly prepare students for a career in the field. For example, colleges and universities may also offer associate, bachelor, master and doctorate degree programs in survey research, predictive analytics, survey statistics, survey methodology, survey design, data analysis, and qualitative methods.
Schools that provide market research education often design course content that covers the fundamental principles of the industry as outlined by the Marketing Research Association (MRA):
- Marketing Basics
- Planning the Research Process
- Research Design
- Web Survey Research
- Data Delivery Methods
- Research Management
- Communicating Research Results
- Data Analysis
- Data Collection Skills
- Measurement Instruments
One of the best ways for market research analysts to prove their skill and competency is to sit for the Marketing Research Association (MRA) exam, which results in the Professional Researcher Certification (PRC) credential. The MRA understands that not all market researchers have the same amount of education and experience, and offers three different types of professional certification to reflect these differences.
Market research analysts can apply for certification as research providers, corporate researchers or research adjuncts. Within these categories, professionals can then indicate their level of occupational comprehension by choosing to be certified as either a practitioner or expert. In general, those with between three and five years of experience are eligible for the practitioner’s certification while those with more than five years of experience can qualify for the expert’s certification.
One of the many benefits of developing a career in market research is the current employment growth trend for this industry. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2008 and 2018 market research analyst can expect to see a 28% spike in employment opportunities throughout the country. This increase equates to at least 70,100 more jobs.
Industries of Employment
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (US BLS) reports that as of May 2010 there were 261,780 market research analysts and marketing specialists employed nationwide. Here, employment statistics are often expressed in terms of industry-specific figures. For example, the industries with the highest levels of employment were:
- Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services (29,380)
- Management of Companies and Enterprises (22,720)
- Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (13,840)
- Computer Systems Design and Related Services (12,140)
- Insurance Carriers (10,200)
Employment opportunities for market research analysts vary across geographic locations because states have individual qualities concerning economic conditions, populations, political climates and public demand for services. Therefore, professionals with the flexibility to relocate for a position may benefit from increases in career opportunities. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states with the highest employment levels for market research analyst are:
- California (40,390)
- New York (26,700)
- Texas (16,090)
- Pennsylvania (15,070)
- Illinois (12,890)
On the other hand, the states with the lowest employment levels include:
- Montana (340)
- Maine (310)
- Wyoming (270)
- South Dakota (220)
- Alaska (200)
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that market research analysts can expect an average annual wage of $32.14/hr. or an annual average salary of $66,850/yr. Professional that show a strong dedication to continued education by receiving additional training, gaining technical skills and earning advanced degrees are more likely to advance their careers by qualifying for job promotions which may include salary increases.
Salaries may differ depending on the industry of employment. The highest paying industries of 2010 were:
- Personal Care Services ($113,920/yr.)
- Aerospace Products and Parts Manufacturing ($93,850/yr.)
- Semiconductor and Other Electronic Component Manufacturing ($92,560/yr.)
- Federal Executive Branch ($91,660/yr.)
- Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing ($90,650/yr.)
Like employment rates, salary expectations also contrast according to geographic location. For example, the top states for 2010 include:
- Oregon ($82,290/yr.)
- Washington ($79,970/yr.)
- Delaware ($77,780/yr.)
- District of Columbia ($75,020/yr.)
- California ($74,300/yr.)
There are many factors that can separate market research analysts from one another such as salary and wage earnings, industries of employment, job titles and responsibilities, areas of specialization, geographic locations, job competition, level of education and experience. Participation and membership in a professional association is a great solution to feelings of occupational isolation, and can serve as the common ground for all market research professionals.
Organizations like the Marketing Research Association, the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR), the Council of American Survey Research Organizations (CASTRO) and the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA) were all created to establish a space where market research analysts could “shake hands” with their professional colleagues. Here collaboration, not competition, is the primary focus.
Professional associations give market research analysts the unique opportunity to exchange ideas, gain insight into industry news and trends, partake in discussion boards, plan and attend trade events, and post and apply for jobs. But above all, professional associations are designed to encourage occupational development and growth through the unifying force of shared learning experiences. Continuing education often comes in many forms including, but not limited to, formal course offerings, academic publications and materials, conferences, lectures and seminars.
Top Market Research Firms
Many marketing research analysts are hired by marketing firms. These firms exist primarily because they allow companies to consult with and receive services from marketing research analysts without having to spend the time and money needed to create an entire internal department dedicated to marketing and market research analysis.
According to the Honomichl Top 50 list, the ten highest-ranked market research firms in the United States for 2010 included the following:
- Nielsen Co.
- IMS Health Inc.
- Symphony IRI Group
- Webstat Inc.
- Arbitron Inc.
- GfK USA
- NPD Group Inc.
- ICF International Inc.