Polaris Marketing Research

February 2012

The polaris pov blog

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Polaris POV (point of view) offers free-flowing discussions on marketing research trends, thoughts on social media, subjective reviews of the latest gadgets or cool iPhone apps, business commentary, topical opinions and societal rants - you never know what might be the subject of the latest post on our interesting, fun and sometime controversial blog.


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New Roles are Emerging in Marketing Research

By John Grafton, Senior Project Manager, Polaris Marketing Research

As with everything else, marketing research is changing. A decade ago, a passing knowledge of the Internet was expected, now it’s required. And to accommodate these new skills a savvy researcher should have, maybe it’s time to reevaluate how we define ourselves.

It wasn’t so long ago that marketing research roles were pretty clearly defined. Analysts analyzed the data; project managers managed the projects, research directors were expected to manage the entire research effort and marketing people did whatever it was they did. Then came a time when intermediate positions were introduced into the workplace such as junior analysts, senior analysts, senior project managers and so forth. With the advent of new techniques and new media, there is a need for heretofore loosely defined positions to take their rightful place on the marketing research ‘stage.’

One new position would be a ‘technologist,’ which is a hybrid of research and IT. This position is not only responsible for keeping up with emerging digital trends, but also new research methodologies that can leverage those trends. This position would also evaluate and become the decision maker if buying third party software is called for, formerly the sole domain of the IT person.

Another rising position is a ‘community manager.’ When the Internet started gaining popularity in the early-90s, the mantra was ‘It’s all about community.’ At that time we viewed the Internet as a way to connect with people for strictly personal reasons and in turn, it gave the users a sense of belonging to a community.

In the brave new world we face, a community manager would ensure that the company or brand maintains its ‘voice’ with the community it’s created via social media. As has been proven several times in the past year, one wrong post on a company’s social network platforms can bring down a rain of criticism – and dilute the public’s confidence that the company or brand is still speaking for them.

This leads into another new position which could be called a ‘social media researcher.’ Monitoring comments by a site’s constituents used to be a weekly activity – now, it’s a full-time job. Not only can a researcher divine trends or a change in opinions via social media platforms, polls and surveys can also be conducted to specifically reach consumers of a certain brand. Just launching a Facebook page and letting it run ‘on automatic’ no longer works. Companies have to look at the strategic implications of the feedback they’re receiving and coalesce that into appropriate action.

With more data available, there is more of a demand for ‘data miners.’ Gone are the days when an analyst would be given a stack of crosstabs and asked to find ‘the answer.’ Today, analysts are expected to have a working knowledge of higher analytics in order to synthesize their findings into actionable plans. Not only are these plans that could be implemented immediately but properly designed, they can be predictive models of future behavior. This position would require not only a research background, but also a computer science background to ‘massage’ the data and a business background to understand the economic implications of changes to a plan – either good or bad.

Another quality this position would require is judgment – the ability to filter the useful information out of a mountain of data. Now longer does ‘Bigger is Better’ apply to everything and least of all, not to marketing research. Being a good researcher not only means you have to know what to deliver but also what not to deliver. In years past, this extraneous information was called ‘fluff’ – now, some people try to pass it off as content. It may be content, but is it useful? To paraphrase an old saying, “Discretion is the better part of being a good researcher.”

The final step in this evolution is the ‘marketing and research specialist.’ This position takes marketing research and combines it with what were once solely marketing functions. Researchers now must be competent writers, be knowledgeable about lead generation programs, be able to develop and conduct marketing campaigns, as well as conduct solid, practical research. If there is an ‘ideal’ researcher, it will be one that not only posses marketing research knowledge, but is able to directly apply that knowledge to marketing programs.

Looking back at a newsletter article I wrote a year ago on ‘The Continuing Evolution of Marketing Research,’ I found that nearly all those changes in the marketing research business I spoke of have come to pass. This doesn’t mean that I’m a good prognosticator – just a good researcher. And the secret to staying a ‘good researcher’ isn’t really a secret – some of us have known it all along – it’s called ‘observation.’ You observe trends and tracking information, which isn’t new, but now we have the necessary tools and platforms to quantify those observations so that non-researchers get an entire picture that was once only privy to a select few.


John Grafton is a Senior Project Manager at Polaris Marketing Research Inc., where he handles Marketing and Business Development. John has worked in the marketing research field for over 25 years.