Editor's note: This article appeared in the August 12, 2013, edition of Quirk's e-newsletter.
At Quirk's, we often - jokingly and affectionately - refer to researchers' inherent curiosity as being nosy by nature. In the history of our publications, articles that feature research on research have always drawn a large and enthusiastic audience. So when Windsor Heights, Iowa, research company Quester approached us about producing a Webinar featuring research on researchers, we were thrilled to share the data with our readers.
Earlier in 2013, Quester conducted a pre-segmentation project using its BigQual software-based moderator solution to conduct one-on-one interviews with marketing researchers. Quester recruited 264 marketing research professionals from Quirk's Marketing Research & Insights LinkedIn Group in the hopes of uncovering some of the traits and personality types shared by researchers. That information would then be used to identify and define various segments, with the goal of helping researchers determine how and where they fit in among their peers.
The sample included 108 males and 156 females, the majority of whom had over 15 years of experience in research (150 respondents with 15+ years of experience; 75 with seven-to-15 years; 39 with fewer than seven years) and many came from relatively small companies. Ninety-eight respondents work at a company with 25 employees or fewer, 48 with 26-100 employees, 49 with 101-1,000 employees, 34 with 1,001-10,000 and 35 with over 10,000 employees.
Patterns did emerge
While there is no "normal" in the research field (and we didn't need a research study to tell us that!), certain patterns did emerge and they enabled Quester to identify three different segments of researchers: Mechanics, Discoverers and Strategists. No matter which segment a researcher might fall into, they are all passionate about finding answers, whether that means answers to questions or answers to business issues. Additionally, 54 percent (unaided) of marketing researchers feel they are problem solvers and have a strong passion for their work; 73 percent are motivated by the fact that they can make a difference and can discover the unknown; 69 percent enjoy playing with ideas and thinking through the research process; and 79 percent are open to new methodologies on some level.
Based on an open-ended discussion about aspects of their jobs they like the most, 54 percent agreed that they enjoy problem-solving. This was the only attribute mentioned by over half of the respondents. Other attributes of the job included the following:
- Designing research (26 percent): "Questionnaire design and analysis. Because questionnaire design is the basis of quant work - you get the right people in the screener and then the Qs have to be worded correctly and in a reasonable order so that you can uncover exactly what the client is after."
- Engaging with consumers (11 percent): "I particularly love the focus group sessions. I love writing questionnaires and engaging respondents on the field. It's always a passion every day I have to go to work because I love my job."
- Understanding the consumer mind/psychology (25 percent): "I love finding out why. Digging around to find the answer and presenting this in a way that influences people. Understanding people and seeing theory at work. This is something we do that others cannot. People do their jobs and forget the people connection."
- Impacting business strategy (22 percent): "Communicating the underlying insights from research to those people who have to make the business decisions. Also influencing how those business decisions are made and why market research is more than simply delivering data. Being able to influence corporate direction and providing a balanced understanding of the audience is a big key in what I do."
- Making an impact/helping clients (25 percent)
- Uncovering insights (47 percent)
- The variety of the work (26 percent)
Strength of their passion
What differentiates the three segments? In general, it comes down to what they love about their job. While their job function may require pieces of all three segments, the strength of their passion impacts how they tackle projects and address clients' needs.
Mechanics (39 percent) love the tactical process of each project (i.e., designing research, talking to respondents, digging through data, etc.) and the problem-solving of each stage. Mechanics are driven by personal achievement and doing a good job for their companies. Discoverers (51 percent) enjoy the psychology of research and understanding what makes people tick and are driven by finding the golden nuggets and the quest for knowledge that no one else can give their clients. Discoverers love to hunt for insights by understanding how consumers make decisions - they are more focused on the end result but are not thinking beyond the project at hand. Strategists (10 percent), on the other hand, are always thinking beyond the project and love focusing on the big picture and how their research can be used strategically. They are driven by the impact they have on clients' businesses.
So what does the Mechanic look like? Mechanics tend to be earlier in their careers; love the tactical aspects of their jobs like writing surveys and digging into data; are more science-oriented and quant-focused; and want to be innovative but feel limited or are more skeptical of new methodologies.
"Numbers are everything. Give me a representative sample of 400 and I can find out what you need to know."
"I usually tend to work with quantitative methods and I try to be the best in my field maybe too much. I am innovative but I usually get stopped by the company's managers."
"I love to play with numbers and tell a story with them. I like to make the complicated seem simple."
"I love the problem-solving aspect. I'm an analyst and get to also be a methodologist. Planning the approach and then crunching numbers is what I love. I'm good at seeing a situation and working out a plan. I just have insight to see from the problem to the solution very clearly. I've learned this is a unique talent of mine."
Mechanics tend to think about research on a project-by-project basis and therefore focus first on the concrete aspects like budget, sample and timeline.
"I am frustrated with the increasingly shortened timelines for projects. Clients are expecting analysis only a few days after data collection."
"Getting a representative sample is the most important factor in delivering results based upon a cross-section of consumers, customers, employees or whoever is the subject of the investigation."
Discoverers are more diverse in their years of experience; are more focused on qualitative; are driven by the discovery of anything new, whether insights or methodologies; feel they are innovative; and aren't afraid to try new things.
"I am a student of consumers. How they think, what influences them and how they make decisions."
"The constant flow of new information and analyzing the behaviors and psychologies of people. No two persons are identical, they are influenced by their upbringings and different surroundings. So no information is the same and information in different contexts will mean different things; that is the constant new flow of information that keeps me amazed."
"I like to be innovative in my work and I like thinking out of the box. I hate routine and numbers for the sake of numbers."
"In the end, applying research learnings is as much about 'science' as it is a little 'art.' Research isn't about just doing surveys or listening to what people say - it's also about observing what they do."
Discoverers focus on the big picture of the research and are driven by the insights they provide. Budget and timeline play a role but in general, this segment is less willing to sacrifice insights.
"I tend to look at myself as working in insight rather than market research. Research is one of the tools I use but anything that can better help my clients understand their audiences and markets they are working in, I see as part of my role."
Strategists tend to have more experience in the industry; think of themselves as leaders and mentors; consider themselves innovative; and want to be a partner with clients.
"My researcher role is a base. I am also a consultant, facilitator, coach, educator, mentor, manager, leader and counselor."
Strategists are very relationship-focused and think beyond objectives to business issues - the most important factor is how the results will be used.
"I prefer to see myself and be accepted by clients as more of a partner, interested in ideas that foster strong, mutually-beneficial relationships with consumers, rather than a henchman used to extract information that validates shortsighted strategies and bad decisions."
"I think the most important factor is how the client is planning to use the results. Sometimes clients are asking for one thing but, during discussion of how results will be used, it becomes obvious they really need something different or something different will be more helpful to them."
"What are the primary business questions, of course, but also what will be done with the results and what decisions need to be made - I have to have a clear understanding of the context. After I understand that, I also have to look at the more practical concerns of budget and schedules but I try not to let those become primary drivers of my decisions."
There are many ways to "be" a researcher and a variety of motivations. This is part of what makes the industry so interesting and how each research project - and each research professional - can be so different. In every project, the researchers bring with them a lifetime of unique experiences that shape how they approach the situation and one is not better than another. As with everything, it's all about finding the right fit.
For more detailed information on the three segments, such as what motivates them in the office, how they see their work personality and what they wanted to be when they grew up, download a PDF of the Webinar presentation at http://tinyurl.com/n27yvau or watch the full recorded Webinar at http://tinyurl.com/lg8kfj5.