A Dozen Essential MR Skills

There’s a lot to learn in a short space of time if you want to become a good marketing researcher. If you don’t have certain essential skills, it’s pretty easy to take a serious fall. Below, I’ve listed the core skills sets I think are most essential for a marketing researcher. Admittedly, it has a “Quant” skew since I have been a user but not a doer of Qualitative Research for quite a few years now. (I have academic training in both.) However, I feel most will apply to nearly any marketing researcher today.

In addition to those on my list, there are software, management, communication and interpersonal skills that, in one shape or another, are needed in most professions.

Here are twelve skills – really knowledge domains – I think most marketing researchers should have:

  1. Business understanding. For most readers this will mean a good grasp of marketing, marketing research and knowledge of several industry sectors, as well as a general understanding of how the business world works.
  2. Research design, including experimental, non-experimental and quasi-experimental designs
  3. Fundamentals of Sampling
  4. Questionnaire design
  5. Fundamentals of Psychometrics
  6. Focus group discussion and interview guides
  7. Descriptive statistics (e.g., mean, median, standard deviation)
  8. Fundamentals of Inferential statistics (e.g., T-test, chi square, F-test)
  9. Basic familiarity with multivariate methods such as factor, cluster and regression analysis, as well as newer methods often called machine learning (e.g., Random Forests and Support Vector Machines).
  10. Analytical thinking, as opposed to number-crunching!!
  11. Knowing how to find and use secondary data sources, including “Big Data”
  12. Presentation and reporting skills.

This is quite a lot! How do we acquire all this knowledge? While there is no substitute for experience, like just about anything, experience too has its downsides. For instance, learning on the job from a supervisor who was trained by someone who was mostly self-taught can backfire, and bad habits can easily be handed down from generation to generation. Also some “veterans” are really not as veteran as their grey hairs might suggest – I recall one such person’s resume being characterized as “one year’s experience repeated 19 times.”

Formal degree programs in relevant areas are considered the Gold Standard by most people I know. Going back to school full-time may be impractical for most of us already in the labor force but, fortunately, there are also part-time programs, MOOCs and various certification programs, online courses, webinars, F2F seminars and workshops. You can also dig up some good materials through online searches, though caution is urged since even Wikipedia is not without its critics! Once you reach a certain level, textbooks and academic journals may be the most efficient route, and I’ve listed quite a few here.

Some other posts related to this topic which may be of interest to you are:

Links to interviews with leading academics on MR related topics and the MR Realities podcast series I co-host with Dave McCaughan can be found here.

I hope you’ve found this interesting and helpful!

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Kevin Gray is President of Cannon Gray, a marketing science and analytics consultancy.
He has more than 30 years experience in marketing research.

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