Just yesterday Tom Ewing wrote this post with several hypotheses as to why young researchers (those of us under 30) are not contributing as much as we might to the current debates around the future of our industry. I had been thinking of throwing my hat into the blogsphere for a while with a couple of things brewing I wanted to write about – but I’m going to put those on the back burner for now and take up Tom’s ‘challenge’ and write my first few posts on where we might be going as an industry. I’m still 22 months shy of 30, so I comfortably qualify.
Tom’s post, coupled with the healthy comments thread it generated, is hard to disagree with and covers off most of the reasons why us ‘kids’ are not entering the debate as much as we might. I think many of his hypotheses are interrelated – people have nothing to say because they are too busy doing the boring donkey work and therefore they don’t feel empowered speak up. When you spend the majority of your working life checking data, correcting powerpoint charts and making minor changes to questionnaires; what do you have to say about macro trends in the industry and from where to you get the confidence and credibility to say it? All of that certainly holds, but I think there are a couple of other factors to be considered.
Firstly, I think it’s fair to say that for most of us a career in market research is an arranged marriage rather than one based on a passionate love affair. That’s certainly the case for me – I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a researcher, I didn’t even plan to be one whilst I was at University – it was simply the case that Millward Brown were the first company of note in the brand and advertising sphere to offer me a job. Many arranged marriages are a phenomenal success and are hugely loving relationships, but it’s a love that generally takes a bit of time to build as you get to know each other and realise how brilliantly suited to one another you really are. I’m pretty fortunate that it’s worked out that way for me and I now find myself doing something I mostly enjoy and am passionate about – but it took me some time to get there and the required donkey work noted above will put many off before they do. Why would you stick your neck out and disturb the status quo if it’s just a job to you? Why would you take an interest in an industry beyond the day to day if it’s not something you’re passionate about?
Secondly, related to the first point, there is the perennial issue of the image of market research. I’m fairly sure if we were talking about the future of advertising or the media (which is actually at least half of what we are talking about anyway) we wouldn’t be lacking young Turks throwing opinions around. It’s cool to talk about advertising, it isn’t cool to talk about research. The perception is that we’re at the bottom of the media food chain – if you asked many young researchers what they do in casual conversation they’d probably say something vague about marketing, brands, consultancy – doing whatever they can to avoid using the word ‘research’ in describing what they do. If you’re not even willing to acknowledge what you do, you’re unlikely to be shouting too loud in public about how to change it.
These two issues also point to the very heart of why the industry is under significant threat. If the above is all true then what is the likelihood of us attracting and retaining the sort of talent who will shake up the industry in the way that is undoubtedly required? Which brings us back to another of Tom’s hypotheses – the people transforming consumer insight are doing it from outside the bounds of our industry. We need to attract them inside the tent.