All the Young Dudes

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.

3 thoughts on “All the Young Dudes”

  1. The Lost World of Researchers…

    Andrew – it is very well written…your article sums it up pretty well…infact I am not sure how many actually take up research for the love of it…for most it is accidental or incidental (can safely presume that basis the lot I know including myself) .Yes, but over time, it either grows on you or you just grow out of it!! I think for those of us who end up accepting it as a mundane career option, the need to question thoughts, beliefs and develop perspectives takes a back seat.

    Adding to what you said, yes you are pretty right about the image bit, I guess ‘cool’ has little or no existence in the world of researchers but it’s more about the self image which is again a takeoff from how passionate you are about what you do…yes, as you aptly put that across – there is a world of difference in staying married for heck of it or being in it for the sake of if we love what we do…do we really care whether it looks cool or not? Besides, I think that others will only think of you as what you think of yourself…self image permeates to the professional arena as well…

    Also, there is an underlying myth or let’s say unspoken understanding that in order to participate in debates around the future of the industry or other such relevant discussions, one needs to back it up with age and experience (at least what I noticed around)…its best left to the veterans – let the experienced talk or wait till you hair turns grey

    I feel quintessential researchers (whether under or over 30 or at the cross section like myself) have a curious frame of mind …they usually like to see more than what meets the eye… I guess what we need to attract to MR are free thinking heads and encourage an out of the box thinking within the industry

  2. Agree,

    It’s a shame that more young researchers aren’t getting involved.

    I think one of the best examples though is BAQMaR. Wrote about them on my blog here:

    Also, I like to think of myself as the Next Generation of researcher as well 😉

    And that’s why I founded NGMR which probably has the most active MR discussion on LinkedIn:

    I do wish more young researchers would join the discussion and start blogging though. One problem is that most work for larger MR firms that discourage active participation in social media by employees. Therefore many would, probably with reasonable cause, be afraid to speak out on issues like sample quality, offshoring etc.


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