In July this year, Latitude’s Insights Director, Tabitha Lucas, celebrated 9 years as a part of the Latitude team. A massive feat but only 9 years out of a market research career that stretches over 20 plus. With the rise of experience design, the fall of cold calling and the introduction of that crazy little thing called the internet, it’s safe to say a lot has changed in the industry over the past 20 years. Here, Tab talks about some of the things that have changed over the span of her career, and the things that have remained constant throughout her journey.
The Accessibility of People
When I first interviewed with Di (CEO of Bastion Latitude) I had never heard of an online community. I was dubious as to if it could even work! I told Di that she’d have to convince me, and she did! What started as small qualitative research online grew to big quant and qual projects, online engagement and designing and delivering best practices for dealing with online communities.
The ability to access people at any time was a game-changer. Not only just for online communities but the ability to source sample. For a long time, all market research agencies had a ‘phone room’ which was basically a call centre. We’d use uni students or casuals, each working a 4-hour shift, who would contact as many people as possible to interview. You might average 1 complete an hour, so for a project requiring 1000 completes, you’re looking at 1000 hours. The man-hours it took to complete big projects was incredible. Now, using online sample, you can practically source anyone, anywhere, anytime.
The Devil Works Hard But A Market Researcher Works Harder
The need to be agile remains constant over my 20 or so years in the industry. Timelines have always been short (and may have even gotten shorter!) and fast results continue to be a top priority for clients. Why the need for such a fast turn around? Because some companies tend to leave market research to the last minute. But the last few years as definitely seen a shift away from, ‘maybe we should do a survey?’ to ‘we have to know what the customer is saying’.’
It is definitely not the status quo but there are always stories of having to work to ridiculous-o’clock to get something out the door. I know market researcher’s don’t corner the market on occasional crazy hours, but it is part of how things sometimes pan out on the ‘supplier’ side. Fortunately, one of the other changes I’ve seen over the years is this sort of craziness becoming less frequent and less expected by leaders. There is an understanding that it’s not ok to burn people out by expecting really long days as par for the course. The marketing industry is changing and your colleagues understand the importance of your work/ life balance.
Since the dawn of time (ok maybe not that long…), people have insisted ‘The market research industry is dying’. The market research industry will never die. The tools change and our industry always learns to adapt. But there is always a need to understand consumers to be successful.
The danger is the potential for bad DIY research, with businesses moving towards an ‘in-house’ model. With so much access to online tools and a crazy amount of customer data, some companies believe they have all that’s required to make an informed decision from their own research. But giving someone a car doesn’t teach them how to drive!
The challenge Market Research agencies face today is to educate. You can definitely conduct research in-house, but do you understand the risks? Do you know how to write a survey that makes sense? That will get you the best (or most useful) results? Can you find the ‘so what’ within your data? Do you understand what to do with your findings?
A researcher is an expert in designing surveys and discussions that will deliver quality insights that directly inform strategic decisions.
Discover Why, Uncover How
At the end of the day, my passion for Market Research boils down to wanting to understand what makes people tick. I’m just as interested in working out why people are choosing THAT particular chocolate bar as I am about the bigger picture stuff. I love getting inside people’s heads. The past 20 years, the goal has been about understanding people, and I can guarantee that it’ll be the same in another 20!
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Tab is Latitude’s Insights Director and heads up our Quantitative team. You can find her on LinkedIn here.