We're excited to be publishing an interview with our Non-Executive Director Ben Leet today. In the interview, Ben talks about how he landed in the world of market research, the perception of market research to the average person and his thoughts on the future of the industry.
Ben, you’ve been in market research for a while now. Why did you decide that this was the sector to grow your career?
To be honest, I, like many other people in the industry more or less fell into market research by accident! I first worked for a very nimble consultancy based market research firm, Decision Tree Consulting, and the lure was the opportunity to consult and advise some of the world’s largest consumer electronics companies. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world to engage with the likes of Samsung and Sony; something far more interesting than writing questionnaires! I quickly learnt that the backbone of the consulting that we did was actually our research – primary, secondary, custom, syndicated. I was soon falling in love with trying to understand what made human beings tick. Understanding human nature, the psychological side of decision making, was fascinating and I remain captivated by it today which is why I’ve been in the industry for so long.
Do you think the outside world really understands what the market research industry does?
Broadly speaking, I think we’re not particularly good at selling ourselves if that’s what you mean! Even today I think most of my friends believe I stand on the streets with a clipboard, whereas market research is obviously much more than that. Even to the trained eyes of marketers, who tend to be the dominant budget controllers of the market research domain, market research can be seen as one dimensional at times. I think the level of automation that we’re seeing from companies such as SurveyMonkey and even ZappiStore is also a testimony to that thinking, and at times there’s a mismatch between our own perception of what we do and the way our clients view us.
That’s an interesting point, do you think that market research is losing relevance in today’s data-driven world?
We absolutely shouldn’t be losing relevance, as the market research community should be the foremost authority on all things data and analytics, which is where the world is undoubtedly headed. If anything, the market research community has a huge opportunity to indoctrinate itself into the boardrooms of many of the world’s largest companies at a much more strategic level by positioning ourselves as the masters of data. Our challenge, however, is that because of our nature to analyse, consider and be certain, we tend to be very slow as an industry to evolve and adapt new ideas and methodologies.
Many of the new entrants into the market research space are no longer classical market research agencies, but companies with a technical edge when it comes to methods of collecting, analysing or presenting data, and that gives you a sense of change to come over the next decade or so for the market research community.
So is the classical market research agency model obsolete?
Far from it! But it will need to adapt in order to survive and maintain relevance. At Instantly I saw a recurring theme of surveys getting longer as agencies tried to create more data to justify the same or lower client spend, but in reality, humans want to consume media, content and surveys in short interesting bursts, so the accuracy of the data being collected and used is decreasing dramatically. This is a vicious circle that typifies a commoditised industry sector rather than a creating and thriving one, and companies that continue on that path are going to struggle to grow and add shareholder value over the next 5-10 years. Beware the smaller and more nimble technology driven companies that view themselves as data and analytics providers, rather than market researchers.
If you had your time again, would you choose to get into market research, knowing what you know now?
Unquestionably, yes I would choose to work in this sector again now. I’ve always been a glass-half-full type of person that looks for the positives, and my fundamental curiosity to understand human nature hasn’t changed too much in the last 15 years or so. The difference now is that I would be looking to work for companies that view market research as much more than asking questions and presenting the answers. Technology can fill in so many gaps and add so many dimensions to this way of thinking, that I would always want to be at the forefront of that trend.
There are lots of companies out there that are going to drive this sector forward in this way, so the future is very bright as long as we can alter our own perception of what market research is and what value we can create for our clients.
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