Research provides a learning foundation for all degrees in the social sciences. Equally, I believe social science degrees provide a foundation for graduates to excel in all types of research, including market research. From psychology and sociology to social anthropology and political science, students in these subjects are required to both address existing research as well as undertake their own projects, from ideation through to the presentation of findings. When in the role of a researcher, people look to you to produce findings that are robust, accurate and can be relied upon to inform future decision making; so, what is it about the social sciences that prepares someone to trusted with this responsibility?
To quote the Academy of Social Sciences, “Social science is the study of people: as individuals, communities and societies; their behaviours and interactions with each other and with their built, technological and natural environments. Social science seeks to understand the evolving human systems across our increasingly complex world and how our planet can be more sustainably managed. It’s vital to our shared future.”
This quote on its own provides a strong case for why the insights industry should hire new insight experts from social science backgrounds, but there is a lot more to this that has the potential to create a strong insight expert.
There are already many insight experts that have a social sciences background, but there are many more who would be a great boon to the insights industry — why don’t we actively hire from these fields?
They’re Great at Questioning Everything
There are several early memories from my time as an undergraduate student that I have carried with me to this day. In the introduction to a research methods module, our lecturer began by addressing our fresh-faced class with the following statement, “In research we accept nothing lightly and it is our duty to question everything”.
Whilst this seemed quite a strange thing to hear at the time, I now better understand the sentiment they were trying to impose on us. As insight experts, businesses depend on our capabilities to inform all aspects of their operations from product development, strategy and policies and the marketing of their products and services. Learning in a social sciences field forces a person to change the way they approach a task by first, taking a step back to allow the full picture to be assessed, considering elements that may not jump out as being relevant when really, they could prove to be a driving force behind somethings success or failure.
From this point through to the end of a research project, every element must be critically assessed and scrutinised for its relevance and impact. In both academic research and market research, no stone must be left unturned or vital information could be missed that could shape the outcome of subsequent decisions and actions. By adopting a “question everything” mindset, those from social science backgrounds are prepared to challenge assumptions and turn findings into a well-reasoned argument. Being encouraged to question the results, especially those that do not align with hypotheses, can empower insights to realign a business’s thinking and bring them back in touch with their consumers.
They’ve Built Up a Solid Social Understanding
Being part of a world that evolves faster than we can keep up means an awareness of different communities is essential to maintaining a strong connection with current trends and opinions. This is not only relevant for businesses in the development of products and services but also to the creation and maintenance of their corporate policies; both being areas that market research can provide invaluable insights.
Any social science discipline educates students on both the history of how our society has involved and the ways in which involvement with these communities can affect our thinking. Being equipped with this knowledge not only allows for more positive and inclusive research design, but also encourages more interpretations to be made on the needs and opinions of these groups and subcultures during analysis based on the respondents’ unique contexts. Drawing upon statistical skills taught by using quantitative analysis software such as IMB’s SPSS, research data can be segmented to reveal key differences between different groups of participants such as age, location and religion. Having a greater awareness of these groups and their evolution can allow for the ‘why’ to be considered as much as the ‘what’ making insights more actionable and subsequently, more valuable. When managed effectively, understanding and relating to as wide an audience as possible can only bring positive outcomes to a business.
Scaling Research, Differing Reports and Restricted Timescales
One key difference between academic research and market research that I have noticed from personal experience is the scale of a project. While a student may have a number of months to carry out data collection and prepare a report, a market research project is usually limited to a number of weeks, or sometimes days.
Similarly, the presentation of findings is approached differently in market research than in academic research. Whilst an undergraduate research report can consist of up to as many as 15,000 words typically prepared in a Microsoft Word document, a market research report is presented in a completely different way. It is highly likely that a debrief will take place at the conclusion of a project with a series of stakeholders invited, meaning a report is typically prepared in a presentation style format, including visual aids such as graphs, infographics and videos.
Despite these differences in project scale, social science studies teach how to adapt your writing style to communicate in a clear, yet concise, way. These are extremely useful skills when taking on producing a market research report and having limited space and time to communicate a large volume of detailed information quickly to stakeholders.
Careers Fairs Could Benefit from Market Research Reps
When preparing to graduate from university with a Bachelors in Psychology, my cohort was presented with a series of careers sessions, led by a wide variety of industries that were keen to hire people with the experiences and skill set that we shared.
Looking back, I am shocked that market research was never an option that was presented to us, given its seemingly logical connections with the academic skill set our course had afforded us. This has encouraged me to write this piece, to share my thoughts on how a social sciences education can produce prime candidates with the self-discipline and skill set required to be successful in market research careers.
This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog and can be accessed here.