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Market research

Working in market research

By Graham Chant

The route that led me to this field of psychology was an accidental one and I suspect that is the case for many other psychologists involved in market research.

My original employment was as a secondary school maths and science teacher in NSW but it quickly became clear that Honours-level psychology was not greatly valued. I decided to take on a short-term position with a managing consulting company before starting my postgraduate studies in the USA. The position proved to be an attractive one and so I remained there, later taking charge of the company's market research area. I spent a few years as a senior lecturer in market research at Monash University, where I also conducted market research consulting work, and this eventually led me to set up my own market research company.

For market research psychologists, most days are a combination of a wide array of activities. I visit clients and discuss their research needs, generate proposals or act in a consulting role to help clients think through their problems. Collecting information for later analysis can take the form of conducting in-depth interviews, running group discussions, and managing telephone field surveys.

Analysing data and report writing can often take a considerable amount of time, and may involve analysing qualitative or quantitative data using a wide range of techniques. In many senses, the key activity for the market research psychologist is presenting research outputs to clients as it involves communicating the results in a manner that is both compelling and informative.

Market research requires a significant amount of project work. I have worked on many large-scale business-to-business projects, for example developing models of satisfaction and segmentation studies that identify specific sub-groups that may warrant different marketing approaches. One highlight was accurately predicting how many National Mutual (now AXA) members would take up the option of purchasing shares when the company was floated. This was done using a range of market research techniques including qualitative approaches - group discussions, depth interviews, and quantitative techniques including telephone interview approaches, which were then modelled to establish the final estimate.

Recent research I have conducted in Europe and America, mainly involving senior management, examined deregulating the electricity industry in the USA and included a world-wide survey of attitudes to Australian wool. My consumer research has included in-depth qualitative projects aiming to understand a range of basic consumer behaviour, and I have also helped clients introduce new consumer products into the market place.

Psychology training is extremely useful in market research. In fact it could be argued that it is one of the few areas that make use of the broad range of psychology skills. Market researchers need to be proficient in interviewing and small group processes; research design; questionnaire design; communications and problem-solving techniques; and analytical techniques.

When it came to acquiring interview skills and developing a model of interviewing, I received significant help from the managing director of the first firm I worked for and my counselling lecturer in my Masters course, both of them psychologists.

Like many other psychologists in market research, my training in counselling techniques has proved invaluable to the progression of my career. In addition, the knowledge I gained of multivariate statistical procedures in my post-graduate training has proved extremely useful.

The field of market research needs new highly-trained psychologists to ensure that the latest and most appropriate techniques are used, and used appropriately. One major challenge is to counteract the misuse of psychological methods by some players in the market research industry, leading to the poor application of some statistical procedures and qualitative techniques.

Market research is an exciting and stimulating area of employment. Not only does it present extremely interesting and intellectually challenging objectives, it provides participants with a diverse range of day-to-day activities and challenges. It would also be fair to say that the remuneration can be very attractive, and the field can open up opportunities to move into other areas of management if this is your desired pathway.