Author - Lisa Cowie
Freelance research consultant, Ex-Twitter research lead

Embracing data analytics is a must 

The research industry is expanding. That’s why the MRS have formed a new steering group - the Data Analytics Council. Its aim is simply to represent the increasing convergence between what we might think of as “traditional” market research and a growing world of data analytics or data science. 

A quick look at the job landscape will immediately demonstrate this effect — “Head of Data & Insights” or “Head of Insights & Analytics” are common. Even “Data Storyteller.” It’s indicative of a major shift in how research is defined and what it needs to look like in businesses today. 

Joanna Byerley, Director at recruitment firm Research Talent Hub, has seen this first hand:  

Market research jobs are rapidly evolving, incorporating data science into the traditional research mix. Companies' recruitment needs have shifted, seeking individuals skilled in both insights generation and data handling. Job descriptions increasingly require competence in machine learning, predictive analytics, and data visualisation tools like Tableau for clear data representation. The demand for talent is skewed towards those with statistical know-how, SQL, R or Python programming skills, familiarity with big data platforms and the ability to translate data into actionable business strategies.

Whilst data skills are becoming more crucial, Joanna also says:  

But as businesses grow more data-centric, data scientists are increasingly being integrated into research teams alongside qualitative, quantitative, and cultural insights colleagues. No longer isolated in departmental silos, research & data experts contribute their expertise to a cross-disciplinary approach, combining data-driven predictions with human understanding.

The infiltration of data analytics in research is also reflected in how people and companies are recognised in the industry. The annual MRS awards introduced “innovation in data analytics” in 2018 and Mediatel started “best use of 1st party or 3rd party data” in 2021. 

From my own experience working in Twitter, a company that is the epitome of big data, I witnessed a significant change in how market research was conducted. During my 8-year tenure, people in research and beyond were upskilling by taking courses in SQL and learning on the job, experimenting with unstructured data and finding new ways to uncover insight. Many brands have multiple data sources to harness, not just social media. It’s not about abandoning surveys, or focus groups, or any other method for that matter, but bringing data and advanced analytics more firmly into market research and the quest to uncover those golden nuggets of insight that can drive real growth or real change. 

Qualtrics, best known in our industry for research software, reported last year that the top three most sought after skills are statistical analysis, integrating multiple data sources and online qualitative research expertise. Two of those three fall in the realms of advanced data analytics.

KnowledgeHut, an ed-tech company, has a mission to equip the world’s workforce with the skills of the future. They profess that “data science demand is growing because it represents the future of commercial decision-making.” But they also recognise that a continuous stream of data needs to be transformed into meaningful insights. 

Therefore, it makes total sense that market researchers are aligned to and ingrained in data analytics — they have a passion for understanding people, they apply insight to strategic or commercial objectives and they’re expert storytellers.

We don’t all have to be data scientists, or complete experts in data analytics, but market researchers at least need to know how it can enhance consumer understanding and how their business/clients are using it. I didn’t become an expert data practitioner, but I knew what was possible and how to integrate data extraction and analysis into holistic research plans — and that involved working with some great partners!  

With an increasing number of analytic companies seeking MRS accreditation, let’s all embrace this evolution. 

Find out more about the work of the MRS Data Analytics Council and how you can get involved.



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