Upfront Analytics has decided to launch an interview series with directors and deans of various prestigious post-graduate market research programs throughout North America. We are starting with Richard Spreng, Faculty Director of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management Master of Science in Marketing Research (MSMR) program at Michigan State University.
Richard Spreng is one of the biggest and most productive advocates in the marketing research world, having authored 32 journal article publications, 37 conference papers, with a number of manuscripts and additional works in progress. Richard holds a an MBA in marketing, and a Ph.D. in marketing with a focus on consumer behavior. We set out to ask Richard a number of important broad market research questions, as well a sample of specific topics.
1) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the market research industry?
MR has been changing very fast, and there are many new techniques and tools available. So, established researchers need to understand and be able to use these tools to better serve their clients’ needs. A second issue is the need to be able to go beyond data analysis and make recommendations. This takes broad business experience and consulting skills.
2) What direction does marketing research seem to be trending toward? Any particular field or method which seems to be picking up speed?
Collaboration with consumers is growing across all areas of marketing, particularly MR. Methods that are deeper (ethnography) or on-going (online communities) are gaining in importance.
3) What has been the biggest change in the market research industry in the past 50 years?
The way data are collected – from face-to-face, to telephone, to internet, to mobile.
4) Are landline surveys and other traditional methods still viable in today’s tech-shaped world?
Yes, for some types of research, but phone and mail research will continue to decline. When we include the many advantages of mobile research, the use traditional methods will face even more challenges.
5) Professor Daniel Kahneman’s recent book Thinking Fast & Slow talked about the difference between system 1 and 2 thinking, and how it affects respondents’ answers. Do you agree with his differentiation?
This research has been around for decades, but it is clear that the impact of these ideas is growing. In particular, if most of consumers’ decisions are made using system 1 thinking, without careful deliberative thought, then how useful are surveys in which careful, deliberative thought is necessary? We need to be concerned that what respondents say in answering surveys or in interviews is not merely an after-the-fact construction of their system 2 thinking, and not really related to the real reason for their decisions. It will probably take more sophisticated research designs that incorporate behavioral, cognitive, and perhaps biometric measures to get at the truth. In addition, there is much the research field can learn from behavioral economics in terms of how we as managers make decisions. Understanding the biases that we are susceptible to can help us in making better managerial decisions.
6) What is the biggest challenge you face as director of Michigan State University’s Marketing Research program?
Getting enough bright students to meet industry demand for new talent. As an industry we need to do more to promote the field to students, since most students do not know about market research careers.
7) How is teaching marketing research different than when you were a student, and how will it change in the future?
Education in general has changed greatly since I was a student, but that was a long time ago! In the future we will continue to see more blended delivery; for example, a flipped classroom in which lectures are delivered online and reviewed before class, and then experiential, interactive activities during the live class sessions. In teaching marketing research I think there needs to be a fundamental shift in the content of marketing research courses. If you compare the topics that are talked about at industry conferences with most marketing research textbooks, there is a big disconnect. Even the most “applied” (versus academic) marketing research textbooks do not cover the things that are actually happening in marketing research practice.
8) When is the ideal time for a post-graduate degree in market research? After finishing college or after getting a few years of corporate experience?
Ideal is, I think, right after graduation, but with the student having 2 or more solid internships in MR. We start in January, so some of our students graduate in May, do a summer internship, and then do a fall internship with a different firm. Really ideal is oneinternship with a client firm and the other with a supplier firm. These students tend to do very well in the market.
9) If you could invite any one advertising/marketing/business (living, dead, real, fictitious) person to a meal, who would it be and why?
Professor James Bettman. He was the founder of the modern theory and study of consumer behavior.