Upfront Analytics is continuing with its market research program director interview series. Last week, we interviewed Richard Spreng, Faculty Director of the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management Master of Science in Marketing Research (MSMR) program at Michigan State University.
This week, we reached out to Tim Krywulak, director of Georgian College’s post-graduate Research Analyst program. Tim has been involved with education for nearly his entire career, starting with a Masters in History from University of Regina, followed by a Ph.D. in Canadian History from Carleton University. Tim has published a number of research papers, which can be seen on The Conference Board of Canada’s website.
1) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the market research industry?
The pace of technological change is probably one of the biggest challenges, as well as being one of the most significant opportunities. As we’ve already seen industries like publishing, music, and film, technology changes can be highly disruptive to established business models and occupations.
The research industry is no exception. For example, we have all become so inundated by online surveys that respondents have become a lot more sensitive to survey lengths – no longer tolerating more than a handful of questions with any degree of attention. Technology means that if a 20 or 30-something doesn’t feel like answering more than a few questions on his or her smartphone, they won’t. The industry needs to get better at asking only the questions that matter most and are directly related to the issues at hand. The days of 20-30 minute long surveys are pretty much gone.
Within the last ten to fifteen years, new technologies also have enabled a massive expansion of access to relatively low-cost tools for generating and analyzing research data. The rise of so-called “do-it-yourself” online survey tools and other similar software service options are one example; data that’s readily available on the Internet offers another. In a world where answers to just about any question are awaiting on Google, the question is: what’s the role of a research organization or an individual researcher?
And actually, I think this is where the opportunity resides. Because rather than diminishing its value, the expansion of access to research has, I think, contributed to a growing recognition of the power of evidence-informed decision-making. The challenge, as many organizations and individuals are coming to recognize, is that having access to the tools alone is not enough. In fact, in many cases, this can be one of those areas where “a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” You still need organizations and people with the expertise to deploy research instruments and interpret research results in an effective way. Otherwise, bad research can lead to bad decisions.
2) What direction does market research seem to be trending toward? Any particular field or method which seems to be picking up speed?
There are quite a few important trends happening right now. Big data, social media analytics, neuro response tracking, and the “gamification” of research are a few examples. Each of these trends is opening up new avenues for research and new opportunities for researchers. The challenge for researchers is to figure out which of these avenues work best for what purposes, in terms of producing reliable, evidence-based results, and how (and when) to combine them with more traditional forms of research that they and their clients are probably more accustomed to using.
The other big trend I should mention is data visualization. Researchers are often perceived as technical experts who have a hard time taking complex data and making it understandable – and therefore usable – for senior executives and other audiences. And there’s some truth to this, because it can be a hard thing to do and most researchers want to be very careful not to lose the nuances of their findings in the communication of the results. But if you want your data to have an impact, then you have to put in a format people can understand.
Almost nobody wants to sit through 100+ page PowerPoint decks anymore, if indeed they ever did – clients and research users want the researchers to get to the key insights and actionable take-aways quickly. They assume that the researcher would have done all the background work of 100+ slide deck to get there. They just don’t want or need to see it all.
This is where data visualization comes in: infographics and other visuals can be very powerful tools for telling the story of your data. The more researchers can use these tools effectively, the better it can be for them in “cutting through all the noise” out there competing for everyone’s attention (especially that of the CEO).
You just have to be careful not to cross that line in squishing the data into a visual that doesn’t quite work or that misses an important part of the story. Again, this is where the expertise of the researcher is critical. You need someone who knows what they’re doing, so they know what insights will matter most of the client and they don’t end up pushing the envelope too far when it comes to “creating a story” out of the data. Having well-trained, knowledgeable and experienced researchers at the table is the only way you can make sure you don’t end up being called out on some technical point in front of your bosses or your client, or – worse yet – leading your bosses or clients into making a bad decision based on data that was slickly presented but somehow flawed.
4) Are landline surveys and other traditional methods still viable in today’s tech-shaped world?
Certainly, I would say these still have their place. A lot depends on who you are trying to reach and what for. Oftentimes, a mixed-mode approach will be ideal. For broad studies, for instance, you’ll want to use a range of different methods to reach different segments of the population. It’s hard to imagine that Computer Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI), online surveys, or any other single method can create a truly representative sample anymore these days. Relying too heavily on one mode or another, or not sufficiently linking the modes of data collection with the population of likely voters, are a couple of the ways polling companies have got themselves into trouble with predictions that have been way off in recent elections within Canada. I’m interested to see how things go in our federal election this October.
Qualitative research is another example of where traditional methods still have a role. You can collect a lot of information about patterns of behaviour through quantitative research like surveys or big data, but you can’t always get at the why or how people arrive at the decision to behave a certain way. That’s where traditional qualitative research like interviews, focus groups, or observational studies has something to add. These can be combined with new approaches to provide even deeper insights.
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?
Yes, and I think this is another great example of the importance of selecting the right method for the right purpose. System 1 thinking relates to decisions people make based on intuition; system 2 relates to those they make based on reason. If you’re looking at in-store impulse buys or what link people are likely to click on webpage, a system 1 method of investigation makes sense. But if you’re looking to understand how or why people make bigger decisions where the stakes are higher, like, as you say, what college to attend, where people tend to invest more time, thought, and research into the decision, then more traditional system 2 methods are more appropriate.
6) What is the biggest challenge you face as director of the Georgian College Research Analyst program?
We work very hard to make sure that our program stays relevant for students and employers. To do that, we gather a lot of input from our current students and alumni. We also have a great industry advisory committee, with senior level representatives from some of Canada’s top research organizations who provide us with a lot of great insights. In addition, a big feature of our program is the applied learning we do working with organizations in the community. Every student that graduates from the Research Analyst Program at Georgian does so with a series of “hands on” experiences in applied market and social research. We work with businesses, governments, and charitable organizations doing market studies, industry analyses, program evaluations, and many other forms of research. That too is a huge advantage for us when it comes to staying on top of recent trends.
7) 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?
It really depends on your own situation. Our program can be a great entry to the field for new graduates or career changers, and some more experienced candidates also join the program as a way of advancing their careers within the industry. In the latter case, we’ve had some good success with international students who already had some research experience in their home country before, but lacked Canadian experience and credentials. This is where we have been able to help them in establishing themselves here.