A Career in Market Research

A simple definition of 'market research' might read 'the activity of gathering information about consumers' needs and preferences'. It intrudes into our lives in all sorts of sometimes irritating ways. These range from unwanted phone calls to free snacks in supermarkets, and anything in between.

Light-bulb in the dark

Market researchers do not have the right to demand that we participate, although many individuals are undeniably pushy. If they try to corner you simply ask them if they are a member of the South African Marketing Research Association (SAMRA) or not. If they do not know what that is, I suggest you politely put down the phone.

This is why all of Survey Compare's online market research questionnaires are voluntary. It is up to each individual respondent to decide which market research companies they wish to work with. There is also a second hold-point when they receive an invitation to be part of an particular project.

SAMRA at a Glance

SAMRA is a voluntary association of market researchers, who join because they believe in the 'professionalization' of their industry. That word may not be quite what you think it means. My dictionary defines it as 'the social process whereby people come to engage in an activity for pay or as a means of livelihood'. Perhaps this is why we call ladies of the night the oldest profession of all.

The South African Marketing Research Association has several important goals it wishes to implement. These are:

  • To enhance its ability to promote the marketing research industry through a series of interventions.

  • To raise the quality of its membership through education, and to protect the public through self-regulation.

  • To be recognized throughout South Africa as adding value everywhere its membership makes their contribution.

SAMRA Publications

Market Research is a great career to consider for a variety of reasons, especially as it is colour and gender friendly. The larger firms often segment the market in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, orientation and so on. This is one industry where everyone is eligible no matter what their background.

Finding out whether you are suited to the role is actually quite easy, thanks to the SAMRA website.

South African Market Research Projects

By now, you are probably wondering what sort of projects you might be involved with. I decided to do some research on
Wikipedia and came up with these great examples.

Advertisement Tracking analyses the combined effect of a marketing drive. For example, a supplier may saturate various media in short bursts, and then look for an uptick in demand. Cell phone messages have been proved more effective with the younger set, while seniors simply delete them. There is much to be gained from finding out who reads what.

Distribution Channel Audits determine the most effective conduits to get products to market. For example, supplying cheap imported chickens to Shoprite might be more effective that selling them through boutique deli's in upmarket suburbs. Matching consumers keen to try out new products with their preferred retail outlets can be the key to success, or failure of a product launch.

Customer Satisfaction Research is one of the most important aspects of market research. Satisfied customers buy the same thing again, and tell their friends face-to-face and on the social media. There are two main ways of exploring opinions. You can ask people what they think, or you can infer it by tracking turnover. Fare-to-face is always best, because you can adapt your questions to how the conversation goes.

Online Panels are pre-selected groups of people, pre-researched for demographics such as ethnicity, age and gender, and classified accordingly. Some form of reward is involved to keep them happy and coming back for more. If you would like to join an online panel and get rewards for expressing an opinion, then Survey Compare is just right for you!

Positioning Research involves determining the correct mix of price, promotion, distribution, packaging and competition. This is a crucial part of marketing, so let's take time out to understand what these concepts mean:

  • Not everybody buys things because they are cheap. Some consumers target expensive shops like Woolworths because they get a feel good factor, while others frequent Makro because they think the Prices are the cheapest.
  • Promotion is just another word for advertising. However, where you place an advertisement can be crucial. For example advertising in You magazine is great for family-based products, while it might not work so well for advertising skimpy swimsuits.

  • Distribution includes channels where goods are available for sale, and how they reach those markets. Petrol is becoming hugely expensive and more and more South Africans are shopping on the internet. The secret is offering the goods where the customers already are.

  • Would you be surprised to know that Packaging – that's the materials used to wrap the merchandise – can cost more than the goods themselves, especially if they are cheap. Every time I am tempted to buy sweets in a supermarket 'torture tunnel' I amuse myself trying to figure out whether the packaging or the contents would cost me more.

  • Many entry businesses position themselves on the back of their Competition, so they get lucky by association. Burger King is unashamedly camping out in Steers' marketplace, while Kentucky is fighting off new entrants every time they pop up. Whether it is better to differentiate or imitate, depends on the particular product and market.

So now you know what market research is all about, are you thinking of pursuing a career in it, or not. Perhaps you should join some online panels first, and get an idea of what it might be like to be involved.