Market research is, in very general terms, a means for providers of goods and services to keep themselves in touch with the needs and wants of those who buy and use the goods and services.
It involves the systematic gathering, recording and analysing of information relating to the transfer and sale of goods and services from producer to consumer, together with systematic problem analysis, model building and fact finding for the purposes of improved decision making and control in marketing goods and services.
A huge range of companies and organisations carry out market research, answering questions (among many others) like:
- Why have the sales of my breakfast cereal decreased over the last few months?
- If I launch this new pasta sauce, will anyone buy it?
- If we build our new swimming pool here, will people be able to get to it easily enough, and will they actually use it?
- How much do people understand about our charity and how can we help them to understand more?
- I’ve got to change one of the ingredients in a drink I make, will my customers notice, and if so will it affect whether they buy the product?
The primary role of a market research statistician is to provide support to the researchers on studies. This can occur at the very inception of a project, where advice on the best approach may be required, followed by checking of the questionnaire and provision of a rotation plan (experimental design). Once data is available, the appropriate analsysis is performed and a summary of the results is provided to the research team.
A statistician is also involved in researching and developing new methods to apply to answer a client’s question as well as internal and external training of both members of staff and clients.
A statistician working in market research can expect to use a multitude of different statistical techniques in order to solve the numerous challenges that are given by clients and researchers.
The proportion of time a market research statistician spends actually doing statistics depends on the company and the type of work it does, but may be anything up to about 80%. For this reason, the career is obviously very satisfying for people who want to continue really using statistics in a commercial environment.
As a market research statistician, you will be heavily involved with the research staff who run the individual projects. You will, in effect, be a consultant for these researchers: writing proposals describing how the market research will be carried out (including the overall research methodology and the calculation of sample sizes and related power for relevant tests) and advising on the design of the investigations e.g. there might be complex rotation plans required if products are being tested or different ideas are being considered in the same piece of research.
Once the data are collected and carefully checked, the statistical analysis itself can begin. This can involve simple tests through to complex multivariate analyses or modelling.
Part of the challenge for the statistician is firstly to explain the analysis and results to the researcher, who may well have no mathematical/statistical background, to enable the researcher to convey the results to the client. There is also the opportunity to interact directly with clients at the study debrief, where it is crucial that the various methods are explained using clear non-technical language in order to ensure that they are confident in the conclusions drawn.
Take a look at our profile of market research statistician Steve Ferris to learn more.
A first degree in Statistics, or at least with a substantial Statistics component, is usually a minimum requirement. Market research statistics is an extremely applied field, and the most appropriate undergraduate courses are likely to be those that involve a large amount of practical applications of statistics.
Many market research statisticians will also have an MSc in Statistics. Here again, the more applied courses are the most applicable to the industry even though such courses are unlikely to actually focus on market research data. Please see also the general information on university degrees available.
Continuing professional development
Market research statisticians need to continue their professional and personal development. No first or postgraduate degree covers all the areas of statistics that can be applied to market research data. Therefore much of the professional development is in learning new techniques and their applications in particular sectors. This learning may be “on the job”, either self taught or under the guidance of a more senior statistician, or it may take place by attending an appropriate training course.
On a more personal level, you may well have the opportunity to take one of two (or more) routes within your company. A statistics department within a company will require a senior statistician to manage it. This can offer an opportunity to move into a more managerial role whilst still maintaining a “hands on” statistics role. Alternatively, there may be the opportunity to remain in a purely technical position where you are seen as a technical resource by the other statisticians within the company as well as by the researchers. This role would probably also mean being heavily involved in development of new methodologies or applications.
The quantity and type of statistical work involved is likely to make it appropriate for you to seek the professional qualification of Chartered Statistician (CStat), which would give you professional affiliation with the Royal Statistical Society.
Salaries can be very varied and will depend to a great extent on the size and nature of the company or organisation.
A new graduate could expect to start at up to around £20,000 but with potential for fairly rapid advancement. With experience, earnings can rise to between £25,000 and £35,000 and salaries for senior posts can range from £40,000 to £65,000. Further, senior statisticians will often receive performance-related bonuses which can range from 10-15% of annual salary.
Individual performance will play a large part in determining the level of reward and benefits.
Some companies and organisations, particularly the larger ones, have their own market research departments, and there are openings for statisticians in these. Others use specialist market research companies and agencies to undertake the research for them; these are major employers of market research statisticians.
Most job vacancies for market research statisticians are advertised as they arise. Vacancies are likely to be advertised in various places including:
- Electronic mailing lists (such as Allstat)
- The StatsLife job board.
- Specialist recruitment agencies (such as Datatech)
- The Market Research Society’s Research Jobfinder website
- General recruitment websites
Posts are not necessarily advertised as ‘Statistician’. The job title might for example be ‘Data Analyst’, but be aware that the amount of actual statistics involved in different roles can vary widely.
Career progression prospects are excellent within market research companies. New graduates will typically come in at the level of Statistician but can expect to progress to Senior Statistician within 2-3 years. Exceptional candidates can then expect to rise to the level of Associate Director or even Research Director.
The career path for a statistician can either lead to a managerial role, specialised analysis role or methodological development depending on each individual’s strengths.
The main advantage of being a market research statistician is the varied nature of the job, both in terms of the methods required and also the length of the analysis. You can also expect to work on several studies at the same time so it’s rarely boring! Client facing is also a key benefit as this helps to the various analyses conducted into a commercial context.
The main disadvantage is that the workload can sometimes be heavy, requiring additional working hours, but this is fairly rare.