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What are the traits of great market researchers?

Anyone who has been in the market research industry for any length of time has worked with dozens, if not hundreds of researchers.  No doubt, some of those people have been very impressive individuals, and some, not so much.

What makes a great researcher?

While there isn’t any magic formula, there are certainly traits that great researchers share. In compiling this short list, I’ve eliminated a host of items like basic research process knowledge, detail orientation, etc.  These are critical qualities, but they are “cost-of-entry” skills that anyone working in the field is (or should be) assumed to possess.

Here are three of the most important traits that come to mind for me.


A great researcher has to be curious by nature.  This trait works on several levels; first, curiosity is what drives a researcher to want to ask the questions.  Sure, a paycheck is a fine motivator or a little while, but no one survives in any job for long if they aren’t engaged in the work.  Natural curiosity is what makes us care why the 35-44 year old “suburban mom” segment prefers product x.

Curiosity is also what drives us to uncover the story in the data. It leads a great researcher to dig a little deeper in the data and find the relationships that aren’t immediately obvious.  This curiosity is often what gets us to the “why” behind what people do.

Finally, curiosity is what leads a great researcher to push the envelope. An average researcher, when confronted with something new or different, will think of all the reasons it won’t work, dismiss it, and go back to doing what they’ve always done.  A great researcher will think of all the reasons it can work, and then try it to see if they were correct.  Regardless of the outcome, the great researcher whose curiosity led them to experiment is that much better for the experience.

Connecting the dots

Another key trait of a great researcher is the ability to connect the dots.  A researcher’s ability to see patterns and relationships in the data is what creates value for the users of the research.  I’m not talking about the superficial relationships that are obvious to the casual observer.  I’m talking about the less obvious relationships that take time and effort to uncover.  This isn’t an easy task because it requires both the ability to apply critical reasoning and deduction and some amount of subject matter knowledge to identify the most likely scenarios.

This trait may be the most important because it is the quality that makes a market researcher’s skills evergreen.  Techniques and technologies (and the businesses built around them) will come and go, but the ability to see, understand, and create insight will always be needed.


It doesn’t matter how good your research skills are if you can’t communicate what you know.  This has been the subject of one of my more popular posts over the last several months.

Solid communication skills come into play in at least three ways.  First, a great researcher will be able to articulate clearly what they have found, both verbally and in writing.  This means speaking or writing in clear language that effectively gets the point across without obfuscation or equivocation.

Second, a great researcher will frame their communications with the recipients’ needs and background in mind.  As a result, the great researcher captures and holds attention because they are speaking the language of the listener and are explaining why the listener should care.

Finally, a great researcher knows how to edit. They will communicate the message that needs to be conveyed without piling on superfluous details that don’t support the central point.

What did I miss?

These certainly aren’t the only three traits that make a great researcher.  In my experience, these three often separate the merely good from the great.

What about you?  What are your top three traits of great researchers?

Market researchers must learn to communicate

For the past two weeks, I’ve been talking about ways market researchers could change their mindset. Thinking like a marketer and understanding the client’s business are both important front-end issues.  Today, I’m going to fast-forward to the end of a project to talk about the third way market researchers can make themselves more relevant.

Marketers, how often have you received a PowerPoint file with hundreds of slides, all completely overloaded with dense charts and difficult to interpret bullet points?

Researchers, how often have you been guilty of producing such a PowerPoint file?

From what I’ve seen, the answer to both questions is far too often.

It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how good your research was, if you fail to effectively communicate the results.

Market researchers tend to be detail-oriented people.  They revel in the complexity of the data and truly believe that every nugget they find is equally valuable.  The problem is that every nugget isn’t equally valuable.  By giving equal emphasis to everything, you ultimately fail to emphasize anything.

From the reader’s perspective, trying to digest a report like that is like being in a crowded room where everyone is speaking to them simultaneously at equal volume.  The resulting din makes it impossible to understand anything the crowd says.

Tell a story.

The mindset market researchers should adopt is that of a storyteller.  Bring life to your data by putting it in a context and explaining its significance. Yes, this is a lot more work than simply dumping the data from all the questions into charts, but it’s also a lot more useful.

Jeffery Henning of Vovici offers one very good way to structure a research report more effectively using an inverted pyramid approach. There are many other resources that can help you learn how to craft a story from your data.

Here is one approach to finding and telling the story in the data.

Open the story with the one big take away. You need to distill all of the research findings into one sentence that encapsulates them. This sentence is your headline.  Most people will listen to the headline and decide within seconds if they should pay attention to the rest of your presentation.  What will you say to capture their attention?

Identify the three to five main ideas that support your big take away. If you find you have more than that, you’re probably getting too deep into the details and should spend more time refining your main supporting ideas. The goal is to be able to summarize the entire research project in four to six sentences –  your headline plus the three to five main ideas.

Use relevant details from the research data to support your main ideas. Notice I said relevant details. This means — and no doubt some will call to have me burned as a heretic for this — that you might not include all of the questions from your survey in your final report. I’m not suggesting that you selectively omit data to manipulate the story to your purposes.  I’m suggesting that you need to edit if you want to craft a story that is engaging and actionable. You should have detailed tabulations of the data as a backup.  Remember, we’re talking about effectively communicating the results, and I don’t know anyone who thinks a 3-inch thick stack of tabs effectively communicates anything.

This wraps up my series on ways to become more relevant.  I hope you’ve found an idea or two that you can put into practice to increase your value to your clients and colleagues.  Up next, I’m going to take a look at one of the other big issues in research today – how (or if) to include social media in the research mix.  Don’t miss it, subscribe to Random Sampling via RSS now.

3-2-1 liftoff

Welcome to the inaugural post to the Random Sampling Blog v2.0.

A quick look at the archive will show that this had been a fairly active blog through 2007 and part of 2008, and then, well…nothing.

In some ways I’m aiming to pick up where I left off in 2008.  In some ways I can’t simply resume – the world has changed too much since that last post in May of 2008.  The economy has certainly changed, business has changed, the practice of market research has changed, and Erickson Research has changed.

Back in v1.0, I focused mainly on the practice of research.  Many of the posts were intended to be mini-tutorials on how to do better research.  Here in v2.0, I plan to continue some of that, but I feel that I need to talk about much bigger issues, like the role of research in business and the huge paradigm shift that needs to happen in how research is done.

As they say, the journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step.  This post is really more about taking that first step to revive the Random Sampling Blog than it is writing for an audience.  Perhaps those of you who do find your way here can become regular visitors who hold my feet to the fire about delivering valuable content and making meaningful contributions to the future of the industry.  In return, you’ll get some good ideas that help you navigate what I think are the biggest changes in how research gets done since Gallup made survey research the norm some 60-70 years ago.

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