What Is a Market Research Analyst? Surveying This Data-Driven Career
You’ve just completed a purchase online. Suddenly a window pops up, asking if you would like to rate your experience with a short survey. Since completing the survey will earn you a coupon for 10 percent off of your next purchase, you buzz through the simple questions and get on with your day.
But where your experience ends—the market research analyst’s has only just begun. All of those surveys go somewhere. And while a computer can pull a graph showing how many customers rated their experience as “Satisfying,” it takes a professional to ask questions that will result in meaningful answers—and to interpret those answers in a useful way.
But surveys aren’t even a fraction of the work market research analysts do. “The consumer marketplace is constantly growing and evolving,” says Katie Zmijewski, lead analyst at Market Strategies International. “As businesses are trying to keep up and look for new ways to engage their customers, they look to market research for insights that can inform their business decisions.”
“Market research is a lot more than simple dissection and analysis,” says Saud Ibrahim, digital marketing manager at The Jacket Maker. This career has a whole lot going for it—though many people haven’t given it a second thought. In this article, we’ll dig into what a market research analyst is, their role in the field and what you’ll need to become one.
So, what is a market research analyst?
The simple answer is market research analysts help companies understand what products or services people want and what those people are willing to pay for them.
But the broader scope of the career is to examine market conditions for potential sales of a product or service, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).* That research can take on many forms—as long as it helps a company understand their industry and audience, market their products effectively and maximize their profits.
What does a market research analyst do?
When you break that idea down, there are lots of different ways market research analysts can spend their time—it’s not just a matter of sifting through surveys and polls.
“Market researchers are tasked with making insights easily digestible, visually appealing and actionable for clients,” Zmijewski says. “Often times, this requires us to be analytical and creative at the same time.”
Market research analysts monitor and predict sales trends, measure how effective campaigns are and brainstorm new ways to gather data and find meaningful information, according to the BLS.*
“My job entails thorough research of consumers, competitors, market and products before launching any major campaign,” Ibrahim says. “My knowledge-span is not limited to my industry only. I have to look for everything, everywhere with the mindset that it could have a bearing on my industry.”
Market research analysts get to have firsthand access to current happenings and upcoming trends in the market, according to Ibrahim. This can keep the work exciting on a daily basis. “There's is no in-between; no manipulation from secondary sources.”
Research is only the beginning, of course. A major challenge of the job is to give clients actionable insights when the research objective can be fairly open-ended to begin with. Zmijewski says building relationships with clients, learning about their internal team dynamics and studying objectives and needs can help ease this challenge. But it’s not just deciphering what clients are seeking—research analysts need to be able to make inferences and draw conclusions based on consumer data. Their job is not just to report the percentage of people who’d like XYZ feature—it’s to better understand why.
“We are modern-day storytellers,” Zmijewski says. “We take interviews and numbers and translate them into meaningful recommendations for our clients to act on.”
Market research analyst salary and job outlook
While the day-to-day work might sound interesting to you, it’s still important to know the economic fundamentals of a role before making any career plans. One obvious interest area is the salary you could potentially make in this role. Market research analysts brought in a median salary of $63,230 in 2017, according to the BLS.*
The outlook for this job is also strong. The BLS predicts employment of market research analysts to grow 23 percent through 2026, which is a rate much faster than the average occupation.*
The reason for this growth lies in the rocketing increase of data as a source for reliable business decisions and direction across all industries, according to the BLS.* As companies learn to prize data-driven everything, they will be more and more likely to employ market research analysts who can collect, analyze and make sense of the information.
What skills do market research analysts need?
Analytical skills are certainly a huge part of the career—it’s even in the title! The BLS lists analytical abilities in dealing with large amounts of information as the top skill most professionals need in this job.* But our experts offered a few other skills that are crucial to success as a market research analyst, and they may surprise you.
Both Zmijewski and Ibrahim emphasized this ability. More than just strong communication, storytelling takes relevant information and builds it into a picture or a plot that can help the company see where they fit in the market and why consumers feel the way they do.
Communication and interpersonal skills
Research and digging through data involves a lot of analytical ability—but that rich information doesn’t go anywhere unless market research analysts know how to communicate it in a way their audience will appreciate, according to Zmijewski. Can you take complex findings from multiple data sources and distill that information into relatively simple and easy-to-follow recommendations and answers?
It’s not like finding a needle in a haystack—at least in that metaphor, you know what you are supposed to be looking for. Oftentimes, market research analysts just have to start sifting data without knowing exactly what the company wants them to find. This means they need to think critically about how to make available information useful.
Additionally, can you make reasonable connections between points of data and support why you made those conclusions? Are you good at poking holes and finding potential faults or unexplored areas in your own conclusions? Your recommendations may be driving absolutely critical business decisions that will be scrutinized, so the ability to self-scrutinize and critically analyze your work is an important skill.
Attention to detail
Market research analysts have to look for subtleties—any hint of detail that could be worth something. “You can't miss anything—with the risk of competition getting hold of that information and gaining a business edge,” Ibrahim says.
Additionally, if you’re working with surveys or other questionnaires, seemingly little things like the wording of a question can potentially sway results—an eye for detail can help catch these before they sway the conclusions of your research.
Are you self-motivated when you want to get to the root of a problem or solve a mystery? Zmijewski knows market research analysts from many different educational backgrounds—statistics, psychology, business, biology, communications and marketing. “The common theme is the desire to ‘figure it out’ and use data to come to useful conclusions,” she says. “That curiosity and excitement to take on new projects will take you far in market research.”
How do you become a market research analyst?
The educational requirements for this position are in line with most marketing-related careers. The BLS states that market research analysts typically need a Bachelor’s degree. This is a role where several disciplines converge, so it’s fairly common to see market research analysts from a mix of academic backgrounds—though most focus their studies on Marketing, Business, Statistics or Psychology.
Additionally, some market research analyst jobs may require a Master’s degree, as the BLS points out, and the most common choice is a Master’s degree in Business Administration (MBA).*
Follow the data
If you watch the rising number of job opportunities in this career, you’ll see exactly how data can equip people to make smart decisions. The digital age has dawned, and that means certain careers are shrinking in their opportunity, while others are growing in prominence. If you are digging into this kind of research for yourself, then you probably already have some of the skills you’d need to do it for a company.
“What is a market research analyst?” could just be the question that starts your new career path. Businesses of all stripes need to know what their customers want, which means there should be plenty of options for analysts to find their focus. But the path ahead for aspiring market research analysts is straightforward—earning a degree. Check out the Rasmussen College Marketing degree page to learn more about how they can help you take the first step toward this career.
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed May 21, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.