The Gap Between Real World Market Research & Course Curriculum

Studying_Featured on an intern in the field of market research, I am learning what it is like to be in a career setting, as well as getting a feel for what market research truly entails and if it is where I see myself in the future. On a daily basis, I am putting into practice the information I’ve been learning in my marketing courses and applying it to my work. But, while researching information for a blog post, I noticed a gap between my life as a student and my life in the “real world.” The information I am being taught in my marketing courses does not always match the information industry leaders are saying out here in the working world.

I was focusing on an original post by GreenBook’s Blog, "5 Things That Will Become Obsolete in MR Sooner than You Think,” which has been referenced on many different market research sites. Due to its repetitive reinforcement, clearly, this is a topic that market research industry leaders view as important and relevant. The five topics that are focused on in that blog post are all key concepts in my market research course curriculum. But, while my text books spend an entire chapter on some of these concepts, many of the opinions are almost complete opposites. However, my concern is not necessarily which is right or wrong, but, I wonder, if the real world is recognizing these changes in the industry, why is the next generation of market researchers being taught what is becoming obsolete?

The following are the market research concepts that are becoming obsolete as covered by a variety of industry insiders, as well as my notes from class which, in some cases, tend to conflict with what is being portrayed in the real world.

1. In-Person Focus Groups

Traditional in-person focus groups are said to be dying because convincing people to come into a room for hours to discuss products and opinions is too difficult. Technology is going to encourage the use of online focus groups and mobile engagement for companies. The use of the internet will most likely push out in-person groups all together. Makes sense, right?

But, in school we still learn the importance of in-person focus groups. Last semester, I even spent two lectures learning all about how to choose a proper moderator to conduct focus groups, which would not be necessary in these future virtual focus groups. We even discussed the negative aspects of online focus groups such as the loss of the hands-on group dynamics, the loss of direct client observation, and the lack of security.

2. PowerPoint Reports

PowerPoint has long been used as the main delivery method of market research results. However, industry leaders are saying that, although it’s the main program used, it doesn’t need to be. There are new technologies emerging that can be used instead.

It’s not that my professors push PowerPoint, but it’s certainly the only medium they use to teach me anything. And, in my Information Systems courses, we spent time learning every button of the program, inside and out. Making presentations through PowerPoint has been a requirement in almost every class, unless students got creative and chose to use online sources such as Prezi.

3. Online Surveys

Unlike these other ideas, this concept is one both my textbooks and industry leaders agree on for a change. Online surveys can be dangerous. Most of the time, online surveys are time consuming and potentially unreliable. Pushing incentives can ensure that consumers fill them out, but, companies offering discounts or freebies are normally fishing for customer experience feedback, not research answers. When distributing online surveys, it's difficult to be confident that there won’t be a population that is too broad, programming errors, or misrepresentation.

It is clear to the entire marketing industry that mobile research is growing in popularity and is the future of market research questionnaires. With 76% of U.S. and Western Europe consumers having Internet on their mobile devices, this is becoming the most convenient and accessible channel for market research.

4. Quantitative and Qualitative Data

Data collected is divided into two spheres: either quantitative or qualitative. But, in the future, the separation between the two will change to quantitative and qualitative, each combining simultaneously, with results interweaving.

From what I’ve always understood, qualitative data is the information gathered that cannot be counted; it is subjective observation and analysis, while quantitative data uses mathematical analysis that needs either measurement or numeric value. Mainly put, qualitative is for more depth and not breadth, and quantitative is the opposite. We are being taught that these two forms are information are still very separate with little overlap.

5. The Rational Frame

Basically, humans cannot be placed into a “rational frame.” Meaning, as humans we do not react in purely rational ways as social sciences predict. This is an idea that my instructors slightly agree on. We are taught that rating scale questions on questionnaires sometimes require more in-depth backing. This is why there are free response questions and why focus groups are necessary. Piecing together consumers’ behaviors and getting the complete picture of why they purchase certain products is part of how to market successfully.

There is definitely overlap with these industry beliefs and what I am being taught in my marketing courses. But, more than anything, it just seems that what I was taught these past few semesters is outdated or is about to be. I push now more than ever how valuable internships can be. The next generation of workers should not enter their careers without knowing what is and isn’t relevant to that industry. It really will better prepare students to have the proper tools to be successful.

These differences that I have noticed between the information being taught in universities and what the work force is experiencing makes me more certain than ever that universities need to focus on realistic market research across numerous industries so they are teaching the most relevant information.

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Thanks for reading!

Caitlin Stewart
Marketing Intern

Topics: Academic Market Research Strategy