Dr Andy Brown
2007 Managing director, YouGov Consulting
2004 Partner and practice leader (organisational research), Mercer Consulting
2000 Global practice leader, Manpower Consulting
1993 Head of research and analytics, The Gallup Organisation
Battle for talent
Recruiting from outside the market research industry to develop a wider set of skills, and using proactive ways to keep people’s thinking moving with the times and the demands of clients is the only way to win the battle for talent. By Dr Andy Brown
Moving with the times is particularly important in the market research industry, as some marketers have preconceptions that research companies work in traditional and inflexible ways. That is why research companies must attract new people and make sure the people they already employ continue to update their skills.
The war for talent in the research industry is as fierce as ever. The supply of talented researchers is way behind demand at the moment, and this situation looks likely to get worse as demand continues to grow, particularly at the more senior level.
The most successful research companies, the ones that help your brands succeed in today’s mercurial markets, are the ones that not only manage to attract new people but continue to train them so well that clients receive service which goes beyond expectations.
This is easier said than done, but I believe there are key ways to tackle this challenge. The first task is to bring in new blood, people with unique talents, often from outside the mainstream research industry. This helps to avoid the pincer effect of increasing demand for a relatively poor supply of talent in the pure research area. It also helps to enhance the breadth of skills that are in the company so that researchers are able to provide a more interesting and varied range of services and products to clients.
Injecting fresh talent from a real mix of backgrounds is key to getting a broader spectrum of talent into the industry, and providing deeper and broader insights to clients.
Below are two examples of people brought into YouGov whose expertise of other industries have proved invaluable.
Dr Steve Nuttall
Head of financial services consulting
Steve was previously head of consumer and retail product research at the Financial Services Authority (FSA). He used his knowledge gained at the FSA to help clients understand how research can support their risk and compliance functions as well as traditional areas such as public relations and marketing. In current markets, with issues such as the Northern Rock meltdown, his skills are helping to inject true insight into client work.
Head of consumer consulting
At Bacardi Global Brands, John reached the position of global director of consumer planning and research before joining YouGov. His work creating global brand tracking studies across 16 key markets and his experience of sitting on Bacardi’s new product development committee, means he has developed extremely clientfocused understanding. For example, he has helped a household products company to assess overlap among their own brands in terms of targeting, consumer needs and usage. This led to a significant repositioning exercise and sustained brand growth across key markets.
Training and development
Once a company has succeeded in attracting new talent, the challenge is ensuring that everyone’s skills are kept up to date. One way this can be achieved is by harnessing the skills of the new people that have recently been recruited, and integrating their experiences into training and development programmes.
Training cannot just be about learning pure research skills. It is important to focus on other areas too. I believe there are three key skills that should be focused on – research skills, analytical skills and consulting skills.
First, research skills. These core skills must be updated, as they are the fundamental skills upon which the rest of the business depends. Second, analytical skills are the key to converting data into understanding and perspective. It is vital to provide opportunities for researchers to develop in areas such as integrating employee, customer and financial statistics and developing strategic ways to measure performance of different brands. Third, researchers must be encouraged to develop consulting skills, so that they become the people clients turn to for advice about business aims and strategies. For example, consultation skills can be enhanced with training in how to run effective client workshops.
As well as constant training, research companies need to ensure that everyone in their business naturally moves with the times and learns to take a broad perspective. For instance, what journals are they encouraged to read, which publications are likely to be found lying around the offices? In our offices consultants are as likely to read Harvard Business Review or the Sloan Management Review as they are Research or Marketing Week.
There are also many seminars that are great forums for discussion about the wider business world, such as those run by the London Business School. It is just as important to hear speakers such as Stan O’Neal, chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, speak about corporate challenges in the world of global financial services as it is to attend courses on quantitative research methodologies.
Other ways to broaden horizons is to encourage consultants to take on different roles with their clients, and tailor them to different needs as these arise. For example, we have acted as a strategic adviser to a FTSE company that is looking to improve its employer brand as well as acting as a strategic planner for a major retail group looking to consolidate its market share.
This is not to say that a market research com- Up-to-date skills: The most successful research companies have ongoing training schemes for staff pany should ever lose touch with its key role as a provider of data and insight into what all this data actually means. But providing other skills has two benefits: it creates greater value for the client whilst allowing the research business to gain new skills, experiences and perspectives. Ultimately, providing such a wealth of services is inspiring for clients, as well as for the researchers themselves.
Bringing in fresh talent from new sources, developing skills in consulting as well as research, and using proactive ways to keep people’s thinking moving with the times and the demands of clients, is I believe, the only way to win in today’s battle for talent – which is getting constantly more aggressive. If brands are to flourish, they need the talents of market researchers who have a multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary approach.
Research companies which still insist on recruiting researchers in the traditional way, which provide only standard research training programmes, and which fail to develop modern strategic business skills as well as core research aptitudes, are likely to wither in the current competitive market. It’s up to the research industry: it must either innovate its skills or lose its edge fast.