Market Research

Would you like to research different markets to find out about competitors and consumers, and then advise companies based on your findings? If so, working in market research could be of interest to you!

Market research affects us all! It informs nearly all levels of economic, social and political decision making and is a buoyant industry in the UK, worth over £3 billion a year, employing close to 60,000 highly qualified people. It is a fast-moving industry, high profile and intellectually challenging, offering a variety of employment opportunities, particularly in the UK, Europe and Asia.

Market research attempts to understand why we may want, need, buy or use a particular product or service. Good market research is critical for business and government, helping them to test markets, and inform marketing strategy and policy-making. There are two key types of market research – quantitative and qualitative. Quantitative research provides a statistical interpretation, whereas qualitative research attempts to analyse people’s behaviours, motivations and attitudes – the ‘whats’, ‘hows’, and ‘whys’. Primary market research relies on the collection and interpretation of reliable and valuable information/data.

Typical activities

Typical work activities will vary according to the employer and the nature of the role. These may include:

  • Proposal writing, project design and project management
  • Questionnaire design and surveying
  • Briefing interviewers and researchers
  • Using statistical software to manage and organise information
  • Focus and group discussions and interviews
  • In depth consumer understanding with collages/metaphors or in-home or shopalong in various trade channels
  • Fieldwork management
  • Data analysis and interpretation of findings
  • Modelling and simulation
  • Report writing and presentation of findings and recommendations
  • Advising clients/management on how to make best use of the research findings

Where to work

Most market researchers work either in a market research agency, consultancy, or within the marketing divisions of large industrial or commercial organisations (e.g. P&G, Unilever and Tesco). Market researchers often specialise within the sector, such as in consumer or social research. The Government Statistical Service (GSS) is also known for its recruitment of market researchers into a range of divisions, such as finance, public health and housing, to manage and tabulate statistics. See the Office for National Statistics Jobs pages for more details.

A number of larger advertising agencies also include market research and econometrics divisions within their group structure e.g. Kantar Operations (part of WPP Group).

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Roles which Oxford graduates might consider include:

Market Research Executive: 

Working in an agency or consultancy, this is the person responsible for understanding what the client wants, designing and implementing the research, analysing and interpreting the results, compiling reports, and finally presenting results and recommendations to the client. In the marketing department of a large industrial or commercial organisation, the role places more emphasis upon planning ongoing research and providing agencies with a clear brief; as well as ensuring those objectives are met. They often have an area of specialism, such as fashion or banking.

Market Research Statistician/Analyst: 

This role is to organise and implement inputting and analysis of data by using statistical software and mathematical modelling designed to get the most out of raw data. Data analysts are also highly sought after in Higher Education admissions departments, such as here at the Exam Schools.

Most opportunities do not require a specific degree discipline but some organisations will look for the specialist knowledge base provided by a computer science, statistical or economics degree. Postgraduate studies at Master’s or DPhil level, including research or statistics, can also provide a useful background. The Market Research Society offers an Advanced Certificate in Market and Social Research Practice as a first-level qualification into Market Research. A number of employers include this as part of their training programme.

There are an increasing number of organisations that offer Graduate Recruitment Schemes, including Nielsen (Head Office in Oxford), GfK NOP, TNS, Ipsos MORI, Dunnhumby, Millward Brown Group, YouGov and Kantar Operations. Visit their websites for details.

Skills needed

Most graduates enter market research as Trainee Research Executives or as Research Statisticians/Analysts. The degree discipline is not necessarily important for market research trainees although some agencies do specialise, e.g. scientists recruited for healthcare and/or pharmaceutical agencies. Many of the roles in market research will include proposal writing, project design and project/fieldwork management; research design, modelling, simulation and data analysis/interpretation; and discussions, interviews and presentations. As such, the skills and personal qualities sought include:

  • Good interpersonal and communication skills with a real interest in people and their behaviour.
  • Analytical, logical thinking and numerical skills.
  • Organisational skills with the ability to meet deadlines and solve problems.
  • Commercial awareness.
  • Flexibility, open-mindedness, and the ability to use initiative.
  • Detail-conscious.

These are considered more important than academic skills. indeed, the combination of people skills and numerical skills in the same person is so rare that often market research companies will welcome applications with a 2:2 degree.

Getting experience

More experience of research, for example from a university project (designing or conducting a survey) or work experience placements, will enhance your chances of success.

Many projects on The Student Consultancy program involve market research.

There is a relatively high demand for students to work in market research roles during their holidays or part-time during term-time, e.g. as a field or telephone interviewer. Many students gain insight through becoming a Mystery Shopper. We advertise a number of vacancies throughout the year on CareerConnect where you will be able to search all jobs, both current and archived (for speculative applications), and set up alerts.

The Market Research Society promotes internship opportunities. They also offer a student membership and this enables you to gain insight into the sector through meeting other members and attending conferences.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

The majority of positions are in market research agencies or consultancies ranging from small agencies with only two members of staff offering a specialist service, to the largest companies employing several hundred individuals, so your choices are wide and varied. Most market research firms do not plan their recruitment more than six months in advance and a number recruit all year round.

Many projects on The Student Consultancy program involve market research.

The Market Research Society publishes The Research Buyer’s Guide. This contains details of the majority of UK market research agencies including their size and area of specialisation – useful for speculative applications. Job vacancies can be found on our website, in Prospects Finalist, Prospects Today, and the Guardian. Student membership of the Market Research Society is also useful.

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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