We’ve all seen and read the stories of our favorite celebrities who had dreams of making it and pursuing their love of acting, or being an athlete. While money was likely a key driver in some of those dreams, being well known, famous and popular was likely just as top of mind.
Wanting to be famous is not a new dream, but today, the prevalence of that desire has reached an all time high. In a 2021 YPulse study, more than half of 13-20 year olds stated that their top ambitions and career choices resided in the possibility of becoming social media stars. According to an Influencive report, 58% of Gen Zers want to own a business eventually, and 14% currently do. Compared to previous generations, Gen Z is seeking the limelight at increased rates, and, given the earning potential for doing so, with good reason.
Influencer Khaby Lame is a great example for how the future of our workforce hopes to be plucked from obscurity and into fame. The 22-year-old creator from Senegal gained notoriety through his comedy skits, and is now the most followed person on TikTok. Thanks to his newfound fame, he has become the new global brand ambassador for Binance, the largest crypto exchange by trading volume, and will likely have many more opportunities to come.
If today’s instant gratification-led young professionals are heavily considering fame-infused career trajectories, it should be no surprise that industries like market research and insights are struggling to find, attract and retain promising, diverse talent. Not only do people rarely know this industry exists, but the fundamental way we conduct business keeps us hidden and out of sync with how the incoming generation of young professionals desire to be seen and recognized throughout their career journeys.
A career in marketing research and insights often results in practitioners being locked behind contractual NDAs and working across teams where your individual voice and contributions may or may not be heard and seen. Additionally, if we are rewarded for our inputs, it is often done internally or through a competitive lens with many others seeking the same accolades. Very rarely is there an opportunity to publicly highlight small wins in a way that effectively lands with our peers. In fact, unless we are established, senior thought leaders, rarely will anyone outside of our cohort be aware of the work we do, or the extent to which we are involved in some of today’s most culturally relevant brand activations; the very same activations that often build & inform the strategies for how influencers become brand ambassadors in the first place.
For a generation that is increasingly enticed by fame and notoriety, the market research and insights field has failed to evolve for the new class of incoming professionals. This is ultimately putting our industry at risk of failing to attract the talent it needs to sustain itself.
So how do we fix this?
In a previous article, we addressed some key ways to fix our industry’s appeal to a wider audience, but there are other, larger elements that need to be considered.
1. Be realistic about the competition
First, there is a need to recognize that we are not only competing against other industries for talent, but we are also competing against the idea of sustained wealth and fame. Even for those who are not into being “insta-famous,” social media still plays a role for individuals with traditional 9 to 5 occupations. For this newer, more entrepreneurial generation, creating a personal brand is no longer a novelty as having the right online persona can dramatically improve your digital presence and earning potential.
Young professionals are not shy when it comes to bragging about the work they do, which is a stark contrast to most market research departments and agencies. Not only do they desire to be acknowledged by their friends and colleagues but they also have a goal of looking like the “bawse” their platforms proclaim them to be. Due to the legal implications of sharing work that’s still in the R&D phase, a clearer, less murky way needs to be mapped out for Millennials and Gen Zersto be able to talk about the end results of the work they spend half their days completing.
2. Create transparency
When you search “careers in advertising” it is fairly easy to ascertain a type of “map” to guide new professionals into the space in a way that allows them to figure out where they belong. This is a fundamental step that the market research and insights field is missing. Knowledge is a leading form of currency with today’s generation, which means they need to be able to see a clear career path and trajectory in order to better understand their options and to inform their career choices.
However, the market research and insights field is so large and multifaceted that this can feel like a monstrous task. Insights in Color highlighted some of this in its Data is Beautiful platform in the “The Hidden World of Market Research & Insights”, but there is still much more work to do. Understanding the different titles, departments, and levels of responsibility can feel overwhelming for young professionals just beginning their career journeys. Creating transparency around these roles, alongside the salary expectations at every level enables the incoming class of professionals to adequately equip themselves with the information they need to manage their expectations from beginning to end.
3. Neutralize our field
Marketing research & insights does not have the best reputation. While in the past we were associated with telemarketing, mall intercepts, or even people who wore glasses and labcoats, today, we are often seen as invisible middlemen and third party leaches that track and invade the privacy of users. Even worse, we are increasingly being accused of implicit bias in just about every research study that we commission.
Thanks to advancements in technology and critical thinking, none of this is inherently inaccurate- we still have a lot of work to do in our field.
At the same time, we cannot deny how often we are overshadowed by large data companies like Google which, despite the downsides of its advancements (see above), is still seen as a highly desirable place to work. Tech companies have the benefit of offering generous salaries to their insights professionals which is not usually the case in market research agencies and departments. But not every prospective market researcher is meant for the highly advanced, data driven, competitive nature of the tech world, and that’s where we come in.
There is a dire need to demystify market research on all levels. To assist with this, Insights in Color has created a few initiatives like the Market Researcher Gallery Wall, to change outdated perceptions of who a researcher is and what they may look like so that newcomers can more readily see themselves in this space. IIC also provides tools & resources to guide companies in ensuring more ethical, inclusive and unbiased research methods - but none of this is enough to change our industry's reputation.
Shifting the market research & insights will truly be a group effort which will require that we all work to change the way our field is perceived by others, beginning at the middle school level. No one wants to work in a career field that has a zero cool factor or that others don’t know exists.
4. Reimagine How we Describe Ourselves
Cultures from around the world have hailed storytellers as key members of society. From African Griots to Irish Seanchai or bearers of ‘old lore’ or 'old thoughts', storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. Utilizing research to highlight consumer truths is no different.
At our core, market research and insights practitioners are storytellers, and should be seen as such. We gather information, observe with a sixth sense and use our magical abilities to come to conclusions that power some of the greatest inventions, tools and brands of our time. Because of the role that brands have in helping to shape culture, we have an opportunity to elevate the work we do in a way that demonstrates how our outputs can ultimately impact and sometimes even change lives.
However, with this power comes great responsibility. In a time where misinformation, stereotypes, restrictions and shifting identity norms are commonplace, we have a duty to tell comprehensive consumer stories in fair, just and unbiased formats. The next generation of market researchers, who are currently living in the tensions and turmoil of today, will be needed to ensure we gather consumer truths carefully, thoughtfully and with considered intention.
There are many great reasons to be a market researcher today, but unfortunately, most of those reasons are overshadowed by the lack of awareness & transparency of our industry. This can change, but more work needs to happen internally so that market research and insights can become a more attractive, desirable field to be a part of.
This is not the time for the old guard to sit back with arms crossed expecting the new generation to conform to our expectations because “that’s how it’s always been done.” Today’s young professionals are more diverse and vocal than ever, and their loyalties are to themselves- not the companies seeking to hire them. If they aren’t happy, they quit, or worse, completely remove prospective industries off their radars, something that can very easily (and likely does) happen in our field.
If we are truly going to be the voice of consumers today and tomorrow, we have to be willing to do the work to attract and retain the type of talent needed to represent those voices more effectively.