The Evolution of Market Research Roles: From Generalist to Specialist

March 3, 2024

When I embarked on my market research career 15 years ago, the industry landscape was markedly different from what it is today. Starting out, I was involved in every facet of the research process—a true generalist role. From initiating kick-off calls to grasp client needs, designing and programming surveys, to monitoring data collection and crafting comprehensive reports, I handled it all. This was the norm, even within the ranks of a large market research conglomerate like GfK.

Fast forward to the present day, and the role of a market researcher has evolved significantly. The "soup to nuts" approach of managing the entire research process end-to-end has become a rarity. Instead, the trend has shifted towards specialization and division of labor. Survey programming, for instance, is now often outsourced or delegated to specialized teams, given that modern survey programming platforms accommodate more complex and customized surveys. Similarly, data visualization has grown in complexity, demanding specific skills and software to execute effectively.

The Shift Towards Specialization

This movement towards specialization is not without reason. The breadth of tasks involved in market research today requires distinct skill sets and unique software programs, making it impractical for one individual to execute all tasks at a professional level. This fragmentation of roles has led to the emergence of specialists who excel in particular aspects of market research, from survey design and programming to data analysis and visualization.

Integrating AI in a Specialized Landscape

The rise of specialization and the need for complex skill sets in market research has significant implications for integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the process. To streamline market research effectively, multiple specialized AI programs are necessary, each tailored to the specific needs of different market research niches. These AI tools must be capable of automating the more routine aspects of workflows, allowing specialists to focus on tasks that require human insight and creativity.

While current AI technology holds the promise of automating many of these mundane tasks, the transition is not instantaneous. Developing unique software programs that cater to the varied and specialized needs of market research professionals is a formidable task. It will likely take years before we see widespread automation of these tasks, given the complexity involved in creating and implementing these AI solutions.

The Future of Market Research Automation

The journey towards automating the market research process with AI is an ongoing one. As we develop and refine AI technologies tailored to the specific demands of market research specialties, we move closer to a future where the tedious aspects of the research process are handled efficiently by AI, freeing up human researchers to apply their expertise where it matters most.

This evolution from generalist roles to specialized positions, coupled with the integration of AI, is reshaping the market research industry. It promises a future where market researchers can leverage technology to streamline workflows, enhance efficiency, and deliver deeper, more insightful analyses. Though the path to full automation may be long and fraught with challenges, the potential benefits for the industry—and the quality of insights it can provide—are immense.

In embracing this shift, the market research community stands on the cusp of a new era. An era where the synergy between human expertise and artificial intelligence opens up unprecedented possibilities for understanding markets and consumers more deeply than ever before.