by Jeff Wack
As a marketing research professional, do you dread the question, “What do you do for a living?” Because I do. I’ve been working in Marketing Research for 17 years now, so it should be an easy question to answer. It shouldn’t fill me with angst after all this time, but I still find myself unable to concisely answer that question in an appropriate way for small talk that still satisfies me. If I respond with a broad answer such as, “I manage Marketing Research projects,” I am typically greeted with blank stares because most people don’t know this industry exists. Sometimes I get a chance for a follow-up question where I talk about using data to find insights and online reporting tools accessed by thousands of users all around the world. Typically my response is still greeted with blank stares, but at least I gave it a try. Heck, 10% of the time maybe I intrigued the person enough to engage in further conversation.
(My most dreaded reply from my conversation mate? “Oh, you work with big data! I read about that once.” Yeah, let’s just go with that.)
The truthful answer to this question is “It just depends on the day…”
I have an official job title. That job title has a description somewhere on a website. That job title in no way encompasses my day-to-day experience that does it any kind of justice though.
- On Monday, I was a detective hunting down reasons why my data changed.
- On Tuesday, I was a storyteller presenting research findings to a captivated audience across the pond.
- On Wednesday, I was a teacher showing a colleague a new trick in Excel and a guest speaker at a local university’s marketing class.
- On Thursday, I was a miner tuning code to improve Text Analytics output,
- And on Friday, I was consulting with a client on reshaping and refocusing its company strategy to help move its business forward.
This was just last week. Next week I will go on different adventures and wear different hats.
This is still an oversimplification too. Any given day, I may be something else just depending on the hour. Add to this further, I may be working across different industries throughout the day as well. Today, I spent my time talking about travel, customer service, transportation, beverages, banking, and health care. On prior days, I was talking about print media, chicken, batteries, greeting cards, padlocks, windows, power consumption, packaged goods, grocery store displays, faucets, videogames, and quick serve restaurants. Can you believe this is still an oversimplification of what I do for a living? We haven’t even incorporated methodology or the type of research. While my current efforts are focused on Customer Experience programs, in prior years I have worked on segmentations, product testing, concept testing, awareness, brand health, employee engagement, and let’s throw in some focus groups while we are at it.
The tools keep changing as well. When I started in this industry, most of the data collection was done via phone. That transitioned to online surveys and now everything needs a mobile first mentality. With every passing year, I seem to add a new programming language or visualization tool to my skillset. I was once amazed a laptop was strong enough to crunch my query in 30 minutes. Now I want everything in under a minute and have it accessible on my smartphone so I can keep analyzing while binge watching Lost reruns from the couch. Everything in me and around me keeps evolving, but I need to find a concise way to answer this simple question in a few words that doesn’t undersell it. I just don’t want to be restricted by a character limit on this open end.
(While writing this piece, I was greeted with the blue screen of death so let’s add Rage Monster to today’s list of titles.)
Over the years, I have developed a passion for Customer Experience tracking programs. I love being able to measure the data over time, watch clients implement improvements based on our analysis, and see how the trends are impacted over time. The requirements for these types of programs are constantly evolving. Over my career, these programs have had 10 different names including Customer Satisfaction and Customer Engagement. We were once happy to have a thousand data points collected over a few months, now we try to collect millions of data points as close to the moment as possible. Online reporting and text analytics provide us opportunities to analyze the data in real time. Everything around me is constantly evolving, terminology is changing, and everything is growing more technical and advanced. Yet, I need to find a one or two sentence answer to describe what I do for a living.
Recently, I have been trying a different approach at answering this question. “Do you remember Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins when he was playing all those musical instruments at once? That’s me, Chim Chim Cheree!” If that doesn’t get a smile, I at least know the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere I want it to go anyway. In a less sarcastic setting, I have begun using “I am adventurer.” I spend my time exploring data and trying to understand what motivates the human population. I spend my time exploring technology and figuring out new ways to open up more possibilities. Sadly, I know this new strategy is probably fleeting. I really have no idea what I will be exploring by this time next year. Everything is going to be different and everything is going to be redefined based on the current need, industry, and trend. And that is exactly why I love this industry…and why I’ll never truly have a set answer to the question, “What do you do for a living?”
As a Senior Account Manager at Burke, Inc., Jeffrey Wack helps lead various teams responsible for the day-to-day operations and fielding of research projects. He has a particular passion for CX and currently manages programs for multiple Fortune 500 companies.