An Interesting Career in Psychology

Market Research and Consulting

Stephen J. Kraus, PhD, Marketing and Planning Systems
As an Associate with Marketing and Planning Systems (MaPS), a market research and consulting firm in Boston, I do many of the same things that academic psychologists do: I design research, construct questionnaires and other research instruments, analyze data, draw conclusions, and write reports. The difference is that, instead of conducting basic scientific research to advance theory and publish it, I conduct applied research with the goal of helping clients to become more competitive, productive, and profitable.

MaPS serves clients in a variety of industries, particularly in rapidly changing fields such as high technology and financial services. Typically, we focus on four key issues: customer satisfaction, market segmentation, buyer decision modeling, and corporate image. Our research helps our clients answer key business questions, including the following: How satisfied are customers? What influences satisfaction? How does satisfaction relate to behavioral outcomes such as spending and loyalty? How can new products and services be designed to be maximally appealing? Who are the most valuable customers? How will brand equity and corporate image be affected by new offerings or partnerships?

Many firms engage in market research. Large companies often have departments devoted entirely to market research; they, in turn, often buy research services from firms that specialize in market research and consulting. These supplier-side or consulting organizations range from full-service firms that (like mine) design and analyze sophisticated research, as well as advise about appropriate business strategies, to field services that collect simple data, but do not design or analyze research. Research done by supplier-side firms is often divided into custom research, which is designed to meet one client's particular needs, and syndicated research, which is conducted by the supplier firm and then sold to a variety of client-side organizations (well-known examples of syndicated research include Nielson's television ratings and J. D. Power's research on satisfaction with automobiles).

Many of my colleagues have advanced degrees in the social sciences, but most, like myself, stumbled into this career without even knowing that the field existed. My personal career path began when, as an undergraduate at the University of Florida, I read Robert Cialdini's Influence, an enormously entertaining book that combines sound social science with fascinating practical examples. Realizing that pursuing psychology could lead to either an applied or an academic career and wanting to keep my options open, I received a PhD in social psychology from Harvard University. I then pursued an academic career and returned to the University of Florida as a visiting professor. I loved teaching and may return to it someday (what more could a frustrated comedian ask for than an audience that feels obliged to laugh at his jokes?).

Unfortunately, I was less enthralled with other aspects of academic life and began to wonder if basic research and a professor's salary were really for me. Eventually, I decided to explore other options and soon found myself in a new career.

I was pleased to discover that the skills I had acquired as a social psychologist were useful in my new position. Occasionally, I use social psychological theory and findings in my work; for example, my academic research on the attitude-behavior relationship has, at times, shed light on applied research issues. More helpful than the content of social psychology, however, has been the scientific approach to research that I learned as a psychologist. My job involves thinking critically about problems, designing relevant research, analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations. Although I had much to learn about business, my knowledge of the scientific process allowed me to hit the ground running. Anyone considering a career similar to mine would do well to strengthen his or her background in research methods, statistics, and science in general.

How can one get started in this field? Although I began by responding to ads in the APA Monitor, I have since learned that relatively few firms in this field advertise in traditional academic outlets. Two valuable resources for job seekers are Advertising Age and Marketing News, both of which publish annual lists of top research firms.

Many firms keep executive recruiters or headhunters on retainer to locate potential employees. These headhunters occasionally advertise in newspapers or the Yellow Pages and are often listed in employment guides. The great thing about them is that, after you've been in the field a while, they find you! Once a month or so, I receive a cold call from a headhunter with a potential job offer; it's certainly a radical (and pleasant) change from my days in the academic job market!

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