Podcast: Professor Michael Brereton on skillsets for tomorrow's market researcher

We spoke with Professor Michael Brereton of Michigan State University’s Eli Broad Graduate School of Management, where we explored which skillsets are required by tomorrow's leaders of the insights industry.

Is a different skillset required to be tomorrow’s leader in the field of market research? We spoke about just this on our podcast with Professor Michael Brereton, a leader in the global marketing research industry. Michael retired from Maritz Research after eleven years as its President and CEO, then subsequently joined the faculty of Michigan State University’s Eli Broad Graduate School of Management. He is an Executive in Residence and teaches Marketing Strategy in the Master of Science in Marketing Research Program. We talked about how tomorrow’s leaders in the insights space need different skills in order to serve their organizations with meaningful market and consumer intelligence. 

Michael begins by saying, “as individuals who want to stay relevant, we need to evolve our skill sets.” While the market research industry is growing overall, different sub-segments within the insights space are growing at different paces. Michael shares, “because of the differing paces, of the different lines of businesses, I think there are implications each of us should be looking at on how we are developing our skill sets. Because the landscape is changing.”

Many new companies are entering the market research space. To better understand and distill the space, Michael and his associates did a segmentation and came up with eight segments. The largest segment (currently) is “established marketing research” or traditional full-service agencies, which grew about 6.5% last year. The other segments include digital data areas with a focus on ResTech, with these segments growing 30% last year. Michael says, “the share of the overall insights market is very much shifting towards those emerging methods and segments.” He continued by saying, “the evolving skill sets we’re going to have to have as individuals are a reflection of that transformation and those trends.”

Michael shared six trends that he’s identified concerning the response to change our sector is facing: the trend away from labor intense costly statistical precision towards “roughly right”; the trend away from static reporting of findings towards an emphasis on data mining, visualization and storytelling; the trend away from the traditional client-agency model toward the client-direct relationship with diy tools; the trend away from data collection centricity towards an emphasis on integrating, synthesizing and curating data; the trend away from labor intensive project management activity toward project automation leveraging AI and machine learning; the trend away from the operational design of discrete research methods that are done sequentially toward agile or iterative research. 

Michael also shared that soft skills that are becoming differentiators in new hire candidates. These include: client empathy, one-on-one communication skills, training ability (to train others), listening for needs events, storytelling, social skills and consulting skills. 

The market is in a state of flux and will continue to be in a state of flux. Michael shares that we need the traditional marketing research science skills AND the ability to understand and articulate what’s going on in the emerging aspects of the industry AND the emphasis on soft skills. 

Michael’s work at Michigan State University is helping its students prepare for whatever tomorrow brings. Learn more: Master’s in Marketing Research – Eli Broad College of Business | Michigan State University (

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