This post is contributed by Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark, Burtch Works’ marketing research recruiting experts.
Within marketing research and consumer insights, sometimes job titles are not the best indicator of what a research position actually entails. For example, a “Marketing Research Manager” could mean a manager of research projects, a manager of other researchers – or both. Or it may even mean something entirely different altogether! It can even be more confusing when a company uses non-traditional lexicon when naming their roles – titles such as Specialist, Consultant, or Lead can mean very different things for different organizations.
These variances can depend on the company, industry, team size, client- vs. supplier-side, or a host of other factors, and it can make the job search process a bit more challenging to navigate. Our colleague, Sandy Marmitt, recently wrote a great post about job titles in data science and analytics, and we wanted to cover this topic for research and insights roles as well.
Here are some important things to keep in mind about job titles, and how you can approach some of the title discrepancy situations that are common in this field:
Title considerations for research & insights professionals
1. Titles differ from client- to supplier-side
One of the most obvious examples of title variations in research and insights roles are the differences between the client-side (working in-house for a corporation, manufacturer, etc.) and the supplier-side (working within research firms, consultancies, agencies, etc.). Supplier-side titles tend to increase earlier and more frequently, especially for client-facing roles – as a more senior-level title can lend more credibility when working with high-profile clients. On the client-side, even the most junior researcher on a team will likely have several years of relevant experience under their belt already, so an Analyst or Associate Manager on the client-side is often quite a bit more senior than a similarly titled role on the supplier-side.
2. Smaller teams might not have room to move up
Research and insights teams can vary greatly in size, and if you’re working on a smaller or leaner team, there may not be numerous levels (i.e. associates, managers, senior managers, directors, etc.) through which to climb. A smaller team might not have room to bump up your title based on the organization or company structure, so they may opt to pay according to responsibility or experience instead. For example, we’ve worked with some research professionals who hold a Manager title and have no direct reports, but earn Director- or VP-level pay! While it’s important to be cognizant of making progressive moves throughout your career, title isn’t the only measure of success in the marketing research field.
3. Some companies don’t have numerous levels, regardless of team size
Similarly, even if a team is larger, some companies are still relatively flat organizations and might not have numerous title levels internally. In these cases someone may be at the Manager level when they have six years of experience, or when they have 16 years of experience, if that company does not have a Senior Manager level.
4. Not all Manager roles have direct reports
As we mentioned previously, not all Manager roles (or even all Director roles) actually have direct reports. These titles may sound as if there will be others reporting into the position, but it’s often not the case with marketing research jobs. In many cases, these researchers are leading projects, but may not be in charge of leading or managing other researchers. Because of this, previous management experience isn’t necessarily required for many of these roles. Some professionals may be under the impression that management experience is always a pre-requisite for advancement, but in fact there are relatively few research and insights positions where not having management experience will be a road block, unless it’s a very senior-level leadership position.
BW TIP: If you are interested in management experience, stay close to the research!
Even if you’re intent on reaching high-level management positions down the line, make sure you keep a hand IN the research as your career advances. We’ve found that researchers who focus exclusively on people management often do their career a disservice long-term. If you become too far removed and fall out of touch with the tools and methodologies, or don’t pick up direct experience with new developments or techniques in the industry, it can make transitioning to new roles that require this experience much more difficult.
5. Some industries are title-heavy
On the flip side, some industries such as Entertainment or Financial Services for example, can be “title-heavy”. This occurs when title levels increase relatively quickly in relation to years of experience or specific job responsibilities. A researcher at a title-heavy company could potentially be at the VP-level with only seven years’ experience, and not have the same management experience or responsibilities as professionals with similar titles in other industries. This can sometimes make career moves more challenging, especially when switching industries. If an internal recruiter or talent acquisition professional isn’t aware of these title nuances, they unfortunately might incorrectly assume that someone is overqualified for a role. (For example, if a Director or VP at a media company is interested in the CPG or Tech space, it might appear they would be over-qualified for a Manager or Sr. Manager role, even if the job itself may be fairly aligned.)
6. Taking a step “back” in title is common
Because of situations like the ones we’ve outlined in points 1 and 4, sometimes it may be necessary for researchers to take a step “back” in terms of title, in order to move their career forward long-term. As we talked about earlier, the specs of the job might allow you to grow and stretch yourself in new ways regardless of the title you might take on. This is especially common when transitioning from a company that is relatively title-heavy to one that is not, or making the jump from the supplier-side to the client-side. For example, if you’d previously been a VP on the supplier-side, it is not uncommon to move into a Consumer Insights Manager role on the client-side to gain fantastic experience working in-house.
What you can do
With all of the variations in titles across the industry, what can you do to make sure you end up in a role that’s right for you?
First, it’s important to make sure you ask questions about the role and don’t rely solely on the job title. Ask about the specific responsibilities, management requirements, work you’ll be touching, stakeholders you’ll partner with, and more to inform you about what the position entails.
We also recommend that research and insights professionals try to remain open-minded about titles throughout their career planning and put more emphasis in the actual opportunity. Hopefully after reading this post you have a good idea of how nuanced titles in the industry can be. Just remember, it’s best not to jump to conclusions – focusing exclusively on title alone may close the door on a great opportunity or even your dream job!
How this affects salaries in marketing research
For those of you wondering how title variations affects salary levels – you’re right, compensation can also vary a lot! This is one of the reasons why, in our Burtch Works Studies (comprehensive industry reports), we segment research & insights salaries by experience as well as client- vs. supplier-side, instead of relying solely on job titles. We’ve found that this is the best method for accurately capturing how salaries can vary depending on career level. If you’re looking for updated salary information, we recommend downloading our latest report.
We’ve also written a popular post about how researchers can negotiate their salary, with helpful information about how to navigate the job offer process, as well as other factors to consider beyond salary alone.
You can also check out our webinar on YouTube or our 13-minute RECAP video below, where we shared top insights from our latest salary report report as well as additional insights including 6-year salary trends, hiring trends, and implications for both researchers and employers!
We hope this information was helpful! If you’re looking to hire marketing research or consumer insights talent, or looking for new opportunities, be sure to connect with us on LinkedIn (Karla Ahern and Kit Nordmark).