Over spring break, I had the amazing opportunity to visit some giants in the tech industry as part of an A.C. Nielsen sponsored trip to the San Francisco Bay area. We were able to visit with a number of marketing research, insights, or user experience teams at Pinterest, YouTube, Google, Adobe, LinkedIn, Intuit, and Ford thanks to the generosity of UW alumni and friends of the center. Through these visits we were able to gain a better understanding of how marketing research is used in tech, how insights teams are growing, and the type of skills needed to be in this type of role, and greater awareness of the field of user experience, its role in tech and how it intersects with marketing research.
Some key themes and observations started to emerge with each company visit. The first is that marketing research is fairly new and growing quickly for the tech industry. At Google we learned that tech tends to be underdeveloped when it comes to marketing research. Many of these large companies have put a lot of emphasis on user experience and product development and relied on the marketing departments to sell their innovations. The products start with engineers and spend little time with the marketing team. There is a shift happening where the focus is moving to customer insights and learning more about what customer expectations look like to design and engineer products with the customer in mind. One of the goals the insights team at Google shared with us, that was echoed in some capacity by several other companies we visited is to “inspire with proactive insights, trends and cool shit.”
Another thing we learned about is the trend to change roles and companies quickly and often. There is a growing demand for the top talent at all the major tech companies and the best way to get the best people is to recruit them from other industry leaders. The continuous role changing serves as a strong reminder that the marketing research community is small and one day you may find that the person who was reporting to you has become the person who you report to, so it is best to approach all positions through a collaborative lens. We learned that it is important to be a well-rounded researcher with a broad-based set of skills who brings a hybrid of both quantitative and qualitative research, which is different from the perception of “big data” that is associated with Silicon Valley. Another set of important skills that will be useful in our future careers is programming ability for packages like R, SQL, Python and Tableau. The ability to utilize these tools will be beneficial as the industry continues to evolve and seek researchers who can balance multiple approaches to answer business research questions. It is important to be someone who can approach research strategically to have the biggest business impact.
Along with gaining a better understanding of what skills are needed to work in the tech industry, we also learned some good approaches for entering in to the industry if we still have some skills to develop. Some things these employers are looking for in potential employees who may not have enough experience is if the employee can exhibit potential and drive. A good way to go about this is by demonstrating how to learn new skills or approach new challenges. A valuable employee is always wanting to learn and develop and demonstrating this is a way to overcome less experience.
A final key learning came when we were able to meet with the UX team at LinkedIn to gain a better understanding of what UX is and how the field uses traditional marketing research tools with innovative new techniques to understand how people interact with the products. We were able to tour their lab and see the technology they use to conduct interviews and experiences. We also learned how the UX team works separately and in conjunction with marketing research and consumer insight teams. Because of the nature of the products being developed it is necessary to understand how the products are used, how they could be improved and the perceptions of the program. To do this, LinkedIn approaches from multiple angles using the UX team and traditional marketing research methods.
I want to thank all the companies for hosting us and giving us an in depth look at marketing research and insights in the tech industry. It was a unique experience and one that reinforced my decision to return to school full time for my MBA. I would also like to give a very special thank you to Catherine Cooper for generously hosting a dinner party at her home! The event was lovely and allowed us to connect with UW alumni in the area. It was a great reminder of how strong and connected the alumni network from the Wisconsin School of Business and the greater University of Wisconsin really is. I am incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities I have been granted in my two years in the A. C. Nielsen Center.