Marco Vriens on the opposing worlds of academic & commercial research

July 31, 2019

Jack Miles
Senior Research Director

The worlds of academic research and commercial research typically exist separately. As a result, few people can truly give a perspective on their similarities and differences. Marco Vriens is as an exception to this.

Marco’s background blends agency research and client-side research, and he is now an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Wisconsin. Therefore, Marco is well-placed to evaluate how marketing research is taught in academics as well as the commercial realities of marketing research.

Opposing Objectives

Marco sees academic and commercial research as working in polarizing ways. Points of harmony are seldom. This stems from what the two disciplines are trying to achieve. Marco sees research as:

“Being about people. You’re trying to understand people and the goal is to change the way that people behave. Not just change how consumers behave, also change what internal stakeholders do”

Academic research is guilty of neglecting this basic principal – focussing too much on tools over purpose. This ignorance is the starting point for the polarization between academic and commercial research.

Conflicting Content

Marco observes that academic research textbooks focus on methodological minutia. He notes that focussing on granular methodological details is of limited use for marketing graduates – many of whom will never work in pure research. Conversely, Marco notes that brand research, customer satisfaction research, and usage & attitudes research barely feature in market research textbooks. And given their commercial importance, these really warrant a much more in-depth treatment. Also, skills such as client interaction, being comfortable with numbers, and the ability to evaluate research design and result (all much more holistic in nature) will be more useful. These study formats – unlike t-tests or ethnographic theory – are things marketing graduates will likely encounter in their commercial careers. Marco’s students are fortunate – he can add the real-world context that many books lack. However, many other students aren’t as fortunate.

Polarizing Priorities

Societies’ digitisation and the vast amount of data it has created means that maths and statistics are becoming more important to researchers and marketers. Marco believes marketers will need skills in these areas “on a daily basis” once they enter the workplace. This is something that the academic world currently does not provide unless you take the appropriate modules and electives. If math and statistics are becoming essential in the boardroom, the lecture theatre needs to reflect this.

Contrary Cultures

Academic marketing research takes place in classrooms and libraries. The commercial world is a people-orientated environment. Consequently, the culture of academic learning doesn’t prepare people for client and stakeholder management – skills essential to succeed in business. Similarly, the academic world places no emphasis on making sure people act on your research. The contrasting reality of commercial research is that you’ll often invest as long in actioning research as you will doing the research. Consequently, Marco asks the question:

“Why don’t we spend time teaching how to get people to act on insights? Just doing research is no longer enough.”

“Why don’t we spend time teaching how to get people to act on insights? Just doing research is no longer enough.”

Bridging the Gap

Marco identifies how academic and commercial research can bridge the gap between how they currently exist:

  • Practical case studies: this will demonstrate how theory and ideas are put into practice
  • Internships: these are invaluable in letting students take their fresh classroom thinking into a commercial environment
  • Relevance: tying academic thinking to more contemporary events will show that traditional thinking is relevant in modern society

The Benefits of Bridging

Marco firmly believes that people who are good at research and analytics can be more effective marketers. However, Marco feels that his students are often only in his class because they have to be there. This is because marketing students have little interest in research. If academic research can increase its relevance to commercial research, we will improve marketing students’ value perceptions of research.

To end, it’s worth referencing a critical point made by Marco: learning should never stop. The proverbial learning box is never ticked. Unfortunately, not enough marketers put impetus on continually refreshing their skills.

Market research is a little better – a shocking 24% of researchers received no training in the last year. With so many stimulating ways available to educate ourselves, we have no excuse not to be continually learning. So, while the lecture theatre may be world’s apart from agency offices, find a learning mechanism that works for you – there’s plenty to choose from!

if you would like further information, please get in touch via:

Latest post

Let's talk

Thank you
We have received your message and will be with you shortly
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again.