I always tell people to get outside their comfort zones. Meet people from different industries, attend conferences outside your industry, and basically just experience new things. As a long-time product and marketing guy, I have conducted market research to develop competitive advantages, solve problems, or create differentiation. Over 15+ years, I have conducted hundreds of market research projects and feel market research is an underused practice within most businesses.

Last week I attended the Pacific Chapter of American Association for Public Opinion Research (PAPOR) annual conference. PAPOR is my local chapter of AAPOR. The conference was in San Francisco and the majority of attendees were academics and professional researchers focused on public opinion research. So for a guy who focuses on applied research, this was a great experience to hear how the “pros” conduct research and find ways to improve how I conduct research.


The conference kicked-off with two short courses on mixed-mode surveys and tips for conducting web surveys. The next two days consisted of panel discussions. Multiple panels presented papers on sampling, design, and analysis. In addition, there were discussions on the current criticism with public opinion research (e.g., fake news) and the public’s view on health policy, aging & quality of life. Not your typical topics for a guy who uses market research to improve marketing and sales operations, or develop new products.

Research types

Listening to a wide variety of individuals present their academic papers was an excellent reminder of how important it is to apply the structure of basic research to applied research. Hearing how others conduct research and the struggles they encounter was a great comparison to typical market research. The conference also had presenters from the “real world” of research.

Selfishly, there was a great panel that discussed survey processes and best practices for applied research (as well as basic research). Shirley Yang from Dropbox discussed a segmentation project she worked on, and Jocelyn Landau from Netflix discussed how her team applies mixed-methods to product development. In addition, Bob Davis from Davis Research presented excellent reminders for data security and protection. Bob was the one who let me know about AAPOR and convinced me to join the group.

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The ability to “rub elbows” with a wide range of researchers from a variety of industries, both public and private was a great way to spend a few days. I returned to the office with several excellent tips to improve surveys and response rates, as well as meeting new people to bounce ideas off.

I strongly recommend joining AAPOR and your local chapter. Every one of us needs to become a lifelong learner. The best way to learn new skills and develop new innovative ideas is through meeting new people and collecting tips and techniques to improve your own work. Join groups like the American Marketing Association (AMA), Marketing Research Association (MRA), or the Product Development and Management Association (PDMA), or just reach out to local businesses and have a coffee with someone in a related position.

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Don’t get in the habit of going to work, doing what you have always done, and then returning home. You need to break this cycle and move away from the status quo. The business world is changing rapidly and you need to ensure you have the proper skills to succeed. Skill-up, join various organizations, and learn from others. Don’t think that since you have done something for many years, you know it all. The world is changing too rapidly to be content. Now get out there and make a difference!