Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 241 – ‘Lade Tawak – How UX Uses Diversity to Create a Complete Lens of the Customer

My guest today is  ‘Lade Tawak, an experienced UX Researcher for many top brands including Google. 

Find ‘Lade Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/ladetawak 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/LadeTawak

Website: ladetawak.com

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx reduces project management costs by 90%. Think of HubUx as your personal AI project manager, taking care of all your recruitment and interview coordination needs in the background. The platform connects you with the right providers and sample based on your research and project needs. For more information, please visit HubUx.com.


On Episode 241, I’m interviewing ‘Lade Tawak, experienced UX researcher for many large companies, including Google, but first a word from our sponsor.


This episode is brought to you by HubUX.  HubUX is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUX.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUX.com       


Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is ‘Lade Tawak, an experienced UX researcher consultant for many of the top brands, including Google.  ‘Lade, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 


Hi, Jamin.  Thank you for having me.


I’d like to start out with, before we get into the meat of our conversation, with providing our listeners some context of who you are, where you’re based, and how you wound up in user-experience research.  


I’m based in Lagos, Nigeria. There’s not a lot of UX researchers here.  So, I was studying psychology in the University of Lagos. And, as a student, I had a lot of time on my hands. My school is based in a major city where there is a tech hub, and the tech hub was really close to my school. So I used to just go there and go for all the meetups I could find because I had nothing else to do.  And so, I discovered a usable, which was UX Lagos at the time. It was a design meetup that happened every month. And so, I just attended. I had tried software… front-end development. So, I learned HTML and CSS and a little bit of Java Script on Code Academy ‘cause I really wanted to work in tech. That was my major goal.  So, I didn’t really enjoy that. So, really, I enjoyed the meetups, topics, and everything. And so, an opportunity came up in the company where the meetup was posted for a UX researcher, their first UX researcher, and they wanted somebody with a psychology background. And so, I sent in my CV, had an interview and Viola!  


If only it was magical.  There’s a lot to that. User-experience meetups are becoming more and more common.  It’s interesting to see how they’re playing out globally. Of course, yourself in Nigeria is really interesting.  Are you seeing meetups as something that has it been around for a long time inside of our industry or is it more of a new phenomenon?


So, I can’t say for all of the world but, as far as I can tell, there were a lot of meetups in these parts.  There was about five years old, and in that time, a lot more have come up for designers, for mostly developers, I think.  I think most of the meetups for developers or entrepreneurs, business owners. And there was not like a lot being done about designers and other people who are involved in tech and creating products and selling those products.  But now there are a lot more meetups: digital marketing meetups, content meetups. Also, I started this… It’s not really huge; it’s like a small quarterly meetup. So, more meetups as the industry here grows and more roles come up.  People started to pay attention to other things involved. More meetups are coming up and people are meeting people offline ‘cause most of the… The biggest challenge that I have faced here is that there are not a lot of people for me to look to for guidance or advice.  Most of the help I get is from International Slack community and on Twitter and basically online. So not more of that present here.


And on that topic, what is you Twitter handle?


I think I’ll just have to spell it.


I tell you what.  We will link to your Twitter handle inside of the show notes.  I know there is a lot of people who are going to want to connect with you.  So, this is interesting: that blur between physical vs. virtual. I recently was at Google’s campus in conjunction with the AMA, moderating a panel out of San Francisco.  And in that panel, you make a lot of human connections, in person. And then it’s interesting how you see that evolution in a digital framework, those relationships really blossom.  I think that meetups play an important role. The problem with meetups, especially if you’re not in a major metropolitan area, is you have very small or non-existent communities. So tapping into those and finding those individuals can be really hard, but that’s where if you put the effort in just starting it.  Eventually, you will build that community. You have to have patience.    


I definitely agree with that ‘cause I remember when I first started going to usable about two months after it had started, we were barely 20 people.  But now usable meetup, our averages are like 80 people per meetup, and it’s on a workday in a very traffic-ridden city. So that’s a lot of people. And I’m pretty sure if it was… And this is feedback that we get ‘cause now I’m part of the organizers of usable, yeah!  And the feedback we get often is, “Oh, this class is on Thursday; I can’t come ‘cause I work on the island and I live on the mainland. Lagos has an island part and a mainland part, and there is so much traffic and people don’t like to do that journey. So it was for my little UX-researcher hangout that I just started and it’s every quarter.  The first meetup we were about six people and last we were about 15 people and this is all this year. So, as people become more aware and people become more interested, the numbers increase; people show up more and then it keeps growing that way. But then again there’s the concern of where you live, which is why I really love online spaces because, if there were no international Slack groups, I wouldn’t have made a lot of the connections I have made so far. 


Yeah, activity inside of Slack for your specific discipline is really, really important whether it’s market research or UX.  It used to be the case that we relied on message boards as a way for us to be able to connect. And that still is being used today, but the majority of the conversations are now happening whether it’s Google groups or Slack communities. I remember a couple research operations, Slack community, and then a Bay Area user-experience Slack.  And it’s interesting how there’s so much activity there whether it’s needs or mentorship or… Recently, we had crowdsourced basically among the group of the 100 most common user-experience terms and then we created a definition against those terms, which is a foundational piece of work when you think about that because that’s something that we can then more broadly start pushing in just the way that we talk about our disciplines.  So, let’s talk a little bit about user-experience research and some context for yourself. My background is in primary market research. User-experience research as a job function when I started my career really didn’t exist, not in its current framework anyway. (It’s ‘cause I’m old.) But you’ve really seen over the last, I want to say, six to seven years a massive investment in organizations against the user-experience researcher job function.  And that job function sits outside of market research, which again I think is really interesting. So it’d be helpful for us, the audience, myself included, if you would spend just a little bit of time talking about what the role is of user-experience researchers in a modern brand.             


So, I think I would mostly refer to Jared’s goals on UX maturity, and then that’s in terms of the goal that the UX researcher fills and it depends on the awareness that they have, the company has, about what UX research really is because for some people UX research is just the ability to test it, or it’s just service. And they don’t think about the other things that exist: ethnography, field research, diary studies, and all those other things. And I’m going to mostly speak from my perspective, being here in Nigeria.  I can’t say for other places. When I first started, most people, and myself included, understood UX research as feasibility studies, interviews, and focus groups mostly. That’s what most people did. And then, as I connected with people in other Slack groups (I mean like 25 Slack groups), as I connected with all these people, I started to learn more and started to see beyond those three. And in my first job from when I started by the time I had finished… When I started, I only knew three methods, but by the time I finished ‘cause of all these other groups, I was working with about five or six different methods. And then moving to another company, being able to do more field work was a different perspective… After that, it really just depends on in terms of the role, there’s a huge requirement where you as a researcher have to be the driving force in terms of what you do because most people actually in this side are just starting to have an understanding of what user research is and why it’s important and why they should do it and when they should do it. So, usually, it’s very hard to find mentorship; so, it’s really up to you to push for the breadth that you would like to work with. And in terms of where UX research sits in team, different companies have different product teams. In some of the Slack groups, this conversation has come up so many times. And some people say some companies have UX researchers sitting with different product teams but you can only do that if you have enough researchers. If you have ten products and you have only one researcher, you have to have the researcher center servicing the other teams.  

So, in my first job, it was kind of a consultancy that had an incubator and an accelerator. So, I was on the design team that was servicing the startups in the incubator and the accelerator as well as the external client and for any project that the company was collaborating with other people to create. So, that was one structure.  And then, it was the same way in my next full-time job where my design team combined brand design/product design/UX design. There were about 12 or 13 of us servicing all the product teams. It depends on, again, the company and their existing structure. But most of the companies I know here put UX… There’s not always a UX-research role; usually the designer does it, and it’s usually discussed in an interview. But we usually are situated in a central team that services kind of like an internal, low-transit team that services the rest of the other teams.  It’s very rare that you have a researcher product of a team. I don’t think that would exist here as far as I know.


And that’s centric to maybe the geography or the types of companies?  Really all the large companies that are in the technology field at this point have dedicated user-experience researchers in-house, usually sitting next to product. I’m really interested, though, in this evolution of your tools in your tool box, user-experience researcher tools that you developed or learned about and then developed through the connections you made in Slack channels.  Can you describe one of your favorite ones, tools or skills that you acquired and then have been using?    


Definitely, ethnography, field research.  As I was just starting out then, I was still trying to find my footing. So, because it was easy for me to transition from doing psychology research to doing UX research ‘cause the methods are pretty in some ways similar and in terms of how do you facilitate a session or possibly the focus group because we had all the practical sessions in school.  We’d do practice sessions like practice-group, focus-group sessions. So, those things were easily able to translate. I guess that’s why it was easy for me to hold on to those three first: the interview, focus group and [unclear].  It was a very easy transition, and those ones were the ones that the people I worked with were familiar with.  And so, it was easy to start with that. As an somebody who was just started out newly in the whole field, not just my job, it was difficult for me to see where and how to introduce new methods.  

So, it was only later on that I was able to do that.  But the one I’m most excited about is ethnography, and this I was able to really explore on a different job.  I went to a different country, Kenya, to do field research for the financial services company I was working for at the time.  It was a very interesting product because I was leading the whole thing from planning to analysis. And it involved the people in the Kenya office and the Nigerian office.  It was very interesting again because when we got there, we realized that we hadn’t planned for a translator for when we went to the outskirts of town because Swahili is spoken more in those areas than in the central business district. Our research was only in the business district. Because we were talking to banks and shop communication companies, we didn’t have the language problem until we went outside.  Thankfully, we had people on the team who spoke Swahili and so they served as translators just for the session.


That’s such a terrifying situation where you’re actually in the field.  The client wants to move from a metropolitan into rural areas; and then you have this whole cultural/language transition that also occurs. There’s so much effort that goes into the actual operations of research.  And having to pull those audibles… It’s actually a big part of, I think, a successful researcher is their ability to be crafty and nimble while they’re actually in-field to make sure they get the right people with the points of view that are important.    


I agree with that.  I feel a lot of times you plan research and you dot all your i’s and you cross all your t’s.  And then there’s always something that just surprises you that you didn’t remember to plan for or that just comes up in the middle of everything, and then you have to just be really quick and think of something to do.  It happens all the time. Or you find that you recruited the wrong participant in the middle of the session.  


That’s hilarious.  I’ve seen that so many times.  One time I was doing a project with… these were in-depth interviews.  And one project was for a (I’m trying to think how I can say it without disclosing too much) but it’s basically in the medical field.  This physician, who had been vetted and was an expert in this particular field, came in and did the interview, and everything was great.  I’m not kidding. It was like eight hours later. So, that was a morning; this is the evening session. And it was the same guy came in for a different project but inside of a different field of study. And I was just terrified.  How did this happen? You got to figure it out. Unfortunately, we had double recruited. It was not my favorite moment. Anyway, you’re a recent grad. I think you graduated in 2018. So congratulations on that.  


Thank you. But Nigeria being Nigeria, people in the academic staff of the university go on strike, and then you’re in school longer than you should be.  But I actually finished my exams 2017; I’m in class of 2017, but then we graduated 2018.  


Well, at least you have a legitimate reason.  I think in the U.S., it’s prolonged just because of the beer consumption. But that might be a more fun, different podcast.  Diversity in design, specifically, is this growing movement. We’re seeing diversity across the board whether it’s startup founders or board of directors or C-level executives or management or etc., etc.  We know that diversity is important. What are some advantages from your perspective that diversity gives organizations?


I think that it definitely gives you, in terms of just even perspective, how do people experience the world. And I think if you’re doing a product if your products even if you’re offering a service… The people who are using your product or service are very diverse.  So your team should reflect that because then you miss things if you don’t do that. I was recently watching a TED Talk by… I can’t remember her name now, but she has a condition. I don’t know if this is correct, but I think it’s called dwarfism. And she was talking about how she can’t access anything. She needs help when she travels and uses airports because nobody designed airports for people that experience this.  And even accessible bathrooms are not designed for people with her condition. So, it’s very easy to say you can walk in people’s shoes, but you really 100% can’t. You always need somebody with that perspective because it’s very different to have a limited experience than to watch somebody’s limited experience or to hear about somebody’s limited experience. It’s very different from actually being there and living that life.  So having people diverse, culturally, I believe, in many different ways helps you create product that actually works for everybody. Also, there was a time about two years ago where Apple released their health thing on their apps but it didn’t track cycles. And women use… How do you have a health thing that doesn’t track menstrual cycles? Which is like people who… I don’t know… It goes beyond having those in the room. Do they actually have a voice when they’re in the room?  So, I imagine maybe there was somebody there who could have said something but maybe they thought that they couldn’t say something. It goes beyond having people in the room. Do they know that they can voice, they can use their voices? Or are they just in the room because to show “Oh, let’s just put them in the room so people won’t say we don’t have diversity.”  


How interesting. It’s almost like an authentic seat at the table as opposed to more of a ceremonial seat at the table. I hate jumping on this bandwagon, but I feel like it’s just as important point.  Let me clarify what my point is there. It’s been an obvious hole inside of corporate America and at a global level as well that now, all of a sudden, we’re seeking or the industries are seeking people to fill these roles to offer the diverse perspectives. And they’re actually having challenges finding the right populations that can create the level of diversity. One of the things I found that’s really interesting is successful companies, that is, ones that are putting real effort towards this, they’re actually recruiting up-chain; so, they’re investing at the college level and even in some cases at the high school level so they can get good socioeconomic diversity funneled through the educational system so that when they do graduate there is a pool of people that they can subsequently hire as opposed to it being more of an afterthought of, “Wow, I need a salesperson right now or I need a product person right now.”  And these are the first 100 applicants and just combing through the sea of the non-diverse segments, which I represent. 


Another thing that just came to mind now was here in Nigeria, a lot of banks don’t have wheelchair ramps.  If you had somebody who is in a wheelchair working in your bank, you would know that, “Oh, we should design our bank branches with wheelchair ramps.”  One example of how you see people in wheelchairs every day but you don’t think, “Oh, maybe they also use the bank.” Or you have somebody who works in the bank. Then you see that, “Oh, yeah, we should have this. Why don’t we have this?”


I have a good friend of mine, Marc Malabanan; he’s paralyzed from the waist down.  He’s a programmer for Decipher, which is a survey platform. Anyway, I remember we moved the company into a new building, and it was compliant with the building codes but actually the overall accessibility was just not designed or optimal for people in wheelchairs.  So, because of that relationship, there was just no question about it: things had to be designed in a way that… It’s like my co-founder, Matt; he goes “What if it was your kid?” That was literally his question. He comes out of the whole accessibility side of things.  Anyway, it’s a longer story. Designing workspaces for blind people is one of his last startups. It is interesting how you could forget about… It’s almost like it’s not intentional; it’s just the way we’re wired as humans. If we’re not encountering that challenge, our assertion is that challenge doesn’t exist.  We forget about it. That’s where I think the strength of diversity is: If you can connect your product to everybody, not just the people that look like you, then you are offer much a broader, whole product to the marketplace. The benefit of that is, obviously, breadth and reach. It’s more meaningful, and it’s hitting a wider audience, which is a great competitive moat if you want to think of it from a financial perspective.  All right, in 2018 (We’re just going to kick this horse a little bit more. Sorry about my colloquialism.) 2018, you wrote a Medium article titled “Creating a Community for Women in Design,” and then you introduced SheDesigns.  Tell us a little bit about SheDesigns and what the problem was and what you’re hoping to solve there.          


Usable actually is what led me to SheDesigns.  I noticed that at the Meetups we have sometimes 100 people, sometimes 80, and then in the whole crowd have maybe five women, six. I don’t think there aren’t women.  Maybe because of the timing; maybe they’re not sure where we are. I didn’t know what do. And so, I started to talk to a couple of people that I knew. Is it that there are not enough women?  If that is the issue, how can we get more women? And then if we don’t know where they are – How can we find them? Is it that there are women but that they don’t feel like they’re experienced enough to come out and talk or meet people or whatever?  What really is the issue? So I put out a Tweet asking for women designers in Nigeria. I did a couple of user research. I had conversations with—not all of them, of course—with about 10-15 of them. And then, I had another kind of focus group in the beginning of last year.  So the format that went out in 2017, like the middle of 2017.  

On January 20, 2018, I had a focus group; about four people came.  From there, we drew up what SheDesigns would be about and what the core of the group would be.  I didn’t want to just join another Meetup ‘cause there are lots of Meetups. I wanted it to actually be valuable beyond just… Meetups are valuable definitely ‘cause I got my start from going to Meetups.  But I wanted it to be more and actually provide value. What’s the difference between this and any other Meetup? And so, we did our first event in May of that year. We decided that the goals for SheDesigns would be three-fold:  one is to train women on the various aspects of design; so, we’re looking beyond visual design, UX, research, content (everything that goes into creating product). Because of that, we started to think of maybe including products management but that’s like something that we’re thinking about. But for now, we’ll go with visual design, UX design, research, and content. And then that’s one.  

The second one is for people to collaborate. So, we wanted to create a space for women designers to collaborate, create things, work on projects, and all of that.  And then the third one was to help women to develop their “soft skills”: things like public speaking to encourage more women to speak publicly about the work they are doing; all those kinds of things so that we have well-rounded designers ‘cause a lot of designers can create but they can’t talk about their work; they can’t speak in public, so just to cover all the bases.


So it’s functioning as an, obviously, opportunity awareness but then, subsequently, growth in terms of mentorship and training.  Are there many workshops at a paid level locally?


In general, I don’t know of that many paid workshops. This is the whole reason we started doing workshops. Some are paid; some are free. But for SheDesigns, we tried to do a course based off of the ideal HCT framework. We’ve done it like three times now; we’ve tried to do it three times. Each time we learned something new.  So, the first time, the issue was that it was too long; it was supposed to run for six weeks. And it was too long. People were jumping off; attention span wasn’t there.  And then the second time it was that people had other jobs; they had full-time jobs. So they didn’t have time to commit. Then the third time… Yeah, people weren’t following the schedule ‘cause again we’re trying to check-in call, do weekly calls, do weekly check-ins, send emails while people were responding.  So we were back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to actually make it work so that it’s beneficial to everybody ‘cause we put a lot of time and effort into it, and it wasn’t getting the desired results.      

And another thing I’m thinking of that we’re trying to do is something I’ve noticed about designers, in general, is that most people don’t really know how to collaborate. They don’t know how to work with other people, especially developers.  So, designers are in their little corner and then developers in their own corner. So what we’re trying to do a collaboration with organizations and teach code so that we can sort of simulate a real work environment. So you’re not just designing in your corner; you’re working with other people on a team, which is why our challenges are usually team-based because we want to put people to be able to collaborate and to be able to work with other people on creating so that they’re not just…  Because when you’re working, you’re probably not just going to sit down by yourself and come up with something. You’re probably going to work with somebody else. We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible, as reflective of real life as possible.   


I think that’s a really important point.  You’ve got to not just cultivate or develop these skills of research but you also have to successfully figure out and navigate the personal interactions:  the how you and when you engage with people so that projects are ultimately successful because we can do the absolute, most brilliant research in the world, but if we haven’t built the relationships and figured out how to collaborate with our customers internally, then it really doesn’t matter.  That ability is probably as big or bigger than the other side of the equation but you really have to have both. My last question, which has turned into one of my favorites: What is your personal motto? 


I was hoping you wouldn’t ask me because I don’t think I have a personal motto ‘cause whatever I’m thinking depends on the context I’m in and where my life is at in that particular moment.  But I think in terms of work… I would say my personal motto in terms of work is, “Do great work. Do interesting things. And then talk about it,” ‘cause I don’t believe in the whole silent genius working away and everybody acts like you’re a genius just because you’re such a genius. I feel like you have to talk about what you do and show people that you actually know. So it’s not just talk, but do great work, and then talk about it.


And then socialize it.


Exactly. That’s for work. I think my general life motto is just “Have fun.” Life can be long and life can be short.  But whatever it is, “Have fun”.


Perfect. My guest today has been ‘Lade Tawak, UX researcher extraordinaire. Very honored to have you on the podcast today, ‘Lade. Thank you so much for joining me. 


So glad to have done this. Thank you. 


Everyone else, if you found value in this episode, please take time: screen capture, share it on social media. If you tag us, we’d greatly appreciate it.  We hope you have a fantastic rest of your day.


This episode is brought to you by HubUX.  HubUX is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUX.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUX.com   Have a great rest of your day!

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 240 – Emmanuel Probst, Author of Brand Hacks on the Leverage of Creating an Experienced Brand

My guest today is Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA professor, and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest global market research and a consulting firm with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France.

Prior to joining Ipsos, Emmanuel served as the Vice President of Media and Content Domain at Kantar, as well as in a leadership role at Dynata (formerly ResearchNow) and InMoment.

Find Emmanuel Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/emmanuelprobst

Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmanuelprobst 

Website: www.ipsos.com/en  

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx reduces project management costs by 90%. Think of HubUx as your personal AI project manager, taking care of all your recruitment and interview coordination needs in the background. The platform connects you with the right providers and sample based on your research and project needs. For more information, please visit HubUx.com.


On Episode 240, I’m interviewing Emmanuel Probst, Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos, but first a word from our sponsor.  


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team. Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace. So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com   


Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA Professor, and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos.  Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest global market research and consulting firms with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France. Prior to joining Ipsos, Emmanuel served as the Vice President of Media and Content Domain at Kantar as well as in leadership roles at Dynata, formerly ResearchNow, and InMoment.  Emmanuel, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.  


Thank you, Jamin, for having me.  I really appreciate your taking the time to have me on your podcast today.  


It’s an absolute honor having you on the podcast.  I have interacted with you professionally over our careers in similar circles.  I don’t know that we’ve actually ever done direct business together. The specific topic of today is to talk about your recently released book, How to Build Brands by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.  Embedded inside of that title are two words, brand hacks. I’ll post a picture of this book so that people can get better context. The way that you’ve framed the book is really interesting just from the cover perspective because I would say it has some powerful theory, but you take it down to a practical level, which is really unique.  Actually, I can’t think of another book that has that type of framework and accessibility that your book does. But before we jump into it, I wanted to mention that it’s interesting to me how I wound up finding out your book, which was a post from Kristin Luck on Linkedin. She had shared that she was excited about her friend Emmanuel dropping his book.  And I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then, from that, I know I had reached out to you through a comment. And you had responded back to me through the comment on LinkedIn. Now, all of a sudden, you fast forward 60 days. You sent me a copy of the book. Thank you very much for that. I read the book and, after reading it, I’m like, “Not only is this highly practical for me and my business right now, but on top of it I had to get this guy on the podcast.”  So that’s kind of the overall journey. The reason I bring it up is I think it actually some direct connection into the consumer journey into how some the theories that you’ve applied or created and then, subsequently, applied to your own, I guess I’ll call it “business,” but I’m not exactly sure if that’s the correct connotation. Anyway, long-winded way of trying to get to our first question and the worst segue I’ve ever had: Tell me a little bit about your parents and how they informed your career.           


That’s a great question and highly unusual question.  As you may guess, Jamin, I grew up in France. I did not grow up in the United States, and my parents were public servants.  My dad worked for the equivalent of the USPS, and my mother worked for the equivalent of AT&T. Now, these companies were public at the time.  How does this relate to marketing and market research? Well, I think it’s about being curious; it’s about discovering new things; it’s about meeting new people; it’s about wanting to understand why do people do what they do.  So I think that’s really the background between my parents’ careers and mine.  


So, you grew up in France.  What area?


I grew up not too far from Switzerland in the eastern region, and I moved to the UK in 2001. I booked a one-way train ticket to London on April 15, 2001, and I never envisioned coming back.  At the time—it still is by the way—London was this very vibrant city, multicultural, lots of arts, lots of different people, a lot of energy there. I was attracted with the light, if you will.  


Did you have a career or a job secured?


No, and I didn’t really speak English.  So the first few months were very hectic to the point that I remember that literally everything was a challenge: just to go to the store and go through the check-out process. Every little thing was really challenging for me.  The first twelve months, I worked all sorts of jobs in retail, in restaurants. In fact, I’ll tell you that I interviewed for Starbucks, and I could not work at Starbucks because my English was not good enough. So I worked at a lesser coffee chain that no longer exists and that paid less than Starbucks because I couldn’t get a job there and Starbucks was too prestigious to me at the time.  I couldn’t be a barista at Starbucks.    


Oh, that’s fascinating. And now, think about your storied career.  What was your first job in market research? How did you wind up…? Going from a coffee shop into research, it’s a big space, a big gap.   


You’re right.  My first job was with Market Probe, and Market Probe at the time had a call center.  At the time, we would do phone interviews, and I was a supervisor there. And the way I got this job is when I started studying for my M.B.A., I needed to work and I was looking for a part-time job.  And it was completely random. I found an ad for this job. I remember going to the interview, and they said, “Why do you think you can do this?” And I said, “Well, that’s because I’m an M.B.A. student,” which was a little bit, I won’t say “arrogant” but a little bit of a bold move.  And they gave me the job. And that’s really how I started in the industry, managing a small team in that call center. When I graduated in 2005, that’s when I joined Dynata, at the time ResearchNow.     


One of my pieces of advice I give to my M.B.A. students is, “Look around you because everybody in this room is really starting their careers and, if you fast forward 10 to 20 years, these are the executives that are going to be driving businesses at a regional level or maybe at even a global level.” I think if we could see ourselves like that and see our peer groups like that, especially in the early days—I mean it’s easy now—but that point in our careers, I really think we would have a lot more intentionality around how we treat each other and then, ultimately, stay in contact with each other.  Anyway, it’s so fascinating to me seeing they started in one specific spot. I was doing in-mall intercepts; you were managing a phone room. And then, you fast forward your careers a decade or two and Voila. I just got to get right into the book. I’m actually incorporating this book into my… In full disclosure to my audience, he’s not paying me anything for this review, except for the free book, I guess. Anyway, there’s a couple of things that really stood out to me. And I’m going to include in the show notes a specific long-form blog or a link to a long-form blog where I talk about the actual application of the different theories into my own business.  So I’m really taking a very, very, VERY tactical approach to the consumption of this particular book. But what I thought was really interesting is that each chapter has a theme, which has this guiding principle and then is supported by case studies, brand hacks, which are like these golden nuggets, and then some specific take-aways. 

I struggle a little bit with ADD, not from a diagnosis perspective, but it’s hard for a book to retain my interest all the way through. I’m going to honest with you when I first passed through this book, I would read…  I also speed read. So I was plowing through. Fascinating, fascinating, but then the take-away section was really interesting because you could almost process the book, I mean, in minutes by reviewing the take-away section.  And then, I would suggest looking at the brand hacks, and then, if you wanted a deeper dive, you could… It was interesting that each chapter was framed in such a way where, depending on the amount of time that you had, you could pull something very, very valuable out of that particular chapter.  What was your inspiration, reference point for structuring it like this?      


Well, first thank you, Jamin, for your great feedback on the book. Your saying these things mean a lot to me.  Too many books are too hard to read and too complicated and, frankly, often too long. The structure of the book is… I wanted the book to be practical.  I’ll tell you something that might sound unexpected, if you will. If people want to read the book cover to cover, of course, they’re welcome to do so, but the book is designed so that people don’t have to read it all.  That means you can choose to read specific chapters about specific meanings that matter to you personally or to your brand. Or you can choose to read just the consumer psychology parts. So, for each chapter, we start with, “This is why people do what they do.” That’s what comes from consumer psychology. Or you can choose to read just the case studies. In each chapter, you have case studies on “These are the Brands that Do It Right.” Or you can choose to read just the key take-ways.  And the key take-ways are “This is what you guys should do if you want to build brands that are meaningful.” Or you can even read just the sound bites. So we have a lot of quotes, a lot of sound bites that are very short, that are outlined in the book and they come from a very, very wide range of marketers all the way from Franz Kafka and Daniel Kahneman, who wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, and all the way to the Kardashians and Kid Cudi, who is a hip hop artist. In short, this book is designed to be read, but people don’t have to read it all.


You think about the overall attention span.  I’ve seen anywhere between 16 and 20 seconds, and you got to earn the right for consumers’ attention.  This book does a really good job, to you point of… If you want a bite-size nugget you can jump in and grab it.  And, if you’re on a flight like the time I was when I actually read cover to cover, then you have that luxury of processing sub 200 pages. It’s exactly 200 pages. To you point, it’s not really a long read, but the structure of it is what I thought was just… It didn’t need anything else, but I felt like it was literally designed for the practitioner.  A CMO could read this book, pull stuff out, and then apply it to their business within minutes or hours. Really interesting. Is there another book that you have seen that is structured in a similar way?  


Not really, to be honest with you.  What I wanted to do is reconcile academia and the practitioner’s world. There are a lot of academic books that are good, but they’re just not digestible and they don’t feel very actionable. And, on the other hand, you’ll find quite a lot of books for practitioners or books written by advertising professionals, and they might be inspirational and they can be actionable as well. And I don’t want to name names because I do love my fellow writers. But I feel those books tend to be a little bit shallow from a methodological, theoretical, academic standpoint.  So here what I wanted to do was something very practical, very accessible to everyone, whether you’re an intern at an ad agency or you’re a CMO at a Fortune 50, but also something very robust with some strong academic thinking embedded in the book.


So, your book covers many, many hacks that brands of all sizes can use to increase their customer engagement.  One of my favorites was centered around incorporating the arts into your venue or store. And you actually cited a quote by Daniel Kahneman (and I hope didn’t mispronounce his name too bad.) And the quote goes something like this: “Memories are all we get to keep from the experiences of living”, which is such a profound… Like we could talk about that the whole episode. How have you seen this done well and how can you apply that same principle in a digital context? 


I see this done well by the likes of Nike, by the likes of Keelz in cosmetics, or in luxury goods by the likes of Stella McCartney.  And I see this done well with using neon, for example. Neon is a very old technology; it’s very basic: it’s gas, glass, and electricity.  But neon can be orchestrated in a very artful way. I also see this at retail locations that hire DJs for specific events or showcase a specific photographer as an example. My point here is I think that there is a great opportunity in retail. I very strongly disagree with people who said retail is dead. Retail is alive. What’s dead is your 200,000-square-foot Bloomingdale’s, if you will.  What’s alive is the store experience is bringing to people something they could not experience online. And for that, people will be willing to pay premium for. And, back to bringing the arts into the store, that serves the brand as a differentiator; it serves the brand as an experience deliverer to drive traffic. But, importantly, that is also a backdrop for your store because if people like the arts—and when I say the arts, it can be neon; it can be painting; it can be a DJ; it can be dancers; it can be all of the above—people will take pictures and post on Instagram and, of course, you can insert your brand. And that’s how the brand of a store can leverage the arts to become meaningful while increasing its reach online. A good example, Jamin, is Paul Smith, and Paul Smith in Los Angeles has a wall on Melrose Avenue that’s painted in pink. As simple as that sounds, Paul Smith generates hundreds of thousands of digital impressions a week from its physical store thanks its so-called Paul Smith’s Pink Wall. So that’s giving your customers an opportunity to express themselves artistically because people pose in front of the Wall and that’s also a way for you as a retailer to increase your reach because people post these pictures. Now, all of a sudden, you’re no longer just a clothing store because there are hundreds of thousands of those, but you are a destination.  


What’s interesting about Paul Smith also is connected to one of the other walls.  The Pink Wall, of course, is the L.A. Pride Wall. And you’re seeing that more and more with respect to brands picking a lane and then connecting deeper into culture. But then as a by-product of that, of course, they’re upsetting a different customer.  Are you seeing that connection with brands and them being willing to isolate (is maybe not the exact; that feels a little too harsh) but isolate themselves from the anti-point of view?


Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it depends on the brand.  Some brands are somewhat polarizing and that’s OK. And some brands cannot afford really to be polarizing. What I mean by this is, if you take a brand like Nike that tends to be bold in their advertising and that tend to make a statement… And that’s OK with Nike because the brand is polarizing to begin with, and also Nike doesn’t have a large market share—well, does not dominate any of the markets they play in. The point I’m making is people who love Nike, they will still love Nike, and they will very likely buy more from Nike; people who don’t like Nike, they will never buy Nike anyway. So short story: it’s OK for Nike to polarizing and make a statement. It’s easier in a way when you have a 10%, 15%, max 20% market share in any given vertical. If you’re in the shaving category or if you’re toothpaste, that becomes a lot harder because you need to appeal to the widest possible audience. Here there is a risk, of course, to do one of two things: advertising that’s not impactful because if you just say, “Lysol is stronger than Clorox,” that’s just not very meaningful. So, either you do advertising that’s not impactful or you take a risk and you take a stance and, of course, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But we know of disasters. We know of Pepsi, for example, that hired Kendall Jenner to stop a Black-Lives-Matter-type of riot with a can of Pepsi. We all remember how they had to pull the ad within days because it was not credible for Pepsi to say that they can stop a riot, let alone for Kendall Jenner, who is a very talented girl by all means, but Kendall Jenner grew up in Calabazas and that’s minutes from my house. And I can confidently tell you that we’ve never seen a riot in Calabazas.       


It’s such a great point. On the counter side and then also done well, done poorly. You see that with Google in some ways as well.  One of things that they’ve done or not done–sometimes silence can be as loud as doing something. Around Easter, they don’t have any religious mentions at least that I’ve seen around Easter time relative to what you see on Google’s homepage, whereas every day there’s something that’s pretty unique and relevant and interesting across that particular spot.  But, having said that, there’s no risk of them isolating their constituents because you still see those people that are utilizing the brand.


Good point, absolutely.


So, in your book, you state (this is not a quote) it’s not business; it’s personal, which is, obviously, turning on its head, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” The context there is that brands need to not just sell you today; they need to sell you tomorrow.  So there’s a predictive element to that kind of customer relationship that they’re connecting with you. Where are you seeing this done well? 


I see this done well in DTC (Direct to Consumer) brands. I’m particularly impressed with those players because very often they start way smaller than the large CPG guys, and they don’t have any history, if you will. They’re often startups; then, obviously, they get sold, hopefully at some point. But the reason why I think they do so well is because these brands are good at collecting information, and based on that information at the user level, not in aggregate, to then personalize the message and the relationship. So, not so long ago, I heard of a brand called The Farmer’s Dog as an example, and they sell pet food, again, direct to consumers. Frankly, we have dozens of options to buy pet food these days; you can go to Petco and PetSmart and Costco and Walmart; and you can buy some pet food online and so on and so forth. So why do we need another brand that sells pet food? And I feel the answer is because they get very personal about that relationship between the pet owner and the brand on customizing a meal plan for the dog, on asking how the dog is doing. And I was very impressed even when sadly if your pet passes away, they will send a personal note to you, and they might send you memories of pictures of you with your dog—all those things that make experience so much more personal than going to a big box or grocery store, what have you, to buy a bag of Kibbles.    


You think about it used to be the case that brands would sell to a mass market, and it feels like (ah, it doesn’t feel like, it’s… data) now brands really have just one customer, which is the specific human being that they’re selling to at that particular point in time. And data is, of course, the thing that unlocks the access to the consumer so that you can get to know them and interact with them on a daily basis, see their habits, and understand how you can add value as opposed to… You probably remember the days of when we would refer to customers as “Share of Wallet.” How can we pull more and more out of that wallet? McDonald’s has done a great job of seeing the customer as a partner in “How can we partner with you to maximize your value per meal?” which is a very different conversation.  And I think it’s just indicative of the overall thing. And, as you’re so correctly identifying, when you think about that category, and I’ve done work for two decades almost, actually over two decades, in the dog food space, which is hilarious and maybe sad. But you’re absolutely right when you articulate a brand promise like you did with The Farmer’s Dog, all of a sudden, for me, it’s this “Ah, hah!” moment of how a brand can extend beyond just that “I sell you something, and you use it,” that sort of commodity and turn it much more into the experience, which, subsequently, I’m more than happy to pay for.       


You’re right, and that’s a great example of leveraging data to build a meaningful brand because, while people are obsessed with data science and algorithms and Big Data and all those good things, all what matters is what you do with it.  How do you leverage this data to foster a meaningful relationship? And how does that matter to your customer? I think that’s where the value is.  


It used to be the case that the new BMW was our status symbol for success and happiness in life, but one of the things you argue—and I’ve heard this argued before, of course—is that experience and influence are… Well, I’ve heard argued before experience is the new status symbol. But you added in influence, which I thought was really interested. So, how are you seeing this play out with the older demographic.  Targeting me, I grew up with, “Wow! BMW, that’d be something to attain.” And then are brands having to bifurcate their message in order to sell successfully to Generation Z and to other generations?     


Yeah, I think in short, historically people would rely on material goods to advertise their wealth. So, that’s a concept we call conspicuous consumption in academia. That means you would rely on a nice watch, a nice handbag, a nice car to show your friends, family, and next-door neighbor that you did well.  Today, there is less emphasis on ownership; more emphasis on the experience. Younger generations—I don’t really like the term Millennials—but let’s say younger generations are really all about the experience and less about owning. However, here’s the great news for brands: People still want to touch those nice watches and handbags and nice cars. It’s just a matter of maybe it doesn’t make sense to own. So maybe they can rent; maybe they can lease. People still love to show how successful they are. They do so online; they do so on social media. And I argue in the book that this traditional concept of conspicuous consumption is now on steroids. What I mean by this is a few years ago, you would buy a nice car, and 20 or 30 people would know about it (your neighbors, your friends, your family). Now, if you drive a nice car, it doesn’t matter if you own the car. If you drive a nice car, hundreds, potentially thousands, potentially dozens of thousands of people will find out because you post about it on Instagram. So, look, I think that’s a great opportunity for brands. The difference is in the business model. It might be about giving people access to your products, enable people to rent your product as opposed to trying to sell it as a stand-alone. 


Kind of connected to that, how are you seeing the role of influencer marketing playing out? I think this year, over $2 billion is going to be spent on influencer marketing, which was a category just a few years ago that didn’t even exist. And then, connected to that if you think about market research or user experience or consumer insights, whatever, how is influencer marketing going to impact our industry?  


So, the initial promise of influencer marketing is to reduce the social distance between the consumer and the influencer. Let me explain. If George Clooney advertises a product or Victoria Beckham or traditional celebrities, Nicole Kidman, for example, the shortcoming is, as a consumer, you don’t feel like you live like these people. You think they’re far away.  In contrast, a social media influencer is like your best friend, is like your neighbor next-door, is someone you can relate to because it is someone who seems to lead a similar lifestyle, a little bit better than yours, so that it can be aspirational but not too distant so that you can still relate. So that’s what made influencer marketing powerful in the first place: It’s your best friend telling you to buy the product. However, as some of those influencers take on more and more brand endorsements, they become disingenuous, and the return they deliver to brands is diminishing simply because they are no longer believable if they sell shoes on Monday, a watch on Tuesday, bleach on Wednesday, and makeup on Thursday. How is this going to evolve? It is going to be a very strong advertising channel; however, I think what’s going to evolve is the mix of influencers, meaning the smaller influencers are probably the ones that are going to do best because they remain true to themselves and relatable for their audience. In market research, it brings up a measurement challenge. How do we capture this? And, as an industry, I don’t think we have a good solution quite yet. We don’t have a good solution to capture the exposure to know who has been exposed to what content and what brand. And we don’t have a good solution yet to dig into the outcome, meaning, “Did this brand endorsement, did this brand placement deliver any brand awareness and recall, and purchase intent and all that? So, for the time being, the metric of choice is going to be lower funnel metrics, unfortunately, meaning give people very good product, get people to go to the website. From a consumer insight standpoint, find awareness always upper funnel metrics.  I don’t think we have a good, scalable, cost-efficient solution yet.         


It’s also interesting how Toluna… I’ve watched their brand (I try to watch all the brands). But they have a new classification or term for respondent, which is “influencer,” which is actually very empowering on both sides of it. It doesn’t actually carry the same weight as a Gary Vaynerchuk or something, these macros. But at a very, very micro-level, I could see that playing out, but, all of a sudden, puts on almost a different psychological hat for the respondent.  I feel a lot less commoditized as a respondent and a lot more empowered as a respondent. Obviously, similarly, even though it’s branding-centric, it creates this big point of differentiation. It actually reminds me of the original e-Rewards, later ResearchNow. Its whole value prop was around high quality, not suggesting that Dynata has moved from that, but that was the teeth behind the machine. So, are you seeing it overused (and I don’t mean that in any disrespect to anybody who’s using it like Toluna) and maybe even expanded beyond the context of how it’s originated? So, specifically what I’m asking is… So, originally influencer marketing or influencers for me were these people that had hundreds of millions or even hundreds of thousands of followers, and I actually cared a lot about them.  And now, we’re seeing the role of micro-influencer becoming more and more important even to the point of Toluna casting their respondent pool as influencers. Are you seeing this almost like the evolution of the term materially changing?


Indeed. I think the term is a bit of a buzz word, ill-defined in two ways: one important metric is the size of the following, but really that’s just one metric.  What is most important, in my opinion, is the level of engagement and then also the level of specialization because you can be an influencer in fly fishing and in knitting, and that’s very strong for brands that try to penetrate these markets. You don’t have to do anything mass market. You don’t necessarily have to do fashion and makeup and lifestyle. So, the terminology around influencer is evolving, and what is also misleading, I think, for brands and that’s where they need guidance is some people define themselves as influencers and some people are influencers, meaning they have a lot of knowledge; they have a lot of expertise in an area and, therefore, they built a following. So my point is we have different levels of expertise and, frankly, different levels of credibility within the influencer community. The most genuine influencers are the ones that started because they were expert in something and, again, it doesn’t matter if that’s fashion, makeup, fly fishing, or knitting and, based on this expertise, built a following. In contrast ways, some people that seek fame and money that tend to first say, “OK, I’m an influencer,” and next thing, “OK, what am I going to talk about?” And that model in disingenuous and is not as desirable for brands in my opinion.  So, brands need a lot of guidance in picking the influencers, again, not some much in terms of the size of the following because that’s just the size of a panel; it doesn’t mean that much. What matters is the engagement; what matter is the quality of the connection between the influencer and his or her audience more so than hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.  


You’ve clearly identified some white space. I had actually never heard that cast exactly like that in market research. Are you seeing some specific firms, Kantar included, that are preparing to go to market with some level of expertise and helping inform brands as to…? What’s interesting about the influencer marketplace is it’s the wild, wild West still. There is no set understanding of what terms of trade look like. Are you helping or is there a company that’s starting to bring to market those types of services?   


Kantar is here to measure and to provide clients with guidance. As it pertains to influencers, you have plenty of other firms that would hire the influencers and pick the influencers for you. So, let me clarify. The job, the role of Kantar is to help predict, measure, optimize advertising effectiveness and, indeed, is to help brands understand what marketing channels, what market strategy, what tactics are the most beneficial to their brands and, ultimately, to their sales. However, what Kantar doesn’t do and probably should not is help you pick the influencers themselves because that’s more of the job of an agent, if you will. Agencies, like Studio 71, and even the large talent agencies, are jumping on this band wagon.  Think of CAA, for example. That’s the work they do: that is to match the influencer they think is right for your brand and negotiate those contracts because it gets very dicey. Obviously, it’s usually like hiring artists, but the difference is you have to do with that scale. If a brand wants to hire Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift, well, that’s a big chuck of money for sure. But if anything, that’s one or two conversations. If a brand wants to hire a bunch of influencers, now, all of a sudden, it can become 12, 20, 50 conversations, and that’s a full-time job.   


Fast forward in the book, you have this discussion around “The Sacred, the Secular, and the New Preachers,” which, I don’t know if you know or not, but my undergrad was in theology and philosophy. This was, actually, for me the most interesting thing I have read in I can’t even remember when. You’ve got this great quote, “Google is not a search engine. Google is an atheistic god where do we pray, where do we send information, hope there is divine intervention and get a better answer back. Our new answer is the new god, Google.” First of all, crazy connection that you made and I completely see how it’s entirely true. You think about how much information I put into Google. Some of it I’d be very embarrassed if people found out about it. So in a lot of ways, in every way probably, Google knows me about better than almost everybody else, maybe even everybody else. And you’re right, there’s this connection of “I need information or an answer,” in the way that, perhaps, I would have gone before to something like—I mean me metaphorically—one would go to prayer or what have you. Now, all of a sudden, there’s this inkling of “Boom! Just go Google.” I actually wrote a blog post years ago on how Google’s displaced dads. I used to go to my dad on how I change a tire, and now I go to Google. But you’re right. How did you wind up making those connections, putting those pieces together?   


Well, that ties back to how I wrote the book. I think it’s by looking around me, again being curious (So we’re going back to your very first question.) and finding a pattern around me that maybe other people don’t see. It has to do with what I read and people I listen to, but it also has to do a lot with simply walking down the street, taking pictures, and again finding that pattern, and then looking at statistics. So, church attendance in the U.S. is sharply declining. Besides a few mega churches, most churches are losing members, double digits. Why is this? Through research, that’s how I found out that people still believe in a higher power; however, brands are taking on the role of the church. So, Google is one starting point in the book, but there are many other metaphors and one being the Apple store, for example. And the Apple store is really a metaphor for cathedral in my opinion. And what I mean by this is… So, last week I was in London, for example, and there is an Apple store on Regent Street. And clearly, I looked at all the other stores in that street, and the Apple store has the biggest doors, has the tallest doors of the entire street. Why? Because it gives you the impression when you walk in that you’re walking into something that’s larger than yourself. Those large doors don’t serve any functional purpose; in fact, they’re a nightmare from an AC or heating standpoint. In short, the Apple stores are a metaphor for a cathedral. 

A group workout now. Think of SoulCycle. SoulCycle is a metaphor for a cult-like experience. And that’s not even my read. That is SoulCycle’s saying so. When they wanted to take the company public, when they filed their S1 with the SEC, it clearly states in the S1 filing that SoulCycle is much more than a workout. It is a cultish, a cult-like experience where members gather around a priest, meaning an instructor. Or should I say around an instructor that endorses the role of a priest. So, that’s how this chapter came together, starting from the fact that people don’t go to church as much and noticing around me that brands take on the role of religions.    


You have this one section, which I highlighted. And the insight inside of this last chapter: “We want to belong.” And the part that really stuck out to me is you say, “Experiences shared with others are some of the most anticipated, enjoyable, and memorable. The emotions that transpire from these experiences provide the foundation for a community. As individuals and consumers, we become members of tribes that are defined by our hobbies, passions, and shared emotions rather than demographics such as age, gender, and income.” And so, when you pull that out, it just turns on its head even the demographic section of a survey, which—I don’t know percentage-wise, but I’ll make it up anyway—could be 15% of the questions that are asked.  


Yes, and, Jamin, I think demographics are shallow, and they’re an old-fashioned way to do research and to target people in general. And here’s what I mean: Yeah, it’s fine to collect demographics. It’s still important, but, unless you sell housing or cars, I would argue that most demographics don’t matter that much. My point is to say if you want to go to Joe & the Juice or to BlueBottle coffee where coffee is very expensive. At these places, you’re looking at $5, $6, $7 a cup. If you want to be part of the tribe, if you want to be part of the experience, if you want to be that artsy, cool freelancer who drinks coffee at Joe & the Juice, you’d be willing to pay $6 for that. It doesn’t have much to do with functional benefit of the coffee, meaning how good the coffee tastes. And in my opinion, it has nothing to do with your income; it has very little to do with your educational background and any other demographic we could look at. I don’t care if you earn $12,000 a year as a part-time store associate or if you earn $1.2 million a year as a CEO of a public company. If you want to be part of the tribe, if you want to be part of that crowd of people like you that drink coffee at Joe & the Juice, you’re going to find the $7 to buy that cup of coffee. 


Actually, one of my best friends, he and his wife own a local shoe store here in Fresno called FleetFeet, which is a larger brand, but they own the local version of it. They were a big deal, relatively speaking, for a single-location, local retailer. And then, over the 20 years that they have owned and operated the business… Of course, big boxes played a big part in that and ate up a lot of share. They sucked it up through that, and then started focusing more and more on healthy community. Now they’re growing at an astronomical rate. It’s actually really interesting; it’s almost hilarious the percentage growth they have on a month-over-month basis. And it’s because they’ve pivoted the business over the last three years on creating these experiences for their constituents as opposed to selling shoes. They make their money selling shoes, but everything that they do… You wouldn’t know that. Nobody goes there to “buy shoes.”  


You got it right there. I think that’s it right there. And it’s the same thing for restaurants, beverages, coffee.  The point is not to sell shoes, clothes, or coffee. Not to mention that when it comes down to the product itself, you almost never can compete with Amazon on price, on inventory. My point is that, if you want to buy shoes… And my guess is that your friend in Fresno, let’s say that they have 200, 300 different shoes max, if that, in their store. My guess is Amazon has dozens of thousands. So you don’t go to the store to buy shoes, and you certainly don’t go to the store because it’s going to be cheaper than Amazon because it will not be. You go there for the experience.


And many times, we will buy shoes… I’ve seen my peers buy shoes from them. They’re, obviously, cheaper online, but might not have been the exact pattern or what have you. In other words, I could have bought all of that online and had a better “shoe” or more fulfilling shoe, but it just isn’t about that at all.


Precisely, now you’re right.


We’re really late on time.  This episode has gone super long. I could talk to you forever about the content in here, it feels like, and I hope to later maybe over some wine. But I’d like to end on this question: What is your motto?


Oh, wow, that’s really a great question. We’re coming full circle because it comes back to my parents. It comes back to how I started my career and how I built my career.  My motto is—well, I’m going to give it away, but it’s at the end of the book—is to say we’re on the quest for meaning. We all are: I am; you are; and our listeners. We all are on a quest for meaning. And there is no end to this project. This is not an end project. It’s an ongoing discovery of the world around us. So, it’s not about achieving a hypothetical end goal. It’s really about the quest itself. And back to social media, my motto is to say, “Don’t just follow. Explore.” Don’t just follow people on social media or leaders but explore. Explore for yourself, and explore with these people that you admire.


My guest today has been Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA Professor and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. Thank you very much, Emmanuel, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you so much, Jamin, for having me. That was terrific. Thank you again. 


Everyone else, if you’d please take the time, if you found any value in this episode: screen capture this, share it on social media. Ideally, you could link to Emmanuel and myself, both of which are on Linkedin and Twitter. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time. Have a wonderful rest of your day.


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com  Have a great rest of your day.  

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 239 – Leonard Murphy’s Drivers of Change in Market Research

My guest today is Leonard Murphy, Author of the GreenBook Research Industry Trends (GRIT) Report, Partner in Gen2 Advisors, Director at Veriglif, Advisory Board member, Investor, and Change Agent.

GreenBook connects marketers and market researchers with people, information, and ideas that generate results. Through original research, events, content, and a directory, GreenBook provides the learning and inspiration insights professionals need to succeed.

Veriglif, is a private permission-based blockchain creating a data ecosystem around respondent data ownership increasing transparency and security. 

Find Leonard Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/leonardfmurphy

Twitter: www.twitter.com/lennyism 

Website: www.greenbookblog.org 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx reduces project management costs by 90%. Think of HubUx as your personal AI project manager, taking care of all your recruitment and interview coordination needs in the background. The platform connects you with the right providers and sample based on your research and project needs. For more information, please visit HubUx.com.


In episode 239, I’m interviewing Lenny Murphy, author of Green Book Research Industry Trends, or the GRIT Report for short, but first a word from our sponsor.


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com   


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Leonard Murphy, author of The GreenBook Research Industry Trends. That’s the GRIT Report. He’s partnered at G2 Advisors, Director at Veriglif, Advisory Board Member on many different startups and companies, investor and industry change agent. Started in 1962, The GreenBook is a wholly owned subsidiary of the New York American Marketing Association and is a worldwide directory of marketing research companies and focus group facilities. Veriglif is a private permission-based blockchain creating a data ecosystem around respondent data ownership, increasing transparency and security. Lenny, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 


Thanks for having me.  Been looking forward to this for a long time. 


Let’s start a little bit with the origin story. I shouldn’t say, “Let’s start.” That’s not true. We’ve already started. Now let’s move on to the origin story of Leonard Murphy. Tell me a little bit about your parents and how that’s informed your career. 


My dad was military: so Air Force for 20 years. And then he went into government service, worked for the VA. So, they were older. So, my parents were depression era. My dad was served in World War II and in Korea—so different kind of value system. I was raised by the greatest generation parents. That was interesting. When I was a teenager, I thought that was awful. Now I’m far more grateful for it. When I was 17 and had a mohawk and thought that I was a Mr. Punk Rock, total rejection of those values. And, of course, like all of us do, by the time I was probably 20, realized, “Oh, well, actually, maybe they were smarter than I thought that they were.” And now, they’ve both passed away quite a few years ago. I certainly miss them. I wonder what they would think of the world that we live in today, but I like to think that at least I’d be proud of the life that I’ve built that’s far more aligned to the life they tried to build as well than anything else. 


Yeah, for sure. It’s funny you had that Depression Era, and that’s my grandparents’ framework, right? My grandmother would literally save Saran Wrap in the 80s. 


Yeah. Oh, my dad never threw anything away. 


Yeah, it’s crazy. Just like there’s like such different point of reference than us. and gosh, I like that. I’m a dad of teenage boys, and I like to think that on the outside of it, they’re going to look back and “Go, gosh, my dad wasn’t such an asshole.”  I don’t know.  


Well, so I have two 23-year-old daughters and a 21-year-old daughter and then we have 10-year old and 8-year old and 6-year old.


Full house, man.


It is, but the cool thing is that although the 23-year-olds were beginning to get to that point where maybe I’m not such an asshole that I was just a few years ago… (Now maybe that has something to do with they still depend on me to pay for their school.) But I haven’t been called an asshole by my older kids in a few years. I think that as doing something right ‘cause there was a time, there was a time where I was. 


Reflecting on your parents, then we’ll move on. Like what was one of the big lessons or core values that that generation imparted to you that you have sought to impart to your family? 


Help people. They were always trying to help other folks. My dad would give the shirt off his back. Now, he would make sure that you knew he was giving you the shirt off his back. But he still would go out of his way to try and help people. They were foster parents; so, we always had foster kids in the house and that was good and bad. But it was still a powerful lesson that you just try and help people. And that’s certainly something that we’ve tried to instill in our kids as well. 


Oh, I love that. And it’s funny how that’s like played out in our kind of preface of the episode piece into your career and core values and character. It’s interesting you bring that up. I haven’t thought about this in many years. My grandfather during World War II, he had some physical disabilities because he’d been shot and whatever. And so, he couldn’t go to war, and they started in our area a small group of small farmers. There was a large contingent of Japanese-owned farms. So, when they did the Japanese interment camps, then my grandfather helped lead a group of people (farmers) that wound up taking care of the farms of the Japanese people while they were away so that when they were later released, they were able to come back to working farms as opposed to desolation. And I think you’re right. That generation had… We’ve replaced that neighbor connection with a digital connection and then thinking about like the digital nomad, etc. kind of framework. And it’s going to be interesting to see. It’s just different. I’m not judging it as right or wrong. There’s definitely strength probably in both, but there’s definitely strength in a proximity-based relationship. 


I agree. We’ve made choices, both my wife’s family and my family. She’s an Atlanta native. I am not, but most of my family’s settled here, and we’ve just made the choice to be here, right? And a lot of that is so we can be close to family and help and be a part of their lives. And we value the stability of our kids growing up with lifelong friends and neighbors. And those are very purposeful decisions that we want them to have those real connections as well. Now, me personally, I’m probably far more digitally connected than anybody in my family. But I’ve tried to maintain that same at least sense of neighborliness, of helpfulness. It hasn’t been a substitute, but it does help. If I don’t have that connection to people of just being a part of their lives in some level, I really don’t feel good about myself. Yeah, that sucks. I don’t like that feeling of isolation. 


It’s so good. Having that self awareness is so important. So, I want to talk about the GRIT Report. All the people, including myself, we see the GRIT Report as this thing that is the herald of what’s coming. And it sits in a very powerful position right now inside of our industry with over approximately 600 different tools that touch market research or consumer insights in some way. Being the curator of that pile of spaghetti is really an important role at both from a brand and an agency perspective. But it didn’t start there. And I think that’s part of the story that most of us don’t hear. I would love to hear about that first, those early days of the GRIT Report and what that was like.


So, the original GRIT Report, I worked for a company called DialTek. I was a VP at DialTek, and they did IVR market research. And this was early 2000s at the beginning of the onset of online. And we wanted to understand the industry from a supplier standpoint. So I thought, “Well, you know, let’s do a survey of the industry.” And we realized that the only way we’re going to get people to tell us this is if we give them the data back. So, the very first iterations of that were really a very self-serving, kind of competitive intelligence survey for DialTek to see how the hell they compete in the online world when you’re utilizing IVR. And when I left DialTek, I took that with me to Rockhopper, and we kind of continued that but with a slightly more altruistic objective. We thought this is something that could be valuable. And that’s when I met Lou at GreenBook. He had seen the report, as primitive as it was. He says, “We’d like to help with this.” And that kind of established our relationship. So the first few years of it, (This was the early 2000s.) were kind of driven by that. Then when I had the opportunity to join GreenBook, we decided to turn that into what it is today. And that evolution really is purely altruistic at this point: do a report for the industry, by the industry and a content piece, etc., etc.

So it’s evolved since then and continues to evolve. We’re thrilled that so many people find value in it. We’re thrilled that people like The GRIT 50, the kind of brand tracker of innovative. And we’ve got big plans on what we’re going to do in the future. So we continue to focus on how to utilize the data in new ways. We’re exploring a platform right now called Inguo that is a causal analysis platform versus a correlation analysis platform. And we’ve got enough data that we think we can start doing some more interesting things that can become really useful tools for especially the supplier community: establish benchmarks for folks to be able to say if you do these things, this can drive you towards success, right? These are the common elements of successful businesses. So we’re experimenting with all that behind the scenes, but it’s fun and it’s kind of walking the talk since it’s about trying to identify what the future is and experimenting. Well, we keep experimenting. Sometimes we get right; sometimes we don’t. There’s things we could do better. We try and own that and keep on. So it’s fun and it keeps me busy. 


When you think about the things that you’ve done, like really, really well… By “you,” I don’t mean… I realize you’re a humble person; so, this is going to be hard for you. 


I won’t bet on that. There’s a lot of people that would totally disagree. My wife, especially, if she was here, she’d be saying, “What?”  


But when you think about with the GRIT Report in general, what has it done that’s like…? Where is its sweet spot? Where is it thriving and kicking ass and doing its best? 


I really think recently over the last few years we focused a lot more on a deeper level analysis of trying to understand the real drivers of change in the industry, both the client and the supplier side. So rather than just being a kind of a dump of information regarding trends… And there’s still certainly a lot of that in the report, but when you dive deeper, there’s a whole lot more around these are the hallmarks of successful organizations on both the supplier, the client side. These are the things they have in common. This is what that profile of organizational success looks like. And that’s been very predictive of changes that we’ve seen in the industry, the shift from full-service to technology-driven. So I think it’s understanding buzz topics and seeing those play out. Right? I mean some of the things that we were talking about years ago: mobile, AI, automation. Those were early indicators in GRIT a few years ago. Now they are major trends defining characteristics of the industry. So it’s been highly predictive of kind of looking at the road ahead and understanding this is what’s coming and this is how it’s going to impact business and then understanding these are how companies are adapting to those changes and being successful. And again, I think we can do a whole lot better than we are, but I’m not aware of any other report in any industry, but particularly in ours, that is that useful as a strategic planning tool. And that’s not taking anything away from the other great reports. The ESOMAR GMR, it’s a great report. I read it every year. Yeah, there’s lots of great stuff in it. Like this was just really focused on the pragmatic aspects of the business of the industry, whether you’re on the client side or the supplier side. 


When you think about starting a business in this space on the technology side specifically, fitting inside of the GRIT sort of scope, what do you see as the companies that are standing out and winning in that space? What is the differentiator there versus the other companies? Because there’s a lot of entrants… I counted, I don’t know, I counted over 75. I don’t know exactly if that’s the right number, but it was about 75 exhibitors in Austin at IIeX. It might have been more, but there’s a lot of people there. So, what is the hallmark? What are you seeing as the hallmark of the companies that are winning in the market? 


Yeah, that’s interesting. Certainly, on the surface what they all have in common is the cheaper, faster, better rubric. It’s the better part that is less easily definable. And I think that’s probably where the differentiation occurs. There’s lots of companies that can do cheaper and faster. The better part is not just the data, but it’s also the service. And that is where a lot of the tech companies really struggle because they’re tech companies. They don’t want to develop service. Right? We’re all chasing that Silicon Valley valuation model, and everybody’s taught, “Oh, you can’t have, you know, too much of a service component and the business can’t be valued as tech company.” And while that’s true; it’s accurate. But there is not a single company that has been successful in this industry selling to the client side (I should be clear on that.) that has not had to develop a significant service capability in some form or fashion. Right? 


I know exactly what you’re talking about. 


Yeah, they just haven’t had… even Qualtrics. We look at the Qualtrics valuation and at Qualtrics, they’ve got a very large service organization. Now, I’m not sure how that’s accounted for in the books.


It’s called goodwill. So, I just had a conversation yesterday with Steve CEO of Methodify on this exact topic. And that is the role of services in technology has to be in market research has to be coupled because customers need the support when they need the support, and that’s part of the whole product. But it’s not an excuse for bad UI. So the user experience side of things still needs to be… I still think you win there, but you have to have best-in-class, white-glove experience for the customer. 


Well, it’s interesting. So this is one of those, as we try to walk the talk, we saw this trend in the GreenBook site; we invested in building Savio because the thinking was, “All right, the best way to help technology companies just be technology companies but still deliver on the service was to create a marketplace component so that they could tap into the service on-demand.


Which for me makes perfect sense by the way. 


Me too. I still think I’m RIGHT, but the industry would not agree with me. Now, not that I wasn’t right, but from an adoption standpoint, it’s been a real challenge. I’ll be upfront about that. I still think that the time for Savio hasn’t quite arrived yet. It’s coming. We still continue to tweak the model. But that gig economy component, and I think this has just applied it to our industry has not reached full potential yet. Because I think the business sense is built by our partner and when it comes to service, it’s easier to build because you can manage the inputs more easily. So, when your business is dependent upon a service component and you outsource that, then you’d lose the control. So, therefore, quality can become a challenge and your differentiator can go away. So I think that still companies are just defaulting to, “I just have to build this and so we can manage it to make sure that the quality is there to deliver on the client’s need,” even though they don’t want to. So that was kind of the disconnect with Savio as well. I still think that logistically and pragmatically, it makes perfect sense and some companies have adapted it and others haven’t. But managing the quality control process is a challenge if you don’t own it internally. 


Yeah. And part of the challenge there too is I think… We’ll pick on Methodify. I don’t know very much about the business, so I’m completely blind here, but in the brief conversation that I had with them, you’ve got a technology. So that’s kind of the entrant into the transaction or the customer relationship, and then there’s this augment opportunity to help support. And so, it feels right now like it’s a little bit different if they’re you utilizing a platform like Methodify, then they want that support in context of that relationship as opposed to more of the lucid marketplace sort of framework. But I think where the standout is with like focus group procurement, which is this massively segmented space, even with Schlesinger, being probably the largest. Are they the largest network, you think? 


I think now they are, yeah.


Anyway, in the top two, three, anyway. You still don’t have global coverage. So you know my point is that I think the marketplace framework works really well when there isn’t a whole product that exists for the consumer. 


So it’s interesting. Methodify actually is a really interesting company from a kind of a trend standpoint. They’re a company that I would call a kind of full stack. So the dichotomy that I’m seeing in the industry—we were talking about this in the last GRIT Report—is kind of full stack versus full process and I’ll explain where the difference is at.  ‘Cause they started with Delvinia… Delvinia is a full-service research company. They saw the automation trend coming along, and they wanted to tap into that, but they didn’t want to outsource it through, let’s say, Zappi. So they wanted to control the value chain themselves. So they created Methodify as an internal resource that they could also productize and externally sell. So they had multiple entry points for the client. You just want the kind of DIY automated solution, low cost, low barrier of entry? We’ve got that now. So you need something that has a service component, but not full service? Well, that’s great because they have a connection to Delvinia. So they can address that need internally from a service standpoint. Or you need full service, then they’ve got the Delvinia, which is very similar to what Periscope by McKinsey did. Right. So and, they built their whole framework of low-cost tools. And it’s what Kantar did when they pulled out of Zappi and launched their marketplace. So we’re seeing this evolution of companies that are trying to play on both sides in having the multiple tiers of points of entry for the business. And that’s kind of the full stack, right? Then the full process or now this other direction where we see companies like LRW, for instance, Hotspex, or even System1. We’re not necessarily going to go down that path much. They’ve done some things, but instead they want more of the marketing life cycle. So they’ve been expanding horizontally into taking agencies that the business of agencies and activation and pulling that into the research business, kind of like if WPP had really integrated Kantar across the board. But those seem to be the two defining styles that are happening overall with companies, kind of various points on the spectrum in that evolution between those two sides of the business. 


I didn’t listen to the startup pitch competition this last year in Austin, but do you remember who the winner was? In my defense, I was doing podcasts on site. It wasn’t like I was messing around. 


So UXReality by CoolTool.  


And I think that’s a really cool story. 


It is. Full disclosure, I’m an advisor. 


I didn’t know that. Incidentally, all the companies mentioned on this show are going to be completely surprised, hopefully delighted. So this is not like a paid placement. Bullshit like that, listeners… 


But I try and be transparent about those things. Yeah, they’re a company that…  They’ve pivoted so many times over the years. CoolTool. They’re from the Ukraine and super smart guys. And they started; early on, they had almost a Savio-type model. Then they had a Zappi-type model. And before these companies, I mean, they really saw the opportunities here, and then they took kind of the marketplace for non-conscious measurement, and they built a whole very sophisticated platform to do a variety of those things, but just couldn’t catch hold. They didn’t have the killer app.  So then, they built… UX reality is a very specific app to try and understand on mobile device, you know, everybody, your point of experience, eye-tracking and all that cool stuff. That just shows from it from an entrepreneurial standpoint, they just kept trying until they got it right. They entered the competition four times.


Did they really?  I did not know that.  Four times.  


Four times. And they just kept learning and getting it better and better and being very, very iterative. And it’s a powerful story of entrepreneurial success. 


I’ve got to get them on the show. I love, and it’s interesting. The four times is really interesting because I had a lot of people, at least a dozen, after that come by where I was doing the podcasting and they would talk about, “Wow, those guys are so smart. They’ve really figured it out.” And it sounded like they fell off the back of a truck and they had this really magically successful smart path. “And this is real clear and we’re just going nail it.” So, oh, it’s good to hear that.”


Yeah, years of trial and error and pivoting. And I think that’s an incredibly useful lesson for any entrepreneur. I’ve written so many business plans in my life that I realized the worthlessness of the exercise. I really recognized the value of the exercise. But I think it was a quote; I don’t remember it exactly, but something I think it was military, “Every plan is brilliant until you enter the battlefield.” 


Right, totally. Mike Tyson has a similar quote. 


OK. Yeah, that’s certainly an experience from that company and even my own experience at Savio. Thought did all the research, brilliant. We got it; we know what we’re going to do until you get into the market and realize, “Well, shit.” 


Nope.  You just got hit in the face.


Oh, OK, so we adapt, tweak. So anyway… 


For sure. So industry is going through a lot of transition, has gone through a lot of transition. What is one of the biggest themes that you’ve seen over the last couple of years inside of the market research space?


Well, there’s that dichotomy we’ve talked about before, kind of the new settling of how do we define the kind of the business models of the industry. Certainly consolidation. 


Oh, that’s been crazy lately. Let’s actually dig in on this point. Do you think we’re at the top of the curve, or do you feel like we’re going to plateau? It’s interesting to me having so much private equity and venture capital money. You’ve seen the data: market research is a hot topic. You and I, we were the nerds in the corner looking at the girls that we were… You know what I mean? There was nobody dancing. We were not dancing. We were afraid…


They were sitting there, laughing at us.


Exactly. There was like Michael J. Fox cool factor with us, right? We were definitely McFly, and now, all of a sudden, there’s a spotlight that’s on top of market research. You’ve seen these, in my opinion, remarkable valuations. Forget about Qualtrics. Just put that on the side. You have Dynata, which I’m not sure that they released it, but it was released. I saw it on Reuters; they’re over $3 billion valuation. I haven’t obviously seen the book or any private data there, but the word on the street is it’s about a $600 million business. Maybe more, maybe less.




More? OK, great. So, the point being though that it’s a lot of pass through. You got incentive; you got recruitment. There’s a big cost basis in that side of the business for it to get that type of a multiple, right? 


Well, I mean they became a cash machine. I mean that… 


OK, so they are an ATM. That’s true. 


Yeah, the interesting thing is for the past… So I guess this is by-product of GRIT. We are approached by private equity and investors all of the time to consult or just run ideas past us, and it happens a lot. So, and we’ve even played ourselves in working through some different theses for private equity and investment. So I understand how that works. It’s a mature industry. So it was prime for disruption. I don’t think we’re at the top of the cycle. I think we’re seeing the largest players, obviously, go through that process now. You know we’re waiting to hear what happened to Nielsen any day now, but I think the only company that’s going to be left standing is Ipsos as far as kind of independent. Well, and they’re public and..  


They’re public in France.


So, we’ll see. The big question is what happens when the companies are that large, and they go into private equity and private equity is always looking for an exit. I don’t know where the exit is for a private equity company to come into Dynata or into Kantar or GFK. Where do they go? I don’t see clarity on that yet, which is probably why I don’t work for a private equity company, right? Or they have a thesis on that. But when you’re going to pay, you know, what? I think Kantar is $6 billion, I think, $4 billion? Whatever the number is: a big ass number. But who are they going to sell to? I don’t see where that goes. And I have the same question about Dynata. I totally get they are a cash cow. They arbitrage the hell out of that business. When they merged with SSI and bought Critical Mix. Those were all arbitrage plays. They increase their EBITDA significantly. They’re spinning out tons of cash, and they look really attractive for private equity, but a $3 billion private equity investment, what happens then? So are they going to go public, right? I mean that’s what Bain did with Macromill. So maybe that’s the play. I personally think a strategic makes more sense and particularly a strategic like a Qualtrics sort of SurveyMonkey that has lot of cash but does not have a lot of data, but know they want to make a data play. That makes more sense to me. 


Maybe a Salesforce. 


I’ve thought about Salesforce many times, even a Microsoft or LinkedIn. Yeah. I think LinkedIn is going to get bought by somebody else anyway. 


Well, they’re already owned by Microsoft. 


That’s right. That’s right. That’s right. 


But I’m thinking about like they entered into the market research place and then obviously retracted a couple of years later. And everyone was terrified when they entered because there is no arguing they’re the best panel. 


I have heard there was a rumor…


For B to B 


…just a rumor that SurveyMonkey was working with them.


Yeah, I’ve heard that too. Not from you. But it is a rumor. This is not the conspiracy theory show, but… 


Right, right, right. It makes sense. They see the value, right? So we’ll see. But that consolidation at upper levels… There will be mid-market private equity companies that are already in play. We got LRW and etc., etc. There’ll be more plays like that as companies get to that $50 to $100 million range. The problem is there’s not that many companies in our space that are at that range; so, they’ll be the next platform, right?


Right, you’re absolutely right. And what’s interesting there’s really not that many companies, in general, that fit that mid-market $100-million- to buy a $500-million-type framework. It’s just not a lot of businesses that are sitting there. And to your point, I think those are very attractive if you can build them because, and that’s where Toluna is interesting for me is they’re still sitting out… Frederic’s done a beautiful job of navigating two decades or more than that of tumultuous times. (Well, actually two decades.) And that business has just continued to maintain, in my opinion, a heck of a lot of relevancy and cutting edge. They’ve pivoted their panel from panelists and respondents to influencers. And I thought that move–even though I don’t think marketing-wise, it needs to get touted more—has been just huge. I’m a member of probably all the panels as a respondent, and they do a really nice job, I think, on the management side of it.


There’s a few diamonds in the rough for whatever it’s worth. I think the best kept secret. Toluna is one. I agree. AYTM is another and I am an advisor, but I’m advisor because they’re a great company. Yeah. Hotspex’s another and that’s not disparaging anybody else. These are just companies that I know really well and I think these have the potential and there’s more. I’m not going to rattle off the whole list, but 


They can find him in the GRIT Report. 


That’s right. A lot of the GRIT 50 that really has potential to get to that next level. And what holds them back is capital. How do you throw money at them? Most of them are organic.  Toluna’s not, but most of those other companies haven’t taken money; they’ve been bootstrapped. But they’ve grown nice, good size businesses, but they’re not really attractive to VCs yet because they’re not tech-based or fully tech-based. There’s a service component or they’ve decided just not to go down that route. They don’t want to sell their souls, which is my experience with venture capital. And they’re not big enough yet for private equity. So that in-between space where they’ve built really successful. They’re more than lifestyle businesses, but they haven’t quite reached the ability to become scalable yet. Again, Toluna is an exception; they’re a big business, right? But there’s still limits and where they can go. And that’s a disappointing aspect of the industry. These great companies with great operators, great leaders that have so much potential, but the numbers don’t always work. And I think hopefully that’s beginning to change with the interest in the industry, that folks recognize that there can be a lot more value produced.


Yeah, for sure. And I keep coming back to the recommendation and influencer marketing. They should be thinking about raising up themselves. People like you and I, who can be the voice boxes in a value way representing connected to their specific brands. Right. And I continue to believe that that is a big marketing opportunity for… AYTM is great example. They’re big enough where they could afford an extra head count and kill something like that.


This critical day with Ray Poynter for a while. 


Yes, I know. Exactly right. Ray Poynter’s a perfect example. If I was running a ship right now, which I’m not. Having market research, I am the ship. I’ve got Chueyee and that is my team. But you know what I mean? I’d be thinking like Ray Poynter for you would be an easy dollar to spend. You can’t post anything bad. Everything gets me back. 


I agree. And that’s part of the advisory roles that I take. There’s a little bit of that there. We’re trying to help folks, but… 


How will the market research space be…? Fast forward; private equity comes in; five years pass. You have a bunch of transactions in the next probably 12 months: probably some roll ups, probably some move into brands. So it’s going to create some additional white space inside of the market research world. What is your point of view of your crystal ball saying we’re going to look like in 2024, 2025?


I keep waiting for one of the big strategic consultancies to buy somebody in the space. They’re making plays. They have offerings for sure, but an acquisition and so I could see… 


Talking about like a Bain or McKinsey here. 


Yes, Accenture. They’re making data plays. They’re making marketing plays, but I haven’t seen them to do a research play other than Periscope. I think Deloitte has one as well, but I keep waiting to see that. Right. And it wouldn’t surprise me if, let’s say, an LRW, they probably would be a candidate for that. They’re reaching the end of their lifecycle from their private equity. Right. They grew big. So they could probably exit at $600, $700 million at this point. And that’s a pretty good bite for a company for one of the big consultancies. It’s not out of the realm. They can write the check, get a lot of value out of it. So that would be one thing that keep looking for them or more plays from the tech companies as well. 

Salesforce, they invested in SurveyMonkey when they went public. I keep waiting for them to buy somebody outright. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if Salesforce made a play for Dynata. If Gregg Archibald, my partner in Gen2 was here, he’d say, “No, no, no, it’s going to be a Bain.” And maybe, but I still think it would make a lot of sense for it to be a Salesforce. So those two things. I think that that dichotomy between service and technology will continue, but the dominant players will be different than they are today. Right. We’ll look at the great big consultancies, great big tech companies. They will look a whole lot more like the drivers versus today’s the freestanding, the Nielsen, Kantar, Ipsos. 


What do you think from a technology point of view like 5G’s out? I don’t know if you’ve used it; I’ve used it; it’s amazing. I’ve been in different markets. I don’t live in one where it’s 5G but it’s crazy fast that enables VR in an augmented reality research. Do you think those types of technologies are going to play a role in the material world, not just like a disruptive, not just like, “Oh, that’s cute and neat.”? 


I think we’re still looking for the use cases. You know I’m a big tech geek. I love VR. I think it’s exciting. It hasn’t hit. We were talking before here. Virtual qual, it’s been around for 15 years, but it still has not hit big. It’s getting there, but it’s not big. So it’s taken 15 years for that technology to just become a quasi-disruptive force. So I don’t know where we are with… but mobile only took 5. So if VR or AR can hit the same adoption curves that mobile did, it will become an incredibly disruptive force in the next few years. We haven’t seen the killer use for consumers yet. When there is a full VR immersive TV that you can buy for less than a thousand bucks, and all the content is streamed in VR, maybe. That may be the killer out that then knocks everything down. But we haven’t seen that yet. So they we’re still a few years out, but 5G is important, right? The bandwidth is the limiter on that, just as mobile coverage was the limiter initially for mobile. So we’ll see. I don’t know what the next killer app tech is. It continues to be around for now efficiency, AI and automation, right? It’s just make things faster and cheaper until there’s something that changes the paradigm of how humans engage. 


Really, the biggest paradigm shift that we’ve seen in our careers, right, is from pen and paper/call centers to online. Mobile, I would argue, is really just kind of a variant or an augment of that transition. 


We changed the form factor. The form factor was a significant shift in mobile. 


Yes, totally right. I completely agree with that. The interesting part about that disruption was that it was cost-neutral largely or even additive for the buyer. So it’s cheaper. So they’re already going to spend let’s say $100,000 on a survey and now it’s just a question of, “Do I want to spend it here, or do I want to spend it online?” There wasn’t any budget argument; it was just a methodological argument. And I think what I’m seeing in the space when you were talking about AI-empowered tools or a qual at-scale and all this kind of stuff, we don’t exactly have that direct comparable. Like the comparable is, “OK, I’m going to do a focus group or I’m in do ten focus groups, right. Or I’m going to go do, we’ll pick on Remesh sessions.” You know what I’m saying? And then, it doesn’t feel like it’s an apple-to-apple scenario. 


Yeah, I can envision a future where we have for ideation and new product development that is a virtual experience even connected to a 3D printer, right? And rapid, iterative prototyping of things. And I think that’s super cool. That gets me: my geek button all, “Ooh, that’d be great.” And that’s being done. There are companies doing that. And there are brands that are experimenting with that. It’s just kind of reaching critical mass across the board. The biggest issue though is, I think, data privacy. That will be something that we’ve had to pay attention to because of GDPR. But when the news hit yesterday that no surprise, the Department of Justice is going to do a big antitrust investigation of the big tech companies, data privacy is not the tip of the spear on that, but it will be an output of that. 


Absolutely right. And qual has been under a lot… (I don’t know why I’m picking on quality right now with you) but like focus groups, there’s a lot of them. I don’t know how many different facilities, thousands, maybe 1500, 2000, and so in that…


It’s 20% of the industry.


Yeah, it’s a big piece, but yet they’ve been under. Do you think that focus groups are going to continue to contract as a segment or spend or do you think there’s an opportunity for growth there? 


So, mentioned private equity. And two years ago, we had an investor come and say,

”What’s your thesis? And we’ll back it.” Well, it ended up all falling apart. But the thesis was that qual was stable, and it was going to remain stable. And I still believe that. So there’s no evidence yet that virtual has taken away from qual. I think it’s expanded the pie. There’s been some cannibalization, right? Of course, there’s been some, but most of the emphasis on online qual has now been about new use cases like Remesh, for example, or Invoke.  


Invoke is a great example. 


They’ve been around forever. So there’s no evidence that the traditional paradigm of a face-to-face qualitative session is going away. And I think facilities have to struggle to find new ways to repurpose their facilities. I think anytime you own a facility, any infrastructure, you’ve got to find ways to make that profitable. Same thing the phone centers had to do, right? But I don’t think it’s going to go away. I think there’s just, we’re going to see more and more use cases expand. We’ve seen now sensory. We’re nowhere near sensory being able to be done online yet. There is tech in its infancy to smell and baby taste. I haven’t seen that. 


Sounds terrifying.


Well, you know, 3-D Fred. 


Yeah, there you go. Oh, we’re at top of the hour. OK, listen, we’re going to cut this off right now. I have one last question for you. What is your personal motto?


My personal motto? Well, being a Star Wars geek, “Never tell me the odds.”


Ha, ha, ha! I love that. 


Yeah, “Never tell me the odds.” 


That’s great. That’s a good one to end on. That was perfect. My guest today has been Leonard Murphy, author of GreenBook Research Industry Trends. That’s the GRIT Report, partner in G2 Advisors, Director at Veriglif, Advisory Board Member (had to take a breath in there), investor and change agent. (Actually had to kind of cut it down quite a bit.) Thank you very much, Lenny, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 


Thanks, man. I appreciate it. We’ll talk soon. 


Hey, all of you who are listening, please take the time to screen capture, share this episode. I love the fact that our listenership is growing. We’ve exceeded well over 50,000 of you. Thanks. Keep it going. Have a great rest of your day. 


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com  Have a great rest of your day.