Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 613: Frank Gregory, Social Intelligence Lead at Nestlé

You are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host and this episode is being done in partnership with Qual360 North America. This year’s event is on March 13-14 at the Gallup global Headquarters in Washington DC. The focus of the event is on navigating the dynamic future of qualitative research. For more information check out na.qual360.com.

https://na.qual360.com/

Why Every Organization Needs A Best-In-Class Social Intelligence Capability 1. Key use cases and examples from leading organizations 2. Social Intelligence as a comprehensive framework, not just synonymous with Social Listening 3. The leading tools in the space to consider, including the technology stack Nestle USA is building 4. How AI has changed the game, making day-to-day operations and insight-gathering much more efficient 5. How to succeed: the long-term vision to democratize the insights

Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 612: Esther-Mireya Tejeda CMO at Anywhere Real Estate

You are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host and this episode is being done in partnership with Qual360 North America. This year’s event is on March 13-14 at the Gallup global Headquarters in Washington DC. The focus of the event is on navigating the dynamic future of qualitative research. For more information check out na.qual360.com.

https://na.qual360.com/

Why Every Organization Needs A Best-In-Class Social Intelligence Capability 1. Key use cases and examples from leading organizations 2. Social Intelligence as a comprehensive framework, not just synonymous with Social Listening 3. The leading tools in the space to consider, including the technology stack Nestle USA is building 4. How AI has changed the game, making day-to-day operations and insight-gathering much more efficient 5. How to succeed: the long-term vision to democratize the insights

Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 603 – Qual360 North America – Linda Mielnicki Light from Mars Wrigley on Three Key Elements Driving Humans During an Inflation

This podcast is being done in conjunction with Qual360 North America. The conference will be held on March 8 and 9 in Washington DC at the Gallup World Headquarters. 

This year’s theme is empath, diversity, and resilience. 

Similar to last year, I will be hosting the event and I would love to see you. 

To learn more, check the show notes or just DM me on LinkedIn. 

Our guest today is one of the speakers at Qual360.

Linda Mielnicki Light, Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and Gifting Portfolio at Mars Wrigley. 

Mars is an American family-owned multinational manufacturer of some of the world’s most iconic products including M&M’S®, SNICKERS®, ORBIT®, EXTRA® and Skittles. 

Prior to joining Mars, Linda served as a senior insights leader at Con Agra Foods, FedEx, and McDonalds and started as an intern at Coca-Cola.

Find Qual360 North America Online:

Find Linda Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 

Music: 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com


[00:00:00]

Jamin Brazil: Hey, everyone, you are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. This podcast is being done in conjunction with QUAL360 North America. The conference will be held on March 8th and 9th in Washington DC at the Gallup world headquarters. This year’s theme is empathy, diversity, and resilience. Similar to last year, I’ll be hosting the event, which I’m super excited about, and I would love to see you, my listeners, there. To learn more about the event, you can check the show notes or you can DM me on LinkedIn, or you can just Google qual 360 North America and it’ll take you right there. Our guest today is Linda Mielnicki Light. She is the Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and gifting portfolio at Mars Wrigley. Mars is an American family-owned multinational manufacturer of some of the world’s most iconic products including M&M’s, Snickers, Orbit, Extra, and Skittles, all of which I stock from Costco regularly. Prior to joining Mars, Linda served as a senior insights leader at ConAgra Foods, FedEx, and McDonald’s and she started her career as an intern at Coca-Cola. Linda, welcome to the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:01:12]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Hi, Jamin. Great to be here with you.

[00:01:18]

Jamin Brazil: HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit HubUX.com. It is a pleasure to be able to connect with you. We’ve done so professionally before. This, obviously, is in conjunction with your upcoming talk. But before we get into the actual topic, I wanted to kind of get a little bit more context as a consumer insights professional in 2023. We’re just stepping into the year, finishing up the first month. What is keeping you up at night?

[00:01:59]

Linda Mielnicki Light: It’s a great question. So for me, I am torn between really two things. Torn between embracing technology. So as we think about the future of market research, I truly feel like we kind of have to get beyond just asking consumers, “What do you think or feel about this?” But really start to tap into some of the technology that’s at our fingertips. Now, when we think about technology, let’s think wearables, biometric feedback sensors, and this kind of thing. That’s the way of the future. And this is probably going to be impacting the way people eat, the way people sleep, how often they work out. And so as I think about that, from a CPG standpoint, I think we need to be very cognizant of that and the ability to tap into those kinds of mechanisms to really understand the full totality of a person. Now, that said, the thing that kind of keeps me up at night is just the fact that you have so much of this data that can be used and manipulated for nefarious purposes. And so as I think about that, there’s just such a responsibility. So the ability to go in and say, “Yes, I want to have wearables. I want to do this and that, broadcast my life everywhere.” That stuff also lives on forever. So technology is a good thing, and it’s a bad thing. So it’s one of the things that keeps me up at night. The other one is, and Jamin, you and I know, we’ve talked about Gen Z in the past. I do a lot of Gen Z work within our organization. And so the younger generation keeps me up at night. From the standpoint of I feel super optimistic about this generation. I feel really that these guys are going to be the creators; creators of the next generation, creators of the next institutions. They’re the ones that are calling out our political systems don’t work, our educational systems don’t work. So these guys are going to be on the forefront of that. And I have so much hope, in that generation as really calling things out, dismantling some of them, and rebuilding to a much better place. However, then the opposite, the shadow of that is these guys are connected to their phones. There’s a generation of people that are, “I’m going to be famous for being famous.” I just finished reading a book called “Hollowed Out”, where it’s I’m extremely worried about this next generation of humans. Will they be able to feed themselves? Will they be able to maintain jobs? The basics. So I’m extremely hopeful and at the same time, the counterpart of that is, I don’t know. They kind of freak me out at the same time.

[00:04:51]

Jamin Brazil: Just for the context of the audience, you have children?

[00:04:54]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Yes, I’ve got three teenagers that are very Gen Z. 20-year-olds, 18-year-old, and a 15-year-old.

[00:05:02]

Jamin Brazil: I have almost the exact same ages. I have two in Gen Alpha and three in Gen Z.

[00:05:10]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Oh goodness.

[00:05:14]

Jamin Brazil: I’m pausing because I want to be really careful with how I say it. But it’s the most gifted generation ever, in terms of categorical knowledge. You have access to anything that you want.

[00:05:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: You have a computer in your pocket.

[00:05:29]

Jamin Brazil: And it’s more than that even. It’s the whole world, isn’t it?

[00:05:31]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Yeah. It’s fascinating.

[00:05:34]

Jamin Brazil: And it used to be the case, our generation, I’ll assert just given our children’s age, that we’re probably Gen X. Well, I’m definitely Gen X.

[00:05:43]

Linda Mielnicki Light: I’m Gen X too.

[00:05:45]

Jamin Brazil: So when we wanted to learn things, we would go to the single source of truth, which was the Encyclopedia Britannica, and/or the library. And so there were massive time gaps with respect to our ability to be able to learn both in terms of that information being able to be culminated and disseminated, so that took years. And then once that actually landed in a library, I only went to the library once every two weeks. And so, again, a big amount of space there. Whereas now, I get quite literally, that instant feedback. And I think in a lot of ways, it helps with little things like how do you change a tire? But it hurts for bigger things like what do I want to do with my life? Because there are so many options.

[00:06:31]

Linda Mielnicki Light: That plus, I think just the amount of time that they spend on their phones or the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. So now you’re in school, but you’re in front of a screen 24/7 with your computer and everything. And from that standpoint, there’s a negative effect on the brain. The blue light that comes through, that’s not a positive thing. They’re getting less exercise. They’re getting less blood flowing throughout the body. So there’s the physical aspect of it. In addition to ambition, knowledge, all of that.

[00:07:10]

Jamin Brazil: It is absolutely terrifying and everything you’re saying. And a lot of that gets kind of, to your point before around concerns around technology, the intent of most technology is to dominate your time. We used to think about share of wallet as brands. And now, many brands are thinking about time on screen or time in app, or that kind of framework. In which case, the engineering, the ability to be able to build products that are quite literally just captivating our brains, our animalistic sides. And we as humans, just kind of fall into that. Sad to say, but it just kind of is what it is, myself included. I’ve done a lot on TikTok, some professionally and some just for fun. Most just for fun. And it is amazing how you can kind of get that – You have to force yourself to separate from the endorphin rush of the swipe.

[00:08:02]

Linda Mielnicki Light: I agree with you. And so then that kind of tags back into the point I was making about wearables and the future of technology, biofeedback sensors. In the future, if let’s say you’re in a situation where it’s, “Oh, my sensor has said, I’ve eaten all the carbs I should eat for the day.” Will it ever just shut you down? Will it say, “No, you’re not going to this restaurant? You’re not doing this or that?” So it could be a very fascinating future. But it could also be a very scary future because we truly don’t know what we don’t know. And I heard somebody saying the other day, back in the, I don’t know, 1900s or something, the amount of information that existed doubled every, what, 10 years or something like that. And today, they’re saying the amount of information that exists in the world doubles every 24 hours. You just can’t be on top of your game all the time, because there’s new information that comes through and how do you sort through all of it?

[00:09:07]

Jamin Brazil: So your topic is titled “The Human Impact of Inflation”. Give us a sneak peek about your talk.

[00:09:13]

Linda Mielnicki Light: So in short, what I’m doing is I’m stitching together a few different research techniques to be able to provide some holistic context around the human impact of inflation. And the reason why this is really coming to bear for me within my role at Mars Wrigley is obviously a lot of CPG companies are going to be in the same place. We’re pulling a lot of data, data from past recessions to say, “What do you think we’re going to be seeing during this period of time?” In terms of sales, movement, what should we be expecting in terms of pack sizes? We’ve got supply chain issues, a range of topics that everybody within CPG is going through. In the context of pulling data, some of the conversation we had internally was, I think we’re missing some of the story when it comes to what’s really happening to human beings at this point in time, at this point in history. So we’re just coming out of COVID. Everyone was so excited about, “You, here’s all the things I’m going to do once lockdowns are over and everything.” And now we’re struggling with how do I get fuel for my car? How do I feed my family? We’re not going out to eat as often. So all of that is causing a lot of angst and a lot of stress. So the point of what I started to do within Mars Wrigley was to create a series of webinars that happen on a quarterly basis, around really starting to bring the empathy of what humans are experiencing during this point in history to the organization so that everybody can understand it, and they can feel it. And the other thing I say internally is, nobody that’s working at the corporate level in a CPG company is making minimum wage. We aren’t living the lives of our consumers. So really starting to bring some of the stories in front of our leadership is so impactful. So that was really what inspired me to say, let’s take some of this information and to share it at this conference. So part of what I’ll do is to share some of these empathetic and insights that we’re uncovering, but the other part is to show how we’ve been able to leverage some of the different tools and techniques that we have access to. So we can ask consumers questions via video commentary. So I have some of that in the presentation. We’ve also leveraged a few other tools and techniques. And so I’ll talk through that in the context of the talk as well.

[00:11:55]

Jamin Brazil: I love the framework of empathy. And I also appreciate that we’re very fortunate and oftentimes far removed from the general population, in terms of what keeps them up at night. And you’ve done a really good job of succinctly getting to that and helping build that bridge in the corporate framework. I’m excited about hearing your talk. What are some specific takeaways that the audience may be able to employ or deploy in their organizations?

[00:12:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Well, so we’ve leaned into some hot sources to look at. So how impacted are people by inflation today? So one of the key takeaways is that inflation has overtaken really anything else that has been surveyed, whether you’re talking about COVID, crime, political issues, education, what have you. COVID is the number one issue for countries globally. And that has increased in terms of the number one concern, month over month over month, throughout the year of 2022. The other, I think, key takeaway here is that in addition to consumers saying things like, “I’m stressed. I’m suffering sticker shock. I don’t have any time on my hands.” We’ve heard from so many consumers, or I would say humans, who say, “I can’t afford gas for my commute to work, so now I’m taking public transport. I’m also not going out to eat anymore.” So I’m making more meals at home. And so what’s happening in the context of that? Well, the amount of expendable time that they have on their hands is drastically decreasing, because now their commute to work is taking them three times longer. Now, they’re making their dinners at home, so they’re eating later. People are crankier. They don’t have exposure to some of the indulgences that they had previously. So you really start to dimensionalized some of the stress that people are under today. It’s not just the terminology of stress, but it’s lack of time. It’s lack of energy. It’s lack of money. And so what are we looking for? What’s going to start to fuel us? What we found is that there’s three key human insights that folks are looking for during this time of inflation. One is control because this economic environment, the political environment, the social environment that we live in, is not in our control. So control is one of those key areas that folks are really seeking at this point in time. That’s not something that someone is going to tell you, “I’m looking for more control,” when you ask them in a video interview, but that’s why stitching together all of these different tools and techniques, you start to realize, ah, there’s something underneath that. So one of those things is control. The other is care. So one of the reasons why people give to others is because you also give to yourself at that time. So care is another one of those areas where we know that everybody is suffering, just I would say all income levels, whether you’re low, medium, high, inflation is cutting across all of them. And so everyone’s in the same boat. We also know that when you’re not going out to eat, you’re not giving big gifts, what are you doing? Well, you’re baking things. You’re saying to your neighbor, “Hey, I got some extra this or that. So do you think you’d want to share?” Or you’re arranging toy swaps. You’re doing some of these other things where you’re just, “Hey, I can’t afford new toys for my child.” But now you’ve got these micro-communities of people that are getting together through social media to say we have access, or, “We’re done using this. It’s still in great condition. How can you use it?” So that’s how care is being dimensionalized as well. And then comfort. Comfort is the other area where, obviously, people are seeking a way to recharge, I would say not only their bodies, but also their emotional state, their soul. So comfort is another one of those key elements that we’ll talk about in my upcoming presentations.

[00:16:18]

Jamin Brazil: Fun. I cannot wait. That is super interesting. My last question, what is your personal motto?

[00:16:26]

Linda Mielnicki Light: My personal motto. So during this time of inflation, and I say this to my kids all the time, but it’s especially true as I’ve been doing all of this inflationary work. You really don’t know what other people are dealing with under the surface. So my personal motto is karma. It’s what goes around comes around. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be a jerk to other people because you don’t know if they’re having a bad day. This is a blip in their life, or if it’s just a matter of they’re really struggling with something really, really heavy right now. So I would just say don’t be a jerk. I tell my kids this all the time. And it really, I think, is coming to life for me personally, as I do some of this work professionally. That the need for kindness in this world is so overwhelming. So be an agent for change. Be a force of good. And I’d say be nice to the elderly. There’s just a special place in my heart for the elderly. And I’m hoping that we will all have the opportunity to be old at some point. So again, treat everybody with kindness, because when you’re old, and you can’t see well and you can’t hear well, you’re going to be treated in a way that you treated others too. So that’s my I would say my life philosophy.

[00:17:55]

Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Linda Mielnicki Light, Associate Director of Global Insights Connect and gifting portfolio at Mars Wrigley. Linda, thank you for joining us on The Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:18:06]

Linda Mielnicki Light: Thank you so much for having me, Jamin.

[00:18:08]

Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope to see you at QUAL360 in Washington DC on March 8th, and 9th. I’ll be there. Linda will be there. We would love to talk more about this particular topic and other things that are trending in the space. Have a great rest of your day.

Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 602 – Reed Cundiff, CEO at the Schlesinger Group, on 3 Trends That Will Impact the Insights Industry in 2023

Our guest today is Reed Cundiff, Chief Executive Officer at the Schlesinger Group. 

Founded in 1966, Schlesinger is a leading provider of quantitative and qualitative research solutions and has built and bought leading technology solutions providing customers with both best-in-class service and software.

Prior to joining Schlesinger, Reed served as a General Manager at Microsoft, SVP at the Yankee Group, and CEO of the Americas for Kantar.

Find Reed Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 

Music: 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com.


[00:00:00]

Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. You are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. We have a special guest today, Reed Cundiff. He is the chief executive officer as the Schlesinger Group. Founded in 1966, Schlesinger is a leading provider of qualitative and quantitative research solutions and has built and bought leading technology solutions which now provide companies best-in-class, both in terms of service and software. Prior to joining Schlesinger, Reed has served as a general manager at Microsoft, SVP at the Yankee Group, and CEO of the Americas for Kantar. Reed, thanks so much for making time for us and being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:00:44]

Reed Cundiff: Thanks for having me, Jamin. It’s a pleasure to be here.

[00:00:50]

Jamin Brazil: HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. I’d like to start out with this context question. Tell us a little bit about your parents, what they did and how that informs what you do today.

[00:01:15]

Reed Cundiff: I love this question, and probably my mom in particular loves this question. Both my parents worked outside the home. My dad was a mechanical engineer at DuPont for over 30 years. And I have to say, he believed in a structured approach to pretty much everything in life as engineers sometimes do, and also had a real strong belief in efficient execution, whether that was at work, whether that was mowing the lawn or whatever the case may be. And so I think that kind of structured approach and focus on efficiency certainly has showed up in my work life and home life. The interesting blend was my mom was a change management and a talent consultant with Towers Perrin and Watson Wyatt and a few other organizations. And so she honestly built a career around the belief and the power of people and teams to be able to tackle pretty much anything in the world and just the importance of human capital within a business context. So together I feel like honestly, it’s pretty logical that I ended up here. I couldn’t have told you that at 22, but bent towards a structured understanding of the world and a focus on the people side of business has I think really driven me to where I am now.

[00:02:44]

Jamin Brazil: It is a special skill set that you possess and that has thankfully been installed by your family, that both probably in terms of DNA and also obviously observational. So that’s super interesting. But it’s a special skill to be able to take the chaos of life or business and then create order around that and structure so that you can create repeatable processes. Have you seen in your career, is this a skill that’s innate with people, or is this something that you see people that maybe don’t have it can invest in and actually achieve that?

[00:03:14]

Reed Cundiff: I think it’s absolutely a skill that people can learn. And of course people are going to have a tendency coming in. But what pops to mind for me, Jamin, was my first job out of school was as a market analyst for Gartner. And this is where believe it or not, even after what I consider to be a pretty good education, thinking in a logical way and communicating in a structured way was something that I’d only taken the first couple steps in a marathon in learning how to do. And those first few years out of school, I thankfully had folks who were willing to invest time and energy in teaching me how to improve. And I definitely feel like that’s put me on a better path than I would’ve been just in a state of nature.

[00:04:05]

Jamin Brazil: Yes, for sure. One of the things that I actually very much appreciate is the opportunity to speak. And one of the things that – and that’s happened really in the last I’d say six years of my career, and really heavily in that timeframe. I’ve probably done more speaking the last six years than I did the previous 20 by 4X. And one of the interesting things about speaking is the need to be able to clearly communicate a point of view in a very structured way in a specific timeline, and as opposed to more of how I used to approach things which would be more like winging it. And I think business in a lot of ways is exactly the same thing. It’s about just rolling up your sleeves, getting down to brass tacks of how things are being done and where the opportunities are for improvement, whether that impacts time or gross margin or close rates or what have you.

[00:04:51]

Reed Cundiff: And if I could, there’s one thing that I would add. And that’s speaking clearly and with an overall purpose in mind. And so as I think of honestly you, me, and the listeners that we have here as leaders, we might not all be people managers, but we all have the opportunity to lead. And when we’re thinking about what we’re trying to get across, even if we just think basically hey, I can provide clarity in this situation. I can generate energy in this situation. Or I can focus on delivering results, just communicating, and getting something done. Having that in mind as I start to communicate just makes things so much more straightforward.

[00:05:39]

Jamin Brazil: Yes, and it takes a lot of the emotion out of the communication. A lot of times I fall, have fallen victim to feeling like I need to be right or as opposed to having what I think the right solution is, or what is the right solution I should say, ultimately is the solution that’s pushed forward.

[00:05:59]

Reed Cundiff: This might be a bit of a tangent from where you were thinking of going today. But there was a really formative experience that I had honestly later in my career than I would care to admit. But when I had the opportunity when I was at Microsoft to be able to present to the senior leadership team of the company, and I’d say it was – it ended up being a good meeting. Not a great meeting, but a good meeting. And then coming out of it, I was debriefing with my boss who was the CMO at the time. And he said something honestly that I hope I never forget. I certainly haven’t yet. And it was hey, when you were in there, it seemed like you were trying to successfully get your point across and make it through the meeting. How would you have shown up differently if you were genuinely interested in the feedback that the people in that room were providing you? Because –

[00:07:00]

Jamin Brazil: Interesting.

[00:07:01]

Reed Cundiff: Yes. Well because first of all, it’s an expensive meeting. And there’s some really smart people in that room who might have something to offer if you were interested not just in my parlance, winning the meeting, but rather in gathering feedback and figuring out how you want to do things differently walking out of the room.

[00:07:22]

Jamin Brazil: That’s such a powerful – that’s such a – and the problem with that is as soon as you stop talking and ask for feedback, you’re going to get feedback, right? And that’s always the – I heard an interview with Bill Gates. This goes back a decade, but it stood out to me so much. An entrepreneur was pitching him on a business idea, and he asked the entrepreneur a fundamental question about TAM that was – he, Bill Gates himself knew the answer to, happened to know the answer to. And the entrepreneur off-the-cuff knew exactly what the dollar figure was and also could break it down, break down the TAM very logically. And so that was all Bill needed to – Mr. Gates, excuse me – needed to hear in order to build trust that that person understood what they were talking about. And so it is interesting. When you open yourself up there, you better have your shit dialed in.

[00:08:18]

Reed Cundiff: For sure, yes.

[00:08:18]

Jamin Brazil: [CROSSTALK] very –

[00:08:20]

Reed Cundiff: Genuinely, yes, feedback is a gift, and some days it’s Christmas.

[00:08:24]

Jamin Brazil: That’s right. Some days it’s Christmas. Love it. Well hey, Schlesinger. I’ve got to tell you, I am a huge fan of Schlesinger. Anybody that knows me knows I only tell the truth to the – so if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m not, but I wouldn’t have led with that. Schlesinger has played a material part in my career, both pre-transaction with Focus Vision and then of course later with running Focus Vision as the CEO for a short time, and then later Debbie Schlesinger, and now remarried but being on my board at HubUX. And so I’m such a big fan. And it was big news seeing Steve move into more of the board role and then bringing you on. So first of all I wanted to just offer my congratulations to you in that role, because it’s a very important role in our industry.

[00:09:13]

Reed Cundiff: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be in role and working and really trying to carry the business forward, which has been just such a fantastic part of our industry for such a long time now.

[00:09:27]

Jamin Brazil: Yes, no kidding. 1966, it’s quite literally one of the OGs. And what’s interesting about Schlesinger versus maybe some of the other – certainly most of the other, if not all. You guys are so big, I assume over a quarter billion dollars currently and growing. You guys actually weathered remarkably well COVID, whereas other traditional focus group facilities, they didn’t have that forethought to invest in technology. And you guys were completely tech-enabled, which allowed you to seamlessly move to a virtual framework, maintaining a nice growth trajectory. So just a lot of smart moves have been made on the chessboard of market research by Schlesinger and continuing to drive things like participant quality. Again I think about – this is going to sound like an infomercial. And by the way, folks, they’re not paying me for this. This is not that episode. But in truth fundamentally, Schlesinger having such a large focus group footprint globally, one of the interesting things from a sample-sourcing perspective and major points of differentiation is they’re able to tap into large-scale audiences who have already been vetted through qualitative research, whether that’s in-person or otherwise, for quantitative surveys. And so again in a day and age where you’re having 40 to 90% return rates on sample or you have a sample option that has vetted people inside of it, it’s a pretty remarkable value prop just in that piece alone. So anyway, great company. Excited to see where you wind up taking it. As you think about the future, and what do you see as the next thing for Schlesinger to lean into?

[00:11:06]

Reed Cundiff: It is a great and fair question. I feel like Steve and our management team had a just really sharp vision for the future. And we’ve been successful in transforming and growing the business through some of the acquisitions that you talked about. So we were able to expand into quantitative and digital qual in 2020, perfect timing. And now those two areas are collectively a huge part of our portfolio. We still certainly love and embrace our heritage of the in-person facilities and qual recruiting globally. And we know and thankfully a lot of our customers are seeing especially throughout this year the importance of in-person. And that’s always going to be a huge part of the portfolio of the business and what we offer to customers. But also we have been making some strategic bets on tech. And so coming where I’m coming from, especially you can imagine that was one of the most compelling things about the business. In 2021, you saw us purchase Methodify and Telmy. And we see the industry evolving to be more self-service, and also these types of tools and tech expand our audiences to broader marketing and CX roles that weren’t always thinking of more traditional firms like Schlesinger. Now in just this past year, we also made some investments that we want to continue evolving in our assets like opinion capital, and getting more resources for the audiences that we want to bring to market which are going to power all of our relationship with customers. So it’s continuing along the lines that strategy that Steve and the management team have really laid out. I think we’ve got honestly a pretty bright future ahead, which is why I’m here.

[00:13:02]

Jamin Brazil: Yes, no, I completely agree. I think the best years for consumer insights are quite literally right in front of us, and I think that I’ve been through a couple of different cycles now. This is my third cycle where I started in the pre-dotcom phase, saw a lot of company – learned a lot about company behavior as they became – companies became really fat from a cash perspective, bringing a lot of internal resources and insights, so making a lot of investments in growing the full gamut of market research and hiring people, et cetera. And then the dotcom bust happened, and all of a sudden there was tremendous amount of layoff. So most of those happened at first in the market research space, and then boutique companies coming out. Then you fast-forward to the housing crisis of 2007 and ’08. And again as everything was like market going up and up and up, again brands were doubling down on internal research divisions. And again they cut the staff, and now fast-forward again. Here we are seeing the exact same behavior really on both sides, which kind of leads me into my next question. What do you see as – and I’ll leverage my MBA and pull the number three here. What are three trends that you believe will carry us into 2023 and into 2024?

[00:14:14]

Reed Cundiff: Sure thing. First thing I’d say dovetails right along with your really good and succinct history lesson, is leaner and meaner would be the first trend that I would think about, is like a lot of folks at – the economic outlook certainly from a macro perspective is not going to be fantastic for H1. And my belief is that that’s going to accentuate the push to eliminate some of the inefficiencies that we have in our industry. And that’s – I’ve had the good fortune to be able to look at and participate in our industry from a few different views at this point. And honestly, I see opportunities for greater efficiency from all of them, from the way brands engage with suppliers and agencies to how we operate internally. We need to eliminate some of the friction that’s embedded in bidding for and launching projects today so that we can really start to move at the speed of decision-making. So leaner and meaner is number one. Two, something I’ve been talking about for a while which I think will only continue is the digital transformation of insights. I’ve been talking about this for six or seven years, and honestly I imagine I’ll be talking about it for the next six or seven years. The integration of a variety of different data types, perception, behavior, financial, social, location enables our industry and our insights to break out of one-dimensional views of humans, and kind of look at a more well-rounded view of our customers, our markets, even our competitors. And so we need to leverage the “and” opportunities versus simply advocating for the benefits of our unique data silos. So that ongoing digital transformation would be the second. And then the third for me is a talent revolution. I think it’s related to both of the first two trends, but I feel like we have a chance to meet the moment as an industry and foster a revolution in the nature of the work we do and the people who do it. I’ve been passionate about this for a long time. The first time I talked about this publicly was at an SMR World Congress probably ten or 12 years ago. I talked about the challenges in cross-pollinating research and data science capabilities within a team. I talked about it as farmers versus miners. And with the digital transformation that’s already permeating the industry, we have an opportunity to rethink the way we train and grow our young talent in particular and embrace a wider variety of data types, be flexible in our analytic approaches, and deliver insights in a dynamic way that goes beyond the one-hour PowerPoint presentation.

[00:16:57]

Jamin Brazil: Yes, 100%.

[00:16:58]

Reed Cundiff: And lastly at the same time, what other industry, one that’s centered around human understanding, could be more prime to evolve its representation and inclusion? I believe we can dramatically improve from a relatively vanilla starting point to a group of leaders and professionals who come much closer to mirroring the folks we work hard to understand, and mirroring society at large. So I do want to give a small shout-out to the Insights Association’s IDEAtors program, which offers internships to diverse junior researchers. Schlesinger is a proud participant, and there’s a lot more that we all can do.

[00:17:39]

Jamin Brazil: 100%. And it’s all around intentionality that we’re able to drive those changes. And to your point, how you started, I really like – it’s interesting how the conversation has kind of gone full-circle for me. When you think about process in a lot of ways, process – well, in every way, process is a function of getting things done. And a core way of getting things done or a component of it is the tools that we have access to and the subsequent skill that we bring to leveraging those tools. And if you look at Gen Z versus millennials or even Gen X, there’s a whole different set of requirements around the actual software components of things and how they think about getting things done and their tolerances for bad tech. And that’s where I think thinking about this new digital revolution that I believe we’re stepping into where companies and individuals are accustomed to leveraging things like OpenAI to get answers very quickly, there’s a whole new set of things that are going to be coming to market that we just quite literally – most of us haven’t even conceived of. So it’s going to change everything from the tools that we use to ultimately how we wind up getting our stuff done, and the companies that are going to win are the ones that are adaptable from a process perspective.

[00:18:51]

Reed Cundiff: For sure. For sure. And we even see that day-to-day in how we’re approaching things like remote qual and in-home user testing, where things that required a pen and paper and weeks to be able to complete, we can use tech to be able to solve in hours and days.

[00:19:11]

Jamin Brazil: We’ve got the forward view. What do you see as some barriers or challenges that we will face as consumer insights professionals?

[00:19:19]

Reed Cundiff: Well, so this is where this will not be a new answer. But to me I feel like it’s the same as it was ten years ago, and that’s quality is the first thing that comes up. It’s not particularly sexy or dynamic, but without quality input, insights are sunk. When you have that one objector in a senior meeting poking legitimate holes in the makeup of a respondent pool or the analytic technique used or the way a question was phrased, then the impact of the project dies a quick, but painful death. So yes, we want to provide insights at the speed of decision-making, and yes, we want to find ways to deliver insights at lower cost. But we always want to do so with a foundation of data quality. And it’s honestly just not always there, and it starts with the respondent.

[00:20:09]

Jamin Brazil: It’s not always there categorically. There’s – the majority of sample is just so catastrophically bad. Speaking of process, I’ve talked to 100 at least agencies. And the biggest problem that they’re facing is data quality. Participant fraud and bad actors are a real and growing concern. And when you look at the increase in utilization of brands for research, just the number, the volume of research is going up. The number of surveys are going up. But meanwhile the world population is about the same, so you got to ask, where are all these people coming from and why are they willing to spend 20 minutes of their time for 25 cents?

[00:20:52]

Reed Cundiff: For sure.

[00:20:53]

Jamin Brazil: So yes, at some point, yes, anyway, there’s a whole ‘another episode. My last question for you. What is your personal motto?

[00:21:01]

Reed Cundiff: I love the opening and close, and the middle’s been pretty great too by the way. But I’ve actually spent a lot of time working on my personal philosophy. So I won’t go into intense detail or cry on your podcast, but it does come from a core part of me and I try to have it influence how I show up wherever I go. And there are four aspects to my personal philosophy. Be genuine, be precise, prioritize action, and speak truth to power.

[00:21:31]

Jamin Brazil: I love it. Our guest today has been Reed Cundiff, chief executive officer at Schlesinger Group. Reed, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:21:41]

Reed Cundiff: Thank you, Jamin.

[00:21:43]

Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed the episode as much as I did. Have a great rest of your day.