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Ep. 211 – Anne Beall – Three Ways to Leverage Emotion to Create Brand Promoters

Today, my guest is Anne Beall, CEO of Beall Research. Beall Research specializes in leveraging the theory behind Psychology, Sociology, History and other disciplines to develop actionable insights.

Prior to founding Beall Research, Anne has had a storied education career, having received her M.S., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in Social Psychology from Yale University.

Find Anne Online:


Website: Beall Research

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Social Media: @happymrxp


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On Episode 211 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m joined by Anne Beall, but first a word from our sponsor.


This episode is brought to you by Attest.  Attest is a powerful, easy-to-use SAS platform that connects businesses to over one million consumers in 80 countries on demand in just a few clicks.  Ask your burning questions, select who you want to answer them, view actual insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable, intelligent platform.  Contact Attest today at http://askattest.com/happymr or find the link in this episode’s show notes.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research. Started in 2003, Beall Research is a strategic, marketing research firm based in Chicago that services some of today’s top brands.  Anne holds a Ph.D. from Yale and has worked at the Boston Consulting Group. Anne, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Hey, thanks for having me.  It’s my pleasure.


Like to start out with a understanding of where you grew up, your parents, and then also your journey into market research.


Sure.  So, I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is a city of about 180,000 people outside of Boston.  My parents were professors. So my dad was a professor of chemistry at a local college. Yeah, my early days were basically pretty uneventful, except for I lived in New Zealand for a year.   My entry into market research happened after I finished my Ph.D. I studied social psychology, and I didn’t want to be an academic. I really wanted to do research that would make a difference.  And so, I ended up at several companies but eventually was at the Boston Consulting Group, where I headed up the market research function for the Chicago office. My whole impetus for doing market research was just to do research that would make a difference.  I had an academic degree. I could have been a professor, but I wanted to do something that would have an impact.


So, what was this railing against academia from a career perspective?  What didn’t you just follow in your father’s footsteps?


You know I did consider it but, at the end of the day, I was really concerned that I would be writing journal articles.  They wouldn’t be seen by very many people. People won’t take my recommendations. In fact, I’d be studying very esoteric things and that I won’t be making a difference.  And so, for me at least, I wanted to go to the “real world” even though all of the academics in my life (my advisor, my parents) basically said, “Oh, my goodness, don’t do it!  You’re throwing your life away.” But I did, and I’m very happy for it. But it was really around sort of the issue was I just didn’t want to study things that a few people would read about.       


So, really breadth of impact sounds like it was important for a career motivation and then also impact of results also a driver, specifically I’m tying that because of the BCG connection, which is, of course, one of the world’s largest management consulting companies.


Yes, absolutely.


Tell us a little bit about your thesis.  


Well, I studied emotions, and I actually studied gender and emotions and how differential expression of emotion in romantic relationships leads to differential power.  So that made it really difficult to get a date in graduate school. [laughter] But that’s what I studied. I was really interested in how people are perceived when they express emotions.  I was really interested in how we perceive others when we are differentially expressive towards them. And I was just interested in the whole gender thing and how that played out. So that was what I studied.  


So, Boston Consulting Group.  Then you decided to step out on your own and start Beall Research.  Did you have any funding for that? What was your motivation for being an entrepreneur?


Well, I really wanted to work for myself.  I had a lot of ideas. And I had numerous occasions where I’d, “I have a really good idea.”   And I’d suggest it to my superiors, and they’d say, “Oh, you know that’s a great idea but not for this study, not for this client.”  I’m a pretty creative person. And so I really wanted to do my own thing; I really wanted to put forward novel ways of doing things. And I also wanted to use my training even more than I had been.  And so that’s what caused me to go on my own.

It was just me.  I had opened up the armoire.  I had a desk that was an armoire in my bedroom.  And that was my very first office, and my first employee was the cat.  She did not work out at all, really. [laughter] I had to fire her fairly shortly thereafter.  I have since added 12 humans, who are tremendous people, and we do some really interesting work.  As an entrepreneur, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with some amazing companies. I’ve gotten a chance to suggest new and different ways of doing things.  A lot of times my clients say, “Hey, that’s kind of different. We haven’t really heard of that before, and sure let’s try it.” So being an entrepreneur has allowed me to do exactly the kind of work that I want to do.  


It’s really interesting when you think about the journey.  So, the early days for you were… Let’s just cut to the chase.  Ph.D. from Yale, that’s a big deal in academia. I think about like the people that I know that are professors, they oftentimes are thinking about tenure.  You know what I mean? It’s more of a steady state, I would consider. And then moving into Boston Consulting Group, which is high pressure, a lot of hours, but still steady in that you’ve got a paycheck coming in.  But then to step out as an entrepreneur where there is nothing guaranteed, not that I needed to tell you that. But, as entrepreneurs, we live hand to mouth, so to speak. We earn our keep; we’re the hunters, which is now quite literally there’s probably not a different, farther away career.  I guess working at the IRS, that would be more steady state than being an academic.


[laughs]  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  No, it is a bit of a jump, and I personally never saw myself as an entrepreneur; I never saw myself salesperson.  I never saw myself as many things that I’ve had to become. I always saw myself as a researcher. But I was really lucky in that I started actually doing pretty well with the business right from pretty much from day 1.  I had a great network of people I had worked with at the Boston Consulting Group, who had gone on to do other things. Some of those people are still clients to this day. Within six months, I was actually looking at office space downtown.  Having a real address made a difference to, I think, potential clients; I wasn’t working out of my bedroom any longer. So it was a pretty nice story. But, yeah, there’s no guarantee with being an entrepreneur, and I’d say there’s no guarantee any more today then there was the very first day that I started.    


One of the topics that we’re talking about this month or January, I should be more specific, is the importance of customer experience.  And the center piece of customer experience is, from my vantage point anyway, is the emotional connection that brands or that customers make to brands.  From what I understand of your thesis, you can draw some emotional… the importance of emotion and how that emotion relates to relationships. Talk to us a little bit about emotional connections to brands and how you are helping these brands address this specific concern.


So, one of the things that we have looked at is the emotional journey.  Just like you have an emotional journey with a person, you can have an emotional journey with a brand.  You start to become familiar with the brand. It gives you some type of emotional experience. Maybe you have positive experience or sense of it, maybe you have a negative.  And we know from the emotional work that we have done that when you have an emotional response that’s positive, you tend to engage more with a brand. And, as you go along, you have different types of experiences that lead to different types of emotional reactions that can either solidify and create a strong emotional bond to a brand or that can actually cause the dissolution and for you to sort of disengage with it.  But we’ve been looking at the emotional journey. We have been really looking a lot at how brands make you feel but, more than that, how they make you feel about yourself. And that’s something that a lot of brands don’t think about; they don’t think about how a brand makes you feel. So, when you buy that brand, does that make you feel good about yourself and your choices? Do you feel proud to have purchased it? Do you feel pride when you use it?  Do you feel good about what you’re doing for yourself or your family or the people that you use that product or service with? And we know that the more that you feel and the more positively you feel about yourself as a result of a brand’s product or service, the more likely you are to buy it and the more loyal you are to it. And that’s the work we’ve done quite a bit of research on.


The tear, if you want to call it that, that I’ve been on lately is all about voice.  And I’m deeply concerned that brands aren’t paying enough attention to a voice economy.  In that world of the invisible customer journey, it becomes imperative that the brand is top of mind.  Of course, the classic example is Kleenex. I don’t even know what else to call it. I guess tissue paper, but I think that goes into wrapping gifts, as the poster child.  But, when you think about acquiring or buying a product through voice, Google Home or Alexa, how are you seeing emotion in the work you are doing, specifically, helping inform the brands to make change and connect more to the customer?          


So, we’ve actually seen it in a variety of places.  First of all, the model that we use is the intensity valence model, which says you have an emotional reaction to everything.  It’s positive, negative, or neutral, but it’s to everything. It’s to the furniture around you; it’s the people you come in contact with; it’s the products you see on shelf; it’s everything.  And that emotional reaction is actually something that propels you to engage or disengage. And so, we’ve seen emotional reactions to packaging. And we do work where we actually code non-verbal behavior and facial expressions, real time in retail settings.  And we’ve had great satisfaction in terms of understanding certain types of packaging is very off-putting to people and actually causes people to kind of back away. Certain types of retail settings are problematic for people, but we know that that emotional reaction is big.  So we’ve been helping one particular manufacturer just recently take a look at how packaging is actually causing a disengagement with their products because it’s causing certain types of associations that are negative, and they’re emotionally negative in nature. So, it’s in that case we’re seeing stuff.  We actually able to see facial reactions to all kinds of things real-time or in terms of discussion forums that we do where we’ve had people upload videos of themselves, experiencing products and services. For the first time, we’re able to code that.

The place we’ve also had a lot of success is also immediate reactions to product concepts, to brands, to new ideas where people actually tell us what their emotional reaction is, and it’s been extremely predictive of their interest in engaging with those brands.


So, it’s stated?


It’s stated; it’s reported.  And we have a way of doing it that gets at the very gut level, quick sort of reaction, the kind that you have that you sometimes aren’t even aware that you even have it.  You just kind of have this, “Ugh” or “Ouy.” It’s that level that we’re looking at.


Is this done in an in-person interview or focus group or…?     


We do it qualitatively and quantitatively.  So we do it qualitatively where we’ve actually videotaped people and coded their non-verbal behavior and their facial reactions but we’ve also done it in terms of self-reported where we actually get people to tell us immediately what their emotional reaction is to stuff and then we explore further into what the underlying emotions are.    


So, when you think about companies that have done it well as you’ve articulated obviously Apple is at the top of my list, just getting the packaging…  It’s counterintuitive but the quality of the packaging in a lot of ways tells me how quality of the product is. Now it’s even to the point they’ve so educated me on the subject that, if I buy a product and it doesn’t have good packaging, then I immediately discount it as cheap.  [laughter] It’s crazy, but it’s true.


Well, they have done a lot to give you a very strong positive emotional reaction to their packaging because it’s so good, but they’ve also invested a lot in their brand to make you have a very strong, positive emotional reaction to their brand.  So, they’ve done a lot of things where, when you see their brand, you have certain associations. You think of them as innovative, as user-friendly, as trendy. You think of them as being a company you aspire to own their products, and then you see their packaging, and it reinforces those particular associations you have.  But we also know, interestingly, it’s not just your emotional reaction to that brand and that packaging; we know that people actually feel certain things about themselves when they own and use Apple products. So, in this work that I mentioned to you where I did an overview of 17 major brands in the marketplace, what we found was that people who own and use Apple feel more confident; they feel more intelligent.  So they are actually feeling things about themselves as a result of owning and using that brand. I don’t know about you but anything that makes me feel more confident and more intelligent I’d buy by the boat load.


Right, and in fact, I do.  So [laughter] I’m definitely am solving for a gap in my Apple products as I stare at my Macbook Pro, anyways.   


Exactly, yeah.


Is this work that you’re doing, is it predominantly, I’d call it, one-and-done or is it longitudinal?


It actually is different projects with different companies.  So for one company that we’re working with, we’re helping them with their communication strategy.  So, we are actually testing their advertising. And we are looking at different ways of emotionally engaging people.  There are two things we look at: one is the emotional response that people have to their communications. But then there’s another piece of it, which is the emotional identification, which is that you know “How does it make me feel about myself?” stuff that I was talking to you about?  So we’re working with them to help them increase those points of emotional resonance.

In other cases, we just did a project for a major manufacturer.  And in that case, we were actually trying to understand why a particular product wasn’t selling, and we were doing real-time emotional analysis at retail.  And we found that there was a particular issue around the packaging that was causing some disengagement – so very specific research around that. In other cases, we’re working with brands to really help them just understand what does their brand evoke and how can we help them understand more about the places of the emotional journey that could be better that lead to a better overall emotional experience with that brand.              


So, let’s shift gears a little bit.  You have run a successful agency for, I’ll call it, over ten years.  I know, I know, I know… [laughter] I’m at the spot now where I say two decades.  And I just like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s impossible. That guy is really old.” Anyways, so, what are two key challenges that you’ve faced in running a market research agency


Only two.  [laughs]


Yeah, OK, that’s a fair point.


I would say there are challenges, I think, around…  You know we compete with a lot of the big boys. So we compete with some of the big market research companies, and they just have a lot more money for advertising out there, a lot more money to increase their awareness.  Smaller companies like ours just don’t have those kinds of deep pockets. So there’s a challenge around letting people know what we do ‘cause people often say, “Oh, my gosh, we didn’t know you did this. There’s so few companies that do what you do.”  So that’s one challenge.

I think another challenge is really around having educated buyers who understand some of the intricacies of market research, I think.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen market research… you know people want it faster, cheaper, you know; they want to do it themselves. High quality.  I think that can be a challenge as well. I think some other challenges around retaining and attracting really top talent when you’re a smaller firm.  We try very hard to maintain… We have really great people, but the industry has changed over time; people sort of want to stay at a place for a couple of years and move on.  The whole concept of staying with a company for a lifetime is just an odd idea, I think, for many people.


Yeah, I think you’re right about the influx or the transition inside of the workplace, especially in a highly competitive market like Bay Area San Francisco, Chicago, New York, you’re always competing for talent either retaining or acquiring new talent.  What is one of the ways that you’ve been successful keeping high-quality talent engaged and/or attracting the right people?


I think it’s the work we do quite honestly.  People often say to me, “The projects that you do are so interesting.”  That’s one of the ways that we retain people by having something that they can sort of intellectually chew on and really kind of think about and understand.  It’s not just sort of the same-old, same-old. We are always trying to improve. That’s one of our core values as a company. We invest in research; as you know, we actually fund our own studies about research.  Things like this emotion work that I mentioned was something that we funded ourselves. We continue to publish, published a couple of books this year. So we’ve really… trying to sort of almost be like an academic-type organization, but we are a business – and sort of always have that intellectual rigor, as the center of what we’re doing.


That’s a tremendous amount of overhead, right, for the organization, especially one that’s in the sub-20s employee size.  The volume of the content that you’re spitting out, like you said, two books in 2018. I think you did two in 2017.


[laughs]  I might have done one, I don’t know.  [laughs]


Was it one?  I can’t remember but I tell you, that plus driving new initiatives like what you’ve just described.  I mean this is a significant amount of overhead and focus. How do you maintain that… walk that line of, to your point, of driving profit and also building brand?


I think it’s a function of just what we believe in.  We basically invest in what we believe in when we can.  When we have the availability to do it and the funds, we have the resources and the human power, we do that, and when we don’t, we don’t.  But it is a core value of ours ‘cause we believe that, if you’re not improving, you’re really losing. So if you’re not really focused on trying to be better, then you’re going to be really good at what you used to do, but the market changes.  And the reality is when I entered this market 25 years ago, it was really different. I think we did all-telephone interviews back then; internet was this weird concept. And now it’s getting to this point, people are saying, “Well, I really want to launch my own survey.  So how can you support me in that?” It’s really around if you’re not changing, then you’re kind of falling behind.


Yeah.  OK, this point is so important it’s actually going to be the title of a blog post I publish here in the next couple weeks.  But the gist of it is we have to see the world as it is in 2019 and 2020 when we’re framing out the products and solutions that are go-to market strategy and the way we interact with customers as opposed to viewing it as 2015, which is, unfortunately, still stuck in a lot of the market research agencies that I’ve talked to.  And I’ll give you a great example, and that is social media utilization. If you look at the millennials and Gen Z, social media is a cornerstone of their time. It’s a material place where they exist. And, in fact, just this morning I was having breakfast with another entrepreneur, and we talking about this very point. “Gosh, you know, we’re starting to punch through, but it’s not great.”  So, I sat down with him and started looking at his feed. He happens to be a B to C, not a B to B like us, but he’s not making any investment on Instagram, and yet that’s where all of his customers are. So, and, the really good news for him is nobody else is in his space either. So he has this huge opportunity, almost for free, an investment of time, but the thing he kicks against and the reason it’s so hard, he and I grew up with a rotary phones.  That’s kind of like my baseline of age. If you know what a rotary phone is, then you and I anyway… So that’s the challenge, I think, in a lot of ways, is we just have to accept the world as it is and not judge it as good or bad or as time wasters or whatever. That’s just where the consumers are. And from that, we should be able to, we will be able to punch through.

I’ll give you another great example.  (Sorry about my monologue.) LinkedIn – so this is a marketing research company or actually a services company, and I was talking to their CEO, and he was complaining about whatever.  I said, “Well, let’s look at your LinkedIn; so we looked at his LinkedIn. And there’s just no activity there, and he’s got something like 1500 to 2000 connections. I said, “Why don’t you take the time on your plane ride, on your flight, to write a post and have let it be from your heart.  Not about “Hey, look at me, look at me,” but whatever 2018 Lessons Learned. The thing got like 30,000 organic views. It’s performed better than anything I’ve produced this year. [laughter] And so, and so, anyway, my point is that… and now, all of a sudden, that, of course, is going to be a material part of his strategy going into 2019, right, because you just have to go where the consumers are and stop this whole judging right or wrong, not a good fit.  I think about the point that you made a moment ago, consumers want, by consumers I mean market researchers now, sorry… Market researchers, you’re right, they move from a caddy, which is the telephone or in-mall intercepts, now to an internet-enabled and now we’re at a “I want to do it myself” internally.  “How are you going to come along side me, researcher, and aid me?” And that’s where I think we have to start checking our assumptions and make sure they’re operating correctly in this new world.


Interestingly, you mentioned these examples…  I’ll give you another one. I had an interview with a woman recently who wrote a book, and she was interviewing me because she had a similar topic to one of my books.  And she had a release party for her book, and it was virtual. It was on Google Hangouts and it’s broadcast on YouTube. And I’ve never imagined having a release party that was virtual, but there is was.  Hundreds of people went to her “virtual” book release party.


I think exactly, exactly.  That’s the point, right? And we have to, have to, have to at least be willing to try these things because we learn from the wins and we learn from the losses, but if we don’t try, we don’t get either one of those learning opportunities.


Exactly, yep.  


So, you talked to us about the importance of investing in knowledge and growth, and I couldn’t agree more on this core value.  And I do believe that there’s no such thing as a steady state in life – you’re either advancing or you’re not. It’s this law of entropy that we have to constantly fight against.  So, what do see as a key CEO tip to success?


I would say that one of the things that no one ever tells you to prepare for is that there are some real highs and real lows to being a CEO.  And I think the highs are extraordinarily high, but I think the lows are extraordinarily low. I think we have this vision of being an entrepreneur and you get to determine your destiny and you get to do the kind of work you do.  But no one tells you about how challenging it is and how wonderful it is, I think, in some ways. So I think that’s one of things that you can always be prepared for.

The other thing that I learned along the way and this is that other CEOs have told me is that nobody will care as much about your business as you do.  And that’s something that has always kind of amazed me. I always kind of felt that I worked so hard to create this business and create jobs and get people health insurance and everything.  At some level, I will like breathe and sort of live this thing 24/7 and other people don’t have that feeling. And I care so deeply about my employees and care so deeply about my clients. I think that’s something where you really do invest your heart and soul in these things.  And sometimes you’re surprised that it’s not always reciprocated, and I think that’s one thing I’ve heard from other CEOs is how deeply they care about their businesses, whether they started them or not, and how sometimes not everyone shares that. So, those are some things that I’ve learned.  


Yeah, you definitely have to, I’ll call it, callous up.  Then the other side of it is, as entrepreneurs, we assume all of the risk, but then we also assume some of, not all of, the rewards as well.  I think that, you know that saying, you can’t understand the color white unless you understand the color black and vice versus. To your point, that contrast – the highs and the lows – that’s really creating that full view that I believe connects us to outcome of the business that isn’t just recognized at a financial level but also at an emotional level.                     


Absolutely.  And you are very emotionally invested in it.  I work with a lot of CEOs, and I don’t know any CEO who is not really sort of living this 24/7, regardless whether they started it or not.  They just care so deeply.


Yeah, for sure.  So, you have hired, fired, promoted staff for 15 years.  What do you see as three characteristics of an All-Star Employee?


The first thing is something that was said to me on my very first day at work at my very first job, my first market research job.  I said to the senior partner at the firm, I said, “What is it that really determines whether someone succeeds here or not?” He looked at me and said, “It’s the ability to see the forest from the trees and the trees from the forest.”  So the people who can have a big picture and view of things and then can get into the details and then do it from the details up to the bigger picture. And I think that really is the case in market research. The people I see that are really successful are people who are really good at going from the very high level to the low and back.  And if they’re not good at one of those things, they get people who are good at the area where they’re not good. Those are the people who do the best.

I think the other thing that I see is that people who really function as team members are the ones who do the best.  I often say that frankly with my clients I look at those as partnerships. I don’t look at myself and our services as, “Hey, we’re going to give this to you and you’re going to be happy for it.”  I want for there to be a level of involvement and reiteration with those very smart clients that we work with so that we can really do something better together than we did on our own individually.  Employees, I think, who are really smart are the ones who understand that they work really well with each other and really leverage the strengths of their colleagues, and they do the same with their clients.  So, I think those are two really big things.

And then lastly, I believe and I think this is an area where market research is not really known for, but I think being creative is really big predictor.  Having lots of ideas, lots of different ways of doing things is to me someone who is worth their weight in gold. I see people who aren’t that “smart” but who have a lot of ideas, and they go far.    


Yeah, for sure.  You have to have both.  You have to have the ideas and then you have to have the intestinal fortitude to realize a specific idea or maybe a set of ideas over time through to action or to market. So, do you have any specific, special offers?  Or what’s got you excited right now that you’re positioning in the marketplace? I know you had your book release recently.


I did.  That’s actually not a market research book.  It’s one of the few books that is not a … It’s a research book but not a market research book.  But that book is Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After:  The Hidden Messages in Fairy Tales.  So, that’s something I did on my nights and weekends and is a data analysis of fairy tales.  So a little bit different.


A little bit.  Is that on Amazon?


It is on Amazon, yes, in eBook and paperback form.  The thing I’m probably most excited about though in the business right now is our work on emotions.  And it’s had me actually traveling around all over the country, and I’ve been presenting a really fun presentation on work that we did; it’s work we invested in.  So we own the data. It’s a couple of really big studies. It’s a statistical model. We’ve validated it, and we use it in all the work we do. But it is something that I really like to present.  I give some examples of how it actually works in the marketplace. But it really looks at and answers three questions: What is it that predicts whether or not customers will buy from you? What is it that predicts whether repeat purchases a car and what leads to brand advocacy?   And it’s an analysis of the emotions that you need to experience for those three things to happen. And it’s a really fabulous and fun presentation that people tend to say, “Hey, didn’t really think of things like that. Makes a lot of sense.” And it’s really actually changed how some people are approaching some things, which is very exciting for me.  Whether or not they use our research services or not, it’s definitely got people thinking a bit differently.


And, if people want to get in contact with you, how can they reach you?  


They could reach me by phone or by email.  


Your website is…


It’s BeallResearch.com or BeallRT.com.  So it’s B-E-A-L-LResearch, all one word, .com.  And you can get contact information there. Call or email whatever works for you.  


My guest today has been Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research.  Thank you, Anne, for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you so much for having me.  It’s been such a pleasure.


And thank you, everybody.  As always the show notes are complete.  You can find Anne’s contact information as well as links to her recent book, which I just purchased during our conversation today.  Can’t wait to read it this weekend. Have a wonderful rest of your day!


This episode is brought to you by Attest.  Attest is a powerful, easy-to-use SAS platform that connects businesses to over one million consumers in 80 countries on demand in just a few clicks.  Ask your burning questions, select who you want to answer them, view actual insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable, intelligent platform.  Contact Attest today at http://askattest.com/happymr or find the link in this episode’s show notes.

Ep. 210 – Kylan Lundeen – How Qualtrics Used Culture to Create an $8 Billion Outcome

My guest today is Kylan Lundeen, Head of Marketing at Qualtrics. Qualtrics was founded in 2002 and is a subscription software for collecting and analyzing data for market research, customer satisfaction and loyalty, product and concept testing, employee evaluations and website feedback.

On November 11, 2018 it was announced that Qualtrics would be acquired by SAP. The acquisition is expected to close in the first half of 2019.

Prior to joining Qualtrics in 2013, Kylan worked in Turnaround & Restructuring Services at DVC while getting his MBA at Stanford.

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This is episode 201 of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  I have the pleasure of chatting with Kylan Lundeen, Head of Marketing for Qualtrics.  But first a word from our sponsor.


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Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Kylan Lundeen, CMO at Qualtrics. Qualtrics was founded in 2002 and is a subscription software for collecting and analyzing consumer data.  On November 11, 2018, it was announced that Qualtrics would be acquired by SAP; the acquisition is expected to close in the first half of 2019. Prior to joining Qualtrics in 2013, Kylan worked in turnaround and restructuring services at DVC while getting his MBA at Stanford University.  Kylan, thanks very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’ve been watching you guys very closely, of course, given my background at Decipher. I remember actually in 2002 when I saw you guys pop, I was in a meeting at Intuit. Intuit brought up that they had heard about you guys, and you had reached out.  And I’m like, “Oh, that really interesting.” So I started to do some digging. Based out of Utah, kind of an unusual location for a technology company in those days. Subsequently, the company just ramped. I felt like every single year, it was almost like a new phoenix.


Yeah, it was interesting because it’s funny as people look back now it’s seems real intuitive.  You look at the path and it seems [Jamie laughs]… And they’re like, “Of course.” When I joined the company out of business school, it was still very much an academic research tool.  And I say “tool” very sort of specifically. And the very soon thereafter, we kind of committed to an academic research platform. Then we went into a corporate research platform. Then we went into sort of like, generally speaking, insight platform because it was sort of beyond this kind of market research that people were doing.  And then we moved into experience management. And again, looking back, all those steps see really logical, but they were terrifying at the time. Each of one those felt like we were really taking a risk. Where we had core audience that was really important to us and that we wanted to continue to sort of prioritize and put at the center of everything.  But we needed to expand sort of the messaging and our product offering to include different people, which means the messaging gets a little bit diluted to that specific audience at first. So every time it felt really risky, and, I’ll be honest, when I first met Ryan… He and I had a chance encounter in Palo Alto. He was out there closing the first round of financing from Sequoia and Accel and we had breakfast together.  And there were two things…


And what year is that?


This is 2012.  So, in 2012, I had breakfast with Ryan Smith.  Again, he was closing the first round of financing.  There were two things in this meeting that appeared to be true instantly that have proven to be true over time.  So the first one was that Ryan, as a CEO, appeared to me to be a bet-the-business kind of person, meaning he did not come across as the kind of person that going to say, “Hey, I know Wall Street thinks we’re going to grow at 9% this year.  Let’s go blow everyone’s mind and let’s do 11%.” That was not ever his DNA. He was like, “Look, I want to go completely, invent, and take a category all the way to top, or I’m not just interested in doing this.” Like so, “Let’s go be the largest enterprise software players in the world or else what are we doing?”  He just had sort of energy of like, “Look we’re going to the moon, and if want to sign up, let’s do this.” So, that’s interesting because back to that original point, that’s what happened, right? Like he’s bet the business over and over again between going from academic research tool, to an enterprise research tool, to an inside platform, to now experience management.  Each of those has been a bet-the-business decision and have led to phenomenal results for us in the company. So just couldn’t be more excited to be part of that.


Yeah, so, …


The other piece…


I’m sorry.  Go ahead.


Yeah, yeah.  He appeared to be a bet-the-business kind of person, and he also appeared to be a bet-on-people kind of person, meaning that I got the sense from him in our first breakfast ever meeting that he assumed people could do it before he assumed that they couldn’t do it. And so, you can imagine those things together were incredibly powerful.  Someone emerging from business school – now granted I had been in the private equity space for five years, but the idea of moving to a technology company that was going to shot for moon and that would always assume someone could before they couldn’t. What that led to was a) if you’re in a hypergrowth technology company, there’s unfair opportunities in front of you all over the place ‘cause they’re just desperate for new talent to lead new functions in areas and in tactics.  But then on top of that, you have a CEO who from a very top-down approach has built a culture where they’re going to ask you to do something, and it’s yours to lose. It’s not like, “Hey, well, let’s go…” Normally, in most businesses, a role opens. Someone leaves the company or someone’s promoted and there’s a vacancy. There’s a process where 35 qualified people all apply for that role, and may the best person win. At Qualtrics in a hypergrowth tech company, it’s exactly opposite:  there’s 35 jobs that need to get done and they’re struggling to get talent into the building fast enough. So they ask you to do all of them. As long as you don’t drop the ball, “Hey, congratulations! That’s your new responsibility.”


Which is interesting, especially…  I was doing research on you in preparation for this interview.  Coming out, as you said, of the private equity world, which is a different lens than I’d put venture capital, especially in the context of the investors that you guys have.  And then, moving into special operations and very quickly (I think just outside of a year) moving into overseeing marketing. I mean it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility that was thrown…  I don’t mean “thrown on your shoulders” like in a bad way, but the opportunity that you were given that you could then subsequently grow into. Has that been a big part of the growth strategy or success is just giving people the opportunity and the autonomy to succeed?     


Well, there are a few things that led there.  That’s certainly been a circuitous path to the CMO here at Qualtrics.  Again, private equity really in a lot of ways I love the underlying sort of fundamentals that private equity brought to the table at Qualtrics for me.  Everything has to rely on data, on spreadsheets, understanding exactly what the ROI, what every decision is. That was sort of the underpinnings of this.  That’s why, as I joined Qualtrics, I actually joined the special operations team and was working on something called Redforce, which is essentially metricking the business for the first time.  How do you know how many leads you need and how many salespeople you need and what kind of a pipeline they required to meet our sales goals for next year? The company was early enough that no one had done that before.  And so, I spent the first year putting all the metrics in place to really understand how the business worked. That way, if there was ever a moment when growth stalled just a little bit or we sensed it was going to stall, we knew all the levers to pull to just accelerate right through it even if it cost money to do it.  We knew then most companies often during the growth phase, they’re not disciplined enough to do that. And, by the time they start to slow down, it’s too late to go figure out what those levers are and they hit that plateau and the end is near maybe. And so, for us, it was really important for the founders to understand those growth levers early during the growth phase so that, if we ever even smelled a pause or slowdown, we could just accelerate right through it.  So I spent the first year doing that. What was great about that is I got put my hands in all parts of the business. I got to explore marketing for the first time as I really thought about, “Well, what campaigns are running and how are they performing and what kind of budget should you require next year to be able to lead to the… feeding salesforce, how many leads is required next year for them to hit their goals. Ok, let’s go dive into sales. How often are you converting opportunities?  We just went through everything and what happened is, on the side, Ryan started to loop me in on some of his sort of marketing activity. So, the CEO is out raising money; he’s closing deals; he’s doing a lot of sort of selling and one time he said, “I want to go raise another round of financing. Would you help me put together a story?” What is our story? We just sort of gone to the insights platform at that time. Let’s put it together. So, spend some time with Ryan, creating a deck, I’m handy in Illustrator and Photoshop.  That’s kind of been a hobby throughout my childhood, just enough to be dangerous. But I could put together a PowerPoint presentation, you know beautiful keynote and then really put a story around it that was interesting. And together, I felt this like electric sort of vibe that I hadn’t experienced in business before. What I found is that any time I got to sort of live in the metrics, but then layer on creativity, I got this extra dopamine hit that I never had before in business. After that, I was hooked. And so, on the side, I started doing these marketing projects for Ryan.  He’s like, “Hey, I want to go spend a significant amount of money in Dreamforce. Let’s go make a presence there for the first time. I don’t want our classic marketing play look. I kind of want you to go do it.” So I kind of peeled off, pulled together kind of a special team and we went and did Dreamforce and did something truly incredible at Dreamforce where we basically hijacked the entire trade show for two days. It was amazing, right, on a shoestring budget. And so, all these projects that I was doing on the side with Ryan that had a creative flair… Again, they were the ones that I was most excited about.  I would wake up early; I would stay late. I was throwing everything I had into them. Of course, the result was they ended up going really well because I was personally invested in them. I got that satisfaction that was outside of just sort of like business results, which was great.


So, one of the things that’s really interesting about Qualtrics from my vantage point as an entrepreneur is you guys have very profoundly, successfully created a company that just frankly didn’t exist.  There isn’t a competitive set that I’ve been able to identify or comparables are a little bit different, right? It’s not anybody, right? You guys are fulfilling this really different, unique role, and yet you’ve been massively successful in monetizing that.  When you filed your S-1, it’s all anybody could talk about at that point in terms of the top line and the attention to the bottom line as well. When they market sees that “Oh Qualtrics is going to be there now”, I’m thinking about TMRE, I think that was in November of 2018, that conference…  you guys were the anchor point for the conference in every way, shape and form. And that is a hallmark that has existed anytime that you guys are present at a location, at an event. There’s so much hesitancy for other companies to step out and be the belle of the ball, I think. How much fear, if at all, did you guys have in, “Oh, gosh!  Is it going to be too much?” I’ll just give you an example of like Ryan giving a wedding ring to the couple that was going to get engaged, sort of that Oprahesque element of it, right? There’s part of me, when I first heard that, was like, “Oh, my gosh! That’s a scary move. Is that going to be viewed as impostor?” And then you guys just leaned in and just  dominated that narrative so much and made it your own. Has conquering fear been part of what you’ve dealt with as a CMO?


I mean absolutely.  If you think of about it, any time you do anything interesting, there are going to be people on both sides that either love it or hate it.  And it actually feels like especially things that again… Stuff that is actually interesting. You can do all kinds of stuff and no one cares, but when you do stuff that actually moves the needle, that gathers the mind space of your prospects and customers, it ends up being a little bit divisive.  And so, for the most part, we have to be committed. I think one of the good things about Qualtrics is we’ve got a CEO who is a dreamer. He is like a true dreamer. Then you’ve got a CMO who has a brain trust with them and can go execute on some of these dreams. But it’s incredibly empowering when you know that…  For example, most of our conversations are like this: “Hey, Ryan. I’ve got this crazy idea. [Jamin laughs] What if we blank (whatever)?” And Ryan’s answer is, “I’ve never heard of anybody doing that. There’s no way that would work. People are going to hate it. I think we should try it. I think we should try it. I like it.”  I mean that’s how most of our conversations go. Yes, there’s a lot of risk, and I wish I could say, “Well, I’ve got this great risk profile and whatever.” But the reality is I’m enable by a CEO who wants to go and change the world. And you don’t change the world by doing what’s done already. You go and do things that are disruptive, and disruption usually makes people uncomfortable.  The wedding ring example is a great one, right? Not only did… the first time we did this I told this story at TMRE. I didn’t give all the facts. I sort of presented it like that was the first time we done Dream team where we sort of fulfilled these dreams of the audience that attend our events. And I shared this story about how someone was hesitant to invite their partner to marry them and they said, “Hey, if you can give me any encouragement while I’m here this weekend, it’d be great.”  And Ryan said, “I’ll do one better. Here’s a diamond wedding ring if you propose before the weekend’s over, it’s yours.” Now that was actually about two years in. So, we’ve been doing this on a smaller scale before that where most things were like, “Hey, it’d be great if there were hot coffee.” or “Hey, I spilt some mustard on my shirt. Is there any way I can find a local drycleaner?” And we brought him a new shirt. We wanted to do something that explained very dramatically to our customers who we are and what we did.  In this case, it wasn’t as risky as maybe people think it is. It was really in line with our brand value. We were starting the experience management industry. We are the experience management company, and so we want to make sure that anybody that attends our events recognizes that they will have an experience unlike any other that they’ve ever had because one simple fact: we ask our customers what they’re feeling and thinking and we take action on that. Now, you might say, “Well, that’s a dramatic action to take.” Buying wedding rings, that’s not profitable in the long term for most businesses.  Correct, but it highlights sort of at the core who we are as a company and what we enable other organizations to do, which is to listen to customers, employees, prospects, all stakeholders, and then take action in a meaningful way to drive sort of loyalty and sort of excitement for the brand that doesn’t exist for most companies.


When you think about your focus as an executive team, most companies, I think, are centered around… (I don’t know really what the ratios are, but I’ll just pretend like I do like I do with everything else).  So we’ll say 80% focused on external customers and 20% internal HR. It feels like the needle is different at Qualtrics; it feels like there’s been more of a (I don’t know what it is) 50-50 or even if it is zero sum, maybe it’s a 100% in both camps.  How much of your energy is spent on, and focus, spent on internal culture versus external sales?


Yeah, I mean… I wish I could give you a percentage breakdown that’s not off the cuff.  It’s not entirely clear to me. But I’ll give you a couple of anecdotes of things and how we think about it.  Well, just give you a couple of sort of artifacts of Qualtrics culture that perpetuated throughout our 16-to-18 year history.  Every Friday for the first ten years when there was 15 people in the building, they would get together and have a TGIF meeting.  They’d get together and over the course of an hour, they would sort of celebrate the new deals that had come in, so talk about sales success.  And then they’d focus on people after that. The sales success was real important. The people part… And again, the sales piece I shouldn’t undermine that; we’re an incredibly sales-driven organization.  That was the first thing we talked about, just to be clear. But then right after that and for the majority of the meeting, there were a couple of really key activities that were never missed, and those perpetuate today.  So, one is anybody who was new at the company would get up and introduce themselves and, as they did, they would share you know where they’re from, what team they’re joining, etc., but also they would share their first concert.  As they did that, it was interesting ‘cause it would really sort of… When you share you first concert, it actually illicits quite an emotional reaction from those around you. It’s like either people that was their first concert too and like they’re somehow your soulmates with that person [Jamin laughs] for some reason or “Oh, my gosh.  You did not seem to me like a Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg kind of person. That’s totally a mindblower.” There are all these things that are really interesting about the concert. That was an important sort of thing that perpetuated. And then, if the person said, “I’ve actually never been to a concert,” Ryan would say, “Hey, choose your dream concert.  We’re sending you to your first concert.” kind of a thing. So, it’s kind of this great celebration moment for new employees. Then we would do this thing called “Whoops.” Whoops was the chance to celebrate people and mistakes at Qualtrics and the cost of going fast, which was again what we were trying to do. Basically, each week someone would raise their hand, a few people, and they would share a story about messing up that week.  Right, if it’s like, “Hey, I.. you know, the crazy stories like [Jamin laughs] I look a support call on my phone because it was a crisis situation but I was in the bathroom. And so, I was talking to the client while I was using the bathroom, and there was this moment where they could tell I was in the bathroom. And it was super awkward.” Just everything that you could think of, someone would surface and tell the story. Then there was this award.  Whoever had the biggest, funniest voted upon (everyone voted at the end) mistake, we celebrated that then and they got this award they carried with them for the week until the next Friday when someone else would volunteer. And it just sort of made it OK for people to go fast, to take risks, to fail. And there was always a learning moment; you know like the founders would step up and our CEO, Co-founder Jared would take the mic and just sort of comment around that mistake for just a second, just to make sure it brought context to why we should never do that again or “Hey, that’s the cost of you know going fast.”  So those are kind of things… Today even now (It’s moved to Thursday; they handle our international offices) every Thursday we have a TGIT meeting now where it’s all hands globally, everybody dials in, and we do the same things. And so, we’ve tried really hard in a lot of ways to sort of make sure those components… we do stay very internally focused on making sure that we have the best benefits in the world, that our people are more engaged than their business. The rate of attrition is zero or possible. That’s a massive focus. What I think Ryan’s done is he’s built a family, at this point it’s a 2,000-person family which we intend to scale that to much greater than that.  And we’re on track to do it.


Is the plan post-close with SAP to operate autonomously, similar to a Google and Yahoo or is it to operate under the umbrella?


It’s this very cool combination of both, and I’ll tell you why.  So, one the one hand… so, right now, SAP… I mean SAP is incredible.  What they’ve been able to do almost you know their triple market cap under Bill McDermott…  Like he’s a phenomenal leader; he’s amazing. Their most recent sort of like market strategy has been to build up the intel’s enterprise because with smarter businesses, you can improve the world, and there’s a lot of reasons, so that made a ton of sense, and it’s been great for him.  But what they recognize is that the future of the business software industry is experience management. It’s not just producing more widgets faster you know with you know less overhead and you know reduce supply-chain sort of friction, but instead it’s about how do you actually manage the experience and then not only… So, for example, Ok, let’s say you buy a new pair of Under Armour shoes – they’re new HOVR shoes; they’re amazing.  And you put them on; you’re like, “Wow! I ordered a size 9, but these fit a little bit different than most of my size 9 shoes. Well, now that information, that sort of that experience data you have can not only get back to customer service reps who can maybe give you a new pair of shoes or try trading them out like yeah great… That’s important and that’s an incredibly important part of customer success but not only that now you can back into the production line to the machines, the people, the processes that made that shoe and, all of a sudden, you’ve got end-to-end experience management.  That’s something that nobody else can offer. And so, the intelligent enterprise will remain but, instead of SAP as the intelligent enterprise and Qualtrics experience management, it’ll be SAP experience management. And one of the products you can buy is Qualtrics, right, because that’s how they deliver experience management. You need the X-data, which is what we deliver, and you need O-data, which is what they’re best in the world at. 76% of all the world’s transactions; that’s amazing! So, what’s cool about this is, “Yes, the last thing they want to do is intervene with Qualtrics, who are one of their fastest growing assets.  They’re just like, “Call if you need anything; like literally, if you need anything, call us; otherwise, you guys got this. Go, go for it!” And they understand the category and like what we’re doing is pretty special. At the same time, they’re elevating their messaging up to “We are experience management.” So, it’s this really cool thing, and we’re at the table and all of these decisions talking about what the future of the company is, mostly what the future of experience management is and how we do that together.


You know one of the things that you brought up is in the very, very early days, starting in B school, I think you guys actually have or had a (Gosh, it’s been a long time since I got my MBA) but there’s like this self-reported product where you do a… you have a bunch of people survey about who you are and then it’s a self-awareness assessment.  That has a name, and I don’t know why I can’t think of it. But anyway.


Is it 360 performance assessment?


360 review.  Thank you. Do you guys still have that product?


Sure, yeah, yeah.


Ok, great.  Was that the first product or was there a B-to-B product?  Was that the original strategy?


You mean outside of our research offering for academics?




Yeah, so I’ll give you a quick overview of the history of Qualtrics.  


Sorry, really quick.  And this is the reason why I’m interested in it, is it felt to me as an outsider like there was a pivot that took place inside of Qualtrics that was super important where there was – and this is just again, this is an outsider view – where there was an intention to go to the market at large and then sort of a refocus on the B schools, and then the B schools eventually empowering organizations and, already being the tool of choice because of the experience, it created this massive distance or benefit for Qualtrics as the platform of choice.     


You know it’s funny because I would love to tell you, “Hey, look, we got in the basement one day and made this diabolical scheme [Jamin laughs] to go take over the world and here are all the strategic steps we were going to take, but the reality is and it’s why people keep talking about this so much –  all the good things happened to Qualtrics because we are incredibly focused on the customer. And I know that sounds so cliché and that’s what everybody says, but just let me give you evidence of what that means and how that pivot you felt that was so smart and sort of put Qualtrics into the next stratosphere was absolutely just working and listening to the customers and then being smart on top of that ‘cause sometimes customers ask for strange things, especially academics.  I mean academics in a lot of ways are the worst possible customers. Like they want really fringe-use cases sort of features that no one will ever use ever again but they need it for this very specific research thing we’re doing, and then they, they have so much time on their hands they’re in the product all day long, just pounding the product. So it’s like… I mean they’re really demanding customers, but what that did it forced us to innovate and to build something incredibly robust.  It forced us to build an enterprise offering although we didn’t know that at the time. So, think about academics. Some of the data they’re collecting is so sensitive the university will be sued if any of the information gets out, right: medical records, gender preferences, like all kinds of stuff. It has to be incredibly secure. Out of the gates, we had to build a platform where data security was front and center. Then there’s probably not a more collaborative people group of people on the planet than academics.  Not only do they want to collaborate with other professors but, “Hey, my mentor is at Princeton. I need to collaborate the same thing with this friend at Princeton.” And so, collaboration became an important part of the tool out of the gate. So, all of a sudden, you’ve got an enterprise platform that’s secure and with massive collaboration capabilities that was absolutely serving that customer, but we didn’t realize it at the time we building a lights-out enterprise commercial offering. And so, with the 360 in particular, what’s cool about that is universities who are primary customers said, “Hey, business schools in particular… we’re having trouble proving that people… there’s economic benefit to having an MBA.  So, one of the things we want to do is we want to show people how big of a transformation they have as they go through the process.” So that where they, “Hey, we could use Qualtrics and just survey their friends and find out how they feel about their skills and then afterwards survey them again, a year after school, and be like, ‘Hey, did you see any changes? What happened?’” And they said, “But you know what would be really cool is, it’d be better if you could do one assessment but instead of like one survey that one person responds and another one, another one, another one, another one, what if it was one multiple people or what the call “multi-rater feedback” could exist. We said, “That’s a cool technology problem.  We can probably fix that. Let’s go do that.” So we built the 360 to go address this B school problem of “Hey, we need to show the world that people come to our program and leave different, better, improved, more skilled more ready for the workforce.” And that’s what the 360.. that’s how it started. So, it started at Stanford.


I love that.  I have to interject really quick since you’re on the B school.  I have this. So, I have competed over the years with you guys vigorously, and I’ve won and I’ve lost.  One of my all-time biggest losses is actually in my hometown, Fresno State. So, Fresno State has a Qualtrics license.  I built a survey platform. That’s 200 employees here locally and even created a school in the CS department or a class in the CS department, which qualified programmers to be on my platform.  And yet I could not unseat Qualtrics even though I’m friends with the president of the university. So, it’s interesting how once you were dug into that ecosystem, it felt like it was really hard, if not impossible, to unseat you.  


Oh, we love that strategy and I wish I could say just because we have a great sales team, which we do, but early on, the strategy was very clearly focused on the academic market.  And so, that meant we tried relentlessly to serve that customer. When they said, “Hey, we want you to build a question type that flies in from the left, watches their eyes as they watch a video that scrolls from top to bottom and then sees if their ears move while they’re watching,” we would go build that.  And we’d say, “Like we’re going to do this you; we’re going to go do it even though we knew no one was ever do that again.” And what they liked about that was they built this trust with us where they said, “Even if I needed that one capability, the cool thing is 30 days later it was now standard in product for everyone.”  And so, we just productized all this stuff they were asking for. Instead of making it one-off, custom, we just said, “Let’s just put all this capability in the platform, make it scalable to everybody because I bet there are other people like Professor So-and-So who want to see if their ears move when they’re smiling watching video from top to bottom as their eyes scroll doing whatever.


Love it.  It felt to me a lot that one of the things that you guys did that, again being very centric to your experience data, applying those same principles to your customers and then letting that guide the road map, which ultimately created this suite of productization of research…  Once it’s baked into the operations, it’s really powerful to inform and create change inside of your customers to create better benefit to their customers.


That’s right, that’s right, absolutely.


So, if you were a… You know we have a lot of entrepreneurs.  I’ve got really three different types of listeners to these shows.  You’ve got insights professionals; you’ve got people that are looking to get careers inside of the market research space or insights space; and then there’s this group that’s these entrepreneurs.  When you think about and talk with this aspiring group of professionals that are started their businesses and trying to fill needs in the marketplace, what are a couple of recommendations that you would give them?  Keys to success?


Yeah, for recognizing needs in the marketplace, you know what’s interesting is like – and I’m pretty passionate about this and I don’t know if this is the answer you’re looking for but I’ll just go with my instincts here.  You know I have a bunch of classmates who are incredible people, but they fell onto that classic business school trap, especially at Stanford where like it feels like everyone around you has started a billion-dollar tech company.  Your classmate’s doing a billion-dollar tech company on the side apparently. It just feels like that all the time, and so there’s this process of like market assessment. It’s like, “Ok, let me do a discover of market need. Let me go build out a…; let me understand the TAM.  Let me go find a technical co-founder. We’ll fit that specific need.” That’s sort of this idea that sort of exists out there, and there’s books that talk about this, etc. And the reality is I just don’t think that works. Anybody I know that’s gone down that route, like maybe they’ve had a base hit, but most of them just folded up shop.  What’s interesting about it is really what’s led to incredible outcomes: you know happiness for the entrepreneur and success financially or technology-wise or whatever that success-metric is for them has been around that founder passion that people talk about.

It’s where not only do they have an idea but it’s something they personally care so deeply about that, if it comes time to mortgage the house, they’re like, “Pfft, of course, I’m going to mortgage the house.  Like if I don’t do this, what am I going to DO? Like I was BORN to do this.” Without that, I don’t think it works. It gets so hard, and so painful even by the time I joined Qualtrics. This is 2012, six years ago, they were well on their way, but like it was hard.  And if you don’t have that conviction, to like stay the course, it is so easy to get blown around and you wind up with some quasi-successful exit along the way.

And so, I’ll give you a quick anecdote that’s been really powerful for me, and I’ve seen this happen over and over again.  So, Andy Rachleff, one of the founders of Benchmark Capital, amazing entrepreneur, amazing leader, started Wealthfront. He’s just incredible, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met.  He’s been a great mentor; he’s a great person. As I think about… He talked early on about the investment criteria that Benchmark would make. And they’d get their board together and they’d vote on them. And they looked at them; it was this oversimplification, but they put everybody in a 2 by 2 matrix.  And on one side of the matrix, you had whether the entrepreneur was right or they were wrong, which again is hard to know as an investor but let’s just put it over there – right or wrong. Was their idea right or wrong? And then at the top across on the other axis, you’d say, “Is the entrepreneur’s idea in-consensus with the majority or non-consensus?”  Ok, think about it: you’ve got whether they’re right or wrong, in-consensus of non-consensus. And what’s interesting is they didn’t want to, of course, invest in any entrepreneurs that were right and in consensus. It’s like, “Hey, we want to create a social network that does x, y, and z.” Ok, everybody agrees that that’s a good idea; in fact, there’s a hundred people doing it.  It’s going to be a commoditized market; there’s no competitive advantage. We don’t want to be in that business. It’s going to be a base hit, and, as you know, venture capitalists are looking not base hits; they’re looking for dragon-type returns. So it doesn’t work for them, right, even though the entrepreneur they think is right and everyone agrees their right, they don’t do it.  Then you go down to whether the entrepreneur is right… or sorry, in-consensus, and they’re actually wrong. So there’s a great example like groceries.com. Everyone is like, “Yes, why would I go to store to buy groceries when I can order them online! Well, it turns out that was in 2000; they poured 800 million dollars into that business, and it didn’t work because, for whatever reason, it’s a great idea but it turns out that people just still like going to grocery store and putting cans of soup in their cart, right?  Now we’re starting to see a little bit more of the online thing. Everyone thought they were right, but the entrepreneur actually was wrong. We hate to be in that category, but who can blame you because everyone thought you were right. No big deal. Then there’s these other two really dangerous categories. One is you’re not in-consensus and you’re wrong. Everyone told you were wrong, and you ARE wrong. So, now you are just class clown; you’re an idiot basically. And everyone tells you that. It’s like that’s such a terrifying place to wind up that most people won’t do it.  Now, the interesting thing is the last box is you’re a non-consensus and you were right. Everyone told you you were wrong, but you’re right. That’s where the magic happens; that’s where you get out in front of the crowd; and that, by the way, is exactly what happened with experience management.

We went out with experience management and, before we did by the way, everyone – and I mean everyone – was going, “I don’t get it.  You guys are great survey platform, why don’t you just stick with what you know. That makes sense; people understand that. Experience management:   Are you a wedding company?  Are you a river rafting tour operator?  What do you mean “experience management?”  It took work, but we were so convinced, we were so convinced even though everyone said it was wrong.  We paid the price; we stayed the course; and we wound up in a really special place. And I think everybody in this last acquisition, it painted a picture of how special it really was.  

What’s cool and what’s counterintuitive about this is Andy tells a story about how they would have the board vote at Benchmark and, if the entire board agreed that it was an amazing investment, that they should do it, they walked away because they knew they were in that territory of box that was “The entrepreneur is probably right and everybody knew it.  That wasn’t the kind of business they wanted to it invest it,” which is so counterintuitive, so counterintuitive. It’s funny ‘cause now I have friends come to me, and it’s funny this is pretty common: there’s either the entrepreneurs who don’t want to tell anybody because they think people are going to steal their idea or the entrepreneur that’s a little… they don’t have the confidence they need, so they’re out there, “Hey, I this kind of have this idea.  What do you think?” And they’re looking for people to say, “That’s amazing. That’s genius. You should totally do that!” When the reality is, in a lot of ways, you should be doing the opposite. When you go, “Hey, I’ve got this idea. What do you think?” People are like, “That’s really stupid. I don’t get.” [Jamin laughs.] The answer should be like “So you’re saying there’s a chance.” It’s that pushback that’s uncomfortable that says, “Ok, this is something I care about so deeply; the rest of the world doesn’t quite get it yet, but they will.”  If that’s what you have inside, that’s a good thing.


Exactly.  It’s this capacity to be able to trump the fear of failure and the fear of how the market, your parents, whatever might view you and just be dogmatic about your going to be successful because this is what the market needs.  But the fear part is that you move to your… you know, using your quadrant example, you do move into that position of, “Yeah, I already said it was a bad idea and, oh yeah, it turns out it was.” [laughs] But, thinking about your transition into experience management, I think that view that you described, and I appreciate that color commentary, is exactly correct, right?  I mean I remember when you guys did the announcements of four quadrants, website change. I looked at that and I said, “Holy moly, that is a completely different company. How are…?” And this is where my brain went: “How are corporations going to pay for it?” In other words, it’s uncharted territory; there isn’t a budget line item, right, that’s been set aside for this experience management or experience data, and it seems like the corporations adapted.


Yeah, so you know what’s interesting again it wasn’t like, “Hey, we blindsided corporations with this announcement.  This was something again… Experience management was something that we were being pulled along by our clients in a lot of ways.  Try to be as customer-centric as possible. We realized is even though we’d set out a long time ago to build the number 1 online market research platform, like that’s what they want to go do, and by the time we checked (This is the time I am joining the company) we checked in and actually had usage data; we were combining our O-data from the platform with X-data from what people said they were trying to do and wanted to do with what they were actually naming and doing in surveys, we found that market research had actually slipped to the third most common use case.  The number 1 use case was customer experience, customer satisfaction; the number 2 was employee experience; and then number 3 was market research but primarily a combination of product work and brand work. And so, it emerged and it was clear to us, but you know putting a container around it, building a category that highlighted what that was that felt super risky. So what we ended up doing was… Right before that we started to build out very specific technology stacks that lined up against the unique use cases that our customers needed. So, we were delivering the needs… you know delivering products for our customers’ needs unquestionably.  How we talked about it and what we called it, that was really hard, and that was really risky. And I’ll tell you what. Here’s what people would say… people would say, “Wait a minute. So you’re going to have competitors out there who have a single buyer, a single focus, a single message, and just as much marketing money as you have. And you’re going to go out there and talk about this thing called experience management that probably only resonates with the CEO, and now you’ve got four different buyers that you’re supposed to be selling to. It’s going to be such a cluster; it’s going to be so hard; it’s not going to work.” That’s the kind of stuff people were coming back with and we had to say, “It’s the right thing to do.  You don’t get it. We’re making the bet. Let’s go.” And that was really hard. It was a classic Ryan Smith move. It was a bet-the-business move. Once we made the decision, he went top to bottom through the entire company and said, “This is our future. This is what we’re doing.” There was never like a, “Hey, we’re going to go test the waters. We’re going to… I’m going to go socialize this with the teams.” It was like, “This is what we’re doing. Let’s go.”


That’s such a great story.  It’s so inspirational, honestly.  As an entrepreneur, being willing to make those choices and, of course, it’s always nice when you’re right.  There’s so much of that the psychology part of it that is just not understood unless you’re part of that experience because you don’t know…  Steve Jobs – the dots connect when you look backward, but as you’re going through it, you don’t know that the B school grads are going to wind up using you as a platform of choice in five years. I mean you just don’t know.  It’s great if it happens, but you just don’t know. And being so dedicated towards creating and realizing that vision is, I believe, to your point the reason that there are companies that are successful and as it wavers, why they’re not.   


If I was to give one tidbit of advice to those aspiring entrepreneurs out there, and it’s not even advice that I could say, “Hey, I’ve internalized this, and I’ve exemplified this.”  It’s just that I’ve experienced it and watched at Qualtrics. So that’s why I feel like… it feels somewhat authentic to share it and that is that the founders of Qualtrics, Ryan and Jared, have always unquestionably played the long game.  They’ve always played the long game. What’s interesting about that is you think back to like the student thing. We interviewed someone from Microsoft the other day and they shared that there are 34 million free licenses available to college students right now for Office and something like 2% of them are being used.  So it’s like just getting into academics and, for example, playing the academic game, they’re saying, “Hey, we’re going to go and serve this audience. Yes, and in the long run, all the students are going to adopt it and drag it with them out to the workplace.” That’s not a slam dunk bet, but if you’re playing the long game, it’s the right decision.  So, when you’re playing the long game, it doesn’t make sense to you know give away the entire company up front for ego to be like, “We are the fastest fund-raising company or the most valuable company in Utah.”

There’s a bunch of reasons why it would have made to go raise it at higher amounts, but instead of doing that, they remained in control of the company because they wanted to build a legendary business that would be generational.  I’ve just seen this in every single decision they’ve made; they’ve stopped and said, “Fast forward 15 years. what do we want to look like? Ok, let’s take that into consideration for the decision today.” It’s just part of the decision making.  They don’t make decisions without pausing and saying, “What will it be in 15 years?” Now that’s the same thing with benefits, the same thing with technology, like as we think about future investments. Like that’s the process we go through. I see so many entrepreneurs you know doing what matters now and not staying the course.  I think that comes from what we talked about earlier: If you don’t have deep founder conviction. You’re like, “Look, I’m going to do something that’s going to change the world or change it in industry or change something.” If you’re not that passionate about, you’re probably just going to do whatever it takes to survive now because you don’t really know what the end game is, because you’re not that passionate about it, and it just doesn’t work.  Only go in on something that you’re passionate about, and then play the long game.


Yeah, it’s a lot like reading or writing rather a fiction and then reverse engineering that outcome, right?  In every way, you are creating the world around you every single day.


That’s exactly right.  


And to your point, it’s probably one of the hardest things, I think, that there is to do successfully because every day is a blank slate and every day there is this – not matter what when you’re creating from nothing – there is always headwinds.  And it just takes a tremendous amount of fortitude.


Here’s my authentic version of that and it’s maybe a less business-relevant-context example but, nevertheless, important.  I think people do this intuitively in their personal lives, then forget to do it in business. So like when I met my wife (she’s one of the most incredible people to date that I’ve still ever met. She’s bright, she’s beautiful, she’s kind; she’s just amazing on every level.) And when I met her, I was like, “There’s no way she’ll date me, zero chance that she’ll ever date me.” [Jamin chuckles.]  So what I did is that I said, “Well, who do I think she’s going to end up marrying? Who’s the person she’s going to want to be partnered with for life? What does that person probably do? What do they probably say? What kind of things do they invest time in?” I just sort of watched that story unfold when I said, “Well, there are some parts of that that I am today, and there are some parts that I’m not there yet.”  And so, I started to go and do those things and become that person because I knew that was the long game; I knew that was the end state. It was this two-year (It’s not just that long in the grand scheme of things) but this two-year dating journey to sort of get to where I knew we needed to be in the end. So, fast forward ten years. What does this life look like? How do you become that person? What decisions are you going to make today to make sure those are true ten years from now.  I think people do that intuitive in their lives, and then we forget in business. We’re like, “No, let’s just go find a market need and build something, and we’ll do whatever it takes to raise money today.”


So, do you have children?  


I do.  Four kids, four kiddos.  


Congratulations.  I have five. So, you’re still younger than me, so you’ve got a lot of time.  [laughs]


Four is the new six.  We’re done, we’re done.  [Jamin laughs.]


I imagine you travel a fair amount. How do you balance that with the heavy responsibilities at home?  Do you have any tips for us seasoned professionals, road warriors?


So a couple of things.  I actually feel… (Maybe this is one of those things where you’re always delusional.  Like you always think you’ve got a better handle on work/life balance than you really do.)  A couple of things: One – I think it’s been really helpful to… I’ve just acknowledged out of the gate; I’m very open about this that I don’t have great work/life balance.  So, I like to work; I like my job; I like coming in early; I like staying late. When Ryan comes to me and our CEO says Friday at 4 pm, he’ll be “Hey, I forgot to tell you I have a presentation Monday morning.  Can you put it together for me?” I love those scenarios. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, let’s just go and scramble the jets and get this thing done.” So, that’s something that I have to just acknowledge about me. Instead of being like, “Oh, yeah, I got to figure out balance. I just sort of acknowledge, first and foremost, that I like that, I do.  So now the question’s, “OK, how do I put checks and balances in place to make sure that…” But I also love my family. There’s nothing more important in my whole world than that. So I had to figure that out.

So, a couple of things: One – A friend gave me this advice a long time ago, and it’s been amazing.  One – is I think about at the beginning of every week, so Sunday nights my wife and I spend a bunch of…  Weekends are mostly sacred for me, mostly. They get blown up all the time, but for the most part, like that’s when I’m home; I try to unplug, etc.  I’ll talk about that in a second. But on Sunday evenings, we sit down; we say, ”OK, well, what do I need to do to make sure that I stay connected with my kids this week and with my wife.”  And so, you know in lot of ways if you just do an evaluation at the end of the week, it’s really easy to feel like you’ve failed. For example, I traveled in December; I traveled 20 of the 25 working days in December.  And so, that sucks, right? With the holidays and everything, that’s like super hard. So, it’s easy to look back and be like, “Oh, my Gosh! I totally failed as a dad, as a husband. This is a nightmare. But instead, if you take a proactive approach and you say, “OK, it’s Sunday night.  What do I need to do to feel connected to my oldest daughter this week? And you know I’ll say something like, “If I can go… and she’s got dance twice a week. If I could go and watch her dance for a full hour, just take her, drop her off, and sit there, and just watch her dance, and then take her to get an ice cream on the way home.  Like that’s probably enough this week to just feel like I stayed connected.” And what happens is then I’d say, “OK, for my son, if I’ll just ask him to tell me the names of his dinosaurs. One time, for five minutes before he goes to bed. He loves dinosaurs. I’m just going to ask him. I’m going to lay down on the floor, and I’m going to ask him to tell me the names of his dinosaurs, and we’re just going to do that til he falls asleep, you know, a 10-minute process.”  And I would do that with each of the kiddos. And even if it’s a really small thing – sometimes it’s a five-minute engagement. And I know that that sounds maybe a little bit cheap now, but in the moment, it’s actually really amazing to just be present with the people that you love and care about, even if it’s just for one or 2 moments a week. So, if I design that at the beginning of the week, at the end of the week, I’ll say, “I did it. I sat down; I played dinosaurs for 15 minutes with my son.”  That was 15 minutes for the whole week, but I did that. And without that, I found myself not doing anything and being frustrated at the end of week or maybe I did but I forgot. It felt really toxic. So, designing that you know made a big difference.


So really quickly.  I have to interrupt really briefly.  The thing that I love about that tip is all too often I hear people say, “Oh, I’m going to watch less TV or whatever so that I focus more on my family.”  But you’re doing the positive as opposed to the negative, and I think that’s a big key here, and that is you’re saying, “Alright, I’m going to do ‘boom’ five minutes or an hour or whatever the specific activity is,” which gives you a specific view of what success looks like, as opposed to framed in the negative of “I’m going to stop a behavior.  Then as a by-product of that behavior, I’ll spend more time with my kids or whatever.”


That’s exactly right.  It’s worked really well for me, and it’s not perfect every time, and there are some weeks where the commitments are larger than 15 minutes, and some weeks they’re shorter.  But the consistency over time… I feel incredibly connected to my kids. It’s been great. So, that’s a tip I’d share.

Then the other one is on weekends, I’ve taken a playbook out of Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Your Measure Life book, where he talks about you know he reserves Saturdays for teaching his kids how to work.  That was his thing. He’s like, “I don’t work Saturdays. That is the day that I teach my kids to work.”  And so, I’ve really taken to heart. On Saturdays, I grew up a little bit that way, so it was somewhat intuitive to me.  Where I’d say, “You know what? On Saturday, I’m going to get all the kids… and it’s so hard because I’m kind of a neat freak.  So like I like you know pruning the hedges with scissors just like getting it bonsai perfect. You bring the kids out there, and they’re just like running [Jamin laughs] over the bushes with the lawnmower.  It’s just not a great scenario. I have to remind myself every time like, “No, this is… I’d rather have my kids connected to me through work ethic and understanding how to take care of the things that we have than having the perfect manicured yard and a couple of dead spots where things happened.  I hold weekends sort of sacrosanct. I use them very much Saturday as a work day. Kids don’t play with friends on Saturday like maybe, maybe in the evening or something. It’s a day that we’re together. And then you know I do the same thing with my wife: Every week we say, “Hey, what do we want to do to stay connected?”        

And then one last tip – I love a good hot soak like a good hot bath.  And so, most nights, no matter how late it is, if I’m in town, I’ll hear the bathtub filling up, and my wife knows that I can’t resist.  And when you’re in the bathtub, you’re probably not using technology. It’s not…


[laughs]  I hope not.  


And it’s just like eye-to-eye, bath time with my partner at least twice, but probably three times a week.  And when you get into the bath, a hot bath, it’s like intoxicating. You have to stay in there for at least 30 minutes.  I can’t get into a hot bath and get out in two minutes. So, we invest; we talk; we catch up; it’s our time to kind of resync and connect.  So, yeah, fill up a hot bath tub. That’s worked miracles for me.


My guest today has been Kylan Lundeen, CMO of Qualtrics.  Kylan, thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast with me today.


Thanks for having me.  Great to be here.


I’d also like to point out that he accepted this interview by me submitting to the Dream Cast my wish for him to be on here. So, again, special thanks to all those who made this happen.

Additionally, please take the time to rate this podcast on Apple iTunes.  It helps other insights professionals like yourself find us. Really appreciate the support of the community.  Have a great rest of your day!


This episode is brought to you by G3 Translate.  The G3 Translate team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign language translations for market researchers and insight professionals across the globe.  Not only do they speak hundreds of languages, they are fluent in market research. For more information, please visit them at G3Translate.com.

Ep. 137 – Stacey Walker – Adobe – The So What and Now What of Market Research

Today my guest is Stacey Walker, consumer insights leader here at Adobe. Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions. Stacey has headed up insights for Netflix, Walmart, Visa and has taught at Columbia University in the Sociology Department.

Find Stacey Online:



Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Stacey Walker, consumer insights leader here at Adobe. We’re actually privileged to be in Adobe’s office today, and I’m joined by William. Unfortunately, Chloe could not make it because she is being responsible and actually doing work. Thank you, Chloe. [Chloe: “No, I’m not.”] No, you’re not.

Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions.  Additionally, Stacey has headed up insights for Netflix, Walmart, Visa and has taught at Columbia University in the Sociology Department.  Stacey, welcome to the Happy Market Research podcast.


I’m happy to be here.  Thanks for coming to Adobe.


So, I’d like to start with the signature question:  Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.


Sure.  Well, I grew up in a really diverse area culturally.  I grew up next to Queens, and it was a really different experience, I would think, than a lot of people have as they’re growing up.  I had friends from all different cultures, lots of first-generation people, who I went to school with. And that sort of spurred my interest in learning about different subcultures, cultures, and sort of kind of got me into sociology a little bit.


So, tell me a little bit about your parents.  What did they do?


My father was an insurance salesman, and my mother worked in real estate.  My father was also a double-E, so he was an electrical engineer by training.  And he LOVED to tinker with computers, just LOVED technology. We would have little tiny computers all over the house that he would just toy with.  So I think that also encouraged me to move into tech because he got me into programming a little bit.


Back in the days of Basic?  [laughter] So, your mom, was she a life-long real estate agent?  


Yeah, I mean on and off for, I would say, 20 years.


Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you bring up that your dad is an electrical engineer and sort of his tinkering with computers.  Computers were a lot more like cars back in those days, right? And, if you wanted to actually have a computer, you had to work on the computer, like literally physically do work on the computer.  My first – I’ll call it real job – was managing what’s called a wang system, which was basically a vacuum-cleaner type. Literally, there was a whole room that was twice as big as the room we’re in right now that was just the main frames and everything like that.  And one of the neat parts that I got to help with (I didn’t oversee it but help with) was the actual transition from that mainframe to the desktop, right? I think it was Windows 3.5 like the very first from DOS to Windows. And it was a really… just like roll up your sleeves and get stuff done – wild, wild West.  You know there was no internet so you had to use different magazines to figure out how to code stuff, right? It was a fun time.


Yeah, yeah, it was.


I think that probably one of my favorite parts of that was just this…  grabbing a magazine and digesting the content inside of it because you had to wait 30 days for the next issue to come out.  So, do you have any memorable experiences programming or working on the computers with your dad?


I just remember when I was 12, I got so excited ‘cause I was able to do a printout of a house design.  [laughter] It sounds so ridiculous right now ‘cause it was so simple but I was, you know, a kid and it was just exciting.


That’s a really big deal.  It’s been interesting, that as a starting point to today driving up here to Adobe in San Jose, using Google maps.  And, of course, I know the route inside and out, but the reason I use Google maps was to identify if there were any traffic pattern issues, right?  So you go from that to your point – it’s like very early stage application of technology. And now, all of a sudden, it’s completely inundated everything, literally, everything that I’m doing right now.  And you at Adobe, you guys have been a massive part of my life. In fact, more so than any other tech company outside of maybe Apple, which was my very first computer. My first professional business that I did in college was called Anchor Graphic Design, and I started it so that I could be able to pay off my Apple computer that I bought.  And I used Adobe Illustrator and eventually saved enough money for Adobe Photoshop. Once I paid it off, I quit doing the company and just played video games on it, I think. [laughter]


Well, it’s great to hear that you’re an adopter of our brands even back then.


Yeah, thank you.  But my broader point is really how this company has sustained through generational shifts, right, as being the leader in this space.  Not a lot of companies can say that.


Yeah, I would say that Adobe doesn’t sit still or rest on its laurels.  We really have changed as the world has changed. We see opportunities in different places like experience design now, really designing for customer experiences, and moving beyond that to marketing and marketing experiences.  So we’re kind of the experience company now.


Yeah, it’s a neat transformation, meanwhile still having the underpinnings of the tool set enabling other companies – like even Happy Market Research – through Audition and Photoshop and Premier and so on and so forth.


It’s really great to hear that.


So, and incidentally they didn’t pay me to do that nor did they give me free software.  In 2003, you were at Netflix. I remember 2003 really well; I remember Netflix at that point in time also.  There was a lot of buzz. You guys had a million users; that was just like this break-through moment. And then, at the same time, you really started seeing the phoenixes come out of the ashes of the dot com bust that had happened just a year or two earlier.  Can you talk to us just a little bit about why you joined Netflix in those days and what it was like working in the Valley?


Well, at that point, it was a huge opportunity and a great product.  You mentioned 2003… I still feel like I’m dating myself by saying this, but we were mailing DVDs at that point.  And some of the research that we did was on the mailers themselves and how to get people to not rip right through the entire mailer so that they can mail back the DVD.  But it was pretty heady times. We were a very scrappy team in marketing and also really rigorous at the same time. So, it was very focused on really understanding the customer, getting a sense of how the brand was performing, especially in relation to Blockbuster.


Totally, totally.


But always really metrics-driven and conservative in a good way with cash so that we could eventually realize that dream of becoming Netflix being available on the internet.  That was always Reed Hastings goal.


And, of course, absolutely one of the most difficult transitions ever that I’ve heard about and to navigate that as successfully as he did, especially with Blockbuster declining the acquisition opportunity.  He is probably top 3 for me. [laughter] It’s just epic. What an epic story! The point that you brought up just now about cash is really interesting for me. I’m exposed to a lot of start-ups, and they’re burning cash right now.  And it feels to me at a tangible level a lot I saw in 1989 and 2000 where people were a lot less concerned about burn rates and a lot more concerned about user acquisition. And I just wonder if you’re getting that type of feeling with being in the middle of the Silicon Valley.     


I’m not going to say that I have complete déjà vu, but I have a little bit of déjà vu right now, in part, because the “not” part is because it’s not completely based on eyeballs, which it was if you remember.




Yes, I think user acquisition, monthly active views, those are all metrics now that companies focus on.  And they’re a little bit more tangible, a little bit more concrete than just getting eyeballs. But it still feels a little…


It feels a little frothy; I guess is how I’d put it.  [laughter]


Not exactly bubble territory, but it’s frothy.


Yeah, exactly.  Then, of course, we recently saw a change in the market, a little bit of a correction over the last few days.  And I think that’s been healthy, kind of seeing that – just not explosive growth. But it is interesting to me that you have companies that…  and I’m talking about not that are publicly traded but are really sort of at that early stage that are closing 10–20 million-dollar rounds. I’m sure they’re earning it but on a lot of faith that things are going to go great.  So run to cash. That’s it, right? Actually, it’s run to revenue; race to cash. That’s my mantra in start-up land. So, recently you did some volunteer work, trying to raise awareness of housing issues in San Mateo.


Yes, in San Mateo county.  It was a program put on by Joint Venture Silicon Valley with Adobe and myself and three other marketeers put together a program for the San Mateo Department of Housing to help them come up with a marketing strategy for second units.  Driving adoption of second units, which is a pretty big commitment if somebody is building on their property.


Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?  I think maybe most of the audience isn’t from the area, so…     


Sure.  So, here in Silicon Valley, we have a hugely disproportionate jobs-to-housing ratio.  We have a housing shortage. I’m trying to avoid saying that it’s a crisis because that’s language that sort of turns people’s brains off.


I think mathematically…  I just saw this statistic. I haven’t validated this statistic, but it’s like 3 to 50.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a big… my eyebrows went up. [laughter]


Yeah, and it’s a tremendous problem for traffic, for people moving out of the area.  And it’s not great for communities. So that really struck a chord with me in terms of a passion project where I could help the community, get involved, and, hopefully, drive some people to build on the land that they own so that they can accommodate either family members or rentals or teachers who can’t afford to live in the area.


It’s a worthwhile cause.  There were three colleagues – is that correct? – that you partnered with?




And all Adobe employees?


They were all Adobe employees.


Does Adobe help sponsor your time or other materials in that or…?  


Yes, they do.  So, they have a very generous volunteering program.  You can volunteer some of your time. And the hours that you put in to community service, they will actually match donations for charities.  Adobe is a great place to work; so, if anyone is thinking about it, they should really consider it. It’s a great place to work.


We just did an interview (I think it’s publishing in about six weeks.) with the founder and CEO of Research for Good.  And they are a panel supplier that has a double-bottom-line approach to their business. And they actually started out with that as the thesis.  So, for every dollar of profit, 50 cents or 50%, is donated to a specific non-profit that is feeding the hungry. It’s a very worthwhile cause. And it was interesting in talking with her about the tension between balancing a mission-driven company against profit, right, and especially in the context of…  She’s not a billion-dollar company. They’re privately held; they’re in a highly competitive marketing research sample providers. It seems like it’s a decreasing asset, right? But yet, having said that, they’re doing well. I don’t have visibility on the books, but my point is that the communication, what I see in the market place is very positive.  And their claim is that “our employees and our customers get behind the fact that we’re a missions-driven organization and also, we deliver best-in-class quality etc., etc. So you CAN have both, right?


I believe that you can.  I believe that you can do well and also do good.


Right, well said.  So, we have a little game we want to play.  This is going to be an experiment. This might get cut if it blows up.  [laughter] So, in this kind of made-up narrative, you’ve got ten Stacey bucks and you get to invest in a marketing research technology that’s going to pay out in five years.  So, what is that? 2023, I guess? I’m going to hand you the list, and you’re going to tell me where you’re going to distribute your ten Stacey bucks.


  1.  You’re not going to set this up as a conjoint?  [laughter]


I just blew the mic.  OK. I thought about that, but I felt that it would be less… less exciting for the…


This is probably less time-consuming.


Maybe.  It’s going to be full factorial too.  Really exciting. Big data, social listening, traditional focus groups, survey tools, voice (that would be like Alexa, Google Home, etc.), blockchain technology, AR, VR, machine learning and AI (which, for some reason I put those together, right?) and then brand trackers.  So, you’re going to invest in a company with ten Stacey bucks, and these are your ten products. So, you’ve got the pen. And I’m super interested to see where you put your ten Stacey bucks.


This is a tough one.


You’re trying to maximize your outcome.  But also, you know, of course, you have the risk mitigation factor as well.


Wait, I’m a venture capitalist.  I might get fired, but I’m not putting my own dollars on the line.


You do get fired or you’re rehired somewhere else, just keep being promoted by accidentally being right.  One in forty.


Right, exactly.  I don’t have to have a great track record.  [laughter] OK, here we go.


I normally hate asking respondents to do zero sum questions.  It’s the highest dropout rate. So, anyway, I apologize about the poor survey design.  So, for the record Big Data got 0; social listening got 0; focus groups got 0; survey tools got 0; voice got a 4 – and that was the first one you wrote down, I think.     


It was.


Blockchain got 2; AR got 2 – and that was the last one that you wrote down.  And AI/machine learning got a 2. Talk to us. What was resonating with you?    


Well, it was a toss-up between voice and blockchain, two technologies that I see as really emerging, especially when you think about Amazon putting products out these days: hardware that can listen and respond, Google etc.  So I think that’s going to be pretty huge. Blockchain… I’m excited about blockchain. But I do feel like there’s a lot of investment that’s happening in it. I’m excited as a market researcher because it will eventually give us a real fidelity into who is taking surveys and doing research.  It’ll tie it all together. So I’m actually very excited about it, but I think maybe the opportunity is starting to crest and likewise with the other plays that I have there. AI/machine learning – I feel like that’s on its way up but also cresting. And virtual reality… I don’t know how I feel about it.  I would invest more in augmented reality. That’s where I see things going versus virtual reality.




So, yeah, those are my ten-dollar plays.


Let’s piggyback on voice for a little bit ‘cause I’m super-passionate on this particular subject, especially relevant to market research, ‘cause I’m not seeing a lot of market researchers thinking about how they can help their customers navigate the data divide in a voice-only world, right?  So, we start moving more and more towards a or away from a traditional… Wherever I am I get exposed to something if somebody pays for it, right? So, if you’re wealthy enough to brand, you get to buy an endcap in the grocery store or whatever or a big billboard, or you can get on the front page of Google AdWords, Amazon search results, etc.  But in a voice-only world, the transaction is: me in the kitchen, “Alexa, buy paper towels.” That’s my favorite go-to example because I literally do that. But it’s something… buy something that I’m out of, and then Alexa fulfills that. And in that world, I think marketing research has an important job to do to help inform brands today before it’s too late, before they’re completely disrupted because of this massive change in the user journey…the user-consumption journey.  So, as you kind of work through where your bet was, what were you thinking? As I totally screwed up that question because I answered it before. [laughter] Market researchers don’t do this.


I believe that’s called leading the witness.  [laughter] What I was thinking is a few things.  We have technology now that allows video and audio capture, and I’m seeing that really come to the fore.  Just think about research, not necessarily about brands, but also about brands because video and audio is prevalent everywhere.  We also have technology that helps us analyze what we’re hearing. So I see this being the perfect moment to talk with people as if they’re people and not ask them to type and write in surveys but to respond in a more natural way.  So I see that emerging for doing studies but also how we interact to order products. It’s more of a natural way to get things done.


I love it.  You’re right because you start moving away from the 10-point scales.  And the way that we can do that is qualitative scale, right? And that’s exactly the point:  that we can process not just ten conversations, but we can process thousands of conversations and then make decisions as long as it takes out the conversations.  Super-powerful stuff. Well, I’ll let you know in five years how your Stacey bucks have evolved. [laughter] So, what is the function inside Adobe of market research?      


Ahh, market research helps the company make decisions.  We help inform whether or not products should stay in the market, come out of the market.  We help product marketeers with their positioning and messaging. We, of course, do run the business activities; so, we have more programmatic research as well that helps us understand the customer journey.  So, as they come to our website and visit us, who are they? What are they doing there? What’s their intent? How can we improve the website to help them? Once they sign up, we figure out where they’re coming from how their experience is going.  And then we have other touch points. Because we have a subscription model, we want to understand how people are doing as they leave us and if there’s something we can do to bring them back again. So we have programmatic research but we also have strategic research.  We do all kinds of research: qualitative, quantitative. And we’re embedded in a larger analytics team, which is really powerful because we can connect actions with “why?”


Talk to me a little bit about the larger team.  This isn’t the right way you guys frame it, I’m sure but sort of this data ecosystem.  Where does market research fit? Who’s inside of that sphere?


Inside of the data ecosystem’s sphere?


Does that make sense?  That’s silly. I didn’t mean it like that.  


[laughter]  So, that contains behavioral data – so actions that might have been taken in the product (product launches, etc.).  It contains data about website visits. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a digital company. The benefit of being collocated with an analytics team is that you get access to the data and you’re able to put everything together.


Got it.  So is the role of like UX sitting inside of market research or is that a different division?   


It’s actually a different division.  They are really pretty focused on understanding the product as it exists today:  user actions, and work flows, and generating ideas for building new products.


Is there overlap in the types of projects that are done between what I think of as traditional market research versus UX?  


Yeah, most certainly, and there are times when we work together.


Got it.  So there’s part bridges that are built.


Yeah, we are a very collaborative and highly matrixed organization.


You have to be.


Yep.  [laughter]  As most big companies, I think, are.  And so we work together: there are areas of expertise that they have, that we don’t have, and vice versa.


Totally.  How do you guys practically navigate that?  [laughter] Do you have an example of a project where there was some sort of collaboration?


It’s funny I don’t have…  The reason I chuckled a bit is because I don’t have a standard, pat answer for it.  Every project is different. There are meetings with a variety of stakeholders that come to them.  And we typically will hash out some kind of a project plan, based on that. But there’s no one right answer to that question.


So, in that sort of framework, how do you guys handle… (This is like super inside baseball) how do you guys handle corporate budgets?   


That is super inside baseball.  [laughter] Delicately. [laughter]  I mean we do touch base as teams to understand what the road maps look like, and we try to allocate accordingly… but, yeah, delicately.


Yeah, because you have to be agile, based on whatever the specific needs are at that point in time.  Interesting stuff right there. Market research has got a ton of buzz around blockchain. You talked about it a moment ago in your investment thesis.  [laughter


I like that it’s a thesis now.  That sounds smar


I guarantee you everyone is going to be looking for this online.  We’re going to start a fund on Stacey bucks. Yeah, the new cryptocurrency.  But, as it relates with blockchain, are you seeing any very specific applications of it where you guys are paying for it or other brands are paying for it?


I’m not seeing it realize its potential right now, but I see the potential.  Obviously, in currency, it’s real, but in market research, I think it’s pretty nascent.


What is the tipping point or what do you think the tipping point is for blockchain when it becomes part of our consideration as researchers?  Is it specific just to the panel quality. The first company that actually introduces… (We’ll pick on Research Now.) If Research Now launches a new blockchain technology, is there a big differentiation there?     


I think if a research panel company were to launch something like this, market researchers would be pretty excited about it.  So, when you said “tipping point,” I thought that there were a bunch of different things that could come into play, one of them being consumers’ willingness to put themselves out there and be identifiable and opting into that.  So, I think we’re at a point where that could happen. People are fairly identifiable now. So it’s just making it a bit more of a formal way of doing it.


And then making sure that the monetization model makes sense ‘cause that’s part of the choke point, right?   


Yeah, one of things that I would also be excited about is people actually selling their data.  We’re kind of getting it for free right now. I’m sure that you’ve heard the expression that “data is the new oil.”  Right? It’s just out there and go for it. But I think that is a more fair and more equitable model.


Yeah, I totally agree.  The problem is that the economics start changing obviously if we have to go to the pump versus the ground.  And that sort of starts for me thinking about where the big disruption is going to be inside of our space, right?  That is going to be for me the next three-year window: who brings blockchain to market? Because it will be disruptive.  And then also is the market going to be willing to pay for it? Because right now you might have an average cost per complete of, (I’m making this up; I have no idea what it is.) we’ll say, hypothetically, it’s $3, or $5.  I’m talking about if you go directly to the panel company that’s the cheapest. For GenPop. But in that world, I’m going to sell you my data my three bucks for a 15-minute survey? Probably not. I’m going to charge something for my time and then also the extrinsic value of all the stuff that is tethering to it, whatever that is.  


You know, considering the magnitude of the decisions that get made off of that data, I think having valid data is really crucial to organizations.


So your value there is trumping the cost ‘cause it’s still the tail wagging the dog. You mentioned Adobe is a great place to work, and you’ve worked at a number of other fantastic places.  In fact, Netflix, they produced one of the most famous HR decks. I don’t know if you ever read…


I have.


Yeah, of course, you did.  [laughter] So, when you think about – given your breadth of experience, especially in the Silicon Valley – what do you see as the characteristics of an all-star employee?


Oh, well, I can name a few things.  Specific to market research but also more broadly:  broadly, somebody who is flexible and agile, can work through change (that’s really important in Silicon Valley), and, for market research, I will say that some of the best researchers I’ve hired have been excellent communicators.  I fundamentally believe that market research has a marketing problem sometimes. So it’s great to get these “ah-ha” moments but, if you can’t communicate them effectively, they fall flat. And so I look for people who have really, really good communication skills – verbally and visually.


Have you…  Do you have specific resources you use to help train market researchers on storytelling?   


We have internally at Adobe used Duarte for storytelling and data visualization.  And that’s been very helpful. A lot of the folks who come in… We have templated decks that they can use and start from, but it does take some training to get people up to speed.


When you think over the last few years, do you find that corporate researchers are bringing more of the research function in-house or moving it out to vendors, specialized vendors?


It’s a mix.  I’ve seen it go in both directions just like I’ve seen departments centralized and decentralized.  It really depends on what you’re trying to tackle. I’ve seen hybrid models that work as well. I’m not necessarily seeing a trend one way or another at least in Silicon Valley.  I think, historically, companies here have in that sort of scrappy way taken on work internally. But even companies that have professed, “Oh, we don’t use outside research” – I’ve eventually found out that they have used outside research.  It’s really about how you want to spend your time and how you want to spend your budget. We get value from using external resources. But what I find… Where they can’t bridge that last mile is really telling the story. They don’t spend time within our walls; I find they don’t know our issues quite deeply enough.  And that’s not to say that they can’t get better, but it’s really hard to keep apace of all the nuances and change that happen within an organization. So you do need somebody on the inside to bridge that gap and tell a story.


Do you have then partners who have desks here or some regular sequencing?


We do from some of our vendors.  And that goes so far, yeah. It’s still not going to get us to the last mile because they’re not in every conversation that they could be in.


Right, and the obvious point being that you have to have that research owned internally in order for it to have the impact on the organization to effect change.


And we would prefer to be the ones who are driving the change and not have an outside vendor do that.


Yeah, I mean it makes perfect sense. Are there any other gaps that you’re seeing?  If somebody’s listening to this podcast, for example, is there something you’d like, say, “Gosh, shout out, I really wish somebody would do this.  Fix blockchain or whatever.” [laughter]


Yeah, fix blockchain would be one.  More, more video analysis: that’s another one that we’re always on the lookout for; really showing the human side of things.  Those are some of the things that we look for ‘cause we’re awash in data. We need to be able to pull it together and show the human aspect.


I love that:  “awash in data.”  I mean that’s an exact depiction of it.  We’re drowning in the oil, right? It’s the formation of the oil.  And you guys are doing a lot of work on that too, right? The formation of the data and then taking it to that full life cycle of feedback from the user perspective.  


Yeah.  It’s not to say that we don’t generate insights from the data.  Of course, we do. But there’s a lot of information out there. We need ways to distill it and put a face on it.


My guest today has been Stacey Walker from Adobe, Head of Insights.  Thank you very much for joining me today.


Thank you.


Everyone else have a wonderful day.  And PLEASE as always we love your feedback.  Leave a comment and ratings on Apple iTunes. That enables other insights professionals like yourself to easily find valuable content like this.  Have a great day! Bye.


Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’ll be joined by Mark Ziontz, CEO of Automated Insights.  This is a great opportunity for you to be able to learn from a seasoned CEO how he applies his two decades to drive very fast, rapid, healthy growth in our industry.  Have a great day! Hope you can tune in.