Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

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

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

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

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

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

Our guest today is one of the speakers at Qual360.

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

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

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

Find Qual360 North America Online:

Find Linda Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Linda Mielnicki Light: Oh goodness.


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


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


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


Linda Mielnicki Light: Yeah. It’s fascinating.


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


Linda Mielnicki Light: I’m Gen X too.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Featured Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

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

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

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

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

Find Reed Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Jamin Brazil: Interesting.


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


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


Reed Cundiff: For sure, yes.


Jamin Brazil: [CROSSTALK] very –


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Jamin Brazil: Yes, 100%.


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


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


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


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


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


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


Reed Cundiff: For sure.


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


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


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


Reed Cundiff: Thank you, Jamin.


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

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 601 – How Bias Can Frame Your World View with Jessica Nordell, Author and Speaker

Our guest today is Jessica Nordell, Author and Speaker. In 2021 she published The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias. 

Jessica has served as a teacher and journalist. She studied Physics at MIT, and holds a degree in physics from Harvard and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 

Find Jessica Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

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

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


Jamin Brazil: Hey everyone. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil your host. Our guest today is Jessica Nordell, Author and Speaker. In 2001, she published The End of Bias: A Beginning. That will be the topic for today’s episode. Jessica has served as a teacher and journalist. She studied physics at MIT and holds a degree in physics from Harvard and an MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Jessica, welcome to the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Jessica Nordell: Thank you so much for having me.


Jamin Brazil: HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account visit hubux.com. It is an honor to have you. I’m really excited about jumping into the topic of your book but before we do, I like to provide a little bit of context. Please tell us about your parents, specifically what they did and how that informs what you do today?


Jessica Nordell: That’s such an interesting question. I think it was more- I’ll tell you what my parents did. I think it was actually more kind of their approach to life that really influenced what I did with my own career. My dad is a retired physician. My mom was a counselor before my sister and I were born. Then after we were born, she stepped back from that role and shifted her attention to researching the stock market. She became kind of an auto didact with investments and kind of understanding companies and how to make sense of companies stock performances. That became her kind of main activity as we were growing up. I think it was really my parents kind of spirit of curiosity that really influenced my choices in my career. There was always this kind of attitude in my house that if you didn’t know something, you should go find out the answer. We have a world book encyclopedia and whenever my sister and I had a question about something in the world, my parents would say, why don’t you go look it up. I think that really fostered my spirit of curiosity and of just like trying to seek out answers all the time. Which then became my career really as a journalist. That’s what we do. We try to uncover what’s really going on and try to understand a particular issue from all angles.


Jamin Brazil: What year did your mom make the career shift to stock analysis?


Jessica Nordell: I think it would have been sort of the early 80’s.


Jamin Brazil: This is pre-E trade by a long shot?


Jessica Nordell: Yes. Yes. She would go to the library in downtown Green Bay where I grew up. Green Bay, Wisconsin. Look at Morningstar reports, like thick books of stock reports and kind of pour over them and study them. Yes. It was before- yes before things became a lot simpler via the internet.


Jamin Brazil: Maybe even more complex in the same breath. For me, it brings back this memory of my late grandfather. He and I on Saturday- Sunday excuse me. Sunday mornings we would look at the paper and track specific stocks using graph paper. You could see the historical framework.


Jessica Nordell: Really.


Jamin Brazil: Yes. Over time and we have literally still I have journals upon journals of stocks that we would track. Some as hobbyist and some as actual investments. Which is kind of interesting. There was like a vicereines that you connected to the companies back in those days. That I think in a lot of ways the digitalization of that process has sort of has really removed that. Or maybe it’s just me being a little bit nostalgic.


Jessica Nordell: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: One of the things that is interesting that I resonate with is the fact that your parents in a lot of ways it sounds like they taught you that you can. There was an enablement or even the right to learn and figure out that is one of the things that foundationally enable you to be successful journalist speaker and author.


Jessica Nordell: I think so. I think- I hadn’t actually thought about it before. As we’re talking about this I probably the fact that my mom just kind of independently just developed this kind of career with just completely self-taught. Studying the stocks and kind of understanding how investments work. Also, I think gave me sense that if you’re interested in something and you’re motivated, there’s nothing stopping you from pursuing it. From learning more. From kind of going in a particular direction. I think it also kind of taught me to not take no for an answer. Many times over the course of researching this book I ran into some kind of big obstacle or some problem that hadn’t been answered. A question that hadn’t been answered or a problem that hadn’t been solved. I think I just I don’t know just constitutionally I’m kind of undeterred by that. Then I’m like, OK. Then I just have to figure out another approach to this unsolvable problem.


Jamin Brazil: I love that. There was a lot of problem solving in those days. Not that there isn’t today but we were very much limited to volumes as opposed to digital access. To almost everything. In some ways, I think the topic of bias is very interesting. Certainly there was bias that was contained in whether it’s the encyclopedia or other things that we would have considered to be more like Cannon or more truth in at least from my experience. If it was in the encyclopedia then that was just the truth of it, right? That was the last, that was the final word.


Jessica Nordell: Right.


Jamin Brazil: Whereas now, we have such a volume of points of view on various things that on everything. That you can really see how in more of a visceral connection of how bias can frame your world view.


Jessica Nordell: Absolutely. Yes. I think we have such a much deeper understanding or there’s a much more of a broad cultural understanding that a person’s particular perspective and life experience and vantage point are going to influence how they- what subjects they think are important. How they think about those. What questions they ask? Where their blind spots are. Absolutely, all of those things were embedded in the world like encyclopedia in the 1980s. In a way that I wasn’t aware of at the time growing up.


Jamin Brazil: Yes. For sure. You wrote a book. Very successfully received, which is fantastic, The End of Bias. It was actually named a best book of the year by the World Economic Forum. AARP, Greater Good and Ink, that’s a pretty remarkable endorsements. Congratulations. In The End of Bias, in the actual book you argue that bias is pervasive in our society. That’s really interesting. Fundamentally for me. That means that pervasive is quite literally in everything that we do. It is in fact a major barrier to achieving true equality. You also explain how bias is perpetuated by institutions from education to employment. You discuss how bias can manifest in both subtle and obviously overt ways. There’s kind of like stopping at that particular point for me, it’s important as I started doing a lot of work in the last five years. I’m embarrassed to say, in my early 50’s. I just turned 52. That I waited so long in my career to recognize that this is such an important point. I’ve never been more aware of the amount of bias that has shaped who’s important and who’s not. Who has rights and who doesn’t. Probably one of my favorite little micro examples of that is, the color of band aids. How like there’s just- it doesn’t fit for me. That’s a wellness framework, right? It’s the thing that you use when you get a boo boo as a kid, feel better. Just being able to kind of start pulling the scales away from our eyes, sorry about the metaphor. We start to see a little bit more clearly, not that I figured all this out yet. This is something that is a really important work. Anyway. You go on and you talk about, or the book I should say. It offers solutions. Which I was very appreciative of. Of how these biases they can be specifically addressed including increasing diversity in educational intuitions. Of course, providing opportunities for marginalized communities and creating transparent and accountable systems. That is a big win. The last part that I want to highlight in the book, I hope I’m not sounding too much like an infomercial. Everybody that’s listening should right now go buy the book. You can find a link in the show notes or you can also find it on Amazon of course. Also, audio version which I prefer. Is available to you as well. Anyway. The last part is it emphasizes the importance of creating an inclusive environment. It recognizes that all individuals deserve respect and equal access to resources. Ultimately, the book argues that The End of Bias is possible. There is this like shining star, north star for us to be able to work with. All of that is my book report. What is the problem? I know it’s a little bit of an obtuse question. What do you see, it’s a primary problem that the book addresses. Why is it so urgent today?


Jessica Nordell: I think it would be hard to find an area of human experience that isn’t touched by some kind of bias in some way. I think that that applies to all of us no matter what our background is. We both experience it on the receiving end. We are subject to other people’s expectations about us and assumptions about us. Maybe unexamined beliefs about us based on different categories that we belong to. Then we in turn do this to others. We have unexamined expectations and assumptions about others that really color our interactions and our behavior toward other people. The reason that this is so important is that it systematically changes the opportunities that are available to people. If I- if you and I are interacting and I make assumptions about you based on some categories that you belong to that I’ve learned about in my culture. Then I’m not really interacting with you. I’m interacting with like a hallucination about you. Or a daydream about you, instead of you. It also really prevents bias unexamined bias or unconscious bias really prevents us from engaging with reality. Engaging with the truth that’s in front of us. The effects of this are so huge in healthcare. You pointed out band aids. There are really extreme examples of the ways that unconscious and unexamined bias in healthcare affects patients of color. Affects women. Affects so many different groups. Heavier weight people. We see- there’s studies that show that doctors interact with people differently depending on what groups they belong to. This can have really serious health consequences. That’s just one area. There’s education, criminal justice, policing, the workplace. There’s so many different areas where unexamined and unconscious bias are present. I just feel really passionately that this is a human issue that we all need to work together to tackle.


Jamin Brazil: Does it point to more of homogenous culture ultimately? What I mean by that is, part of the solution trying to look the part. I’ll give you a personal example. I had a family member who was critically ill and we were making some really important decisions. It was like sleepless night and a lot of time in the hospital. I was very intentional of my appearance of like trying to not look like I felt. Not dressing up in a three piece suit but at the same time, the reason I was doing that is I was trying to make sure that the staff was going to be treating me a certain way. It was just a tactic, right? Tactic incidentally actually worked. Often times I would get mistaken for somebody that worked there. There’s the knowledge part of it but then as you start framing out the other side of it. Does it go both ways?


Jessica Nordell: When you say, does it go both ways? Are you saying is it possible to kind of manipulate others biases for ones’ benefit?


Jamin Brazil: That’s what I mean. Yes, exactly.


Jessica Nordell: It certainly is. I think people do it all the time. I think what you’re describing is a tactic that is very common. I think I certainly heard that growing up as well. Dress up when you’re trying to make a case at the airport gate. You need your flight changed and you want them to treat you differently. Dress up. Absolutely. As you found, it works. There was something in the mind of those hospital staff members that saw you and it sounds like, decided to maybe give you the benefit of the doubt. Or maybe go a little bit of an extra mile for you because they put you in a particular category.


Jamin Brazil: Yes. Right. The category in this case that persona I was trying to create was one of I’m important.


Jessica Nordell: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: It sounds silly but that’s quite literally just the jist of it. Therefore, you should treat me a little bit different. I wasn’t by the way, I’m not a donor to the hospital in no way. It was just a manipulation tactic I guess. I didn’t thought of it exactly like that but that’s exactly what the outcome is.


Jessica Nordell: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: This is a big problem. It’s a pervasive problem. Why now?


Jessica Nordell: Oh my gosh. I started working on this project in early 2016. I’ve been writing about the subject of bias and discrimination for many years leading up to that. My interest in the subject really came out of my own experiences in the workplace. As a woman experiencing things like having my work doubted. When my males colleague work was celebrated or having to prove myself over and over when a male colleague was given sort of the benefit of the doubt immediately. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. Then lots of things happened. Cheryl Samberg published Lean In. Which is sort of made this case that it’s important for woman to sit at the table and step up. Then there were studies that found that that message actually causes people to blame women more for their challenges in the workplace. There were a lot of kind of different cultural currents happening. Of course, over the last several years my goodness I was writing the book in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019. When I was finishing it actually was Summer of 2020 when George Floyd was murdered. There was kind of a global reckoning with some of these issues. It feels very timely.


Jamin Brazil: Yes. A 100 percent on the timeliness of it. I’m old enough to remember different tragedies that have happened like even in the 80’s with the Rodney King. I think that now the media has framed so much in favor of the general population as opposed to just specific outlets. Outlets still have a lot of power. There are an individual voices also carry a lot of weight because they’re algorithm based. Definitely, we’re seeing a lot more viscerally able to connect to injustice in a way that we just simply just didn’t have access before. We were reliant on a media to be able to carry those messages to us. That has a lot of negativity or firewalls I should say of actually delivering against the empowerment framework. That I have a friend who I actually met as that he was a guest on the podcast. I did a two part series with him on this particular topic. He is a 100 percent Native American. He’s also very successful Silicon Valley CEO. Aaron is his name. He said that it’s so pervasive in the funding frameworks. The economic frameworks that you just wouldn’t- you can’t even believe it. The reason why is it creates a shortcut for investors.


Jessica Nordell: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: There’s this any confidence that if you are a white male and you went to Harvard and got your MBA, then the other white male who also went to Harvard and probably knows some of your professors. He’s probably ten years older than you. He understands you in a way where he think it like increases his chances of success. As opposed to somebody who might not look like them or come from a different socioeconomic framework or different education. Then there’s this much larger unknown in which case now the bet is really being made more on the business frameworks. Which is not often times the central thesis for the investor.


Jessica Nordell: Right. Even though maybe it should be more often. I think if we look at Sam Banksman Freed for instance. Kind of the benefit of the- the just sort of the repeated benefit of the doubt he was giving. He was given by investors. Then we try to imagine Samantha Banksman Freed. Or Sam Banksman Freed who was African American been given that same benefit of the doubt. It’s almost comically impossible to imagine. Someone kind of in a baggy t-shirt and baggy jeans playing video games while pitching investors. It’s impossible to imagine someone who fits a different model being successful at that.


Jamin Brazil: Yes. For sure. Society creates this natural like shorthand for how we interact with each other based on these personas. As you’ve correctly identified it’s all manufactured. It’s all I forget the word you used. Hologram or something. It’s not actually real representative but individual.


Jessica Nordell: Right. We’re sort of interacting with a hallucination that’s based on inherited cultural information.


Jamin Brazil: With that framework and the way that you wrote the book, I’m really curious who’s the target reader?


Jessica Nordell: I undertook this project because I wanted to understand what we do about this problem. I’ve been writing about the problem of bias for a long time. As journalist we focus on problems. Journalists tend to not focus on solutions. We tend to uncover bad things that are happening. Then try to expose them to as many people as possible. Expose what’s going on. I had this kind of burning question which was like what do we do about the problem? Like what actually reduces the impact of gender bias and racial bias and bias on the base of weight and religion and ability and all of these different categories. I couldn’t find an answer to this question. I couldn’t really find the book that I thought should exist. I wrote the book to answer this question that I was desperately curious about. I see that the ideal reader as someone who also cares about bias and discrimination. Is curious about what could be done differently in their own lives. In their own communities and their own neighborhoods. I think another ideal reader is someone who works as part of an organization or a business or an institution that is looking to improve. In terms of becoming more fair and more just and more inclusive. The book provides a lot of different stories and tools and science behind what actually kind of moves the needle to make organizations more fair. I think it’s really anyone who cares about these issues and kind of wants to take the next step. Beyond just acknowledging the problem. Take the next step toward action. Toward doing something positive.


Jamin Brazil: It is interesting like I don’t know if you follow Saturday Night Live at all or various comedians. This topic is one that has been coming up a lot. It’s something that we’re definitely feeling what’s appropriate. What’s not appropriate. Even frameworks of how I should refer to different ethnicities. By I mean like the capital I. The all of us I. Our overall uncomfortableness of potentially being fearful of offending people unintentionally. Like recognizing I have biases but how do I successfully navigate a conversation with somebody I actually want to navigate it with. Or may even care about deeply where I’m not perceived as offensive.


Jessica Nordell: Right. Irony. Like the sort of tragic irony is that often when people are extremely worried about appearing biased, appearing prejudice. They actually behave in ways that make them seem more biased.


Jamin Brazil: Right.


Jessica Nordell: Being kind of stiff and uncomfortable. Or being unable to kind of carry on a flued conversation. These come from sometimes a fear of saying the wrong thing or offending someone. In fact, sometimes come across in a way that actually seems more offensive. I think that one thing that I really absorbed over the course of working on this project was that we are all inevitably going to screw up and say the wrong thing. I think what actually more important than just never screwing up is what happens after we screw up. Often, people are so mortified by saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing that they will retreat. That they’ll say, you know what, I can’t even engage with this subject anymore. It’s too embarrassing. It’s too I feel too ashamed. I feel too guilty about my inability to handle this correctly. They’ll kind of withdraw. I would encourage people to actually take that moment of that screw up moment of where, oh god I can’t believe I just said the wrong thing. What am I going to do? Take that moment actually as a huge opportunity to repair a relationship. To repair a dynamic- a connection with another person and learn something more about the other person. Learn something more about oneself. Actually use that as a springboard for a better encounter next time.


Jamin Brazil: I love that. I think that is a really nice and powerful way to- that we can start leveraging it. I’m hoping for one more practical tip in the book that we can take away and apply to our lives?


Jessica Nordell: Yes. Absolutely. Let’s see which would be one that I feel like could be most practical. One approach that is a really powerful tool for reducing stereotyping is a particular way of interacting with people who are from a group that one is not part of. Basically, what the research has shown is that if you connect with someone from a different group and you have equal status. You collaborate on a project together where you have a shared goal. That starts to decrease each groups stereotyping of the other. Decrease bias and promote things like friendship across differences. One like super practical kind of tactical thing that I- that people can do if they’re interested in starting to break down some boundaries or some differences. Look for opportunities to actually collaborate with people who belong to a group that you don’t belong to. Have a shared goal. Where you’re working together collaboratively. This really starts to break down stereotyping and starts to allow us to see one another more clearly. Instead of seeing each other as these kind of hallucinations or day dream that we so often do.


Jamin Brazil: That’s super helpful. I want to talk a little bit about what you’re doing right now. You’ve published a book. It’s a very important book. It’s addressing probably one of the most important issues in North America at the moment. Maybe even globally. Certainly in America. Are you speaking? How are you spending your time?


Jessica Nordell: Yes. I’m continuing to- I’m speaking a lot about the book. I travel to organizations and companies and conferences and do a lot of public speaking about this subject. That is actually something that I was kind of thrilled to find. People were really interested in after the book came out. I didn’t exactly know. You never know when you publish a book how it’s going to be received. I was very happy to know that people were really interested and wanted to hear more. I’m doing a lot of speaking. I’m also publishing a newsletter called Who We Are to Each Other where I interview people and kind of continue this conversation about how we interact with one another in more humane ways. I am starting the research for my next book.


Jamin Brazil: Exciting. I can’t wait. I have one last question.


Jessica Nordell: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: What is your personal motto?


Jessica Nordell: I think if I had to choose a personal motto it would be there’s more to the story and try to find out what it is.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Jessica Nordell. Author and Speaker. Most recently, released The End of Bias: A Beginning. You can find it on Amazon and Amazon audio. You must listen to this book. Jessica, it’s has been a pleasure having you on The Happy Market Research Podcast. Thanks for joining us.


Jessica Nordell: Thank you so much.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you have a great rest of your day.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 579 – Why Consumers are Overwhelmed and how That Affects Your Brand – Brand Transformation with Dr. Emmanuel Probst at IPSOS

My guest today is Dr. Emmanuel Probst, the Global Lead of Brand Thought-Leadership & Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at IPSOS, Author, and Professor at UCLA.

Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Paris France, Ipsos is among the largest global market research and consulting firms. Ipsos has over 18,000 employees and serves more than 5,000 brands. 

Find Emmanuel Online:

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This Episode is Sponsored by:

The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the #1 ranked insights and analytics graduate degree in three formats: 

  • Full-time on campus 
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If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at: broad.msu.edu/marketing.

HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 
For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com.


Jamin Brazil: Hi, everybody, I’m Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Our guest today is Dr. Emmanuel Probst, the global leader of brand Thought Leadership and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. He’s also an author and professor at UCLA. Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Paris, France, Ipsos is among the largest global market research and consulting firms. Ipsos has over 18,000 employees and serves more than 5000 brands. Emmanuel, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.


Emmanuel Probst: Jamin, thank you so much for having me on the show, and it’s so great to be connecting with you and reconnecting with your audience, your community. It’s always a pleasure coming on the podcast.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full-time online, and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three core certifications, Insights Design or Insights Analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSNUs program at B-R-O-A-D. msu. edu/marketing. Again, B-R-O-A-D-.-M-S-U. edu/marketing. WX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited, time user seats are free if you’d like to learn more or create your own account visit HubUX.com. So on September 7th, 2021, you released Brand Hacks, how to build brands by fulfilling the customer quest for meaning. It had outstanding content, like I went through that book, I literally read that book three times on a trip to Europe there and back. And it was transformational for me, a lot that I could talk about. We’ve already talked about the books, I don’t want to like, talk too much about it. But it was fantastic. And now in February 2023, you will be releasing your second book, which is titled Assemblage, The Art and Science of Brand Transformation. The description that Amazon has right now is brands can no longer force-feed us a plethora of products we don’t need. To succeed, brands must transform us and the world that we live in. So I wanted to kind of like pull back before we jump into the meat of the content or the questions here on the book. So my particular community, the podcast community here, there are a number of authors that listen regularly. And there’s also some aspiring authors that are listening. What is one thing that you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself when you started working on your first book Brand Hacks?


Emmanuel Probst: Hedge I mean, first and foremost, thank you for reading Brand Hacks three times. And, look, the good news is you had to pay for your book only once each time you read it, it’s three times cheaper to you than it is to anyone who read the book only once. So in all seriousness, I appreciate as you said that in your community, our listeners, many people might have a project for a book or have published a book already. I’ll give you a few very important tips. And I will be very concise. Number one, don’t try to write a book, you have an idea, and you’re going to work on developing this idea, kind of a puzzle. So you need one central idea. And for this idea, it becomes a blog post. And then it becomes a series of articles. And then maybe it becomes a mini-series on social media. And then you’re going to socialize this idea with an audience no matter how small. And over time, you will validate that your idea is strong enough to become a book. You need more content, so book obviously is going to be 60,000 words 50,000 words and a blog post is only 700. And you also need to make sure that the idea resonates with your audience. So the number one advice when writing a book is do not try to write a book. The focus is the idea. The second advice is who are you going to sell this to? What is the audience for this book? And that is to any product you would start, any brand you would start. And frankly as romantic as you will end glamorous as writing a book might sound, at the end of the day, it is a lot of marketing and it is a lot of product placement. And it’s not that different from toothpaste and breakfast cereals. So who is the audience for that book? And that’s important that you define this audience clearly. And you qualify you really create an audience persona. And the third thing to keep in mind, and that is particularly relevant for nonfiction writers like you like me, and like our community, our listeners today, in nonfiction, a book is a vessel for an idea. And what I mean by this is, how are you going to productize the idea? How are you going to extract some mileage, for lack of a better expression? Meaning, could it become a training course? Could it become a workshop? Is it going to become a keynote presentation? Can you do some bike learnings meaning share with people 12 key tips, 15 conversation starters from the book. Importantly, again, the book is a vessel for an idea. It’s a great business card, if you will, it commands a lot of credibility in and of itself, with the exception of very few writers, Malcolm Gladwell, and Seth Godin and those guys, the book in and of itself is not enough.


Jamin Brazil: When you say not enough, you mean is that connected to them needing to do more marketing?


Emmanuel Probst: It’s connecting to more marketing, the book is a great way to start a conversation into a [CROSSTALK]. It’s not the end of it all, it’s the beginning. And I’m saying this in a very positive way. So the opportunity to start a new relationship, what I write in my books now, when I sign books, I write two new possibilities. That’s what the book is about, is starting something new, opening the door to new relationships, new opportunities, new possibilities.


Jamin Brazil: Let’s talk about Assemblage, again, the title Assemblage, The Art and Science of Brand Transformation. So what is the problem that you are trying to address or you are addressing, excuse me, and why is it urgent right now?


Emmanuel Probst: Sure. The problem is we as consumers are overwhelmed with products and overwhelmed with brands, and we expect more from those products and those brands. What I mean by this is selling breakfast cereal, selling great toothpaste, those products might be of great quality. That’s not enough. We expect this, we need those products, and we need those brands to transform us and to transform the world we live in. And what I mean by this is as an outcome of being this brand, as an outcome of using these products, I want to go from who am I to who do I want to become? That’s what I mean by transformation. You need, when using the product, when choosing the brand, I need to feel that I’m becoming a better person as an outcome of choosing this brand and using this product. I also expect this brand, this company, this corporation, and its products to make a positive impact on my world, meaning my friends and family, my community, and also to make a positive impact on the world we live in. And that has to do with economic recovery after COVID, and it has to do with citizenship and sustainability and so on and so forth. And Jamin, if I may you exemplify this, you’re now part of a well known very respected organization called Voxpopme. By the way, I’m saying this transparency, since obviously I work for Ipsos, I don’t feel we’re competitors. But in any case, I recognize that Voxpopme is a great organization, it’s a great company that sells quality solutions. But you go the extra mile through the Happy Market Research podcast, you go the extra mile because you do something that benefits the community. In the long run all this benefits your brand equity and how people perceive you Jamin Brazil, your personal brand, but also how do they perceive your offering your solutions at Voxpopme? So in that regard, you Jamin and you Voxpopme as an organization, you are making a positive impact on the market research community.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah, it is funny, it is a lot like I almost think of it as nation building in a way it’s maybe overstating it, but there’s a lot to drive positive to make a big impact on people’s lives and then tangentially, but also connected to it is the opportunity to be able to monetize those relationships. And it is kind of like getting into my nation building example. It is kind of like people vote with their feet, right? And if you have that, that ethos of prioritizing the betterment of your community, your niche, your target market, your whatever, and that’s where you start, then it really gives you material advantage, because you’re not looking at extracting, you’re looking at adding to those individuals.


Emmanuel Probst: Well, and I think what you said is very important. I’m reflecting on what you said, Jamin, you start with the audience, you start with your community. And then you build something that is beneficial to the audience and the community, meaning in what you just said, you put your community first, not yourself. And I can go back to your first question. You want to think first yeah, I have a great idea. I want to write about a given topic. Importantly, how does this benefit my audience? As opposed to squeezing whatever you have in your desk drawer, or whatever you have in your company that you can force feed someone, if that makes sense?


Jamin Brazil: That makes perfect sense. And again, I haven’t read the book, it hasn’t been published yet. But what’s interesting about how you’re framing it, I go back 20, 25 years ago, where we used to talk a lot about share of wallet, right? And so it’s all about how much of that wallet can I consume of the customer as a brand. And then the counterpoint to that is, I like McDonald’s as an example. They’re much more in the partnership mentality now with customers, where they’re two for Tuesday, or what have you, where it’s about where’s the big value that we as an organization can offer to people? And that has the tangential benefit, of course of creating a recurring customer experience.


Emmanuel Probst: For partnership with the customer, what you just mentioned, is covered in the book, in terms of brand read events, and citizens and brands are activists now. So that’s very important. In a nutshell, five, seven, 10 years ago, as marketers, we will control the narrative, we will control the brand strategy, the marketing. Today, you marketers have to live with the fact that you only co-create this narrative, you guide this narrative, you’re going to work with your audience to co create the brand. So you have to let go of some control. You don’t want to feel insecure about it, you’re here to guide and you’re here to inspire your community, this community are your clients, our citizens, our people. And that’s the skill, is to guide to moderate, and to co-create the narrative, and understand, appreciate and leverage the fact that your audience is going to co-create the brand with you, and this book tells you how.


Jamin Brazil: I’d love that. I had not ever framed it in the way of co creation. But I have said that it used to be the case that brands who are who they said they were. So they would have a narrative and they would lead with that. And that’s what the general consumer thought about them. But now it’s the case that brands are who your customer say you are. And it’s even more concerning if customers aren’t talking about you.


Emmanuel Probst: 100%.


Jamin Brazil: Who is the target reader?


Emmanuel Probst: The target reader is anyone in marketing, advertising, market research, brand strategy, management consulting, that wants to build a brand, grow a brand, be smarter about it, and wants to do so for years to come. This is not a tactical book. Well, there are some tactics that you can implement straight away. But what’s important is, how are you going to grow your brand? How are you going to increase customer lifetime value for years to come? And this strategic lens, I think, is really important. Now, just like with my first book, the writing is really approachable, meaning you might be a marketing student at a university, and you will appreciate the book. Or you might be the Chief Strategy Officer at a big four and you will also appreciate the book. I’m saying so because I just had some early feedback earlier this week from a Chief Strategy Officer at one of the big four’s, and his take on the book, and I certainly don’t mean to brag, but his email said you’re doing some important work here. And what’s rewarding with Assemblage, The Art and Science of Transformation is this feedback I’m receiving from people in our industry Jamin telling me this book is timely, this book is important because we just cannot continue to do marketing the way we’ve been doing it for the last five, seven, 10 years. And we marketers, we brand professionals and advertisers, we need to make a bigger impact on the world if, again, we want people to choose our products for many years.


Jamin Brazil: Oh, that’s really good. And to your point about bragging, I feel like in a lot of ways we don’t self-promote enough. And the problem is that we rob the audience the potential beneficiary of that knowledge, because they don’t have the context or the social proof in order to understand that it is important for them to read. I would imagine you’re thinking about like the spectrum of reader here. As you said, it could be entry level or even in the educational stage of your career. Is there also a component of the small to medium-sized businesses being able to benefit from this?


Emmanuel Probst: 100%. Because it’s interesting to look at Nike and Patagonia and Vos, great brands we all like. However, very few brands have the reach, very few brands have the budget to deploy campaigns like Nike, Patagonia, Mariette and Volvo, and all those big brands. Therefore, in this book, you have many case studies, I think you have almost 40 case studies in that book. And yes, we look at big brands sometimes, for example, Unilever is doing things that are very powerful around their project for real beauty. But we also look at very small brands, one is a brand called Anthem, and Anthem makes Thai dinners delivered to your home, there is a DTC firm in France called Asphalt. And what Asphalt does is they create clothing items based only on what people order. Therefore, there is no inventory being wasted, because they produce only what they sell. All this to say that you have examples in this book are very small brands. And for further inspiration, the last chapter is called The Assemblers. And The Assemblers are the artists and the musicians and the producers many of us admire. And this chapter shows you how they do their craft, so that you can apply this to marketing. And an example in this chapter is Pharrell Williams, and you like his music or you don’t or DJ Khaled is another example. And it doesn’t matter if you like DJ Khaled’s music. The point is to say DJ Khaled is very successful. But really DJ Khaled is not a musician, he’s an assembler, he’s an orchestrator, meaning he’s someone who is going to mix and match, combine and transform sounds and inspirations that he receives from his community into a great product. And in that regard, the book is empowering for our reader, it shows you how to do it, and it shows you that you can do it too.


Jamin Brazil: Do we have you know me, I like tactics. Can you give us a sneak peek if I open the book, like what is the key tactic or practical application that I’d be able to apply to my business today?


Emmanuel Probst: I’ll even give you two. The first one is a method called copy, transform, combine. In short, that means don’t try to reinvent the wheel, find inspiration in products that exist already and in categories that are unrelated to the brand you’re trying to create. And you’re then going to remix this. That’s what I call the remix economy. So, you’re going to transform and create juxtapositions of those, basically, an assemblage of those different elements, and you’re going to transform this into something new. And many of the artists we admire, and many of the brands we admire, they didn’t start from scratch anyway, whether it’s Star Wars that was inspired from a novel, and Apple did not invent the mouse, Apple did not invent personal computing, it did not invent the iPod, it copied, transformed an existing idea into a better product. So that’s tip number one. And so copy, transform, combine is really important. And the second one is stop googling things. Meaning it’s great to discover new things on the internet. You and I do this whole day and that’s fine. At some point, though you close the lid of your laptop, and you simply sit with maybe a notepad and a pencil. And you just brainstorm with yourselves and you start finding new ideas that way. Google is misleading because if you type something in Google, instant gratification, you’re going to find an answer. So that feels good in the moment. But now take a step back and think about whatever is on page one of Google. The problem is that if you found that answer, millions of other people had access to the exact same answer. And in fact, there is that saying in our industry, Jamin, which I’m sure you’re familiar with, that is what is the best way to hide a dead body? Page two of Google. So why Google is very useful, don’t get me wrong, I use it every day, many times a day. There’s nothing wrong with this. But there are times to be present, to start Googling things, to stop looking at social media, and sit down with yourself and simply challenge yourself in finding more ideas on your own. And that’s when the great work starts. And that is what is fulfilling in the process of writing and creating.


Jamin Brazil: I like that because one is very inward focused and draws on yourself. And the other is outward focus, when you think about the framework of remixing at least as I understand it right now. What I really like about the remix is you see that happening on Tik Tok and the growth of that platform. I guess the fundamental premise of Tik Tok is taking a trend and then re-mixing that trend into your own voice if you’re a content creator.


Emmanuel Probst: 100%. That is indeed the remix economy that is building upon something that has already been done. And in my opinion, it’s putting new things on things. It’s copying in a good way. Because you do so it’s out in the open, by the way, the title of my book Assemblage, I did not invent that word. When I talk about the art and science of brand transformation, how you can mix and match different components from culture and all that. Well, this concept is inspired from how you make whiskey, how you make cognac, how you make wine. So to make a whiskey, you assemble a range of different whiskies basically. So an assembler, a master wine maker is going to pick from up to 300 different whiskies, and they’re different because of different barrels and different ageing process and different flavors and so on and so forth. And the winemaker is going to mix and match those different alcohols to create that whiskey. That brand that taste that is unique that has a strong product identity. And this exemplifies Jamin what I’m saying this copy transform combine process, I did not invent whiskey. I did not invent the process to craft a great, unique whiskey. I did not create a word assemblage. I applied this reasoning this process, this method, this best practice to the world and the purpose of marketing.


Jamin Brazil: Perfect. Our guest today has been Dr. Emmanuel Probst, the global leader of brand thought leadership and Senior Vice President of brand health tracking at Ipsos. Author and professor at UCLA, his book is titled Assemblage, The Art and Science of Brand Transformation. You can pre-order that on Amazon today. Emmanuel, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Emmanuel Probst: Jamin and everyone, our listeners on the Happy Market Research podcast, thank you so much for such a great conversation today.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 578 – The Art of Research with Susan Fader: What is Narrative Economics and how to Utilize it in Your Business Strategy

My guest today is Susan Fader, keynote speaker and founder of FaderFocus. 

Susan has run FaderFocus as a Business Strategist & Transformationalist Catalyst specializing in Qualitative methods and strategic consulting.

She helps clients achieve focus and get “unstuck”, reframing their energies, their confirmational biases, and the traditional ways of segmenting their customers. 

Find Susan Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the #1 ranked insights and analytics graduate degree in three formats: 

  • Full-time on campus 
  • Full-time online 
  • Part-time online

NEW FOR 2022: 

If you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their 3-course certificates: Insights Design or Insights Analysis. 

In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build toward your graduation.

If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at: broad.msu.edu/marketing.

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

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


Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody, I’m Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Our guest today is Susan Fader, keynote speaker and founder of Fader Focus. Susan has run Fader Focus as a business strategist and transformationalist catalyst specializing in qualitative methods and strategic consulting. She helps clients achieve focus and get unstuck, reframing their energies, their conformational biases, and the traditional ways of segmenting their customers. Susan, welcome back to the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Susan Fader: I’m very happy to be here and talk with you again.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number 1 ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats, full-time on campus, full-time online, and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full-degree program, simply begin with one of their three-course certifications, Insights Design, or Insights Analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSU’s program at broad. msu. edu slash marketing, again broad. msu. edu/marketing. Hub UX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video edition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. Before we get into the core content, I wanted to talk briefly about your speaking. You have been a speaker since I’ve known you anyway, various industry events, but more recently you’ve been brought in for corporations to talk to them and their off-sites. I’m just curious, is this a trend for your career, and what are they bringing you in for?


Susan Fader: They’re bringing me in for really my original thinking of reframing how you think about business challenges, because a lot of businesses are like these cars that are stuck in the mud and the tire keeps spinning and you’re doing the same thing. They need to think differently about their businesses. They’re coming out of the pandemic. The whole dynamics of their categories, who their buyers are, how they talk to them has changed. And they want to make sure when they are thinking about business strategies that their baseline assumptions are correct, and that’s where I come in. I help them reframe how they think about what the business challenge is, what the opportunity is, and how to look at things more from a customer perspective than how business units are set up.


Jamin Brazil: It’s funny. It is in every way becoming a better listener. I’m just constantly amazed at how when we do that, we can connect more, and obviously on a one-to-one framework, but I think it works really well from a brand framework as well. Anyway, we’ll dive more into that momentarily. So this is the third time that you’ve been on the show. The first time was on contextual intelligence. The second was on cognitive demographics, and today we’re talking about yet another new thing for me, narrative economics. What in the world is narrative economics and what business question does it address?


Susan Fader: So narrative economics is really about stories. When you think about in the business world of storytelling, it really is seen as an output of how you deliver findings or how you talk to the board of directors or CEO, and you have to have a story that has beginning, middle, and end, and you’re delivering conclusions. Narrative economics is about storytelling as input. It’s about hearing what people are thinking about, and it doesn’t have to have a beginning and middle or end. It could be a song, a poem, a sermon, a joke, but gives you insight of what people are thinking. That’s what narrative economics is, and it’s about storytelling. I can give you a little more background if you want.


Jamin Brazil: So it’s about storytelling, and so that’s the narrative component of it. But then you have the economics, which is usually, at least from my point of view, is framed on whether that’s usually market conditions or what drives overall economic outcomes.


Susan Fader: So let’s step back. Behavioral economics, system 1, system 2, has become really, really big, and behavioral economics came out of the world of financial economics. What social scientists did, they recognized something that was in the world of financial economics, and they adapted it, and businesses and market researchers adapted the world of behavioral economics to something that we use, and the underpinning of behavioral economics is that people are irrational, and they make irrational decisions. When Robert J. Schiller, who’s a Nobel Prize winner in economics, came out with narrative economics in 2018, and I read the paper, and I realized, “Wow,” this was an idea that we really have to take into business, just the way behavioral economics was transformed. And I have been, for the last five or six years, the drumbeat of we have to incorporate narrative economics. And my take is narrative economics should be viewed as the insider, the person who’s being studied’s perspective of why the choice or decision may be rational to that person, and therefore it reframes how we look at behavioral economics. Behavioral economics, we have to now recognize, and this is what I really feel, is we’re making a judgment call on whether a person is rational behavior, we’re the outsiders, and we’re doing a judgment call on whether they’re being rational. Narrative economics gives us the backstory and the perspective of why the behavior might be rational to the person, but not to the observer. And that’s why I think narrative economics is so important that we integrate into any business strategy or any business thinking that we are doing.


Jamin Brazil: In all transparency, a little out of my depth, my understanding of economics is very much one of a hobbyist, as opposed to an academic. But at least my remembering of behavioral economics is really around scarcity and why humans or what rather humans will wind up choosing, and that driver ultimately is what is going to improve them the most or be the best thing for them from their point of view. And so then, as I understand it, as you’re describing it, narrative economics really feeds the why framework they’re making that specific choice.


Susan Fader: Yes, it does. And again, the thing we have to recognize is people rationalize behavior to themselves, even if it’s irrational. But again, then it’s a rational decision on their point. But it also gives us the context of how they’re making the decision in the missing link, because a lot of times when we’re judging consumer behavior, obviously we’re the outsider, but at the same time, we don’t have the context of what’s going on, of how they’re making it, what other things are impacting. I’ll give you an example. When in the Rust Belt, when all these factories were moving to Mexico and all these people were losing $40 an hour jobs and they were offered the opportunity to move, the company would move them and the people wouldn’t move and they were left in areas that had no jobs, and you were like, “Why wouldn’t these people move?” They’d rather be unemployed than have all these benefits and $40, $50 an hour jobs. That’s irrational. However, if you think of a person’s personal hierarchy of value, and the biggest thing to them is family, and all their family lives in that 15 mile radius, then they’re going to choose not to move, even though it’s going to negatively really impact their life. Because to them, family is more important, being around family. So that’s a rational decision. But if you think about all the articles we’ve read about, how could these people not move? That’s an outsized job. So that’s why, if you understand the narrative of how they’re talking, and that’s why listening to podcasts about any particular- there’s podcasts about anything, of every demographic. So if you listen to people talking on podcasts, or if you read biographies, or people- J. D. Vance, who was just elected Senator in Ohio, was Hillbilly Elegy, gave insight of growing up in the Rust Belt from Appalachia. And Tara Westover, her book about educated living off the grid in Utah. It gives you insight of what their lives are, and what their decisions were, and where they ended up. And that’s very important. And I don’t think enough business people do that, that they really listen to the stories. It’s not a dissident bit, it’s really hearing the context of their life, and how, and understanding why they make decisions the way they do.


Jamin Brazil: Totally. And it’s interesting that you can leverage digital frameworks, you said podcasts, but it could be other things too. It could be like TikTok channels, or hashtags, or what have you. But really as inputs to help inform your point of view of an audience or a segment. And it’s interesting because you’re basically consuming monologues, or one side of their point of view of whatever it is that they’re talking about, what they care about, what drivers are, what annoys them, all that sort of stuff.


Susan Fader: It’s also getting back to research and conversations. A lot of times, we’ve talked about this before, there’s more stuff than can fit in the guide, the 15-page guide, than you have time to talk, have a conversation, and it’s this question-answer structure. What you really need to do is devote the first 10-15 minutes of any research interaction you have, allowing the person to share a story. If I am doing research with healthcare profess- doctors, I’ll ask them in two or three sentences, tell me why you became a doctor and why your specialty. And they’d light up, and they start sharing, you’ve touched them, and gotten into a personal aspect of who they are, and it gives me context of how to have a conversation with them. But if you’re doing a consumer project, don’t assume you know everything because you’ve already interviewed this profile 40 times before. The person you’re talking to, a lot of their decision making is automatic. So what you need to do is just kind of get them to share their perspective. If you’re talking about making dinner, you have a food product and it has an integral part of dinner, you might say, “Tell me the story of what you like about making dinner and what you don’t, and tell me in five sentences. And or give me three descriptive words about how you feel about making dinner.” You kind of give them a framework because most people don’t know how to tell a story anymore. And so if you give them- and say, you have to give them a framework. So if they give you the three words, you say, “Tell me why those three words.” And you get tremendous insight into how they’re feeling as opposed to what do you like, what you don’t you like. So the three words can really jumpstart the conversation. And in ancient Greece, if a guest was at the table at the meal, their obligation was to share a story with the host to tell something about themselves. And that was belief you really get to know someone that way.


Jamin Brazil: Oh, that’s so interesting. I recently did a study, for my blog, on a Lazy Boy and I asked a question that was a video question. So people would respond, give me their answers via video. Tell me about your most memorable experience on a Lazy Boy piece of furniture. And it was so emotional, the response, we had 350 people that qualified to take the survey. And their stories impacted me so much this year for Christmas, I’m requesting a Lazy Boy recliner.


Susan Fader: Because it was emotional, you asked about them. It was a broad question so they can interpret it whichever way they wanted. It could be memorable, could have been how it was delivered, or a memorable could have been how they made a repair on it. You didn’t put any constraints on what story they were going to do. And most research would say, “Tell me about the delivery process. Have you had any repairs? Tell me.” So that kind of guides them, but you were broad so that they could bring any story they wanted from any aspect of the relationship. And that’s a key to narrative economics.


Jamin Brazil: And what was so interesting on the- I will pick on this study a little bit more, is that you’re right in the things that surfaced, I don’t think I would have ever pulled it out of a survey, unless I had asked the question. One of the interesting thing was I asked- I got 350 responses. So even if I had just done a handful of one-on-one interviews, I don’t think the findings would have surfaced like they did, but some of the things that surprised me were the experience with the store at the store was so- my sales rep was the favorite most memorable part of having the furniture, with the furniture, which you is counterintuitive. You think it would be something else. And that was- one of those was a story of one of the sales reps saying, “Hey, I’ll come out to your apartment and check it out, and let you know what I think would be a good layout for you,” just kind of for free, going out of their way to do that kind of stuff.


Susan Fader: So that that’s very interesting. You said counterintuitive. That’s like you were going to set, you would normally set guardrails on what you think a memorable story should entail. And that’s what many businesses do. So if you had set the guardrails and don’t tell me about the sales experiences, tell me about your experience having one, you would have missed out. And narrative economics, again, is about them sharing a story with you from their perspective and you not guiding them by the hand on what story they should tell.


Jamin Brazil: So we’ve already kind of stepped on this next question, but I’m going to ask it anyway because I would really like to flesh it out more. How does narrative economics connect to consumer insights?


Susan Fader: It’s exactly what we just did. It doesn’t put constraints on what you’re going to hear. A lot of times when you start- think about it, when you’re asked a very direct question, it’s like you put blinders on and the consumer says, “Oh, they only want me to answer X, Y, and Z. Therefore, I’m only going to answer X, Y, and Z.” And you’re kind of putting tunnel vision on the consumer, not allowing them to really tell what they’re thinking. You’re guiding the conversation. You want it to be unguided, at least at the beginning, so they contextualize it and then you react to how they’re telling the story. And that’s how you’re going to get a lot more out.


Jamin Brazil: So qualitative, obviously, in nature, do you see it play out in quant-research?


Susan Fader: That’s exactly what you just did with 350 Lazy Boy. The key is with AI, you really in quant to not have an open-end video right now is, I think, ridiculous. And I think you actually should start quant surveys with an open-end.


Jamin Brazil: So on point.


Susan Fader: Because that’s how you start understanding their perspective. And then if you want to do a cross-tab, you do a cross-tab of the answers based on their perspective. Because, again, businesses tend to segment customers based on what their business unit needs are. But customers might segment themselves differently, put them in groups other than what you would see them in, and by putting an open-end at the beginning of a quant and using AI to help you figure it out, I think you would get a lot more insight from your quant.


Jamin Brazil: It’s funny, I’ve been saying this for years, a survey is really just a conversation at scale. And finally, technology is getting to the spot where it can analyze unstructured data, because nobody speaks in Likert scales.


Susan Fader: Right. No one speaks in Likert scale. And the other issue is talking about data and talking about quantifiable data, when you think about Google searches, people tend to search the top 10 or the top five ways things are categorized in that category. But if you think about it, data is historical and that’s looking backwards. And if you do that, you don’t see what the emerging trends are. Because something as simple as brushing your teeth, I went to a Google presentation and they said there was over 100,000 ways that people talk about brushing your teeth. So if you only do the top 10, you’re going to miss something. So that’s also happy conversation will help you understand what other things you should be looking for in Google searches beyond just the top 10.


Jamin Brazil: Oh, that’s super insightful. I talked to you a little bit about a project. I didn’t intentionally do narrative economics, but it may have had some overlap. Do you have a specific or a favorite project where you leverage it for a customer?


Susan Fader: Oh my God. It’s like asking me who my favorite child is and I have lots of children. I think it’s hard to- your most favorite, because I work in so many different categories and I’ve had so many interesting conversations and people who have totally surprised me. I didn’t expect them to say something, but I think one of the most moving ones I had was a project I did with evangelical Christians and I was hired by a group. Let me just backtrack from it, this was at a time right after the Supreme Court had ruled same sex marriages was legal and marriage that was legal in 50 states. However, in 37 states, it was still legal to fire someone because of their sexual preference. It was still legal to evict someone from their home if they were renting if they were homosexual. So the objective here was to try to get those laws off the books in those states and not have evangelical Christians, basically to have them not fight it, not that they need to be advocates, but that they shouldn’t be against that move. So what we need- 


Jamin Brazil: De-escalation of the issue?


Susan Fader: Well, trying to figure out where the minefields were, in terms of communicating and messaging to the public in terms of voting and de-escalation, what can you say? How can you say it? Where can you say it? And I did. I must have done 50 one-on-one interviews and we also did groups and I had them tell stories things, we had an exercise, I’m not going to go into detail, but they came in and they were prepared to tell a story and then we talked. And I cannot tell you how many times during these interviews people broke down and cried. And the thing was they’re very adamant that a marriage was between a man and a woman. And anything that referenced, this was in the case with the wedding cake and everything and that was the minefield, you couldn’t go anywhere near that. But when you started hearing that people could be evicted from their homes because what they were doing in the privacy of their bedroom, that was not right. And one person said, “As long as they’re not,” I’m not going to use the word that they use, but on the conference table, why do I care what they do in their bedroom? How can you throw someone out of their home or how could you fire someone? And it was this understanding, this emotion where we were able to separate this thing that had been so tightly woven together, where homosexuals are destroying America because of marriage. “Oh my God, they’re just like me, they need to live in a home, they need a job. How could you do- what would Jesus say?” And then at the end of some of these interviews, people would tell me the stories of how a child had come out to them and they didn’t speak for them for years and years and what wasted part of their lives and would I go out with a drink with them afterwards? They were very emotional interviews and you could just see the battle people were having with their beliefs and family and just everything. And that really, really stuck with me. And that was something where it was really about having them tell us stories, this narrative economics approach.


Jamin Brazil: And in that, those stories then informed, in this case, the evangelicals point of view on the specific issue of gay marriage and also the specific messaging landmines that need to be either avoided or addressed for easier legislative adoption.


Susan Fader: Right. So what happened was in the beginning was this open-end where they told us the story and then we actually showed them concrete print ads and television, online ads that we could do and how they responded to images. But we had the context, as opposed to when you start out just showing them advertised and they go, “I like that because that’s a pretty color.” Here we had a context of what was emotional to them and they were able to reference that. It came like a lie detector test because they had told the story from their guts and they then were able to really be articulate where the communication was working and where it had gone off the rails. And so we got very clear findings as opposed to a beauty contest where you usually do when you show them concepts or ads.


Jamin Brazil: Super interesting stuff. Well, I appreciate the explanation of narrative economics, a new thing for me and I’m definitely going to be diving into it. The application to research seems just amazing and I appreciate the tips that you gave, specifically the three words as a way to get participants to start framing up their stories.


Susan Fader: Right. And you tried the word should be descriptive words, adjectives, or adverbs. You really don’t want nouns. You want emotional. You want to know how they’re feeling and sometimes a little hard, but let them give you the words and then tell me the story behind the words. You said this word, this word, or this phrase. Help me understand. So you’re not going to say, “Tell me this word, tell me,” they’ve given you a framework of, they have now have a framework and now they can start telling you a story.


Jamin Brazil: So how do you frame the initial question?


Susan Fader: I’m going to give you a term and I would like you to give me three distinctly descriptive words or phrases that capture how you feel or think about what I’m going to say to you right now.


Jamin Brazil: Oh my gosh. I love that. Oh, awesome. Perfect. Great. I appreciate the clarity and the tactical and the strategy point of this has been super informative podcast, Susan. Thank you very much.


Susan Fader: Appreciate it. So you can see how from when I do this corporate speaking, how it’s reframing how people think about business challenges.


Jamin Brazil: To say the least. Our guest today has been Susan Fader, keynote speaker and founder of Fader Focus. Susan, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Susan Fader: It was a pleasure, as always.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you found as much value in this as I did. As always screen capture, share on social media, tag me and I will send you a t-shirt. Have a great day.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 577 – 3 Ways Emotion Impacts Consumers and Their Brand Choices with Anne Beall, Founder and CEO of Beall Research

My guest today is Anne Beall, Founder and CEO of Beall Research. 

Founded in 2003, Beall Research is a strategic market research firm based in Chicago that services some of today’s top brands. 

Anne holds a Ph.D. from Yale and has worked at Boston Consulting Group and National Analysts.  

Find Anne Online:

Find Jamin Online:

  • Email: jamin@happymr.com 

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

This episode is brought to you by Michigan State’s Marketing Research program. Are you looking for higher pay, to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research?

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This episode is brought to you by  HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com.


Jam Brazil: Hi, I’m Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Our guest today is Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research. Founded in 2003, Beall Research is a strategic market research firm based in Chicago that services some of today’s top brands. Anne holds a PhD from Yale and has worked at Boston Consulting Group and National Analysts. Anne, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.


Anne Beall: Well thank you for having me. I feel so happy just being here.


Jam Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in marketing research program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full time online and part time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program simply begin with one of their three core certifications. Insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential check out MSNU’s program at B-R-O-A-D.msu.edu/marketing. Again, B-R-O-A-D.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. Now you’ve been on the show before first in April 19, 2019. And later you covered one of my favorite episodes which was a discussion on what makes a good story. I know it’s crazy. Today we’re going to be talking about emotions. Specifically the role of emotion as it relates to brand, but before we do I want to talk a little bit about you being an author. So you are a prolific writer. You have six published books, including Strategic Market Research which is a guide to conducting research that drives businesses. And one of my favorites, Community Cats, a journey into the world of Feral Cats. What are you working on now?


Anne Beall: Well I have just released a book called Only Prince Charming Gets to Break the Rules. Gender and rule violation in fairy tales and life. So that’s a good Christmas gift for your daughters. But that’s one where we analyze fairy tales. We looked at 200 Fairy Tales from around the world. And we actually analyze them for who breaks the rules, who gets rewarded and who gets punished? Little spoiler alert here, we found that in general male characters break the rules much more than females and tend to get rewarded. Whereas female characters tend to get punished severely when they break the rules.


Jam Brazil: And we’re seeing some like, over the last I want to say five-ish years, we’re seeing more of the heroine role emerge. What’s your point of view? I’m thinking like, one of my favorite Disney movies actually is Brave.


Anne Beall: Yes.


Jam Brazil: What’s your view on how things are evolving?


Anne Beall: Well unfortunately they’re not evolving fast enough or well enough to make me happy. Unfortunately the Cinderella is, it’s a pretty traditional tale. Those are the heroines actually that do the best at the Box Office. So I don’t know if you saw the more recent Amazon version of Cinderella where she wants to be an entrepreneur, it bombed. But I do love Mulan, I loved Raya. I love some of the great female heroines occurring out of Disney but they are not as central enough to our culture to make as much of a difference as I like them. But I’m happy that they’re there.


Jam Brazil: It’s interesting, me 51 year old male, you say Princess and I immediately go to Cinderella and Snow White. Because that was the pool of princesses when I was a kid. I haven’t actually thought about that in the context of my daughter’s most recently. So my daughters, my youngest is five and she loves playing princess. But it is a really important point that you’re making around how we normalize who can lead and change and who can’t.


Anne Beall: Absolutely. So that’s kind of a fun book about, also I am releasing a new version. The fourth edition of Strategic Market Research. The book that you mentioned. So that will be out in a couple of weeks.


Jam Brazil: And I use that as curriculum in my MBA course. So thank you very much for that.


Anne Beall: You are so welcome.


Jam Brazil: So let’s get into the topics, emotion. It drives everything. We all know this although I do think that brands have been paying a lot more attention to emotion. Today we’re really trending in the last five years. So what does emotion, or rather how does emotion impact brand choice?


Anne Beall: Well it impacts it at a variety of levels. So there is an emotional response that we have to everything. That could be a positive response, a negative response or a neutral sort of immediate response we have. And you have that to an ad that goes across your screen. You have it at shelf where you see a brand in front of you. You have emotional responses that have been built up over many years. First thing when I see the Coca-Cola brand, things come to mind like Christmas and Santa Claus and family and years and years of Coca-Cola advertising have really connected these things with that brand for me and I have a positive emotional response to that brand. And so that’s the first place that works. The second place that it works is around emotional identification. You have a response to a brand that sort of you carry around. When you see certain things, oh you feel good or oh, you don’t feel so good. And then there’s a level of emotional identification that you have. I am not a carbonated soft drink person. So I don’t emotionally identify with Coca-Cola soft drink products particularly. So when I see the Coca-Cola in the can or the bottle or whatever, I don’t think oh, that’s not really a product for me. So there’s a level at which I kind of just don’t really connect with that brand in terms of emotionally identifying with it. But my running shoes, oh that’s a totally different story. I probably treat those better than some of my dress shoes. I emotionally identify with the sport. I emotionally identify with the many miles I’ve used them running. So there’s that. And then the last thing that emotions do is brands make us feel things about ourselves. When I take those running shoes out, I have a great run. I’m totally convinced of course if it’s, I’m such a great runner but maybe the shoes are giving me an edge and of course I’m taking good care of my health. After I finish a run I feel particularly good. I unlace my shoes. There’s a whole set of emotional things that are happening there. And when I see my shoes I have a certain reaction to them. And that is the case for a lot of things in our lives. Whether it’s the books we read, whether it’s the things we eat. The brands that we purchase that we use for our technology. Everything around you probably you have a reaction to and you either emotionally identify with it or maybe you don’t. And at some level it makes you feel certain things about yourself. We found that when people talked about the Apple brand and how they felt about themselves using it, they felt smarter, confident, in control. Well I don’t know about you Jamin, but anything that makes me feel smarter and more in control, I’m all for it. Bring it on.


Jam Brazil: I heard a, this goes back a number of years- a keynote by Wozniak, one of the co-founders of Apple. And he said that they were- one of the big surprises when they launched the Apple is that people felt the feeling of love when they held their phone. Which was not the case with flip phones by the way. There’s a totally different sort of different like connection framework. There’s a couple things that stand out to me. One is that obviously emotion is really important, duh, but your Coke example is a really good one that I connect with. Coke is one of my top five brands. However I don’t consume carbonated beverage. So I do connect with it. Like if I see a coke commercial I’m always in love with it. There’s never a [CROSSTALK].


Anne Beall: Yes.


Jam Brazil: Commercial right?


Anne Beall: No.


Jam Brazil: And I’m a Coke enthusiast, and yet I am not a consumer, I’m not a buyer.


Anne Beall: But you may buy Dasani, right?


Jam Brazil: Right. That’s true.


Anne Beall: That may be the place where it kind of bleeds over but if you don’t emotionally quite identify with it there’s going to be something that’s happening there. So you might buy that old Coke truck that they have the collector’s item. You might buy that. You might because you just kind of love the nostalgia.


Jam Brazil: 100%. So when you think about, I guess maybe we’re categorizing it as like customer loves strategies. Coke is obviously doing it really really well and has been for decades. Who are some companies from your vantage point that you think maybe you’re starting to do it really well?


Anne Beall: I think there are- I think there are a lot of companies that do this well. I think about like Asutra. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that brand. It’s A-S-U-T-R-A, but they’re all about self care. And they kind of say things like, self care isn’t selfish. And so they really make people feel a certain way about buying their products and services. So I think they’re connecting with an emotional need that you have. And when you buy their products and services you feel like you’re taking good care of yourself and they’re kind of in partnership with you on that. So I think that’s kind of a good example. I think there are companies out there, L’Oréal had for a long time, because I’m worth it. Which was getting into that whole notion of, this is something that you’re going to use because it’s higher quality. And by the way you are a worthwhile and valuable person and should take care of yourself and use things that are high quality. Things like that. I think these are good kind of classic examples of, and I think that, I can think of a million ads but I don’t know if you recall, when we were younger there used to be on the TV Calgon ads. Calgon, Calgon take me away. You and I remember that. That ad hasn’t shown in decades. But it did a good job of that. And the other ad you might recall is a picture of a baby in the middle of a tire. Do you recall that ad? That’s an iconic ad. And we did a lot of tire work for decades. And we’d say, have you seen any advertising that is notable? And people would always mention that ad, which by the way has not been shown in 30 years. But that’s a really good example of connecting with people in an emotional way and also telling the people that what you care about is what I care about. And so there’s a positive emotional- That was Michelin by the way that did that. People have a positive emotional response to Michelin. Michelin has done a great job of getting across the idea that their products are high quality and that they care about safety and you care about safety and so therefore there’s a level of emotional identification you’re going to have with their brand. And so these are good examples. But during the pandemic we saw a lot of people came to us actually and asked us for help with emotions. And we work with some pretty major companies that were trying to figure this out and trying to help navigate this whole brand connection especially when people are suffering.


Jam Brazil: For sure. It’s so interesting the, I’d forgotten all about that. Calagrin? Calgarin? How do you say?


Anne Beall: Calgon.


Jam Brazil: Calgon, there it is, take me away. I totally remember that and then the other one that stands out to me as we go down memory lane is where’s the beef?


Anne Beall: Exactly.


Jam Brazil: But again like an emotional connection to funny like a humorous commercials is not- Can be as powerful as a heartfelt one.


Anne Beall: Absolutely, but the point is that they’re getting across that people are dissatisfied and they’re kind of reckoning with that.


Jam Brazil: How do companies measure emotion?


Anne Beall: Companies measure emotion in lots of different ways. We have done everything from observational coding of people and their body language. I was just writing in the book that I’ve been revising about a piece of work that we did for a major pet manufacturer, food manufacturer, who had a- Created a version of a Walmart and we had people shot this and we actually coded whether they approached the aisle, what kind of facial expressions they showed. We actually coded if they touched anything, how close they got to certain things, how long they spent. And we had a prototype aisle that was exactly like the one at Walmart. And then we had a test shelf which had some new products on it. And then we asked people if they preferred one aisle or the other. And people claimed they had a preference but the preference was equally split. They couldn’t tell us what the difference was between either aisle. They had no idea, but were able to show, they showed more expressions of surprise and delight in the test shell aisle. They spent longer in that aisle and it actually handled more food and put more items in their basket in that aisle. And even though they claimed, oh I prefer the aisle over there, they didn’t prefer the test shelf aisle any more than they preferred the regular aisle. But their behavior told us everything. They were more engaged. So that’s one example that we do a lot of work where we have people do self-reported emotional experience. And so they’ll tell us what their immediate emotional response is to things and how they have strongly they feel certain things and how likely they are to purchase and how likely they are to be loyal. And what emotions are particularly felt the strongest. So we do it in a few different ways.


Jam Brazil: The quantifying it is interesting. It really is. It’s hard to self-report accurately your emotional state.


Anne Beall: It’s actually, that’s actually not true. It’s actually I think.


Jam Brazil: Really?


Anne Beall: It’s actually the case that what we found is the self-reported emotion is the most predictive because it’s what you labelled and identified and you were aware of.


Jam Brazil: That makes sense.


Anne Beall: If I see you have an emotional response to something and then I say to you, oh Jamin, what just happened back there? And you’re looking at me like, huh? Well I saw you had an emotional response to something that was said in conversation but it may be momentary and you kind of moved on. But if you say to me, oh man I got to tell you, boy was I angry, let me tell you about why. The fact that you can label it and the fact that you’re still recalling it and can describe it actually is more predictive of your behavior and it’s more likely it’s important than if I saw it but you didn’t internally label it.


Jam Brazil: I love being wrong. I think the- I had originally connected it to something like a purchase intent right? But you’re- Now that you’re, as you’re explaining it you’re exactly right. And I hadn’t considered the role of labeling to the feeling as a form of enforcement.


Anne Beall: Absolutely. And people often say, oh well you just can’t- Emotions you got to, there has to be something measured that’s like on the face or you have to put some GSR tape on you or something. It’s not true. The fact is if I get your report I’ve got probably the biggest experiences internally for you.


Jam Brazil: When you pull back and you’ve done a volume, a ton of work. I actually heard you present on emotion. I think it was in conjunction with GoDaddy.


Anne Beall: Yes.


Jam Brazil: Which goes back years ago. Do you have a favorite project?


Anne Beall: Oh goodness, I have so many favorite projects. I have said, I was just writing about a project that we did for a laundry manufacturer, laundry detergent manufacturer. They had created a new scent product. Something you stick into your wash and it makes your clothes smell really good. And I remember that we videotaped people opening the very first, opening the bottle for the first time. They had to take it home and use it for one month. And they opened the bottle and we videotaped their reaction. And then they gave us a rating, and you could tell that some of the words were like, oh wow this is terrible. And you can also tell someone, we’re like oh wow, this is great. But their facial response to that initial scent was completely predictive of what happened at the end of the study. The women who had a negative reaction to it, even often they said it was good product. They even rated it highly, at the end of the study they would not use it after the study was concluded. The women who had that initial positive reaction were going to buy it after the study. And I thought how interesting that that one moment was, I didn’t even need to use it for a month. It’s that emotional reaction, so clear.


Jam Brazil: It’s interesting the attributable value of that first experience. It starts really pointing to the brilliance behind Apple investing in packaging.


Anne Beall: Yes, and boxing. Huge. Absolutely. That’s one of my favorite ones, but I have many. They’re all different in their own way and they all make me smarter about this topic as I move along in this journey of my own.


Jam Brazil: When you look forward to the next five years, so you’re benefiting right now because you’re one of the leaders if not the leader in this emotional measurement for market research or consumer insights more broadly. What do you see as a trend in our space or inside of brands relative to consumer intelligence or consumer insights?


Anne Beall: It’s a good question. I feel as though, I think that like Simon Chadwick said recently that consumer insights people have really taken a seat at the table. We add more value than ever because the pandemic really caused people to turn to insights people and ask really big questions that we were able to answer. And so I see market research as continuing to be influential and continuing to deepen its role within organizations. I think that insights, I think, will become more strategic and will become more focused on knitting together many different projects and many different initiatives and become more of a consultant in a way. That if that’s the way I kind of see us moving as being much more less project based and more organizational based if that makes sense.


Jam Brazil: It does. My friend he’s a senior insights lead at Adobe. He and I had a conversation, had a talk at insights, sorry the, it wasn’t it was Green Books iEX, this past April. And it was really interesting how he is now, he now gives presentations. He’s not doing like the book of presentations anymore. He will involve stakeholders throughout the research process from, well who do you want to talk to you? Why are they important? To discussion guides or surveys. What do you expect to get out each question to like early at a glance, top line results, even preliminary results, what do you think about this? And then the actual like presentation, the formal presentation is maybe 5% data and then 95% discussion and strategy.


Anne Beall: That seems like the right way. And I, we you and I have always had the focus that when want to help organizations and we use market research as a tool to do that. But I think it’s, I was on a call today with a major client of ours and we were telling them what the results were but every single slide that we were presenting was like, OK so here’s the implication for you. You guys really need to be doing X, are you doing X? So it felt, but it felt like more of a partnership and more of a consultancy than it did a- Here’s the data.


Jam Brazil: Totally. It’s nice to see finally in my career, market research is really the rudder of action inside organizations. And I truly believe that. Like there’s not a single brand I talked to, and there’s a lot of them, where they’re leading with insights or getting the customer’s point of view at the point of decision is really, it’s really key.


Anne Beall: It is.


Jam Brazil: We’re stepping into 2023. I still don’t have a space car but that’s OK. What is your personal motto?


Anne Beall: My personal motto is always the same every year. And it’s the one I was taught as a little girl by my father who told me look at everything that happens to you as an opportunity. And I can tell you during the pandemic because we specialize in emotions, I hired a PR firm and we got out there and got our message across and we published widely and we had 12 new clients. And when we looked at everything that’s happened has been for the good. As I’m revising these books going forward and as we’re, next year I’ll be doing a lot more traveling and a lot more speaking. And so, I just, I feel like life is a huge gift and I just look at all the things that happen as giving me some springboard and some platform.


Jam Brazil: Our guest today has been Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research. Anne, thank you for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Anne Beall: Thank you so much for having me.


Jam Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. I hope you have a great rest of your day. As always, if you screen capture, share this on social media specifically LinkedIn. Tag me, I will send you a t-shirt. Have a great rest of your day.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 576 – Why Leverage Neuroscience to Measure Consumer & Shopper Behavior with Hunter Thurman, President of Alpha-Diver

Our guest today is Hunter Thurman, President of Alpha-Diver. 

Alpha-Diver is a consultancy that leverages neuroscience to help brands target the right consumers and identifies the best moments for activation. 

Prior to starting Alpha-Diver, Hunter served as a Consultant for WPP in Global Insights, Strategy, and Innovation. Additionally, he served as an Innovation Strategy Mentor at The Brandery.

Find Hunter Online:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hunterthurman/

Alpha-Diver: https://www.alpha-diver.com/ 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 


“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

This episode is brought to you by Michigan State’s Marketing Research program. Are you looking for higher pay, to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research?

Today, the program has tracks for both full-time students and working professionals.

They also provide career support assisting students to win today’s most sought-after jobs. In fact, over 80% of Michigan State’s Marketing Research students have accepted job offers 6 months prior to graduating.

The program has three formats:

  • The first is a Full-Time 100% Online program taught over 12-months starting in January 2022
  • The second is a Part-Time 100% Online program that is 20-months. This one starts in May 2022 and is specifically designed for working professionals,
  • And of course, they offer a Full-Time 12-month in-person experience that starts in September 2022

All programs include real-world experience and full-time job placement support.

If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at:


It costs nothing to get more details. Take the time, invest in yourself. You are worth it and your future self will thank you. Class sizes are limited, so please, check it out today. 

This episode is brought to you by  HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

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


Jamin Brazil: Hi everyone. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Our guest today is Hunter Thurman, President of Alpha-Diver. Alpha-Diver is a consultancy that leverages neuroscience to help brands target the right consumers and identify the best moments for activation. Prior to starting Alpha-Diver, Hunter served as a consultant at WPP and Global Insights of Strategy and Innovation. Additionally he served over a decade as an innovation strategy mentor at the Brandery. Hunter, welcome to the Happy Market Research podcast.


Hunter Thurman: Great, thank you. Great to be here.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in marketing research program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full time online and part time online. New for 2022. If you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three core certifications. Insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential check out MSNU’s program at B-R-O-A-D. M-S-U. edu/marketing. Again, B-R-O-A-D. M-S-U. edu/marketing. WX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time users seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account visit hubux.com. It’s a huge honor to have you. I like the work you guys are doing a lot which is why we’ve carved this out. This is not a sponsored episode but there’s a lot of value structurally in talking about your business and how other companies might be thinking about, specifically brands, thinking about layering up the solutions that you have. Whether it’s with you or not. But this is really kind of a lift for the industry at large. But before we get into that let’s set a little bit of context. Tell me about your parents and what they did and how that informs what you do today?


Hunter Thurman: Absolutely. They’ve had a pivotal influence on my career. So I grew up, we’re based in Cincinnati but I grew up in Santa Fe New Mexico. Which is kind of an interesting place to be from. And both of my parents were CPA’s. That’s how they met working at a big accounting firm. And they started their own accounting firm in Santa Fe and that was their livelihood up until very recently. And so in that regard this apple couldn’t have fallen farther from the tree. Our CFO is kind of like dude your parents were CPA’s? And I’m like, I know I know. It’s not, I’m not cut from that cloth but what they ingrained in me and I think you hear a lot of people say this but running their own business there was a lot of tenacity. A lot of toughness to it. And I think that’s something I’ve taken from my parents that I think about often. There’s no substitute for a little bit of toughness in day to day life and certainly in day to day business.


Jamin Brazil: For sure. It is interesting the role of accounting. Both market research as a science and accounting foundationally are numbers based, which is super interesting. I think the big deviation here is the risks associated with launching and executing a project versus more of the conservative frameworks of accounting.


Hunter Thurman: That’s true, that’s true and you’re making me realize that there’s more in common to accounting that I previously realized and in what we’re doing here in that our mission is to make this much more objective. This being consumer understanding, market research, insights and strategy. That has really been, and I’m sure we’ll get into this. That’s been my aspiration is to make this a more durable, objective practice. And you’re right that is more like accounting than a lot of market research is. That’s never occurred to me before this.


Jamin Brazil: So let’s talk a little bit about the business. You started it and so there’s like an entrepreneurial component foundationally right? Anytime you start something, I’ve said this a lot. Starting a business is a lot like writing a fiction and then bringing that fiction to life. It’s quite literally taking something that does not exist and then creating that entity. Why did you decide to start Alpha-Diver?


Hunter Thurman: I started, so I started this company in 2011. I was kind of at the midpoint of my career. And the short answer is I became very dissatisfied that there really wasn’t a, as I said a moment ago, durable, tangible, I guess scientific process to insights. I had a great gig going at an insights firm running that firm. And if I was being honest with myself I couldn’t explain how we were doing it. And it sort of every project, every engagement, every challenge kind of felt like opening night. And that, I just grew dissatisfied with that. And along that same- Around that same time I started discovering the academic world of what’s still called behavioral science. Psychology, neuroscience etcetera. And started to really discover, A, how little the enterprise and the market research world and that world interacted and B, how much they had to teach each other. And obviously my interest was more of a one way flow. Teaching enterprise from the world of academia and really just discovered and sort of envisioned this way of more predictably getting to human and consumer truths and really bringing that world of academic knowledge to bear in our space.


Jamin Brazil: Tell me about the name. How did you land on Alpha-Diver?


Hunter Thurman: That’s a great question. So part of what we do internally, our model is about these durable drivers and barriers. So that was one of the first things I learned working with namely Ziggy Hale, who’s our principal neuroscientist and has been with me really from the early days. He immediately kind of said as we were describing to each other what we do and kind of meeting for the first time. He said, we being neuroscientists, we kind of understand why people do what they do, it’s diagnosing it in a context that’s difficult. Of course my ears perked up and with that there are these four durable drivers. These four reasons that people do something. These four lenses that we as humans use in making decisions. And the most preconscious, the most subconscious – many call it system one – of those drivers, our internal shorthand is the alpha mindset and the diver mindset. And so as were naming the firm, we said we want something only we could call ourselves and it’s really meaningful to us. And we liked the alliteration of Alpha-Diver and hence the name.


Jamin Brazil: You said there’s four drivers. Now I want to know what the other two are.


Hunter Thurman: Absolutely. Well so the alpha is the most instinctual. The diver is the most exploratory and experiential. The other two are what? Internally we call the triber or the tribal mindset, which is like wisdom of the tribe, wisdom of the crowd. And then last but not least is the one where most people start the rational, the practical. Internally our shorthand for that is the expert mindset. That’s the place where a lot of market research, or at least traditional research begins and ends. It’s what people think they think and we humans like to think that we’re very rational and make informed choice for comparative decisions but it’s rarely the case out in the real world of yards and inches and brand choice or where to shop or how to shop etcetera.


Jamin Brazil: There’s too much data involved in actually making a decision even as simple as what cereal I should be buying for my family.


Hunter Thurman: That’s right. Well if you tried to make a comparative, rational, informed decision about everything you’d have very little time to do anything else. And there’s really interesting case studies. You may be channeling one there where we need our emotional minds to make decisions. And so that’s really the business we’re in is diagnosing those decision making criteria. The full set including the subconscious at a quantitative scale. So being able to diagnose that really accurately and get to what- The true whys behind human behavior and that’s been very satisfying. And that was sort of what at least generally speaking brought me to this journey 11 and some years ago.


Jamin Brazil: So you talk about like measuring neuro patterns right? The thoughts, am I thinking of it correctly?


Hunter Thurman: To a degree. Most neuroscience when people hear it that’s what they think of. It’s what they would call non-ambulatory. Which means like shower caps and EET and what, and like heat or eye tracking and things like that. Those are certainly in the space. Our unique approach and what Ziggy and team have built is essentially a way to measure the subconscious factors behind decision making but via a survey. So this actually, our platform and our instrument is it sits on decipher. So we run our studies on screens and we do them all around the world. And of course all at large scale because people can take it on a screen. And so Ziggy calls it pencil and paper brain imaging. And what that means is via this mechanism and it’s these kinds of interesting word cloud. A lot of it is word cloud sorting. Where we’ll say, thinking about breakfast, to your point a moment ago. Sort these or rank these, and they rank these word clouds that are very carefully designed by neuroscientists and plug into our algorithm. And reveal to us what the decision making criteria is for that respondent. So yes, we’re using like this really deep rich neuroscience but we’re able to do it in a really passive, easy way for the respondent. They don’t do much thinking and they can simply go through these activities on their phone or their whatever, screen and inadvertently reveal to us their psychology relative to whatever it is we’re studying.


Jamin Brazil: We of course seasoned researchers all know this, you get more accurate information or points of view from the consumer if you’re not directly asking them a question. Pricing is a really good example of that. There’s inherent bias that’s introduced in any price. So if you put $100 bottle of wine in front of me versus a $5 bottle I’m going to intrinsically hold more value with $100 bottle of wine. And yet a consumer would tell you, myself included, I’d rather pay $5 than $100. But I would never bring the $5- I would probably never buy the $5 bottle of wine.


Hunter Thurman: That’s right, that’s right. When we tried it and that’s sort of my point on the drivers. When we try to diagnose and explain our own behavior there’s so much stuff that gets in the way. There’s all the heuristics, which is what you’re referring to. These decision making shortcuts that we’re not aware of but influence our decisions day in and day out. And then there’s all these narratives and all this stuff, this subjectivity essentially that gets in the way even of our explanations of our own behavior. So we always kind of joke because we’re getting to the root of why people do or don’t do things. Our studies never, I don’t think one place doesn’t say why do we ask them to explain why and yet that’s exactly what we’re getting to at the really root level.


Jamin Brazil: It is interesting. When you describe the methodology in some ways it kind of sounds like a max dip or even some kind of broader conjoint.


Hunter Thurman: Well it’s from an analytic perspective, that was one thing I learned early on it. When I started, someone said you need to talk to this neuroscientist and I kind of went neuroscience, I pictured it more like neuro surgery. Like physiological, like the parts of the brain and things like that. But what I quickly learned is neuroscientists are actually highly quantitative and highly data involved. And so our whole back end, the algorithm and the it’s called Stabler. Essentially the data processing machine is built and administered by our neuroscientists. And that basically lets us get to this really accurate understanding of what underpins people’s behavior without us really having to ask them to explain it or even trying to observe what it is that they think they think or what their behavior is. We’re able to do these pretty simple activities that essentially strips away all that subjectivity. It eliminates it from the signal if you will.


Jamin Brazil: It’s so powerful. To your point if you can drive down to the alpha mind, then it really does- There’s just nothing more powerful that you’d be able to connect with. I am curious. So alpha and then diver and then all the way down to rational. Is that in order of importance?


Hunter Thurman: In terms of cognition, it is, and so there is, they’re all in play. So when a signal- there’s all these cool stats on the world that I always misquote them but it’s something like 10 billion or 10 million or just a ton of data points assault a person per second. So, there’s just constant onslaught of stimuli. Visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, all the senses. We’re just constantly inundated. And that was true before social media and the internet and things but it’s certainly exacerbated now, and so our subconscious brain, that alpha, that most subconscious is like a bouncer at a nightclub, the velvet rope. It’s the thing that the very initial signals it forms an emotion. And essentially those more subconscious emotions are what then translate what gets sent upstairs if you will up to the more rational parts of the brain to be considered and thought about. And if everything went up we’d be exhausted because our brain is actually really inefficient organ. So we have- We, meaning our subconscious minds have to be really discriminating about what gets through. So there is this thought process that includes all of them and they do go kind of back to front. Interestingly what we find and given a market context of food or drink category or whatever. One of the four drivers, sometimes the rational but sometimes that most crude kind of caved brain, that alpha mindset, will be the point at which the decision-making sort of stops and gets processed and drives actual behavior. So it’s not that in any context you have to say well what’s the first, second, third and fourth thing that happens? What we’re saying is and what we’re measuring is which of those is most influential? And which is the data that person is using for that context, for that category, that decision to actually make their decision?


Jamin Brazil: So is it most important or is it proportional? Meaning that – I always think like it maybe it feels to me like it’s almost zero sum and alpha is some, and then driver is another portion et cetera?


Hunter Thurman: It’s not zero sum. No you’re exactly right. They’re all present in all of our decisions. It’s almost like in our brain we have these four people sitting in a like a little boardroom. And it’s which of those little personas comes to the chair and leads the thinking. And so in our data we’ll see that there’s like a primary driver and a secondary driver. And they may be fairly close together and that tells us a lot about the profile. So it’s not zero sum. But in describing it and explaining the model, yes we tend to say well which is that that’s driving them? Because at the end of the day that’s what you activate against. And that’s what tells us, yes this is all good sport and interesting to psychologically profile people. But ultimately that’s what dictates to us how to action on it? How to communicate with people? Who, when, where and how to reach people on the marketplace in ways that will actually drive their behavior?


Jamin Brazil: So I wanted to shift gears a little bit and talk about why you started the business in the context of the pain in the market that you saw but before I do, you have an interesting background. You served as a consultant to WPP as Global Insights in Strategy and Innovation. And you did that for over a decade and again over a decade innovation strategy mentor at the Brandery. And for those who don’t know, the Brandery is an early stage consumer marketing venture accelerator. So a lot of exposure to new ideas, great ideas, really smart people. Probably some really bad ideas too. And then Author for quite a while, and well actually I should rephrase that Author. After you started, I believe after you started the Alpha-Diver. But what lead you from the innovation framework of the Brandery into starting this business?


Hunter Thurman: In our early days we did a lot of innovation, a lot of innovation work. A lot of what does the world need that we’re uniquely, we being our partners are uniquely suited to create? And what we found, what we’ve evolved to is that the real pain for most organizations is relative to insights is, how can we make this actionable? How can we essentially sell what we already make more effectively? So our outputs do guide innovation strategy. Meaning they’ll reveal like, look you’re really winning with people that have this profile. You could with things like this. Innovation or acquisitions or whatever, things like this. You could very likely attract this other profile. So we’re certainly able to guide that. But the pain point that we really honed in on is more about sort of the oldest pain point in the book. Actionable insights. Things that understanding that don’t just explain at the kind of the high level, you need to better execute the planogram to enable shoppers or you need to create an engaging e-comm experience for your brand. Going three clicks deeper than that, saying the way to do that. The top three priorities in order to do that are one, two and three. And so really our ability to do that is what’s guided us more to working with going brands and drive more consumer and shopper insight and activation or strategy versus pure innovation. Which was a lot of my background. And we still of course those two are not- Those two worlds are not mutually exclusive. But in the early days it was kind of a lot of innovation with a little bit of insight and strategy and we’ve really reversed that over the last decade plus.


Jamin Brazil: When you started the business was there a specific customer or moment where you were like, god it’d be great if?


Hunter Thurman: I don’t know that there was an it would be great if. When I first started it was I just had my second daughter my third child, she was like two weeks old and I left this well paying job to start this- to pursue this adventure, and a client that I’ve worked with over the years, Zee Talaga, who is just awesome, she was, like, all go. She’s one of those insights leaders that plays to win versus playing not to lose. And there was this really challenging opportunity or challenge that she had on her plate. And it really all just kind of fell into place. Obviously that first project was huge. It kept the lights on. I remember the project name was called One Shot. Because it had, we had one shot on this new technology to find. It was like, it was so weird looking, thinking back to it that we called the project that. Super high profile, super high pressure, which I’ve never backed down from but as we started into it, and I said alright well we’re going to be doing this differently. We’re going to be using academic modelling and neuroscience and psychology modelling to assess and plan this. It was like it’s what I had been looking for. Immediately upon starting to work with Ziggy and others, it’s like, oh this makes sense. There’s a framework that we can work within. And so all the uncertainty of a project like that really melted away because we knew what we were looking for. And it was the difference between wandering in the woods and hiking with a map. And that was very, of course that’s consistently what we experienced but that was really gratifying to kind of experience that in a real life sort of pressure cooker project for the first time.


Jamin Brazil: It’s funny how, like there’s so many things that can kill you when you start a business. And you really need that champion customer to get it off the ground. It’s such a consistent theme that I’ve heard. So let’s pull back into like more recent days. Do you have a favorite project or moment in a project? Maybe outcome?


Hunter Thurman: That probably was my favorite. Number of reasons as I said. It was just sort of proof of concept, validation, all at the same time. But again, experiencing that like this works. Like my instinct on this that there’s a better way forward. And in that case it’s like we were talking, we were working with teenagers and young adults was the audience. They’re notoriously difficult to pry insights out of. There’s a lot of shrugging and I don’t knows and things like that.


Jamin Brazil: Totally.


Hunter Thurman: It’s the fact that we were- that it worked and that we were having these revelations and finding these insights very quickly. That was huge. That was transformative. My favorite types of projects are, and certainly true to form with Lindsay, working with teams that have that let’s play to win versus playing not to lose. I don’t care if you’ve been here for 25 years. That’s still a huge difference maker. In psychology, it’s called approach versus avoidance. You’ve got to be in approach. You’ve got to be moving forward versus avoiding going backwards. And I know it sounds- It sounds sort of I don’t know simplistic but those are the favorite projects. When we’re able to work with teams that are really ambitious and very approach minded about what’s possible. The other thing I like in projects, there was one not long ago where we were looking at these like summer parties. These big events over the summer and the reasons that consumers thought they did things were pretty apparent. When they told you how they made brand decisions and they explain things in traditional research, which they had done prior to us coming along. It all made, it made a lot of sense. And it was very consistent. You hear that a lot in the hallways of insights teams. We’ve heard that before and everybody’s like really excited by that. They’re like, this is good it’s consistent. They had heard very consistent things but the business was very flat. And we’re able to come in and using this this framework and this measure, diagnosed it. Yes what they said and the way that it looked wasn’t wrong but the reason between the ears was different. It was not what they had previously believed or what people thought they thought. What consumers have told them. And by making just some subtle changes. Inactivation, like in digital activation and even all the way to in store. It took, and this was like billion dollar brands. It took a flat category to like 10% quarter over quarter growth. So just had these dramatic impacts. And so those are the projects that are my favorite. When the team is really ambitious, whether because they have to be in that case because they’re like in a flat or declining category or they really- They really want to put a dent in the universe. And then applying these truths to then drive these big business results. Obviously, that’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day but the process is almost just as enjoyable as the outcomes. And that project is another one that’s near and dear to my heart.


Jamin Brazil: My last question. Always makes me a little sad when I’m enjoying the conversation so much but, what is your personal motto?


Hunter Thurman: So my Dad said this to me not long ago and I’ve sort of adapted it as my personal motto. It’s this little phrase I tell myself, it’s all perspective. And it’s, one thing that the neuroscientists taught me early on, Ziggy, was context is key. Everything we do, everything that human beings do, all the decision making we do happens within a context. And that motto, that mantra of it’s all perspective in everyday life, it’s certainly true of the work we’re doing. But it’s true when you have your tough days and your down moments, stepping back and go, what’s another perspective that I really should be looking at this from? And it’s been really empowering. And that’s probably been my motto over the past year but it’s really been helpful to me.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Hunter Thurman. President at Alpha-Diver. Hunter, thank you for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.


Hunter Thurman: Thank you Jamin, I enjoyed it.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. As always, if you post on this episode and tag me, I will send you a free T-shirt. And with that, have a great rest of your day.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 575 – How Customer-Obsessed Companies are Winning, with Marbue Brown, Founder of the Customer Obsession Advantage

Our guest today is Marbue Brown, founder of “The Customer Obsession Advantage” and author of the “Blueprint for Customer Obsession.” 

Prior to starting his own consulting firm, Marbue has served as the Head of Customer Experience at Chase, Global Lead of Customer Experince at Amazon, and Senior Director of Customer Experience Measurement at Microsoft. 

Find Marbue Online:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marbue-brown-43a8a52/  

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 


“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com 

This Episode is Sponsored by:

This episode is brought to you by Michigan State’s Marketing Research program. Are you looking for higher pay, to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research?

Today, the program has tracks for both full-time students and working professionals.

They also provide career support assisting students to win today’s most sought-after jobs. In fact, over 80% of Michigan State’s Marketing Research students have accepted job offers 6 months prior to graduating.

The program has three formats:

  • The first is a Full-Time 100% Online program taught over 12-months starting in January 2022
  • The second is a Part-Time 100% Online program that is 20-months. This one starts in May 2022 and is specifically designed for working professionals,
  • And of course, they offer a Full-Time 12-month in-person experience that starts in September 2022

All programs include real-world experience and full-time job placement support.

If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at:


It costs nothing to get more details. Take the time, invest in yourself. You are worth it and your future self will thank you. Class sizes are limited, so please, check it out today. 

This episode is brought to you by  HubUX is a research operation platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions, and surveys. 

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


Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. You are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host. Our guest today is Marbue Brown, founder of the Customer Obsession Advantage and author of the “Blueprint for Customer Obsession.” Prior to starting his own consulting firm, Marbue has served as the head of customer experience at Chase, global lead of customer experience at Amazon, and senior director of customer experience management at Microsoft. Marbue, thank you very much for joining us on the show.


Marbue Brown: Jamin, it’s a pleasure to be with you and looking forward to having a very stimulating discussion.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full time online, and part time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications. Insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at broad.msu.edu/marketing. Again, broad.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition question and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. I’m very excited about jumping in to discuss your book. But before we do that, let’s get a little bit of context. Tell me about your parents and how they informed what you do today.


Marbue Brown: Well, before I even talk about my parents, let me start off by saying that I’m originally from Liberia and I grew up in Liberia. So there’s a couple of things I’m gonna say about my parents where that context is important. But you know, I couldn’t have asked for a better set of parents who set a very phenomenal example for me. My father passed away before I was two years old. But as I grew up, everybody who I ever met that knew him spoke of him in such glowing terms that I just had a sense of pride about him. But also, it instilled in me that I have an amazing legacy to live up to. And to be quite frank, my mother was chief among those who spoke about my father in glowing terms so much so that when she eventually remarried, I always wondered if my stepfather would get jealous sometimes when she was talking about my own father and my birth father. My stepfather was also amazing, by the way. So that was most of what I know about my father I’ve learned from other people talking about him and it was just super positive. My mom also, she was an incredibly accomplished educator. She was the first woman on the continent of Africa to be president of a university. And among other things, she instilled in me the value of a great education. During my years growing up, I spent a lot of time with her on the University of Liberia campus as she progress through the ranks from dean to vice president of academic affairs and finally president. And for me, it was a forgone conclusion that not only when I go to college but I would get advanced degrees and would it be masters or PHD, right? So I wind up getting both a master’s in math and a master’s in statistics which really catapulted me into what I do today. But additionally, I have to say that my mom set an amazing example for me in so many ways. She was just a portrait of courage. If you know anything about universities in Africa, sometimes they and government don’t always see eye to eye on stuff. And let’s just say that my mother always stood on the basis of her principles and didn’t back down even in the face of what sometimes were very perilous situations. So that’s who my parents were and that’s how they kind of got me into what I do today.


Jamin Brazil: Your book is in the cross hairs of what I’ve been talking about for the last five years. Estrella Lopez-Brea, she was the head of insights for the serial group, I believe it was called- is called which is a joint venture between Nestle, and Cheerios, and whatever they sell cereal to about a 136 countries. Very big deal, General Mills, that’s who the other party is. And the business is called Watermark Consulting. In that report, they talk about the importance of customer experience which was discovered by them through analytics that they did in the Fortune 500. And what they found was that companies that employed customer experience at the point of decision, they outperform the index by about 45 points. Whereas in the Headline, those that didn’t, they underperformed by 76 points. So no longer is it a question of, “Should we employ customer experience?” The question is really, “Do we wanna be in business or not?” And if the answer is yes which obviously it is, then you better use customer experience or have that as a key part of your strategy. This, of course is exactly your book and you’re also kind of in line with the career that you’ve had at some of the most amazing brands in the world- Blueprint for Customer Obsession. So why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about the book. I did get a chance to read some of it already so- then, we’ll jump into some specific questions.


Marbue Brown: Yeah. So Blueprint for Customer Obsession is this book came about because Amazon popularized the phrase, “Customer obsession” and that phrase was coined to describe the extreme focus on the customer that they have in the business. And as the term became popular, a lot of people started to use it. But it’s not very clear, that all the people who were using customer obsession were speaking the same language or meant the same thing, right? And so, one of the things that I set out to do in writing Blueprint for Customer Obsession is to make very clear how customer obsession is distinguished from being customer centric or being customer focused. And so, we layout eight differentiators in the book that separate customer obsessed companies from their peers who are in one of those other categories. That’s what we set out to do. And then, really give people a way that they can assess where they are on this continuum of customer obsession and how they can put together a pack to get into the actual category of being customer obsessed, if that’s what they choose to do. And that’s essentially what the book is about.


Jamin Brazil: When you think about the end part, the path, is that a- and I haven’t gotten to that part, I do apologize. Is that more of a workbook style where some of it employ that with their team?


Marbue Brown: It’s not necessarily a workbook style. But what we’ve done is we’ve laid out a continuum in a quick reference guide if you will that enables people to look at different categories across the spectrum from companies that are customer indifferent to companies who are customer aware, or customer focused, or customer centric, or customer obsessed. And so first of all, they can look at where do they actually fit on this spectrum and that will inform them what kinds of things do they need to do differently to get to the next step. But then, we also have a set of questions that they can work their way through that would help them to jump start that process and enable them to map out a path. So that’s how it’s laid out.


Jamin Brazil: Today, I think most companies would self-describe themselves as being customer obsessed. So let’s just start out to be really clear, what does it mean to be customer obsessed? And what would the outcome be? What is the output of that?


Marbue Brown: So let me give you a couple of illustrations of things that customer obsessed companies do. And then, other companies would ask themselves- they would do well to ask themselves if they have anything in place that is similar to this. I used to buy some oatmeal Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats from Costco. This hold a pretty sizable package of that for $7.99 and there was a time I went into our nearby Costco to get that and couldn’t find it. So I thought I’d go to Amazon and get it there instead. I went to Amazon and I saw a bag of Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats for $17.99. And so, I’m going back and forth, “Is this the same size one?” I was just- I was trying to figure out this out. So I thought, “All right. Just go read the customer reviews.” So the very first customer review on Amazon said, “Don’t buy this at Amazon. You can buy the same thing at Costco for $7.99.” Now, most companies will probably just take that review down. Amazon never will because the fact is, it’s in the interest of the customer. And some folks would look at that and say- in fact, there were people who actually said to Jeff Bezos when he allowed these kinds of reviews on his site, “You don’t understand your business. You make money when you sell things.” And Jeff says, “No, we make money when we help customers make great buying decisions.” And so, that’s the kind of extreme thing that a customer obsessed company would do. They would have that out there and they won’t take it down because they’re gonna help the customer make the right decision in terms of buying that. Now, the flip side of the story though is it also challenges the folks in Amazon retail to think about, “How come we can’t sell for that price?” And figure out what do they need to do to be able to compete effectively with their counterpart who is Costco selling this for very different price than they had it for- less than half. So this is the kind of thing that a customer obsessed company would do. Now, let me flip the script up a little bit and give another type of example. As I was putting things together on the book, I came across this one example of a lady who was taking a Christmas tree back to Costco in January saying the tree had died. And they took it back, all right? Well, that’s kinda like their extreme return policy at work. And you know, when you look at these kinds of things that these companies do, a people almost have to shake their heads and say, “Who does that?” But the companies that are in the customer obsessed categories is typical of them to have these types of policies that are basically extreme in the customer’s favor. And so, that’s an illustration of what makes them different from their peers. Because their peers when it comes down to adopting a policy and there’s a tiebreaker that has to be made between the customer and maybe business results, guess who’s gonna win? It’s not gonna be the customer. But when the company is customer obsessed, customer breaks the tie. So hopefully, that answers the question for you.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. There’s two things that stand out to me. One is, it’s a funny story about the Christmas tree. I’ve never heard that. I have a friend who- they’re kinda like, I’m gonna tell you right now, just like out the gate. I always leave going, “Who does that?” But they recently moved and they apparently found some frozen pizzas that they bought at Costco or some place at the bottom of their freezer which they had there for, they don’t even know how long. Over the years, right? Multiple years. And they’re like, “What are we gonna do with these?” And so, they literally took them back to Costco and got a refund.


Marbue Brown: And you know, if the kind of thing that you say, “Who does that?” But by the way in the book, I described 10 companies that you would think of as customer obsessed. And as you might guess, Amazon’s in the book and Costco’s in the book. They both are. But that’s the kind of thing that customer obsessed companies do. And let me say something a little bit more about this. Look, returns is an area that’s a big challenge for retail. If they are really into preventing returns fraud to minimizing returns cost, it’s a big cost for them. And so, some would look at the Costco policy and say, “You know, this is an invitation to returns abuse.” Well, let’s just say it works for them. And it works for them. Their numbers with their members are just phenomenal. And so, the thing about these customer obsessed companies is they’re not hurting even though they have these extreme types of policies.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah. One of the statistics that you cite in the book is Costco has a 90% retention rate of- or renewal rate of its Costco memberships year over year.


Marbue Brown: That’s right.


Jamin Brazil: The other example that I wanted to give or wanna give is a company called is Fry’s Electronics which I don’t believe is in business any longer. They’re very popular, started in the 90s in the Bay Area, San Jose area and grew very rapidly. They actually had a return policy that was so adverse to the customer, it was just ridiculous, very frustrating. They incentivize- I happen to know one of the people that worked there, they incentivized their return clerks. These are people that would help process any item, default item, or whatever and they incentivize people- their staff based on the lack of returns. So if I went in with a potentially a $100 item to get it for return and- because it was defective or whatever and that person was able to negotiate down that return rate, they were incentivized or commissioned based on that delta. And it was just- it was a very frustrating, difficult experience if you did ever have something that went wrong and needed to get it resolved. And I think it’s an interesting kinda counterpoint, right? And of course, now they’re no longer in business but a company that’s very focused on driving the financial model to their benefit at the expense of the customer experience.


Marbue Brown: And then in the end, they wind up paying for, right?


Jamin Brazil: Right.


Marbue Brown: And they pay for it one way or the other. In the case of that company no longer in business, in the case of customer obsessed companies, their financials just keep getting better and better even though the things that they do are counter intuitive. And sometimes on the surface, they don’t make economic sense. But then, their customers aren’t casual consumers. They’re rabid fans. Right?


Jamin Brazil: Yeah.


Marbue Brown: They keep coming back and guess what? They’re bringing friends, and family, and acquaintances with them. And their numbers just keep growing.


Jamin Brazil: And even willing to spend more money for the same product just in order to support the brand that consumers love. One of the examples that you gave or terms that you coined I would say is- and this is in quotation marks because it’s an excerpt from your book, “Bet the farm on extreme customer centric policies.” Bet the farm on extreme customer centric policies is the term and you cite a couple of examples, some of which we’ve already talked about. One of my favorites and I’ve used this for years is the make it right policy by Ritz Carlton where the- anybody in the business has a $2,000 or has the liberty to spend up to $2,000 to satisfy some customer’s need- whatever that customer might be. You also cite Chick-fil-A, their closure is on Sunday, which represents probably- I mean, I can’t remember the exact amount of money. But conservatively, I would think it would be at least 20% revenue increase if they were open on Sunday. Yet, they’re closed. So you’ve got these major brands that are making business decisions and policies that are quite literally- it seems like almost to their detriment. And yet to your point, they’re unlocking cash at record levels year over year. How is a policy like this a differentiator in the market?


Marbue Brown: I think that some of the examples that we gave just a moment ago, it is why people go to these companies to do business. A lot of times, somebody wants to buy something and they may see that particular item at another place. And then they say to themselves, “Why would I buy it there if I can buy it at Costco? And I know that if I have to return it, I can.” Now, they may never return it. In fact, their returns might be a super small percentage of the time but it gives them that confidence in shopping that says, “You know what? I can do that if I need to. And so, that’s my safe place. That’s my happy place.” Or this customer says, “Hey, if I go to Amazon and I check out all of those reviews and I understand what’s going on, I can make the right decision about the purchase that I need to make. And also, guess what? My returns at Amazon are friction less too.” So these kinds of things separate these companies out from their peers and they become the destination places. They become the place that people want to go whether it’s to search for stuff, whether it’s to purchase stuff, whether it’s for travel. They become the destination places. And that’s what differentiates them from their peers.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting. Yet, these line items in a PNL, your financial statements like returns and that’s always a negative. Right?


Marbue Brown: Mm-hmm.


Jamin Brazil: So it goes against- maybe included in cost of goods or some other location. But in a lot of ways, the treatment of that should- or a proportion of it at least should be more in customer engagement. Because it is representing a benefit to the customer and subsequent customer annual value versus this being this kind of the top penalty that brands might be thinking about. And when I think about a small company, 10 million dollars or 50 million dollars, these kind of upstart firms like I’ve kind of lived my career in. If we wanted to make a- our own- our similar policy, what sort of rubric- what kind of rules would we need to put in place when we think about what that policy should contain?


Marbue Brown: Well, let me start up by saying first of all that customer obsession as a business strategy is a great strategy for small companies, for startups, OK? It’s part of how startups become big and great companies. Let me just mention Zappos is one of those companies that grew extremely rapidly. One of those early companies that you call a unicorn, if you will. And one of the reasons they grew like that was because they had a customer obsesses mindset. And in some respects, they kinda beat Amazon at their own game and Amazon went and bought them. It still operates pretty much independently. And so, as customer obsessed as Amazon is and Zappos is, they do things somewhat differently but bottom line is it helped them to grow rapidly. Chewy is another company that has grown rapidly. Adopting the same kind of customer obsessed mindset as their business strategy. So let me start up by saying that this is a great business strategy for smaller companies and startups that are looking to become very large companies. But I think the first thing that these companies need to do is they need to be prepared to embrace the principle that if something is good for the customer, it’s good for business. Even if right at the moment, they don’t have complete line of sight to how it will benefit them economically. Now, let me be clear. I’m not talking about recklessness, I’m not talking about giving away the store. But what I am saying is that generally, if you adopt that principle and you base your policies on that type of principle that if it’s good for the customer it’s good for business, it will pay off and it will pay off handsomely over time. And sometimes, a lot faster than these companies have thought. So that’s one thing that has to happen. Second thing is that the companies need to work backwards from the customer. And sometimes when you say that it’s not all that clear. But a lot of times, companies work back from the competition. They’re thinking about what is the competition doing. Sometimes, companies work backwards from conventional wisdom. What’s the conventional wisdom on how to do this particular thing? Sometimes, they work backwards from products that they already have in place or services that they already have in place. And they think in terms of brand extension or those kinds of things but they don’t necessarily work backwards from the customer. And if they work backwards from the customer, they would wind up getting to a different point in terms of what they wind up bringing to the market and how that’s going to help customers. Let me give an illustration of something. When Apple introduced the iPhone originally, the iPhone was not compatible with Mac OS. And bottom line is, those folks had to mandate to go out and create a great phone, didn’t have mandate to go out and create a phone that was compatible with Mac OS. So working backwards from the customer, they built a great phone. Now eventually, it was linked to Mac OS and you’ve got the whole ecosystem. But if they didn’t work backwards from the customer, they just work backwards from the competition or any of those other things that I mentioned, they would have wind up in a different place.


Jamin Brazil: It’s such an interesting framework that you’re describing. And yet, it’s so obvious.


Marbue Brown: Yeah. Obvious except that it isn’t right that-


Jamin Brazil: Right.


Marbue Brown: So you got to be prepared to embrace the principle that if it’s good for the customer, it’s good for business, that they need to work backwards from the customer and let the needs of the customer break any ties. And then, they need to ask themselves if they have a policy that’s so customer centric yet so unexpected, that it makes customers do a double take and they feel like, “These folks have my back. They thought about this before I thought about it.” I’m gonna give you another- a little crazy example. My wife and I were on vacation in Mexico and we belonged to this hotel group that has a bunch of hotels. And if you stay in one, you can use the facilities of any other one. And so- but they also give you free tours and all this kind of thing. We had done all the free tours so we decided we were gonna make our own tour. At the time we’re in Cancun, we went to the hotel in Playa del Carmen. And from there, walked over to the back, took a ferry in to Cozumel. So we’re walking around in Cozumel taking in all the sites and all that sort of stuff, it was a super hot day. So we go over to the sister hotel in Cozumel. And as we’re walking into the hotel, the podium right at the entrance to the hotel, the guy standing there says, “Hey, what’s the matter? Is it raining out there?” He was kinda kidding around because we were all sweating. He says, “What’s the matter? Is it raining out there?” Then, he reaches under the podium and he pulls out a tray. And the tray has cold towels in it that you can wipe your face with. And you get that and you say to yourself, “Have these guys thought of everything or what?” They knew it was hot out there, they knew people were gonna wanna refresh themselves, and that sort of thing. But they thought about it ahead of time. This is the kind of thing where when a company does that, it’s customer centric but it’s also in some respect unexpected. And you have to ask yourself if the policies that you’re putting in place fit that description. And these are the kinds of things that folks have to do to put this sort of stuff into place. And Blueprint for Customer Obsession gets into many more details about the kind of things that I’m talking about here. But hopefully, that gave you a good framework for how to think about this.


Jamin Brazil: Yeah, it sure. It’s a great, high level and I’m looking forward to doing a deep dive into the book. I’m starting right now, the time of the recording, this is October 27th, 2022. And of course, I’m starting to think about 2023 strategic plan. In which case, the book and the material inside of it are gonna be definitely part of that discussion so it’s timely for me. So I’m very appreciative of you and your time, I do have one more question though. What is your personal motto?


Marbue Brown: Well look, one of the things I wanna share is having had the opportunity to lead a bunch of teams, one of the things that I always share with my team is that you have a job so you can have a life. But you don’t have a life so you can have a job. And really, what comes down to is that you need to do something that you really love. And if you’re doing something that you really love, it’s not work. This is something that I share with folks who work with me, who work as part of my teams and I think it’s something really good for people to hold on to.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Marbue Brown, founder of the Customer Obsession Advantage and author of the Blueprint for Customer Obsession. Marbue, thanks for being on the show.


Marbue Brown: Well thank you so much, Jamin for having me. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. And I hope we provided some nuggets for all the folks who are out there listening today.


Jamin Brazil: I don’t think you have to worry about that, I certainly got some nuggets out of it. So I think that having done almost 500 of these, I’m sure some of our listeners did as well. Everyone else, I appreciate you and your attention. If you found value in this episode, please take time. Tag it on social media, LinkedIn is preferred. Add me and I will send you a free t-shirt. Have a great rest of your day.

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 574 – The Future is Video Feedback: Voxpopme Acquires HubUX

Hi Fam!

You are listening to the happy market research podcast. 

Be warned, today’s episode is a bit self serving. 

In 2019, I co-founded HubUX. A research operation platform for private panel management, DIY recruitment and qualitative automation.


Because opinions are moving fast AF. In fact, Gen Z defines themself as the generation that adapts to changing trends. Brands don’t even have time to create ads that can benefit from trends. By the time these trends hit their radar they are already on the down in favor of something else.

Keeping track of today’s consumers is like watching humming birds on crack. 

Its a bit fun, but impossible to do for very long.

At the same time, recruiting quality particpants for either qual or quant is getting harder and more time consuming. 

HubUX was setup to solve this. How? By recruiting on social meida platforms like TikTok and screening particpants via a robust survey tool that includes video auditions. 

Today, about 60% of the projects done on hubux are surveys. These surveys include several video openends. The rest of the projects are automating IDIs and Focus Group workflow.

With the activity on our platform being video data collection our clients have been asking for a way to quickly analyze their video data. 

This lead us to a decision: Build a video analytics tool (this is really really hard by the way) or partner with the leader in video analytics, Voxpopme. 

I reached out to their leadership. 

After a few conversations we quickly came to the conclusion that combining forces would increase the probability that we own the video feedback space. 

On October 26th, 2023 we announced the merger of hubux and voxpop. 

From my view, the combination of automated research operations and video analytics represent the biggest change in our industry since the invention of surveys in the 1920s, focus groups in 1937, and online surveys in the 1990s.  

You all know me and my histroy. I may have done the first online survey for commerical purposes in the 90s while at Macro Consulting. Dispite the fact that my dislexia makes reading a bit challenging, my brain helps me to see patterns in the market. And it is abundantly clear that video will play a major part in every modern brands’ insights department. 

The following is the recording of the live announcement that was streamed on 20+ platforms with Jenn Voguel, CRO, and Voxpop cofounder and CPO, Andy Barraclough. 


Find Voxpopme Online:

Find HubUX Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 

“Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com

Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 573 – Why Invest in Customer Satisfaction – Michael Brereton, the Executive in Residence for the Department of Marketing at Michigan State University

My guest today is Michael Brereton, the Executive in Residence for the Department of Marketing at Michigan State University.

Michigan State University (Michigan State, MSU) is a public land-grant research university in East Lansing, Michigan. It was founded in 1855 as the Agricultural College of the State of Michigan, the first of its kind in the United States. 

Prior to joining MSMUR’s program as Executive in Residence, Michael served 27 years at MaritzCX, 11 of which were as the President and CEO. Meritz is a Customer Experience company rebranded as InMonent. Michael stated his career on the client side at General Motors. 

Find Michael Online:

Find Jamin Online:

Find Us Online: 


This Episode is Sponsored by:

The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the #1 ranked insights and analytics graduate degree in three formats: 

  • Full-time on campus 
  • Full-time online 
  • Part-time online

NEW FOR 2022: 

If you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their 3-course certificates: Insights Design or Insights Analysis. 

In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build toward your graduation.

If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s programs at: broad.msu.edu/marketing.

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

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


Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. I’m Jamin, host of the Happy Market Research Podcast, which you’re listening to. Our guest today is Michael Brereton, executive in residence at the Department of Marketing at Michigan State University. Before joining the MSMUR’s program as the executive in residence, Michael served for 27 years at MaritzCX, 11 of which were as the president and CEO. Maritz is a customer experience company rebranded as InMoment. Michael started his career on the client side at General Motors. Michael, thanks so much for joining me on the podcast.


Michael Brereton: Hi. It’s great to be here Jamin, as always.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research program delivers the number-one ranked in science and analytics degree in three formats: full-time on campus, full-time online, and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three-course certifications: Insights Design or Insights Analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you at broad.msu.edu/marketing. Again, broad.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions, and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. So this is part of our series of introduction into market research. This will be one of the chapters in an upcoming book that I’m co-collaborating on with people like yourself, “The Market Research Field Guide”. Today we’re going to be talking about customer satisfaction, specifically as a discipline inside of market research. What do you see in a modern context as the primary business questions that customer satisfaction is addressing?


Michael Brereton: I think where we are evolving to that is I would use the word ‘integration’. So it’s still capturing the voice of the customer to understand their experience with a product or service, but then how integrating that with other aspects of the business in terms of –


Jamin Brazil: Kind of across the user journey.


Michael Brereton: Exactly. And that to me is kind of where we’re at now. It’s still kind of starting.


Jamin Brazil: Who inside of the organization initiatives we need to do a customer satisfaction study?


Michael Brereton: Well, it’s interesting because it’s usually owned on the operations side and then administered through the [CROSSTALK] department, which is very different than a lot of others, but I almost always found the budget sits in the channel management area, and they’re the ones that are saying we need to bring the voice of the customer into understanding our operations, so we can have a fact-based way of continuous improvement.


Jamin Brazil: And you mentioned that, the feedback loop, which whether it’s Eric Rice, Ries, I always forget how to say his last name. But these innovators who have kind of framed out the Build Measure Learn framework which is very much informed by customer satisfaction. So if you’re a software company or a car company, or whatever, you build something and then you test something, and then you learn from that and then you iterate, and then you do it again. And that’s what we’re really talking about the CX or the customer experience loop as we want to refine or improve that customer experience along the entire journey so that ultimately, and I liked how you said it, “saboteurs or terrorists.” Because that’s what happens with customers, to your brand in the event that they have a bad customer experience. And the megaphone is becoming larger every year with respect to social media and the ability of them being able to connect to bad experiences or good experiences to the brand. So is there a specific business question, or is it more holistic as is part of the operations of a well-run business where customer satisfaction is just built in as part of the rigor? Is it more like I guess I put it like legal and HR, so it’s just part of and parcel of the business. Or is it actually like have – is there an inception moment in the organization where I’m like oh my gosh, we really need to launch this study?


Michael Brereton: I think nowadays it’s more the latter, and I think in the beginning it was more to the former where you’re a little bit more. Now more in terms of what you were talking about there in terms of the feedback both on the aggregate as well as the individual customer level. People are saying is this – we have an opportunity here to truly understand what’s driving performance or like you were saying with the terrorists, what’s driving dissatisfaction. Understand it at the aggregate level, so we can tweak our operations this way and this way and that way. But also understanding it, and here’s where you crossover to CRM, at the individual customer, so we can get in and mitigate a negative situation now.


Jamin Brazil: And that’s where you have things like triggers that are built in to surveys and this has been around for forever but really popularized in the last twelvish years, where you can have somebody do a CX survey of a customer. They have an experience and then they get a survey invitation. They take the survey and if it’s a bad experience, or they report a bad experience, then in line with the survey, you can say, “Would you like someone to follow-up with you?” So immediately now you have this opportunity to create a resolution on that experience, which of course, then it means that it needs to be tethered to the CRM. It’s interesting how we are seeing the lines of research in sales and marketing blur, so we’re really becoming more of a function of the revenue generator of the business.


Michael Brereton: And to your point there, also, is with that information now, of course with the application of AI, we can go in and discover so many things just based upon what’s being captured in an automated way, start responding in mitigating and routing and so forth at far less expensive in a far faster way.


Jamin Brazil: From my vantage point, some of the best run businesses have very clear delineated user journeys, and they’re able to measure CX at each one of those journeys and by doing that, then they get to your feedback loop, so there’s these micro loops that are happening in between each stage of the customer experience and that’s where the improvement happens at a micro level. But then, as you know, the outcome is at a macro level, there’s a big lift to brand and customer retention and growth. Let’s move into the next question. What are some common analytic techniques that are used for customer satisfaction?


Michael Brereton: I think in general compared to other types of research, I think the analytic techniques are comparatively simple. And if you look at the standard reports, there’s a lot of [INAUDIBLE] basic [INAUDIBLE] testing so far. But I found that there’s one unique analytic application, and I think it stood the test of time in the decades here, and it’s around driver’s analysis. And I think that’s worth noting. Again, not real – that’s using multiple [INAUDIBLE] on their correlations but creating a derived importance measure as opposed to a stated importance measure that you would see on so many servers because there’s really two reasons for doing it. One is you can cut out a whole battery of questions, you can just go with performance measurement and then correlate that against some sort of measures and so it shortens your instrument. But it also found over time coming up with a derived importance as opposed to a state importance. The derived importance gave of what we found were more differentiated understanding of the business or things to act on. So a lot of times with stated importance and what you’re hearing are people telling you what’s a cost-of-entry stuff, with [INAUDIBLE] fees kind of things, hygiene factors or whatever you want to call that. But basically, it’s things that if the business does better at, they’re not going to necessarily satisfy more. There’s only downside with not doing it whereas with the derived importance, we’re able to identify things that the company does better at, and they indeed do get better outcomes in terms of satisfaction at the time to repurchase and so forth. And so this became kind of a standard analytic tool back in the 80’s, and I see companies still using this over and over and over again because what they’ll do is create a quadrant analysis. So plot each attribute being measured by its derived importance versus by the actual performance, derived performance versus performance on a quadrant analysis, and it’s a real easy to understand tool that’s perceived to be very actionable to put in the hands of all those hotel properties, dealers, restaurant locations, or whatever, because remember, most of the effort, most of the money being spent in customer experience measurement is being pushed out to the individual retailer. That’s where most of the money is being spent in these programs. It’s not some aggregate number at the top. And so, you need real, simple tools because it’s not going out to researchers and so I just find it’s really interesting that this tool that we created in the ’80s is still kind of a standard offering and there’s not much else in a lot of those reports that’s going out to the individual reporting units besides something like that. Because usually you typically want some sort of a benchmarking and so that’s very important, but it’s got to be very actionable, so pretty simple reporting from an analytic perspective, again, compared to brand studies or product development studies.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting that the analytics really maps very nice. It has become part of the SOP, or standard operating procedure, for all businesses. Everyone needs to understand what a quadrant map is and that really is a primary analytics technique that they can be distributed across your organization, and everyone can understand that whether you’re a cashier or whatever, or a CEO. And that could be and is in fact a very effective communication tool. Thinking about operation, so what are some common research operations that need to be taken into consideration when doing customer satisfaction keeping in mind that you’ve already touched on a couple, but maybe we can just briefly highlight those.


Michael Brereton: Well, the big thing is and why not every agency is the big player in this is because it’s, first of all, it’s a large volume. It tends not to be a sampling of a company’s customer base. It’s senseless. It’s a lot of volume in terms of [INAUDIBLE]. It’s a lot volume in terms of reporting. It tends to be B to C. There is some B to B, but it tends to be B to C census, this whole multi-nodal reporting. And a lot of times the reporting is the things that if you were to go talk to the big agencies in the space and say, “What’s your biggest operational pain point?” They would probably say hierarchal reporting because if it’s – I’ll go back to my automotive example about those dealers in this region, which is in this zone, which is in this territory or whatever. And those things change every day. They’re moving [INAUDIBLE] thousands of dealers around or buy, sell or whatever going on. And the manufacturer will say yeah, and so I want you to show it how it was yesterday but with the new alignment. I want you to show how it is today too with this new. And this hierarchal report sounds easy, but it just brings, from a technology perspective, it brings companies to its knees. And so a lot of the operational things today are volume scope of reporting and the technology around that. The other thing from a research operations perspective is as we go back, talk about integration again, is now more and more companies are wanting to integrate any voice of the customer contact is this idea of ongoing dialog relationship with a customer and so if you think about all the different touchpoints, well, the customer’s calling into a customer care center or perhaps out there on social media talking about their experience. They’re filling out a survey and an operational challenge is that a customer or a company will say I want to integrate on that voice, and it’s extremely hard to do, and then you combine all that in a report in terms of at an individual customer level or a group of customers level. And so that’s sort of a unique I think operational challenge. The last one, I would say is I recall the linkage and it’s sort of a design and sort of an operations issue, but I’m always trying to link customer and their experience of the customer satisfaction to the broader brand experience. There’s a lot of work being done to link customer experience measurement to emotion. There’s a lot of work being done to link it to reputation management of a company.


Jamin Brazil: So data linking. That’s one of the big commonalities of – yeah, that makes sense. I want to be sensitive time here, and we have about five more questions to get through, so we’re going to jump into the next part. Do you have a specific or favorite case study?


Michael Brereton: Yeah, and I saw that, and yes, I do. One would be McDonald’s and this is kind of different because it goes back to my graduate work in the 80’s when I did a customer satisfaction measurement program for McDonald’s, and it was really like I was talking about before, I was trying to understand that stated importance or derived importance and what we found is we’re not going to get any more points with the customer for having a clean bathroom. That’s the only downside. If it’s not clean, you’re in trouble. You’re not going to get any more points for getting the order right. That’s what they expect. And if you don’t do it right, then you’re out of the game, but there were other attributes when you measure satisfaction for which if you did it better, you’ve got greater satisfaction and greater intent to come back like friendliness, like the time at which, like the time to fill the order and the time to take the order and so forth. To me, it was really interesting all the way back then to what you were saying earlier of the person on the cash register is being able to bring this down to a language and concepts that they could understand and why. So we were able to do that and then when I watched, and we also at the time tried to implement and rule out a standardized way of measuring customer satisfaction in McDonald’s restaurants, and we were trying to do it through intercepts and standing in the drive-thru lanes and so forth. And as you can imagine, it was extremely challenging to try to rule that out.


Jamin Brazil: And for those that don’t know intercepts are where you will actually have usually a human being that will intercept the customer or connect with the customer as they’re actually going through the process of purchasing or getting their fulfillment of whatever they purchased.


Michael Brereton: Yeah, and in this case, trying not to get run over and raining and so forth. But anyways, now, years later, as I’ve been watching McDonald’s over the years, and they have tried so many different methods to try to, in a standardized way, across the whole network to capture the voice of the customer and act on it. And I’m seeing so many different things like kiosks and QR codes and offering incentives and so forth, and I haven’t seen anything that’s really stuck over time. But I think it’s really interesting that even though they still may not have a common approach, I still see signs of the attempt. I think they still had that understanding that religion of the need for customer satisfaction, and it’s just a tough, tough execution.


Jamin Brazil: How much would a company – if you were working at a brand and currently customer satisfaction’s not being done, and you want to roll it out. Obviously, it sounds like you’re probably on the operation side, maybe even on the growth operation side, how much would you expect to spend a year on that study? Thinking, I know that it’s a really weird question because it has everything to do with scope, but broadly speaking, what do you think the allocated budget would need to be in year one?


Michael Brereton: Yeah, I was looking at that and looking from two ways. One is, I don’t think banks and big hotels and big manufacturer car companies like that, they’re spending three, four, five million a year on a base program for the U. S. market. Another way to look at it is, and we always say your research budget is about 10% of your ad budget, and probably about half of that would be on post transaction, this type of thing, so that would be two ways I’d look at it.


Jamin Brazil: That’s great. How long does it take for a project to be executed? And then I realized this is usually longitudinal in nature, so it’s forever ongoing. But what is the frequency of data reporting?


Michael Brereton: The frequency of data reporting now is real-time and so from a timing, like you said, tend to be continuous program, three to six months to set one up for a medium-sized, large company and this continuous real-time feedback after that. Because the industry has largely gone now to platforms as opposed to the way. When I started up, it was a bespoke kind of custom design program. Now it’s configured platforms on a subscription basis, and I think most of them say give us three to six months to put it up and then you just get continuous feedback.


Jamin Brazil: When they do that, when they set it up, is it about 20% of that contract is ongoing like managed services, or is there usually – so it’s a combination of technology and services, right?


Michael Brereton: Yeah. And most of them, the companies now want to make that services very small and so it’s all about software subscription, so that’s where the vast, vast majority of the cost is. And again, a lot of these companies are tech-based companies or evolved out of the tech space, or they want to be seen as a tech company to drive their valuations and multiples. And one of the things that investors are looking for is subscription base, and lots of logos, and lots of retention, and most of the revenue tied to that subscription relatively little tied to services. Matter of fact, when the predominant models in terms of delivery now that it’s going is as a large company will bring in like a Medallia or a Qualtrics as the platform, as the customer experience platform and buy that on a subscription basis. And then bring in another company like Accenture or something to actually put it up.


Jamin Brazil: That’s interesting. So you’ve got the technology provider and then you have a separate entity who’s basically the services side of that. You mentioned two companies. Thinking about DIY Solution, so if a brand is scrapped and they want to try and do it themselves, these are probably small to medium-sized brands. Are there any DIY solutions that you’re aware of?


Michael Brereton: It’s a relatively easy space for a company to break into and so if you went out and just did a search right now, you would probably find 40 or 50 DIY platforms in the customer experience space and probably none of those would have the word ‘research’ in them anywhere. And those are largely just DIY. You want to get into more of a DIY and do it with me or do it for you kind of model, then there are fewer. Obviously the two that I mentioned, they’re in terms of Qualtrics and Medallia are the two largest that are in that space, and they can go anywhere from DIY to do it for you. And the other thing that’s interesting, too, though for me is, is that if you look at, there’s still into this space, the big data platform companies like Oracle and Salesforce show up on the radar, and I think why is that? But because they supply to a company that broad data enterprise management backbone, and they sort of hang off of that modules for finance and modules for HR and modules for whatever. And oh yes, there’s a VOC module, there is a customer experience measurement management module that’s hanging off that. And I think the market data indicates that more and more companies are buying it that way and so their vendor shows up as Salesforce or it shows up as Oracle and there may be a sub brand under that, or maybe Salesforce’s own home grown customer experience management or measurement solution. But I think that’s a wave that you’re going to see continue to increase.


Jamin Brazil: Who are the go-to partners? So these would be agencies that companies are using.


Michael Brereton: I see the big consulting names show up like I mention –


Jamin Brazil: Accenture.


Michael Brereton: – Accenture, like KPMG, like McKinsey shows up and so forth. So one of the services that they’re offering is to really put up the instance in this plan.


Jamin Brazil: Do you see market research agencies, thinking about the top three, are they playing in this space heavily?


Michael Brereton: Yes. Still and say, for instance, if you looked at the suppliers for a personal experience, Ipsos and Kantar are still there. Now it’s interesting when you peel back what’s going on there, a lot of times what you will see is the sale to the client is Ipsos and they’re partnered with Medallia or they partnered with Qualtrics and they actually co-present the solution. The other thing that’s interesting is there’s a frenemy thing going on there because maybe Ipsos is going on partnering with Medallia, and then Medallia’s going in straight, and then Medallia also is going in with somebody else. It’s a very much in flux kind of situation right now in terms of channel.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Michael Brereton, the executive in research for the Department of Marketing at Michigan State University. Michael, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Michael Brereton: You’re very welcome.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you found a ton of value in this like I did. I love the historical framework and context that was set. And then moving this straight through our framework to give you a one-on-one or brief overview of what customer satisfaction is, what business problems it addresses, how to do it, and the outcomes, and who you might want to use if you are planning watching your own customer satisfaction. So Michael, thank you. Everyone else, I hope you have a great rest of your day.