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Ep. 222 – Menaka Gopinath – How Ipsos is Helping Top Brands get to the Heart of Consumers Through Online Communities

My guest today is Menaka Gopinath, President of Ipsos Social Media Exchange North America. Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest global market research and a consulting firm with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France. Menaka has held senior positions at Fuel Cycle and  was a Creator and Producer at Wilcox Sessions which was an online video series where musicians played an intimate performance in their living room. 

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Website: https://www.ipsos.com/en-us

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Social Media: @happymrxp


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This episode is brought to you by Clearworks. Clearworks is an insights, innovation, and customer-experience company. They help clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experiences that matter. Their clients are diverse in size and industry but share one important thing: a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connection. For more information, please visit them at www.clearworks.net.


On Episode 2022, I’m interviewing Menaka, the President of Ipsos Social Media Exchange – North America, but first a word from our sponsor.


This episode is brought to you by Clearworks.  So, we have a couple of sponsors on our show. I just want to underscore how much I appreciate those of you who have sponsored the Happy Market Research Podcast.  It makes a ton of value to the ecosystem that is actually transcending market research right now. I say “transcending”; that’s probably the wrong framework, but exceeding, moving beyond into user experience research as well as data analytics and insights.  In fact, recently we’ve been picking up shows like “Predictive Analytics World” and “Marketing Insights World.” These are two different shows that are great examples of where the Happy Market Research has a presence and, subsequently, an audience that is well outside of the normal market research vein.  So, Clearworks, thank you so much for your sponsorship. For those of you who don’t know, they are insights and innovation and customer experience company. They help their clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experience that actually matter.  Their clients are diverse, both in size and industry, probably like all of ours, but they do share one important thing, which is a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connections. You can find them online at www.clearworks.net.  Again, it’s www.clearworks.net.  And again, thank you so much for your time.   


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Menaka Gopinath, President at Ipsos Social Media Exchange – North America.  Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest market research firms globally and is also a consulting firm with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France.  Menaka has held senior positions at FuelCycle and was a creator and producer at Wilcox Sessions. This is an interesting, little side hustle she’s got going on.  I might wind up cutting that piece. I know you talked to me about it. I actually found it really interesting, but we’ll see. Menaka, thanks so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thanks for having me.  I’m glad to be here.  


Let’s start out with a little bit of context.  Tell us about your early years and how you wound up in market research.


Sure.  Well, I never really thought I’d end up in market research; so, that was a surprise.  But I have always been in the space of connecting with consumers. So when I first entered the work force out of college, I was working in the original startup boom at the end of the 90s.  And I was working at a company that was creating online communities, and it was really the early stages of what social media became to be like when everyone was adding forums or discussions on their websites.  And that was really my starting point in terms of entering the digital realm. And I really grew up in that space in marketing, using digital techniques. From that company, I moved into another agency where we were doing the starting years of viral marketing.  Do you remember that term?


I do actually.  Gosh, I haven’t heard that in a long time.


Exactly.  So how do we better connect with consumers using the ability to spread things through digital mediums.  And through that experience, ended up at another company where I was doing like same things (guerrilla and viral marketing techniques).  And we were doing some communities as a way to really amplify the messages. So, bring together a group of passionate people, arm them with the messages, and have them push them out and amplify from there.  And that’s what actually lead me to FuelCycle. At the time, it was called Passenger. The founder was a gentleman that I actually worked with at another agency.  

And that company was all about taking this idea of bringing together a passionate group of consumers and leveraging them as a platform for amplifying brand messages.  And through that, we started realizing, “Wow, we’re learning a lot about these people that are just coming in to talk about whatever with us because they just want to talk about it.”  And slowly that really transitioned into what everyone would call market research. I think us as marketers weren’t really thinking about it as us being market researchers, but we were learning so many things from an insights perspective.  And slowly over time, our stakeholders on the client side ended up being a mix of marketing and insights people and stumbled into market research from there.     


So, Toluna…  I don’t know if you’ve seen their most recent website, but they’ve actually moved to this thing called the Influencer Marketplace.  I thought that was an interesting kind of direction that you think about market research heading, right? So, anyway, it’s funny seeing the evolution, and really the I’ll put the authority shift more and more towards the respondent, right?  So, and that’s where, I think, Toluna is positioning. And it’s not just unique to them: you’re seeing this in other providers as well. But like this whole influencer marketing has been in such a growth mode and really what denotes an influencer… And this is where, I think, like on the community side, it’s really interesting too because big brands are paying a lot of attention to niche communities now. 


Yeah, that’s one thing that’s been a little funny for me and validating, I think, at points because when I first entered into Ipsos, the idea of really putting onus on the respondent (I didn’t even call them “respondent”; I called them “people”) was a novel idea.  It wasn’t really the norm, you know. It was more about getting the data we needed for the research that we were trying to address. And, for me, that’s always kind of been my starting point is the people that we’re talking to and how we engage them. And I’m seeing that happen in the market now.  Like that’s kind of an accepted approach these days, and that wasn’t always the case.  

So it’s great; I think it’s good because the people that are truly passionate or have an affinity about things, topics, whatever, there’s so much you can learn from them because they’re truly dedicated and want to have a constructive conversation about it.  And we’re seeing that… My oversight is on communities and social intelligence (aka social listening). And you’re seeing that on that side too. Like there’s a lot of people that are in the social department at their brand, and they’re doing, constructing insights just as much as a researcher insights function because of all those conversations that are happening about brands, topics, products, whatever.  So, yeah, absolutely.  


This is the part I think that where marketing research has a BIG advantage in the marketplace right now.  By “marketplace,” I mean broadly speaking inside of the corporate budgets, is to really leverage up the voice of the consumer.  There’s a study actually; I should publish this. Estrella’s, she’s with Nestlé. In her interview, she talks about the Watermark Report, and this is a fascinating report I had not heard of before.  I thought I had in the interviews, but I misspoke. Anyway, after doing the diligence on it, actually illustrated this… like it’s never been more clearer that companies that actually put the consumer first, they are winning, especially when you do analysis on the Fortune 500, which is what they looked at.  And they looked at the difference between the laggards, which are the significant underperformers in the marketplace, versus the overperformers. And the overperformers: it’s like a 7 or 8 to 1. It’s just like the amount of distance between them… You know the companies that are actually driving forward with not just lip service because everybody says they care about the consumer, but the ones that are actually employing these techniques.  It just feels like this is a really big opportunity for us in market research, and we’re just at the beginning, I think, of seeing this escalate into corporate budgets. 


Yeah, I think it’s been in budgets but just in a different place.  And I think that’s what’s been new is that it hasn’t necessarily crossed over into the insights function.  But the value of leveraging your best consumers and collaborating with them, I think that concept isn’t new.  But you’re right. I think there’s definitely the shift in that people are prioritizing it more.


Yeah, for sure.  You actually said something that’s real interesting to me right there, which is where it sits, that insight sits.  Are you seeing the role at Ipsos of insights move from the strict like market research stage on the hill to other departments?


Oh, yeah, absolutely.  I mean I think, if anything, there’s just more involvement of stakeholders outside of just insights, and there’s greater importance for broader exposure and collaboration, right, because there’s elements of the marketing function that has analytics oversight, that has social oversight that insights is a part of but might not be in the day-to-day conversations.  So more and more, we’re seeing different stakeholders join that conversation and even getting briefs from people that might not even be in an insights function as well.   


Yeah, see, that’s another big opportunity for marketing research:  identifying the educational component inside of the organizations becomes…  They’re starting from a totally different point of reference. What is a concept test, for example, versus somebody that’s been steeped in market research Best Practices.  So it’s almost like in a lot of ways we have the opportunity to help educate and elevate the research and the insights that are done across the organization regardless of the tools that are being used.      


Absolutely.  Yeah, I think that’s a big opportunity.  And that’s actually one of the reasons, I think, what I am doing in my team is…  There’s a lot of boutiques and agencies that do social intelligence and communities, but the fact that we’re able to bring a lot of the rigor and the academic strength and foundation that Ipsos brings to research and link that to these more emerging areas of insights is something that a lot of our clients really value.


Yeah, this is such as important point.  I mean just because you have a scalpel doesn’t mean you should perform surgery.  I think that anyone can do a survey, for example, right? That’s not hard any more.  My mom can do a survey; that’s kind of like my benchmark. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she should and, if she does, she shouldn’t be directing the organization or decisions at an organizational level because the nuances of questions, just at a question level, a question-formation level is actually really important, right?  And that’s just one little element of research, having the added value and working with a professional agency.

You know the other thing that interesting and talking with many, many brands over the last year, it doesn’t feel like they’re pulling their spend out of their key relationships like they have with the big players such as yourself, Neilsen, whatever.  From their vantage point, it feels like where they’re leveraging you guys has been shifting, though. The actual relationships are becoming stronger because they’re leveraging more on a strategic level as opposed to logistical level. Is that something you guys are seeing?


Yeah, I think so.  I think advisory is a really critical part of any kind of research.  It’s not just about executing the research; it’s about ensuring that we’re looking at the actionability piece of it and what that linkage to business decisions is.  So we’re not just like sending over the data and hope that it goes somewhere good. That’s a really critical piece in terms of closing the feedback loop on the actual business impact as well.  


Alright, well, let’s shift gears a little bit.  Tell us about the biggest challenge that you have overcome either personally or professionally.


Ahh…I have a lot of challenges.  I think going back to just starting at Ipsos, that was a big challenge for me, namely because I did come from marketing.  I was a marketer, not a researcher; so, that was a big cultural shift. It also was a huge organization, and I, like I said, I came from startups, tech startups, agencies.  So just that cultural shift was big. And to be completely honest, I was recruited into Ipsos to build their communities’ business. And, back then (this was about eight years ago now) the idea of communities…  I think there was a little bit of fear around it, right? It was like, “Is that going to take away my business?” “Are people just going to do stuff in a community and not do stuff outside of a community anymore?”  So there was a lot of fear and just miseducation in terms of what a community is and what it can actually deliver and the value that it brings in an integrated fashion.  

And that was a big challenge to overcome in terms of building trust with my colleagues and ensuring that they didn’t see me and what we were building as a threat, but rather an opportunity and a way for Ipsos to look at different areas of growth and collaboration.  I think we’ve gotten to a really good place, I hope. But what I’m seeing now is that that integration piece is really one of most exciting pieces of what we can do with communities at Ipsos because we have clients that are doing things outside of the communities at Ipsos already and have the community and were able to bring all of these connection points together.  That’s really where the true power comes into play ‘cause communities aren’t good for everything. I’m not going to start looking at volumetric forecasting using a community. So really bringing those pieces together, that was a challenge because the easiest thing I could be is come in and be like, “Oh, we’re way cooler than you and… we’re the new phase.”        


Everything’s a nail to a hammer.


Yeah, exactly, but it was really like how do we figure out how to work together and be better together.  


Thinking about communities, is there a life cycle of the communities that are successful; in other words, is it a six-month focus or is it longitudinal in-perpetuity framework? 


So, if it was up to me, I think every brand would have a consumer community, of course.  We have communities that have been up for 3, 4, 5, years or even more. And I think what success looks like in those long-term community programs is that there’s never a point of just settling.  We’re always continuing to evolve. We define success metrics, and we track ourselves and are accountable against those and we continue to evolve those over time. We don’t just set those once and forget them.  Back to what I was saying before, really ensuring how we’re leveraging that community, that it’s laddering up to a larger purpose, that there’s key business objectives that we’re delivering against, and that we’re able to look at the actual impact of that learning on the business itself, like whether that’s the actual decisions it’s impacted, what that looks like in terms of making their broader prophecies easier.  

You know what success looks like can be a lot of different things for the organization, and it, obviously, changes over time.  But being really purposeful in terms of defining what that looks like and actually prioritizing tracking against that, I think, is really important to a successful community for any client.  I wouldn’t say there’s any client that couldn’t get value from a community. I think sometimes there’s missteps in terms of getting to narrow: You know like trying to focus, “I just want to talk to this one group of people because we don’t have market share with them.”  Sometimes that’s valuable, but maybe that’s a much shorter engagement. I think overall the broader success that I’ve seen over the years with community is when it’s truly integrated into the broader process within the organization and that adoption curve is really addressed as a strategic priority   


Are you seeing a lot of…?  Is it a lot of different methodologies that are applied against the communities or just a certain type, more narrow?  When I think about a community, I usually think about diary studies or narrow use cases.   


So, no.  When I talk about community, I’m talking about an online environment where members are recruited in. profiled, and there’s interactivity in there.  So there’s the ability for people to talk to one another, but there’s also opportunities to do more focused, qualitative interactions like diaries, for example.  And we’re also doing a lot of quantitative work. So it is a true combination of quant, qual, and collective interactions. With that capability, you’re able to do quite a bit in terms of learning.  So, it can be around just foundational understanding of who people are; it could be much more diagnostic or optimization work against concept development or ideation or advertising. There’s a lot of different ways that you can use it for understanding paths of purchase or what does that journey look like, U&A.  I mean there’s really endless ways you can leverage a community because at its core, a community is a way to have a dialogue and understand the consumer at a deeper level, ideally. That’s what I was saying earlier: I don’t think that it replaces certain things, but it absolutely strengthens and elevates your ability to do things in a more agile and meaningful way.     


Obviously, you’ve built a set of Best Practices.  I actually sold a community into Intuit, developed the software, etc., back in 2004.  So, super early days. It seemed like such a great idea, but what we didn’t have was any best practices built around that community management and so, inevitably, what happened was it felt a little more grindy, like we just needed to start engaging them on behalf of just or for the purpose of engagement as opposed to learning.  Do you have playbook that you employ? And what does that look like? 


Yeah, there’s layers to it.  Overarching, there’s a really critical approach to how you launch a community.  So, that’s the starting point. And this might sound like a No-Dah, but is having a business strategy and aligning, like a said before, like key objectives and success measures.  And you really have to hold yourself to those things because they’re not just put them down to paper just for the sake of it. Like you actually have to be thinking about what does that look like.  And that’s a collaboration; that’s not like my team can figure that out. We have to have that dialogue with the client or with the brand to make sure that those things are meaningful and they’re things that we can executive against.  So, that’s first. 

The second is having a really defined engagement and content strategy.  And what that looks like is laddering up against those business objectives and to build a real meaningful content plan that actually is going to deliver against the things that we’re saying we want to address from a business perspective but also aligning that with a member value proposition.  Like why do these people even want to join this community? Why are they going to come back? Like you actually have to have a reason for that, that you can actually bring to the table, right? It can’t be like, “I want to be the next Facebook.” That’s probably not what most brands can deliver.  But there’s generally something, right? There’s an affinity around the topic; there’s knowledge or insider information; or there’s some kind of value proposition that you can align on. And once you define that, then we execute against our Ten Golden Rules of Engagement, is what we call them. But they’re really like core principles that are driven by human behavior, behavioral science, like the things that just drive humans but within the digital environment.  If we execute against those in a consistent fashion, we see that it drives really strong engagement. And then the third piece is that…   


Sorry.  Really quick before you get into the third piece, I just have to ask.  This concept of that it’s not about the money, right, necessarily… I actually believe this 100%.  In the research on research I have done, I will get oversized returns if there is an emotional connection or interest in a brand or category as opposed to a strict incentive relationship.  Is that part of how you’re creating the communication strategy?


Yes, absolutely.  We’re actually about to put out a paper on research on research we did around this, around the importance of intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic.  And that’s not to say that we don’t use rewards or financial incentives, but it’s not the starting point. To establish a relationship based on money, you’re setting yourself up for that expectation but, if you establish a relationship based on more intrinsic and emotional drivers, like you said, then you have the opportunity to have people that feel like they’re truly part of an experience and that they actually have a voice at the table, whatever that potential value proposition is that you’re putting out there.  And that’s really critical because you’re kind of cheapening the relationship if it’s just about gift cards. And back to your earlier point, that’s an easy thing to fall back on. And I’m not going to say that we’re not guilty of it at times. Just to be like, “Oh, just throw a bunch of rewards at them to that we can try to push up participation.” But over time that never delivers against the quality and even quantity of learnings that you’re going to get.      


And the other thing that I wanted to mention before you get to your third leg here is…  Well, actually, not mention; it’s more of a question, right? What does the interplay look like with the community members outside of a research experiment such as a collaborative diary or something along those lines?  Is there any opportunity for communication? 


Yeah, we’re communicating with members all the time.  Our community…


But I mean member to member.


Member to member, oh, yeah, yeah.  Generally, we’ll ensure that there’s some layer of what we call engagement activities at a baseline.  And it’s not like you just throw up a discussion and forget about it. Like they’re highly curated; they’re moderated; and where members are able to talk to one another…  And it’s really about creating that sense of community. That’s the thing that makes me laugh sometimes where people say, “This is a community,” but there’s like no sense of actual community. 


Take a survey.  


Yes, exactly.  The word “community” is the word “community” for a reason, right?  So we take that pretty seriously in terms of the experience that we’re creating. 


Alright, got it.  So, I didn’t mean to interrupt you.  I’ll be quiet at least for the next leg.  


No, yeah, so the third piece is really about adoption and evangelism on the client side because it’s easy to set up a community like in an asylo.  So like someone on the insights team might invest in a community, and there could be someone across the hall that doesn’t even know that there’s a community within the organization.  And so, really ensuring that we set up a strategy with the client to define how we’re going to really market the community within their organization.  


I have never heard that before.  I actually think that’s probably one of the biggest “Ah-ha” moments for me I’ve had on the show.  That is brilliant.


And it’s critical.


What does that look like?  I’m very familiar with putting together a content strategies and content calendars and all that kind of stuff.  Is there a whole separate…? The way that you’re describing it, it sounds like it’s more of a strategic session with real clear deliverables in time.


Yeah, it really depends on…  Again, it’s how you embed this program within the existing organizational culture.  At some clients within their organization, they have quarterly townhalls; and they have a newsletter or whatever.  It’s like really like trying to vet all of the different touch points that are within the organization. 


Got it.


And then the other layer to that is also just “How do they make decisions?” 


So, it’s a lot of communication-channels sort of analysis and strategy ensuring that you get some or have the opportunity at least to get some air time. 


Exactly, and that ladders back to the success measures, right?  It’s all connected. If you don’t drive adoption, you’re not going to do enough to drive the success measures and so forth.   


Tell me about the project that you are most proud of over your storied career.


Oh, boy.  


I know it’s a lot of them, right?


A lot, but I don’t know that I’m able to share all of the details on this public forum.  But I’ll stay high level. There was a program that I managed earlier in my career. What I loved about it was this client didn’t shy away from what it meant to have the consumer be part of the process.  Like the consumer was part of the process literally at every stage from the beginning of the product inception, which meant it was just in a test tube, to the actual naming of that product, to like figuring out the packaging for that product, to figuring out which stores it should be in, to figuring out what media channels.  They literally had the consumers be pitched by the different media agencies and help make the decisions in terms of where they were going to place media and what that media looked like. They fully embraced this idea of having the consumer part of that process.  

I think for me, “Did we change the world?”  “Maybe not,” but for me what I loved about that program is just how unabashedly the client embraced the consumer being part of the process.  I think a lot of clients can be scared of that. I know there’s that Ford quote about, “If I ask my consumers, they would want a faster horse, right?”  That’s our job. Our job is not to just take what the consumer says and do it. Our job is to critically think about what that actually means and read between the lines and drive what that means from a strategic perspective.  But to shy away from actually engaging with your consumers and understand what they want and what they need and what they’re motivated by, that’s just missing the whole point of what we’re trying to do as insights professionals as well as people in business in general.  


I love that.  Yeah, I love that.  I had one guest and she said that they measure, at a brand, and she said they measure the success of a project based on a single KPI, which is number of mentions (of the insights being mentioned) inside of the final brief, that’s used to make a business decision.  I thought that’s exactly right.   


Yeah, one of the things that I’ve been talking to my team a lot about lately is because…  I’m sure you’ve heard there’s this whole thing around purpose like brand purpose and brands.  Like they need to actually push forward what this society looks like for good. Corporations have more power in some ways than government.  And, when you think about what we’re doing as insights professionals, we’re like a direct line to consumers; we’re a direct line to what they need and what’ s driving them day-in, day-out.  I don’t know anyone who’s not at some level worried about plastic or sustainability, climate change… There’s a lot of things that are scary right now, right? And we actually have the opportunity to help educate our clients from a consumer perspective on how they can find purpose and drive that change.  And that’s a really amazing position to be in, right?   


Yeah, back to Estrella’s interview, she actually said in the end of it, talking about how for the first time in her career, she’s seeing the red carpet being rolled out to market research professionals, insights professionals to the boardroom.  I completely concur with that based on the interviews that we’ve been doing here. It just feels this is THE day. And it’s not just at the end or the top, right? It feels like it’s the beginning, which is a really exciting point in time.          


Yeah, absolutely.  Super cool.  


So, market research, we’ve got lots of challenges.  What are you seeing as the biggest challenge, whether it’s inside of Ipsos or with the customers that you service?


I mean I think this is broadly in the industry.  I think it’s just the finding the right combination of technology and humans. There’s a lot of things that I think historically research professionals have executed, but with technology and automation, they just don’t have to.  So it’s like really like ensuring that we’re elevating in the value chain, and automating the things that we can but not forgetting the things where “human intelligence” is still really critical. That’s going to be a continual challenge to find the right sweet spot, and it’s evolving every day, right, with the new technologies and capabilities and opportunities from that perspective.  But I think, to what you were just saying, in terms of elevating the position of insights and being part of those early conversations, not an afterthought (“Oh, we should do some research to make sure that this isn’t a bad idea), but being like really at the origin stage. That’s really, I think, the biggest pieces. It’s a challenge, but it’s definitely a necessity in terms of ensuring that we maintain relevance.  It’s really that idea of pushing ourselves up that value chain. 


I like how you’re casting automation.  Automation isn’t about job replacement; it’s about job furthering.  The more that we can automate the disparate work flows that we have inside of the research processes, then the more time that we can spend on adding value and helping the brands, our customers, and our employers to drive value right in that emotional connection that is so important.  It’s definitely a partnership at least probably for the next 50 years from my vantage point. 


Yeah, absolutely.  I look at it as how can we find time to focus on the fun stuff, you know.    


Exactly, exactly.  So, when you look forward five years from now…  You’ve had the fortune of seeing a lot of transition in this insights space.  How are we going to be different as market researchers or user-experience professionals in five years?


Well, I think that there’s a lot that we know that we don’t know.  Does that make sense? That’s really where I’m seeing a lot of focus right now, is like “Are we being redundant just asking people these questions over and over again?”  “Are there better ways to understand this information?” And I feel like some of it is Big Brother and scary, but other pieces of it, it’s just like, I think, consumers are at the point where like, “I feel like I’ve already told you all of this, and shouldn’t you have some understanding of all this information?”  I see like technology and automation, machine learning (all of the things that are coming into play in the insights world) as really helping us to, like I said before, just like really establish a stronger foundation so that we can focus on the things that are actually going to drive things forward beyond that. So I just see us getting better and better at that ‘cause we ask a lot of questions we don’t have to ask… a lot.      


And we do.  Let’s just start with the basic one: gender.  Every survey, anyways. I have a whole rant there, but I’m going to forego it in the interests of maintaining an audience.  So, it sounds like what you’re saying is there’s this opportunity for us to be able to have better transition between the disparate data systems of that data so that we have a more complete respondent record.  In other words, what I’m trying to say is, whether it’s previously self-reported data or social or whatever (transactional, behavioral, etc.), the more that that gets unified, then the better, the smarter we’ll be as brand and insights professionals in making decisions and also to the point of being really tactical with the questions that we ask at the respondent level as opposed to the same question over and over and over again.   


Yeah, absolutely.  I think there’s an opportunity to be more economical with how we engage with people.  


Yeah, that’s a much better way of saying it. You’ve been a part of a couple of high performance teams.  Tell me what are three characteristics of an All-Star employee.


It’s not three things.  Actually, my team runs by the credo, “Own it.”  It actually is an acronym, but ownership, I think, is a big piece of that.  So having that sense of accountability and knowing that whoever you are, whatever level you are that you have an important role to play and that your ownership of what you are accountable for is critical to everyone’s success.  So, that’s a big piece. The “W” is willingness to learn. And that’s really important as well because we don’t know everything ever; we are born to die unfinished. And the ability for us to continue evolving is about us having that open mind to understand and learn what’s out there and never settling, which is the “N,” to know that we can really continue to push ourselves forward.  

So, that’s really all-around curiosity and continuing to push what it means to be in our world, in our department, whatever that might be, or in our team.  And then implementing solutions and taking responsibility. I mean those are the big pieces that I think are really critical. So, always, if you want to come to me or anyone on the team with a problem, have upstarting point of what some of the solutions might be.  I think, ultimately, all those characteristics are really critical to a good team, but the No. 1 thing, for me, is about remembering that we’re all human and this really goes back to also just my broader philosophy around our community practice is that these are people, we are engaging with people, and we’re people, and we’re engaging with each other, and we need to connect with one another and respect one another.  And, if you don’t start with your people, then it’s going to be hard to engage with other people. So that’s probably the biggest thing.     


Menaka, how did you come up with “Own it”?  That is the best set of core values I’ve ever heard.  It totally encapsulates everything that I believe, but in a way that I can actually walk about tomorrow or a week from now; recycle, which is freaking amazing.     


Own it!  It just started with me being like, “Just own it!” and then thinking about what that actually means to me.  Yeah, it’s become really embedded into my team because we actually use it in terms of how we look at performance, how we look at interviewing new people on the team; so, it’s really a framework for what we stand for culturally.    


So, my last question is what is your personal motto?  I think you might have answered it.  


Yeah, own it!  Actually, I will say it’s a little different.  It’s “Just try it!” has been my personal motto.  Someone asked me this question recently, and I had to kind of think about it.  But I realized that this has been my motto throughout my life. I live in Los Angeles; I’m from Seattle, lived in New York, and San Francisco.  So, if anyone lives in any of those cities, they know that L.A. is not necessarily looked upon in the most positive light. So, me ending up in L.A. was definitely not a plan, but it was definitely a component of me meeting someone and saying, “You know what?  Just try it.” But I would say that’s in my personal life, but in my professional life as well, that’s definitely a motto for me because you don’t know until you try. Maybe it will be a total failure; maybe everyone will look at you like you’re crazy; maybe it will be amazing.  Like I don’t know. And I think that’s something that we just need to be more open to. Just trying it and seeing what happens and going from there.      


My guest today has been Menaka Gopinath, President, Ipsos Social Media Exchange – North America.  Thank you, Menaka, so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thanks so much for having me.  It’s been fun.


It’s an absolute honor.  As always, I appreciate your time and attention, listeners.  If you would please do me a kindness. If you found value in this show, please, please, please, take the time to share it, take a screen shot of it, distribute it on LinkedIn.  I would love to interact with you if you have any questions, recommendations, or also guests. And you can always find this show and others like it on our website. Happy MR.com.  Have a great rest of your day.


This episode is brought to you by Clearworks.  They are an insight, innovation and customer experience company.  They help their clients understand their customers better, identify opportunities for innovation, and create products, services, and experience that actually matter.  Their clients are diverse, both in size and industry. They do share one important thing, which is a passion to drive more business by driving more meaningful human connections.  You can find them online at www.clearworks.net.  Again, it’s www.clearworks.net.  And again, thank you so much for your time.  

Ep. 220 – Estrella Lopez-Brea – Why it’s the Best Time to be in Consumer Insights, According to Nestlé

My guest today is Estrella Lopez-Brea, Global Head of Consumer Connections at Cereal Partners Worldwide. Established in 1991, Cereal Partners Worldwide is a joint venture between General Mills and Nestlé to produce breakfast cereals. The company is headquartered in Switzerland and markets cereals in more than 130 countries.

Prior to joining Cereal Partners Worldwide, Estrella was the Knowledge & Insights Senior Analyst for Coca-Cola where she guided the BU’s decision making processes and development of the Coke Masterbrand strategy and their innovation pipeline.

Find Estrella Online:


Website: https://www.nestle-cereals.com/global/en

Find Us Online:


Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor: 

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


On Episode 220, I’m interviewing Estrella Lopez Brea, Global Head of Consumer Connections of Cereal Partners Worldwide. But first, a word from our sponsor.


We’ll take just a moment and thank G3 Translate. They have been a very valuable partner for Happy Market Research podcast, and the work that we have been doing here. I greatly appreciate it. They transcribe each one of our interviews, which range from 20 to 40 minutes, for free for us. It is a humongous benefit because it improves overall accessibility of the content that we are creating jointly with the research community. They have a unique approach. They are able to turn things around within 24 hours. I am very, very grateful for G3 Translate, and I hope that you will consider them for your next translation company project. Take the time. Go ahead and go on social media. You can find them, simply Google “G3 Translate”. That’s the number “3” and you will find the website as well as on LinkedIn. It would mean literally the world to me if you take the time to do that. Thanks so much.


Hi, I’m Jamie Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Estrella Lopez Brea.




Yay! Global Head of Consumer Connections at Cereal Partners Worldwide. Established in 1991, Cereal Partners Worldwide is a joint venture between General Mills and Nestle to produce breakfast cereals. The company is headquartered in Switzerland and market cereals to more than 130 countries. Prior to joining Cereal Partners Worldwide, Estrella was the Knowledge and Insights Senior Analyst at Coca-Cola, where she guided the business units, decision-making process and development of Coke’s master brand strategy and their innovation pipeline. Estrella, thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.


Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.


So tell us a little bit about your parents, where you grew up and how that has impacted your career.


Okay, so I am originally from Madrid, from Spain, but I live in Lausen, in Switzerland. I have two kids, in case that is interesting. I have two kids, and they are starting to approach the dangerous zone of being a teenager. Particularly about my parents, they are now retired, but they have been very, very active all their life. My father is a lawyer, and my mom, she had passion for HR so she was a HR Director; very busy people, very focused on their carriers, but at the same time very focused on their children. I have three brothers too. Well, that has influenced my career. That’s interesting because they both taught me different values. And I think it’s coming also from what they did for a living and that influenced certainly my carrier path and my choice to do consumer insights.

My dad, because he was a lawyer, his whole focus on honesty and what is right and wrong and not compromising yourself for the wrong thing was always in my mind. But since I was little, I would say: “No, that can’t be done. That’s wrong.” And that’s interesting because, that kind of objectivity is something that I always look for. And I guess now it’s very important in the research world.

And my mom, being in HR, she was very focused on empathy. She was always talking about people, and how important it was to talk to people as people, no matter who they were and where they were from. And she was always such a strong woman. She always told me: “Never give up.” You know things that you like and what you want to do in your life. So she taught me that no one is going to give me anything for free. I have to work really hard for it. And she also taught me about the importance of empathy and getting to know people deeply. And I think that’s another piece that was attached to me, and another reason why I love consumer insights and getting to know people from around the world, and getting to know who our consumers are.

So I think they influenced a lot my career. And then, in terms of my career, I started working in the research industry when I was living in the US, in Chicago. I lived in Chicago for five years, and that’s where it all started. And then I moved back to Spain, and worked for Coca-Cola for 10 years, where I held very different roles. And then my last kind of journey has been three years ago, when I was called for a job in CPW, Cereal Partners Worldwide, here in Switzerland. So here I am today, enjoying every single day.


Yes, congratulations. So there’s a couple things that I want to touch on. One is also having two teenagers, actually, almost three now teenagers at home is a terror. It’s a terrifying process, right?


I think they are still in the safe side.


Yes, that’s good. The role of parenting has obviously maintained the same. You’ve got to create clear boundaries for kids and help them make educated decisions. You can’t obviously control the decisions; that’s the same for me when I grew up. But the world has evolved dramatically from when we were in our teens versus the youth today, and it’s interesting to me how they have so much more information at their fingertips and the opportunity that creates for them from just an ability to be able to gain knowledge. My 15 year old last night told me that he and his friend are starting a clothing brand, which is hilarious. Something that I would have never thought would be possible as a young person. And he’s just looking up online how to accomplish those objectives and working against it.


Yeah, it’s an amazing age, when you see them also how they are transforming from being kids to be semi-adults. And the transition process is interesting and rewarding too as a parent, to see them grow and become this young person that you feel so proud of.


Yeah, absolutely, it is a rewarding, and also terrifying journey at the same time, it is both. One definitely lives in a state of tension.  So your parents have clearly impacted you from a value perspective. I liked your mechanic, the three-legged stool that you articulated: honesty, don’t compromise, and empathy. And maybe the fourth piece being a work ethic, right? You’ve got it. You’ve got to make your own way or take responsibility for where you are and where you want to get to. It’s interesting to me because, especially in context of ESOMAR and Joaquin, who introduced you and I in Amsterdam at the IIEX conference. Those tend to be the core values of the industry.


That’s true. That’s very interesting. I hadn’t thought about it. But now that you say that, it makes sense. Yes, they are important pillars. Because at the end of the day, our industry is about treating people right and getting to know people. And we are people. So if we’re able to see ourselves with those values, I think we’ll be able to understand our consumers. I think it’s important the knowledge of don’t treat others like you don’t want to be treated.


Yes, the Golden Rule.




So I’ve done a fair amount of ethnography. I found myself in my early career thinking of the consumer as a “they”. What I mean is I didn’t personalize their specific journey. And I found as I have been now in my late 40s –I’m just a late bloomer, so for those interested, but it really is about “we”, this connection of all of us and how that needs to be involved and how we informed the brands from the consumer’s point of view. So, really, the personalization and the connection that we make with those consumers and the application of those insights into the brands on informing them on that consumer’s point of view is, I think, the core tenant or a solid way for us to be able to bring value.


To me, it’s the only way we can create value. If we don’t know what consumers value, it’s really hard for us to create value. So we need to get to know people and their struggles and their aspirations and their intentions in order for us is to be able to provide products and services that they can use. Otherwise, we can create the best innovation in the world but no one is going to buy it.


So we have all faced challenges. What is one of the biggest challenges that you have overcome either personally or professionally?


I’ve been lucky enough to not having any big major problem in my life, like health or things like that. I think probably my biggest challenge is something that is not very original and that a lot of other people have it too, especially women, which is kind of like that element of finding harmony between my personal and my professional life. I think that is probably not the challenge because I was literally struggling for it but because it has really been a constant element that you have to deal with when you have a career that is relatively successful, and if you have a family that you care for. I have always been lucky. I have always had some kind of support net to help me cope with both aspects of my life, whether it was my parents or a trustworthy nanny or an au-pair or a friend that you can tell: “Hi, can you pick up my kid from school?”, that kind of thing.

But an interesting challenge came to me when I moved to Switzerland with my family 3.5 years ago because on top of the implications of not speaking the language and all of that, my husband left his job to support me, and to be a stay-home dad and take care of my kids, and that has been an interesting process. And it hasn’t been challenging even to accept it for us, and even just to be proud of it and to make the most out of it because it is unusual. But it has been really great because I have been able to focus on work these last few years and advancing my career and getting to do my job the best I can, knowing that my kids were in the best hands possible while they were adapting to the new environment, and getting to know the language. And my husband is loving it. Because he is having for the first time the opportunity to spend quality time with our children, which is something that he never thought, especially now, in this kind of changing times we’re talking about, when kids transition in a little bit into being teenagers. So it is not that I recommend people to follow the same path. But what I mean is that the learning for me has been that you have to do what works for your family, and without letting conventions or other people’s opinions influence you. This has worked for us in this period of time. It might not work, later on, but it has worked and it’s working well, and it’s allowing us to find this harmony. So that’s my little story of my challenge.


Yeah, that is super interesting. Women, I believe, face a tremendous amount of guilt externally and then internally. This is my understanding after conversations with other people, by the way, I’m not personalizing it. But when you have children, you’re either feeling guilty if you’re not working or there’s a guilt, if you are working, and it’s a really interesting dynamic that society, I think, has set this view of what is the right way. And if you can step out of that and operate in a more truthful or self-aware perspective, then you can shake those shackles, forgive the metaphor, of guilt and create an environment that in fact you will raise a healthy, successful family.


That’s true.


But it’s hard!


It’s hard. Yeah, it’s hard. But if you love what you do, you just can’t compromise. As I was saying, something that my mom told me when I was starting my career once when I was pregnant: “Don’t look at the money.” In Spain, it was recession time. And a lot of people stopped working because it was even more expensive to go to work for them than staying at home with their children. It was very interesting. A lot of people were saying: “it’s not worth it for the little bit of more money that I earned. I’ll just stay home with my kids.” And the one thing my mom told me is: “It’s your decision. But if you love what you do, don’t give up. And don’t look at it from a cost-effective point of you. Look at it from the point of view of you’re doing what you love.” And I always follow that, and I think we should all follow that. And if that means breaking a little bit the norm, that’s fine.


Tell me about the research project that you’re most proud of.


Oh, I think I have a very recent one here in this company where I am right now. It has been pain and a reward at the same time. It’s a really huge project, and probably the biggest product piece of foundational learning that the company has ever done. It’s a big project in across all the regions in the world, across different markets that took me probably a couple of years from beginning to end, and taking personal time because I had a small team and it faded away, and I ended up working at it on my own. But it has really helped the organization be consumer-first and understand what the consumer is about.

It’s a huge consumer segmentation about the needs of the consumer. That’s why the consumer is always at the heart of everything. Everything that I talk about. But it’s really about knowing who consumers are, what they value, what they need, and then for us to be able to develop strategies, innovation that meets the consumer needs. So, it’s been a huge one with a lot of impacting the organization. That’s a reason why I feel very proud of this because it has really helped the organization to be more consumer-centric by deeply understanding consumers. And it has really influenced the long-term plan of the company.

And it has literally touched all the innovation pieces we have in our long-term plan. It has influenced the brand’s strategy of all of our brands. It has landed across all the markets and the regions and the functions. And every time I see an image of my project or a mention of my project, from the CEO to a person in another region, a BO  somewhere or a Marketing Director in the region, I feel really proud because it was really tough, but it is really creating an impact. It’s probably the project that I’ve worked on that has been more impactful


I didn’t realize that there’s a lot of confidentiality around customer segmentation in every space. But is there a part of the project that you can share, some sort of nugget that would potentially inform a different decision being made?


You mean sharing?


Businesses, the executives that are making the decisions are looking for information, and that information has to come to them in close to a real time often because they have to make a decision. The speed of decisions just continues to increase. So as you think about a multiyear segmentation, which is a heroic effort, by the way, how are they interacting with that data, the insights that you provided them so they are able to make an informed decision?


So for multiple fronts, on one side is just a unified long width to talk about our consumers or the different segments of consumers and the same language across the whole organization to talk about those needs that consumers have for our occasion, which is breakfast. Then, opportunity identification. Where are the white spaces? Where we’re not playing, which might be very important for consumers that we don’t have a need. We don’t have a solution for them. So it has triggered innovation on that side too. And again, brand strategy also because… and portfolio assessment. We have a pretty broad set of brands, and we need to differentiate them, and understanding who are consuming those brands but also, how do we pull them apart so that they can play in a bigger space? And when we are developing innovation, we also want to be true to the positioning of those brands and who the consumer is. So there have been really different fronts. And then again, opportunity identification, which white spaces for the largest markets are at a global level and then at a regional level.


So tell me about a market research challenge that you are facing today.


Nice. I think I might have two instead of one. I think when one is pretty obvious: it’s technology. A challenge is not something negative to me. A challenge is an opportunity, right? But I think in this changing period where technology has completely disrupted the industry over the last 3 to 5 years after a pretty quiet and stable period, I would say, I think we are being good at adapting technology to increase consumer engagement, to reduce the dropout rates, to get more accurate data. I think we have evolved there, but there’s a lot of shiny objects out there that I feel that neither companies nor research agencies know exactly how to use yet and, of course, I am talking about for virtual reality, and machine learning and things like that. So we really need to look for ways to better understand how to use technology with purpose. So I hate when a vendor calls me to say: “Hey, we’re doing a lot of things in VR.” Don’t tell me this. Ask me what’s my business challenge. And I’ll tell you what it is. And then you tell me if VR is the way to solve it, but not the other way around. What do you think?


I 100% agree with this point. So I consult for a number of start-ups, and the biggest complaint, if you want to think of it that way, that I’ve had or that I have, is that oftentimes entrepreneurs will have a great product or service that they are trying to map to a problem. So they start with the technology, and then they’re trying to figure out “Okay, good. Where does that fit? How can I monetize it?” I always say you guys got to reverse the side of it. You know you need to focus on where’s the customer’s pain point in the market. And that represents the opportunity that then you need to apply the technology or the service or however you are banking your solution, so that it adds value to the customer.




So you said two things. That was one.


Yes, the other one, which to me, more than a challenge, is an opportunity. And we talked about it before, that is, consumer empathy. There are studies out there that prove that consumer-centric organizations who put the consumer first are the ones that are performing the market. I don’t know if you’ve read this 2019 Watermark Consulting study? Have you read that?


I am going to. I have not.


So it’s very interesting. They look what happened to the cumulative stock performance of the top Tier 10 and the bottom 10 traded companies in the past 11 or 10 years. And the result was that the leader in consumer experience or consumer empathy outperformed the S&P 500, the American stock market index, by like 45%. And the bottom companies performed way worse. It was something like 70% less than the same average. So there’s proof that consumer-centric organizations do better and because they create value for the consumer, which is what we were mentioning before. So it’s a key focus for us to ensure that basically every decision-making element is based on the consumer. We want to know the consumer better than anyone else. Are there, to the field, which is something that we have forgotten. I think like being behind the mirror is kind of like past those times. So really getting to know what’s the tension?  Who is there? And put consumer-centricity at the center? I mean, right now, we’re trying to create a consumer-centric kind of activity that we are partnering with HR to make the whole company across market regions to be more consumer-centric. So it’s not the role of CI to be consumer centric. It is not their role of our function. It is everyone’s role and responsibility to know that consumer.


Oh yes, this is something that I’ve seen trend in the last relatively recently, where there’s a concerted effort to create consumer empathy across the organization. So everybody inside of the company is thinking about the consumer first in the decisions that they’re making, which of you think about it from a HR perspective is a material shift from how we used to think about things. Organizational clarity is probably the number one biggest challenges of any CEO or CHRO. How do you guys actually empower that knowledge across a large organization?


There are many different things involved. One of them, obviously the most powerful one, is that we have a CEO that is probably the most consumer-centric person of the whole organization. And that helps. He goes to visit markets. In every market he visits, every week, or every couple of weeks, he meets with the consumer. He goes, and does in-home interviews with consumers. Every market he goes. And then he posts back to the whole company what he has learned about the consumer there.

So there is this culture of the consumer must be put at the center, which starts from the top, and obviously our function is a critical piece. We bring the consumer along the process, we use research for learning purposes, not for validation. So we are more about finding agile ways to meet with a few consumers against some intuition to move to the next level or the next step of the journey more than having everything 100% finalized, and let’s just test it and do this huge research, which we also do, and we also do validation. But then we have tools. We have an empathy tool kit that has been rolled out to all the regions on the market. So whenever there’s a project for a brand in one region, they can go down and look at activities and do empathy activities like shop-alongs, or go to the store as if you were this consumer, or meet someone of these characteristics. That kind of thing. The project that I was telling you before has also helped a lot because now we have the same language and knowledge about who these consumers are, how to pull them apart, what are the values that they have, what do they care for, what is the food that they eat. We get to know them much better.

So there’s different tools, but they all walk in the same direction. And I say that, in the organization in the last few months, and especially since the new CEO joined, that our function is a trending topic. Ha! So everyone wants to go and that’s the best position you can be at right, when you have a meeting with senior leaders, and one over the other says: “Oh, I can’t believe they haven’t been seeing the consumer”. Really? They are proud of it. They say: “Really? I saw the consumer last week.” And that’s amazing because that means that they are all preaching what they believe in. Walking to talk instead of it just being words.


There definitely has been a visible, measurable shift at the C-suite with the adoption of insights from a direct connection perspective. There used to be, from the organizations I was exposed to, which I feel it was a lot, a few layers between the special key executives and consumer insights. And now I’m hearing more and more about organizations, even at the CEO level, who are making direct connections on a regular basis with consumers in order just maintain their fingers on their pulse.


Yes, this is great. I mean, what else can we ask for, right? As people who are responsible for a function like us?


Honestly, it is literally the most exciting time in my career…


Yes, I feel the same way.


…for market research and consumer insights in general. Because we quite literally have a red carpet into the boardroom and direct influence. I’m actually very thankful for the Qualtrics acquisition because I believe it created, I believe it is a fact, value association with consumer insights. So thank you SAP for that. The number of calls I’m getting from financial institutes that are looking to make investments and acquisitions in this space is every day, multiple times a day. And that’s from maybe one or two a month rather prior to that acquisition. So every organization is now having to perk up and say: “Wow, that that’s an oversized valuation.” Or is it? And if it is and then they have to understand what that thesis is, and to your earlier point about the Watermark study, who doesn’t want that, to outperform the S&P 500? And the way that you do that is just profoundly obvious, to your point


Now the question is, and that is the reason why it is also a challenge, you have to actually prove, I’m not saying proved with numbers, but there has to be actions or actionable insights in order to maintain that traction. If we as a function are given the trust to go and be the center, let’s say, of any initiative and we do not prove that what we do is actually having an impact in the organization, then the virtual circle can stop. We do have a responsibility to perform and to ensure that, and I strongly believe that, being consumer centric results in better decision-making and therefore, growth for the company. But you have to perform. You have to have a team that is focused on actions. There’s certain elements associated to make that happen.


The ROI on research… We have got to really frame what we do to that point, because it is easy to start retrenching in what I will call the “traditional methodology approach,” which is more validation to your point versus learning. Of course, you have to have both in an organization.


Right. And if the organization invests in the function because they believe that’s how we should do it… But then the company doesn’t perform as expected. Then there is a danger of saying: “Oh, you know what? I thought you were very useful, but you’re not.” So there is also an element on us to make sure that what we learn from the consumer is actionable, is transformed, and that those insights are transformed into things that are actionable and important, and differential for the company.


This gets to the heart of my earlier question, which is market research used to sit as a specific function inside of the organization. And now what I am seeing is market research is giving information and empowering insights so that when the UX designer or the product owner or whoever inside the company has a question, then they immediately have a treasure trove of data that they can then make a decision. And to your point, that is the big challenge. I believe we have to see ourselves as empowerers as opposed to gatekeepers. I think that is something that I’m just seeing over and over from a theme perspective from consumer-based organizations.


Yes, empowerers, story-tellers…






So there has been a lot of technology that is introduced outside of market research, and market research companies are always thinking about how can we apply this to our space, even though we are not on the early adopter part of the curve. How do you think the market research space is going to be different in five years?


Well, I think technology obviously will impact. We have only started. So I think the digital transformation of channels will happen. So more channels, more complex channels, more blurriness between the online and the offline world. I think that can only increase.

I think is the other element is mobile-only. We are now in transition time. But in a few years I don’t think we are going to be having anymore desktop surveys. I think we are probably already really late but it’s starting to move. Then virtual reality, I think, also as a way to engage with consumers and a way to be efficient, especially for big organizations that operate, for example, in different markets or are across different channels. I think it can be super-powerful, but with purpose again. And then artificial intelligence as well. I think it will become the mainstream data analysis tool. It will save time and be more accurate and will be more accessible. And I think the other element is an even higher need for agility and speed, because people’s expectations are faster every day. They are increasing faster every day. Information is expected to be available now immediately both, I think, from the consumer side but also on the company side. So consumers want things now so they cannot wait for a year until we have the pipeline ready. But companies also need the information of those changes to be available faster. So I do see this trend of less big, robust pieces of information as I was mentioning before, and more agile, do-it-yourself approaches that get you closer to the consumer along the process. I mean, if we look at things like the proliferation of the online communities nowadays, I think it’s a sign of people just bringing the consumer along the journey in a way that is not perfect but it’s going to give you some informed intuition to move to the next stage.


Can you elaborate a little bit on the online community’s point that you just made? I think it is really important.


Yes. I think there has been a broader use of online communities in the last few years, where you basically had the opportunity to have a group of consumers at your fingertips in an environment that is friendlier to them, where they move around in a nice way, and it gives you an agility to find answers or insights or a better understanding that we have never had before. Before, we had a question, and we asked it. You put the question, you take it, you analyze it, and now you can just have your consumers bring you there, bring some questions, read what they say, what they relate to, the comments that they make. And that already triggers something for you to continue working on what you’re having without having a month of stop. I don’t want the perfect report. I don’t need it. I don’t need a 50-page report with every single quote. I can just go in there, and see what they’re saying, and that will help me understand, me or the marketing manager or whoever. So I think that is one tool. But I think it’s a very powerful one that allows agility and consumer-centricity at the same time.


I love that. What are the three characteristics of an all-star employee?




And by the way, there’s no pressure because your mom has been in HR a long time.


True, true. Well, I’m going to tell you what I look for in my team, for example, or for myself. I don’t know if it will be an all-star but I’m sure these are the things that are important to me. I don’t know if it will be three. But they are the things I have noticed.

The first one is being action-oriented. We talked about it throughout the whole conversation. We need people that are result-driven, who are having an impact in the work that they do, that look for solutions that are efficient, not from the point of view of working a lot of hours. It’s about making sure that what they produce, that the work that they do is having an impact; it is triggering an action. That is super important to me. And that’s usually related to other skills, such as the ability to influence or having initiative. Usually, those employees who are action-oriented are people who are just nominating themselves for any project that’s coming and have these skills to persuade with the information that they have or to influence with the information that they have. They are always looking for an impact. I think that will be one.

We also talked about the need for agility, and I think that makes me think about the need of being flexible and adaptable. The world is changing every day, and what is a critical skill to me is being able to pivot, to change, to be able to adapt, to be able to navigate in uncertain waters without struggling. I face unclear situations every single day. You need to be able to cope with them, and make the most of it and don’t stress. So again it ties me back to this initiative that we were mentioning before: People who have a better ability to adapt to new environments are usually asking or nominating themselves for a new challenge. Because they want to pivot, they want a change, they look for this movement and not to stay like stiff in the same role. Because that’s also what helps us grow. They see value in it too.


I totally agree.


Also, the other one to me is just having commitment, and having passion. If you don’t have passion for what you do, just go home. Passion and commitment can overcome other skills. You don’t need to be necessarily the smartest person in the world, but if you are dedicated, and you’re passionate, you will make it happen. And to me, that’s very, very important. People need to be motivated to enjoy coming to work every day. We work a lot of hours so you have to care for what you’re doing. It’s just a mindset more than a skill. You just have to enjoy what you’re doing. If you are a passionate person, you will find the way to make whatever you do exciting. I think those would be my three. If a person has all of these three skills, I think they will have also leadership qualities because they will be confident, they will be willing to take challenges, they’ll have initiative, they will be responsible and good communicators. So it all ties together.


I am here taking a lot of notes. I have never heard anyone connect the core values to a byproduct of leadership. I think that is super insightful. It’s funny because it completely drives the type of people that you want inside of an organization, which in an ideal world are people that are moving the needle, and see themselves as empowered, as opposed to more of the Atom rubber stamp-type of a role. And when you think about consumer-centric cultures, that has to be a characteristic of it because you need everybody, from the intern to the CEO, to ask themselves the question “Is this good for the consumer?” And as soon as they feel like “Gosh, maybe it’s not”, they have the opportunity to be able to raise their hand. You can’t do any of that unless they have that sort of mentality.




So I have a couple of questions that came in on LinkedIn when I posted this morning that I was having the pleasure of interviewing you. Do you mind if I ask you some of the questions?


Of course.


So the first one is from Matthew O’Mara, and he asks: “Is it true?” And he claims his daughter believes it is, that cereal can actually be dinner.


Well, I think any food can be eaten at any moment. What do you mean… Idon’t know if I understand what it means when he says it can be dinner.


I think he’s probably in a power struggle with his daughter. I assume he doesn’t want her to eat cereal for dinner.


Oh, for dinner, okay. What I can tell you is that we operate in the breakfast occasion for a reason because we know that we have the ingredients and the nourishment that are relevant at the breakfast occasion because we are products where the category might have some bad press. But actually cereal is a very great option at breakfast. It has all the right elements to be present in this occasion. I don’t want to advocate for anyone to go ahead and all of the sudden have cereal for any meal. I don’t want to get into that discussion, but I know that at breakfast it certainly is a good option.


I think he will like hearing that. That’s probably exactly the answer he wanted. The last question that I’ll ask you, and there are a few more than I’ll follow up with later through LinkedIn, but is from Ted Waz of the Opinion Economy, and he’s asking, and it’s a longer question, but the gist of it is: Do you guys have concerns around what he’s framing as click farms, where you have basically automated respondents taking surveys?


Oh, that’s a good point. That’s a good point. I would say it’s not a strong concern right now, but it’s probably one of the biggest concerns that we’ll have in the future. When we were talking about the digital transformation and the artificial intelligence and all the machine learning coming, I think that will be a very, very big watch-out that the industry is going to have to figure out. I think that is a great question indeed.


So my last question is: What is your motto?


I don’t have a motto but if I had to make one right now, I would say it’s just “do your best”. It seems small but and it might sound probably very cliché, but to me it means just so much. It means that you’re just putting the best effort into everything that you do. And to be honest, it’s probably the only way you can live with the feeling of self-satisfaction. Because even if things don’t turn out, there’s always going to be someone that is better than you, there’s always going to be someone who did an amazing job. But if you feel that what you’ve done is the best that you could, that you have put your soul and heart into it, that is already rewarding. It’s only yours. I think that personal satisfaction is only yours, and you deserve. And that’s a personal feeling that no matter if things don’t turn out, you’ve done your best. That would probably my motto.


My guest today has been Estrella Lopez Brea, Global Head of Consumer Connections at Cereal Partners Worldwide. Thank you, Estrella, very much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research podcast.


Thank you. It was a pleasure.


And everyone, if you please take a few moments, share this episode. You can screenshot it, put it on LinkedIn, Twitter. It would mean the world to me. Also, your ratings on Apple iTunes is a huge benefit in that it creates additional visibility of this podcast to other insights professionals. I hope all of you have a fantastic rest of your day!

Just want to take a moment and thank G3 Translate. They have been a very valuable partner for Happy Market Research podcasts and the work that we’ve been doing here. I greatly appreciate it. They transcribe each one of our interviews, which range from 20 to 40 minutes, for free for us. It is a humongous benefit because it improves overall accessibility of the content that we are creating jointly with the research community.

They have a unique approach. They are able to turn things around within 24 hours. I am very, very grateful for G3 Translate, and I hope that you will consider them for your next translation company project. Take the time. Go ahead, and go on social media, you can find them. Simply Google “G3 Translate”. That’s the number “3”, and you’ll find the website as well as on LinkedIn. It would mean literally the world to me if you take the time to do that. Thanks so much.

Ep. 122 – Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision

Today my guest is Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision. FocusVision is the only comprehensive research software solution to capture real-time human insights and analytics.

Zlatko took over as CEO of FocusVision in late 2017. Under his leadership, FocusVision has won a prestigious MarTech award for customer management.


Twitter: @zlatko_vucetic

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zlatko-vucetic-b328b71/



Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/happymrxp

Twitter: @happymrxp Instagram: @happymrxp

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch/


Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Today my guest is Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision. FocusVision is the only comprehensive research software solution to capture real-time human insights and analytics. Zlatko took over as CEO of FocusVision in late 2017. Under his leadership FocusVision has won a prestigious MarTech award for customer management. Zlatko, thank you very much for joining me today.


Thank you for having me on the show Jamin. I’m delighted to be a part of your show. I’ve been following over the last couple of weeks and it’s been truly amazing to see what type of conversations you’re having with various individuals and it’s very, very impressive that you’ve been able to have a good conversation with a lot of the various brands and enterprises out there and their relation to market research. So good work to you guys on getting something like this up very, very quickly.


Hey, thank you very much Zlatko. A little bit of a plug for the show, I’m starting to get inbound requests from major brands, most recently MasterCard to be on the show. So it’s actually pretty exciting to see how the value hypothesis is getting proven out here at Happy Market Research, which is the brands’ needs have shifted on the insights. They want to communicate that to the agencies so that agencies can better meet and address those gaps meaning that insights becomes really the rudder of the ship of these business decisions. So it’s an exciting time for me honestly and a hell of a lot of fun.


So you’re basically the Henry Kissinger of market research industry.


I hadn’t thought of it like that but there you go.


That’s good. Somebody has to be in the middle and translate the both parts as one and that’s not an easy task.


Zlatko and I, just for the audience’s benefit have a long-standing history of working together for the better part of gosh over two years. We were introduced originally in London about two and a half years ago and I absolutely fell in love with his work ethic and intelligence. He absolutely blew me away from a production or productivity perspective working with me when I was the CEO of FocusVision. And when I recognized that that role was not a good fit for me, I worked hard alongside him and the rest of the board in order to make sure that there was a smooth transition of leadership, which he assumed that CEO mantle very effectively. So I wanted to just kind of give that preface to the show so that people understood one, where we’ve come from; and then two, gosh I was in New York was it last week or the week before and we had dinner. Thank you very much by the way for buying. I do appreciate that.


Yes, of course. And thank you for clarifying that. A lot of people in the industry get a little bit surprised when I tell them that I spoke to Jamin or I met Jamin. That’s still a funny thing to experience but as you said it yourself, yeah, I think it was amazing working with Jamin at FocusVision. It was definitely a different experience for me understanding not only the entrepreneurship that Jamin had but also the innovation and really understanding the passion behind building a good product that he built over the last decade. So it was a very, very good introduction and I would say even go that far that if it wasn’t for Jamin, probably I never would have relocated with my family to the United States. So if that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know. People ask me is that a good or bad thing. It has yet to be determined, but I think so far it’s been an awesome journey. So I actually owe that to Jamin as well.


Awesome. Thank you very much. So let’s just jump right in. Our standard opening question, what do your parents do and how has that affected what you’re doing today?


So my dad was a – he’s retired now. He was a diplomat. My mom is a financial accountant. I think my parents for me – how does that affect what I’m doing. So growing up in Denmark I think – the one thing that you get always taught through either the education system or the society is that you have to make your own money. So the first job you have in Denmark is when you’re 13-years old and that can be everything from delivering newspapers to working in a supermarket basically removing the empty bottles from the assembly line and putting them in the boxes and recycling them and sending them back to Coca-Cola and all the other distilleries out there. So I guess that’s – I don’t know how my parents, how they’ve influenced my upbringing and some of the work qualities that I have but I guess my – I think my upbringing in Denmark has a lot to do with – for me a job is a job and there is no – every job out there is equally worth it. And every time when you speak to somebody in Denmark they will tell you that before they were 21-, 22-years old, they already had nine different jobs working either as a dishwasher, cleaning things, and because we are in a very non-hierarchal society you will see people from all kind of classes from society working next to each other. So it’s a very normal thing. So I think that part has taught me that there’s always a very important thing that you do your job well regardless of what kind of job that is and that’s something that stuck with me ever since. So I’m not sure how much I can dedicate to being a part of that type of society versus my parents. I think the part where my parents have influenced me quite a lot has been on the honesty side. I’m extremely honest and direct. And I think it’s very, very important that people are especially in the business. It’s not always the case in a lot of the countries and companies that I worked with over many years that that’s always a right strategy to pursue. And it took me some while to understanding what people mean with honesty and candor versus what that truly means when you start translating some of those elements. But that’s something that I’m getting a little bit used to it a little bit more now but I guess that’s definitely a thing that I have from my parents in terms of being very, very candor and being very, very honest. That can be either job-related or a private situation or something else that needs to be addressed in life. I still truly believe that if you’re not really honest with yourself in terms of what you need to do better, how you can improve, then you’re never going to reach the final goal that you set up front.


Yeah, you see that trending over the last year, this whole concept of radical candor or radical transparency inside of corporations. And then also developing self-awareness at an individual level so that you’re operating inside of your skill. We heard that in the very first episode with Merrill Dubrow how he knows where he needs to focus and he focuses accordingly. Certainly seen that play out. Also on the grit side, I think that’s super-interesting. How did this grit or this work ethic help you succeed so profoundly at your time at Saxo Bank. You went from really an entry-level role there and within 8 years were an EVP.


Yeah, that was a great ride. I think at that time we were one of the fastest growing companies especially in Europe; in Denmark for sure. It was – there was a lot of challenge. There were two things that were driving that primarily. I think I’m extremely competitive and that drives a lot of my – a lot of the engagement that I have in terms of the people, businesses, and everything else that I do in life. I still hate to lose any kind of video game or card game to my 7-year old daughter. And I still get upset with that. But I think that’s one of the parts is that I’m extremely competitive. I want to succeed always. The second part is that what’s been extremely important for me is to undertake challenges that nobody wanted. So a lot of the different things that people were doing and saying well I don’t want that opportunity because there’s so much risk and there’s so much change in it that’s going to affect me on a personal level or on my work level, I’ve always said yes to those challenges. So I think that’s – I think in life if you want better, first of all you need to – you never stop learning and you always have to learn new things. And the second thing is you always have to take some risk in terms of the things you’re doing. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. But in general the people that I’ve seen taking a lot of – and I think Jamin, you know this better than anybody else in terms of the entrepreneurship and people being very innovative and taking slightly more risk than anybody else are the people that always succeed. In the end, it is about the hours that you put as well. I understand the entire concept about working smarter, not harder, but a lot of the things that we are trying to achieve in our lives is also a matter of the time that we take to understand them. I always go back to Mr. Michael Jordan saying for – he had to miss 10,000 shots before he understood how to make the last great shot. So I think that is extremely important in business as well. We have to fail and we have to fail many times to understand where we can improve, where we can become better, and most importantly how can we surround ourselves with the people that can improve us because we can’t really have all the competencies at the same time. So think that for me it’s been more about the grit, the risk, and being extremely competitive in what I do. And I don’t – I used to be a competitive athlete in the past so people ask me sometimes is it because of the competitiveness, because of you’re playing a sport or you were actually quite good at sports. I said no, I was actually OK at some sports but it wasn’t really that it was driving. And I think for me particularly, I have – I grew up in Denmark but my background is Croatian. So I think growing up in Denmark with a first name like mine you always feel that you have to be a little bit better. It’s not really how the society portrays you or sees you but I think there is something latent in your own soul that feels that this is something that you have to do – you have to be three times better than anybody else in order to get a chance. And I think a lot of people have it like that, especially people that have a different background than other people in the country where they’re living. So I think that’s been a prime driver of my will to succeed. So – and it still is. I guess in America there’s a lot of more people that can pronounce my name so it’s a little bit easier here but it’s something that really not only makes me outcompete on a lot of the things that I’m competing about but really think about how do I plan and how do I also manage some of the risk that I’m taking business wise.


How do you think – reflecting on being an outsider from marketing research, Chris Fanning also – one of my favorite CEOs in the space, he was the previous CEO of SSI prior to the merger with Research Now. How do you think that informs you and your business decisions giving FocusVision perhaps an edge?


I think the difference – first of all, I think the market research industry is an extremely exciting one. I started my career actually in market research doing qualitative and quantitative work for Danish Royal Hospital when I was 18-, 19-years old starting in the business school. So I worked with that in the past but I think the biggest difference here is that when you – with my background working with other industries that has a lot of academia in it as market research has but also went through a similar change when it comes to technology and enablement of technology you see some of the similar patterns. And I certainly see some of the similar patterns that I’ve been seeing in other industries happening in market research space. So I think – I’m not saying that you can predict what’s happening in the industry but you have a more casual relationship with the industry, which sometimes gives you a little bit of easier way to navigate through that. And I feel that a lot of people that work in a specific industry for many, many years from time to time they do have a problem of disconnecting from that and taking an outside view on a lot of their solutions. I think technology today and software in general has enabled us to look across the industries and start making some informed decisions about how to transform those industries. So I think coming from outside, it gives you the edge that you don’t feel obliged to adhere to certain rules that are imposed by the industry from the beginning where you’re actually – when you grow up in the industry. I think when you grow up in the industry it’s slightly different. There’s only one – not only one way of doing it but there are certain – I guess there are certain perceptions and paradigms that’s ruled the industry and that nothing can be changed and that’s not specific to market research industry. You can find that across most of the industries. So I think that’s the edge that you’re actually provided is you actually think slightly different or you see the same story that you have seen just by – just in a completely different industry.


Yeah, I completely agree with the perspective. I think the longer a management team works together, the easier it can be or maybe the greater the temptation is to keep doing the same thing over and over again. And then you miss the level-up opportunities inside of an organization. And I think having that value – the lens as the value from the outside are saying hey listen, I’ve seen the same script before but we can do x, y, z and apply that whether it’s social media marketing or whatever that may be a little bit outside of the comfort level of normal – of the normal industry.


And I think – I fully agree with that. And I think just to give you another example. I think when you look at the market research terminology sometimes it – I don’t think that the big data movement that we saw a couple of years ago, which is kind of now still a core part of the strategy for most of the enterprises out there. It’s kind of hasn’t really benefited the market research industry. And the reason for that is primarily because of the academia. And I remember the first couple of – so we were one of the first at that point in time, financial institutions that were utilizing big data to create modeling around customer behavior. So basically mimicking what Amazon does and Netflix in order to understand your behavior. And I remember we never became successful in most of those parts and the primary reason for that is that a lot of the findings were drawn in academia rather than something that’s actionable. So you will have a presentation by analytical teams where 40 slides out of 45 were mathematical models. So instead of just assuming that we trust people that they know how to do their math and just go to the findings, and the actionability of those findings, we kept refining the methodology and going back to one source of the truth. So then you end up spending two, three years on figuring that out and before you – and when you’re done – when you have the final solution none of the stakeholders in the organization actually believed you could deliver something that’s actionable. And I think that’s been a little bit problematic. And I think we need to go back to extremely not only fast data collection but also actionable insights. If those insights are not deliverable in a form that the company can act upon extremely quickly it’s going to be very, very difficult to have data-driven, big data strategy as a part of the core strategy because you’re going to lose the attention of the stakeholders.


I love that. ROI on research. Every project needs to drive cash into the business. And I think that is a major transition that has been taking place over the last few years inside of the brands.


Yeah, and as I said, sometimes people – when you speak with the people within the industry they make it seem like a tradeoff between the value added versus the academia or the right way to do it. It doesn’t have to be like that. I think that the faster we can combine those two schools of thought, the faster we can actually deliver something very, very useful, something that is correctly done but also something that drives the action. And I think right now as one of my friends said once is everybody has one fear, and one fear only regarding what product they’re building and that fear is Amazon. Amazon is right now driving any – every fear in any product organization or any organization that’s developing something that’s extremely client-driven. And I think that forces the enterprises to think differently in the way how they actually approach this market space, but I don’t think replicating that model is going to make them successful because we cannot all be masters at all but I think it has been a little bit of a – at least what I can see sometimes in the industry is there’s a lot of discussion on academia versus quick insights. And I think that’s a part that needs to be merged if we want to be successful at creating that return on investment on the research.


Congratulations on the MarTech award for customer management.


Thank you. We are the well-best hidden secret in the world. We get questions asked how many employees do we have in your startup. For the record, I would like underline that we’re not a startup. We’ve been around since 1919 in some shape or form or size. And we’ve expanded quite significantly over the last five years through acquisitions. We have a number of offices worldwide and more than 400 employees employed. So we’re definitely not a startup. And we are really honored by being recognized by the MarTech [INAUDIBLE] and the award that we received for the best innovation on the customer experience part because I truly feel that we have great products and we’ve been a part of the DNA of market research for the last 20 years but nobody has been recognizing that in the industry. So it’s good to see us getting the recognition and we are very happy for the recognition as well.


We have done a segmentation of our listenership, which we’re now coining Insights Nation Zlatko. What do you think about Insights Nation? Is that good?


Yeah. Insights Nation is good. Just make sure to trademark it before Live Nation comes to it and they say it’s too close to that name. But Insights Nation is probably right. So I think there’s a lot of discussion now on how to card frame the terms around the people within it. I think I always look at Sales Force and all these guys having their marketing cloud, client cloud. So you need to think about in terms of what can we actually – how do you bring all the people together. But Insights Nation, it sounds like something that is extremely catchy.


So with our segmentation, we’ve identified about half the audience are people that are looking to get jobs inside of either a brand, doing an insights function or a company like FocusVision where Ipsos, etc, etc. If you were entering into your career, so you’ve just graduated, what are a few steps that you would take in order to ensure that you got a job in marketing research.


I think I would try to understand first of all what’s happening in the industry. I think the industry is going through a lot of changes right now. And there is a lot of interesting, exciting things happening because of the changes of technology. So I would do my homework very well trying to understand how that fits the picture in terms of where I want to be a couple of years from now. Now I’ve also told you that I’m very, very – well, I do like to take risk, so probably my advice is not worth anything for the young kids out there in terms of what they should do. But I would actually look at the growth that you’re seeing in a lot of the large enterprises where they’re actually establishing large organizations that need to act extremely fast based on the customer feedback and based on other insights that they’re receiving from their clients. I think that would be an interesting thing to start but most of the people that I’ve met with the enterprise clients that they’re sitting on their various insights/analytical teams or any product teams or anything else out there. They started their career working in market research agency space first and I think it is sometimes good to start your career there and understand the basic of what you’re supposed to do


That’s exactly in line with what we had learned from Rogier at LinkedIn. That you could have that benefit of agency then go into brand or vice versa, but both inform each other.


Correct. I think it’s – once again, it’s one of these other discussions that it’s either one or the other and I don’t see it like that. I do see it as a more of homogenic environment where the brands and market research agencies need to create a better access to talent because the biggest problem they have out there is that there’s a fight for talent, regardless of which industry you’re in and in order for market research industry to become better at attracting that talent, there needs to be a change in how – what’s actually being offered out there in terms of the potential career but also the tasks that the people are doing. And I think that part hasn’t really been well defined and that’s primarily because market research is done by several – in several parts of organizations. So that takes some time for a lot of people to understand where they should actually go. But I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done because the fight for the talent base is really, really challenging. Everybody wants to work with Bitcoin, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality. So when you start speaking about the research analytics it sometimes tends to be slightly a second priority for a lot of the people out there starting their career in market research. But I do believe that right now this is probably the most interesting area to be in because you’re dealing with data, you’re dealing with customer experiences, and our ability to change a customer experience within a product or a brand has never been larger. So enabling that kind of possibility to really influence the client journeys and customer journeys is something that you don’t really get to do in any other industry. So I think we just need to do a better job in terms of communicating the opportunities rather than explaining to people what kind of methodologies they will be learning, how they can apply this in their work.


That’s brilliant. You know, you’re right. Getting a job is not just about you presenting yourself correctly or going through these steps, jumping through these hoops to get the interview but also – but you’ve got to have the attraction as the organization to get that top talent. I know that you’ve opened up an office in New York. I assume that was part of the reason is to get access to talent. What is FocusVision doing in order to tell that story that you just told to attract that talent?


Once again, I think right now the biggest thing that we are trying to do is really to tell the story about who we are today and where we want to take the business. And in terms of where do we want to be ten years from now. And I think that’s the story that you can attract people and you need to have that vision. If you don’t have the vision, it becomes not only difficult to get the right people but it also becomes very, very difficult to recruit people that want to have an ability to change. Money is not everything. I used to think otherwise for a lot of parts of my careers and then I became wiser as well many years ago. People do look for opportunities to evolve and to develop a skill set they don’t have. So we’re actually trying to facilitate that as much as possible. We are – most of our employees have career plans in terms of where we want them to be. I’ve been saying to each one of my employees since day 1 that I don’t want them to be here forever. I actually want to deliver their – I want them to be able to have great careers with us and then go and work for any of the dream companies that they want to do and have the dream job that they want to do. But I want to have an ability to one day to turn around and say that that person that’s a CEO of Google today, he started his career in FocusVision and this is what we gave that individual in terms of the space and support in order for him or her to grow in that particular career and get a job like that. So I’m extremely open when it comes to bringing – to making sure that people have the right careers as long as they have the right mindset in terms of doing what they believe is the right thing to do to progress their career.


That’s perfect. So on that note, what are the core characteristics, three characteristics of an all-star employee?


I think first of all it has to be grit. It needs to be somebody that’s not willing to put hours; I think it’s a little bit of a misunderstood concept, the hours. But somebody that really wants to understand the nitty-gritty detail, first of all because if you don’t understand it you cannot really correct anything. The second thing is very much of being passionate about what you do. It’s really understanding the – having the passion about improving something or creating something. If you don’t have that it’s going to be extremely difficult if somebody is standing in the corner and telling you what you need to do today, tomorrow, or the next six months. And I think the last thing, which I’ve always valued in terms of becoming a really good employee is ownership. It’s basically just taking the ownership of saying there is an issue that we are facing today. I think I might have a solution. I would like to be responsible for this part and then just taking ownership and delivering the solution. I think that’s one of the things that’s driving my career from where I started and I think for me, I think it’s a – if you want to be successful you have to be extremely focused on what you need to deliver, but you also have to take the ownership for making sure that it is delivered. Nobody is going to come and give you any task if you actually don’t make yourself available saying I actually think we can do this completely different. I always practice open-office policy or open-door policy where employees can come and tell me what I’m doing good or I’m doing bad. That’s been a little bit more difficult here in the states to be honest. I think the culture is slightly different with the employees, even though I’ve been facilitating that since day one. I didn’t get a lot of people coming through my doors and giving me that many suggestions. Some of them have. And that’s great. But I think for me growing up in especially Scandinavia, if you want to see candor and if you want to see people being honest, you should spend a day or two working for a Scandinavian company or a Dutch company because those are the most direct people in the world. I always grew up with working at a company where you could go to the CEO regardless which level you were at and you can tell him when he was doing his job good and what he needs to improve and he will actually sit and listen and take notes. And I think that’s exactly the way that you not only improve but you also empower your employees to give you feedback and thereby giving them more confidence that actually they can even help CEOs to tell them how they can improve their work and what needs to be corrected. So for me, those four things are the most important things in what the criteria and the skill set that people should look at in terms of what needs to be in place in order to be successful. And I think those four elements for me have been something that I’ve seen people through my career have that have accelerated quite well. Some people are a little bit more comfortable on the comfortable side in terms of just doing the thing they know how to do, which is also good. But I think once again, if we don’t take the risk and we don’t learn, it becomes difficult for all of us to develop. And that never really stops regardless how old we are.


I want to shift a little bit talking about Decipher and then we’ll move to the broader brand of FocusVision. So as most of our audience knows, Decipher is used by lots of companies as really the backbone of their insights. How has that being – how is that being leveraged by FocusVision in terms of accomplishing your strategy? Is it playing a major part within MarTech and is that then really the next big focus?


Yeah, I think it’s always been a focus of investing more in our software technology, especially on our quantitative survey tools. Right now we feel that there’s a shift in the market, which we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years but it’s really accelerated; not really only driven by us but most of the players in the market research space, especially the technology vendors. People are looking for more sophistication in the work that they do. First of all, market is moving much faster to a DIY solution where clients like LinkedIn and some of the other clients that I know you had on your show are really looking at internalizing a lot of research and it’s not because – people think it’s about cost. Cost has an impact but the main reason for that is the ability to deliver something fast and have those actionable insights. So for us Decipher has been a really amazing tool because we are in a slightly different position than most of our competitors in that space. I think that if we carve out that market space that we participating in, I think it’s – first of all it’s a completely different market space than most of our competitors are because they offer much more simpler solution in terms of the capabilities. So if we speak about the depth of the functionality and the power of the product, right now we’re really servicing that professional user and the good thing is that the market change that we’re seeing right now is that we’re seeing an increase in professional users, specifically among enterprise clients. So this is a core part of our strategy. The one place where we really want to invest is in our analytical capabilities because right now the market doesn’t really see the difference between the data collection platform and the analytical platforms that clear. They want all of it at once at the same price probably also. So this is something where we are actually investing quite significantly in terms of improving our analytic capabilities and bringing our product not only to the professional users but also some of the casual researchers that want to become much more sophisticated in their work. So it is a core of our strategy in terms of our quantitative offering and we do believe that we have a well-hidden Ferrari in our garage that a lot of people knew about but I don’t think that we’ve actually seen this much interest like we’re seeing now for the last couple of years. And that’s something to do with – there’s a bigger brand recognition around Decipher that’s been created for the last 10 years. And then the second part is this change in the appetite of how enterprise clients are purchasing the survey software has changed dramatically and we are seeing that change affect Decipher as well.


You think the pending IPO of Qualtrics and Survey Monkey are going to create additional opportunities for FocusVision?


Yes, I believe so. I think the Survey Monkey, I think – we don’t like to – I don’t know if that’s a – we are not really comparing our products. We don’t really compare Decipher with Survey Monkey because I think the functionality of the products are just completely different and user cases are also very, very different. Survey Monkey is for more simple research; Decipher is a far more sophisticated research. So we are catering for two different segments. But there’s definitely more attention in terms of the data collection tools on the quantitative side. I’m a big fan of both of the companies. I think I’ve been a Survey Monkey user for more than a decade in my previous life so that’s – I’ve always been a fan on that side. I think what Qualtrics has been doing over the last couple of years is tremendous. The growth that they’ve been having all over the world, they really understood the need and the change that’s happening on the technology side and have leveraged that completely. So I have the upmost respect for both of the companies and it’s interesting. You have two of the largest companies on the customer experience/survey quantitative offering doing IPOs very, very close. So that’s going to stimulate some demand in terms of what we do but I do think that a lot of the core users that we have are – have been really, really good ambassadors for us because a lot of the business that we get today is coming from referrals. And we actually do see that increasing over the next couple of years as well.


Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting point how you started out Survey Monkey and Qualtrics are really in a lot of ways euphemisms for insights are really important right now to help companies compete against Amazon. That’s the point right, and FocusVision is fairly uniquely positioned in the market because it not only has the quantitative, the Ferrari, but then it also has the qualitative side of things, GDP compliant, etc. out of the box. And so there is this sort of interesting market dynamic and it seems like opportunity that you and FocusVision are going to be able to fulfill.


Yeah. I think that part is changing as well. And I think that more the technology improves, the lazier we become, all of us in terms of how we see things and understand things. And I think I always used to have an argument saying if your user is used to simplicity of using an Uber app or Air BNB, or any kind of app out there or product or software, you better make sure that your software has the same usability. So I think we are kind of expecting now and that is happening in the market is that people are expecting to have everything at once provided by one simple vendor out there that can do everything – either do everything for them or deliver them the tools where they can do everything. Of course, another aspect that we didn’t touch upon is that the data privacy policies and security regarding data are going to be changing exponentially over the next couple of years. And I think people will be looking for really making sure that they’re working with the vendors who know and understand the data security policies that that vendor has in place. So I think part of it is data protection. The second part is really understanding the product. So today we are very fortunate to be able to offer both qualitative and quantitative tools for market research and data insights and analytics. And it’s been extremely helpful to have that ability to offer that to our clients. And I think you will still be able to find some of our clients that they don’t know that we actually offer a full suite of products but the ones that have that we have much more meaningful relationships with those clients. And for a lot of the instances we are actually I would say part of their DNA of that customer insights feedback loop and their entire organization is kind of built around ability to provide the insights and deliver on those insights. So that’s something that we’re extremely proud of. We are slightly unique in that positioning because most of the competitors that we compete out there with either cover one or the other side of the product portfolio. We are a slightly – once again, we’re in a slightly unique position for delivering a different kind of service to our clients. And this is something that we are really looking forward to not only proving but also creating an analytical layer on top of that so it becomes even easier for our clients to understand the insights.


Zlatko, you know me. I’m a sales guy 100 percent through and through. So I always have to ask this question when I’m talking with a guest. And that is is there a specific offering or product that you would like our listeners to hear about?


Right now I think the – for us, the most important thing is that we are really moving fast on building out our analytical capabilities. Some of the new products that we have in place will be launched later this year. And we have been really focusing a lot of building out various machine learning models and models that are based on the AI systems. We’re able to look at large quantities of data and start making sense out of it. So for our listeners out there, and your listeners out there, I think you will be able to see something completely different that FocusVision can offer compared to what we have today. On the other side, our flagship products and such have been extremely solid in terms of the user cases and we’ll be looking to improve a lot of those elements today. I think where we are extremely excited is that change to where we’re specifically seeing on the client side where the clients are actually purchasing multiple products that cover both qualitative and quantitative side and our ability to deliver on that. So I can’t really exclude one product or the other and say in terms of where opportunities are but I think really providing that insights engine to our clients is going to be a main focus over the next couple of years.


My guest today has been Zlatko, CEO of FocusVision. Zlatko, thank you for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.


Thank you for having me Jamin. It’s been a pleasure.


And thank you very much for everyone that is listening and leaving us reviews on Apple Podcast. A special thank you to G Frank 13 who said he appreciated the content and the thought-provoking questions. Everyone have a wonderful rest of your day.

Ep. 219 – Our Official 100th Episode: Life Lessons and Market Research Trends

Welcome to the 100th episode of the Happy Market Research Podcast! In this episode, Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research, interviews Jamin Brazil, Founder and CEO of Happy Market Research. The two take a look at the benefits of producing a podcast, market research trends, and life lessons.

Find Jamin Online:



Find Merrill Online:


Website: M/A/R/C Research 

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Social Media: @happymrxp


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


Good afternoon, everybody.  My name is Merrill Dubrow. For those of you who are tuning in to see Jamin Brazil be the host of the Happy Market Research Podcast, we’re going to change it up a little bit on today’s show, which is the 100th Podcast of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My name is Merrill Dubrow, and I’m President and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, and I actually am going to put the host on the hot seat.  And we’re going to interview Jamin Brazil.


Super excited about this.  


Great.  Thanks, Jamin.  As I am and everybody else.  But before we get into even a little bit of Q&A and put Jamin on the hot seat, I just want to tell everybody that this could not be made possible without G3 Translate.


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


Jamin, how are you today, sir?  This is a big highlight for me.   


For me, it’s a huge highlight.  I’m super excited and honored that…  We should also level-set: Merrill has been on the show two times.  He was my very first podcast, which was published as Number 105, and then we had him on earlier this year as an update, kind of post-transaction as he acquired M/A/R/C Research.  And now, he and I have been long-standing friends in the market research industry. He said, “Hey, has anybody ever interviewed you on the show? And I’m like, “That’s never happened.  That’s crazy.” And at the same time, we’re coming up on our 100th show; in fact, this is the 100th show for the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Well, let me tell you something.  The pleasure is all mine. I listen to your podcast when I work out, when I drive home.  And I want to thank you for allowing the opportunity to be on, I guess, in some way for a third time.  So, let’s just get right into it. The 100th episode – Wow! – of the podcast.  Just talk a little bit about the motivation behind starting the podcast.


The motivation is different than where I ended up, where I am right now, and then where I’m going with the podcast.  The challenge that I had exiting FocusVision is there’s a fair amount of restriction around what you can and can’t do in the industry.  That’s just very normal part and parcel whenever there’s a transaction; you’re partaking in that transaction selling a company. So I was fairly limited for about a year and a half after exiting the CEO role of FocusVision.  When I thought about what can I do to be able to maintain engagement and brand inside of the space, video, vlogs (really popular) that takes a lot of effort and learning. Podcasts seemed to me to be the thing that would be the fastest and easiest way for me to be able to engage with my peers and insights leaders across the space.  So, that was really where I started my journey back in… It was June of 2018.


Wow, that’s interesting.


Yeah, the next part, though.. This is the thing that I think is really remarkable about podcasting.  My background… I love, I’ve been consuming podcasts really for about ten years now, and they occupy a space for me when I’m commuting.  I spend a ton of time in the car. And there’s a lot of data that’s being substantiated, talking about the relationship that is built between the host and the consumer, the listener.  It’s almost like a… It’s a little different that it is even in a radio context, and I don’t understand all the psychology and the reasons why, except that the content is chosen specifically by that particular listener.  There’s a lot more personalization, I guess I would say, around what it is that you’re consuming and that plus the fact that you’re occupying somebody in an entertaining way, and they’re, hopefully, learning something. So there’s a much greater level of engagement that you’re creating with that audience.  So there’s this like brand impact.

The third thing that I want to mention about the power of podcasting and why I’m such an advocate of every single market research company out there starting one or being on one and that is SEO.  Organic SEO is gold in this day and age. When you think about how do I, as a market research company, engage the new researcher, the 22- to 28-year old, who probably has between one and five million dollars worth of annual budgetary spend.  How do I make sure that I’m top of mind in that demographic? And I can tell SEO is really an important element to that. You’ve got to be discoverable. And so, what podcasts do is, if you transcribe those podcasts and build them out inside of your website and then, of course., do linking on Linkedin, then it creates this great kind of lifting of your overall SEO and will help other companies that are looking for businesses or solutions that you provide to benefit from and find you quickly.      


Wow, that’s interesting, and that’s pretty impressive.  So, I remember when I started a blog, and I wrote a blog for ten years three times a week – posted on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  And I had a lot of metrics and numbers and best practices. So, we would send out an email blast on Tuesday at 11 o’clock. I would keep the post to about a little less… 282 words.  I was going to say a little less than 300, but actually 282 was kind of our average. And I would track how many comments and how many hits. Let’s talk about some best practices around the podcast and even some surprises that you’ve had over the last ten months that you didn’t think of.  But really if somebody wanted to start a podcast as well, Jamin… I remember all the mistakes that I made on my blog. Can you just share some of those best practices and some pitfalls to definitely stay away from?


Well, first of all, I remember when you first told me and this goes back maybe four years about the blog that you were posting and your Linkedin activity.  I actually applied the principles that you had there, which is consistency of delivery, to my podcast. So when I launched Happy Market Research, the intent was to release two episodes a month.  We actually have done a lot better than that. But it was all about the consistency of making sure the interview pipeline is full and making sure the production cycles are on point, and then making sure that the social media posting that’s around each podcast is effective and being followed like a religion, right?  I mean that’s the core of it. So the first thing I would say that you’ve got to do is maintain rigor around just being consistent with the delivery. Consistency is more important that quality; it’s more important than, quite literally, any other KPI because as soon as you miss a week or two or three, then all of a sudden you can start falling out of people’s attention, and then you lose that listener.  So you want to maintain that engagement, get something out there even if it’s only for a few minutes

The second thing that I learned actually the big learning for me – and this is a great hack that I hope the listeners will pay attention to.  If you go to a conference, it’s a great opportunity to do on-site interviews with even other exhibitors. If you do that and you don’t have to be part of the conference or you don’t have to have their permission to do this, you can just walk around and do it.  There’s a couple of companies that have actually been doing this for a few years. Some use video, and some use audio. Then what you do is write a blog post as soon as that event is over, and you reference each one of the people that you interviewed, whether it’s just a snippet, quote or whatever.  And I should also say it doesn’t have to be video or audio: it could also be just long-form blog or short-form blog. And then reach out DM, reach out to that person or people that you interviewed and say, “Hey, listen. I wrote this post or did this podcast or did this blog. Feel free to push it on your channel.”  And now what you’ve done is you’ve really created this like massive growth opportunity to your personal network and brand that is really, really hard to do in an inorganic or different approach.

As soon as you start doing that, you’re going to start knocking on other doors that you otherwise you wouldn’t have access to.  I can give you one example. I haven’t actually done the interview yet, but the CMO of MasterCard has been responsive to me on Twitter.  And those are really, really difficult people to be able to get in contact with, but if you are consistent with the delivery and you start incorporating other people in the conversation, (in other words, it’s not about me; it’s about them.) all of a sudden, you’re adding value to the equation, and people want to have those conversations with you, and you’ll be easier and easier to move up-channel to perspective buyers.  I don’t have anything to sell them, by the way, either; it’s literally just adding value to the audience that I’m having ‘cause he has a lot of information that probably all of us would care about.


Alright, bud, let’s level-set for a second on one of the things you just said.  And this, I think, is an important aspect of it ‘cause you know I really am a networker to the nth degree.  You may not have something to sell him today, but that could change in a week, a month, or in a year. And the mere fact that you have that connection, there’s no reason to draw upon it in next two years, three years, or whatever it is.  And I think that’s important.


That’s such a great point.  I think that value’s delivered really two ways by successful companies.  One is it’s got to be people first, and you know this as a CEO and owner of a business.  You’ve got to invest in your people because the better they are, the bigger the lever of your organization to create impact in our world (market research or consumer insights), right?  So that’s really important, but the other part of it is this notion of karma or whatever you want to call it. The more that we add value to relationships, then the better our personal network is and the more, at some point, that comes back to you, whether it’s through referral that they might make once you do have something to sell or there is a potential transaction in play or whatever.  So I’m always looking for ways that I can add value as opposed to ways that I can extract value. Extraction happens but if you think about like from a sales… and I’m a sales person, born and bred. From a sales lens, if I go out with an “ask” and I don’t have the value part of the equation, I’m probably not going to actually, ultimately, have a transaction, and I might even hurt myself. But if I can really love the pain that person is experiencing and that’s where my focus is on, that pain, then it becomes really easy to understand, “Do I have a product or service that maps to their pain point?”  If the answer is “Yes,” let’s talk about that. If the answer is “No,” who in my network does and let’s facilitate that conversation. And I don’t even get like a piece of the transaction in those, right? It’s just like, “Let’s facilitate the transaction” and then both parties start loving me. So, I think that there’s definitely a self-serving element to this intent, but as long as it’s operating from a place of, and this is hilarious but, selflessness, (So you have this like tension, right?) then the better off you’re going to be.


Now, I think it’s an important point.  Alright, but we’re going to go way back in the day before you were the man at FocusVision, before you were the founder of Decipher, ‘cause obviously anybody who meets you knows very, very quickly knows that you have entrepreneurial spirit to the nth degree, right?  If that was an Olympic sport, you’d get the gold in a heartbeat. But here’s my question: Where did that come from? Was that your grandfather, your great grandfather? What that your parents, your siblings? Did you have a paper route when you were a kid? Did you mow lawns?  Where did you get that amazing entrepreneurial spirit? ‘Cause my belief is I don’t think you can… I’m not so sure you can teach that. I don’t think you could just plug somebody out randomly and say, “OK, you’re going to have entrepreneurial spirit.” So, where did you get that?


That’s a great point.  I actually have thought a lot and done a fair amount of research on this subject:  Is entrepreneurship DNA or is it a function of your environment? I think it’s both.  My grandparents were entrepreneurs on my mom’s side. My parents both entrepreneurs. You know my dad had a full-time job, which provided benefits and a consistent income, but he always had a – whether it was a small family farm or some sort of side thing going on.  So I definitely think it’s a learned behavior. You know we didn’t grow up with very much money, my sister and I. And so, if we wanted things, we were required to figure out how we were going to make enough money to do that, right? And so, I was the kid that walked around the neighborhood once a week in the summertime, asking if I could mow your lawn.  That was literally part of my narrative. I saved enough money so I could buy a car by the time I was 15 years old and then wound up driving it, of course, maybe a little bit earlier than I should have. But it definitely had some perks in that way. I’ve been traditionally self-reliant, and I put “self” in quotation marks ‘cause I actually don’t think anybody is self-reliant.  We’re all… I’m very thankful I live in a country that allows me to have the freedom to able to do the things that I do and have a support structure, whether it’s family or friends and co-workers, etc. We are a product of our environments, absolutely.

I really knew that I had the gene when I was in seventh grade.  So, my parents… I grew up in a real small rural community, predominantly Hispanic, about 75% Hispanic, and most of those people were migrant workers because of the nature of agriculture in the Central Valley of California, I should say, is exactly that.  And so, seventh grade I was first on the bus and last off; it was about an hour commute each way. During that time, you get to know the 48 souls or whatever the number was that day on that bus, right, and including the bus rider. So you got kind of bored, whatever.  This was before cell phones, Merrill, if you can believe that. Once a month, my parents would take my sister and I into a bigger town, Fresno. There was a mall. I would buy product at a surf shop, and I would then take that product back on the bus, and I would wind up selling it at about a 3 to 1 ratio.  And I literally would build out on paper, I built out my sheet of inventory: costs, number of things, what was selling?, what wasn’t?, where’s the maximum margin? I was really funny for a seventh grader to be able to do all that with literally zero training in any of that. What gross margin was or customer acquisition costs or anything like that.  So, it was really interesting… It just made sense to me that there was a way to be able to make money and add value to products earlier on and I just have carried that with me my entire life in the form of a side hustle. And that was actually, as the CEO of FocusVision, one of my challenges was having that discipline of not being able to do any sorts of investments inside of our space or side hustles or anything along those lines.  Obviously, as initial founder and owner in Decipher, that was treated in that same mentality of entrepreneurship. So, yeah, it definitely started early for me, and it was some combination of like DNA and family, I would say.


That’s great.  It’s amazing to me.  You know when I look back on my career, Jamin, I had a number of people who helped me along the way, guided me, mentored me – people like Marianne Schafer and John Bonney and Sanford Schwartz and Jim Frederickson, who really probably gave me an opportunity to sort of reach for a position and really gave me the opportunity to probably maximize my potential.  Who were some of the people in your career who really helped you along the way, who taught you, who you trusted, who gave you the advice and pointed discussions frankly, when Jamin, as a 26-year-old kid, didn’t want to hear. Anybody jump out at you?


Yeah, there’s two people:  One was a guy name Dick McCullough, who was the founder and CEO or President of MACRO Consulting, which is the company that hired Jayme Plunkett and myself, Jayme Plunkett, of course, being one of the other co-founders along with Erwin Andreasen, of Decipher.  And so, in ’94 I started a business; it was a website consulting company where I’d just create website for companies in the Bay area. I hated the sole proprietorship journey; I didn’t have the expertise to actually pull it off. So, one of my customers was this gentleman named Dick McCullough.  They actually hired me to set up a website and do some other e-commerce things for them. And I told them, “This is going to be the last thing that I do, and I’m going to go get a job.” And he was kind enough to extend an analyst position to me. I thought it was interesting, took the job, and within literally three days, I knew that market research was for me even though three days before that, I didn’t exactly know what in the heck market research was.  (I thought it was marketing with an extra word.) I owe a lot; I owe everything to him really for being willing to take a chance on a math geek and programmer like myself.

The other person that for me comes to mind is one of my very first clients at Decipher, and that’s a gentleman named Mark Sass of Summation Research out of Cincinnati.  He was a huge supporter of me earlier on. So, when you start a business, you really don’t have anything, right? I mean you don’t have any credibility; you don’t have any software; you don’t really have any infrastructure.  It’s all just risk. For somebody to say, “Yeah, OK, I’ll spend with you.” And he was willing to step out and trust me that I was going to be able to build the software in the timeframe that I needed to in order to deliver to his customer, which is, as you know, a really, really risky proposition.  I over delivered on that relationship, by the way. And he still, he still… I just had dinner with him when I was in Cincinnati for MRMW couple weeks ago. So, we’ll be livelong friends.

The other person is Steve Carr, who was formerly on Intuit, makers of Quicken and QuickBooks.  He was my No. 2 customer. Having a big brand like that coming along side you when you start a business and then an agency relationship coming along side you, it just makes all the difference in the world in your overall confidence.  And I was very fortunate that both of those individuals were willing to take a chance on me and then let me get through my… You know ‘cause when we started Decipher, it was all bootstrapped. There were zero dollars from outside capital invested in it.  So it was a lot of just terror, going through that process. Yeah, I think that those two people really stood out to me. And, of course, my business partners: Erwin, who I’d mentioned; Jayme; Kristin Luck, later in that journey; and then all the fantastic customers and relationships that I’ve had.  And even more recently, Rogier Verhulst was the first… Well, him and Edwin Wong were the first people to be material insight professionals inside of major brands, Buzzfeed and LinkedIn, to be on the Happy Market Research Podcast. And having their names there created a tremendous amount weight for and credibility in our space as, “Oh, wow, maybe I should tune in.”  I saw big leaps there as soon as their… becoming easier and easier to get other brands on the podcast.


That’s great.  Oh, that’s exciting.  Let’s talk about that for half a second.  Let’s go the podcast by the numbers if you don’t mind.  We know how many podcasts you’ve had. How many downloads?  How many hits do you have, would you say? Do you know?


Yeah, so we’re 30,000 total downloads across episodes.  The number have been trending up, thankfully. Every week is a little bit better.  There’s never been (and this has surprised me actually) there’s never been this like waterfall moment where, all of a sudden, thousands of people like jump on an episode.  It’s quite literally a grind of incremental improvement. Right now, episodes are around plus or minus 500 per (you know downloads per episode) and that happens usually within three or four weeks, but what’s really interesting is we’re seeing stuff that was recorded awhile ago like picking on Edwin Wong for a minute with BuzzFeed.  So, with that particular episode, once a new listener finds the podcast and they actually see the volume of content available, they’ll go back in time and listen to those other episodes.

So the shelf-life on podcasts is really remarkable; they’re this great evergreen content that you and your marketing team could leverage to pull people into your whatever it is, your thesis, or about the company, or personal brand or what products or what have you, right?  It’s a really interesting… It plays a lot differently than webinars, which I’ve done hundreds of webinars as well at Decipher and FocusVision. In that framework, webinars tend to be very time-sensitive. And so, as soon as you’re done with the promotion, it’s kind of like off the… loses the visibility in the marketplace, functions a little bit more like a long-form blog, I guess, in that way.  But podcasts are weird: seems like they just continue to grow over time based on the interests of the listeners.


Ah, that’s great.  So, I pride myself on being up to speed in terms of the insights research community and talk to a lot of people from a networking standpoint, but I think you’ve got me beat.  You seem to really have a pulse on the industry, the people within it, the strategies, the direction that a lot of these companies are going. Is there a company or person, Jamin, that really impresses you today, that may have nailed it with their strategy, with their company direction, that your ears perk up a little bit more when somebody from that company says something or that entrepreneur from that company says something?  Anybody jump out at you? Or a company or a name?


I’ve been really interested in what’s happening at Kantar this year.  They have gone through a real (and pardon my language) shitshow with all the issues at the top, thinking about like WPP.  So, there’s been a lot of tension, I would say, there, and maybe even mismanagement – certainly distractions. And I feel like the rebrand of Kantar has been really well-done. Kind of like the consolidation of Millward Brown, etc., into this unified front.  I personally, when they announced their doing their own research automation solution, I think that is really smart for a company like that to execute on. They’re well positioned in the marketplace to be able to take advantage of it. So, anyway, I think that’s actually really interesting.  The other company that I’m looking at right now is Ipsos, which, I know, is completely counterintuitive. You think about these smaller kinds of startups.

But Ipsos has been around for a long time, a really long time.  They’ve gone through a lot of pressure with the move of companies going from traditional trackers to more of these like pulse-based products.  And they’ve recently hired a head of global insights: George is his name. You can find him on LinkedIn. He’s from outside of the industry. I had the opportunity to meet him.  He’s not going to be on the podcast, but he’s been kind enough to introduce me other people only because he’s a little bit, I think, shy. But I have a lot of respect for the leadership in Kantar to recognize that they need to be able to invest in innovation and strategy and that’s exactly what George is responsible for.  I’m really bullish on the big guys right now. They’ve just gone through so much transition; they’ve weathered the storms. I think in a lot of ways they have or are doing a good job of right-sizing the businesses so that it’s matching what the new customers’ needs are.  And I think there’s a lot of humility that’s now been injected into the big boys’ businesses. Looking at it from the other direction, companies that are doing it well, I’ve got to say I’m really impressed with what Dave’s done at Voxpopme. His business… I don’t know how big it is but I would say guessing it’s between five and ten million dollars of reoccurring revenue, which is a meaningful business, a software business at his state.  That’s really… And they’re going through big growth. It’s hard taking a new… taking video on as a legitimate business because it’s completely different price points, I think, than certainly I had. At Decipher, it’s a lot lower. Completely different play. How does it fit in corporate budget? These are really big questions.

And then Andrew at Remesh, what he and Gary have built inside of that company is also very exciting.  I think they’ve done a hell of a good job of positioning themselves as different. I think the next phase for both of those businesses is going to be…  If you’re inside of a brand and you have an insight, you still think about, “OK, qualitative and quantitative,” meaning survey or focus group or IDI, right?  So then the question becomes, “If I’m going to do one of these other methodologies like a Remesh session, where’s that dollar coming from? Do I have to do a survey still?  Do I have to do an IDI still?” And if the answer is “No,” then I’m competing with that existing dollar. If the answer is “Yes,” it’s a new dollar; now, I’ve got to increase my overall budget and that’s where the juice is really worth the squeeze.  So I think as those types of companies and technology, in general, does a better job of addressing the budgetary dollar and positioning themselves against existing spend, you’re going to see a big opportunity for increased land grab.


Now, that’s great.  And those companies are all impressive and doing some really, really good things.  I will admit that mentioning two of the larger research companies that’s kind of on your short list is interesting, and I’ll have to pay more attention to them.  But let’s talk about this for a second. Obviously, there’s so much content in the insights research world right now. It’s unbelievable. I pride myself, Jamin, on being a resource.  So let’s build five or six resources for people that… You know, what do you read on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Whether it’s online, the old-fashioned magazine, whether it’s a blog, whether it’s a podcast, what are the six or seven things, whatever the number is, that you are doing to keep informed on this industry that really is moving at lightspeed right now?


You’re right about it moving at lightspeed.  It’s crazy. You and I were both at IIeX in Austin last week, and there were 75 businesses that I counted on the show floor exhibiting.  There might have been more or less, well, certainly not less. I know I at least counted at least that many. There was more exhibition there than I’ve seen before, and just a lot of companies I had not heard of.  So, it’s real interesting seeing how many new people are entering into the space. And that kind of takes me to what I’m seeing as a macrotrend. You know the Qualtrics acquisition is just elevated the overall visibility of market research, really for the first time in my career inside of the money, whether it’s VC or private equity.  So, I anticipate that we’re really at the beginning of a J-curve from a valuation perspective, which, hey, congratulations maybe to you and your acquisition of M/A/R/C. I think that that timing is, was probably worked out to be perfect.

But, in terms of where I go, what I read, every day I read – I’m religious about it – MR Web.  I’m sure you know Nick over there. That’s a really nice fast… He usually highlights four stories, something interesting.  Here’s another hack for the audience. Get on Twitter or LinkedIn (either one’s fine.) And as soon as he posts the people that have been recently promoted or hired for new roles, you can just DM them and say, “Hey, congratulations!”  It takes like two to three minutes to kind of change your headspace, craft the notification so that it’s like two sentences. I tell you what: if you do that, you’ll start expanding your network. If it worked for you, Merrill, as a sales guy, I would never not do that; that would be something I would do all the time.  

It’s such a great way to connect ‘cause again it’s one-sided; I’m not selling you anything; I’m just saying, “Congratulations”; and I’m paying attention.  The other place that I gather all my information really from is conversations. I try to go out of my way to ask a lot of questions; I feel like a do a pretty good job of asking questions and being inquisitive.  And I feel like a do a good job of just shutting up and listening, which has actually been a learned skill for me through podcasting. It’s a lot of MR Web and then, obviously, I’m fortunate to have a deep network, and I’m regularly, daily interacting with insights professionals.                

But the majority of reading that I do (and I read quite literally a book every two weeks, so about two to three a month) is centric around outside of the industry and, usually, something about business.  So like I just finished re-reading Predictably Irrational.  I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read that or not.  For me, it’s a top book, talks about our decision-making processes as human beings.  Dan Ariely, I think, I can’t remember his last name but, anyway, it’s a fantastic book.  I consume at a regular pace – and, again, a little off topic – science fiction. So, people want to know what I’m reading, I’m happy to…  feel free to let me know. I did just finish a really big, big book on that subject called Battlefield Earth.  It’s a crazy long…  I think it’s the science fiction book ever written actually.  My wife couldn’t believe it. It’s like a freakin’ tome. You know kind of the normal B-school stuff, I usually refresh on that, whether it’s Innovator’s Dilemma or Crossing the Chasm.  I’ll read those, gosh, once every year probably; I’ll skim through them again, just kind of refresh where my head is.  I’m a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk. Although I don’t listen to his podcast, but I do read his material and try to tune into his vlog occasionally as a can.  That’s another go-to resource for me.


OK, that’s great.  No, that’s important.  So, let’s take a stop down memory lane for half a second.  If you had to pinpoint one, and only one, mover decision that you made that really defined your career, that it took off, that it was just Wow!  Is there anything that jumps out that you can share with the listeners today?


I mean without a doubt for me, it was when we acquired Kristin Luck’s company in 2007.  So, she had left OTX, and her and Shelley Zalis had started that business and sold it. Patrick Comer was part of that as well, part of the OTX mafia, now the founder and CEO of a small company called Lucid.  So, when Kristin left, she started a business Forefront Consulting, had about half-a-dozen or dozen actually employees that she brought on, built some interesting technology, but at the end of the day, Jayme and I both knew that we were strong introverts, and we needed marketing expertise.  

[Kristin, we thought, completed the visibility in the market; so, we did that acquisition and then it just like immediately benefited the overall business from a growth and a vision perspective plus, in the middle of that whole process, about four years later, she wound up starting a business called Women In Research or WIRe, which is now a part-and-parcel with the industry, right?  You can’t go to an event without connecting with Women In Research. She has actually done a lot for elevating the conversation of equality and accessibility and diversity inside of market research – all in the context of better business outcomes and a better world. I think, without a doubt, when we cemented that acquisition and then wound up rolling it out, which took about three months, that was just like a game-changer for myself in terms of headspace changed, trajectory changed, just overall visibility changed.  It was a big win for us.


Wow, that’s exciting.  One of things that I read a couple, three times a week, is something called The Players’ Tribune.  It comes out daily. It’s written by athletes about athletes. And there’ll be some interesting articles that’ll come out this week on the NFL draft of people who were in the Green Room and didn’t get drafted and what are they feeling, what are the sensing, the emotions they went through.  Let me ask you a weird question. What would an older Jamin say to a young Jamin? Today, what would you have said to your inner self 20 years ago, Jamin?


That’s a real interesting question.  I think I’d tell myself, “Be fearless and action trumps everything.”  I really believe that us as human beings are limited only by our capacity to imagine.  So, you see this with these stand-out stories and personalities like Oprah Winfrey, for example, who came from inside of the system, abused, quite literally nothing to a global icon.  The same thing with Obama and these other fantastic personalities and people I have tremendous respect for. I think that what we really struggle with as human beings is limiting our overall capacity and I think a part of that if just a fear of, as soon as you say that, then it means that you can do it, right?  So, now it’s about action. So, yeah, I think for me it would be those things.

If I could rewrite – we all have regrets; I have regrets – if I could rewrite my history, the thing that I would have done differently at Decipher would have been have had a much bigger vision for what that platform could have been.  In hindsight, being 20/20, I can see all the steps as to, if that vision would have been there, then we could have attained something much greater. I’m not trying to belittle the platform; it’s a freakin’ amazing platform, etc. etc. Really the one constraint that we had wasn’t competition; it wasn’t access to the market; it wasn’t total addressable market.  It really was just the size of the vision. And you know what’s interesting about that, Merrill, is it’s hard to build a billion-dollar company; it’s hard to build a million-dollar company. They’re both 12-hour days; they’re both seven days a week. So why not just decide, “I’m going to build a billion-dollar company”? And so, that’s the framework; that’s the thing I think I would have told myself.


That’s interesting.  So, in the past few months, I go to Florida a lot to visit my mom and, unfortunately, my dad was sick.  So I was going a lot more regularly than normal. And while I’d been done there, I’ve taken up a game called Pickle Ball.  I know and it’s a real game. It’s kind of a racket game that they play in a miniature tennis court, but I’ve been playing…  They’ve built some courts here in the Texas area, and I’ve been playing a little bit. So I played with a buddy of mine, and he came over and said, “Hey, do you want to play?”  And I played with like 16 guys and just didn’t want to embarrass him. I tend to be a pretty decent racket-sport guy. And I played, and we did pretty well. And we were talking afterwards and he said, “You know you really, really played well.”  And I said, “You know if I really want to get better I think I have to do three things.” He goes, “OK, what are those three things?” And I said, “Well, I got to serve a little bit better. I got to have patience, a lot more patience than I do because it’s a tiny court, and if you drill the ball, it’s going out.  I may only go an inch over the net but it’s still going out if you hit it really hard. And the other thing is it’s a finesse game. So, it’s a doubles game, but it’s a finesse-angles game.” And the reason I tell you that boring story is my question. In my opinion, having self-awareness is the most important thing that you could ever have in your life.  If somebody said, “OK, what’s the one skill you need to be successful?” I think it’s self-awareness. And you kind of touched upon it when you said, “You know if I had to do it all over again, I would have done this, this, this.” But here’s my question: I would say that a lot of people struggle with self-awareness, Jamin. But I know just in our discussions and listening to you today and a lot of the in-depth discussions that we’ve had over the years, I know you have a self-awareness.  You have this perception, and you know who you are. You’re comfortable in your skin where everybody’s not. What advice do you have or how do you get that self-awareness? Because not everybody has that, and it is so critical.


I think like the hack there for me ‘cause I certainly didn’t have that most of my life.  It’s been something that I intentionally cultivate. And someone told me once, “It’s OK to get your way and not be right.”  (I think it was my wife.) The hack there is you don’t have to be like, “It’s my idea.” You see this a lot in conversations, especially in the context of like a professional, in a boardroom, or meeting with your executive team, or what have you.  As these conversations start, specifically around strategic direction or whatever, as the adage goes, “Every dog got to pee on the tree.” You wind up having this whose idea was it or whatever. And, as soon as I started peeling that back and saying, “It doesn’t have to be ‘my’ idea; I just have to make sure it’s the ‘right’ idea that is going to be the bet that we then place to win.”  And so, the core of that stems from humility. If you can be open-minded to other people’s points of view as opposed to just having to talk and wait until the other person’s done talking so that you can then talk again, then I think it really can go a long way to understand… You know the other part of it too… Someone once told me… Most people don’t know that I have a theology degree under my undergrad.  I thought it was an important question so I wanted to do some deep digging there. And, as I went through that process, I wound up spending time… I lived in the Philippines and also Hong Kong.

Well, in the Philippines, there was a group of us that lived together for months.  (I think it was like six months.) There was this guy, and I won’t tell you his name.  There’s no way it could get traced back; that’s how old I am. But just in case. So, there was this guy, and he bugged the hell out of me; I just couldn’t stand him; he just bothered me to death.  Like we’re in the poorest of the poor: you’ve got like street urchin kids. And this guy is worrying about his Vanilla Ice or whatever rapper he was trying to persona. And so, anyways, I met with the director of the unit and said, “He’s really bothering me.  What do I do?” He said, “Jamin, you want to make sure you learn from him whatever it is that you need to learn from him; otherwise, you will have to meet him again, and you won’t ever be able to move past this person or that lesson that you need to live.” And I’ve recognized that in myself where I’ll have these like…  You know I’ll go through something and I don’t learn my lesson. And then, sure enough, it might be a year; it might be a month; it might be ten years. But you go through that same exact thing, swap out the nouns, and you have the opportunity to learn. And so, I think it’s really about trying to like the players in our lives, whether they’re good or bad.  It isn’t about judging that. It’s more about learning from them as much as you can and, if you can become that sponge – even if it’s something to say like, “I don’t want that” or “This is a bad behavior; I need to make sure it’s not in my life.” That’s an OK outcome, but you need to be damn sure that you’ve learned everything you can so that you can then move past that stage and on to the next learning.                   


Yeah, there’s a valuable lesson there.  And I was talking to my son over the summer, and he was a lifeguard.  It was the first job he had. And he came home one day, and he said, “I hate this job, and I hate the boss.”  I’m like, “Well, tell me why.” And his reasons were very thin. And I said, “What you don’t understand is there’s learning there.  I promise you you will not like every one of your bosses that you have in the next 30 years, OK.” When I ask people what percentage they’ve had are really good bosses, solid bosses that they learned a tremendous amount of positive from, the answer is proverbial less than 30% and, typically, in the teens.  So that means, put that in perspective, 7 out of 8 bosses are not that good. But there’s tremendous learning within that, assuming you allow yourself to learn, and you absorb. And, like you said, be a sponge and look when you’re a boss you don’t want to do this, this, this. And I think there’s just tremendous learning.  I really do.


I love that and I will kick the horse a little bit more.  That point you’re making is so perfect, and the way that you said it is perfect because, if your son can grasp that now as opposed to complain, that’s the up side.


By the way, he can’t.   Just so you know. The beauty of that word is “if he can.”  And the answer is I can interrupt you and say not even with a smile on my face – with a disappointing look – he can’t.  He just can’t. He can’t grasp it.


So, this is the part where like you can’t…  That’s why I went back to like the hack of… You can’t be like, “OK, I’m going to cultivate self-awareness.”  You have to figure out what you actually do in order to make that happen. And so, the converse is complaining. So if you find yourself and you’re complaining a lot about your circumstances, the people in your life, whether it’s your boss or whatever, then you know you really need to take stock in yourself because, at the end of the day, everybody’s got the same life like for the most part.  Everybody’s got the same band of life. And so, you don’t get to blame anybody for where you are or what you have or how you feel, except yourself. And, as soon as you start there, as soon as you can get to that spot… It’s not about the market; it’s not about the customers; it’s not about the product; it’s not about my peers, my team. As soon as you can own that, 100% own that, and move away from excuses and complaining, then I think that’s like the spot that’s perfect because from that you can build anything.  


Well said, well said.  Jamin, this has been an honor and a privilege to be the host today and to actually interview, I guess, the host of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  I cannot thank you enough.

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


Jamin, again, thank you so much.  I’ve gotten a ton out of this. Without question, all of your listeners will get a tremendous amount out of this.  Here is success and happiness for the next 100 episodes in 2019 and beyond, and thank you for allowing me to do this today.  


Absolute pleasure, Merrill.  Thank you so much. So, what an honor.

Ep. 217 – Amit Dhand – Online Surveys vs. New Methods

My guest today is Amit Ahand, Co-Founder and CEO of Nailbiter. Founded in 2014, Nailbiter is a unique platform that offers CPG manufacturers an opportunity to see their consumers make purchase decisions at the shelf and at home. Prior to starting Nailbiter, Amit has been a key executive at IRI, Catalina and Affinnova.

Find Amit Online:


Website: www.nail-biter.com

Find Us Online: 

Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor:

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace. Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


On Episode 217, I’m interviewing Amit Dhand, founder and EVP of Client Services at Nailbiter, but first a word from our sponsor.


Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil.  You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Amit Dhand, co-founder and CEO of Nailbiter.  Founded in 2014, Nailbiter’s unique platform that offers CPG manufacturers an opportunity to see their consumers, make purchase decisions at the shelf and at home.  Prior to starting Nailbiter, Amit has been a key executive at IRI, Catalina, and Affinnova. Amit, thanks very much for joining me the Happy Market Podcast today.


It’s my pleasure, Jamin, and I appreciate you doing this podcast.  I think this is very overdue in the market research business. And I look forward to the conversation; I look forward to tracking your broadcast in the future.   


Awesome, thanks very much.  So, I’d like to start with a little bit of your background.  Can you tell us where you grew up and a little bit about your parents and how that’s impacted where you are today?


That’s a great question because I ask that question in job interviews all the time.  I grew up in India and did my undergraduate degree there. I grew up in a small- business family is the best way to describe it.  My dad, many of my mother’s siblings, they were small business owners, traders. This was in India of a different era, which was much more socialistic, much more repressive, if you will, from both a society standpoint as well as business standpoint.  So, I always saw my dad struggle, make ends meet, do well, and then get pleasure out of being an entrepreneur, I think, and also the trials and tribulations that go with it. But the one advice that he gave me consistently was to never be like him. Educate myself as much as I could and get a job in a nice, big company and be comfortable.

So that’s what I did, but I did pursue my passion, which was physics.  I didn’t do the engineering track, which is common in India if you have grades that’s what you do or medicine.  I was doing my masters in physics, and that’s when professor politely pulled me aside and said I didn’t have that much of a future in physics [He laughs.] because I didn’t have the temperament to a professor or a researcher.  Strangely, now I’m a market researcher. So, that was my journey to looking for something new. And my sister was getting her masters in the U.S. at the time. So, I was looking for what’s next. For a lot of kids in India back then was the U.S.  So I came to the U.S. for my MBA.


In what year was that?


That was in ’96.


Got it, got it.


A different millennium.          


So, I just have to ask.  I’ve been to India just a few times.  Did you grow up near or around Mumbai?


I was in Mumbai, yes.  I grew up in Mumbai.


Yes, that’s been my sole sort of anchor point to India.  As you know, Neilsen is based out of that location. And then quite a few different support companies for Neilsen located there.  Anyway, it’s a really interesting… Obviously, I don’t have the… more of a recent set of experiences. But, on the other side, I don’t have the historical point of view, but it is a very different culture.  But I would say it does mirror a lot of what I have experienced in other parts of Asia.


Yeah, it’s an ancient culture.  I think India strikes a really good balance between an ancient culture that is modernizing, I believe, the right way.  A lot of people go to India and look at what doesn’t work, and a lot doesn’t work, and we’re used to complaining about that.  But if you think about how many millions of people have been lifted out of poverty in the last 30 years, it was unimaginable, right?  And with some degree of freedom or high degree of freedom and democracy while making that happen. So it hasn’t been a small feat. But next time you go to India, go attend a wedding.  That’s a whole different experience.


So, that’s actually (funny you bring that up).  That is on my bucket list of things to do is experience that.  I have had quite a few… So, at Decipher we would sponsor H1B’s.  I’ve had a lot of very good employees who I’m actually still friends with, who I was able to recruit from overseas, India, of course, being one of the main areas.  Fantastic engineering talent as you already said. But, interestingly enough, the overshadowing characteristic of the talent that we were able to procure was customer service.  There was one particular employee, Anthony, and he would get regular, unsolicited feedback from his customers directly to me, the CEO, saying, “I just love this guy. He’s so amazing.”  Just picking on him, but there’s quite a few. There’s more than a handful who have followed suit. Anyway, I want to dig in a little bit with your father’s perspective. As an entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard the Elon Musk quote:  “Being an entrepreneur is like chewing glass and staring in the abyss.” Sounds like that would have resonated with your father. Why did you decide to bunk the better life at the corporate level? I’ll call it the easy road even though we know it’s not as easy as all that and decide to branch out and start a company.              


Yeah, you know, I’ve asked myself that question many times; my dad’s asked me that question hundreds of times.  He can’t believe that’s how I ended up. Let me complete the journey real quick and then this will make sense, right?  I gave up physics, came here, got my MBA from Virginia Tech. And back then – this is pre-email and internet days – so you applied by mail.  And I had a cousin, who went there for chemical engineering, and he introduced me to a professor. I got a scholarship to go study there, which is rare for an MBA coming directly from India.  So I took it. It was an interesting exposure to the U.S. culture. And graduated MBA in marketing and got into market research. And we can talk separately about that. But, having spent some time in CPG market research more specifically, I had two sorts of burning questions.  One was the field seemed extremely rigid and archaic, right? And we used to think physics was rigid and archaic. Nothing changes in physics until it changes and then it all changes in a week. But market research has been rigid and archaic ever since and has stayed that way. So I think part of me becoming an entrepreneur has been the motivation to bring change into the business because, as someone who has exposed to other ways of doing things, other disciplines in research as well as technology, I feel like there is so much marketers could be gaining from the data that they’re spending billions of dollars that they’re just wasting, right?  So, that was one desire. The other desire was to be responsible for my own destiny.

So, I actually wasn’t an executive at IRI.  I started as an analyst, moved my way up, and then I wanted to be a sales guy, which everyone found super strange.  I was a statistician when I began there, but then I was dying to be in sales, and not just sales but commission-driven sales because I wanted this degree of destiny.  If I do well, then I do really well; otherwise, you kind of go down in flames. And I liked that; I liked that challenge. I feel like entrepreneurs are self-motivated in sort of a negative way.  What I have seen is that entrepreneurs work on great challenges, or they don’t work at all. And I’m guilt of the same: I get called out by people on my team that, if I’m working on a project that’s not strategic and not big and not interesting, then I miss all deadlines.  But, if I’m working on solving a problem that’s pretty important to the company or to our client and it kind of seems very complex and difficult, then I’ll be at it for a week without food or sleep. That I can do. So I feel like a lot of entrepreneurs are very intrinsically driven.

I was intrinsically driven; I think my dad was because if you look at compensation, which a lot of people look at.  When you’re successful, it’s very easy to see the house and the car and all those things and a lot of people look at that.  But most entrepreneurs, myself included, these are by-products that we enjoy today that we didn’t seek, right? So the idea was to do something different, to be recognized for doing something different.  So I would not think that entrepreneurs and Elon’s the biggest example of someone who’s not shy, who craves the recognition; so, I can’t say I don’t. But, fundamentally, drive change and not rest on your laurels; you’re always looking for the next problem to solve.  So it is an interesting sort of mindset. What’s happened today is entrepreneurship has become easy. It is not my father’s world where… By the way, all his business was in cash because they had a 90% income tax rate, 90%. Imagine that.


I can’t.   


….which meant you really couldn’t do official business.  Everything was done in cash. And on payday, he used to go to the office with two huge suitcases of cash, and one time he got mugged.  And he lost one suitcase; he had to go borrow another suitcase for the cash.




So it was an extremely difficult environment:  you had to bribe your way through everything; he was in manufacturing; so, it was also a physically dirty environment to be in.  None of that is true for the entrepreneurship that I practice. I think the one fundamental difference between him and me is that he never trusted anyone.  He was quite successful; so, I’m not knocking anything he did. But his whole thing was trust no one and, you know, you’re an island as an entrepreneur. And I don’t buy that.  Thankfully, I got some genes from my mother also, who trusts everyone, and I trust everyone. And my operating principle – and I think that’s easier to do in the U.S. than some other markets – is trust people ‘til they give a reason not to trust them and you surround yourself with people who generally are trustworthy, loyal, smart, intelligent, better than you in most things.  And, surprisingly, you will do well.


I think this overriding principle of karma, if you want to call it that, is exactly right.  Framed, as you’ve already said, in our modern society, which is (in North America anyway) certainly easier than it was 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago.  We have the luxury of being able to trust or maybe we’re just more willing to take those risks because we have less… We’re not worried about food anymore, which is something that my father was worried about, growing up.  And so, this freedom, if you want to call it that, that we have as entrepreneurs to be able to step out and solve the big problems, as you said, is exactly the point. It isn’t about the monetary outcome although clearly that’s great when it happens, but the motivator is 100% centric to working with people, solving this big problem, and then bringing about an effective change inside of an industry.  And I want to just rewind just a little bit. Market research from your vantage point, using your words, rigid, archaic – why did you feel that was the fertile soil. How did you get introduced effectively into it as “This is where I’m going to make my bed”? for Nailbiter.


So, market research is a space I learned really well from the inside out and, more specifically, CPG market research.  And Affinnova was a company that had been in business for many years that then CEO was my mentor had pretty much taken over, acquired, invested in and decided to make it more of a data company than kind of a design optimization engine that it was.  And he brought me on board in 2006 and together we made some strategic decisions. And one of them was to be in market research because it was an entirely new tool; it was evolutionary algorithms applied towards market research. And it flourished; it did really well.   Now, it was extremely hard to convince big CPG clients to start using us. It took us many, many years (eight, nine years) eventually to make the company what it became. It was a top 20 MR firm when Neilsen purchased it in 2014. So, I was one of the handful of people who worked day and night to make it happen, to take it from a couple of million in revenue to 40+ million global operations.  So I really saw what entrepreneurship means in this space from the inside out so that when the Neilsen acquisition went through, a few of us had a couple of bucks to spare. Now, the rational decision would be to invest your money and… It wasn’t enough money for us to retire, but it certainly was enough money that we could take it easy. But I decided to go for broke, and we invested (when I say “we,” it’s several of us, myself being the principal investor) in doing something new, and I wanted to stay in a space that I know well.  So market research is data; data is the pursuit of something empirical, which I really like. I like that answers are finite; they’re definite. So, there’s a lot of aspects to this business I like. I’ve always enjoyed the people in market research. No matter where you go: you could be in China; you could be in India; you could be in France; you could be in Latam (Brazil, Argentina). I’ve been everywhere and always found like some degrees of uniformity: They’re slightly nerdy but more marketing-driven than maybe people who are in the pure sciences.  A really nice combination of intelligent, intellectual people who are pursuing answers. Broadly, that’s the space I wanted to stay in. Another thing that I learned over the decades is that CPG is a recession-proof business; so, if you’re going to do something risky you might as well pick clients that are more stable although this is probably the least stable time to be in CPG. But I enjoyed that I had built a reputation along with my co-founder and some of the other people in CPG. So that is the place that we decided to pursue. And then we tried a lot of different things before we landed on video.  So, I’ll pause there ‘cause I was going off on a tangent anyway.


That’s fine, perfect.  So, CPG is recession-proof.  I love that framing. I feel like the space has been proven to be ripe, right, for disruption when you think about the Amazon effect inside of CPG’s.  I’ve talked about this on a few different podcasts and I’ll probably talk about it on a few more: and that is the impact of voice is going to make, is making rather, on the user purchase journey, especially in the CPG space.  Purina’s stat something like in the next three years, they’re projecting 50% of their product will be purchased in a voice environment through Google Home, Alexa, etc. I personally and my wife are starting to acquire products through, you know household goods, through Alexa.  And in that purchase journey, what’s really interesting is just going through the exercise, you wind up buying things differently. The only intercept is what Alexa decides to put in front of me. Are you seeing that as part of the instability in the CPG space or is it other factors that are driving it?      


So, we come at it from two ways:  One is the consumer dynamic that you referenced is very true.  I do think that voice is a little bit more further away than a lot of people think.  I think VR was considered something that’s around the corner five years ago. A lot of interesting companies in context; a few others sprout up but VR didn’t quite happen largely because of some hardware issues.  I think similar problems are going to exist with voice, but eventually these technologies will take over. Now, what’s interesting with voice though and video and VR is they are perfectly placed and already available as great market research tools.  So, they may not be good enough to conduct all sorts of marketing transactions or sales transactions on; they’re very, very robust for market research. And one of the things that we keep educating the industry, and I was just invited to speak at ESOMAR…  We’re kind of begging the industry to take video quant, which we are doing. We do very little qual. Everything we do is very, very robust sample sizes. We’re not doing very ethnography. Our whole idea is capture a transaction; don’t worry so much about getting into the head of the consumer.  Make an effort towards behavioral but let it be robust; let it be truly projectable; let it be something that CPG can make multi-billion-dollar decisions on. And that’s that data we are driving to create and are successfully creating all through voice and video. Five years from now, it could be that all your social interaction with friends and the internet at large is audio-video.  And that happens to me: Our main office is in Virginia. I drive down for four hours once or twice a month, and the whole drive down there, I don’t have to touch my phone. Voice activation, even with my accent, works nearly perfectly. I can type emails; I can text; I can use all sorts of things in that type of interaction. Why would someone want to type? And, if they can’t type, how can they do online surveys?  So, the survey companies, everybody has to make sort of these giant leaps forwards into an entirely new interaction with the consumer in the shop or… And that’s where I feel audio and voice and video and all of these will move faster than they will as sort of a broader e-commerce platform. The problem with voice is the margins: it’s very expensive and going to remain very expensive for that case of Diet Coke to be shipped to my house.  So, it might work for some pet foods or the premium end but, if you think about 70% to 80% of pet food being more towards the middle or lower end, the price point of going to Walmart and picking up those 50-pound bags at a really good coupon, that value is not going to be beat for a very long time to come. So you will see the very high end and we’re seeing the top 1%, 2%, 3% people disproportionately move their dollars because convenience is more important to them but, for middle America, CPG’s sort of bread-and-butter, we think that these other systems are like about a decade away.            


So AR, VR, there’s obvious hardware issues.  Nobody is going to walk around with those crazy headsets and whatnot.  Even snap glasses are highly iffy according to my children. I personally like them, but they tell me, “They’re not cool, Dad.”  The voice, though, as a platform… Consumer preference, as we both know, always wins. So then the question becomes, as you’ve already articulated, when.  My theory, which is completely based on no data, is that it’s going to be half the time of e-commerce, right? So, when you think about like 1996, I love your framing of “We did mail back then.”  I did mail back then. In fact, all my surveys were CATI and in-mall intercepts. That’s basically telephone interviews for those of you who don’t know. And so, then moving that online officially with Decipher in April 2000, that was a big transition.  It’s taken a long time for commerce to move online, and still the majority of commerce isn’t there. So, still got a long tail associated with that transition. Obviously, it’s picking up steam with Walmart’s investment in home delivery, etc. Kind of the Uber of, just pick whatever category is taking over…  I think you’re right from a practical perspective; this is not something that’s going to happen in a short period of time. So, if it was 20 years for the internet or 15 years for the internet, it seems to make sense to me. But, conversely, on the other side of it, when you think about with voice, you’ve got (what is it?) 40 million Alexa units in North America last year.  


That’s amazing.


Yeah, it’s crazy the adoption that’s happened on that front.  Now that we’ve got the, as they call it in the retail, the 13th month coming up this weekend (Black Friday and Cyber Monday) in a few days, we’ll see what those sales pop out at that point, but anyway.  It’s going to be interesting to watch. So, I want to talk a little bit more, dig in a little bit more on your company Nailbiter. The first question I have (Man, I have done tons of market research; in fact, right now I’m doing market research for a couple different companies) but Nailbiter – that is every project it feels like, right?  And I can’t believe I never made the connection to business. I’m a little bit jealous. How did you guys come up with the name Nailbiter?


So, I would love to take credit for it, but it actually came up in one of our early meetings.  We sold one of our early projects to Ricola. We went in for the results meeting, and I think it was the General Manager or the senior person in the meeting that said, “Alright, let’s get going.  I’ve been biting my nails to see what’s going on.” And they had a very specific Costco issue that they had tried a lot of different ways to do research and they couldn’t figure out because the issue was very subtle.  I mean it was a big issue for them, but it was very subtle for the consumer, too subtle to survey anybody to ask them about it. It was about the size of the bag and the location and how things get dragged out and things like that.  Up until then, we were called Motions Research, which was a typically boring market research name. So, coming out of that meeting, I was with my colleague; I said, “You know what? Nailbiter is a lot better than Motions Research.” And it stuck from day 1.  And you’ve been in market research long enough to know that the people you have to be most memorable to are the ad men, right?


100%.  That is exactly, exactly, exactly right.  Insights Nation, this is the key point. This is going to be the title of this episode for sure.  


And it stuck.  Every meeting I used to go to, the ad men would say, “I’ve been waiting to meet you.  I wanted to see who you are and what this is about.” And then they would remember me; they would remember us.  We would call them the next time; it would make the whole process of getting in the door a lot easier.


Totally, man, totally.  So, tell us who is the ideal customer for Nailbiter.  


Heavily focused on consumer goods, consumer packaged goods, FMCG for the rest of the world for a couple of specific reasons.  So, I’m not someone who is going to badmouth online surveys. Online surveys played a very important role. In fact, in 1998, when I was first starting in market research, I really liked the idea of online surveys.  You guys came up in 2000; you were the pioneers then because a lot of people still didn’t believe that this thing would be a thing. But online surveys have become like a crutch for everything. You have a question: let’s go ask 1000 consumers ‘cause it’s so cheap.  And we’ve noticed that more and more the industry has been doing that. The industry that suffers the most in using online surveys in these ways is CPG because CPG has some unique problems. One of them is recall. I don’t know what toothbrush I use and I’m in the business of toothbrushes, Colgate’s customer.  And suddenly, I wouldn’t know what I paid for it even though I do most of the grocery shopping in my household. So, for me to do a 20-minute survey on toothbrushes when I don’t know so many things about my decision – no matter how good the model at the back end is that crunching the data – the inputs may not be as good.  So, we felt that if we had a more behavioral way of capturing the actual transaction, let’s apply it to CPG and that thesis has really paid off. So ideal clients are any industry that wants to hear from the consumer, wants to see the consumer, wants more global quantitative behavioral information but is not being well served by surveys because while we are quant, no one can touch the scale of surveys today for the price that surveys are.  So that’s where we feel we have the greatest bang for our buck and, indeed, we’re able to side by side show data that just coming out of our system is a lot more actionable because you don’t have to ask any questions. The system just records the transaction and then decodes it; so, it’s open-ended yet much more insightful, if you will.


Alright, so then, describe to us what the actual product is from Nailbiter.  Let’s pick on Purina. I’m an executive of Purina. What is the delivery?


Sure.  So, actually, Purina has been a client, but everything I’m about to say is not from any of their projects, but think that you are launching a new product.  And you have invested millions of dollars in concept testing, developing it, R&D. You really believe in the concept. You’ve spent a lot money optimizing the packaging, and then you have 20, 30 million dollars invested in TV after the product hits the shelves.  So, this major, major investment is about to hit the market and, by the way, at a smaller level, you’re doing this every month. At a big level, you’re doing it a few times a year. So, CPG company’s job is to innovate and stay ahead of competition and private label; so, they constantly have to come up with things that are new:  new marketing, new products. Now, that product goes on shelf; a lot of in-store marketing is happening. What you’re getting in the early days is some distribution data; you are getting sales data. None of that data has any insight. So the insight has to wait til maybe the Catalina or Neilsen, IRI tracking systems that are more household level take off.  Or you could do some mystery shopping and shop-alongs and things like that. In our system, because again we are watching people make shopping decisions, we can see what percentage of stores are carrying the product; we can see what percentage of shoppers have seen the product, have touched the product, have picked it up, have carted, or put it back. And then, people also speak sometimes; sometimes they don’t, but if they say something like, “Well, I don’t get it” or “That’s too expensive.”  Whatever it is, their few words per shopper, across 500 shoppers, you can come back to that executive (and we’ve done this at most of our clients in days and weeks) and say, “Your product is having a real challenge because the packaging is black; the pack on the left of it is black; the pack on the right of it is black. So, when we did our pack testing online, it popped because everything was white, but the shelf has changed or the retailer has planogrammed it differently from what they promised you.  No one is even seeing it. Or they’re seeing it but they don’t get it that this is a premium, organic product because you have the simple packaging and all the claims are on the back. And a 20-pound bag of dog food is not something that one lifts to see the back or maybe they do. So, all of that gets captured; it gets turned into very tangible data and measures that they can make effective decisions on very, very quickly. So that’s sort of the power of bringing something new to the table but then having it be actionable so that output of it is not just, “Hey, that’s cool insight.  So let’s do another project with this video company next year” versus like this is an always-on-system that you’re making decision on every week.


Are you leveraging AI or some other math to do the insights at scale or is it just human beings just crunching?   


So, it goes in three levels:  The first is automation. There is a small degree of AI in the way the video is processed, but I don’t want to overplay the AI piece either.  


You’re the only one, by the way.  Everybody else overplays the hell out of AI.  I’m sorry. It’s just a max-diff. Anyway, go ahead.


Correct.  Hey, I’m drowning in AI, VR and all the acronyms, but our original thesis was that 100% of the video could be processed programmatically.  And it was true when the video quality was very pure. So, we had also thought that we would create some sort of Google Glass kind of a panel:  high-res images coming and high-res video coming in, but none of that could scale. Thankfully, Google Glass we didn’t use because they stopped making it.  But we wanted scale, and scale comes through people’s mobile phones, and that’s what we use. So, we have two technology platforms: One can recruit people just-in-time and convince them to make a quick video of their transaction for a little bit of a reward.  (Don’t want to give too much reward to change behavior either.) The second and more important can take video in any format and process it three ways: The first way is automatic, programmatic AI, if you will. There we can slice up the video into images, enhance the images, look for brands, and make correlations through that.  That gets us to about 30% or 40% in English. If you’re talking about Chinese, that gets you to 10%. Then the second layer is a crowd. So, we need to process extremely high quantity of videos. And we need to know what’s inside this video. So once the machine has done its job, we have our platform – just like it can recruit real shoppers – it can recruit in the same market people who will see the short video or even like a five-second snippet of the video and say, “In this video, is this brand, this brand, this brand and this is the price.  They can decode the video very, very quickly on a crowd platform. And then finally, once the data is 70%, 80% baked, then our people take over. So, we do have analysts who watch videos. There’s no way to get around it. I watch videos from time to time. What they’re looking for is to see what degree of accuracy we’re getting in that platform. Whatever manual stuff needs to be done, they do it. My joke is that HI is still a tenth of the cost of AI. Human Intelligence, you can have people…


100%, by the way.  This is such a great point that you’re making.


Yeah, and they don’t need a lot of training because CPG market research, above everything else, is about common sense.  If you’re someone smart and educated, I can give you a little bit of training. And, again, remember that we’re not processing these videos ethnographically.  We’re looking for specific markers. And then audio is a lot easier to do, to transcribe and use programmatically. So that’s kind of the platform we’ve had to build because AI is just not that good.  And if you talking about native video, AI is not going to get good. Where you can actually use technology is if you can use crowds to capture. It’s a very interesting thing. I had a lot of companies (I think Google tried it) when you translate capture from visual to text, enough people do the same thing.  They know that this is real text. They can translate a book. And that’s very interesting. We use something very, very similar to translate, transcribe these videos. And we really think that the gig economy offers market research companies this tremendous benefit of becoming tech-enabled but not through AI but through HI.  It’s just that you don’t have to hire hundreds of employees. You have this just-in-time workforce that you can leverage.


Yeah, just from a community component, I really like the idea of the power of HI. When you’re talking about the gig economy, just being able to have more of a distributed wealth because you have an open work opportunity.  It has a tremendous amount of community value or human value, I should say, assuming it’s the right shoe for the right foot, right? To your earlier point, there are obviously clear applications and winning applications of AI over HI.  I want to circle back for just a moment about this point that you made early on, which is on surveys. And I think this is a really important point for the other executives. Do you see surveys as the budget that you’re competing for?   


That’s an interesting question because most of the business we win, we never find out what they cut because it’s very rare that we even do business in an RFP setting.  In fact, most of the RFP’S that we get inbound, right? We know we’re not going to win; we often don’t even bid, the reason being it’s a mind shift. And if they think of it purely as a replacement for something that they would do in a survey form, then they’re going to be disappointed because in surveys, one of the big benefits, it’s closed-ended again for a very small amount of money, relatively speaking.  You get a lot of quantity of answers, right? And what we are saying is that the game is about the quality of the data and the actionability of the data; so, we don’t get put up against surveys. But in a different context, we think of ourselves as a video survey. So, better educate the marketplaces. We’re not a tech company. We wanted to be a market research and data company. We had to build a lot of technology to facilitate the type of data we wanted to extract.  Now we have built that extraction engine based on video. We’re very open, and we’re talking to a lot of other market research companies outside CPG to license it. In a way, we think of it as a platform, and you can think of it as a video-survey platform. So, we actually don’t think of our technology as being different from online surveys. We think that this is a big part of the future of online surveys, right, the audio-visual component because we also have a survey engine.  So, if I want to know if you’re male or female, what’s your age, income (all of these standard questions), I don’t need to make a video out of that and increase all my costs to get that information. You can give me that information very clearly. So I want to use video truly for observational, if you will. So, that’s how a kind of see the evolution and that’s where I think most of the platforms today that are online survey platforms, I think will be adding audio-video to their platform within the next few years.  So I just see that, all of that kind of just coming together. I don’t think that for the next decade, we’re moving away from online surveys, but I do think CPG tends to be leader in market research. So I think it will lead the way in video and audio. I don’t know if that answers your question.


Yeah, I mean it’s really interesting point for me.  As an entrepreneur, I always think about what is the…  Actually, the person that this idea came from is a man named Doug Gallypso.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for him; he’s on my previous board of FocusVision.  Anyway, he actually asked me a question one time: “Jamin, are you competing for an existing dollar or a new dollar”?  And it was this Ah-ha moment for me. And it’s one of the reasons like, if you think about like Uber, Uber was so successful because it wasn’t trying to create new budget, right?  I was already going to pay for a taxi ride; it’s just a better taxi. You know what I mean? And so, like there was no argument in my mind of, “Oh, I’m going to pay for an auxiliary service that’s going to create a better experience.”  One of the things that I’ve seen and actually been part of in entrepreneurship is I’ll come up with new thing (We’ll call it an online survey, which sounds ridiculous right now, but it wasn’t in 1996) and say, “OK, now, I’ve got this new mechanism by which I’m able to gather consumer insights, and, Oh, by the way, it’s great.”  So, the corporations in those days, they really struggled with it, but it did have parity with a budget line item. In other words, it’s still a survey, right? It’s just a third category or whatever number categories there are. That’s where I’m seeing what technology has brought forth in the last, I’ll call it, three years, like a plethora of video, audio, and text-based hybrid qual/quant tools that’s basically qualitative at scale.  And everything is pointing (and I’m also done with my rant) everything is pointing to one thing, which is a better conversation with the consumer. When you think about what surveys did a hundred years ago the way it started when this whole industry started, it was I needed to have a conversation at scale with my constituents. In order to facilitate that, I needed to be able to do a standardized set of questions across people. And so, then those have to get analyzed, obviously.  And the way that was done was data tables, and then from that we now know that there are 2.3 children in every household. But the reality is nobody has 2.3 kids or whatever the average is. And so, what these qualitative at scale products are bringing to market is actually, to your point, a different… So it’s not the same thing; you can’t compare them. It’s not a survey, and it’s not a focus group. It’s something that’s like right in between those two things. But where I’m seeing corporate budgets having a hard time tracking is how do I pay for it.  In other words, “Am I not going to do the survey?” “Well, no, maybe I still need to do that.” “Or am I not going to… Well, no, I still want to see the face or whatever it is. I want that human interaction piece.”


That’s why I think today is a very good time for us.  There are two reasons for it: One is marketing requires data to make decisions.  No marketer today is going to do the 1950s, “Well, I’m smart; so, I can just guess it.”  Every decision they make requires data. And our pitch to these big companies today is very frontal where we say, “Look, you’ve been buying billions of dollars of data, yet you keep losing market share.  And e-commerce, your market share is down ten points over your traditional commerce. Why? Because you’re playing with yesterday’s tools. So, if the data you’re buying today is so perfect, then why are almost every big manufacturer, especially the food manufacturers, in trouble?”  So, clearly, there’s a need for better data; there is a need for better decision making. Not every meeting goes that way, but some meetings you can have that discussion, and you can kind of do that broaden-the-horizon thing. But the second piece quickly has to be actionability. So, I gave you the example of new products.  Same thing applies for marketing. We can literally tell our clients that their new product is going to succeed or fail in two weeks. Before the product reaches 20% distribution, we’ll make a prediction. And in the right situation, if it doesn’t sound too sale-sy, I’ll tell the client, “I’ll give you double your money back for whatever you pay for my data, if my prediction is wrong.”  But, more importantly, if my prediction is right and 80% of new products fails, I’m not going to come back and say, “Oh, look, your product failed, and I predicted it, and screw you.” “But I’m going to come back and give you three ways that you can fix the problem before the retailer even realizes it. Get your product out of this part of the shelf, put in that part of the shelf. That is also your shelf; so, that it’s an easier transition.  Get the price down by 30 cents. Put a coupon on it. I will give you very, very actionable answers that will change the metrics and will change the future of the product.” So, that type of conversation – again it has to be much more subtle than the way I’m presenting it to you – that works. And the last thing I’ll say about this is that market research has to… We, as researchers, open our minds grudgingly, if you will, when we are pushed by people like you to think about online.  It took us a long time, but then everyone loves online today. But we’re going through the same problem again with the internet of things, VR. All of these other communication tools, and experience tools (voice, Alexa, right?) are going, scaling up, but we’re ignoring it where we have our head in the sand, going, “Well, online survey is the way to go because I can get a sample of 1000.” So it is our job, I think. to expand our clients’ minds, but we have to do the R & D at our cost so that the information that we bring to them is actionable.  And that’s been a big problem with neuro and behavioral and those techniques where you go and say, “Look, I hooked up 100 people to an ECG and look what I found.” “OK, how do I sell more Coca-Cola based on this data?” “Well, you can’t.” So that’s where the disconnect is, I think, and I think it’s going to change.


I mean there’s a couple things there.  Rogier Verhulst from LinkedIn had this great quote that I keep coming back to:  “Every research project needs to have the ‘now what’ and ‘so what’,” as the follow point.  Sexy technology is just not the answer. It’s the better insights, to your point. And in the second part, Kristi Zuhlke from KnowledgeHound had this framework of what’s the ROI on each project.  And it’s incumbent on the research company, the provider, as well as the internal research to make damn sure that they know what the financial outcome is of that research. It isn’t just, “Oh, well, now we know there’s 2.3 kids.”  There needs to be a “Why,” that “Now, OK, oh so that means I can sell more stuff to this particular demographic” or whatever it is. That’s the other piece. And I think as long as market research can cement those anchor points in their deliverables, then it makes it a lot easier for the brands, the CPG companies, to know ‘cause it’s a zero sum game for them,  “OK, I’ve got $50,000, whatever it is, to do my research. So, what’s the optimal allocation of those dollars across my suppliers or knowledge partner or whatever in order to answer those questions so that the executive is able to make a decision with confidence?” And that’s kind of the broad point that you’re making and I just couldn’t be more excited about is that us, as an industry, for us to continue to grow and really I think assume our position of dominance inside of the corporate org chart, we’ve – like you said – we’ve got to bear the burden and then not be afraid to talk about this shift in consumer insights.  Four years into your startup, you’ve probably seen a wide variety of people enter your work force some successfully, others not. What do you see as characteristics of an All-Star Employee in context of a startup?


You know this is something that I think about a lot because all startups live and die by getting a good team of people together, but market research and data-driven startups even more. Because we’re really not pitching an algorithm or a technology, there needs to be these human translators that can take the data and talk to customers about it but really from a perspective of both empathy and consultation.  So, a quick sidebar is that we have a very strong principle and we’re extremely technology-driven as a company but we don’t give any of the technology to the client because our clients pay top dollar for the data (we’re very premium priced) and, in return, they want to talk to a human being. Why? Because they work on 50 projects at a time these days. They just want to be sure that that person at the other end is not going to leave them hanging with a dashboard, which a lot of companies do.  So that’s built into our pricing and our business model. So, when we look to bring people on board, anyone who’s going to touch a client must know market research and must know market research really well and pretty much all aspects of market research that the client deals with because we don’t live in a vacuum and our data doesn’t sit in a vacuum. You have to have context. So that’s like a given. Of course, the people who work on the product and technology have technology background, but today I would say a lot of them have become market researchers.  So that’s very, very important. But beyond that, it’s really people who are smart. That you can literally look at the high school or college GPA and tell if someone’s smart. Not all smart people have high GPA’s, and I’m proof of that, I think so. But anyone who got a good GPA early on in their career probably is smart. It’s not easy to get good GPA’s. So, if you have those two things, then the third thing is motivation. That’s it. If the person sitting across from me is motivated to work in a startup, to be a part of something new, different, growing rapid pace…  First of all, it’s infectious, you can tell. You can see it in their face. You can see it in the way they speak. You can see it in the interest in the product and how much research they’ve come before coming here. You can see it in the follow-up that they do. And certainly, you can see it perhaps in their resume as well.

Then you have another type of person who is kind of becoming insecure about their job at a big research company and starting to look around.  And that person is going to fail in a startup environment. Another type of person that I look for which is a little rarer is all the stuff I described before with enthusiasm, etc., but more goal-oriented.  One of the hottest new hires we’ve made, Graham (I’ll call him out). He said in the interview that he wants to be doing his own startup in five years or be CEO of startup in five years. He’s a young kid. And I like that because if you have a goal, and I can help you in your journey towards your goal, then you are much more likely to do what it takes to be successful at Nailbiter.  And your success will be the company’s success. When I joined Affinnova, I was very young, probably naïve and stupid. Those characteristics also help a little bit, but I was extremely determined for Affinnova to succeed not because I liked the CEO and he was a mentor and all this stuff and the company was great but I wanted to succeed. And I felt like here’s a vehicle that’ll help me get around the trap of manager, VP, SVP at Neilsen, that traditional path.  I’ll make money; I’ll be independent; I’ll travel, which I love to do; I’ll travel the world. And I made the job what I wanted to be. And that’s what people do when they join a startup and become successful; they start kind of asking for things: “Can I do this?” “Can I do that?” And, within reason, you have to let them because then they will do things they’re good at because they want to succeed. And again, if it’s aligned with company’s goals, the company will do well.  So, these things sound difficult; they’re actually not. But the flip side is “Don’t pretend to be a startup.” And I’ve seen that a lot at bigger companies: “We’re a startup within a startup.” “No, you’re not.” A lot of CPG companies are doing that these days: they’ll create like a startup room in the basement, and this is a startup within a startup, but at 5:30 everyone is gone. And rightly so, because if that startup within a startup becomes a billion-dollar enterprise, those people who worked on it, they get nothing.  They get a decent bonus check. But, if you really did a startup and you worked 24/7 to make it successful, you’d be a billionaire, probably the wrong word to use in market research. I tell everyone a billion dollars doesn’t exist.


Unless you’re Ryan Smith.  I think he did OK on the Qualtrics exit.  


That’s true, that’s true.


Congratulations to them, by the way.


They are exceptions.  That’s my answer to people. And even the market research piece at Affinnova I would teach because we had more resources.  Here we do hire people who have the experience but that experience and skill set is very secondary to intelligence and motivation, I think.  Those are things, you can’t learn them; you can’t just put them on.


So, we’ve talked a lot about Nailbiter today.  Do you have any parting words or ways that people can get in contact with you if they’re interested in finding out more?  


Yeah, contact me on LinkedIn.  I love talking. You are very easy to talk to.  I hope to continue the dialogue with you. I’m not very good at communicating through email and other things, but I actually have someone who checks LinkedIn and a lot of interesting people I find reach out through LinkedIn.  And I enjoy having conversations. Anyone who’s listening to this who has no interest in buying data from us but wants an education, I’ll be happy to teach, especially people who want to copy what we’re doing and steal from us.  We love that too. We’d rather have 50% market share of a big pie than 100% market share of a small pie.


Love that.


So we are going to be reaching out a lot more through conferences and through forums to educate the marketplace because I think we’ve hit upon something, but we’ll find out.


My guest today has been Amit Dhand, co-founder and CEO of Nailbiter.  Thank you very much, Amit, for joining me today on Happy Market Research.


My pleasure, Jamin.  Thanks for inviting me and thank you for this podcast that you’re doing.  I hope that more and more people will listen. And I think you’re somebody with interesting ways of interviewing people.  So I wish you continued success.


Well, thank you very much for that.  And thank you, everyone, for your time and attention today.  I hope you have a wonderful day. As always, please, please provide us reviews whether it’s on Apple iTunes or GooglePlay.  Your reviews are how other people like you are able to find our podcast and it is our oxygen. Have a wonderful rest of your day.


Schlesinger Quantitative is proud to have sponsored of this podcast.  Schlesinger delivers comprehensive online survey solutions, including survey programming, world class project management, intelligent recruitment, survey hosting, and data delivery services.  An uncompromising commitment to your success sets them apart.

Ep. 214 – Phil Ahad – How Toluna is Elevating Product in Market Research

Founded in 2000, Toluna produces online surveys and manages a consumer community of over 24 million active members in 68 countries.

Prior to joining Toluna, Phil Ahad has lead marketing and product strategy teams across many different industries and has held senior level positions at CoStar, AOL and comScore.

Find Phil Online:


Website: www.toluna-group.com

Find Us Online: 

Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor:

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace. Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


On Episode 214, I’m interviewing Phil Ahad, EVP of Toluna, but first a word from our sponsor.


Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Phil Ahad, EVP – Head of Products and Strategy at Toluna. Founded in 2000, Toluna produces online surveys and manages a consumer community of over 24 million active members in 68 countries.  Prior to joining Toluna, Phil has led marketing and product strategy teams across many different industries and has held senior level positions at CoStar, AOL, and Comscore. Thanks very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Yep, thanks for having me.  I’m honored.


So, tell me a little bit about your upbringing:  What you parents did, and how that’s informed your career?


So, my parents are immigrants.  I’m a first generation American, I’d say here.  And it’s funny ‘cause like you always hear about these immigrant stories of them coming to the United States with like $18 in their pocket and then them being like these massive successes.  Actually, my family was quite opposite: My dad and his brothers came with a ton of money, and they just blew it on really bad investments or risks, whatever you want to call it, and they had to start all over.  So my family is very entrepreneurial in nature. They hustle; they grind; they’re very educated. And my upbringing was kind of that. I was working with my dad and my mom at their businesses, going to school. It’s kind of lead me to where I am today here at Toluna and leading products and strategy for the group. And I like it because, although we’re a pretty decent size organization, we’re a corporate culture.  We still have the entrepreneurial mindset in everything we do. And that’s why I’m here, and I’m enjoying the work I’m doing.


The starting-over part is really interesting to me especially because, having exited FocusVision, all of a sudden, I’m kind of in a spot now where I’m quite literally starting over, right?  But my parents had a similar situation where they had invested in a small farm. Then, all of a sudden, the value of the produce dropped by, roughly speaking, three-quarters. And after about three years of that, they had, ultimately, they just couldn’t make the payments anymore.  And so, it was a complete reset from a financial perspective which, for me as a kid, you know they helped protect us but family-owned businesses are… The whole family feels it, right? You’re invested in that business along with your family from a work perspective. What kind of core values or lessons learned did you get when they went through that restart process?


Yeah, I mean I was super young, but my parents have always kind of looked…  I call them gamblers, actually; they’re not risk-adverse. They’re always looking for opportunities to either gain an advantage or gain something out of it.  And what I’ve always learned is there is, obviously, risk involved in trying different things. But, if it’s calculated risk and you’ve done the math and you’ve done the work and you work hard at it, it usually does become successful at some point.  So, while they had struggles early on and while they failed in business at start, the value is they learned from those mistakes and then they applied them into other opportunities, which, as a rule, turned into success. I think that’s what I’ve learned.  I’ve never been afraid of diving in, but I’ve always done the legwork upfront to identify the opportunity and see if there’s value in doing it and to see if it fits what I want to do within what I’m passionate about or within what my vision of success looks like and then making that calculated risk and doing that.      


You know you guys were early to the app store, right, at Toluna and in terms of driving mobile innovation.  Can you think of a specific example of how you’ve applied that in the product development side of things within your company?


Yeah, for sure.  That’s one of the things I like about the group that I’m at and the people that I work with.  We’re again… we’re willing to take bets, especially within the industry and especially within R&D, but they’re calculated bets like we’re constantly pulling in specialty experts into the group to give us insights, to give us recommendations on what works.  We’re in tune with our clients and potential clients in terms of their ongoing needs. And when we see maybe a change in behavior or a change in expertise within the market that requires more development, we’re willing to be first in that space. Our behavioral tracking and insights technology is a great example of that.  We saw an opportunity to acquire a company, which was a Nielsen-incubated company, called Crossense, three people who just had a unique technology built at the time and see the value of integrating that technology not just into our app but into our entire end-to-end insights platform to kind of close that gap from just question-and-answer data to be able to provide behavioral track information.  


What is the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome, either personally or professionally?


Good, tough question.  I don’t have one specific biggest challenge.  I think right now in my professional career, being in a global role and managing people across the world within the specific team is kind of like getting in tune to everyone’s different personalities and working styles and then putting people in a situation that can best succeed by doing that.  A person in Chicago is going to work and be a lot different than someone in our R&D office in Haifa, Israel. And how do we mesh this group together so that we’re all working in an effective way and it’s actually all positive environment for everyone involved from start to finish.


Company culture, that’s what you’re talking about, is really driving that innovation mindset?


Yes, absolutely, it’s interesting ‘cause within Toluna and within our group, we’ve got people in finance, people in panel management, scripting teams programming things.  We’ve got in our innovation group – engineering and strategy and product marketing and product development. These are all very different types of people. And when you’re trying to be an innovative company and when you’re trying to drive innovation through an industry, everyone has to kind of buy into this – not just the R&D or the product team but your scripting team and your programming team and your panel management team because that’s the company culture we’re trying to drive from start to finish.  If we were just innovating on one side of the business and forgetting about our 600+ people in operations, who are working in the traditional sense and not leveraging this technology and these agile thoughts, then we wouldn’t really be an innovative company.


So, it sounds like one of the things you’re doing is you’re – I think the term is- “eating your own dog food,” which is still think is a weird way of framing it.  But sounds like you guys are, in some ways, your biggest users, certainly your early adopters of innovation.


Yeah, I mean, it would be tough to go into a major CPG company or even a Nielsen, for example, and say, “Hey, use this platform.  It’s great, but we don’t use it ourselves.” That would make no sense, right? So, we learn a lot from our internal teams ‘cause we’re doing so much research and project work for our clients from a service base.  We use that data to see what can we automate or what can we empower the clients to use themselves one – to reduce the workflow on our specific teams and to automate our internal teams but also to now empower our clients to do it themselves.


I do think that there’s a lot of companies that…  One of the ways of framing it is this founder-market fit.  So, it’s kind of like you experience the pain as the point of innovation and then you solve that pain point, right?  I think a lot of companies, they don’t start at that spot. Instead of thinking about, “Oh, look this is really fancy.  I’m going to go develop this technology and then figure out the problem, where it’s going to fit in the problem set from the customer’s point of view.  Obviously, I’m 100% behind the founder-market fit mentality, where it’s like, “OK, let’s really focus in on where the customer or us specifically are finding that particular pain point and then iterate around that so that we can get the right product to market.”


It’s interesting.   I think if you asked the scripting team, “What feature would have to have in this specific platform?”  They’re going to give you like a 100 different types of scripting features. And you probably would be developing scripting features for the end of time if you were just listening…, right?   ‘Cause one feature that’s used in 1% of all the projects. They may have just used it or it’s just one thing they’d love using but it’s only used really 1% of the time in actual, real-world work.  Like do we really have to automate that? Is that worth investment? Is that worth development? So I think that feedback is important ‘cause it’s kind of like your baseline, right? But the teams that are doing the work today you kind of need to look outside of the market in terms of what are we trying to innovate and solve for.  Today, we’re trying to solve for the time it takes from data collection to action from the user’s standpoint: like insights on-demand. Your scripting team or even your reporting team, they’re not going to give you those answers to figure that out. It needs to be a combination of those two things, and you need to think outside of the day-to-day work to solve that specific problem.        


The feature management side of it, that’s from a product perspective.  That’s so hard to sometimes figure out where do we prioritize our R&D’s so that we’re getting the best business outcome, creating the best user-experience improvements.  How do you guys figure that out? Do you have like a process or is it gut or…?


You asked about my biggest challenges.  Now that you mention… Prioritizing our road maps is one of my biggest ongoing challenges in the group ‘cause we’ve got a pretty large R&D and budget, but we don’t work with unlimited resources and we own technology that encompasses every single aspect of research and data collection from programming the survey itself to identifying the sample to reporting.  We cover it all. So we definitely don’t have a team as big as we need it to be to do everything in the world. So it’s all about use cases, and it’s all about having an in-tune feedback with your clients, and not just what they specifically want to work on but what they want to solve for in terms of their day-to-day work, in terms of insights collection. And we prioritize probably 9just like anyone else prioritizes based on ROI level.  What feature or what solution that we can develop is going to give us the big bang for our buck in terms of an increase in lift usage and then also, obviously, revenue usage.


When we think about different MR careers, these different milestones…  like I have a couple of them. For me, it was when we created the exporting native charts and graphs into PowerPoint directly from the tool.  That was like my big thing. Do you have a favorite project or tool or customer story that you want to highlight?


I got a favorite project specific to Toluna.  And you’d look at it from a revenue and a usage metric, it’d probably be considered to be a really big failure.  We were kind of deep into quick service at that time and were trying, we’re playing catch-up actually in the stage of quick service from a script to a feature functionality.  We’re just loading up the team to close this gap between QuickSurveys and Qualtrics, which we did very quickly. But at the time, “What else can we do?” because even if you’re going to use a DIY tool whether it be QuickSurveys or SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics, that’s still a big effort for the user to build that study.  And we know from just the type of work that we do, 50% + of the market work out there is related in some way to concept testing. And we thought, “How can we automate this from end-to-end?” so that the technology can do most of the heavy lifting and now the user is going to get the data in real time and be able to act a lot faster and sooner.  The first test project we did, ‘cause we weren’t quite ready for concept testing at this time, (it’s like almost seven years ago now), was we just did it on positioning (positioning and A&U) because it was just an easy questionnaire. And we set it up in the quick service platform where you’re just telling it what you want to test: “I want to do a position test on X, Y, and Z and I want millennials to get the response.”  And then the system from then on will take it, build the survey automatically, and launch it to the appropriate audience in less than 24 hours, give you final dashboards, and insights, not data, but insights on what one NY with statistical significance on a variety of demographics and groups. Like to me, that was super cool and was, actually, one of the coolest things we could demo at the time. We didn’t sell a lot of this specific module ‘cause position testing wasn’t that big within our client set.  We sold a ton of QuickSurveys work off of the back of it, and it led to us being able to eventually launch a full end-to-end concept testing module. For me, that was just like a really cool testing initiative. The kind of bet that we made if we can automate this, would it lead to the foundation of a really good concept-testing platform? And would that be successful in the market? And both of those have been proven true.


Yeah, that’s great.   And QuickSurveys is a separate brand that is underneath the umbrella brand of Toluna, I think.  Is that right?


Yeah, so QuickSurveys is our survey engine platform.  So it integrates the Toluna panel. It’s a survey tool; it’s also a reporting platform.       


Like there’s been a rise…  Research automation – oh my gosh – if I had a nickel every time I heard that, we’d be doing fine, right?  We’ve been doing research automation since the inception of our careers at the end of the day. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly what online research is; it’s a much better way ‘cause you can automate the steps of pencil and paper and mall intercepts.  When you think about the marketplace, it’s become really crowded lately, it seems like lately, with research automation tools and, of course, I’ll pick on Zappi ‘cause they kind of sit right in that sweet spot. Is QuickSurveys, would you view them as a competitor or would you see it more as a SurveyMonkey?  


So, I think within our automated modules like the one I just explained, it’s a direct competitor to what Zappi has.  I don’t consider QuickSurveys as survey tool like a SurveyMonkey because, to be honest, you mentioned this space getting crowded, there is probably two dozen survey tools out there, and really they’re all really good, right?  I mean there’s no shortage of good survey tools out there, right? What I think makes us unique in this space today is the integrated, seamless access to panel. Although with SurveyMonkey, you can access the network of panel, but that still takes time, right?  QuickSurveys allows us the way that the product platform is positioned, the technology was been integrated into it. It allows up to kind of push real-time insights. There are very few products and platforms out there that you can from a DIY standpoint go on there and build and within one hour have a completed project with insights into it.  And that’s really the mission that we’re putting forth into it. And also, it’s a global product. It’s available on 68 different markets from a panel access point of view. So, I don’t really think that SurveyMonkey is direct competition because it plays in kind of a little bit of everything. You can also procure just sample and panel through the platform.  And then you can do either full-service, custom research or pick one of these automated modules.


We’ve seen a lot of transitions, you know, speaking of change, research automation, of course, being the fairly recent buzz.  You had AI, block chain last year was insanely popular and literally maybe there are two or three companies in the space that have persisted in the last 12 months.  But what do you see as the role of insights in a modern brand and how has that changed over the last five years?


In a modern brand, I think it’s changed significantly.  The reliance five years ago was heavy on the market research consulting space.  Now these companies have built out research companies within them, within their consumer insights groups.  You take some of the larger CPG firms out there; they’re employing 200+ researchers in that team. That’s a huge research company right now, right?  So I think it’s moving into these companies as a function and a core function of their corporate strategy. And I think it’s on us as an industry to empower them in multiple ways.  Empower them (1) with the ability to DIY if they want to get access to the platform, to get access to panel, and access to data in the easiest and fastest way possible. But I think it’s really important even if these companies are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, they’re still going to need some help in some cases.  They’re still going to need some help on research methodology; they’re going send some resource help on programming and analysis. And the companies that can offer both are the companies that are going to survive in the space, and they’re going to grow. Our biggest growth area right now is what we call this ADIY model where it’s a hybrid.  When the client wants the fully DIY, great, they can take the full cost benefit of that and DIY. But when they need help, they can tap into our global operations team, and we can support that business too.


Yeah, that’s actually something…  I was at MRMW in Cincinnati, really good but small trade show or event, and I interviewed an insights professional at Georgia Pacific.  She was talking about how the role of partnership has really been evolving in the last year really. She sees partners… You know it used to be the case that they would just outsource everything, project wholesale, and now they’re pulling more and more of the actual function into a DIY.  But then they’ll still be spending a lot with a partner; it’s just more on the analytics, activation of the insights, that sort of thing. Are you seeing that trend inside of your business?


Yeah, absolutely.  I think if you ask…  Let’s try to frame this in a way…  If you take a large CPG and you ask their C-level team, they’re going to tell you, “We want to take on as much as possible because they see an absolute cost benefit to doing that.” There’s no surprise, right?  But when you start to dig down into the specific groups and the projects they’re specifically working on, in some cases, it actually makes a lot of sense to outsource it. And not just from a cost standpoint too but just from a, “I want to get an external opinion on this,” as opposed to maybe a potentially a biased opinion within my own internal team.  And so, we see a combination of both at work.


That is a really good point.  I think that the utilization of kind of the unbiased point of view is a great reason why you’d want to use a partner to soup-to-nuts the research.  You know the other thing that I’ve seen at a macro-level as we go through these contractions and growth stages at a global economic level… As the growth stage that we’ve largely been in; it might be arguable but we’ve been in a consistent up stage since 2009, you see the brands invest more and more in internal operations and then during the contracting times, it’s unfortunate but that’s when the cost-cutting measures come into play and research, of course, is early in that priority set, in which case now, all of a sudden, a lot more work winds up getting outsourced.  So, with respect to Toluna, are you guys seeing that kind of behavior because you guys have such a… So, 2000, you guys started; so, it’s the same kind of point of view that I have. Are you guys seeing that same kind of economic trend or brand trend inside of inside of the economic climate?


Maybe not exactly.  The trends that we’re seeing is, it’s not like a one model fits all, especially for projects not just for specific companies. Even within a group, one specific model doesn’t necessarily fit all the work that they’re trying to do.  So it’s really tough. We’re seeing good traction from a DIY standpoint, and we’re still seeing really healthy traction from a fully serviced standpoint. But the most attractive offering within our stack is this hybrid approach where the client, if they can DIY, then great, they will.  But when they need to tap into our resources, they do, and we’re more than willing to help. We’re doing the same work on the same platform too. So the deliverables are all the same; it’s all seamless; all your data is in one single source too. So it doesn’t matter if we’re going to do it for you or you’re going to do it yourself. You’re still access the data the same way.  So I think that also helps within the process.


Are the brands investing more these days in data accessibility and visibility?  
Are they putting dollars there from your point of view?  Almost like I’m seeing surgence whether it’s KnowledgeHound or mTAB or whatever.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of companies that have been entering and growing in this space that are really centric to that…  At the corporate level, I want to do, let’s say, a NPS study. Then I can use these tools to access that, see if that’s already being done inside of our ecosystem.  Is that something you guys are seeing as a growth space?


Absolutely.  I think it’s one of the critical things that’s in this space today.  Just think about how much data a company like P & G going to have on soup or packaging of soup, right?  Or anything, right? So the ability not only to just mine through the data and get specific data points that you need in as fast a way as possible, but also you can compile all these specific data sources to tell a story from it too.  Your KnowledgeHound is a great example. We’ve worked with it quite a bit too. Something as simple as a search function for all the data that you run through your simple is a very usable function. To look back in time for trended information or to frame out the next study that you want to push off because of that.  So I think the way we organize our data and we allow people to consume that data in the fastest way possible is going to be a critical function, or is a critical function today just because how much data people have.


You guys have built, obviously, best-in-class technology, but then all at the same time, you’ve also acquired technology to do things.  So how do you make those trade-offs as to “Should we build it?” or “Should we buy it”?


I think it’s pretty simple, honestly.  It depends on, obviously, when you’re going to acquire the company, what stage that company is in.  If it’s a unique asset and if it’s pre-revenue because we are an R&D group ourselves, that’s a very nice acquisition for us ‘cause then we can integrate it into our technology just get it to market, right?  Not a lot of companies can have the ability to have the groups to be able to do that. So for me, it’s a cost model. How much would it cost us to develop and actually how long will it take? Then within the length of time it takes you to develop, you’ve got to add in lost revenue.  So combining that value together versus the acquisition of the asset is just simple math then. The tough part from us, not tough, but the part you really have to dig into is how much of what this company claims they can do is real, especially if it’s pre-market.


Is there a technology stack that you like better than others?  


Not necessarily.  I think in the game today from a research and consumer standpoint, there’s not a lot of end-to-end platforms.  There are a lot of very niche products and solutions that target automation of sampling or target reporting. You mentioned KnowledgeHound, which is a really good one too or Vox Pop from a video standpoint.  I think the space today for us within research is exciting because there is so many new niche players and products out there. But if you really compare consumer insights and market research technology, we’re probably really behind the rest of the world in a lot of different things, which is why you’re seeing this acceleration over the last few years.  I forecast it to significantly increase over the next few years. There’s going to be a lot more entrance in this space, and the acquisition of Qualtrics only makes it more obvious ‘cause now there’s real significant money behind some of these technology companies.


Yeah, it’s so funny.  So the number of companies that are moving to market research is way higher than it was even a year ago.  So, I’m seeing companies in ad and martech spaces saying, “Yeah, that’s fine but we really want to focus on market research”, which is really funny like a year ago ‘cause nobody would have made that transition.


I think though the technology players in this space have done a really good job actually in making research methodology easier for the DIY user to do ‘cause back in time, your IP was your methodology, like how you frame that concept testing was the technology at the time.  And today, anyone can use it because we’ve integrated the methodology into the technology. Now you’re just saying, ‘”I want to do this concept test. Here are my concepts. Tell me what one.” Now that the methodology is not the barrier to entry or making it so expensive to conduct research, there’s going to be a lot more entrance from a technology standpoint.  I think it’s going to accelerate significantly.


That’s going to be really fun to watch.  IIEX definitely had more exhibitors this time than they have in the past.  There was maybe five or ten that I just never heard of before, which a fairly large number.  The qualitative seems like it’s becoming a little bit more visible in the space. Is that something you guys are seeing?   


Yeah, absolutely.  I think if you’re just doing survey work or just pulling quant data, you just getting one picture of either that consumer process or the journey or whatever it is.  Multiple different sources of data – quant, or qual, or behavioral tracking – you need it now to paint a full picture of that consumer journey or that consumer process.  So, again, to me, it’s kind of like a simple story within research. It used to be really, really expensive to do any type of qualitative study or focus group, and now with the leverage of technology and be able to do this stuff online, it’s not, and it’s much easier.  We’ve launched a… we call it like a pop-up community technology within QuickSurvey called QuickCommunities. It literally just allows you to have an online qual chat focus group in real time on the back-end of a survey or to recruit from a survey. And you’re recruiting directly from Toluna.  This is one of our fastest growing products we’ve ever launched. We launched last year, and it’s been great because there’s a real need for some more qualitative research.


Who’s your buyer?  It is on the agency side?  Is it on the brand side? Obviously, you’re doing business in both realms.  And then where do they sit inside of the org chart?


Obviously, market research and agencies are a big part of the work that we do whether we’re selling them sample or services or even licensing technology.  We work direct with the brands, of course, too. Most of those people sit either in the consumer insights group, some in the marketing group, and some in the pod teams.


So, AI was something we’ve talked a lot about and we’ve all been seeing it grow.  We haven’t talked a lot about virtual reality, augmented reality, and voice as a kind of forward tech.  Now 5G, I think, has recently launched, and that has a lot of potential, every potential to impact us from an accessibility to real AI…sorry augmented reality (I’m getting my acronyms now completely screwed up) but anyway.  So, do you see those technologies impacting research? What’s going to be different in our space in five years?


Five years is tough to predict.  It’s no surprise to anyone in this space, but it’s getting harder and harder to get people to take long surveys or answer questions, in general.  So I think as an industry, we need to become really more creative in how we’re going to collect insights from the consumers or from anyone who’s willing to provide them.  But we’ve got to make it more engaging, and it’s got to be less of an effort for that person. And that’s why testing things within smart devices in the home so that you’re able to do question/answer instead of a desktop or a phone device but you’re able to do it verbally through that device.  That’s another option too. Be able to behavioral track a lot of the profiling information so that you’re not asking screener questions or a ton of like… I’ve seen some surveys that got 20 profiling questions just to lead up to the information they want to get. That’s a terrible experience for the panelist; it’s also a waste of time and money for the people conducting the work.  So, I mean, for us in this space, we’re always looking at ways to get people to engage… to get the panelist to engage better with us but also for a longer period of time. And I think finding ways to change that panel engagement behavior is going to be critical to it.


So, you guys are sitting in this interesting spot inside of the industry because you’ve, obviously, been around a long time; you’re one of the top brands in market research from an insights perspective, highly respected; and you have a broad swatch of customers.  What are you seeing as the biggest issue that’s facing market researchers?


I really think that we’re getting to a point where making sense of just the large amount of data we have is becoming more of a challenge. ‘Cause you’re getting it from so many different sources too.  And being able to quickly aggregate that information and making a story out of it is one of our biggest challenges, putting aside just getting people to give you high quality information. But once you do get all of this behavioral track information, quantitative information, qualitative information…  Then you got DMP data, segmentation data, social information. Painting a story and a picture without getting drowned in data is one of our biggest challenges, I feel, and how we can create technologies and tools and solutions to be able to cut through data and give you at least a summary point to start with and then allows you easily through technology to drill down to specific pockets of the data so you can build your business or change your model, or change your marketing program off of that.  


In my interview with Marian, VP of Insights at Microsoft, she was talking about how they used to… in the old days, they would present (I hate saying “old days.”  I always feel so old.), they would present data that was like, “OK, here’s my survey results.” But now it’s like you have to have at least three other data sources to create the context of the insights so that it can be understood against the business problem that they’re trying to address.         


Yeah, I mean researchers today and anyone in the insights profession today, they’re a storyteller.  They’ve got to tell you a “What,” “Why,” and now “What’s going to happen” type of scenario so that that can be digested and acted upon.  I think the days of delivering data is really over, right? You can say data is a commodity. Data is everywhere; there’s no lack of data in the space.  But how you take that data and build actual insights and results out of it is critical.


When you think about the bets that you’re going to play (I don’t know how much you can divulge), where do you see Toluna placing bets over the next couple of years?  Is it on…? And it’s OK if you don’t want to answer the question. Is it on insight aggregation or…?


Right now, I’m so focused on 2019 and if I can recall the things I’m doing right now.  I still think that consumers are just moving so… consumer sentiment just moves so fast today.  You’ll get a notion on how your brand or product is performing through social media faster than anything these days.  So if we’re not able to provide insights as fast as possible, not just from like while the project is in the field and collecting responses from people but like from the idea where the question or issue has come up to insights that’s really what we’re focused on right now is providing insights as fast as possible, faster than the market can move so that our client can react quickly and react effectively.  How that evolves… I mean we’re in the thick of this right now; the whole market is actually in the thick of this right now. How this evolves in the future with all the new data sources that are coming up and all the focus on automation and the evolution of mobile and how you engage with consumers in the future – there’s so much that we’re working on. I’m not really keen to…


So, a subset of our audience is… are people that are moving into the market research space. So, that kind of like gets to one of my questions, standard question.  What do you see as the three characteristics of an All-Star employee?


I mean for us I look for really three things, three specific things.  One is how agile are you to changing, let’s call it, goals or methodology or targets within the space because technology is changing very quickly and, as a result, methodology is changing very quickly.  Just because you’ve done something a certain way over the past x-amount of years, doesn’t make it relevant moving forward. So we’re looking for agile people. I’m always looking for really creative people ‘cause as the market changes, our clients’ needs change.  How you’re creative in getting the work done is going to be critical because, you know… The one answer I really get annoyed with hearing is, especially when we’re trying to automate or innovate, is “because we’ve always done it this way.” That means absolutely nothing to me, and that means absolutely nothing in the future.  And then I think in the world that we live in today, it’s really important to find honest and genuine people. So that’s a critical culture thing for me and the group just to have people that are on the same mindsets in terms of what their goals are, how driven they are in terms of getting there, and what they’re willing to do to get there.


Yeah, I think this honesty thing is…  We’ve all said it for our whole lives, right?  Being honest is really important, but I’ve been seeing just a fundamental ownership around this issue of trust, and how we need, as handlers of data and really the importance of making sure that we’re doing a perfect job.  And you seeing that right now. I mean getting institutionalized with GDRP or whatever. Now California has their own variant of that. Data handling and privacy and that kind of thing. So if you can address that at a core value perspective inside of the organization, it’ll go a long ways in installing best practices throughout the company and in deliverable to the customers.       


In research, inequalities – that’s a consistent thing that’s questioned.  So, I mean I totally agree with you too. Especially in the world we are today, if you can’t trust the data that you’re not just paying for but you’re using to make business decisions on, that’s the first thing of research is how can we make this data (1) more reliable but of the highest quality.  


Yeah, that could be a big problem at that level.  And you guys sit in this interesting spot owning all those assets, kind of the full ecosystem point of view.  And then the bets you’re making on the qualitative side, I think, is actually pretty interesting also. I’m really hung up on qualitative as a growth engine.  I really think there’s going to be a lot more. Does Toluna do a lot in the way of managed communities?


Yeah, that’s where we started.  So, we started with our own panel community.  We’ve built a technology specifically for ourselves.  Then we ended up packaging it to clients. And that’s kind of grew into, you know, you need a survey engine; you need a reporting engine; and then now you need behavioral data into it.  That’s kind of where we started.


Are there technology platforms that you look at and you’re like, “That’s a good…”  You mentioned KnowledgeHound, and you also mentioned Voxpopme. Are there others like that you like say,  “That’s an interesting company that I’d like to partner with”? I guess that’s the question. I have a follow-up.        


Yeah, I mean I’m constantly looking at new and emerging technology and products.  I think those two are pretty well known especially within our space. Kristy and Dave do a good job of getting around too.  But there’s nothing yet that I’ve seen that’s surprising or blowing us away specifically. I think the ones that, especially the ones that are pre-market, are the ones that are most interesting and that’s tough to comment on right now.  


Yeah, I hear you.  Tell me what is your personal motto.


I don’t know.   I don’t think I really have one.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  But I’m just like, “Let’s just figure out a way and get it done, right?”


Love it.  My guest today has been Phil, the EVP – Head of Products and Strategy at Toluna.  Thank you, sir, very much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you.  I appreciate it.  


And if somebody wants to get in contact with either Phil or Toluna, that information will be included in the show notes.  

Really appreciate your attention during this time.  As always, if you do me a kindness, if you found value, screenshot this; share it on the social media, Linkedin, Twitter, it’d be fantastic.  

Have a wonderful rest of your day.


Schlesinger Quantitative is proud to have sponsored this podcast.  Schlesinger delivers comprehensive online survey solutions, including survey programming, world-class project management, intelligent recruitment, survey hosting, and data delivery services.  An uncompromising commitment to your success sets them apart.

Ep. 212 – Priscilla McKinney – 4 Marketing Hacks Anyone Can Use to Improve their Marketing

My guest today is Priscilla McKinney, President of Little Bird Marketing.  Little Bird Marketing is a well-respected, full-service ad agency founded in November 2009.  They use design and marketing to showcase clients as experts in their field by making unexpected connections. In 2014, Priscilla started a podcast, Ponderings from the Perch where she covers a variety of topics, including marketing techniques, current events, and thought leadership in our space.  

Find Priscilla Online: 


Website: LiTTLE Bird Marketing

Find Us Online: 

Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor:

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace. Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to Episode 212 of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Priscilla McKinney, President of Little Bird Marketing, but first a word from our sponsor.  


Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Priscilla McKinney, President of Little Bird Marketing. Little Bird Marketing is a well-respected, full-service ad agency founded in November 2009.  They use design and marketing to showcase clients as experts in their field by making unexpected connections. In 2014, Priscilla started a podcast, Ponderings from the Perch where she covers a variety of topics, including marketing techniques, current events, and thought leadership in our space.  Priscilla, thanks very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Oh, I am so just absolutely excited to be on, and we got connected through some very cool people.  And so, I only like to know cool people who know cool people. That’s how I work. So here we are.


Ah, that’s awesome, and the world is full of cool people, right?  That’s probably one of the neatest things that I, discoveries I guess that I have gone through over the last 20 years, is that every person has a story.  The sooner that we can move away from judging and moving towards a place of embracing and understanding, “Gosh, they’ve got a reason why, etc.,” then it all of a sudden creates this concept of inclusion and embracing as opposed to the other direction.  I think this is one of pieces I teach a course in the MBA department here at Fresno State on entrepreneurship. And in that course, I actually tell them look around, take note of the people that are in the class because many of them are going to move into high level positions over the next 15 years, right?  And the sooner they can recognize and treat each other with that level of respect and operate like who that person going to be in the future, then it’s going to create these shortcuts in their career when that person does get advanced, etc. They’re going to be able to pick up the phone, have the conversation, and Boom! – be right there with that same sort of level of opportunity.     


Well, it’s a little bit about also what we go looking for. I mean if we go looking to get offended, we’re going to and, if you go looking to find cool people, guess what?  You’re going to find that too.    


Totally.  And this whole principle of “like produces like”, I think, is just so true.  Gosh, the other thing since we’re on this subject… You are the average of the five people that you hang out with the most.  


Oooh, that’s interesting.


Yeah, I’m such a believer in that.  Like you need to really think about who you’re spending your time with, especially as you get a little bit older, which I just turned 48.  So, I’m knocking on the door of 50 here any minute. It’s just terrifying, anyway. So…


No, don’t say that!  You mean you’ve just excelled past the door of 40.  That’s what you mean to say.


Tap the brakes a little.  But still, it’s so true that our time is the one non-renewable resource that we have in our lives; more than anything else it’s the most valuable.  And the people that we hang out with are the ones that really inform, I believe, who we wind up becoming and evolving into.


Well, I think it’s also about who ends up sticking around because if you’re completely bent on giving and providing some kind of purpose and adding to the energy, adding to the beauty of what’s going on, I think your people end up being the people who stick around.  The other people are like, “No.” They may not even be conscious, in that sense, but they do end up moving on because it just doesn’t fit anymore. You know grumbling doesn’t fit; you know shifting blame doesn’t work, you know whatever it is. You know, “Woe is me in my business.”  You know we all go through hard times and that’s amazing. That’s a great time to be able to be with other people but when… The people that will stick around are the people that continue to use your exact same paradigm, which I really believe strongly in leading into a relationship with giving something.  Give something great at the beginning. And I’m also a big believer in being very clear about what you need.

You came so highly recommended to me from such great people, and I just came directly out and said, “Jamin, will you have me on your podcast?”  I just asked exactly for what I needed. I didn’t try and hide that or make it weird or get you to guess it or anything. I just knew through the excellent people that we know that we would be an immediate connect, and I think that’s trusting those people, trusting your sources.  I’m so glad that we’re together.


Yeah, me too.  I want to actually…  We haven’t gotten to the interview questions.  I do actually want to get into this point that you just raised around clarity of your values because I think that’s really important.   This whole “misery loves company” is 100% true, and positivity loves company too, right? And this lens that we have on… Gosh, there’s another adage, “Bloom where you’re planted”…  You’ve probably heard that, right? We don’t get to control a lot of life, in fact, probably most of it. But we do have the opportunity of controlling how we perceive it and then, subsequently, communicate it, right?  


I think what we’re controlling is how we’re showing up.  




That’s the only thing that we truly can show up and control.   I’ll give a shout-out to a

great friend of mine, a fantastic writer, amazing coach, Anise Cavanaugh.  She wrote a book about contagious culture. And I love her work on intentional, energetic presence about it IS the energy, it IS about how you decide to show up on any given day.  But I love this part of it, which I think really connects to what we’re talking about, is that you can change it at any moment. It’s not… These are not big value shifts. This is just, “Right now, do you like the way this conversation is going?”  If not, if it’s not the impact you want to have, if it’s not the energy level you want to have, just shift it. Just be able to do a hop, skip, and jump to something new and just being able to know how to do that. Of course, that’s based on your values, where you’re coming from, saying, “I know that I can make it through this and, in the end, have the impact I want.  I’m willing to go through whatever it is, if it’s hard or if it’s easy.” But I think it’s that sense of ownership that I’m going to show up, and I’m going to bring the kind of energy that I want in order to have the impact that I want.


So, Little Bird Marketing.  I have a couple of questions.  One is LITTLE is capitalized. I was curious if it’s an acronym…all caps, I guess.  And then, started in November of 2009… Maybe you could tell us a little bit of history there.


Yeah, for sure.  Little Bird, the way it actual “Little” was kind of written was a happy accident.  It was a design accident. And, I can’t remember who the quote is, but I’ll sent it to you for show notes, but it’s about great design is learning when to keep your mistakes.  So, a little bit of art editing and design and things like that. It looked different. The idea of Little Bird Marketing really comes a desire to be on the inside, maybe in the know with a particular brand.  And we first started wanting to really work with premier brands who wanted to have a more intimate conversation, intimate relationship with their ideal clients. And so, when you have really great news, and you’re on the inside of things, you say, “Oh, a little bird told me, blah, blah, blah.”  And it’s always good news; it’s always like… It’s never this is how people show up and complain; that’s how people show up and talk. I have to say for advertising, a lot of people say, “Oh, word of mouth is the best.” But word of mouth… When they open their mouth, what are they going to say?  And who’s going to remind them to open their mouth? What’s going to trigger them. So we wanted to create an environment where we brought clients on who we really wanted to get intimately into that puzzle. How do we create a culture and a relationship between our company with our actual clients so that they feel like that they’re in the know and they’re special and they got great news?  And, of course, when you get great news, you want to share it.


Now, you guys are actually not based like traditional agencies, which are usually in Chicago or San Francisco, New York, etc.  You guys are based in a smaller geography.


Yeah, for sure.  We’re based out of Joplin, Missouri.  The background of our story is in 2009 we started but in 2011, some people might remember we had the only F5 tornado here in Joplin and it…


I do remember that by the way.  It was catastrophic.


It was.  In one fell swoop it kind of put us on the map and off of it again. And so, it was a really hard time.  Very, very difficult. We lost over 30% of our town within 20 minutes, and lost a lot of friends, lost companies.  So just a very difficult time. And three weeks after that tornado, I arrived at my studio to watch it burn to the ground.  So we’ve really been through the fire, and that’s not a metaphor. [laughs] So we really had to think long and hard about who we are and how we’re going to come into the market, who are we going to serve, and with what energy, with what purpose, with what drive, with what parts of who we are.  What can we bring to bear to really help people and really help their company? So we’ve had to think about it from, I think a very deep place. And I’m actually very appreciative for that time. And that’s when we had changed our name; we changed our name out after that aftermath and went with Little Bird Marketing.  And since then, instead of being full service, we have morphed into a very specialized agency. And we specialize in our proprietary system called SOAR, which is Sustainable, Organized, Accountable, and Repeatable, which is an in-bound marketing strategy that actually focuses on actual, predictable lead generation for companies.  I don’t care how you market or what you want to do, but in the end, does it actually generate leads?


Alright, so let’s break down SOAR for just a moment.  Thinking specifically about strategic, that intuitively to me is what are the objectives of the company.  


Yeah, you know what’s interesting is that a lot of people come at marketing, but they don’t lead with their actual goals.  They start leading with what are other people doing, looking at other people’s hands, looking at other people’s advertising and feeling the pressure in the market.  “Oh, everybody’s doing that.” Once upon a time, it’s like, “We have to get a Facebook account.” At one point, someone’s like “We have to get a phone. We have to get a fax machine.  We have to get a website.” It’s never changed. There’s always the new thing that people want to do. If you think about it, the telegraph was social media. It’s just about that next thing, but I don’t care what people use in marketing, what matters is did they start with their specific goals in mind.  What is success to them? And then, build a marketing strategy around that. And so, for us, in our SOAR proprietary program, the first foundational block is strategy. What is the strategy that we are going to need to employ to win and basically setting ourselves up so that we can measure it? If we don’t know what the strategy is, then you won’t be able to know what to do to measure at the very end to determine if you’re successful or not.  So, that’s the basis.


Do you have frameworks that you’ve seen be successful?  I’m thinking about the audience that’s tuning into this right now.  Sometimes, if you’re starting out and you’re a small market research company, you might not have the resources to solicit an outside firm in any meaningful way, anyway.  So, do you have like a, “Hey, you know what? You should spend… If you had $100,000 this year to spend on marketing, would you have a recommended way of that spend going?  Like, in other words, $80,000 on paid ads on LinkedIn versus $20,000 in events or what?


Yeah, that’s interesting, but that kind of comes back to my point.  I don’t know. It depends on what that market research firm is looking to do.  Are they looking to become a thought leader? Are they looking to get their exec’s on a stage?  Are they looking to sell sample online? It just could be so many different things. So, we employ a very, very different strategy.  What I think is common for all of them is two things. Number 1 – you have to have a system. I see tons of people not calendarizing, not creating an actual plan for the whole year.  And I know that sounds like a tremendous pain in the butt. However, sitting down and really lining out what happens first, what happens next, etc. And then the other thing that anybody can do with just a little time on their hands is to get the vast amount of information out there that’s free about creating an ideal persona, truly honing in on who your audience is and then only taking action and writing content, or creating an ad or marketing message or putting something on the website.  

I don’t care what it is.  Every marketing effort should be in servitude to the ideal client persona:  what are their problems? What are their fears? What are their challenges? What are their questions?  What are their aches and pains? And if what you’re writing or doing is not actually keeping them in mind and seeking to serve them, I truly believe that then those marketing efforts eventually will fall flat.  And you won’t be looking at any KPI’s to measure. I don’t know if you want to be at events; I don’t know if you want to put most of your budget on ads. I will say the first year you HAVE to develop a system, and I don’t care if it’s our SOAR system or something else.  But you need to be able to know what comes first, what comes next. And I will say one last thing: if someone had a $100,000, it doesn’t matter; we have clients that spend less than a $100,000, clients that spend $100,000 (that’s kind of our sweet spot there); and we have clients that spend way more than that.  But they all had to pay the piper on the first year of setting up a foundational system. And then, I don’t care, based on their scale, how much they can spend on the different things.

Everybody is totally different.  I’ve done something where someone’s spent $300 a month on Google ad words, and we’ve had a client who spent $30,000 in a month on Google ad words.  That’s scale, but you still have to actually have the framework of the house, and that costs the same thing, no matter how big you are.


And the nice part about that, and just kind of bookending your acronym on the “R,” thinking about the repeatability, that’s where you start measuring your improvement to both of velocity and outcome, right, by tweaks, changes, etc.    


Absolutely, and I like to remind people that more than anything what you’re trying to get out of that repeatability factor is “What can I start saying ‘No’ to?”  “No” can be such a powerful thing for your budget. You finally know what to quit doing.


And for your brand.  So much brand confusion is caused because the company just says, “Yes” because they’re thinking about short-term wins, but they’re losing track of the actual impact that’s going to have on whether it’s long-term R&D, or confusion in the market in terms of what you’re going to, or (this is one that I see actually pretty frequently) is channel conflict can be injected in that environment as well.  


Absolutely, and when you’re trying to measure too many things at once, you really don’t get a good sense of what’s going on.  I kind of liken it a bit to people talking A-B testing. I hate using jargon necessarily, but it’s that simple: A or B, A or B.  We’re only changing one small thing every time so that we can actually truly understand what thing is emerging as a winner.

I like to think about it like an optometrist.  You go there and he says, “1 better or 2? 1 better or 2?”  Remember the pressure that you feel? You’re like, “I don’t know.  Go back to 1. Is that better?” You almost feel like it’s going to be a wrong answer or something.  So, I like to think about how we reflect as humans. But the optometrist, he doesn’t say, “What’s better? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6?”  My gosh, there’s no way your brain could figure that out. But yet we come into marketing, we try to test too many things at one time.  And so, for me it’s not about how much money, and it’s not about how many different things you could do. Are you actually able to test the things that you’re doing?  I would rather set up a system that’s smaller and is actually functioning to truly understand some experimentation ‘because marketing is on some level some experimentation.  But the problem is that a lot people don’t look at their results; they just keep experimenting and keep experimenting. And then, they experiment with the next thing without actually really evaluating what happened.  “A? B? A was better. OK, now let’s take A and now let’s shift it. 1? or 2? OK, well, 2 is better. OK, now let’s take 2 and let’s move it back to A, B.” So, you can constantly improve on yourself, not go then go mimic what another competitor is doing.  


I’ve never heard the optometrist example before, but I think that is like a 100% spot on.  You’re capturing… even the emotional stress. I don’t know why it’s stressful. But I’m like, “I don’t know.”


Right, it’s so funny.  Well, if you like that analogy, let me give you another analogy that’s really fresh on my brain because we just published this blog back in November.  When our team put it out, I was like, “Oh, my gosh! I want everybody to read this blog.” And it’s about… I refer to our SOAR program many times as the one ring to rule them all, the Fellowship of the Rings analogy.  This idea of like everybody has a little bit of marketing here, a little bit of this or they’re testing this; someone else has this; they’re all over, but you need to have one strategy to rule them all. How can you actually use the power of content to reach your goals by putting them all onto that main strategy?  And one of my in-house writers cracked me up because he was saying that there was a great analogy to take mine even further. He says, “Well, to actually create that one ring, Priscilla, to rule them all, Sauron had to actually forge it in the hottest fire, but what most people are doing is they don’t go far enough with some of that testing and instead they’re using an Easy-Bake oven they borrowed from their sister.  [laughs]




You can’t bear out an actual, full strategy unless you really try and prove some things and put it through the fire.  And so, I really like that analogy as well, and I think that goes hand in hand with my optometrist A – B testing type of things.  People just like to get into the newfangled thing without really thinking about how they’re connected.


Yeah, we’re going to…  This is totally off script, and I’ve talked about this a few different times on the podcast.  One of my previous board, Wesley Chan, who did the YouTube acquisition of Google back in, whatever year it was, 2006, I guess.  In that transaction, there were over 13, I believe, different product lines that YouTube had. Instead of focusing on all the 13 and growing them, which is pretty normal, especially in the context of an M&A, they decided to focus on a single KPI.  And after doing a bunch of research and looking at the product and the use cases, they placed all their bets on one thing, which was number of videos uploaded per day. And from that, it drove all of the R&D, which, of course, you see how the tail wags the dog in the example.  I see this; even in my personal life, I struggle with it. For those people that maybe don’t not have that point of reference or that history, it’s even maybe more difficult. A lot of times I think we feel, “Oh, I got to drive all these things especially if I’m a leader in a business or business unit.”  But really what you got to do is put it under fire, put the effort in in order to figure out what that one thing is and then place your bet on that number, and then go all in. And that’s where you see the returns.


Yeah, and even one insight, I think, in market research we can understand this as well because, if people get a very, very deep and very well-enunciated insight from massive market research, it in itself probably has the ability to truly fill your innovation pipeline for many years if you just focus on that one truth that was uncovered.  But many times they want to focus on eight or nine truths and I’m not saying that’s, like you said maybe that’s standard in M&A to work with 13 and certainly if you have the scale for it, but I think there’s some beauty when you simplify some of the testing and when you simplify what you want to innovate off of, how are you going to rift off of something true that you found out.


So, I’m going to shift gears a little bit.  I don’t know, in truth, how accurate this is.  I’m just basing this off of the consumption of your podcast and online content blogs that you’ve posted, but it feels like your book of business has a high concentration in the market research space.  Is that accurate?


That’s absolutely true.  [laughs]


Maybe, you could talk to us about why you decided to have that as the customer base or the focus of the business.


Well, that’s funny ‘cause I’d love to revise history and say that it was a grand master plan, and I’m so smart, but that’s not true.  I do have a grand master plan, and I am so smart. But that’s not how that happened. Things just happen to you. I worked very hard on blogging, on podcasting, on practicing what I preach on content.  And then I put on to the world I wanted to be a speaker; I want to be on stage; that I was really leading thought in particular areas; and I believed it was of tremendous value. I put it out there. And I got a call, I don’t know, a couple weeks later from GreenBook, and they asked me to speak at an event in New York.  

And, as it turns out, it was an add-on to IIEX.  So market researchers are there, but for an extra day, they’ll tack on something they call Insights Marketing Day.  The truth of the matter is that there are a lot of market research firms who talk about market research all the time but do none for themselves and also spend no time marketing their company.  And I find it just almost ironic, but these are companies that are completely paid based on an industry that is checking in with the consumer and driven by consumer opinion, and yet they don’t know their own customer’s opinion.  They don’t even know their ideal client. And they haven’t done the persona work. And I think it was a very interesting conundrum that I was dropped into. I will say this: I had a lot of fun; I met very key people. Kristin Luck was one of them, you know, the founder of Women in Research – WIRe, and invited me into WIRe Exec.  And I met amazing people, which one of them I can track directly to you. So, this is really interesting. This happened kind of earlier in my career. I do have a background – I actually have a degree in cultural anthropology. So, it’s not like I don’t understand where social scientists are coming from, and I certainly understand looking at data, and I certainly have created my own marketing system based more on research and principles and data.  On top of it, we add the crazy creative and the desire for experimentation and then just some nutty stuff on top for fun. But that’s how I actually got there, and then from it, I just did what I said. You know I mentioned to you that I truly believe in this: Start first by giving something great; do favors for people. My podcast is a really great way that I can walk into a very dynamic conversation with a very dynamic person and give them something.  “Let me give you space to breath. Let me give you a new audience. Let me give you a chance to talk about your book.” Whatever it is. And from that, I met amazing people.


And it is all about the people.  It is funny too. I think the blind spot in marketing research is marketing.  I mean it’s funny. What’s even funnier is that – and I don’t mean this in like a “Ha Ha” kind of way, but a lot of it is just predicated on the fact that we understand as an industry the importance of relationship.  And if you look at how many of the market research companies have started, the traditional career (I’m going back a ways, 30ish years) is you’re working in a brand like Levi Strauss; you make connections; you do that for ten years, become an expert, well-viewed and connected inside of that brand, and you leave and service the brand.  

That has been largely the view, I think, again categorically.  You step up when you’re in like an Ipsos or Kantar or what have you.  And then that, just that attitude is what has raised or reared the next generation of researchers.  So it’s actually an important work that you’re doing.


Well, it’s also interesting, what’s happening in the market research industry right now.  And I liken it a little bit to my experience. Once upon a time, if you reach back into “Mad Men” days, people were company men, and they worked at a particular agency.  And it was a big mystery what was going on at those agencies. There was no transparency, and people were paying big bucks to have access to this big firm. You know you think about Wieden+Kennedy or Ogilvy or all these kinds of things.  Maybe, to your audience, maybe those aren’t names they know. They know Kantar and Toluna and Ipsos and Schlesinger and all those kinds of stuff. But I’m just saying there are trends that happen in any industry. And in my industry, it was the big agency like that was who was important.  

And then disruption really brought it to small, boutique firms, looking for very keen and well-honed skills.  In that process over the last nine years is where we actually rebranded and said, “You know we don’t want to be full service; we don’t want to be everything to everyone.  We want to do our sweet spot, and from that we developed our proprietary system and really have gone to market with that. So because of that, our expertise is in that B2B world, which then also lends itself to market research.  But I see that same thing happening right now in the industry. I think that a lot of people in market research probably agree with me. We have companies buying each other out. We have a company laying off 1,000 people only to hire 500 back later, restructuring and buying out of large people.  I mean you look at SSI, ResearchNow, acquisitions that are going on. On the top of it, we also have an incredibly tight labor market. And then on top of that, we have a lot of end-clients actually broadening and enlarging their internal market research, their own insights department. So they’re not relying as much on some of the big companies.  I’m not saying they’re not using them; I’m just saying this is an interesting trend to really in-source instead of outsource.

So, this is very interesting things that are happening in the industry and so what happens to these people who have worked at the large agencies but now either have gone freelance or independent moderators or maybe they write Python code for some…  There’s people now who are able to kind of live on a freelance-type of a gig economy maybe, you might say. But, on the other hand, it’s this dynamic between the big monsters and then the big clients. Is it being in-sourced or outsourced? And then you have all these other people that have a lot of small MR firms and, I mean, think about how many small MR firms (maybe one person, two people, ten people, even fifty).  That’s still small compared to some of these monsters. So I think there’s something interesting to note and understand about what’s going on in the market research industry and why we’re feeling certain dilemmas.


As a historian in some ways of this space, started in 1996, I’ve seen this trend happen three times where companies will become very profitable.  P/E ratios go up. I’m talking about public-traded type, large firms. And then they wind up spending a lot in the market research space, and they’ll even bolster internal staff.  And then what happens is the retraction like what happened in 2001 with dot.com bust or 2007 in the Great Recession. And then all of a sudden there’s this massive contraction, usually short-term freezes on budgets.  But then they still are desperate for data; so, that’s when they boost their supplier networks. I feel like what you’re saying is really important because our economy has been in an interesting spot. We haven’t had a major correction like that.  I’ve heard… Different economists have different points of view, of course. To me, it feels very reminiscent of one of those two times – not to say that we’re entering into the Dark Ages or something. But I certainly could see a scenario where there is a retraction.  The one thing that is different though in today’s world versus those other two points in time is that technology has democratized research so that anybody can do it. Now, maybe not do it well, and maybe shouldn’t do it. But yet the capacity still exists, right?


And trick is now people finding the right people.  I find this totally interesting. But I’m good friends with Bob and Brin, who run Trusted Talent MR, and their specific recruiting firm just for the market research industry.  Now, I’ve been around the market research industry long enough to know what some of these problems are that people are facing and how now even some of the people who want to in-source, they’re not even sure what kind of person they need in order to do tomorrow’s work.  [laughs] So, I get that in the market research world, but I understand what’s on the other side of that in marketing. It is so hard to keep up. Of course, my clients in MR firms, they can’t keep up with what’s going on in marketing. We barely can keep up. We’re on podcasts; we’re on certifications; we’re understanding what’s new in chat pods and how social media is changing.  And so, we are constantly inundated with all of these same kinds of industry changes; so, there’s no way that our market research clients can keep up with that. So instead what they want to do is, “Well, I’ll hire a social person; I’ll hire a web person; I’ll hire…” And they go down the list: a writer, a de-de-de. They need like six people. So sometimes when they look at that, when they really understand what’s going on, they need that kind of expertise, you can either hire six people and in-source it or you can outsource it.  And so, I understand that dilemma from both the market research side or from marketing.


Yeah, depending on the size of the company you’re talking about, you really start getting into dictating capacity of the organization to get this stuff done.  And that’s where I’m seeing sometimes they’’ll overbuy from a marketing perspective. “We can deliver.” But they don’t have the capacity even to review.


Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly it.  Jamin, this is exactly it because, for example, if a client comes to us and they’re like, “Yeah, well, we need a social media director; we need a web; and we need a writer.”  OK, let’s say just those three; let’s make it really abbreviated. Let’s say you can find them ‘cause you finally figure out what to do, which is a tough order. But let’s say you find them.  But, if you don’t know the expertise of a social media person, how are you going to inspect what they do? How do you know what to demand from them? [laughs] So, if you can’t do it yourself, then it is very hard to hire for it and then it’s also very hard to inspect them.  So you’re relying on three completely disconnected people. And I’m not saying that they couldn’t connect. But very often they don’t connect; they don’t create one strategy to rule it all. They create their own little micro-strategies, and then you are constantly trying to put it all back together.  And that’s where we come in to marketing, saying, “Look, we’re not working against each other. We’re a big team.” You need a video person, yeah; you need a chat pod person; you need a social media person; you need a writer; you need someone who is certified on HubSpot; you need someone who knows how to write a code; you need someone who knows how to actually write; you need someone who understands client personas, who can do strategy; you need all these things.  So you can either try and get that from one person for 80 grand (Good Luck), or you can instead invest in an actual system and get a wide range of expertise and get someone to help you along. And it’s so funny because that’s what MR people do for brands!


Right, but market research doesn’t.  This is one of the macro-trends that I’ve picked up over the last 49, well 47 published, probably 54 total interviews that I’ve done just on the Happy Market Research side.  Storytelling is critical and in order to tell the story in a modern marketplace, so today’s marketplace, not ten years ago but today’s marketplace, you’ve got to understand the context of the insights, both from where the business is and what the implication is or how it’s generating a positive ROI for the business.  And so, when you think about marketing that’s exactly what marketing does. But, now again, marketing research is not the cutting of edge of technology; it’s not the place you go to see what’s trending – and nor should we be, right? We are by definition scientists. And so, in that ecosystem, we’re still operating about five past, which is, “Well, gosh, I’m going to own the data; I’m going to run this analysis and give you the results, but it’s your job, Mr. Executive…  What is the application of the insight?” That’s where I see a material opportunity for marketing research companies to differentiate themselves by telling their own story and leveraging social media to do that.


Well, I take that even deeper.  I was really fortunate enough to meet Christina.  She’s the brand insights director of Twitter. I met her two years ago at TMRE; she was on a panel with Kristin Luck, and we were talking.  She said something very profound to me, and I was like, “Yes, this is what you need to tell everybody else.” As a market researcher, you can’t go in and take the data and then solve your client’s problem.  You can’t say, “Oh, this is the problem you brought to me. Here’s the person who actually contacted you, developed the research and got it done.” No, you have to solve their boss’s, possibly their boss’s boss’s problem.  So it can’t be anymore like, “Oh, here’s a deliverable.” It has to be so much deeper than that. It’s like, “This is the problem that was presented to me, and this is what we found. And this is what we know about how you guys are going to use it.  And this is how your boss would use it. And this is how your boss’s boss would use it. That is a model.


Oh, my gosh.  So accurate.


That is a model that understands the ideal buyer and actually really understands a buyer journey and understands how to meaningfully provide true value to their client.     


You should listen to the…  Last week I dropped the interview with Kantar’s Chief Digital Officer Stephen DiMarco and EVP Ann Green.  In that interview, they actually start talking about this specific subject – really getting to the “why” of the data as opposed to being more data for information sake.       


Right, well, everybody is saying that we do have a lot of data, but do we know what the data says?  As with anything, in the industry there’s going to be trends: “We need more data.” or “No, you already have the data.  You just don’t know it.” So, the insights are there. Can we uncover them? I think this is age-old in that sense, but I think that it’s absolutely meaningful how we continue to discuss it.  


Are you seeing Twitter, LinkedIn as a pivotal part of the strategy of some of your customers?


Not some, just say, “Yes, all.”  [laughter] Twitter, yeah… Whether someone came to us and they already had a Facebook is six of one, half dozen of the other.  Now, it’s incredibly important if they’re actually recruiting in any way. So, we have to really divide and say where is someone recruiting and then where is someone actually going to market as B to B, as a market research firm.  There is a good differentiation there, but, as far as professional’s concerned, there is Twitter, there is LinkedIn. And we even have specialized programs that go even deeper. We have done for you programs called Amplify, which is a done-for-you-service, where we take over an exec’s LinkedIn in our SOAR system:  different lead magnets, different really valuable downloads that we’ve written specifically to answer your problem, your boss’s problem, your boss’s boss’s problem. So, we help clients actually develop those lead magnets so that they can get predictable and sustainable lead generation. But some of it is how do we get out there authentically, how do we really make the best use and leverage LinkedIn and Twitter.  It’s funny; I’m so glad you said that #mr and #mrx. Those are the two that we use all of the time. Obviously, you’re going to add a couple of others, and we do get into a lot of hashtag strategy. But, for sure, we’ve actually explained that to a couple of MR firms, and they were not aware of it. And they have not been really understanding the power of the hashtag and how to really rise above the noise on social.  And I find that MR firms, in general – and I don’t want to just completely bash anybody but they’re not very good at social. And the few of them that are fantastic at Twitter, really, I think, very easily soar and take that lead. And so, I think maybe that’s a quick takeaway for one of your listeners. I’ve really been hesitating doing that but that really is where solid conversations are happening in a very quick environment but also, I believe, a very highly professional environment.  So I think it’s very noteworthy and I don’t think it’s going away in market research. Now, I was just beginning IIeX Bangkok for their Asia-Pacific one and, of course, as soon as you move into another culture like that, of course, they’re online or they’re on the social platform. They’re on WeChat. They’re on something different. They’re not always on the same thing, but Twitter and LinkedIn gets you pretty close to the global catch-all.


Yeah, for sure.  Are you seeing Facebook…?  I should actually rephrase the question.  How are you seeing Instagram and Facebook play into your customer strategy?


Well, I think Instagram for us – again, I’ll come back to say everybody’s strategy is going to be a bit different, but Instagram may deliver a lot of hits in terms of people understanding cultures; maybe what is it going to be like to work with them.  Specifically, when we talk about design and how you actually… what the deliverables are in market research, the people who can really show that visually in Instagram, I believe, win, making something very interesting, displaying the solution to an insight…, driving meaning from that insight in an interesting, very quick infographic.  That’s going to win on Instagram. Now, visual and video and everything else obviously is going to win on other profiles. But with Facebook, it really has to do with really where is this company, where did they come from, what’s their story, and what are they trying to reach. But Facebook in my personal opinion, unless there’s a really great other reason, in general, we don’t put a lot of effort into that.  

Now, there’s always an exception.  I have a translation company that serves the market research firm, G3 Translate, and they have done a very good job because they have transcribers all over the world.  And so, Facebook drives for them, and that’s great. So, it’s all about coming back and saying, “I don’t want to choose my channel. I want to choose my strategy and then figure out what channel will help me.”  And I liken it this way. You liked my analogy about the optometrist, so I’ll give you another one. I like to do this with a roomful of market researchers. And I’m like, “You guys love data. Here we go. Raise you hand if you like Uber. Raise your hand if like Lyft.”  And I do a quick poll. And then I say at the end, “Raise your hand if the last time you got in Uber or Lyft, you said to the driver, ‘Hey, just take me anywhere you want to go.’” Of course, no takers. But that’s what we do with social media. We say, “Oh, yeah, I’m going to get on Facebook.“  And guess what: Facebook is going to drive you where Facebook wants you to go. And if you don’t know your strategy, if you don’t know that address, it’s a waste of time. The analogy extends: you just get lost. So, it’s really about coming back and saying it’s not about choosing the channel; it’s about choosing your strategy and then finding what will support your strategy.             


Oh, I love that.  It’s just so funny.  I just did an article, posted an article on Sunday, yesterday on the difference between LinkedIn posts versus articles and how to understand the statistics that it provides.  And, as I went through that period of discovery, I actually have two screenshots: one of the in-article and then one of the normal in-post feed… what that view looks like. And I highlight where the ads are.  And what’s interesting is there’s no ads, native ads, inside of the article framework. So, that was a big ah-hah moment for me in terms of, “Holy moly, a big opportunity if I can provide, if I can get people into this part of my funnel.  But it’s harder. My number of views are inherently less by a meaningful magnitude.


On the other hand, there are other things to consider as well because LinkedIn is a highly trafficked platform, and it is providing a link if you use the hyperlink back to your site.   So, in terms of building authority on search engines, there’s a freebie right there.


Yeah, exactly.  That’s a great hack.  Gosh, we should do a full…  You know what we should do? I’m serious.  We should at least twice a year marketing hacks podcast where we do things like just what’s working.  I’ll tell you one right now that I’m seeing on Twitter: If you see somebody on MR web, they do their daily… and then inside of that, they’ll have people that have been promoted.  So, on Twitter and LinkedIn, if you just give them a shout-out, all of a sudden you create a point of connection that costs you nothing, right, costs you nothing. If I was starting from zero today on my Twitter, I would just have the discipline of 30 minutes a day, doing exactly that.  You would blow your Twitter up.


Well, here’s another one.  We’ll give one for Facebook and then one for LinkedIn.  So LinkedIn, a lot of people are like, “Oh, I can’t reach these people.  I don’t want to pay for the Premium. You know they’re trying to find people who they’re not connected with.  They’re trying to get introductions and everything. But if they go into an industry and they join a lot of groups, the groups bring everybody directly into level 2 to you.  You have access to connect with people who are involved in the other groups. So, you immediately can expand your network very quickly. That’s a great hack there.


That’s a huge one by the way.


But then also like on Facebook, if you are using Facebook and you’re running those ads, a lot has changed, and I’m sure by the time this publishes, this will be out-of-date.  Again, I always point back to channels; they love themselves: Facebook loves Facebook. Don’t post a Facebook post and repost it over on Twitter. That doesn’t work. Don’t take YouTube and… embed things.  But the point is that, if you’re running ads on Facebook, you run them and you put the money in and they do really well right at the beginning. And everybody’s like “Great, great, OK. I hope we can replicate that.”  And then they get worse, and they get worse and worse. So, you have to actually… (I know this is a horrible pain in the butt, but I’m telling you it works) And you have to completely delete the ad and start a new one over;  put the new money; put the new stuff and it will perform again at the beginning because that is what Facebook is doing. PS: Facebook is a money maker, and how they make money is they actually get ad sales. These things go out, and they want to really use that budget up at the beginning, but we see the effects of it.


This is such an important hack, two great hacks, the Facebook one.  But I want to piggyback on the point that you said, which is pain in the butt, right?  The reason… But this is the point is that… You’re right. It is very hard to create a content calendar like you started with to delete and recreate and delete and recreate successful campaigns to maximize your ROI.  The reason most people don’t do it is it’s hard, but it gives such a big opportunity, such a big gap. This is why I don’t mind giving away everything in terms of knowledge because it’s about the execution of it systematically over time that generates success, not about just having the knowledge or the idea.      


Well, absolutely.  Everybody says to me, “Priscilla, we run our own Facebook ads.”  “Yeah, OK, good.” [laughter] They’re hard. I didn’t say it was hard.  “We started our own Facebook. Yeah, it’s free, you know.” “Good for you.”  That’s just one small, just small sliver of the kinds of things that we know that we’ve learned the hard way.  And so, the question is “Do you want learn every single thing the hard way?”

Here’s another one about content and blogging.  This drives me nuts. It’s not just about the MR industry, but I see it a lot in the MR industry, specifically because you have a lot of thought leaders.  They write very good articles like very intense and sometimes long, and it’s a one-off. A whole presentation to go speak at whatever and it’s like a book.  They get up, and they speak. They don’t turn the recorder on. Well, every time I speak, I turn the recorder on because you know what? I’m going to go get that transcribed; there’s a blog.  Because we all say it differently, we process information and we bring amazing insights sometimes spontaneously because we know what we’re talking about. But when we sit down to write, a different brain happens.  And so, it doesn’t always come out that same way. And people always say, “Well, I don’t have the time to write a blog.” I’m like, “Well, you had time to speak.” So, why not turn the recorder on? And then once they do create that blog, so we kind of have to demystify the “Ay-Ay I wrote a blog.”  Look, can we make it a little easier here to write a blog and get more long format content. Well, from the long format content, that’s all they get. They post it one time and “Yeah, it didn’t get much traction.” Oh, my gosh, I would not write a blog without putting it on LinkedIn 12 times this year, without making it an article on LinkedIn to your point, without tweeting it once a week for the next year.  Of course, I’m going to change my content a little bit; I’m going to write to my personas; I’m going to do a different graphic. And, of course, like what you’re saying, to your point, is that it’s not hard. It’s just a pain in the butt. But our entire system is calendarized to where… When I say, “Write a blog,” what I really mean is “Write a blog and do these 53 checklist items that are on the end.”


Yeah, over a long tail.  This is the point that I think people just…  If they could execute against it. And this is where I think companies like Little Bird Marketing are so powerful and offer such a material ROI opportunity to your customers.  If you invest the time – and market researchers are great at this, at creating pillar content, if you can convert that written word into audio and/or video… Even if you can’t, that’s fine.  But, let’s just pretend, you can to one of those other two formats. Now you’ve got a podcast, right? Or now you’ve got a systematic webinar. And then the best part about it is: dissect it, pick.  And now you’ve got all this micro-content that feeds up and drives on your two main social platforms, LinkedIn and Twitter, over time. So, that attraction, the value that you add. You know the problem is, I think, a lot of people, they try something once, like they’ll post an article on LinkedIn that’s very thoughtful and in-depth and could even be revolutionary but, because they don’t get the 10,000 views and become the next whatever, they’re disheartened.  Like “Oh, screw this. I’m not going to invest in it anymore.” Right?


I always tell everybody if I just keep at this nine more years, I’m going to become an overnight success.  


Right.  [Laughter]  That’s right. Time is…  Hey, I got to tell you this one story ‘cause you’re going to appreciate this.  So, one of my clients… We’re having this conversation. I’m like, “Listen, man, we just got to start.”  So, we created the calendar. We wrote a… we, being him and then some work obviously with the team… created a LinkedIn post.  We’re not talking about anything complex, maybe 400 words here with one picture that’s not even a great picture. This is his first one that he does after, I think it was, eight months.  70,000 views, right?




I know.  It’s better than anything I’ve done in 2018.  


Oh, my gosh!


I’m so upset about this positive outcome because he’s like, “Oh, well, this shit’s easy.”  


Oh, my gosh!  Well, I wish that were more common, but…


That never happens.


I always tell people, and I truly firmly believe, there’s no one action that’s going to save your company.  It’s going to be a million small, little pieces of things, and whether or not they get done. People come to my office all the time.  They have great ideas. Honestly, some of the best ideas even for lead magnets or for events or for whatever it is, a great trade show.  A lot of it comes out of my customers’ mouth. The problem is it falls out; we’re there to catch it; and then we’re actually able to execute on it.  And I think we all agree that in principle, ‘Oh, it’s about executing on the idea.” But few are the companies. I mean you’ve all sat down at strategic meetings.  This is going to be the year we blog; this is going to be the year we get speaking gigs; this is going to be the year, you know… But there’s no step-by-step how to get there.  And that’s where we take the mystery out of it. Then sometimes it is just employing what you said: “OK, we just have to start.”

After we went through the tornado and after the fire, the first gift that I got from one of my best friends when I opened up my new office…  It was sitting on my desk. I opened up the box and pulled it out. And it was just a really beautiful piece of art, but it said on it – it’s kind of making me tear up thinking about – but it said, “Today begin.”  And I was like, “You know what? It took that just overwhelming ‘I’ve got to start completely over.’ No, I can’t; I can just begin today.” And that’s what is important about marketing. The problem is that so many people keep talking about ideas and talking about ideas, and in the end, it’s talking about ideas.       


My guest today has been Priscilla McKinney, President of Little Bird Marketing.  Thank you very much, Priscilla, for joining me today.


You’re so welcome.  I loved every minute.


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

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

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

Find Anne Online:


Website: Beall Research

Find Us Online:

Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor:

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Yes, absolutely.


Tell us a little bit about your thesis.  


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


So, it’s stated?


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


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


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


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


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


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


Exactly, yeah.


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


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

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


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


Only two.  [laughs]


Yeah, OK, that’s a fair point.


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


Exactly, yep.  


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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


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


A little bit.  Is that on Amazon?


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


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


They could reach me by phone or by email.  


Your website is…


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

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Find Kylan Online: 



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Social Media: @happymrxp



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


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


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


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


And what year is that?


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


Yeah, so, …


The other piece…


I’m sorry.  Go ahead.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Is it 360 performance assessment?


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


Sure, yeah, yeah.


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


You mean outside of our research offering for academics?




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


That’s exactly right.  


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


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


So, do you have children?  


I do.  Four kids, four kiddos.  


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


[laughs]  I hope not.  


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


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


Thanks for having me.  Great to be here.


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

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


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

Ep. 209 – Merrill Dubrow – Two Tips On Building A Better You And A Better Business

My guest today is Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research. M/A/R/C was founded in 1965 and was recently purchased from Omnicom by the company’s CEO, Merrill Dubrow. Prior to joining M/A/R/C in 2004, Merrill held senior roles at Harris Interactive, BizRate and Quick Test.





M/A/R/C Research 



Social Media: @happymrxp



On Episode 209 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m chatting of Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, but first a word from our sponsor.


Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil.  You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research.  M/A/R/C was founded in 1965, later purchased by Omnicom, and recently purchased by the company’s CEO, Merrill Dubrow.  Prior to joining M/A/R/C in 2004, Merrill held senior roles at Harrison Interactive, BizRate, and Quick Test. Merrill was an OG on my podcast Episode 105.  Sir, thank you very much for being on the podcast with me today.


Thanks, Jamin.  It’s a pleasure to be here. 


So, what did your parents do?  And how has that informed your current career?


You know that’s an interesting question for me for a couple of reasons.  Number 1 – My dad, I think, was much easier to see in how he kind of molded my career.  He was a business guy; he ended up to be a CFO for a company called Miniplex. He was very hardworking.  He made the most of his skill set. He was an overachiever. You know, frankly, I wanted to be him. Later in life, that was too lofty a goal, so I just actually wanted to half of the person he was.  He was clearly my hero and taught me so much. I think the biggest takeaway was really making the most of your skill set.

With my mom, Jamin, it was just a little bit different; it was a little bit harder to see; it was a little bit harder to understand the impact of what she had on what she had on my career and how she really brought me up.  You know she was very organized. My mom was extremely outgoing. My dad is the exact opposite; he is an introvert. She was very detail-oriented, and she was in charge of dressing my two sisters and myself in terms of picking out clothes.  I can still remember going and getting my first suit, probably crying and yelling and screaming every step of the way, went to a store called Milton’s in Newton, Massachusetts. But she was very instrumental on my career because I just didn’t see it right away, right?  So, being organized and having great time management skills and being really detail-minded. And actually, one of the things she taught me was notice everything. So I tend to notice everything there is out there. I may not comment on it. So it just really differences between my parents.  You know my dad was much more of the business, the hard skills, and my mom was more of the softer skills. Both of them are incredible people. Unfortunately, I lost my dad in September. I lost my hero, but I think about him every day. And my mom is still going strong at 82 and pretty impressive, as I say, young lady.


So, you are a well-respected speaker in the market research area.  In fact, I think you just spoke at the Insights show in Las Vegas.


Yeah, I did.  Thank you, first of all.  I think it was a great, really, really, really great conference.  A big shout out to Lisa from Decision Analyst and Alice Butler on our team was heavily involved.  And Jami Pulley from Critical Mix/Dynata, she asked me to present and she’s a very, very good friend of mine.  They had about 150 or 180 people there, and it was a very successful conference. Yes, I did present on kind of transformation and changes of what’s going on with M/A/R/C, and how we did, what we did, and all that comes along with that.         


So, before we actually talk about the transformation that’s happened inside of M/A/R/C, I want to kind of dig in a little bit as it relates with…  You are, and I’ve heard you speak, probably half a dozen times. Every time, I walk away and think it’s great. In fact, one of our employees here at PureSpectrum, Travis, he wrote a summary piece, in which he wrote about your talk and how it was one of the big highlights for him in the event.  And so, my question is really… It’s interesting that your parents, your mom being more of the extrovert, and your dad – the business-minded introvert have that stark difference. How has their lenses or your lens of them, how has that helped you be strong communicator?   


You know my dad…  It’s interesting. If it takes 30 words to answer a question, my dad used 21; my mom used 4,000 and is still talking.  [Jamin laughs] So I tend to be a storyteller; my stories tend to go on a little bit. That I got from my mom, and my directness from time to time I got from my dad.  You know, Jamin, it’s interesting because I remember my first speech that I ever did. I was asked to present, and it was at the Gaylord down in Nashville. Back in the day, for most of the people (They may not even know what this was) but I used to write your notes on what’s called index cards, right?  And I remember having the index cards up on stage my first time in my probably 23, 24 years old, and I remember visibly shaking with the index card. My voice was cracking. And I was smart enough to know from a number of my mentors like John Bonney and Sanford Schwartz and Mary Ann Shaffer, just a whole host of people who helped me along the way, taught me that, if you really want to be successful and you want to get your ideas across and you want to have people understand your ideas, you have to be a good communicator, right?  If you think about it, Jamin, people can have great ideas, but if they can’t communicate effectively what they are and the value, they’re not going anywhere. So, it really started early in my career to hone in on that skill and… I think if we really give some thought to when you go to conferences, how many presenters are really top in the research community? Is it 20%? Is it 25%? So, I think if you are really an OK presenter, you get elevated a little bit in the research community because I think that people don’t work on that craft as much as they should or could.  


Yeah, there’s a ton that we could unpack relevant to speaker hacks and practice and all of that.  I, personally, have always enjoyed your interactive style of presentation. I think every time I’ve heard you speak, there’s been some level of audience or a person’s inside of the audience participation in your talks.  And I think that just is an excellent idea and also something that you know we could all of us learn from because as soon as that happens, for me there’s always two things that take place. One is that I go from passive to active ‘cause I’m terrified you’re going to call on me, right?  And the other thing is when I’m in that active mind, I’m processing along with you and thinking about the framework that your dad provided answering in 30 words using 21. I really like that because the rule of thumb right now is, as a speaker, you have to earn the right to be heard every 20 seconds when you’re giving a presentation.  Because we live in this headline context, it becomes really important that we can consolidate and summarize the actual takeaways and the key points in a way that is memorable and repeatable.


I think you bring up some really good points.  If you went to Quirks, or if you go to IIEX, or if you go to TMRE, and you say, “OK, I’m going to go see 15 presenters.”  And the cost of that is… let’s just put up a cost of $1500, right? So it’s a $100 a speech basically. One of my mottos, when I present, is I want everybody in the room to take away one or two things that they can integrate into their business the second they get back to their office, OK?  I have trouble with going to… see an author present on automation or technology. I understand what they’re saying, but I have trouble forming a link between what they just said and integrating that into my business right away, right? So I try to use practical experience; I try to use real life examples; I tell it like it is.  I got up on stage last week, and I made mention of a ton of mistakes that I’ve made along the way. Why? Not to poke fun of myself, but to say, “Look, we’re all human; we’re all in this together, and you’ve got to learn by those mistakes.” I think that’s really, really incredible.

You want it to be memorable, right?  You want it to be something that people say, “Oh, you know, he’s a little crazy,” which I am.  I’ve done to make a point… You know I usually present in a suit and tie, a red tie; I usually have a Coca-Cola on stage; I usually have a thing of water, and I walk around a lot.  I’m not a podium guy. To make a point, I basically threw off the suit and threw away the soda once. And I actually took off all my clothes and got down to basically shorts and a T-shirt and actually flip flops.  And I presented that way.  And the point I was trying to get across was get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   And the reality is there’s a lot of people who are uncomfortable in situations, but they don’t ever get comfortable with that.  And that’s the point I was trying to make. And people still remember that, and they talk about it.

A few years ago at the CEO Summit, I did the closing, standing on a table.  And I went LeBron: I ripped up all my notes and I threw it and people sent me pictures.  But they remember that because you want to have those takeaways and integrate those within your business.   If you don’t, you’ve wasted time and money. I mean people don’t realize it, Jamin, if they go conference, if they went to Qualtrics this week…   So, let’s assume that it’s three days, three-and-a-half days. Well, if you boil it down, that’s 1.6% of the whole year that they spent at Qualtrics.  Now, I’m not saying that Qualtrics wasn’t a great conference; I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it; and I’m not saying there weren’t takeaways. But let’s just for argument sake, say there wasn’t.  They’ve wasted one-and-a-half – 1.6% of their entire year at that conference. That’s a big chunk, right? I mean if you think about it. And I think that, as a presenter, I’ve always felt that you’ve got to deliver; you’ve got to make sure…  That’s why when I get off stage, I talk to Jami Pulley, and I was like, “Was that what you expected? Did I deliver?” Because, if not, shame on me. And I’m not doing it to get on a plane. I’m not doing it from an ego standpoint. I’m doing it to give something back.  That’s the only reason to do it. And I take it seriously, and I want to be the highest rated presenter, and I want to continue to get better each and every time I present. That’s my goal.


This principle of adding value as opposed to asking is something that all of us can learn a lot from.  I was meeting with one of my marketing managers yesterday, Molly, and in the conversation, we were retooling an outbound direct mail piece.  Super straightforward. We’ve all seen them. We all get them, probably a hundred today, right? Nothing particularly magical about it. We retooled the whole thing so that not once did we (1) have an ask or (2) talk about ourselves.   It was entirely based on adding value to the customer and giving them shortcuts to their insights that they could employ literally that very day in their company. If can change the way that we communicate from… ‘cause nobody cares about us as much as I like to think they wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get to this podcast, right?  I mean at the end of the day, what people really care about is themselves. And so, the reason that people will keep tuning in, just using Happy Market Research as an example, is because they are connecting with the fantastic guests, and they’re finding value in the content that we’re generating, and it’s making themselves or their business experiences better at some regular intervals, right?  We have to move away from this level of entitlement and into a level of… We really are marketing our sales efforts, our personal brands; the strength of those is really a direct relationship to how much value we’ve added in the communities, whether it’s at home or in business.


I could not agree with you more.  Totally, totally agree. I think it’s just well said; it  really is. And I believe it.


So, let’s talk a little bit about M/A/R/C.  This is a company that has been around for decades.  You’ve been the CEO for some of those, and recently you acquired the business.  What was your thesis going into it and going into that process? I know as a previous CEO, that’s a heavy lift, trying to do a acquisition, especially out of an Omnicom.  What was your thesis going into that, into that process?


Yeah.  Just getting to the other side of it.  I don’t think I knew every piece of what was going to have to been done until I was on the other side of it.  I’m extremely fortunate, Jamin, that I have a great support system. My parents did a great job teaching my sisters and myself how to stand on our own two feet.  And being in the for 35 plus years, I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a lot of industry contacts that are great friends of mine, confidants, mentors, and people that have tremendous experiences:  so, like yourself, Jamin, and Steve Schlesinger. And I reported at one time to a guy named Sandy Schwartz. Being able to call on those people and having them help you get to the other side of this… And I remember something that Steve Schlesinger had said.  At beginning, he said, “Look, you’re not going to see every move that you got to make right now today. Just take it one day at a time.” And I know that’s… everybody in sports says, “OK, you know, we’re going to take it one game at a time, right?” But it really level set it a little bit because I believed in the company, I believed in the strategy, I believed in the legacy.  And I wanted to see this through, and I wanted to make sure that I did it the right way. But to have that support system in my corner to bounce things off of from time to time really, really helped me. So it was really just, “Get to the other side and continue to have it be seamless, to have no bumps, to have business as usual.” As it turned out, we, frankly, were able to do that.       


I’m not sure if you can…  I’m not sure how much of this you can divulge, but I am really interested in this.  As the CEO of the company owned underneath Omnicom, I have to believe you had a very attractive compensation plan.  Where was the motivation to take it, take control the company on an absolute basis? What was on the other side of that that made that risk worth it?    


Well, it’s probably TBD, right, ‘cause the final chapters haven’t been written.  They won’t be written for many, many years. When that is written, you can ask me the question again.  But what I think is going to happen is this, and what has happened. You know Omnicom… I’d been there from 14½ years.  Great company. They, in Q3, the beginning of Q3, they were selling a company that they’d owned for 25 or 30 years that they were going to make a fair amount of money. They wanted to take the opportunity to divest a number of companies in Q3 that strategically didn’t fit into their strategy, moving forward, right?  So I met with my bosses, two of them on the East coast, and quickly, it was, “Look, we’ve got to list, and M/A/R/C is on the list. And here are some choices of what we can do here. But, whatever we do, you got to tell me quickly, like less than a week. And, “Oh, by the way, it has to happen in Q3.” And, Oh, by the way, we were already in Q3.  So, Jamin, you know the deal; you’ve looked a number of companies when you were all over the place at FocusVision and a number of other spots. Doing your due diligence can take a little bit of while, but having been the CEO for 14 years, I didn’t have to do due diligence. I knew about the company, the strategy, the people; I knew what things we could do, what things we couldn’t do, and decided that again the legacy, the company, the strategy, the people within it wanted to continue that and was able to work out an arrangement with Omnicom, a deal to buy the company.  I had to personally guarantee everything, I felt comfortable with that because of the team we have and strategy that we developed and the partners such as Zappi and such as PureSpectrum, who can help us get to the other side of this.


And that kind of leads into really another question from me about that process because it’s expensive to buy a company.  I was wondering, was it a debt service or rich grandpa, or were you able to do it through leveraging other private equity, another private equity entity?    


There’s no rich grandpa.  Both my grandpas, unfortunately, passed away a long, long, long time ago.  I only met one. My dad was able to retire very early in life at 50½, which is amazing, and didn’t have to go back to work. I still, to this day, have no idea how he was able to do it and how he was able live for 30+ years on what he had, but it did, and he lived a great life.  No, it was all done… I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the deal but it was… My parents were poor growing up. It’s interesting, Jamin, that my mom didn’t have her own bed until she was 22 years old. She shared a bed with her aunt. I think six people lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Montreal.  Anything that my dad accomplished was self-made. If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s self-made. I was able to draw on certain dollars that I had and then be able develop and pay Omnicom over some time. That was the mechanics. I bought the balance sheet of it. I bought, obviously, that means that I bought the receivables, but I also bought the payables.  So it has been an interesting go because we’ve… the transition happened about a little over six months ago, and I pulled the band aid off. So, what does that mean? So, nobody knew, and that was a hard part of what I did because I had to keep a big secret that I was doing this and, oh by the way, a mile and a half away, I was building a 9,000 square foot office.  So I would leave secretly for 45 minutes here and there for meetings over at the new office and pick out tile and pick out rugs and colors and blah-blah-blah, and had to put up walls and tear down walls. That was the hardest part: built an office in 28 days. So we did that. Every system that we have now is totally new. So, we have a new accounting system; we have a new payroll system; we have new benefits; we have new 401K; we have new IT; we have a new office here.  The last thing is I’m in the process of building a new office in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that, thankfully, with the lead of Rob Arnett and Brad Sypel and Susan Hanks, have done a magnificent job, taking that. And that’ll be unveiled in about two weeks… our new office there. But everything else is new and was able to put my stamp on it in terms of we did some different twists with the 401K plan that we set up. It’s been really unbelievable; it’s been a whirlwind.  It’s been… we’re moving at light speed. I can’t believe it. At one time down the road, I’ll think back and said, “Wow! How did we pull this off, but I think it was because of the talent at M/A/R/C and the trust that we had within each other and the belief that we had one common goal, which is just move this company forward. It’s been really amazing, very touching.

I’ll tell you a quick story, Jamin.  When I was going to announce the change in ownership, I was going to do it on a Monday.  And the reason I was going to do it on a Monday is because I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s weekend, right?  I didn’t want anybody to panic; I didn’t want anybody to freak out. Unfortunately, my dad had passed away, which is interestingly enough about an hour after the deal was finalized, which I think it was his time to go and he just said, “OK, Merrill, you’re good.  You’re on your own. I’ve seen this one through as well.” So I announced the change of ownership on a Friday, instead of a Monday, because I had to fly down to Florida for my dad’s funeral and to do the eulogy, which was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life – 40 minutes talking about my hero, who had just passed away.  I remember specifically what some people had done. It’s a little bit of a blur, but people like Jennie Lovejoy, who is on our team, started a round of applause and was just really gracious with her comments. And they gave me a standing O; the company gave me a standing O, and they thanked me for doing what I did. And there’s been no looking back.  It’s been an amazing journey with this team that we have. I knew that they were amazing and great, but experiencing what we have, Jamin, brought it to a different level.   


Isn’t it interesting how we as a community knit together during those particular times even to the next level?  So, you think, “OK, my team, my management team, my staff we’re all in; then, all of a sudden, you have some major milestone or hill that’s been taken or whatever achievement, and then it just levels up the whole team.  I think that really speaks to the importance of culture inside of an organization and the accessibility to the executive team in order to… not from a self-serving perspective but just to make sure that it’s a genuine place where people want to, can, in fact, thrive.    


I think you’re a 100% right.  You know it’s interesting because back in 2005 a good friend of mine, Paul Kirch, was going to work for Jude Olinger, Olinger Group, down in New Orleans.  And then, unfortunately, Katrina hit, a Category 5 hurricane hit, and really left tremendous damage in New Orleans. And I remember… The thing I remember most about that is for 36 hours, I would dial Jude Olinger’s number every ten minutes, trying to get in touch with him.  And, finally, I did, and I said, “Look, I’m sorry about what’s going on with your great city and your company and your staff. If you can get yourself to Dallas, you can work out of our office. You can all stay in my house for as long as you need. If you need food, if you need money, whatever you need, we’re here.”  And I think that when something happens like that, when, all of a sudden, there is a change of ownership… I kind of forgot that people kind of rally, right, and are excited about what’s next and just want to help any way possible. And that’s really what’s happened with the M/A/R/C team. It’s really meant a tremendous amount to me, my family, and even shed a tear or two along the way.   


So, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming not just the CEO but now the owner?


Yeah, I think you know pulling the band aid off.  Most companies that divest from Omnicom keep their shared services for a fairly long time, whether that is accounting or IT or even in the same location.  And I didn’t do that. We pulled the band aid off tremendously quickly. So, within less than a month, we had little to no shared services. That’s number 1 that I think has been a little bit challenging.  I think understanding for me, personally… understanding a little bit more of, “OK, some of my day now has to go towards not just receivables, and billings, and not just cash flow and working capital and the bank account and making sure you have a line of credit, making sure that you have a great working and banking relationship that goes hand in hand.”  You know I didn’t have to do that at Omnicom. Omnicom took care of that and did an amazing job with that. So that never fell on any of the CEOs. Sure, we knew about the receivables and what it was, but we didn’t agonize over it as much as we do now and worry about it. So that’s really been the biggest challenge: probably repurposing a little bit of my time, and it’s changed my sort of to-do list every day.


Yeah, I think there’s a few that really jump out.  Number 1 – now that we’re able to invest in what we want to invest in, our senior team looked at ourselves in the mirror, and myself led that charge and said, “OK, we need a new leadership model.  We need some help with some strategy and, rather than the six or eight or ten of us whatever it is continuously working on that, we brought in an outside consultant, Bill Morley, who did a really good job with that and helped us streamline things.  He put us through some really interesting tasks that I think on the surface even, is this really going to work and it did. It was really, really solid. So I think one of our successes was admitting that you need some outside help, number 1. Number 2 – we used the tool called the AcuMax index, which has helped us with reporting structures.  It is a tool that assesses your talent, how you integrate within a company, and it helps you with hiring and training and integrating. That’s helped us tremendously. Whereas the past few years, we’ve had high team turnover rate, we’ve had not one person leave; not one person has left the company. And I think that they believe in what we’re doing, and they want to see this through too.  I think that’s the biggest success: the fact is we’ve been able to do it with this team. Jamin, you’ve been through a lot of acquisitions. And a lot of them there’s tremendous transition, right? You don’t have a spot with them. Typically, it doesn’t always go. OK, there’s some type of ownership change, and every single person in the company has a job. And every single person in the company stays six months later.  It’s not usually the same, but that’s what’s happened here. I think we have a huge success is the line of products from do-it-yourself, what we call accelerated, that we have in our pipeline is pretty impressive.

Zappi has been an amazing partner; PureSpectrum’s been an amazing partner. And I think if there is one takeaway from anything I say today, it’s “Find the right partners.”  And that’s different from finding a partner. Anybody can find a partner. But, as you know, most partnerships don’t work; most product launches don’t work. Find a partner that works that communicates the same way you do, that your goals line up tremendously and that you have the right strategy and the right partnership and right clients and the right staff to move your business forward.  And I think if one of those doesn’t line up, the product’s not going to be successful. So we’ve had some tremendous success with that in the last year or so and especially in the last six months.


You know the point that you made about investing in the company…  Staff, you know, your tribe, they feel that. There’s a tangible, a tangibleness to that.  I mean it’s not technically tangible, but it is. I mean I’m confident it’s measurable at a minimum.  And that creates a lot of buy-in and excitement and enthusiasm. It’s interesting if, if… you think about you and …  I’ll pick on an interview I’d heard (this goes back at least a decade) with Jeff Bezos where he’s talking about, “I don’t care about the short-term performance of the stock.  I’m thinking about what’s it going to look like in seven years.” Having that kind of a view and then having the autonomy to be able to act on that point of view is a very, very powerful weapon.       


Yeah, you know, culture to me is very important.  If you think about the time you’re at work, going to work, thinking about work, driving home from work, it’s probably 70% of your awake time.   And, if you’re not going to enjoy yourself then, you’re not going to have a happy life, right? The culture here is very important. We’ve established so many different programs since the ownership change.  So, one is training. You go like, “Merrill, that’s kind of basic. You put in training. Yeah, because we had to cut out a lot of that under our prior ownership.” I’m sending someone to Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting to hear Charlie Munger and to hear Warren Buffett.  It’s called the Rising Star Conference. And we’re investing in our staff that way and sending them there. They’ll be waking up at 4 a.m. to go see the annual meeting. That’s something that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do. We’re sending five people to a Haiti trip with Jim Bryson with the Joseph School later this year.   And, it’s going to be five people who are in different aspects of our business; so it might be a project manager, a research manager or an account manager, maybe a DA or something like that. So we’ve got a lot of task force that we’ve set up. We made a lot of mistakes where we had a senior team really trying to move the business forward and were doing everything, including our day jobs.  Well, we have had a lot more task force set up. We’ve got our goals now connected to business objectives. We developed this leadership model. We’ve also got… You know, admitting we made mistakes, admitting that I made mistakes in front of the whole company, that really helps a lot. We’ve got what we call a mark dialog team and a fun committee. So they tell us what fun are we going to have.  

I mean I walked over to somebody on the…   we do a year-end video… who’s putting together the year-end video.  I said, “KVD, I have a few ideas on the year-end video.” And I said, “Here they are, B-dah, B-dah, B-dah.”  “Yeah, Merrill, you know that’s great but I think we’re going in a different direction this year, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to incorporate them,” which translation means “We’re NOT incorporating them, but thanks.” And the reason I tell you that little boring story that happened yesterday was I love the fact that she felt strong enough to say that to me, right?  Most people would have said, “OK, I’ll put it in there.” But, if it doesn’t go into their strategy of what they’re trying to do and project, then good for her to say, “No,” right? And we’ve got a lot of that. We have… You know we had everybody redo all of our printers, what we call our printers. Before it was Dirk, and before we had our conference rooms were named like Hendricks, Presley, and Lennon, right, for John Lennon and Elvis Presley and Jimmy Hendricks.  I could never get them to do Boston ‘cause we would have a constant argument about the band Boston wasn’t that big although I think they were big. We’re just having a lot of fun while we’re accomplishing a great amount for our clients and driving insight and making sure we’re delivering on each and every project. It’s a good time; it really is. It’s a fun time; it’s a good time. People really enjoying themselves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              


You talk a lot about mistakes, and I do too even in a public setting.  What is one that stands out to you and what was the learning from it?


Time, time.  I think that two things jump out at me. Number 1 is what I’ll call a 16-month dance.  So, when you hire a new employee, for five or six months, they’ll come in and everything they say is fresh, and you’re excited, “Oh, I got it right this time.”  And then there’s three or four months of scratching your head. You’re like, “Really, I thought I heard that.” And then there’s three or four months, “OK, I made another mistake.  Now what do I do?” So that adds up to like the 16-month dance; it’s what I call a Merrillism. And I’m trying to cut that down. How do you cut that down to eight or nine months? How do you minimize the mistakes that you’ve made?  

The other one is…  I was at my daughter’s soccer game.  If you remember, Jamin, for anybody listening who has a daughter or son who plays soccer, if the ball, as a youngster (an 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year old), if the ball goes to the left, the entire team goes to the left.  When the ball goes to the right, the entire team goes to the right. And that’s really what I felt the market research community is. Biometrics – bam! Everybody goes after it. Sentiment analysis, iTracking, right?  The new one is AI. And I finally realized we took a lot of passes at Big Data and whether it was sentiment analysis a few different times, and social listening. The problem is it wasn’t successful for us: whether we didn’t have the right clients, we didn’t have the right strategy, we didn’t have the right tools, we didn’t have the right staff.  It didn’t matter. And I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. And that’s why we were in search of our partners. We really spent a lot time on our partnerships this time, and we’re honored to call Zappi and Ryan Berry and his entire team a partner of ours. We’re excited to call PureSpectrum and Michael McCrary and Jamin and Travis and everybody connected to your company a partner.  We’re honored; we take that seriously. And I think we did a much better job with that this time, and it’s really paying off dividends. If you think about personal assessment and if you have self-awareness, I think you’re much better off in business. How many people, Jamin, or what percentage of the people really are self-aware and know really who they are? ‘Cause I think it’s pretty low.             


Yeah, I totally agree with that.  And I think it transcends business and applies to life.  




So, market research, as you said, is a bit of a game of swarm ball but, if you kind of separate from that view, how do you think market research is going to be different in five years?


You know I think consolidation is going to continue to really streamline this industry.   So, when you think about everything that’s happened. You’ve got Dynata, which is the old Research Now, right?  So, they pick up SSI and that dust on that acquisition, I don’t even think, is dry yet, and Wow! Boom!, now they’ve got Critical Mix, in it as well.  I can tell you that in the past week I’ve heard from five to seven people who all are either selling their company or looking to buy companies. Not going to mention any names, but the reality is consolidation is really going to not just continue.  I think continue at the different rate than we’ve ever seen, number 1. Number 2 – I think that all suppliers are going to forced into doing as consultants. I think that a lot of client organizations are building services in-house, and they’re going to need consultants to really tell them what it means and maybe even implementation.  So does market research go into this marketing spin a little bit more than we have? I think so. I think those are a couple of the big takeaways that are going to happen down the road. I mean everybody is, “Yes, do-it-yourself and accelerated is going to have much more of a high percentage in five years, for sure, for sure. And I think the industry is going to be…  Suppliers are going to be forced to be consultants whether they know how to do it or not. If they don’t know how to do it, they’re not going to be around.


I completely concur with that point of view.  By consultants, in a lot of ways, we’re talking about is adding value to the product they you’re providing or service you’re providing to your customer.  Talk about full circle. So, what is your personal motto?


Wow!  I have a few.  Nine hundred seconds, 15 minutes a day, get better at something.   I don’t care if it’s be a better son, be a better husband, be a better friend, be a better brother, be a better presenter, be a better a better business executive.  Understand social media a little bit better, understand how to put together a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter if it’s personal nature; it doesn’t matter if it’s business.  Take 15 minutes a day; take 900 seconds and get better at something. And I think if you do that, sky’s the limit. You know I’m a classic… I’m never going to be the smartest guy in the room. I’m a classic overachiever or, as one of my contacts in the industry, Roger Green, said to me years and years and years ago, “You’re a talent maximizer.”  I take that as a compliment, and I take that as a tribute to my father, who was the same. Make the most of your skills. I think the worst thing anybody can say to you is, “Oh, there goes blah-blah-blah; they’re an underachiever.” I’d rather get punched in the stomach 1,000 times than have somebody say that about me.


My guest today has been Merrill Dubrow, CEO and owner of M/A/R/C Research.   Merrill, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Jamin, thank you.  I really appreciate it.  It’s been a pleasure being here today.


The honor is all of ours.   Thank you so much for your time.  

Everybody else if you would please do me the kindness of posting this episode on Linkin or Twitter.  It helps other people like you find valuable content. And, as always, if you have thoughts or opinions, you can reach out to me on any platform at Jamin Brazil.  I’m also looking for specific tech companies. So, if you’re market research technology company and you’re interested in being featured for free in one of our technology corner segments, we would love to hear from you.  

Have a great rest of your day.    


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