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

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

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

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

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Find Kylan Online: 

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www.qualtrics.com

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[00:00]

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.

[00:13]

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.

[00:40]  

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.

[01:51]  

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…

[03:10]  

And what year is that?

[03:12]  

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.

[04:36]

Yeah, so, …

[04:38]

The other piece…

[04:38]   

I’m sorry.  Go ahead.

[04:39]

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.”

[06:03]  

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?     

[06:52]

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.

[10:19]

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?

[12:06]

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.

[15:17]

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?

[15:53]

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.

[19:20]  

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

[19:32]

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.

[21:52]

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.

[22:20]

Is it 360 performance assessment?

[22:21]

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

[22:25]

Sure, yeah, yeah.

[22:26]

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

[22:34]   

You mean outside of our research offering for academics?

[22:37]

Yes.

[22:38]      

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

[22:42]

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.     

[23:20]

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.

[26:21]

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.  

[27:17]

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.

[28:24]         

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.

[28:58]

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

[29:00]  

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?

[29:35]  

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.

[35:31]  

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.

[36:38]  

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.”

[38:56]

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.   

[39:47]

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.

[42:05]   

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.

[42:18]

That’s exactly right.  

[42:19]  

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.

[42:34]

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.”

[43:51]

So, do you have children?  

[43:53]

I do.  Four kids, four kiddos.  

[43:55]

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

[44:02]

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

[44:07]

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?

[44:18]  

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.

[47:18]

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.”

[47:56]

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…

[49:48]

[laughs]  I hope not.  

[049:49]

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.

[50:14]

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.

[50:21]

Thanks for having me.  Great to be here.

[50:23]

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!

[50:49]

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.

THIS EPISODE’S SPONSOR:

https://www.schlesingergroup.com/en/solutions/quantitative/

CONTACT MERRILL ONLINE:

LinkedIn

M/A/R/C Research 

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:00]  

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.

[00:10]  

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.

[00:33]  

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.

[01:04]  

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

[01:07]  

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

[01:11]

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.

[03:20]

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.

[03:30]   

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.         

[04:10]

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?   

[05:01]  

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.  

[07:18]

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.

[08:44]

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.

[12:24]

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.

[14:11]

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

[14:21]

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?

[14:51]

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.       

[16:55]  

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?    

[17:29]

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.

[19:52]

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?    

[20:21]

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.   

[25:31]

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.    

[26:19]

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.   

[27:48]

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

[27:55]   

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.

[29:39]   

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.

[32:43]

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.       

[33:33]      

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.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

[36:58]

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?

[37:09]

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.             

[39:40]

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

[39:44]

Absolutely

[39:45]

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?

[39:57]

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.

[41:46]

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?

[42:10]

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.

[43:22]

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.

[43:30]

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

[43:35]

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.    

[44:17]

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. 208 – Michael McCrary – How PureSpectrum Has Redefined Research Automation

Today, my guest is Michael McCrary, Founder and CEO of PureSpectrum. Founded in 2015 PureSpectrum is a modern day technology firm that aims to be the AWS for empowering research automation. Prior to founding PureSpectrum, Michael helped pioneer both Cint as Managing Director and Lucid as President. Additionally, he served as SVP of North American sales for Greenfield Online.

CONTACT MICHAEL ONLINE:

LinkedIn

PureSpectrum

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:00]

On episode 208 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m chatting with Michael McCrary, founder and CEO of PureSpectrum.  But first a word from our sponsor.

[00:09]

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.

[00:37]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Michael McCrary, CEO and founder of PureSpectrum. Founded in 2015, PureSpectrum is a modern-day technology firm that aims to be the AWS for empowering research automation.  Prior to founding PureSpecturm, Michael helped pioneer both Cint as Managing Director and Lucid as President. Additionally, he served as SVP of North American sales for Greenfield Online. Michael, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[01:10]  

It’s my pleasure.  Happy to be here.

[01:12]  

So, we’d like to start the podcast with an introduction of how you wound up in market research, right?   Nobody starts their journey in kindergarten… “I want to be a market researcher.”

[01:27]  

No, they don’t.  [laughter] Interesting question.  Before I got into this industry, I worked in publishing in New York City for a company called Meredith Corporation.  And at Meredith Corporation, I had the responsibility of selling a magazine called Midwest Living.  And being in New York City, the Midwest was thought of as the fly-over states.  So I had to become pretty proficient in using data to support the ad sales initiatives.  It was a beautiful magazine. People on the West Coast would know Sunset as its comp and Southern Living in the South and Yankee…  

[02:10]

We had both, by the way, in our household.

[02:12]

Yeah, me too.  So I knew data, and, oddly enough, I was connected to Keith Price and just outside of business.  And that was the time when Greenfield Online had just sold its customer research business to TNS and was going to be focused exclusively on data collection sample.   

[02:40]  

So, what year is this?  This is like ’99, 2000?

[02:43]

It’s after the dot.com bust.  So it’s around 2002. And I’m in print magazine, and I can see the handwriting on the wall that this isn’t going to go well because you had advertising starting to take off online, but it was …

[03:01]

That was a tough time for print.  

[03:02]

It was still actually good at that time because there was a lot of skepticism.  If you go back to 2002, there was still… Television was still the big, dominant winner in ad dollars.  Print was still pretty big. Now that looks very different today, but nobody really knew exactly what was going to transpire with online.  There were a thousand different sites. This was before automation took place… the exchanges, and the platforms. Just a thousand calls from a thousand websites.  So being in a big company like Meredith gave scale and leverage. So, I knew I wanted to do something online. And I was familiar with data, and it just so happened that Greenfield Online was hiring people to do sales.  And I, obviously, had no idea what I was doing when I got there, but had great… You know, you think about the people who are on Greenfield Online. I’m very proud to say I’m part of the Greenfield Mafia. The people that came out of that company…    

[04:04]

I mean Greenfield, for those who don’t know, they were the early movers in the… and a dominant player by far…in the online sampling space.  Super early, super early. You and… There’s a company called Zoomerang that started right around that same time, now acquired by SurveyMonkey, of course.  They were the go-to source for sample.

[04:27]  

Yeah, it was Zoomerang; you had Greenfield Online; you had Survey Sampling; you had Harris Interactive.

[04:38]

And that was when Survey Sampling was pulling their phone bank into garnering emails for exactly building that list up.

[04:49]

Absolutely, so it was pretty limited competition.  And I’ll never forget actually starting to work there.  For those that work in magazine or ad sales, your year, you can live and die by making the list or not.  So you spend a lot of time proactively selling, giving in to the plan. That’s up front for television. It’s the planning.  You might not be out for the whole year but, if you’re not on the first cut, then you’re constantly behind.   

Then getting into this industry, where I was so used to proactively always selling, always trying to get people to consider Midwest Living, which wasn’t the easiest sell in New York City, I started getting these things called the RFPs and RFQs.   And I just wasn’t used to this like inbound like, “Hey, how much would you charge me to do this, right?” Anyway, I just liked it.  So I almost instantly felt like this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. To me, sampling and market research is both cerebral; there was an element of it being tech and online, which I was happy to be able to say that I was in the online business.  And ever since then, I’ve never had a desire to be out of this industry. I really enjoy what we do and the people that we deal with.

[06:11]

So, talk to me a little bit about… there’s two things that stand out to me.   And I had never actually processed this before. The Greenfield Mafia – I love that!  And that’s exactly right. I mean Hugh Davis, Keith Price, yourself. Who else notably came out of that?     

[06:28]

Alright, so you have George Llorens; so he’s one of the co-founders of Innovate even though they were acquired by Matt Dusig and Gregg Lavin were acquired by Greenfield and we were public. They weren’t part of the GMI or e-Rewards.  For those of you who don’t know, Dynata Research, now e-Rewards back track. I don’t want to forget… Terence McCarron. He has started a successful business of his own.

[07:02]

Lots.

[07:03]  

Richard Thornton, right?  He has a very senior role at Cint, and he was part of Mark Simon, who’s still with Toluna.  So there’s just so many people that have gone on either to be important leaders in companies that became important or founded companies that are important or trying to become important.   

[07:25]

Yeah, it was a super fun time.  It was like a lot of the people that are in leadership right now…  By this I mean like long term, more institutional leadership in the industry – not like hired guns.   I mean they’re still around, and they’re doing freaking crazy things like the Dynata acquisition of Reimagine, yeah.  That was a big deal.

[07:48]

Yeah, that is a big deal.  [laughter] I’m very, very happy for both Research Now as a side group and Keith and Hugh and other people that aren’t known there, like John Almeida and those that are partners in Reimagine ‘cause I really think most people discount how hard it is to start a business, get through the first couple few years, and then to scale it, and then for it to become more valuable than just the founder, to have a business that has scale.  So I’m really happy for Keith and Hugh and John for putting this overnight success of ten years together.

[08:25]

Yeah, I think that’s a great point in terms of the grit associated with building real shareholder value and…  If you follow their story… Even forget the name of the company when they first started but it obviously…

[08:41]

Reinvention was the first name.

[08:42]

It was Reinvention.  That’s right. It was Reinvention.  Then they bought Critical Mix, of course, which gave them a survey platform.  And they’ve done what? Two big sample acquisitions, company acquisitions along the way?

[08:55]

I don’t want to get it wrong, but they’ve definitely made some really smart acquisitions along the way.  And I really respected the way they were able to keep the founders around and not try and mush the cultures in.  I think they’ve done a good job over the years upholding a good umbrella of cooperative businesses while allowing them to flourish as independent as well.    

[09:18]   

So, you and I have talked separately outside of this conversation about the overall size of the spend in the sample space.  And we’ll call it (I mean this number isn’t right) but we’ll just call it 2 billion dollars.

[09:31]

I think that’s…  Probably on the high end is 2 billion, and the low end is probably

1 billion, and it’s probably 1.5.  I think it’s hard to quantify ‘cause we have a kind of a casual industry that doesn’t have to document these items.  But I think 1.5 feels right.

[09:48]      

So, you’re at 1.5.  Now the rolled up, as you said, Reimagined Holdings and then [Dynata], SSI – it’s just this humongous beast. There’s not a bigger company by a long shot.  They’re a large part of the global spend. In fact, if you going to do a project at scale, it might be hard to do it without Access.

[10:16]

It’d be hard to avoid them, yeah.  I mean I don’t say that in a negative way.  It’s just I don’t think people give credit to companies and the convenience of scale that they can bring.  Where it might be one thing to work with a company in one country, but if you need to do something in 10, 20, 30 countries, the scale and expertise to pull that off.  There’s only a handful of companies that can really individually do that. Yeah, they’re large. They’ve definitely been very… They’ve pulled off these series of mergers.  It was to be see, the other ones pending approval, but they’ve done a good job. I’ve seen other meagers acquisitions not go well from my perspective.  Just for clarity’s sake, we are not part of Dynata.  I know people get confused about you know…

[11:13]

PureSpectrum being tethered to Dynata?

[11:15]

Correct, right, right.  Because both, a couple of years back, there was a press release that ResearchNow made an investment and Critical Mix made an investment.  So, I’m here to say on the podcast that there is… The business still has the same independence as it always did. But I have a lot of respect for things going well.  I am not the kind of person that wishes any company, even competitors in our space, and I don’t even know how to define a competitor and a friend anymore. But I really root for everybody to be successful, and it is a big enough market both in the sample and then the larger addressable market, which I think is pretty well documented by SMR to be more than 25 billion for primary research of a 70 billion overall data and insights pie.  There’s enough for good companies to all have a role and a place in it.

[12:18]

It feels like the industry has been expanding.  I know that we’ve had the SMR number now of about $75 billion space, a really big space, of which you’re seeing a lot of growth in social media and listening analysis.  But I just got off a podcast earlier with the Chief of Customer Insights and Innovation at FourSquare, Gail. In that conversation, she had this great point of view, which is market research has never been more exciting because we HAVE a seat at the table.  She’s literally involved at … Not only is she in the C-level, she’s actually the rudder of the ship when it comes to business decisions. And so, I think the point that you’re making is important, which is a rising tide, that rising tide principle. As an industry, just have to keep it together and continue to figure out how we can add value in order to…  as opposed to shoot the cannons, right? [laughter]

[13:23]

Well, I think there are a lot of people who wonder about traditional research and how it’s going to make it because there’s so much more data.  You leave personally a trail of data everywhere you go on your mobile.

[13:40]        

My wife cleans them all up.

[13:41]

[laughs]  Yes, I have three kids; so there’s plenty of things to clean up for us too.  But there’s so much data there’s been a fear that traditional survey research is going to perish, or get smaller.  I remember talking to Jeff Miller at Burke ages ago, and he said that every Big Data is supposed to replace market research.  Where he’s basically saying, “You know they said that about social media; they said that about this.” And he felt really confident.  I really struck me the confidence. There’s certain thing that research does. It’s just not about data. It’s about analysis; it’s about recommendation; it’s about predicting, not just what’s going to happen, (of course, you get that right or wrong) but oftentimes why times are happening ‘cause there’s a lot what’s happening around us and data there.  But to be able to make sense of why it’s happening… And the next level, I think, is where it gets really brave is to try to tell people what they’re supposed to do about it. That’s a level up where someone like Gail is probably talking about. She’s probably not just using surveys in her insights. There’s probably tons of data that is being generated in their business today:  customer data, website visitation data, after-use data, and this data is there. And the appetite for data is not only growing but it’s going to continue to grow. But the augmentation of that or synthetization of that to be able to make a business decision quickly… And I think that is where… I don’t know if we’re transitioning here, but I think the speed at which businesses move compared to the speed at which our industry has moved, then our industry being this market research survey industry to me that’s where the big intersection.  So the speed at which decisions are made doesn’t fit with our current with our operational models.

[15:58]  

And that’s something that I’ve heard.  There’s two things there, right? One is the speed element; it’s critical.  And also we’re about (I’ll give it five years) behind normally from a technology adoption perspective relative to ad tech.  But the other part of that that is really interesting is the context. So, it isn’t enough now for a market… I like boiling it down to the restaurant example; this is my go-to, right?  So, if I’m a restauranteur, I can’t care about when the customer walks into the door and when they exit the door. If they have a bad parking experience and you and wife have to walk a quarter mile in a marginally unsafe thing, the whole dining experience is screwed.  

[16:46] 

The story that gets told includes a bad part.

[16:49]  

Totally.  It makes the food not taste as good.  So you as a restauranteur, it isn’t enough just to do a survey.  You’ve got to understand the business context of how that data is going to impact the business so that you can help understand the full view of the user’s experience, so that it connects and drives change in the company.   

[17:15]  

It does, right?  So, I think everybody has a tendency to let the pendulum swing too far one side to the other.  So, I could sit here and argue to you that only the high-end consulting firms are really going to add value at the boardroom and give you the compelling argument that they get to know the business; they understand the subject matter; and that’s how you get a seat at the table.  And I could turn to the other side and say, “It’s all about automated research products and how a company like McDonald’s or Taco Bell can do 30 different versions of a product test with a similar or maybe slightly larger budget but in a time… it just can happen the way it couldn’t happen before.  So that has a massive impact on what they can do in their business more so than the expensive consulting group at the table.” And they’re both true, right? So it’s important to make sure, as a business, you’re not trying to do both unless you’re really big. Then you can maybe spend both, but you have to be able to serve what the customers need because, ultimately, all of our customers are the brands and corporations that are trying to bring things to consumers and the traditional methods of going to the agencies and things, it’s still the primary way that they do research.  But we need to help them be successful.

[18:44]

Totally.

[18:44]

If we’re not doing that all the way up and down the value chain, then there’s a problem for us to be concerned about.  But, as long as we can meet their needs and help them be successful and roll out the spicy chicken nuggets instead of the sour chicken nuggets, and one’s a success and one’s a failure, then we’re adding value to their shareholders and their company.    

[19:07]   

So, let’s put a point on it.  What are you seeing as trending at a macro level in market research?

[19:15]

I think there’s different layers.  If you are a brand, I think you’re trying to make sure that you are pleasing your internal customers because everybody is ultimately serving somebody who’s delivering to the bottom line of the company.  So, the insights professionals that I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with this year have made it really clear to me that they need things to be quick, and they need people to be able to help them be successful to drive the business, right?  So, I do see automation and productization. It’s not like it’s brand new, but I think that it’s becoming more… People are seeing the benefits of it; it’s starting to be done right. [chuckles] It’s like everything’s bad, like false starts, but I think that people are really starting to get it right.  I think a lot of the agencies… so the market research agencies, they’re coming to grips with the fact that they need to become more technically adept and that they need to have their, you call it, data streams or data lakes or whatever their own internal references – but the way that they move from RFP to data and recommendations has to become faster.  

There are technology platforms and companies out there that can help them because the big problem with all of this is it’s expensive and it’s hard.  Automation, if you will, or technology… most people don’t have a CTO or a million dollars cap ex sitting around to go and build something internally.  So that’s why you seek companies that are technology and platform companies getting outsized valuations because they can bring solutions that can help their customers thrive without probably wasting money, trying to build it themselves.        

[21:30]  

Yeah, I do think that’s right.   Decipher – that’s one of the things I realized early on is doing, building a survey platform is really, really hard, and it’s an evolving process.  So, whether it’s mobile adoption, which happened, of course, around really 2006 – 2010… big shift there in responding consumption. And then just all the AI that can go into building a survey platform or a survey out of specifically the platform.  Like SurveyMonkey does a good job of predictive questions based on your methodology. So, you’re got these different… It’s really hard to do that. So, then to try to expand, to try to expand our technology expertise into like, say, panels, ‘cause that was for us was the natural, “Why don’t we just do our own panel?”  That was freaking hard. So we actually started and stopped that initiative two times. So, getting to your point, like we’d be so much better off incorporating an existing expert as opposed to trying to build it ourselves.

[22:38]

No, you’re absolutely right.  Oftentimes, the expertise in the agencies are their abilities to do analytics and insights or to understand methodologies – quite frankly, things that I don’t know.  

[22:52]

Totally.     

[22:53]

They also don’t know how to build good product, good technology that has the right amount of features for everybody but not too many features.  

[22:05]

Totally.

[23:06]

Something that’s usable and powerful.

[23:08]  

Love it.  So, definitely focused is the thing that we need to have more than ever before because out of focus comes speed, comes velocity, and by trying to do too many things, you dilute that focus.  And I think that’s what I’m seeing in the marketplace. The people that are going to win are the ones that are… Kantar is a great example: They’re going through a ton of refocusing right now with consolidation of the brands.  So there’s a lot to be said, I think, of repositioning the company. They say, “This is what we’re good at; this is what we’re going to focus on, and then we’re going to bring in experts to help us get the rest of the way,” which is exactly the message to their customers.

[23:55]

Yeah, and I think anybody who feels like they’re threatened by having technology partners, they should be concerned about the value of their business.  So, if you’re not adding a lot of value on top of what the technology does, then you should rethink that. I do want to also talk about because we… most of what we do is to automate field and sampling.

[24:21]

So, do you want to talk a little bit about PureSpectrum?  

[24:22]

I do but in the broader sense, some of what I’m seeing as well on this automation of sample, sample delivery that follows the similar type of arc where there’s a lot of hype, and it’s a wild, wild West for a number of years.  And what I’m seeing right now is actually – and some people don’t believe me when I say this – but a lot of stabilization in pricing, right, because there’s been a lot of suppliers who’ve become more comfortable, more technically capable with selling, the word is programmatically, which is really just about doing technology integration with different buying and selling mechanisms.  So what I see a whole lot more of is suppliers have become much more systematized in making the choices of what’s a good survey experience, a good price. And when those things happen, they are making better choices than people make. The salesperson that potentially may have sold a big job a big discount that creates all the binds and kinks in operations that people are used to living with in this world of, I call it, second round or phase two of programmatic where there’s less desire to do harm to suppliers or take advantage of them ‘cause, I think, there was an error of maybe there  was – not on purpose – but just people thought that they could do things they couldn’t do before. But now we’re seeing that the buyers are much more thoughtful around the sustainability and how…

[26:15]

I literally had that conversation with Miriam at Microsoft, and she said, “I can’t increase my budget.”  So I put the question to her, “Would you pay more for higher quality?” She said, “I can but I would do half as much,” so meaning there’s a 2X on the current cost per complete that she’s willing to pay, assuming that there is the quality to back it up.  

[26:36]

Absolutely.  I think most people like the concept of “cheaper,” but then there’s always a cost of “cheaper.”  There’s always going to be something else that happens, whether that’s uncertainty in the data, whether that is an actual issue with the data, that maybe it takes a lot longer to get done.  It’s never… it’s almost your zero-sum game. So finding that equilibrium where the benefits of the programmatic revolution in our industry, which has been boiling for years now, it’s starting to really take fruit where’s…  It’s like the adults are in the room, and now like, OK, like, this doesn’t make sense if it happens like that because you can’t do this without the value being there for the…we’ll call them the suppliers, the panel companies.  They need to be able to remain profitable. I always say I never want an airline to be unprofitable. I want my flight safe.

[27:40]

Totally.  [laughs] That’s exactly right.

[27:42]

So, as a buyer of data through survey participants, you should want them profitable.  You should want for them to be able to invest in different ways of engagement and recruitment.  And the number of things these companies – the good and high-quality ones – have to do to fight fraud, right, because any time you’re doing an online offer where money is available, you’re constantly playing whack-a-mole on how to defend against the fraud.  If they can’t invest in those mechanisms and they have to cut corners on where they recruit because the CPI’s are going down, it creates an unsustainable cycle. It’s kind of the life blood of… The market research industry is getting people to take surveys; so, we shouldn’t destroy it.    

[28:35]

Right, yeah, it’s a non-renewable resource.  So, why PureSpectrum? 2015 – You’re sitting there, and you’re thinking, “You know what I’m going to do?  I’m going to start this company.” Why was it that space?

[28:49]

So, it was a lifelong dream of mine to found a business.  And I think if you were to talk to my, quite frankly, my three prior bosses and CEOs, they all knew I had aspirations of starting my own business at some point.  I probably not a great employee by the time I got to this point because I was so ready to be able to call the shots and take the responsibility of, quite frankly, of all that happened in the business.  I was probably restless. I’m basically unemployable at this point is what I’m saying.

So, I actually didn’t know what I was going to start when I came back to California.  I got good advice from a good friend that… He basically told me there’s only one person on planet earth that has been in the leadership role you’ve been in in two companies that are in the technology space around sample.  You can’t separate your head from your body, and your head actually knows this industry, going back to Greenfield and into what we believe the future’s going to be. So you should highly consider being in that space. I won’t reveal who this was, but this was actually somebody from one of the two other major companies, who gave me that advice, “Don’t try to become a real estate tech platform because you don’t know anything about it.  You know all the nuances of this industry and where you think it needs to go. So do that.” So I made that choice to do that. And it’s been going on a little over three years now since I made the decision not to take a job somewhere, and not to start some other business, to start this business. And, it’s been a wild ride.

[31:08]

So, what exactly does PureSpectrum do for our audience?  I know.

[31:12]

Yeah, no, it’s a…  If you break it down ‘cause it can become kind of complicated and make people get really… makes their eyes cross.  We work very closely with panel companies, and panel companies that tend to be technologically really adept and savvy.  And what we have done is we have created a website called an application that allows buyers – researchers and companies that buy access to online survey takers – to be able to input or place their orders on our system.  By placing those orders on our system, we’re able to in real time transmit the details of those orders to the suppliers that they want to work with. So, if you think about the traditional back and forth that happens of “How much does it cost me to get a thousand completes in the U.S., nationally representative by age, region, gender, and income?”  And all of a sudden it shows up and it’s got 55 quotas. You know it’s a lot harder than just that national wrap, right? Our system, actually, can help give the suppliers exactly what they’re supposed to do with what’s called an API connection. So it’s our system telling their systems exactly what’s needed. And then we’ve worked a lot over the past couple of years on making sure that the survey platforms, companies like Decipher or even a Qualtrics – I’ll just throw out some names, Confirmit, the normal names that you would hear or CMIX platform.  That’s actually where all the information really lives ‘cause after someone writes a survey and a questionnaire, they create all these details. They don’t need a 1,000 completes; they need 25 males, 18-24 who are Hispanic in Florida, and then they need 975 others, but those are also very small, little segments of what they need. So a survey becomes all these micro-surveys. So we have focused really heavily with our customers on really being able to get a high level of alignment operationally so that we can get that data from the beginning of the workflow into our system so that we can give the supplier all of that information in real time.  

So, I’m passionate about it because it’s, I do believe, one of the largest issues in our industry (and that’s not just sample; it’s market research and insights) is how many hands touch this information and, like the game of telephone, how it doesn’t get transmitted correctly.  And there are every day hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people who want to take surveys. They go to surveys; they get turned away. And that’s detrimental to the longevity of it ‘cause every time you have a bad experience… You mentioned the restaurant. Like they actually went to the restaurant, and the door was locked.  And the door was locked, and it might even had said, “We don’t need males in the restaurant today. Sorry.”

[34:47]

This literally happened to me yesterday where a GLG, $35 project – I never do these projects – I was charging my car; so, I had the time to kill.  I’m like, “Ah, I’m going to see if I can make 35 bucks. It sounds OK, right, for 15 minutes. Second question in – quote is full. I’m like, “Are you kidding?”  It’s so mean. [laughs]

[35:10]

It’s lame.  It’s like, “I value your opinion.  Ehh, not on this one,” right? I just think it’s a real issue, and it’s a real economic problem for our industry.  It drives cost up. So, when people ask me, “Are you doing this so that you can drive down and commoditize sample?”  The answer is, “No.” There’s so much more opportunity cost just on failure to get the right person the right survey.  There’s millions upon millions of dollars of money saved at the supplier level, at the buyer level, and all of it just because it happens better.         

[35:52]

Got it.  So there’s really…  If you kind of like oversimplify things with two different types of buyers or customers, I should say, right?  One are people that purchase people, completes on the platform. And then the other, of course, would be panel companies that opt to partner with us and deploy or sell their people sample on the platform.  And the beauty of it is that we are… This is my favorite statistic actually. For me, this was one of the lynchpin moments in understanding the real value of PureSpectrum and that is we have a three times better completion rate than other options that are in the marketplace because we optimize the quota stream based on availability; so, we’re overrecruiting against those “closed,” filled quotas.  And that creates just a much better user experience.

[37:04]

Yeah, absolutely right.  There’s kind of an emerging, less-known part of our business too, which we call “storefront.”  We know that, if we have the ability (I’ll use a really tough word) to “control” the end-to-end data process, that we know we can perfect information.  In fact, I would be willing to take hedge bets on the per-click economics of selling because, if I know I have perfect information, then we will not send anybody that’s not needed to a survey.  We won’t. So, storefront is our empowerment platform where we help typically agencies who have product-ties methodologies, things that happen over and over that need just different stimuli, kind of going back ten minutes ago, where they are not technically capable of building their own storefront where their customers or their internal customers can say I’d like to run another concept test with this copy or with this image.  And it’s very modularized. Although it requires a lot of involvement from the customer upfront to set up their product, it is human-free. The labor to actually execute from picking the product to…

[38:40]

upload stimuli, sample frame,

[38:45]

…sample, export data, create standard visualizations – all that happens without the handoffs between people.  So it’s really, really, really efficient. And we love that sort of business because the more, again, control or information we have, then the precision of being able to deliver exactly what’s needed is there.  

[39:06]

So, October 25th, I’m driving back with William Van Heusen on my staff from the Bay Area.  Just did an interview with Stacey Walker at Adobe. And I’m getting on to the 101 and give you a call and say, “Hey, you interested in sponsoring the podcast?”  You’re like, “Yeah, I’ll sponsor all the podcasts.” And then we sort of moved into market services and expanded and, ultimately, you acquired Happy Market Research middle of January.  So, why Happy Market Research?

[39:44]

That’s a great question.  I’m still beating myself up over that one. [laughter]  No, so, the obvious is you and I have known each other for 15 years and you are super capable and competent.  And our business PureSpectrum has grown, and I would like to see it continue to grow. So I wanted you to be part of the journey with us.  So that was one of the most obvious things is one – to be able to have you join the business. The other is I really love the podcast. I love it because it creates a risk-free environment for anybody in the industry, ‘cause I do love the industry, to be able to come and talk about what’s going on, where they see it going, what’s annoying them.  So, I remember talking to you about it and saying, “Like we’re keeping the podcast, right?” And you’re like, “Absolutely, I want to keep doing the podcast.” I was like, “Great!” because I really want the podcast to be there. Your mission was to serve the interests of the market research industry, add value to market research. And that’s no different than PureSpectrum’s… you know, why we wake up every day.?  To solve problems and help the market research industry. I don’t know. To me, it made a ton of sense, and you already had three fantastic and talented young people working at the company. So was happy to bring them on board, and looking forward to many, many years of growing the business and helping lead the industry where we believe it should go.

[41:39]

Totally.  It’s good already; it’s a lot of fun; it’s going to get more fun.  Love the plans we’re having for 2019. So, last question: three characteristics of an All-Star employee?

[41:48]

Alright, we’ll start off with the youngins, right, people coming in.  This is their first job or second job. So, I really don’t like the kind of the naysaying about the millennials because we’ve had WONDERFUL experience with people coming straight out of college or first job, second job.  The ones that have really at this company stood out to me, they are curious. They don’t… When you say, I need you to go from A to Z, you don’t have to tell them the thing they need to do to go from A and then to B and then to C and then to D.  They’ll clarify, they’ll figure things out, and then they will actually try to get to Z themselves. And I think that’s an important element of our culture here is letting people even bite off more than they can chew while letting them know that they can come for help.  I’ll say to other young employees there are basics like be on time, ask for vacation (don’t say when you’re going to take it), just some professional etiquette and courtesies that people should be mindful of. Because there are some people that have been at it where you actually did have to have your vacation approved well in advance.  I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but just… there’s no entitlement. Like don’t have a sense of entitlement. I’ve got to think of a third one here: I don’t know, take pride in your work. If it’s something you’re going to do, don’t mail it in. Try to do a good job even if it’s not your favorite part of the job. Try to find a way make even the least interesting parts be good.

I’ll flip to the other side:  All-Star employees that are more senior.  So, I go out of my way not to get in the way of people that I believe to be at a certain level in their career because there’s nothing worse than trying to tell somebody how to do something that they’re probably better than you at just because you feel like you need to approve everything or be in the middle of everything.  If I could give a recommendation to people who are a little bit farther along in their careers, be willing to take risks, be willing to tell your boss that his ideas or her ideas are bad ideas if you feel like it’s a comfortable enough environment because oftentimes I’m seeking not for people to do what I tell them to do but for them to tell, inform what the company should do.  Another thing, final thing and then I’ll stop; I think that’s three and three, that’s six things. I actually believe that all of us at this company, we work for the company. I know there’s a flip side of that coin that people work for people, but I try to inform what I do with my time and what I want other people to do with their time, as a manager leader as to “What is that doing for the business?”  And it’s almost embarrassing because like Office Space, the movie, from the 90s, “What can you do for Initech?”  But really the business needs to be cared for; it needs for people to be doing the things for its best interests but that becomes circular.  So, the company needs leadership that knows that the company can’t flourish without great employees and the company must give back to the employees too.  And that is super important so that people know that they have the ability to turn off the phones at night but also know that if they have a customer that needs help that they… you know it’d be good for the company if they can do that, but to make sure there’s an appropriate set of boundaries.  So the symbiotic nature of if you are doing things that help the business grow, the business will grow and that the company should provide growth opportunities for the employee too.

[46:17]

My guest today has been Michael McCrary, CEO and founder of PureSpectrum.   Thank you, Michael, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[46:26]

I love the podcast.  Thank you, Jamin.

[46:28]

And thank you, everybody, for tuning in.  And as always, if you would be so kind as to leave a review on Apple iTunes or whatever platform you’re consuming this content as well as take a screenshot, share it on social media.  It goes a long way in expanding our reach. Really appreciate it and hope you have a great rest of your day!

[46:49]

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. 207 – Mitchell Atchison – Biggest Challenges Pharma Researchers Are Facing In Today’s Landscape

Today, my guest is Mitchell Atchison, Senior Associate in US Immunology Marketing Research at a leading global pharmaceutical firm. Mitchell has spent his career in both retail and pharma.

This episode is brought to you by Attest. Attest is a powerful, easy-to-use SaaS platform that connects businesses to over 100 million consumers in 80 countries on demand in just a few clicks. Ask your burning questions. Select who you want to answer. View actionable insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable intelligence platform. Contact Attest today at www.askattest.com/happymr

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

Attest

Contact Mitchell Online: 

LinkedIn

Tech Segment Guest, Barbara Alpert of Chilmark Digital:

Barbara’s Phone: (917) 847-3165

Chilmark Digital’s Phone: (212) 744-0213

Barbara’s Email: balpert@chilmarkdigital.com

Website: Chilmark Digital


[00:00]

On Episode 207 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m chatting with Mitchell Atchison, U.S. Immunology Marketing Researcher at one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms.

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 100 million consumers in 80 countries on-demand in just a few clicks.  Ask your burning questions, select who you want to answer, view actual insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable intelligence platform.  Contact Attest today at www.askattest.com/happymr or find the link in the episodes show notes.

[00:56]

Hey, guys.  This is Jamin Brazil.  You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Mitchell Atchison, Senior Associate in U.S. Immunology Marketing Research at a leading global pharmaceutical firm.   He has spent his career in both retail and pharma. Mitchell, thanks so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast with me today.

[01:17]

Thank you so much for having me.  Really looking forward to our conversation today.

[01:22]

So, tell me about your parents.  What did they do and how has that informed your career?

[01:27]

Thank you so much.  I’m really close with my parents, always have been.  My mom is a teacher, and my dad is an engineer. But he actually got his MBA and the type of work that he has done over the course of his career is very business-focused.  He does bring an engineering, analytical mindset to what he does, but he’s always been an operations manager or an operations supervisor. So he’s had that business background.  I’ve looked up to my parents my whole life; I still do. Honestly, I think the biggest thing that encouraged me to get to where I am today was probably my dad’s background, his business mindset.  And here I am: I’m actually living out the dream. I just recently started a business with my mom but also, on a day-to-day basis, working and marketing within pharmaceuticals. It’s been a journey, but it’s been a lot of fun in the process.

[02:36]

So, what area did you grow up in?

[02:37]

I’ve kind of moved all over the place, growing up.  I was born in Seymour, Indiana, before moving to South Carolina, when I was a baby.  Spent about seven years or so out on South Carolina. Loved in out there: loved the weather, loved the people, and everything about South Carolina.  It’s actually one of my favorite vacation destinations. Then moved out to south central California – Hanford, California, which is just down the road from you, Jamin.  Spent about seven years there as well before moving to the frozen tundra of Minneapolis, Minnesota, after that.

[03:21]

It’s so funny.  Hanford, I was literally just in Hanford, which is an hour away from where I live, in Fresno, California.  This last weekend, my grandmother at 102 years old finally passed, and so we had a lot of family flying in from all over.  It was a great experience for us, celebrating her life. It is interesting to me being in that particular ecosystem because I think of Fresno as a…  It’s a whatever, half a million people, fifth largest city in California. Hanford is this really small microcosm of tight knit community. The downtown is really cool.  The people (at least I came in contact with) were friendly. It was like a real special… It’s a special neat sort of, not Mayberry-esque, but maybe a little bit where time has quite not caught up to it.

[04:28]

Yeah, absolutely.  First off, I’m so sorry hear that news.  I mean it’s always tough.

[04:35]

Well, 102.  She had a fantastic life.  I didn’t mean to take that with it.  I will say this little anecdote about her.  She is probably the most positive person I had ever met.  She had a tremendous amount of adversity in her life, growing up.  You think about all the technological advances that she has undergone.  She grew up and lived about half of her life in Arkansas and then moved to California in the hopes of a better life.  The framework there was farm labor and just a lot of primary-earner responsibilities and the household. Just a ton of what normal people would consider to be stress.  Every day for her was the best day of her life.

I remember there’s two like anecdotes that stand out to me:  the first one being… I don’t know when she slept. Nobody knew when she slept.  And I actually asked her one time, “Grandma, when do you sleep?’” or “How much do you sleep?”  And she told me, “Jamin, if I lay down too long, they’re going to start throwing dirt on me,” which I thought was just like..  Then the second thing, which happened about three years ago, she… 99 years old, coherent, doing great, but she lost the ability to swallow food.  So they had to insert a feeding tube, which, of course, sounds very sad. But she went through that whole process. After surgery, the family comes in and checks on her and my dad says, “How are they treating you?“  She responds, “They’re treating me great, and the food is fantastic.” Of course, at this point, my father is absolutely convinced that early stage dementia has set in. She looks at him and goes, “You don’t understand.  It actually smells really good.” So she’s always had this bent on positivity, and that’s something that I’ve sort of aspired to. And I think that it’s largely fallen… a lot of that has fallen into the community that she was a part of.

[06:46]

Yeah, Jamin, yeah, that’s so cool to hear.  I can share on that. My grandparents have been very inspiring in that same way.  To your point about Hanford, I think what’s cool about it… You mentioned the innocence, if you will, of Hanford and the ideal, kind of simple life style, if you will.  We very much experienced that when we lived out there. I think it’s probably something… it’s what a lot of people aspire to have. I know whenever we first moved out there, I think the town might have been maybe 30,000ish.  It may not even have been that. I think now it’s probably around may be 50, 60 thousand, somewhere in that range. That’s still not a big city but, at the same time, to nearly double growth within a very short period of time, just within the last basically decade or decade and a half is pretty impressive.  I think it really speaks to the quality of the town, what the town is able to offer, and just the community as a whole.

[07:59]

It’s interesting through a marketing researcher’s lens, almost 20% of the U.S. population lives in what’s classified as rural areas, which is by far and away (I think it’s over 90% of the actual land in the U.S.).  There is meaningful differences between cities and rural from a consumption perspective. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to make sure that market research has an adequate representation so that you do have that clear view of the market perspective, which, of course, informs sample frames and things like that.

[08:45]

Yeah, and that’s something too.  Whenever I’m doing my sampling or like setting up screeners and things like that with my partner agencies, one of the first things that I always ask or more or less direct them to is to say, “Hey, at the day I want a very representative sample of the broader population of physicians or the broader population of patients or whatever the responder base may be.”  I, ultimately, am going to make decisions off of that sample. So I want that sample to be representative of the population that I’m, ultimately, informing decisions on. So it’s absolutely crucial to ensure that in the grander universe of the population, we want to ensure that our sample is very representative of that.

[09:40]

So, tell me about one of the biggest challenges that you have overcome either personally or professionally.

[09:47]

You know it’s funny.  We actually just kind of started talking a little bit about it, Jamin. As I had mentioned, we had moved around all the time growing up.  So I think if I were to synthesize in just a couple of words of the biggest challenge, I think it’s been dealing with the consistent transition that I’ve gone through within my life.  I had mentioned all the states that I have lived in. Actually, I went to three different high schools, three different states, three different parts of the country, three straight semesters.  That was a challenge. That was a very sensitive time in life to move to the degree that I had done. I really think that just the consistent transition and constant moving, not really ever feeling like I had a home so to speak, growing up was a real challenge.  To be frank though, even though it’s been a challenge, I usually look at challenges as a… to try and be optimistic about them, to say, “Hey, what can I learn from these challenges?” Because I find that in those challenges, it seems to be where you learn the most.  So I really did grow a lot within that experience. Ultimately, I think I was able to become very comfortable in uncomfortable situations, and that’s helped me today. And it’s helped me to be very adaptable, dealing with different situations, dealing with different people, dealing with just different frames of mind and different ways of thinking.  I think that’s just being surrounded by so many different types of people in so many different parts of the country and even the world, for that matter, growing up. It’s just really opened up my mind, just to be very empathetic to other person or the audience, and from a business perspective, being able to craft the message towards that particular audience.

[11:52]

I think one of my favorite words is “empathy,” “kindness.”  This idea that… People naturally have a tendency to judge.  As we divorce ourselves from that tendency and move in a situation where we’re non-judgmental and more empathetic towards one another or even from a brand to a consumer framework, then there’s a connection that’s able to be made that is, I believe, paramount for success whether that’s at the individual level – you, me individually – or, if you think about it, again thinking about the relationship between brands and the empathy that they show towards their consumer group.  One of my go-to examples right now: I heard a talk recently from one of the head researchers at McDonald’s, and they were talking about how they have moved from a… maximize shareholder value through an antiquated concept like share of wallet to seeing customers as partners. So the way that they’re illustrating the partnership is actually how can they maximize the wallet value of the purchase for the consumer and then communicating that at the point of sale so that it literally translates to a, “Wow, I feel like McDonald’s is helping me maximize my value when I need that help at the register.”  They have a bunch of tactics, of course, around that. But I just love those stories of how brands are, in fact, partnering with their customers in order to improve the customer’s life as opposed to steal from it.

[13:41]

I couldn’t agree more.  At the end of the day we have to, as industries, regardless of the field that industry is in, we have to meet our customers where they are.  Yes, we may seek to change and move attitudes and beliefs, but at the end of the day, we need to meet them where they are and seek to form our marketing and promotional efforts in a manner that’s catering to their wants and their needs and their desires.  That’s all shaped by the atmosphere that these customers whether it’s the end-consumer or not If they’ve ultimately been surrounded with. Kind of getting back to that empathy piece, we need to empathize with our customers and, ultimately, cater to where they’re at now, what are their wants, what are their needs, and what are their desires that we can, ultimately, as an organization that sells products or services that we can fit those needs for those specific customers.

[14:51]

Yeah, and the empathy, it’s interesting as it starts informing your overall behavior, obviously at a macro-level (brand to consumer), but at a micro-level internally.  Market researchers, we have internal customers really, don’t we? How can we help them, empower them, aid them in their decision-making processes to be data or customer-centric?

[15:16]

Yes, that’s exactly right, that is exactly right, yeah.

[15:20]

So, tell me a little bit about a research project that you’re most proud of.

[15:24]

Yeah, I’ve had multiple roles in my career so far, all within analytics or market research.  I think probably my favorite project actually comes from… About two jobs ago, I actually worked in forecasting market research.  Within this role, we would essentially project out the demand and, ultimately, the revenue across each of the products within a given portfolio.  Every year, we went through a process called strategic planning. And this is where again we project out the demand and the revenue for anywhere between five and ten years in the future.  This helps just to inform whatever organization it is: here’s what you can expect from a general revenue perspective. And it can just inform whether or not there are any gaps in revenue expectations.  That way, we can cater our strategy and investment strategy to whatever that may be. With this, we leverage a variety of secondary sources, syndicated sources, primary market research, ultimately, leverage our deep understanding of each of the respective areas that will be your end.  Then, we project out what that demand would be and what our expectations are for each of the given products. And then we seek to gain alignment at various levels of the company and, ultimately, the CEO is the one that signs off. It’s through those efforts that we get a really solid, collaborative effort to understand the state of the business and where we’re heading.

[17:25]

That sounds awesome.  [laughs] I mean any time…  I love the triangulation of truth to truth where you can take consumer self-reported data and then combine that with external data in order to really add to the story narrative on, in your case, predicting what the market’s going to do.  That sort of empowerment helps the C-Suite understand and frame the importance of those consumer opinions.

[18:05]

That’s exactly right, yeah.  And we try as much as we can leverage all the data that we have in front of us.  So that way, that truly guides the decisions and the inputs into the forecast that we always make.  But I will say, though, one thing that we often do caveat (now, granted we may not do this if there’s a vice-president in the room), but we always jokingly say, “The first rule of forecasting is that the forecast is always wrong.”  [laughs] We can leverage all the tools in front of us, but at the end of the day, they’re all projections. In many cases, they’re pretty close, but we do have to realize that we’re dealing with, in some cases, imperfect data, but we are making projections in the future that may or may not come true.

[18:59]

What is your biggest market research challenge?

[19:01]

There are many challenges.  I think probably the biggest one that comes to mind is probably communication synthesis.  As market researchers, we’re used to dealing with a lot of data, but I always have to remember that, as a market researcher, I have to recognize that a majority of my audience, if not all of my audience, doesn’t have two different things:  It’s one: they don’t know the data to the degree that I do because I spend as much time as what I do with the data; I have a trained market research background. So my audience just in most cases doesn’t have that. Secondly, my audience doesn’t the time to digest all of the data that I’m used to dealing with.  So I truly believe that my task as a market researcher is to make my market research and make the data matter to them. Again, communication synthesis is key.

So a couple of things that I really seek to do whenever I’m synthesizing, whatever message it is that I’m communicating:  First off, I really seek to just be… keep my message brief, concise, and to the point and, ultimately, communicating the most important things that matter to my audience or to my customer, if you will, that I’m talking to.  Then, secondly, I try and communicate the “So What’s?” of the research, as opposed to just maybe messaging that data. Some of the things that I do for that specifically… Whenever I’m communicating verbally in a formal presentation and informal presentation, (I’ll tell you I’m one of the bigger data geeks out there.)  But at the same time when I’m communicating my message, actually I’ll try to rarely communicate in numbers. I try and speak in relative terms because at the end of the day, most of the people I’m talking to are not data-junkies like what I may be. I try to communicate – again back to what we talked about earlier – empathy.  I try to empathize with them and speak in a manner that’s going to make sense to them. I really try and speak in very relative terms. I use numbers when needed, but I try to avoid them if possible. If I can deliver even a stronger message when not using those numbers. Whenever it comes to written communication, one thing that I always do is I always provide an executive summary and within that, I present the most important information for my audience.  It may be three bullet points; it may be five bullet points. But I try to keep it very concise, to the point, and even in the executive summaries I try and avoid the numbers because just trying to communicate again the “So-Whats.” Why does this matter to the audience? and What do they really need to know? If they only had two minutes to digest what I’m communicating to them, I want them to take this because that’s, ultimately, what’s needed to make and shape decisions.

[22:28]

So, two things there really stand out to me.  One is your framework for using relative terms versus absolute.  My go-to example for that is no one knows how much a six-cylinder car is worth on an absolute basis, but we ALL know it’s worth more than a four-cylinder car, right?  So the point is that human beings, when you give us an absolute number, it’s really hard for us to digest and process that. But, as soon as you can move it to a relative measure, then it becomes easy to say, “Holy crap!  Yeah, that’s a lot better, or a lot worse, or big problem, or doing great.”

[23:06]

That’s exactly right; it’s exactly right.  Even though I may have absolute numbers, I may present – speaking of the relative piece – I may use ordinal references whenever I’m talking about a particular attribute that I’m referencing.  Even though the question I may have asked in that particular survey, it may not have been an ordinal question, so to speak by nature, but I still may present it an ordinal fashion. I’ll say, “Hey, relatively speaking, our product is decently close to the leading product or a maybe little bit ahead” or something like that.  But I’ll speak in very relative terms as opposed to using “Such and such product is .3 percentage points ahead of the other product, and then that product is 6 percentage points ahead of the other product over there.” I just think presenting in relative terms, at least the audience that I’m dealing with on a day-in, day-out basis, that’s how they prefer to receive information.  I’ve always found that the discussions are much more rich and the take-aways are much more actionable whenever I present in those kinds of terms.

[24:29]

Yeah, absolutely.  You’re getting to the “So-What,” of course, feeds that perfectly because as soon as you get to the relative – this is bigger than that or more valuable than that – then, of course, you have to deal with what is the implication of that.

And the second thing that you said that really stood out to me (and I think that we as market researchers need to hear this repeatedly) is that we need to have headline communications.  A good example of that is when I send a memo; I might have ten hours invested in the memo itself, from just gathering content and whatever research and having a point of view. If you only have 30 seconds, just read this.   That’s the three bullet points or whatever that synthesizes exactly what the overall points are. And, if they decide they want more information or have time, then – guess what? – there’s a bunch of documentation and etc., etc.

[25:31]

That’s exactly right.  I often will try and think about my audience and say, “What do they really need to know?”  In the executive summary, I put the most important pieces and then too, if I’m framing a presentation, sometimes I may even just present the three bullet points that I have in executive summary.  I try and understand, “OK. What does my audience need to know and how much do they need to know?” Because there may be some other interesting points, but, at the end of the day, if those are just interesting points, I probably don’t need to waste any of my time and, definitely, I don’t need to waste my audience’s time by communicating those points whenever they may not have any sort of business relevance.

[26:31]

How will the market research space be different in the next five years?

[26:35]

You know I think one of the challenges that we’re facing in market research right now is attention spans in this day and age are in competition at a higher rate than ever before.  With the growth in technology and entertainment and things like that, maybe a 15-minute survey, you may have some respondents, they spent an hour and a half working because they’re maybe messing on their phone or watching Netflix or something like that while they’re doing it.  You have to sometimes question the reliability of that data. There’s also, of course, unfortunately, fraudulent survey techniques such as Boxiter, unfortunately becoming more prevalent in this day and age. At the end of the day, these types of things, those are just a couple of examples, they can lead to poor or, in some cases, unreliable data quality within the research that we’re conducting.  Truly, when I think of bad data, I think of bad data as bad insights. Bad insights can ultimately lead to bad decisions that are made for our customers. Meanwhile, “Big Data,” behavioral data, is becoming more and more available, and it’s increasing within its look-back history. When I think about the difference in five years, I think the reliance on that Big Behavioral Data will increase even more significantly in the future.  Not only allows us to just analyze that behavioral data in and of itself but what’s cool is we then also link it back to attitude and belief data where we can truly understand the relationship and the correlation that attitudes and beliefs actually have with behavioral, which I think is really exciting for us as market researchers and analytics professionals.

[28:49]

That’s so funny.  You’re bringing up some interesting points:  One centric to data quality but you’re attacking it from two different points of view.  One is the researcher’s responsibility to consider the research participant or the respondent or the other human beings that are going to take the 15-20 minutes.  I’ve read a lot on maximum attention spans. When I speak, I have a rule, which is I have to earn the consumer’s or the listener’s attention every 20 seconds. So that creates a tremendous burden around the content that I’m planning on presenting.  I think in research we have not yet completely moved away from or even materially moved away from the 20-minute survey. But, if you look at the rest of… The entertainment industry is a great canary is the coal mine. There’s a book written by (I might be misremembering, but I think it was Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death).  The context there is that the space of entertainment is all about faster…hit ‘em, hit ’em, hit ‘em, hit ’em. hit ’us.  So attention spans are just decreasing overall and, on top of it, you have so many things: notifications on your phone or kids or whatever that are now interrupting your time.  As researchers, we need to take a step back and assess the survey instruments that we’re leveraging.

And then the second part of it, which I think is, honestly, one of the, if not the biggest problem or concern of mine in research right now, and that is who’s taking the surveys.  I know of one project this last week that was fulfilled for a CPI of cost-per-interview of $3.75 among CEOs. It was an 18-minute survey. And I’ve just kind of pulled back and I’m like, “Gosh, what CEO do I know that would take an 18-minute survey, let alone for no money?”  You really have to start applying our common-sense factor. We don’t even need spidey sense here in order to say, “Is this real?” because we want it to be real. As researchers. I think that we’re willing to turn a blind eye to both of those facts, saying, “Oh, well, I got my completes.”  We just need to be honest with ourselves when we’re looking through this lens of “Would I take the survey? Would my kids? Would my target audience take the survey?” and “Would they take the survey for that much money?”

[31:45]

And it, ultimately, gets back to what we talked about earlier too when we think about sampling.  Let’s say we were able to get respondents for that, albeit there probably wouldn’t be that many CEOs out there who would be willing to, as you mentioned, take an 18-minute survey for nothing.  At the end of the day, if we did get some respondents, would they truly be representative of the grander population? So I’d even probably question the reliability of the data that we even have as to whether or not that can be applied to the population as well.

[32:26]

What are the three characteristics of an All-Star Employee?

[32:29]

For me, the first thing and probably the most important thing, at least for me that comes to mind, I think is an overall passion for the customer, capital C – Customer, if you will, because at the end of the day, we need to understand, regardless of the industry, that there’s, ultimately, someone on the other end of our product or service that we’re, ultimately, selling, who benefits from that product or service.  I think in the All-Star Employee, in general, again regardless of the industry or the product or service, just develops an excitement and a passion for the work that they do that, ultimately, influences that customer. I always even think about the… Fortunately, or unfortunately, my girlfriend actually hates it when I do this, but I critique the service that I get at restaurants. It’s not because I’m trying to be critical of that particular person, but truly I’m looking at, “OK, does this person or does this company, does this restaurant or whatever it is, regardless of the service, do they understand the customer and are they seeking to fill the gaps for the customer, whether it be in service of whether it be in product?”  That’s something that I’ve always found the great employees separate from the good employees. It’s just an overall passion for the end-customer in mind.

The second thing, we’ve talked about a little bit, but it’s communication.  It’s knowing your audience: What do they need to know? How much do they need to know?  And, at the end of the day, especially as market researchers, we need to communicate and carry our message in a manner that is efficient, and active to deliver the point that we’re trying to make.  We talked about attention spans just a moment ago. I know we were talking about surveys, but attention spans are tight within the marketplace. We’ve got meetings we’ve got to run to. We only have a limited capacity of things that we can think about and process.  So I want to make sure that I’m delivering a concise, effective message that going to get the point across to my audience.

The last thing that I think is a characteristic of an All-Star Employee is prioritization.  My boss always tells me that with organization, we want to focus on the most important things that we know the least about.  So what I try and do with that, I try and use that as a filter in terms of keeping my eye on the most important things that are necessary to moving the business forward.

[35:35]

I have not heard it said exactly like that, but I love all three of those things.  So, we’ve added a new question to the discussion guide. I’m really excited about this really for two reasons:  One is I can’t wait to hear your answer to it. The second thing is I think it is actually something that we as people should actually have if we employ this thing, this that we’re going to be talking about momentarily, then it will help us as humans do just a little bit better or maybe, to your earlier point, help prioritize.  That is, “What is your motto?”

[36:18]

So, my motto – and I think about this all the time – I think about it in the workplace; I think about it in the personal space, but my motto is to, “Don’t focus on moving the pebbles at your feet when there are boulders that stand in the way of your journey.”  What I mean by that is there’s going to be low hanging fruit, if you will, or maybe small things that may distract you from ultimately what you’re trying to do. But we have to recognize there’s big barriers that stand in the way of us and our customers; there’s big problems that we have to solve.  Let’s spend our time and energy and mental capacity focusing on what those big barriers are. To get back to the motto, the big boulders – what are those? Let’s not spend the time moving those pebbles that are at our feet, but let’s really focus on addressing the boulders, addressing the big barriers that are standing between us and our customers.  Ultimately, as we’ve talked about several times, filling the gaps, filling the needs, filling the wants that our customers are, ultimately, expecting out of us in the products and in the services that we, ultimately, deliver.

[37:41]

That’s great, and it also has this implication like a day-to-day level where if…  Getting back to the service being bad at a restaurant, that’s such a pebble in context of potentially outsized issues – maybe self-awareness – that are holding an individual back.

[38:03]

That’s exactly right.  One thing I do just on a very practical level every single week, the very first thing that I do when I come into work on Mondays, is I develop a prioritization list.  I say, “What are the things that I need to get right this week?” I only have three slots that I can actually put something in. So I really have to prioritize the things that I need to get right.  Then I have a second section: “What are the things that I need to get done?” Then I can put three things in there as well. So, these things, I don’t need to spend as much mental capacity on. Yes, they need to get done; they are tasks that I need to complete, but at the end of the day, being right on those tasks are not nearly as crucial as those that go under my first bucket.  And then, beyond that, I’ve got an unlimited list of low priority tasks, items and projects and tasks that I just don’t need to spend nearly as much time on and that aren’t “mission critical” to the vision that we’re, ultimately, out to achieve.

[39:11]

My guest today has been Mitchell Atchison.  Thank you, Mitchell, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[39:17]

Absolutely, thank you so much.  I really appreciate it and really enjoyed our conversation.

[39:22]

Yeah, so did I.  And to all of you who are listening if you would please, please, please take the time to screenshot this episode, share it on LinkedIn, Twitter, the platform of your choice.  As always, your reviews are greatly appreciated. I hope you have a fantastic day! Thanks.

[39:44]

Stay tuned for this episode’s Tech Overview, featuring Chilmark Digital’s Barbara Alpert.  Hey, everybody, this is Jamin here with Barbara Alpert, who also goes by Bobbie for those interested.  She’s part of a company called Chilmark and, as our guest today, our actual first guest, on the Tech corner.  This is a piece of the Happy Market Research Podcast where we’re taking an early-stage company and introducing them to the marketplace.  So, Bobbie, thanks very much for being on the show.

[40:22]

OK, my pleasure, Jamin.  I don’t know if we are so much early stage, but we have an evolving technology.  So I think that’s still kind of an interesting way of looking at it because Chilmark Digital is actually a 12-year-old company.  It’s a tech company that creates video engagement and testing software that’s designed to help researchers and clients tell more compelling stories.  Our main product is called Resync. Some of the people out there might know it as Responsync, which was its original name. But now with everything being faster and more condensed for a lot of reasons, we have renamed it Resync.  It’s a media insights platform.

The company was actually born when work we were doing at the nexus of media and technology in a television production company we had, led to more opportunities with clients actually on the technology side.  That offered some interesting opportunities for us, and we changed our focus from producing to video to applying technology to help make it resonate more with people. A little note here just on where my partner, Lew, and I came from is we came out of the agency and research business.  So we have an interesting, somewhat eclectic, background. We approach research from the perspective of storytellers, and, as storytellers, we always want to know how audiences are affected by the video that they see and hear and, equally important, why the respond as they do, and now more and more with social media – how they express those feelings.  What has become clear to us over the years, working with a lot of clients with our platform, it’s not what you say – it’s what people hear. And there’s that little gap very frequently, and that’s the place that we do our magic because we find out what is responsible for what may be the difference between what people are putting out in their content and how audiences are receiving it.  We know how important it is to close that gap.

We also realized really from the first moment that we had to reflect the media world and consumer lifestyles authentically if we were going to get results that clients could act on.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to use twentieth century tools for twenty-first century media. This was also something that was very important to us. What defines and distinguishes Resync to us is both its relevance and its adaptability to a changing-media world.  Interestingly, when we started, TV was just TV. There was really no need to define it as linear TV because it was only one way. And you saw it the way people intended you to see it. Now people don’t just see media, they actively consume it, and they consume it in the form that they prefer.  One of the important things about Resync is that that platform was designed to account for these kinds of changes. So what we do with that platform is to integrate data on where response rises and falls on a moment-to-moment basis integrated with the feelings and attitudes that are driving it, and that’s all synced to video time.  So, what creates this integrated tapestry that gives you both a detailed and complete picture and one with all the nuances of the colors… And we’re on all devices. Importantly, and we also know uniquely, we can create authentic simulations of social media platforms and test content both across different platforms and within a given platform.  All the environments that people use to get their media, we can represent. The kind of result of that is that we test the way you run. So clients are getting a much more accurate picture of what is happening when they’re testing their content and why it’s happening, and, importantly, how that varies by where people are going to see that.

A lot of the work we have done has pointed out how important that is, and now it’s not just what you create but how you are going to distribute it that’s going to determine how people are going to respond to it.  And isn’t that what you want to find out in the first place?

[45:20]

So, going all the way back to the beginning, not a start-up at 12 years.  At what point, do you think, does a company stop being a start-up? I have been asking myself this question now for just a little while based on the conversation I had with Kristen Luck.

[45:36]

Oh, that’s interesting.  I heard from her the other day.  You know I think that you really hit on something.  I think that’s evolving too because you can go off in a lot of different directions.  I think from our perspective, having started off as a production company and having gotten that to a certain point and having actually nested our technology within that environment to begin with, you took that out and that was a start-up.  But this was not our first product. So, we go back to having a product that we began the company with, and we started with this product about eight years ago. Now, with things changing as dynamically as they are, I think you’re caught in a way constantly in start-up mode because it’s also we find ourselves in a lot of cases dealing with a lot of start-up companies because all the new stuff is coming out of the new, young companies.  You’re kind of in that mode of pressing the reset button very frequently, and that is challenging and exciting. I would say that in a way you never end that until you exit, until you exit. I guess you go from constantly starting and restarting to a good exit.

[47:08]

Maybe the point is at which time M&A becomes part of your narrative.  I’ve heard it framed in terms of revenue, longevity, etc. but like is Uber still a start-up.  I don’t know, but I think it was interesting that it was framed that way.

Measurement in context is something I’m hearing a lot of need around among brands.  Impact of ads if you’re getting ready to catch your train or whatever, get on the subway versus the context of “I’m on my leather chair with a cat in my lap and a fire at my feet.”  The context of the consumption as well as the platform is really important. Do you have a specific example of a project that you guys have worked on and delivered a great outcome for the customer?

[48:09]

It’s an interesting point that you raised about the context, Jamin, because we have found that there is an enormous difference in the response based on when and where people are seeing it.  It’s not just the programming content and the platform on which it’s delivered but. as you know, it can be very much the context in which they are seeing it. Because we’re on all the devices and there is a great deal of information that we can gather about how people are viewing it, we have seen that.  I think there are a number of tales to tell as far as context, but I’ll give you one example that was an across-platform study that we did. This was a case where there was a common set of ads that we tested in six different media environments, ranging from linear TV to TV from the web to an original network, YouTube channel, and three original YouTube channels:  Machinima, Maker Studios, and BuzzFeed.  The idea really was to say, “OK, how does the platform on which people see this affect how they respond to a common set of commercials?”  We held everything constant; in essence, we created programming for the YouTube channels so that it reflected the program time of a network, a half hour, comedy, and also that it was controlled for the program to advertising ratio.  What was really interesting was that there were big differences in both demographics by platform but also not just in terms of positive and negative response to the commercial but which elements of the commercial were most persuasive or most dissuasive in the various audience sectors. What that showed very, very clearly was that any advertiser who thinks they’re going to go out with a commercial and just distribute it the same way across all the platforms is making a huge mistake because there’s a huge impact in how people are responding to the surrounding content.  Really in a way, it’s how fast their clock is running also because there are the expectations on different platforms that you’re going to see content at a certain speed, certain kind of editing, and so on. There are a lot of complicating factors, but it also gives a tremendously rich pool of information to clients as to how to be able to recut and repurpose content to be able to take advantage and give it a longer life as well as connecting in a more compelling way with various audience segments. And that was done for network. The client in that case was the network, and challenge was really to see where do the commercials do best?  Is linear TV still king of the roost? Has it been overtaken? I can’t really reveal; all I can tell you is that the results were very clear and very actionable for advertisers wanting to take advantage of each medium and platform for its best results.

[52:08]

Barbara, if somebody wants to get in contact with you, how would they do that?

[52:11]

The office phone is 212-744-0213.  If somebody needs immediate attention, they can call my cell:  917-847-3165. Let me just also give you email then, which most people prefer: balpert@ChilmarkDigital.com.

[52:36]

Barbara, thanks so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[52:39]

Thank you so much, Jamin.  I enjoyed it enormously.

[52:46]

This episode is brought to you by Attest.  Attest is a powerful, easy-to-use SAS platform that connects businesses to over 100 million consumers in 80 countries on-demand in just a few clicks.  Ask your burning questions, select who you want to answer, view actual insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable intelligence platform.  Contact Attest today at www.askattest.com/happymr or find the link in the episodes show notes.

Ep. 204 – Joaquim Bretcha – 3 Keys To Effective Storytelling In Market Research

Joaquim Bretcha is the International Director at Netquest, a quantitative technology platform with self-reported and digital behavioral tracking providing customer insights in 23 countries. Additionally, he is the recently elected ESOMAR President, Advisor to MindProber, Co-Founder of NGO Health US Nepal and speaker.

This episode is brought to you by G3 Translate. The G3 Translate team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign language translations for market researchers and insights professionals across the globe. Not only do we speak hundreds of languages, we are fluent in market research. For more information, please visit us at g3translate.com.

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

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Find Joaquim Online: 

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Netquest


[00:00]

On Episode 204 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m interviewing Joaquim Bretcha, President of ESOMAR.  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.

[00:37]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Joaquim Bretcha, International Director at Netquest. Netquest is a quantitative technology platform with self-reported and digital behavioral tracking, providing customer insights in 23 countries.  Additionally, Joaquim is the recently elected ESOMAR President. He’s the advisor to MindProber, co-founder of NGO HealthusNepal, and speaker. Joaquim, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.  

[01:13]

Thank you, Jamin.  It’s my pleasure.

[01:15]

Tell us a little bit about where you grew up.  

[01:19]

Good.  I was born in Barcelona, and I was born in the late years of the Franco dictatorship.  At the time, Barcelona wasn’t the brilliant city that we know today. You must know that the Spanish Civil War in the 30s, 40 years of dictatorship dramatically cut the evolution of the traditionally prosperous Barcelona.  Very importantly, it shaped the mentality, and it became an undynamic mentality with a complex of inferiority towards Europe. But I was fortunate. I was born in a family that had overcome this closing of borders, both mental and physical.  For instance, my mother at the age of 18 went to U.K. as a babysitter, and she learned English when almost nobody spoke English at the time in Spain. My father, who is a doctor in engineering, after studies he went to Norway. So I was fortunate to be born in a family that always had this international approach.  Indeed, I was conceived in France. My father was working for a multi-national company, and he was expatriated in France. I was conceived there although born in Barcelona but they moved back to France where I spent my first two years of my life. It’s not that my French was from that period, I guess not, because then I had to study.  But it definitely created a mental framework for the family. So I can say that my childhood was a happy childhood in a large, educated family that never transmitted to us this complex of inferiority that was among the Spaniards when looking at Europe, at that time Western Europe.

I was a very curious boy.  I loved to read everything I could, being… Tin-Tin, my favorite comics.  I can tell at the age of 14, I had my first interchange with a French family.  So, the French guy came to my house, and I went to his in Paris and Normandy. I did the same at 17 with a guy from Connecticut.  So he came to our home, and I went to Connecticut for a month. This is something that my two other brothers also had. So I was fortunate enough to have these exchanges and this framework as a family.

As a teenager, I witnessed the entrance of Spain in the European Union in 1986, and this was a total transformation of the country and society.  Suddenly, we got connected to the European market, and the European trends started to reach us at the similar pace as the rest of European countries.  Indeed, the gap of products that we could find in our supermarkets, compared to the ones I could find in our neighbor, France, started to diminish. So it meant we were getting closer to Europe.  At that time, Spain was booming, and the country was receiving a lot of investment. But the fall of the Berlin wall occurred, and then suddenly Spain was not as attractive as it was those years. However, Spain had already been connected to Europe, and it really changed the mentality.  More concretely, more particularly, in l992, Barcelona held the Olympic Games, and it was a success. It really transformed the city and me, being in my early 20s, I was also. A nice way of looking at the world, and I am becoming proud of where we were living and what we were doing in Barcelona.  And it completely changed the mentality of my city and my country. We became international, completely international. So, this gives you the context of my childhood and where I was growing up.

[05:21]

I know that you are – and we talked about this a little bit at the beginning of the podcast – you are connected with Catalan, right?

[05:28]

Yes, I am Catalan, yeah.

[05:31]

And there’s a lot relative to the uniqueness of that culture in the context of the larger EU.  Can you tell us a little bit about what’s that like and how that’s shaped your world view?

[05:46]

Yeah.  Of course, I cannot get into politics, but I just get into cultural aspect.  So, we have our own language and our own culture. Of course, it’s a little one.  Catalan is spoken and understood by – let’s say – 9 million people. So it’s a small language but very active, very active.  It has been preserved throughout many years. Culturally very active in all sorts of cultural fields. It was given me the opportunity of looking at the world from – let’s say – not from a very strong and dominant culture but from a little culture that is fighting for its preservation and striving this multi-diverse, multi-cultural world to be there on the stage.  So it gives me a sensitiveness to all sorts of realities. I’m not looking at the world from a very dominant perspective but from a way that I try to understand the culture of others, how others look at the world, and try to understand their position. So that’s why I love to be in contact with people coming from very strong cultures, very dominant countries and languages as well with all sorts of other origins.

[07:12]

At this point, I really want to pull this out because in a lot of ways, this is relevant to market research today.  Market research as… (I hear lots of different numbers between 40 and 70 billion dollars) but we know as an industry has been not growing in line with, at least not growing in line with GDPs.

[07:34]

No, actually, the last ESOMAR report is that what we understand as traditional market research accounts for 45 billion dollars and, if we enlarge the view and we get into the new scope of market research, it can be like 75 billion dollars.

[07:51]

And so then you broaden that to the utilization of consumer insights, which has just completely blown up over the decade.  Everyone from the intern to the CEO is conducting a survey – at least, it seems that way – given the democratization of access to the consumers through different tools like Survey Monkey or what have you.   So market research in a lot of ways is this very large industry and important industry, and yet we have to have that humble or that view of the marketplace at large to understand how we can fit in and empower and ensure that business decisions are being informed in a correct way.     

[08:45]

Yep, this is, I would say if not the biggest, one of the biggest challenges we are facing now:  In bringing the voice of the people, voice of the customer, in a proper way to the table and being conducted with the right methodologies and the rigor that it merits.

[09:04]

So, in 2000 you joined TNS as the Retail Services Director.  How in the world did you wind up in market research?

[09:14]

Yeah, I think I will join some of the answers you have had so far.  I guess I fell into market research by a natural fall. Since very young, I was always interested in society, in politics, in geography.  I was always interested in understanding the world and people. I’ve always been fascinated in learning new things, learning things about societies.  This is why I studied economics, led by this passion. In the university, I was much involved in a student association called AIESEC. It was a unique international association for students of economics.  I started to get involved into promoting international understanding, education, organizing conferences, and attending international conferences. So, this moved me to my first job; I was hired by the largest FMCG Spanish association.  I was responsible for organizing seminars, conferences; for taking Spanish managers to visit retailers in Europe and the U.S. to learn from those countries how retail was evolving and consumer patterns were evolving. So I became an expert in retail and the consumer understanding.  Then, from this expertise, I was hired by Carrefour, the big retailer to create the first category management department in Carrefour supermarkets. I stayed there for two years. And there was a merger, and I had to be moved to Madrid. I spent there some time. I had been married with Hollis Carelli, my wife.  I didn’t like the outcome of the new company. So, that’s when TNS came and they were looking for a retailer specialist. I had been in touch with them before. When I was at the first job I was mentioning, I was also purchasing research. And I had a relationship with them. I was always interested in trends, in society, in consumers.  And I was coming from being a retailer; so, I thought it was a nice move. And I got into TNS as the expert in retail end-shopper.

[11:26]

What was one of the more difficult or interesting, I should say – one of the more transitions moving into research for you?

[11:35]

Now when I recall it because I did this move twice; I did it again later.  I think the transition at the first moment was to cross the bridge from being a purchaser and the one that has the power and that has the money because I was a retailer.  So I was responsible for negotiating with manufacturers, and I was the one that was deciding what product was being sold on the shelves, and all this negotiation behind. Suddenly, I crossed the bridge and became a provider.  At that moment (I don’t know if now is the same) but at that moment, it was an important change. Being a provider and being a client, that is an important difference. I remember when I was a client, I could take the phone, call whoever it was and they would just show up in my office.  And when I was a client and I was taking the phone and trying to get those meetings and get relevant to clients. So that’s the difference. That’s the important difference at the moment. But of then on a change of that, I could get immersed into knowledge. So, when I was a retailer, it was a lot of management and Excel spreadsheets, analyzing revenues and profits and ROI and negotiating everything.  And then I could do the same but understanding the consumer, understanding from at that moment TNS Worldpanel data, so the consumption trends and so on. What I really got in love with was storytelling. I have discovered throughout the years that I’m a good storyteller. So, I discovered that and I became a quite successful presenter in conferences and speaker. I really enjoyed that way of building stories with data.

[13:43]

Storytelling has been…  I actually have been reflecting on this, and I’m going to be writing a post:  trends that will continue to gain momentum in 2019 both from a technology perspective and also as a skill-set perspective.  One of those trends that I’ve been picking up on from our guests and just observations on the marketplace is storytelling as a skill in the same way that math is skill.

[14:12]

It’s fundamental but it’s not just today.  I mean it comes from the most ancient times.  When you see the paintings in the caves, those people who were painting those buffaloes or those deer, they were storytelling; they were telling stories to their friends and families in the cave.  So it’s been forever and will be forever. We humans, we need this storytelling.

[14:35]

I like that analogy.  I’ve never heard anybody put it exactly like that before.  Of course, I’m thinking to myself that’s like the old school whiteboarding.   

[14:44]

All of us…  When you talk with your grandparents or other people or younger people, everybody likes to listen to stories and then you see that you reach much better to their inside.

[15:03]

Do you feel like we’re as an industry treating storytelling as more of a skill that is learnable and also sellable versus how we’ve done it historically?

[15:19]

I think we have to look at the origins of market research.  I think we have not been that good in showing off our skills, our capabilities, our strengths.  Some of the people that were good at that, for instance, consultants – they have very easily taken the stage on behalf of us.  We have the knowledge and the data, and we have the right people who know how to answer the appropriate questions and join the dots with the data.  So we have all the input to be the best storytellers – and the best storytellers in the world because we have the information and we know how to analyze and make sense of that information.  So we can be the best storytellers. So, from one side, yes, I agree: it’s a learnable skill. But also it comes from your DNA; I mean there are some people that are given and some people that are not so given.  But we have to push people because I think everybody is capable of telling stories. Some will be more graceful; some others will be less, but everybody is capable of telling a story with sense and purpose. I think we have to be less shy and let our creativity flow with the inputs we have.

[16:39]

Beautiful!  So, Netquest has seen…  I’ve been following Netquest really since you guys started or since the company started.  You’ve seen steady growth over years; you’ve been part of it and obviously before as well.  What are two keys of success that other executives and companies can learn from?

[17:00]

OK, I could mention many.  Of course, I wasn’t the founder of the company.  So I could mention many relating to the founder of the company.  I joined in 2009; so, it’s nine years already. I’ve seen all the expansion, and I’ve been part of this expansion during the last nine years.  I would pick two key points. One is the values and purpose, and the other one is perseverance. Values and purpose – we have defined our mission as a mission that we want to create a mirror of society, for society and promote values accordingly.  These values give us guidelines to behave in our daily basis. Particularly when critical decisions arise, it’s when values have a purpose. When particular decisions arise that you can go one side or the other side is when you set the values and say, “No, no.  We have this value. We have to have be current and consistent; so, let’s keep the decision within or according to the value. So we have all these values set in place, and it’s a kind of common culture.

Secondly, perseverance.  Netquest has been a pioneer.  It was born here in Barcelona when the Spanish market was not prepared.  It was created in 2001 as a survey platform for the Spanish market, an online survey platform.  It took some time to make it work. I wasn’t an easy path. In 2005, Netquest created the first digital access panel, and it was launched in a moment in which the Spanish market was not ready for that.  All the questions arose, and all the questions and difficulties were there. But it is a perseverant company and, in the end, we became the clear leaders of the market, and it allowed us to expand to first to LatAm and lately to some other countries like the U.S.  For instance, we have been evangelizing on the online mythology for many years when these markets were not mature like the Spanish market or the LatAm market – many, many years investing in evangelizing, showing how it can be done. We were also the first ones in getting the ISO quality stamp when dealing with samples.  Much before the GDPR and the strict rules regarding how to treat people, we already knew that we had to treat people with transparency and fairness in their system. Most recently, when in 2014 Netquest acquired the Dutch company Wakoopa, which is a company that developed software by which we can track what people do online and mobile, of course, with their consent.  This is the secret of the panel: always the consent and the good information of what they are doing with us. During these last four years we have as well been evangelizing on the digital passive measurement, publishing papers, news cases, handbooks or presenting at conferences in America, Europe, APAC. I personally have presented in North America, LatAm, Europe, and APAC and different cases of how we can track digital behavior of people, how it can be very beneficial for companies to understand the digital space.  So, I would say values and perseverance in the mission that we have.

[20:26]

Yeah, the values…  The word that I really like there is this mirror so that the view back on the person and then understanding if they’re a good fit is absolutely critical.  How have you applied that to your new role or how will you apply that to your new role at ESOMAR?

[20:49]

Well, for me values are very important, and I’m very glad that most lately ethics has come at the front of every discussion.  It’s been also pushed by legislation in a way, but today in this Big-Data world, I’m happy to see that more and more people are demanding to create an ethics framework to deal with the information and to deal with what we people give to the Big Data.  Aligned with the legislation and this demand, for me values and ethics are a must, and it’s something that, as professionals, we have to upstand because it is the way that we can have credibility in front of the stakeholders that we relate to. So, as professionals, as market researchers, ethics must be our main, let’s say, main asset to start with.

[21:44]

So, kind of piggybacking on one or two points:  purpose and perseverance. Perseverance: anytime someone says that word, I think about Ernest, I believe his last name is Shackleton.  Ernest Shackleton is a fairly well-known historical figure. He was the captain of a ship. Anyway, his family crest was “We Conquer through Perseverance.”  I think I’m getting that right. That has stuck with me, and I’ve heard this whatever, maybe two decades ago now. But that has stuck with me through my life.  It’s interesting a lot of people I believe, they give up before they get the payday. And I don’t necessarily mean the payday in a monetary way. It could be just emotional or investment with family and friends.  Thinking it’s about the long game where you have to play towards, not at a play-by-play. Obviously, we… Continuing the analogy, when we’re in the trenches or when we’re playing the game or whatever it is, every play’s important, it moves us down the field.  But we have to understand that we’re going to lose some. It’s about how we consistently show up and then execute every day, year after year, not just week after week, that winds up putting us in a dominant position.

[23:08]

But this is always a difficult moment to assess:  whether you have to persevere or whether you have stop and change your activity.  It’s always difficult to know what’s the right point, but it’s true. Perseverance is important.  By the way, I just checked and it’s Endurance, not Endeavor.

[23:28]

Ah, there it is – Endurance.  Yeah, yeah, endurance. That’s right.  That was the name of his ship. But then, having that view of perseverance, all of a sudden it starts informing your purpose and tying that back to you guys pioneering the ISO certification, which is really important to take the time out.  That’s not something that’s just easy, off-the-shelf. You just don’t write a check. There’s a lot of effort – time and treasure – that’s involved in that certification, especially, I’d imagine, in the early days, and being willing to make that investment because a lot of times there isn’t a direct ROI that’s measurable in the first quarter of that.  You’re thinking about, “OK, I’m going to make this investment, and that’s going to pay off over the next five years as we differentiate ourselves in the market of having this certification and proving that we’re putting our money where our mouth is, and we are quality and a brand that you can trust.”

[24:27]

Here there is a couple of lessons.  One is that because Netquest was not as mature market as U.S. or U.K., the online methodology took more time to be developed.  For instance, maybe in the U.S. and U.K., it was much faster to get nice money from scratch when offering an online sample. So, those companies were making money; so, they were very fast in developing whereas Netquest had a very slow pace, very slow pace.  So it helped the management and the founder to think very well what he wanted as an offer, how he wanted to build this offer. So it resulted that when, for instance, we had to do this ISO quality audit, most of the things that were required we already had them in place.  So our adaption was minimal because the bar had been set so high that we already had almost everything. And it’s been the same for the GDPR. Our transformation into being GDPR-compliant has been very easy because we were already there. We have been very consistent in keeping the bar as high as possible in terms of sample recruitment, sample treatment, and sample quality.

[25:52]

Alright, so you have a lot going on.  I think our listeners picked that up on the intro, right?  You were a council person at ESOMAR prior to your recent election as president. Advisor to MindProber, co-founder of NG0 HealthusNepal.  We should pull out really quick here and talk about your work there in Nepal. What is Health U.S.?

[26:20]

Health Us.

[26:21]

I keep saying U.S.  I apologize.

[26:25]

Oh, no.  It’s exactly what I said when we were branding the NGO.  We were branding that I said, “Look, this can become confusing.  They said, “No, no, don’t worry,” they said. OK, now we have the proof.  [laughs] To tell a long story short: so I have this cousin that was born in Nepal.  He was adopted by one of my uncles. And he came not to Barcelona, but to a town near Barcelona.  He has become a doctor. And at the age of 18, even before, he asked his parents to get back to Nepal and met his original family because he knew he had been not stolen, but he was taken from his town by the rich guy of the town and he had the sense that his family did not know that he was not there.  Effectively, he went with his parents to Nepal at the age of 18; he met his father, that was still living and is still living and his sisters and brothers and it was a shock. So, he was determined to study medicine. So now he’s a doctor. And once he finished the medicine… He had been in this town, which is the most remote area of Nepal, the poorest one, every summer.  He has been saving money. He goes there, and he has been contributing to his original population, additional village, an area. One year and a half ago, I was here Netquest working and suddenly I received an email from him. It was sent to the whole family. It’s a big family. My mother’s family, it’s a big, big family, composed of eight brothers and sisters and all their descendants.  So, we’re very tight family; so, we’re very linked. So, he sent this email, saying, “Hey, I have opened up this solidarity fund-raising campaign. Could you help?” I called him and said, “What are you doing?” And he explained to me. I told him, “Look, we need to formalize it. We need to make it legal. We need to create a structure on that because… I love what you want to do but if you just open a fund-raising page, I think that this will not be that trustable.  So we need to create something that can be trustable.” So we did that. It was in summer 2017; we created the NGO. So it’s his father; one of his best friends that has also a sister, that had been adopted from Nepal, and myself, who are running the association. We started to get members. So far, we have created, the first, let’s say, modern pharmacy in the region. Remember it’s the most poor and remote region in Nepal. So, my cousin is there. He’s treating an average of 40 people per day.  He travels on foot because there are no such ways… I mean you cannot have a car, you cannot have a motorbike. He has to go on foot, and so he travels a perimeter of 60 kilometers, giving service to all villages. We have set up a team. It’s a pharmacy where we’re selling all the medicines. We’re getting money here in Spain, but it’s open to the world. So I open up… I open up the opportunity for people to donate in any part of the world.

[29:54]

And we will include a link to the website in the show notes.  

[30:02]

Oh, thank you.  And it’s very nice because…  Have you seen the movie Lion?  This Indian guy…  Have you seen that movie, Lion?

[30:09]

No, I’ve not.  

[30:12]

So, it’s an Indian guy that also is adopted in Australia.  Finally, he discovers his past. Because he can relate to some memories, he discovers where he comes from.  When he was telling the story, I said, “Look, Mark, you are like the lion, the Catalan lion. It’s the same.  We have discovered your origins, and now you are going there back, which is very hard, I can tell you. He is a doctor here in Barcelona, in the Barcelona region in Catalonia, and he has decided to be there.  Where people in Katmandu, doctors in Katmandu do not want to go there because life there is very hard; he has decided to settle there and help the community. He’s training people to help people. So it’s very, very nice; and even I have involved my kids as well in that initiative.  For instance, every time that he has been here and we have gone to an interview in television, on newspaper or radio, I bring my kids as well. Yesterday, for instance, the largest radio and newspaper in Catalonia published a piece of news about that. And it was nice because yesterday night I was with my elder kid and showed him and he said, “Wow, we did it!”  [laughs]

[31:30]

Ownership, I love that!  What a great view to be able to offer your children, just creating an attitude of gratefulness and thankfulness.  We are where we are, and we have the opportunity to help and contribute. At the end of the day, the roles, the lives could have completely been shifted the other way.  I don’t want to get too much into the whole philosophy or turn this into a weird conversation. But, as soon as we can pick our heads up and look at the rest of the world, we can really reframe our problems and our struggles in much more positive way, I believe.   

[32:16]

Yes, yes, we are in another league; we play another league, and you play in California, you play another league than I play.  And these countries play another league, yeah.

[32:22]

So, with all the things going on, why would you… what was your motivation for running president of ESOMAR?  

[32:30]

OK, that’s a nice question.  Well, running for president has been the evolution of my past four years as an ESOMAR council member.  I have been engaged… I have been participating in different activities. I have contributed to this promotion.  I have been feeling part of the team. And you know that when you better know an organization that is well-run, that is good, you feel more in love, and you feel more engaged; so, I think it was natural step for me to do because I was very much involved and I believe, I believe in the cause.  I would say that maybe the right question would be “What decided me to get into ESOMAR 2014 to the councils first time?” because I must admit at that moment, I didn’t have such a clear idea of what I was enrolling to. At that moment, it was nice; I was participating at this ESOMAR events and I was active there, but I didn’t really know much more about than that.  It took me one year to understand the implications of what ESOMAR activity is: the stakeholders, the variety of memberships, and the real role. It took me some time, but once I learned that I’ve been very much engaged, and I’m a very great promoter of ESOMAR. As I was saying, I believe in what ESOMAR is doing. I believe in what it does for the good of our profession and our industry.  I even say that if ESOMAR did not exist, it should have to be invented. I should have to be created. I have been traveling during these last four years across the market research world. I’ve been in many markets. And I was feeling mature. I was feeling mature to contribute. I was feeling mature to contribute with my vision, my experience, my knowledge, my networking, my energy. So, yeah, I felt it was the time, the appropriate time.  As I see that you appreciate very much the personal touch, I can tell you that running for an international position like this is a life-changing experience. I can tell you I have changed some things inside me thank to the process of running for this kind of election. It’s an experience that I fully recommend to everybody that can have an interest to service such an association.

[34:54]

So, obviously, you have a service-oriented heart, hence, the work with Nepal.  What would you see as one of the biggest learnings entering into this role? I’m actually citing here a YouTube interview that you had where you said, “The surprise I got once in council was how many things you don’t know.”  For me, that’s super-interesting because – I mean, listen – we’ve been doing this for a lot of years, right? And we’ve talked to a lot of people. We have a pretty wide view of the space.

[35:35]

Yeah, but in the end, you are focused on your activity, and you have some objectives to attain.  And you have budgets, and you have this pressure. And, suddenly, you get into an open space where there are many, many different stakeholders, many different actors, and you start to learn from them.  But, most precisely, as I was telling before, I knew ESOMAR mainly by the events, publications, and all this public sphere. Then I realized that the cornerstone of ESOMAR is its extraordinary capability to move the professionals of the industry to self-regulate, to create guidelines, and to stay ahead of legislation because we want to be better than what is expected from us.  For instance, I can tell last week… Last week we were in Amsterdam, and we had this meeting that there was current council plus a new council. And it’s very nice because when you see how the new members start to get the information that we are dealing with and the sort of stuff that we are discussing, all of them are surprised like, “Wow, it didn’t know that ESOMAR was doing as much and so many things and so important” – for instance like all the legislation aspect.  ESOMAR has had a key contribution, a key contribution in the GDPR law. The way it was drafted, it could be very harmful for the market research industry, market research companies. ESOMAR has played a key role in preserving our activity in Europe but also globally because the GDPR law is an inspiration for many other countries. ESOMAR pays much attention to all these moves that this legislation is having across the world. And the learnings that we are having in Europe can be transmitted to the rest of the countries of the world, and it’s something that we want to do because we must teach the legislator what we are doing.  We have to tell them that what we are doing is for a good purpose, that we’re very conscious of the value of the information that we are managing, and that we have to manage it in an ethical way, preserving all the standards. So ESOMAR is doing an exceptional role in teaching the legislator in the favor and the benefit of our activity. You know, kind of iceberg. You know ESOMAR by the events and publications and then get deeper and suddenly you start to discover a whole new world and say, “Wow! If there was not these people doing that, somebody should do that because it’s necessary”.

[38:23]

Yeah, it sounds like applying storytelling, master craft of storytelling on top of this activity would be something that would help the whole industry at large understand actual ramifications of, to your point, GDPR legislation or whatever is going to come down the pipe or is coming down the pipe right now that the rest of us are pretty much unaware of.

[38:45]

Yeah, but it’s again the problem…  It was very nice: last term we started discussing about how efficient ESOMAR is in communicating because there was some criticism:    “Oh, ESOMAR is not communicating properly. The message is not getting right. So we created an audit of the different touchpoints that a member of ESOMAR and a non-member of ESOMAR can get from ESOMAR.  And it’s amazing: I mean the amount of touchpoints that you can get from ESOMAR is impressive. But we live in a world in which attention is scarce, in a world in which we are all impacted by so many messages that it’s very difficult to get messages across.  But, if people could pay this attention to the important stuff, I can tell you that what ESOMAR is doing is very important.

[39:32]

So what is it that you’re hoping to get done as president?

[39:37]

My motto is that I want to reinforce the bridges across practices and geographies.  This would be a sentence to kind of compile everything. I believe that market research is now in a very exciting moment.  Well, you know: you’re constantly talking about that. The digitization of our society has brought a new approach to customers, consumers, citizen, whatever you might call it, understanding.  Today, we have an unparalleled access to understanding what consumers do, think, and feel. As you were saying, everyone can research today and, on top of that, the end-client or the purchaser of research is living its own transformation at a very fast pace.  So, these needs are constantly evolving, and require different responses. So, now, as you were saying before, the traditional market research has seen how the new market research or the digital technology-related insights have appeared. So as professionals, we need to properly manage this digital transformation.  We need to be smart enough to get the optimal symbiosis of traditional research, traditional practices, and those coming from the digital and analytics world. If you allow me, I always like to say that at a certain status ESOMAR could be perceived as a country club. I mean old members coming from the same background and status.   I think that today ESOMAR has to get closer to what they call the Star Wars Intergalactic Cantina, a place populated by humans, humanoids, robots, all sorts of species that contribute to the understanding of humans. Regarding my bridge across practices and my bridge across geographies is, as we were talking at the beginning of this interview…  The world is very big, and there are many realities, and every single market is different. Indeed, in the U.S., it isn’t the same; on the West Coast, East Coast, or the Mid of the country, but there are common traits. Of course, there are common traits but each market has its own peculiarities. I can tell you I’ve been traveling around the globe during these last years and I have seen excellent practices across the globe.  I’ve been attending the LatAm conference for the last five years, APAC for the last eight; I’ve been in U.S. and Europe and some other countries and they are excellent, excellent experiences. I do believe that we have to learn one from the other and increase the awareness and elevate our profession. Lastly, I like to be global and to be local, and I believe we need to reinforce the sense of community, the sense of belonging not only as ESOMAR but also as inside professionals.  As market research professionals, we need to have the sense of unity because it is the way we can – all of us – adapt to challenges that the digitalization of our society is bringing.

[42:52]

It’s going to be fun watching how this unfolds over the next four years.  I particularly like your connection with – I’ll call it – “middle class” is not the right way of saying it but it’s, basically, this flattening of importance, whether it’s U.S. or pick the country…Nepal.  Everybody has a voice; the voice IS important, and we need to understand it so that we can create policy that helps create, give us a better view ultimately of the industry and helps empower the companies, the brands to make good decisions.    

[43:40]

The market is very big, and there are opportunities everywhere.

[43:44]

So this podcast will have about 500, just over 500, insight professionals listen to it, hopefully more. Incidentally, if you haven’t been sharing it, please take time to share it on social.  

As you know, market researchers are full of opinions.  I think it’s pent up in us by the way because nobody asks our opinions.  As much as they do, we’re relaying the opinions of the customer. What is one question you would like the listeners of this podcast – Insight Nations – to answer?  

[44:15]

OK, I try to be provocative; so, my question would be “What is your personal contribution to improve, to elevate the status of our profession?

[44:25]

Perfect.  When this goes live, we’ll be posting this particular question on social.  So, I’m excited about seeing and the feedback and then also it’d be fun to write a little blog post.  Maybe, we’ll co-author that, addressing it.

So, my guest to today has been Joaquim Bretcha.  Sir, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[44:51]

Thank you, Jamin.  It’s been my pleasure.

[44:53]

As always, I appreciate your time and listening.  If you’d be willing, please leave us a review on whatever platform you’re using.  We would love it if you would share this podcast and let other insights professionals know about the great value of our guests.  Have a wonderful rest of your day!

[46:15]

Stay tuned for and HR tip from our previous guest, Mark Ziontz of Automated Insights.  

[45:23]

Passion, agility, and accountability.

First, you got to love what you do.  If you don’t, it’s a job. If you don’t, you’ll be there for a period of time.  I think at the end of the day, you really have to love what it is you’re doing and, by the way, that can extend to who you’re working with, who you’re working for, what is the culture.  But the most basic building block of that aspect is do you believe in the product? Do you believe in what the company does? Do you believe in the mission? I think people in our company get pretty excited about the fact that we help people understand their data, and they see that as a huge problem and they see that as something creating value.  So, I think our people have passion around that as they think it’s a big challenge, and it creates a tremendous amount of value. So that passion, I think, is just vital.

The second one I mentioned was agility, and I spoke on this earlier.  If you don’t like change, if you don’t like having to zig instead of zag sometimes, if you think everything is going to perfectly on your 3–5 year plan, good luck!  That’s not been my experience. I’m always suspect when somebody tells me, “This is my plan. From the beginning, we did it perfectly, and this was our outcome.” And I just smile and I’m polite.  When I look back on everything, many times we ended up in great places, but it certainly wasn’t a smooth road. There were bumps along the way,

And then finally, accountability.  I think it’s accountability to yourself, accountability to your colleagues, accountability to your customers.  And I think that if you have people that are accountable, it also affords you great freedom. It’s freedom for people to work remotely when they want to work remotely.  If they have something in the middle of the day with their kids and they’re going to get their deliverable out that evening, it enables that to happen. You can a trust-based organization when people are accountable.

[47:27]

For me, one of the most impactful parts of business is being passionate about adding value.  That value is added through the continuum of whatever it is that you’re doing. If it’s manufacturing, you could be on the line, but the value is the consistency and high quality of that work.  Additionally, and I think even more impactfully, if you are anybody inside of the company, applying your passion and care for the final delivery it is going to resonate and drive a positive culture.  And if there is a positive culture that exists, that exudes into the customer relationships.

I remember early on with RackSpace, I was customer no. 102, if you can believe that.  They launched with fanatical customer support. That word, “fanatical,” has gone through some iterations since that time.  But, in those days, the interpretation of “fanatical” was really like “This is what gets us out of bed in the morning,” is making sure that you are absolutely taken care of.  They weren’t leading with best, fastest, reliable, etc. All those underpinnings are there from a messaging perspective, but the lead was “fanatical” customer support. And I think that starts, from a customer journey perspective, not when you’re talking with the salesperson but it happens when the customer dials in or sends an email or fills out a web form or tries to find you online.  So passion around what it is you do, a love for that particular task is absolutely critical and, as you deliver on that, your career will advance.

I want to end on a brief story.  One of my best friends, Bobby, he came from Romania and, as a first generation, moved here when he was in seventh grade with his mother.  After graduating from college, got a job working at a box plant, a corrugated box plant. He was working in the assembly line. From there, he had an opportunity to advance his career and start supporting the… by doing janitorial work.  That kind of gave him a little bit of a side hustle opportunity. And he just kicked butt and did a great job, delivering on that part. He continued to advance, moved into accounting, eventually sales, and now he is the, if not one of the top salesmen, on the West Coast for corrugated boxes, which is a truck load of money.  In fact, he makes more money a year than I ever did [laughs] outside of selling businesses. The point is that if you’re passionate about where you’re putting your time and energy, then the by-product, the outcome of what you generate, it will be just 10x what your peers, what other people are applying and it will help propel you to the next thing. 

[50:29]

Thanks, everybody, for listening to today’s episode of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  An absolute privilege! We are honored that you would be willing to spend so much time with us.  I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. Please, please, please share this episode on the platform of your choice.  If you would just tweet it or if you would take the time to post it on LinkedIn, it would mean the world to us.

[50:56]

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. 203 – Marian Anderson – Microsoft on Using Data to Create Excellent Customer Experiences

My guest today is Marian Anderson, Director at Microsoft. Microsoft Corporation a multinational technology company creates computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related services. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2013, Marian held senior research positions at Harris Interactive, PSB Research and GfK.

This episode is brought to you by Attest. Attest is a powerful, easy-to-use SaaS platform that connects businesses to over 100 million consumers in 80 countries on demand in just a few clicks. Ask your burning questions. Select who you want to answer. View actionable insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable intelligence platform.

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

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Find Marian Online:

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[00:00]

On Episode 203 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m chatting with Marian Anderson, Research Director of Microsoft.  But first a word from our sponsor:

This episode is brought to you by Attest.  Attest is the 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.

[00:57]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Marian Anderson, Director of Research at Microsoft. The Microsoft Corporation is a multi-national technology company that creates computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and related services. Prior to joining Microsoft in 2013, Marian held senior research positions at Harrison Interactive, PSB Research, and GfK.  Marian, thanks so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast with me today.

[01:25]

Thanks, Jamin.  Happy to be here.

[01:27]

Let’s talk a little bit about your backstory.  So, you graduated from University of Utah with a degree in political science.  How in the world did you wind up in market research?

[01:37]

Well, does anyone end up in research by….? [laughs]

[01:42]

I don’t think so.  Literally, I’ve had one person say that they were interested in research pre-graduation and that only happened….  And this is literally after 47 interviews… And that happened only months before their graduation. [laughs]

[01:59]

I don’t know that I know a single person.  That I find interesting in and of itself. Politics was it for me.  I was very, very interested in what motivated political behavior and political strategy.  I had the opportunity right out of undergrad to go work for Mark Penn and work on political messaging, doing political polling.  Honestly, I was interested in working in politics in any strategy regard. It happened to be polling that the opportunity presented itself, and that started my research career.  And I haven’t looked back. I was only involved in the political side for a couple of years before it became really clear to me that – at least working with Mark Penn, as a very young researcher, I got zero access to clients and high-level strategy on the political side, but he would let me loose on the corporate-strategy side.  It was, “Go figure it out. Go advise. Go get involved on the corporate. Go see what you can build.” So I moved over to the corporate-strategy side of research within my first couple of years and then consulted for many, many years. Harrison Interactive really focused on brand strategy and positioning research, which is kind of my first love in research, and it really is the same in political research.  That may be why I love it so much… is that building a brand is building a brand, whether or not you’re talking a political candidate or any given product out there. I was with Harrison Interactive a number of years and then I had the opportunity to build the Microsoft business on behalf of GfK. And I moved to Seattle at that point to build up that business… did that… and then moved over to Microsoft five years ago.

[03:58]

And it’s interesting too that…  I believe Mark Penn wound up as an executive at Microsoft at one point.

[04:02]

He did.  So not long ago…  I joined Microsoft in 2013; in 2014 or so, Mark Penn came to be co-CMO of Microsoft.  He did that for maybe 18 months; him and Tami Reller had this co-CMO job. I found it very strange then and still do that we had this co-CMO thing happening.  And it was very strange to have Mark Penn back in my world. Then he then moved on to become our Chief Strategy Officer; he did that for maybe a year. (I’m probably not getting my timelines quite right.)  And then he moved on. It was coming full circle in a way for me from starting my career to being pretty well established in my career and having Mark back.

[04:51]

As the month of January for us is rolling out in 2019, the topic is Customer Experience, which is a center point in the Microsoft Corporation.  My tenure with this brand, your brand, by the way, is very long, and it was literally back in the DOS days. And I still remember the very first version of Windows.  I can literally recall where I was sitting when I installed it. Microsoft has built a strong brand on Customer Experience. How is Microsoft using data specifically to help drive and deliver on that experience?

[05:29]

It’s been such an amazing evolution, even in the five years that I’ve been here.  The way that we have integrated data in ways that I don’t think we’d ever really done before.  Microsoft for a very long time by having smart people and building really good products and then simply our size and scale allowed momentum to go from there, of course, with the very strong vision of having a computer on every desk.  Even in the five years I’ve been at Microsoft, the focus on, not just customer experience, but really truly empathy for our customers and understanding what is happening for them and really becoming a company that is interested in operating on behalf of the customer as opposed to simply building something so that they can buy it.  It’s a really interesting cultural shift that of course has driven. It shows up every single day in the data space. In order to be customer-centric, in order to build customer experiences, of course, data comes in at every point. We do a lot more… So, market research, in particular, has grown substantially in the sense that we no longer are looking at one source of data almost ever; we are looking at many sources of data, usually to help drive strategies.  That means, of course, traditional, kind of qualitative or ethnographic methods. We tend to be very quant heavy here in terms of market research but now are bringing things in like internal telemetry – what people are actually doing on their machines. External kind of telemetry that we purchase so that we can understand what’s happening with competitors in terms of what customers are doing. Then we’re bringing in things like motivations we see show up in social research or what’s happening with revenue and how that’s tied to what people telling us how they feel about a certain thing.  We’re much better, for example, about not just measuring satisfaction, overall experience level with a given product, but at a micro-experience. “What was the satisfaction level of that thing you just did?” All of that has happened in the last five years. We really have evolved from an important source of customer data to an aggregator, if you will.

[07:51]

That’s multi-sourced really, isn’t it?  

[07:53]

It’s SO hard, and we’re learning and we’re…  It’s hard to do it at this scale and pace that is needed to drive the most important business decisions we have.  To be honest, that’s been such a privilege to be part of that journey at a company that is so… The amount of data at our finger tips is just unlike anything I’ve certainly ever been part of before.

[08:15]

The story of Microsoft is super-interesting, right?  I was actually in high school when Microsoft went public.  It had a really crazy ratio between millionaires and employees.  I want to say that it was about 1 to 5. I’m not positive about that.  That’s just what I recall. So, anyway, the point there being – it really was a product-market-fit story of there being this massive need and Microsoft being the dominant player to be able to meet it.  And then just…BOOM! To your point, let’s built stuff that we can then sell. Moving that mentality… if you saw it over time, sort of a degradation in the stock price of Microsoft with the new leadership and focus on the customer (empathy, as you said) all of a sudden really pushing that trajectory completely in the opposite direction with fantastic returns for shareholders by putting the customer in the center.  That shift… I’m really interested in. It’s one of the reasons that Reed Hastings has done so well at Netflix, having this customer-minded mentality as opposed to more of the unwillingness to change. I know you’ve been there for only five years, but has there been any practical steps that Microsoft has taken in order to install this shift or has it been more investment-based such as things like research?

[09:35]

Sure, it is investment-based, but that’s more of an outcome in the desire to have a voice in the room that is not the executive team, meaning the customer.  And there is much more openness to customers having alternative opinions, shall we say, than what the executive team might have thought coming into something.  So there’s a lot of discussion that happens where the question is “What is the need?” “What is the desire?” “What is the problem we’re solving?” Frankly, a lot of people being given permission to try things…  You know the X-box adaptive controller is a really good example of this. That was a small crack team of people who really believed that we needed an accessible option for gamers. They worked for several years, trying to drive that product.  They were given the permission and the space to figure that out. It was a “Absolutely, we’re going to go do this.” It was a small group of people given the permission to try and to fail and to try again. It’s been an absolute success story for us in terms of making sure we’re developing products that allow everyone to play and to game, to be part of the conversation.  I think really at its core it’s allowing all employees to have a voice that I don’t think was important before. In that, we’re gaining so much. In the employees having a voice, of course, customers come through, and there’s a demand for data and a demand for understanding what the customer experience is that’s never been present before, certainly not in my experience.

[11:16]

It’s interesting how when you’re in an executive-based decision versus a customer-based decision.  In one case, the first case, on the executive-based, the research (and this is really coming from my background, specifically in the 90s in primary research)… You’d have your business hypothesis that the research was supposed to “Is it true or not true?”  or get to. But, at the end of the day, it was really about “How can I make that true?” I’ve had more than a few examples in my career where I’ve had executives say, “No, it’s really important that the answer is blue or whatever.” You wind up crossing some tough ethical lines in that context as opposed to when you put the consumer in the middle of it.  Now, all of a sudden, you need a lot more data in order to triangulate their truth. Because just with social media being where it is now empowered in a large part with your corporation, you’ve got a major move from brands used to be who they say they are to now they are who their consumer says they are – and by the way – in real time. Sure as hell, better stop paying attention to your rear view mirror and start paying attention to what’s happening right in front of you.

[12:29]

Absolutely.  Do think there are decisions that get made that are based on a belief in the future that is not always based on research?  I think those are still important bets for us to make. When you’re thinking three or five years out and you’re really trying to extrapolate what customers can’t tell you today or can’t articulate for you today, those conversations are really important to make sure research informs but that there is a larger conversation happening with technical teams, with executive teams etc. about those longer-term, strategic decisions.  I think when it comes to shorter-term decisions, that’s where the feedback from customers really shines: How we should approach a given feature; how we should approach a set of messaging, pricing decisions, etc. even short-term portfolio decisions, brand-strategy decisions. What we’re going to do, for instance, with Skype versus teams in the Office portfolio. All those things use data and multiples of data in ways that just would not have happened five or ten years ago.

[13:38]

That’s a really important point, which is innovation rarely…  The Ford quote, right: “If I ask customers what they want, it would just be a better horse.”  That’s a 100% correct. It’d be a better version of DOS, not the transformation that Windows brought to the marketplace.  But, to your point, that innovation has to be grounded in where the consumer is. That’s one of things that we can learn from Steve Jobs when he launched the Newton, which you’re probably not old enough to remember.  But there was this sort of pre-iPhone product that entered the market (I want to say around ’92) and it was, basically, early into the digital assistant space. And it didn’t do very well at all because the market simply wasn’t ready for it.  So you need to have that bed of data in order to test the business hypotheses, which then, of course, you see in whatever – 2006 – the iPhone, of course, having tremendous success.

[14:37]

And you also need to be ready I think, as a company, to go ahead and watch things and try them and have failures in the market.  You see companies doing this consistently: the Newton’s a good example. We’ve certainly had examples; we’ve tried it and decided it didn’t work.  I think that’s part of the culture of technology and making sure we’re pushing forward. “Are consumers ready for this?” or, in our case, “commercial audiences, ready for this or not?”  And just taking a leap and launching something – there’s real value in that. Test and learn and at scale as well.

[15:12]

I like that.  So, that’s a great segue into my next question, which is really centered around voice assistance like Amazon’s Alexa or Microsoft’s Cortana.  How do you see that space evolving and impacting customer experience?

[15:29]

I really see voice as just another channel, by which people interact with their laptops or their homes or in their cars.  It enables a layer of communication that is really helpful, but it is just that. It is a tool; it is not a tool, in my mind, different than typing or text.  For me, it fits into a portfolio “Ways we are going to communicate with the world around us.” In and of itself, I suppose that’s how a feel about it.

[16:04]

I think that’s true from the view of a way we interact with technology.  What’s interesting to me is the opportunities that exist inside of these personal assistants.  For me, the conversation is turning a lot more into Star Wars vs. Star Trek [laughs] where you’ve got Star Wars R2-D2 or C-3PO thing that is traveling with me whether that’s the mobile phone or desktop or whatever it is. That individual versus the Star Trek where it’s this sort of always on voice connection.  Adoption seems to be primarily centered around music and audio content versus more of the real power of it, which is business-based time saving. You know what I mean like scheduling meetings across two people: just like what we put together in doing this podcast. It DOES seem to me like there are lots of opportunities for betterment of life in time-saving benefits but it’s, to your point, more in the context of instead of typing, I’m saying the words as opposed to it being more of a platform.      

[17:10]

I don’t view it as a platform.  It certainly enables a lot of things; for instance, the AI behind so much of the voice stuff is no different than what would be required if I asked the same question via text.  It allows different… It’s a modality. I do think that there’s something about the real-time nature of it that is interesting. I find myself… For instance, I probably use Alexa a little bit differently maybe than some like I will ask her constantly to add things to my to-do list.  I’m at home, walking around. It’s a helpful way to get things out of my head. I find myself wanting to interact with her almost constantly. Like I’m on my way to work: “Oh, Alexa. Oops, Alexa’s not here right now.” You know.

[17:53]

Totally, totally.  Believe me I’m a week away from 48, and I get that creature-habit thing more than ever.  It feels like every year it’s a little harder to change. I even tried my hand at Snapchat for almost a year and a half, and I just have finally given up entirely.  It doesn’t feel organic to me, I guess, is how I’d put it. The one thing that’s also interesting: I had my daughter at the time, she was – I want to say 8. She’s now 11.  So, I bought her an iPhone, and we were on a drive together. I asked her about her best friends, and she said, “I have two best friends.” I said, “Oh, that’s cool. Who are they?”  “One is Hannah; the other is Siri.” Now, she’s a little bit of a witty child; I thought she was making a joke. But, as I was diving deeper in, she literally didn’t understand that when she’d called her friend Hannah and then she would call Siri, it was like one was a robot.  One was an AI based voice assistant. It was crazy for me processing that as a dad, thinking, “Holy, shit, there’s a big potential shift that could happen here. Is this a real human being or not?” Then to your point about now the overall opportunity to interact with that thing becomes all the time, doing all sorts of stuff for me, across different environments, whether I’m driving to work or whatever.  

[19:19]

That’s fascinating that’s how she thinks of Siri.

[19:25]

Yeah.  She’s matured past that now, of course.  I mean it was 100% all in. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it wasn’t real.  It took me a couple days to figure out how to have that conversation.

[19:38]

Right.  A conversation you never thought you’d have.  [laughs]

[19:41]

Right, exactly.  As you think about all these different sources of consumer insight – from social to transactional – how do you combine all of that?  Is the data stream feeding into a dashboard or is it in some proprietary BI?

[19:57]

Oh, gosh.  I wish there was one easy answer to that.

[19:59]

It’s just a lot of different data sources, right?  

[20:01]

Yes, and so, in some cases, we are fortunate enough to have customer data connected on an individual level.  We can see what people are doing, the revenue it’s generating. And then you use that to research that population.  That is a very rare case of… Actually, it’s one massive data set that we have that allows us to do that. And then on top of that, we build things like power BI and whatnot.  But having the connections at an individual level, it’s hard, and it is equally valuable. There seems to be a correlation between how difficult it is and the value it brings when it comes to merging these types of data.  And then, of course, we’re doing things journalistically as well. I think the rule is we never want to look at anything in isolation, not based on one piece of data. Where we can be more sophisticated about it, and I’ve gone in order (most sophisticated to least sophisticated)…  When it is simply bringing together two or three or four sources together kind of journalistically, that is far better and far more valuable.

[21:10]

When I think about…  I love this term; I’ve never heard this term before:  “journalistically.” There’s two parts of it, right – I guess there’s three.  You’ve got the sourcing; so, you’ve got all the disparate pieces of data. And then it’s got to get analyzed (magic happens there).  And then the story has to get told. That’s the other part. It’s a differentiation. Then I would put in the normal research camp. Is storytelling a big part of the focus?

[21:41]

Yeah, all that influence.  I don’t think you can influence truly without having a point of view told via story.  Storytelling is huge. Frankly, it’s one that we’re struggling with a little bit as we think about bringing all these sources of data together.  Like it is not enough to throw a dashboard together or rather, for the most important decisions that we’re really trying to be at the table for and influence, throwing a power BI on board and having the room look at it is not sufficient.

[22:13]

I think one of the terms I’ve heard, and I use a lot, is HI.  So, it’s that Human Intelligence. We’re going to see a bigger focus on that in an intentional way over the coming years as technology continues to automate different pieces and then also continues to give us more confusion or opportunities (is a better way of saying it) to see the consumer, whether it’s voice in real time or whatever, those consumer experiences.  What is one of the biggest challenges that internal researchers like you face and then how do you see or what do you wish agencies would do in order to help meet that need?

[22:50]

For me, indisputably, it is the combination of multiple data sources and decisions that need to get made at speed.  Frankly, trying to get a piece of research done quickly to make a decision, in say 48 hours is hard. Trying to get a piece of research done quickly and then layer in multiple other sources of data is exponentially harder.  We aspire to that; we want to be at the table where real-time decisions get made, and we’re able to be strong strategy consultants on those decisions. So it is just a constant pressure of “What’s the right data to bring into the table?”  “How do you bring it to the table?” “What’s the story?” And then agencies are frankly such critical partners and extensions of our team; without them, we just simply cannot be successful. And we really rely heavily, heavily on our partners to execute the research, to really get interested in the business problems with us.  Our partnerships are most successful is when our partners feel as invested the strategic decision as our FTE team does, and they’re in it, trying to figure out the right sources of data, bringing into the table brainstorming. The other thing that, I think, is really helpful is oftentimes when we’re working at speed like that, I find that creativity in how to solve a problem does not always emerge.  And I think that that’s a problem. So to the extent that our agencies can help us be creative in how we solve or answer questions, I think that’s something we’re always looking for in our partners.

[24:21]

To make decisions, it’s faster and faster, and that’s one of the neat things that we’ve all seen in the industry is that, through technology and power-data collection, anybody can do a survey now.  So the table stakes have really completely changed, leveled up for market research of being whatever it is that we need to be able to do and, of course, triangulating that point of consumer truth at scale is super-hard and we have to do it faster.  So that where I think that pattern recognition at the HI level becomes really important.

[24:58]

You know it’s interesting that anyone can do a survey.  I mean the tools are certainly there. For me, this is where the storytelling and understanding the “why” and really understanding that whoever your survey population is they can tell you so much and you need to derive so much from it.  You need to connect it to other things to really understand what’s driving the thing

[25:18]

One of things that we did not talk a lot about in 2017 on the Happy Market Research Podcast is the way the guests processed risk and were willing to take risks.  As I did a lot of reflecting and listening to the episodes, I think in 2018 part of the story needs to be risk tolerance, especially in the framework of research.  I would love if you would tell us about a time in your career where you had to take a specific risk and then sort of how you coped with the anxiety, if you had any at all, around that risk in order to take the chance, overcome it, and, hopefully, it has a positive outcome.  

[26:03]

Yeah, totally.  I think oftentimes in taking a risk, you just have to go in blindly believing that you can figure it out.  And if you have that belief, then ultimately something will get figured out; it may not be what you originally intended.  I remember very distinctly Chris Cap, our CMO, saying, “Figure out where we suck.” I had no idea where to start… I had no idea where to start.  So the first thing I did was we said we’d go figure it out; I wasn’t going to commit to how or when or whatever. It ended up being probably eighteen months of really hard analysis; many, many rounds of focus groups; and maybe three rounds of serious quantitative work before we figured out not only where we sucked but why we sucked and what we needed to do about it.  For me, the risk there was not promising I could do it and not promising it in any given time frame. It’s very easy for us as researchers certainly, whether you’re on the client side or the agency side, to say, “Yep, I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it in this time frame.” In this case, I committed to it but without a time frame and 18 months later we had it and we had a campaign entirely written around a new audience and launched which is the AI campaign that you see on the internet.

[27:24]

There’s a degree of…  It sounds like two things. One is honesty/humility; and then the other piece of it is successful expectation-setting around that.  

[27:33]

That might be the most important.  The most important for any job ever is setting expectations appropriately.  Yeah, absolutely. There are other risks I could point to, but that one was…  I felt like my career was on the line. You know when the CMO says, “Find out where you suck,” and you don’t have an immediate answer…

[27:55]

Right, you had to come up with the answer.  [laughs]

[27:57]

Oh, yeah.  There was a lot of [unclear – overlapping voices]

[28:00]

It’s not great; it’s not great.  [laughs] I immediately start sweating in that scenario.

[28:07]

It’s also in retrospect…  I was confident we could figure it out, and I’m probably proudest of that particular journey, in part, because it was truly a beginning-to-end journey.  We did not know where we were going at the beginning; by the end, we had full creative launched. It was just an absolute privilege to be part of that. Many moments of sleepless nights for sure!

[28:34]

Right.  [laughs]  Totally. Sounds like a fun project, stressfully fun project.  So, talk to me a little bit about the three characteristics of an All-Star Employee from your career view.  I’m interested. It could be like at Microsoft or, if you feel like you’d rather talk about a different… if there’s different characteristics in different contexts, that’s fine too.  But what do you see as really the three core values or characteristics of somebody who’s going to be successful in their career.

[29:06]

So, I don’t think this is unique to Microsoft although it certainly applies to our team.  I think the first one is an inherent curiosity, just curious. I find that folks that are just constantly asking questions and trying to figure out why – whether or not that be around a customer or around any other given problem…  I think that that is an unteachable quality. Along with that comes sudden judgment on when to take that curiosity forward and when to stop. That would be the second thing. And then the third thing is a healthy sense of autonomy. “I’m going to go figure this thing out.”  Of course, that has to come with clarity of direction, and it has to come with some energy behind it from the leadership, etc. but autonomy to go figure things out. Again, curiosity sort of bounded by its action and then someone who’s willing to take those actions responsibly and appropriately and maybe even push a little bit beyond that.  Certainly, it an organization like Microsoft, any large organization, where hierarchy is just part of the daily thing, I find that people that are willing to push just a little past what’s hierarchically appropriate are far more effective than folks that are like, “Nope, that’s above my pay grade.” Having the ability to take those risks and say, “Yep, that’s not above my pay grade.  I’m here for a reason and I can do that.” Those are the people, I think, are great. I find that true every place I’ve ever worked.

[30:37]

I love that:  curiosity, judgment, autonomy/self-motivation; that’s really the engine, I think, that drives a successful outcome for a person’s career.  You need to operate successfully inside of the hierarchy of the organization, of course but, at the same time, you also need to have a culture of “Yes” among yourselves so that you can bleed into the starts and finishes of specific projects and workflows in order to really understand the output that you’re working on generating, for example.  

[31:13]

Exactly, exactly.  And sometimes you have to do that not in a culture of “Yes.”  You sometimes just have to believe in the thing you’re doing. And you cannot always look for that external validation; hopefully, you’ll get it.  But I think pushing forward and, in some cases, pushing past the hierarchy, even if you know you’re taking a risk in doing so, is often worth the risk.  Of course, doing it appropriately and within the bounds of being kind and polite about it.

[31:43]

Definitely wrapping things up in the context of appropriateness is super-important if you’re going to get heard but, at the same time, you got to take those risks.  

My guest today has been Marian Anderson, Director of Research at Microsoft.  Thank you so much for joining me today on Happy Market Research Podcast.

[32:01]

Thank you so much.  It was a pleasure.

[32:08]

Stay tuned for this episode’s CEO hack by Merrill Dubrow of M/A/R/C Research.

[32:14]

You’ve got to be self-aware, and you’ve got to be able to allow yourself to have self- evaluation and trust people around you.  I believe I’m never going to be the smartest guy in the room. I believe I’ve made the most of my skill set, and the reality is I can say, “Hey, I need to get better at ______.”  So the interesting thing – you mentioned my blog for ten years, which I did three times a week and I wrote every one except for a few guest writers. I’m not a great writer. I have good idea, but I don’t have great punctuation or grammar.  I was able to – through this self-aware, self-evaluation – understand that, know that, surround myself with people who could help me through that. They didn’t rewrite the stuff: they just made sure that it made sense. So for me, the #1 skill is self-awareness.  Give yourself the self-evaluation to know that, “Hey, I might not be great at finances or I might not be great at management or I might not be great at sales or I may not be great at something else.” And being able to surround yourself with the right people and also try to get better at something every day.

[33:22]

This point that Merrill brings out is, in my opinion, the most important hack or skill that you can develop as a leader, and that is be humble enough to recognize you have blind spots and bolster, surround yourself with people that can help see those blind those spots.  I would say that, if I’ve had any success in life, it’s because of this one principle. So, thinking about my relationship with Irvine Andreasen, the first co-founder of Decipher, also Jamie Plunkett and Kristin Luck, all three of those were strategic add-ons to Decipher that helped me as a leader to have a fuller, more complete picture of the marketplace.  We each consume and process and retain less than 3% of what actually transpires. That’s why having more views of that same environment or that same experience is really helpful because it helps triangulate what is actually happening, what is truth. I also point out that it isn’t enough just to have the visibility; you also have to have the will to accept that you don’t have the complete view.  It’s a subtle difference, but it is probably one of the biggest impacts if you can be open to adjusting your point of view, based on that external feedback. That quid pro quo can be a fundamental area of strength for you as you build your team because not only will it help you make the best possible business decisions, it’ll also garner trust and respect by your team and transparency, which will again sort of self-promote and police this culture of a complete view and a better answer, which creates a better business outcome.  

[35:30]

Thanks everybody for listening to today’s episode of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  An absolute privilege – we are honored that you would be willing to spend so much time with us.  I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day. Please, please, please share this episode on the platform of your choice.  If you would just tweet it or if you would take the time to post it on Linkin, it would mean the world to us.

[35:57]

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. 201 – How Kantar Creates Excellent Customer Experience & Trending Market Research Tech

My guests today are Ann Green, EVP, and Stephen DiMarco, Chief Digital Officer at Kantar North America Insights Division. Kantar is a multinational market research firm known for innovation. They actively manage Brand Z, which is an annual Top 100 Most Valuable Global brands ranking; and in 2015, announced a partnership with Snapchat to provide the first analysis of advertising effectiveness on the Snapchat platform.

FIND ANN AND STEPHEN ONLINE:

Linkedin: Ann/Stephen Kantar

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:00]

On Episode 201 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m talking with the dynamic duo, Ann Green and Stephen DiMarco from Kantar. This is an exciting episode. We unpack customer experience from Kantar’s position, one of the leading insights professional companies in our industry.

But first a word from our sponsor.

[00:25]

Today’s episode is brought to you by GreenBook. The GreenBook directory helps you find marketing research suppliers, facilities, and consultants. Additionally, GreenBook helps modern marketing researchers understand industry trends via the Grid Report and the IIeX Global Conference Series. To find out more, please visit GreenBook online at GreenBook.org.

[00:48]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guests today are Ann Green EVP and Stephen DiMarco, Chief Digital Officer at Kantar North America, Insights Division. Kantar is a multi-national market research firm known for innovation. They actively manage BrandZ, which is an annual, top 100 most valuable global brands ranking, and in 2015 announced a partnership with Snapchat to provide the first analysis of advertising effectiveness on the Snapchat platform. Ann and Stephen, thank you very much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[01:23]

Ann – Thank you.

Stephen – Thank you. Nice to be here.

[01:25]

Our chat is going to center around one of today’s hottest topics: customer experience. But before we dive in, I’d love to know a little bit about each one of your backgrounds.

[01:35]

Ann – [laughs] Well, I think it’s fair to say that no child grows up and actually says, “Mom, Dad, I want to go into the field of market research.” It was a bit of a fluke for me. I ended up at a liberal arts school where I studied marketing with a math minor. At the time, I really didn’t have a good sense of what I wanted to do and a saw an ad, an actual newspaper ad, for a position in the field of market research, and it just so happened I thought, “I can do this.” And the rest is history.

[02:08]

You know it’s funny. Several people that I’ve interviewed wound up in market research through an advertisement in the paper. For those who don’t know, that was the jobs listing for local opportunities.

[02:23]

Ann – Yes, yes, I have just revealed my age. [laughter]

[02:27]

Don’t worry. I’m ahead of you. That’s fine. So, Stephen, you managed marketing at Comedy Central FX, and you co-founded a startup during the height of the dot.com bubble. How in the world did you wind up in research?

[02:42]

Stephen – It’s funny. I don’t see myself in research, but I will tell you how I got into the role I’m in right now. Like Ann, I studied marketing in college and, when I wasn’t studying or doing other things that college kids do, I was actually a DJ for the campus radio station. So I’ve always had a strong interest in marketing and music. I started my career at a record label doing everything you can imagine and decided that, while I like music, the music industry isn’t for me. So I thought long and hard and really committed myself to marketing and helping marketers becoming better marketers. What better place to do that than a company who’s got a treasure trove of consumer data that you can use to make difficult decisions about all of the things that marketers need to, ranging from which consumers to target, how to engage them, how to measure ROI. I guess ultimately, I did wind up in a research role.

[03:43]

So, we’re going to talk about customer experience. We’ve gone through such an evolution over the last two decades of my career. What are two ways that Kantar is creating amazing experiences for your customers?

[03:58]

Ann – Well, we have the opportunity to work with most of the Fortune 500; so, we are working with folks the likes of Google, Facebook, McDonalds, Coke, American Express, Kaplan, you name it. There is an interesting common thread that is emerging: that they are very much looking for research companies to raise the bar, both in terms of the suppliers, the partnerships they work with as well as internally. And they’re raising the bar in terms of how they use research within the organization. We’ve really invested in two areas in changing up the experience that we provide. The first is around client engagement. So, we really work with marketers to understand what their pain points are, what their problems are. So we don’t work on a project or product basis. What we do is we really partner up with brands to understand and get underneath the hood in terms of what it is we need to solve for. And we invest in our own teams: we actually train them in terms of listening skills, in terms of discovery skills so that they can really feel confident in getting to that point of shared understanding of the problem in front of them.

I think the second way in which we’re changing up the experience is with delivery.

If you think about the delivery reports, they have legacy basis, data tables, or a power point report or, if you are lucky, so sort of dashboard. And that doesn’t necessarily get absorbed by the organization. That just become something that sits on somebody’s shelf or sits in a folder on their laptop. What we need to do and what we are doing is we are really investing in the delivery of our research and going beyond standard reports and providing our clients with workshops where all stakeholders come together and talk about what the findings are and, most importantly, what to do with them. How do we action them?

[06:04]

OK, so, the pain points is really interesting. The thesis that I entered into in September when I launched this podcast is that there is a growing divide between what marketing research at an agency level is delivering versus what the brands actually want. In many cases, – I’m thinking specifically about the interview with Stacey Walker at Adobe recently; she actually used that framework as well – you can’t just force this standard methodological approach anymore. Similarly, on the delivery side, it’s not about the report or the “thump factor,” which is again paper-based reports… thicker is better in the old days. But it’s about operating research in lockstep with the executives and at each point the decisions are being made. That’s one of the reasons why she believes that things like CX is growing far and away faster than traditional market research as a job function inside of brands.

[07:17]

Stephen – I think you’re absolutely right, Jamin. Adobe is actually another client of ours, and we’re doing some innovative work for them. So, it’s great for us to stop doing the type of research that’s backwards looking, may be interesting and sits in a bookcase somewhere, and much more interesting to partner with the client, co-create on what they’re looking for, provide the insights that they need at the moment and time that they need them so that they can generate a business decision that has an ROI. That’s kind of tongue-in-cheek why I said I don’t see myself as a market researcher; I see myself as a clever person who knows his way around data in the effort to make a business decision.

[08:04]

I love that. And then the final delivery… To your point, where we used to deliver cross-tabs and then power points and written reports in many cases to later dashboards being really the monitoring of the overall organizational health. Recently, I asked another (I can’t tell you who but another Insights leader) about dashboarding capabilities. Finally, I looked at him and I said, “Tell me what dashboard you actually used to make business decisions.” He was hard-pressed to come up with more than one; and that actually centered more around BI as opposed to consumer insights. It’s about the deliverable here is the benefit to the organization to make good decisions and actually have a positive ROI on research as opposed to being a cost center.

[09:03]

Stephen – Yeah, I talk about dashboards being three categories. One is “always on:” it’s up on your screen; you’re looking at it because you can’t live your life without it. One is “alert-based,” which is when something happens you get a text message or something to go check it out. Or the third is “ad hoc:” you go there when you need it and you enter in a search query and, hopefully, you get back what you need. Much better to be in the “always on” category; lucky if you’re in the “alert” category;” not good to be in the “ad hoc” category ‘cause that’s where most of them are.

[09:40]

That’s absolutely right, and that’s where the disruption is taking place, of course. So, how are brands using your research specifically effectively to empower their CX?

[09:53]

Stephen – Overall, I think if you look at brands and their perspective on customer experience, some brands really embrace it because they recognize, as consumers, our customer experience has changed: we’ve got different expectations based on mobile devices, based on on-demand services like Uber or Blue Apron. We just have an expectation that we can accomplish a task whenever we want, wherever we want. Smart brands are looking at that and saying, “OK, we need to really think about how we develop a customer experience that emulates that.”

So the first thing that I think brands are looking at doing is some really primary research around what are the needs, known and unmet needs, in the category so that they can really hone their value proposition. It’s really around kind of strategy research, trying to uncover the gem that allows them to develop a differentiated customer value proposition and then the operational plan to deliver on it. It’s really kind of re-creating, re-inventing the brand promise as a whole. So that’s the first thing that brands are doing. The second thing that brands are doing is what’s quite popular right now evidenced very clearly last week by the acquisition of Qualtrics, which is a CX platform, for eight billion dollars – that is eight billion –

[11:26]

On about a 400 million run rate, right? That’s what even more insane. [laughter] A 20X top-line revenue. And we know that Sample like there are some costs in that multiple that are still… they’re getting credit for, which just speaks to the overall market view of the value of this category.

[11:47]

Stephen – Yeah, it’s a very heated market. Eight billion dollars by SAP. What we’ve since learned is that Quatrics, Medallia, and Survey Monkey, who are all at different levels collecting customer information so that you can analyze and act on it, they’re all backed by Sequoia Ventures, which is a VC firm. I have to give credit to the partner team at Sequoia for their investment thesis that this software is, as service capability, is going to be really, really profitable. They made a great bet. Anyway, back to the story. Once brands have these CX platforms, whether it’s Medallia or Qualtrics, implemented, they have it always on feed of customer insights that they’re getting that they can use to understand as we rolled out this new brand promise and it’s taking effective in how we touch our customers, whether it’s through online interactions or retail interactions or, if it’s a car dealer, through their dealership or agency interactions, are we delivering on the brand promise at all points in time? It gives them real-time information feed about where they’re performing and where they’re underperforming to really continue to hone and advance their customer experience. It’s a soup-to-nuts approach to really re-engineering how people think about engaging with their customers around the brand promise and then delivering on it all the way through to purchase and post-service interaction.

[13:22]

What does that look like from a product… Is it really a combination of – I’ll call it – software that is the logistical element of the pulse of the customer and then, the human element obviously, on the deployment of those systems and then also the on-going recommendations?

[13:38]

Stephen – I mean you nailed it. It’s basically technology-enabled, data collection and dissemination through software as a service model. So companies will have a Qualtrics platform implemented for them and instrumented for them based on whatever business they’re in – whether it’s the hotel, airline, auto, retail, financial services – it works for any company that has customers; these platforms work. So, they’re instrumented similar to how a CRM system, SalesForce.com, ERP system – it’s a piece of enterprise software that you access through a portal. But, even though you’re collecting all of this information and it’s getting displayed through this portal on the website, you really still need a lot of professional services: you need help interpreting the data; you need help taking action on the data and making sure that your actions are generating ROI; you need help connecting more data into the CX system so that you can start to bring transaction data in, other first-party data, maybe you’ll bring in third-party data like weather data (So how is weather impacting customer experience at any different point in time?). It really is a piece of software that needs a lot of contextualization around it.

[15:02]

Ann – I think it’s really interesting though to think about customer experience in terms of why it has become such as important topic for marketers lately. And, Stephen, you had mentioned that really the customer experience is the way to deliver and bring to life the brand purpose. That has become such an important element because, financially, if you look at the economic trends, one of things that you find is that people are spending more on experiences than they are on things or products. So, financially, for marketers to grow, it makes sense for them to be spending a lot more time in understanding what that experience could be, what people’s expectations are, and how they can deliver against that experience in new and different ways. Just think about Delta: many years ago, Delta was simply a means to get from one place to another – it was a flight; now Delta has become an experience. It’s everything from your on-board services to being able to order a cocktail at the actual gate. So this is something that is very much financially driven and recognized as an area of importance to brands today.

[16:19]

It’s so interesting companies like Starbucks in a lot of ways built their whole company around this thesis, and it feels like we as an industry over the last year or two have really just started catching up with framing it in words and then figuring out what the terms of trade look like. I really like, Stephen, your framing of this like context of data. Traditionally from my experience, market research data (behavioral, transactional, whatever) usually sits in some silo and getting those things overlaid is immensely powerful but oftentimes, timing-prohibitive. So, the fact that you’re helping connect the dots through your set of solutions is really important. And I think the second part of it that’s really interesting is… (I’ve been hearing this term; It’s not a new term, but I’ve been hearing it said more lately.) HI or Human Intelligence versus AI or SAS or what have you. So, it’s about leveraging of the human expertise to overlay and help even create a deeper context of those insights so that they can move the business in the right direction.

[17:35]

Stephen – We’ve actually had success with both of those. We have a really excellent qualitative capability. Many, many, many people across North America, who have a strong background in qual., who will then help contextualize the data – again to use that phrase – that’s coming out of a Qualtrics or Medallia because, if you don’t, you’re just going to get a lot of behavioral data and you lose that human element; you lose the “why”; you lose really the kind of core idea that makes it an experience versus a transaction. But, at the same time, we have a really incredible analytics team, who does machine learning, neural nets and are just spectacular at that, which you’re not going to get out of a typical CX platform yet – they’re just not that advanced. So you really do need the two of those. You need that combination of human understanding but connected data, technology-powered analytics to get to that next level of insight that’s going to drive the differentiated customer experience.

[18:42]

Alright, so let’s take it down then to sort of brass tacks. If you were a brand manager at a startup CPG company (so, not Proctor & Gamble, per se), what types of research would you do in your first year, assuming you had a finite budget of a quarter million dollars?

[19:01]

Stephen – Was your comment “take it down”… Was that a reflection of me being on my soapbox too much? [laughter]

[19:08]

[laughter] Not at all.

[19:09]

Stephen – OK, good. I promise I won’t go up there again during the podcast but…

[19:14]

I liked it, I liked it. We all liked it.

[19:17]

Stephen – Sorry. Ann, the non-soapbox is yours.

[19:22]

Ann – [laughs] I think, taking it to a very practical level, one of the things I was just talking about was the change in terms of people’s expectations in terms of their experiences. Foundationally, marketers need to have a new understanding of people; they need to demonstrate that they really understand people. I think there’s an assumption because we have so much data, that we must have a good understanding of people. And that’s not necessarily the case. With data, what you have is observations; you have behaviors. But you also need to understand what people feel, what they think, how they live, what their personal pain points are, and what they want brands to solve for. So, in all honesty, where I would start is with something which is much more ethnographic in nature, much more segmentation-based to get to a foundational understanding of how I can establish a brand that really demonstrates it gets the consumer, it gets the customer.

[20:36]

Stephen – Your question… Is it not whether it’s P&G or startup CPG company, you can almost assume that most companies when it comes to research are doing kind of a zero-based budgeting approach. Another way of kind of framing your question is what’s the first thing you would spend research on if you were a brand manager, assuming that you had to argue for every other piece of research. And I could not agree more with Ann because that foundational segmentation research is going to pay dividends over years of time as more and more marketing programs are built off of those foundational insights. And those foundational insights are going to be the things that allow you to differentiate in the market in the first place. Doing an advertisement effectiveness study to demonstrate media ROI is important because you want to know did this piece of content distributed on this media platform have a greater return than another piece of content on another media platform. But there you’re still just kind of optimizing at the edges. What Ann is talking about is really kind of game-changing, foundational researches. If you do it right, then that first year budget of $250,000 is going to generate such valuable insights and actions that that $250,000 is going to turn into $500K the next year and into a million dollars the year after that, which is kind of like a self-funding research program, which is what we advise clients to try and do. And, if we’re not providing ROI on our research and our clients aren’t getting ROI out of the actions that we’re taking, they’re taking on our recommendations, then “Houston, we have a problem,” as they say.

[22:21]

I like that a lot, and I’ll misquote, of course, but “Data isn’t understanding; it is observation.” And you have to connect this to the human’s feelings, the consumer’s feelings, whether positive or negative or what have you, in order to get that full context of how the rest of the projects that you do and the inputs that you get to understand how they make sense and what they actually mean and what the organization should do.

So, there’s lots of new, fancy technologies. We’ve got to talk a little about that: AR, VR, so Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality; Voice whether it’s Google Home or Alexa. This all is impacting consumer experience. How will they impact research?

[23:12]

Stephen – That’s good. You said Alexa versus Google. Interesting. Now we know where your loyalty lies.

[23:17

I have both, FYI. [laughter]

[23:20]

Stephen – Good save, good save. It’s a really good question. These new technologies kind of play in two dimensions at the same time. Brands are using them to create new customer experiences. Using Alexa as an example, brands are building out skills or actions on (My Alexa just turned on as a said that; it’s now glowing blue.) They’re building out actions and skills that help kind of ingrain them in the voice-activated world. They’re not selling as much as they’re providing content that keeps them relevant. So, it’s happening in the consumer space; so, we need to figure out how to conduct research there. We’ve started to do that: we’ve been working on chatbots for a while. We have a chatbot that we use where we direct some of our respondents to go and people that we’re interviewing. We’ve actually built out a couple of pilots on my voice-controlled device that I’m not going to name right now lest it turn blue again. They’re information collection platforms for us. Right now, they’re information collection platforms; they have not become insights collection platforms. Part of it because the technology is different than writing a survey or analyzing a piece of customer data that might come in through a transaction log or website visitation. How you guide a consumer through a series of questions, it’s a whole new art form. I mean it is absolutely a new language, and the devices themselves are not always respondent to different dialects, to different brand names, to different product names. So we’re going through the process; it’s a learning process to use them as research mechanisms, and we’re figuring it out as we go.

[25:27]

Ann – We care a lot about the nature of the experience changing and the nature of the desired customer experience changing. And I think it’s really important that these tools be used in a new way to engage our people because they are much more organic ways of engaging with them than we have had historically. They are very used to utilization of chatbots; whether or not they know they are chatbots or not, they are used to the nature of that interface. They are used to being able to use voice skills and ask for things or give information to their device. They are used to being able to do things more in the moment; so, imagine being able to use a voice device when somebody mentions a specific brand and having the ability to ask them questions about that brand. It’s going to become much more organic and natural and part of an understood experience for people than it ever has been before. It removes a lot of the artificiality that we’ve had in research historically.

[26:37]

Yeah, I think it’s interesting that voice framework is, obviously, the prequel to AR – Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality – although, obviously, there’s technology that’s centered around those things now, none of it is operating at scale and yet we have seen an opportunity to get closer to the consumer through voice. So, the consumption of content all of a sudden becomes passive. The way that I can interactive with my brand app or skill while I’m driving is completely different than it has been historically, whether it’s purchasing something – which I’ve actually done on this show on accident. I purchased some paper towels on the device that won’t be named. I also purchased some markers. The paper towels actually showed up; it was a different brand than I thought, which is a whole different thing. And then the markers… I cancelled that order because it was like a 3500-dollar order, and I think I bought all the markers in North America.

[27:42]

Ann – What you’re talking about there is an important variable that Stephen mentioned earlier is that we need to help marketers understand how to use these devices as part of their own marketing efforts and to use it as part of their own commerce initiatives. If you look at how these devices have completely transformed the commerce environment, how products are sold, it is hugely different. And the role that they play, and the path to purchase, whether or not it’s getting something on the shopping list or getting directions to the store or adding something into the cart, is a completely different experience. So there’s two components to this: one is about helping marketers enter this space wisely and really understand the expectations of this space and how it can be optimized. But then there is the second transformative component, which is “How do I use these techniques to do better research and to get better insights.”

[28:45]

I like your very practical example of a way to be able to do that. The other piece that’s interesting is the brand budget consideration. You think about an add-on service – I’ll call it just “surveying through voice brand experience” or what have you. That doesn’t fit squarely in the qualitative and quantitative bucket. Are you guys seeing brands becoming more adaptive to where they’re willing to spend through new technologies or approaches or more like qualitative at scale, which is kind of what we’re talking about?

[29:18]

Stephen – To be honest, I think it’s early days; so, brands are seeing it as experimental and not putting it into a type of bucket yet. They’re either going to put it into an experimental bucket or they’ve got a bucket called Voice, and it’s tied to someone on the marketing team or the strategy team that said, “We need a voice strategy. What’s the voice strategy for our brand?” And they run off and they try to do some stuff and come back to satisfy a question. It has not hit scale yet; so, it really hasn’t normalized yet. Ann, I don’t know what your sense is.

[30:01]

Ann – No, I totally agree. I think it is something that marketers are playing with, that brands are playing with on both fronts in terms of sort of the marketing commercial side for their own businesses as well as for the research side. But they are truly playing with it; they are not committed to this yet. But it relates very nicely to the idea of experience because they know that this will be part of their brand experience and “How do I manage that? What are my expectations?”

[30:31]

Stephen – It’s just not there yet. This is where I put my kind of marketing research “shmethodology” hat on. You have to worry about the distribution of the devices. And are they representative? And then all of the other issues around the language you need to speak to get insights that you could really rely on to take action on out of the call it qual, call it conversation, call it voice-activated survey, whatever it is. It’s like playing in a sandbox right now. We’re not anywhere ready to scale it in any way.

[31:07]

Ann – I think that one of the things that we found was really interesting was initial work we had done was that the device and the research had been trained based upon British English as opposed to American English and how that small seeming subtlety could actually really throw off the learning from these types of engagements. So we do have to be really smart and really disciplined as to how we engage in this space.

[31:37]

Stephen – Not to change the direction completely, but you started off by talking about AR, VR. I think Virtual Reality is an easier paradigm to get to work quicker because it’s replicating an in-person experience that people, while it’s virtual, people are familiar with what it’s like to walk down an aisle and then pick out a product off a shelf or interact by opening the door of a car. There’s nothing new there: it’s just that the technology required to do it is extremely expensive and complicated. What we’re talking about on the voice side the technology may not be as expensive or complicated, but the human interaction is entirely new. Sometimes it makes you scratch your head like: “How are we going to solve this one.”

[32:26]

The invisible customer journey is a big problem or will become a big problem for the brands that aren’t connecting at an emotional level so that when the consumers of the dish soap or whatever place their order in five years (I don’t know when that’s going to happen.), it better not be dish soap. What’s interesting is I know that Google and Amazon are buying a lot of the generic names. So generic paper towels are now owned by Amazon, I believe. So that all of a sudden puts squarely the purchase power in Amazon’s lap, which there is a million different ways – well, probably a half a dozen ways, they could monetize that – either through the CPG’s. You’re right it’s not at scale but it’s also something that brands need to be paying attention to because once it hits scale, it’s going to be really hard to be able to address.

[33:28]

Stephen – Well, this is what we talk about with our clients a lot, which is what we’re really going through is an incredible period of disruption. Basically, what worked yesterday and what works today may be almost as good is not going to work at all on the paradigm of tomorrow. We’re at the top of the proverbial S-curve and, if we spend dollars in time and energy advancing on the same path, we’re only going to go down the wrong side of the S-curve. We really need to jump onto a new curve. That’s where we’re counseling clients to spend as much money as they can on thinking about voice as one investing in machine learning as another, which is probably why the whole CX category, as a whole, is so hot right now because there is a lot of good information, insights, and data that’s coming in all the time that you can analyze.

[34:25]

You’ve given us a lot of value today. I’m really appreciative. This next question is your right hook opportunity. You could tell our audience maybe a little bit about what Kantar is offering right now that’s got you guys really excited.

[34:40]

Ann – Well, I would actually say related to what we’ve just been talking about: the work that we are doing in the field of Artificial Intelligence really excites. Now it also scares me a little bit because the area that we’re primarily applying Artificial Intelligence is in the space of creative; so, it’s a really interesting balance of art and science. And we talked before about the notion of Human Intelligence. This is a space where you can never leave the human element behind. You can never leave behind the idea of human-led storytelling. But what Artificial Intelligence is allowing us to do is to get more into a data-driven optimization space.

And we are focusing on three primary areas: one is the classification of creative. How can you get to better tagging of assets within creative to understand what the parameters you should operate in? What works better for your brands versus the competitor’s? What are some of the subtle cues that you can include in your creative to make it better?

The second is diagnostics. Being able to use natural language processing to better understand how people are interpreting the stories that we are telling them. Do they actually get the key themes? Going back to the conversation we were just having about voice devices, being able to get people to just talk about a piece of creative that they may have just seen so that connecting the visual experience with the voice experience and getting that understanding and that diagnostic of creative using Artificial Intelligence.

And then the third is prediction. Stephen had mentioned earlier we have this amazing analytics team, and what they are doing within the creative space is very impressive in terms of getting to a better understanding of predictabilities. So, what if you had an ad that did well in the United States, would it actually transfer to another market? Would you be able to use it intact in India? Or would you be able to adhere to or are you adhering to certain brand guidelines with your creative and not having to make that a manual process? So there’s a huge amount of efficiency that can be driven by better application of Artificial Intelligence in the creative process, but at the same time, we can’t lose that human element.

[37:22]

Stephen – I think Ann, as I always do, I think she’s absolutely spot-on. Then I have to add my oddball build on what she said. Rather than what products I’m excited about, I’ll talk about what capability I’m excited about that we’re trying to empower our clients with. The analogy that I would use is a juggler. Jamin, have you ever tried juggling?

[37:51]

I am embarrassed to say that I have tried on a number of occasions, usually lightly intoxicated, and always catastrophic outcome.

[38:01]

Stephen – You put yourself in the shoes of a marketer who can probably juggle one ball easily, if not too intoxicated, right? You throw in a second ball; it starts to stretch their brain a little bit. And then you throw in a third ball and all hell starts to break loose, right? I think it’s the move from the second ball to the third ball that gets people going. What I’m talking about – each of these balls are different factors influencing what marketing decisions they need to take and when in order to engage a customer and drive growth. Let’s just say you’re a barker who’s made it to three-ball juggling and then somebody throws in an apple. Now you’re going to say, “OK, I’ve figured out how to deal with the three balls but now I’ve got to figure out an apple. I’m going to take a bite out of that apple every time I do it.” That’s a whole new skill set. Then somebody throws in a bowling pin, and you’ve got to still keep it going. Then somebody throws in a meat cleaver. And then somebody throws in the flaming, running chainsaw, and yet as a marketer you’ve got to figure out how to keep all of things going in unison; you’ve got to manage in the short-term and the long-term; you’ve got to use qualitative data; you’ve got to use quantitative data; you’ve got to figure out how to leverage surveys; you’ve got to figure out how to leverage transactional data; you’ve got to manage privacy while driving personalization. It’s absolute mayhem for a marketer right now. I think that what I’m exciting about is we’re walking in their shoes because we’re feeling the same pressure. We’re empathetic about what they’re trying to accomplish and how hard it is to accomplish it. And we’ve got either the right set of capabilities internally or the right partnerships externally or the self-confidence to say, “We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re happy to try and learn it together with you to help marketers become really good jugglers and not have catastrophic consequences.”

[39:59]

Yeah, like losing arms and etc., etc., which is quite literally the picture of some real-life examples I’ve had trying to keep track of… I don’t even know what the word is. “Myriad” isn’t it, right? There’s just so much that a marketer has to pay attention to in order to be able to maximize the ROI on effort. And that’s a great application of AI where you’re addressing the creative because that’s the piece that’s the most difficult to separate in understanding those drivers, whether it’s video or elements of video or what have you.

[40:46]

My guests today, Anne Green, Stephen DiMarco, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[40:55]

Stephen – Jamin, thank you for having us. It was a great conversation.

Ann – thank you.

[41:01]

Stay tuned for this episode’s CEO hack brought to by Melanie Courtright of Research Now, SSI.

[41:08]

And even as an Executive now, one of the things I try to make sure I do is stay close to consumers. The best way to help our brands and clients be close to their consumers is by being close to consumers ourselves, spend time following their trends, knowing what devices they’re using. There’s nothing more important than just really understanding consumers if you want to help clients make decisions about them.

[41:31]

I absolutely love how she talks about one of the keys to success. And this is not just for CEOs. This is for everybody inside of an organization. We have got to add value to our customers and the only way we do that is to operate with the lens that they are operating in. And that is, we have to figure out who their customer is and get to know that customer because that provides the context of the insights that we deliver for them.

And thank you everyone who been tuning in. As always, if you are listening, like Shar, leave your feedback. It is a way that other insights professionals can find this podcast and take advantage of the knowledge. Have a great rest of your day!

Ep. 148 – Happy Market Research – A Year In Review (2018)

On our last episode of this year, the Happy Market Research team shares what their biggest lessons were in 2018, their favorite episodes and more. We couldn’t be more thrilled with the outcome this year and can’t wait for you to listen to what we have in store for 2019.

Thank you to our listeners who continue to support us. We wish you a Happy New Year!

FIND US ONLINE

:www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:03]

Happy Market Research.  This is our last episode.  Today is December 28th.  So, this is our last episode.  People are nodding because we’re on audio, of course.  

[00:12] – William

Last episode of 2018.

[00:14]

What did I say?

[00:15] – William

Last episode.

[00:16]

Of 2018, thank you.  Good point, William. Big difference.

I thought it would be a lot of fun, closing us out to talk themes we recognize in the 50+ episodes that we did in 2018 and then talk to my awesome staff:  Chueyee, Chloe, and William on some of their learnings and take-aways. So without further ado, Chueyee.

[00:41] – Chueyee

Hi.  [laughter]

[00:46]

Let’s start out with a little bit…  I mean you didn’t come from market research, right?  You came out of school with a journalism degree. So, what was that like for you moving out from journalism into a marketing company, specifically Happy Market Research Podcast?  

[01:04]

Well, I didn’t even know market research existed when I was college or until I got this job.  So my first day here I was super confused, but then as we got more into interviewing market research professionals, and I started listening to more podcasts from Happy Market Research, I just started to get a little bit better understanding of what market researchers do.  

One great example that Jamin told us was Yoplait yogurt.  And after he told us the story about that, it was like “Wow, market researchers are super important especially for businesses.”  If you guys don’t know the story, Jamin told us that back in the day, Yoplait yogurt, their main color was green, but then they did some data research and they realized that, if they changed it to red, then they would get more sales.  Once they did, they actually did get more sales. So that was just like mind-blowing to me.

[02:10]

The mind-blowing part was specific to how data is used or what part of that was really impactful?

[02:18]

Just the fact that market research is so little but has such a big impact.  

[02:23]

Yeah, I think that’s true.  I mean market research is the tail that wags the dog.  So, when you think about the billions of dollars that are spent in marketing every year, globally, market research represents a very small fraction of that.  Maybe – I don’t know what rule of thumb is – I’ve always assumed it’s about 10%. The total global market research spend according to ESOMAR is around $70 billion, which is a big ass space.  But I do believe that proportionally we’re holding at that – much smaller relative to how much money is being spent across the board. The decisions that businesses are making… You referenced a study that I had participated in in the ‘90s that was very interesting for me because it was also probably one of my “Ah-hah” moments moving into market research of, while data is important and can be used for impacting consumers and their preferences, I think what’s been interesting over the last two decades from my view and of my career is how the internet has empowered consumers in a unique way.  So before brands literally were blind on what the consumer preference was outside of sales data, of course, which is a lagging indication, but now through the internet, there has been a direct access to the consumer to the brand through social media.

Last time I was on a United flight, I tweeted to United, “Hey, thanks” because I got some free refreshment, and then United tweeted back to me.  So that direct connection now is public and that has influence, positive or negative, on that brand. Conversely, of course, the guy that was ripped off the airplane on United… that had a lot of social media impact and negatively hurt the United brand.  

While market research as a discipline has been used to inform brands of consumer opinions, now brands have to broaden their scope beyond just traditional market research methods but yet still apply the same rigor in order to digest and understand the consumer.  It’s a neat phase; it’s a neat time.

So what was your favorite episode?

[04:40] – Chueyee

For sure, it has to be the one with Dina from Survata.  I was able to actually go to their office with Jamin and Alexandra, and we were able to see the office and meet Dina in person.  I felt like because I was able to go there that was also one of the reasons why it was my favorite episode. But my most favorite thing that she said like during the interview was how even though she is a CEO, she is still a human being and she still does take out the garbage; she does whatever other people would normally do.  Like just because you’re a CEO doesn’t mean you can’t do… I don’t know, printing paper or like stapling stuff. So I feel like because of that quote, it just stuck in my head. Especially in a startup company, you’re really all over the place. And, even though you do have a job description, you have to do more.

[05:37]

Yeah, and I think it’s the people that do more are the people that wind up succeeding ‘cause my theory is that they see the whole picture or at least a more complete view of the picture.  The small things are what impact the big outcomes in our lives. If you’re in a situation where… This is New Year’s resolution season; so, everybody’s coming up or most people are coming up with their three things that they’re going to change, right:  “not going to drink any more or less,” “I’m going to eat certain types foods,” “I’m going to stop smoking,” “I’m going to spend more time with my kids,” whatever those things are. And a lot of times the delta is “I’m eating badly and then I’m just magically going to stop eating badly or eat well,” using that example.  That’s always a recipe for failure. Recipes for success of sticking with habits are “I’m going to make incremental or small changes.” So, for example, instead of eating whatever I want at lunch, I’m always going to eat a salad. That’s my first discipline. It’s a little, tiny change. Or I’m going to drink a bunch of water in the morning or whatever it is, right?  It’s like doing pushups: no one can just go do a hundred pushups, starting right away; you probably can do ten or some number. But, if you exercise that muscle, create that discipline in your life, eventually you’ll be able to do 12, 20, and eventually 100 pushups, right? Connecting that, the corollary to business is we have… Happy Market Research is a great example.  As a startup, everything is important. And I don’t get to choose as the founder of the company, I don’t get to choose “Oh, I’m not going to set up the mics” ‘cause the mics have to get set up, right? So there’s this like lack of entitlement or humility that we all bring to the table. And at the end of the day, that is top-down always. So, if the CEO is sitting there saying, “I’m doing my very important role and job, and I’m not going to set up the mics,” then you’re going to have a big problem because everybody else is going to start looking at the things that they’re not going to do, right?  And we need to define ourselves as a “Yes” culture as opposed to a “It’s not my job” culture.

So, I am really interested in this Dina piece.  How much of the – it being your favorite episode – was because you were on site versus the content of the episode?

[08:10] – Chueyee

I think both because I was able to hear in person and then also hear through the podcast.  I think that helped a lot. And also I think it was her energy that she brought out while we were there.  She was just so excited and so passionate about everything that she was saying. I remember that she said that, “Even on Saturdays when I’m working now, I’m replying to emails.”  And that really stuck to me as well because I’m just like “Wow, she’s always on.”

[08:38]

Yeah, totally.  It’s like a lifestyle.  There’s this blend that’s happened in the last 10 years – or really 15 years – through the internet again.  Because you’re an “always on culture,” you have the ability of turning it on and off. Like William this morning coming in at 9:30 was no problem, right?  He got to spend time with family that he doesn’t normally, but at the same time he was able to communicate to us that information last night and on the weekends when he’s doing work.  So like there’s this blur between work and everything else where it’s kind of all fitting together. Or like me: I was cutting frickin’ wood yesterday with my dad, and then we do a video call – which is hilarious.  Yeah, totally. Always on: you have to have that mindset ‘cause again, if you get into the “I’m going to work from 9 to 5” mentality, that’s going to be a problem, I think, for people that are overachievers. That definitely works for other roles and mentalities.  I’m not judging. Not everybody always has to be in that role.  I think that people who are going to be in that highly successful category are going to be the ones that have that sort of “always on” framework.

[09:53] – Chueyee

Yes, I noticed ever since I got my first job in college, email is like checking social media to me and even on the weekend.   And if I don’t check my emails, it’s like I don’t know what I’m doing with my life. Like I feel like something important is supposed to go on but I don’t know what’s happening.  

[10:11]

Alright.  So, let’s shift to Chloe.  

[10:14] – Chloe

Hi.  [laughter]

[10:18]

Chloe may be the shyest one of the bunch.

[10:20] – Chloe

Yeah, we can’t really have you see this picture, but we’re all standing around a tiny table and I just wish that everyone would turn around and not stare at me.  [laughter] But here I am.

[10:35]

So, you’re a master storyteller; you’re a master storyteller.  I mean seriously… My favorite social media post that I’ve ever seen in my entire life is literally your story of sneakers and first day as an intern, right?  That was such a well-said, well-articulated, told story of a person’s things that are meaningful and just kind of taking the ordinary and making it super relevant and interesting.  So maybe you could tell us the story about how you landed at Happy Market Research.

[11:14]

Yeah, it was such a coincidence, and also at the time, I felt like the stars really aligned for me.  In 2017, at the end of 2017, I graduated from college, and it was really a big journey to finding my first job.  I didn’t really have much experience, and I wasn’t getting a lot of interviews. But in August of this year, my mom sent me a Facebook event, and it was for this entrepreneurship talk in town that was close by.  And she said, “Chloe, you have to go to this.  You have to just get out there. You can’t be down; you can’t be depressed anymore.  You really just have to get out there and start meeting people. This is how people find jobs.”  And I was super reluctant to go because that’s way out of my comfort zone. I do like to go and be around people and meet people, but being around a bunch of new people was really scary to me.  But I decided to go anyway, and I showed up by myself. It was my very first networking event that I had ever been to. And Jamin happened to be one of the speakers. I didn’t really talk to anyone, but when I left that day, I thought, “OK, maybe, I could go to another one of these.”  A couple weeks later, I was scrolling through LinkedIn and I saw this post that someone had shared about a podcast. It looked really cool; it was a graphic for, I think it was, BuzzFeed – the interview that we did with BuzzFeed. And I was like, “Wow, that’s really cool. That seems like something that I would want to be a part of because I really do like video and maybe I can help them out in some way.  Then I saw that it had come from Jamin and his profile. I was like, “Hey, I remember him being a speaker at that event that I went to. Maybe there is some way that I can get in touch with him.” It was scary to me to kind of think about reaching out to him because I didn’t know him… I didn’t talk to him at all. And I talked to my mom, and I talked to my boyfriend. And they said, “No, you saw him. This is your in.  You could tell him that you saw him speak and that you really liked him. And I thought, “OK, I’m going to do it. I’m going to let go of my fears and do something because I need this. This is something that I really want.” I wrote an email; well, not an email – I actually contacted him through LinkedIn. And he responded to me. We had some communication issues to where I couldn’t get a hold of him. And the funny thing is Jamin was a really hard person to get a hold of.  I mean he’s a CEO; so, of course, he had a lot of things going on. But he made me chase him, and that was something that I was afraid to do because I was afraid of the rejection. And my mom said, “So, you’re just going to give up.” I think it was after a week of trying to get in touch with him and finally meet him. “You’re just going to give up.” I said, “Well, I don’t think that it’s for me. Obviously, the universe is giving me a sign that this isn’t for me. So I just got to move on; I got to find something else that is meant for me.”  And she was like, “OK, but I really think you should try one more time.” My boyfriend said, “No, you’ve come this far. He’s reached out to you three times. You have nothing to lose by trying one more time.” And it was actually through him and one of his co-workers that we got connected. Luckily, that was Jamin’s right-hand man at Focus Vision. That was what kind of sealed the deal but also just being really persistent. I did actually send him a text too to say, “Hey, you know I really want to do this. Can we meet?” So the combination of reaching out to him through text and having that connection through my boyfriend was what got me into this position.  So, I started out as an intern working for free, kind of paying my dues. And that’s how I became an employee. I think it was a great thing for me just because I would have given up. I think everything else before this point, I would have said, “It’s not for me” – just like I said with this. But sometimes you just got to push harder and be more persistent: that’s how great things happen.

[15:55]

100%.  [laughter]  The thing that stood out to me is as I was listening to you talk is… There’s two things actually:  one is fear. Fear of putting yourself out there is, I believe, the biggest inhibitor of success in the early stages of your career and, even to, I believe, a greater extent, in the later stages of your career.  Let me explain why: In the later stages of your career, you presumably have already done something; so, there’s a measuring stick of success, and the market looks at you and says, “OK, is it going to be bigger?”  It’s just expectation. If it’s bigger, then you win; if it’s not bigger, then you lose, right? So the fear that I had in starting Happy Market Research – ‘cause it took me, I want to say, three months to (pardon my French) sack up and start the podcast because I’m thinking to myself, “OK, what I’ve done in the past is meaningful; it’s still impacting the industry and growing and doing well.”  Starting a podcast doesn’t seem like the natural step forward. Intuitively, I’d be working with a Egon Zehnder and getting another CEO job for some software blah, blah. So, you know what I’m saying? It was a big dose, I guess, of just faith that everything is going to work out, and like you said, universe… whatever you believe in, that if you do step out, then it’s going to be OK. What’s the worst thing that could happen?  I mean literally what’s the worst thing that could happen? Somebody could tell you, “No,” or people could look at you and judge you. Well, the worst thing that could happen is you not take that step and not subsequently have the opportunities that are presented to you. Kind of like Chueyee was talking about in hers about this “Everybody does everything” mentality or this “Yes”-culture mentality… As soon as you start creating frameworks or “No’s” or limiters for yourself because of fear, then you immediately… you immediately set a ceiling on yourself that is unrealistic.  

I think if there’s one lesson that I hope everybody that’s listened to this podcast or paid attention to any of the social media posts that we’ve done or interacted with us on an individual level or in a public environment…  the one thing I would say is that we are our own limiter. We are the person, the individual, the being that creates the ceiling for ourselves and what sort of success looks like and what we can achieve. The sooner that you can break those ceilings and say, “I can be whatever you see as successful,” the next question then is “How do I achieve that?”  And the good news is there’s already an Oprah. So, what’s her journey look like? How do I reverse engineer that, assuming that’s like the go-to whatever your framework is. And then you start moving in that direction. Chances are the direction that we go isn’t where we end. I’ll tell you that for sure at almost 48 years old. But I will tell you that the more that you exercise those muscles of just stepping out and not being afraid, then the higher the probability is that you’ll achieve great things and have broader influence or have a happier life, better time with your kids, better time with your spouse, whatever it is that you’re into.

So tell me about your favorite episode?  

[19:27] – Chloe    

Well, having said all of this, that kind of leads into two different episodes that we recorded:  one of them with Marc Zionts and the other with Nancy Hernon. Those were two of my absolute favorites.  One thing that Marc Zionts said that really stood out to me was something that he looks for in people is that sense of resilience.  You have to be resilient and determined because sometimes things aren’t going to go your way, and when you’re at rock bottom, you have to know that things aren’t going to stay that way forever.  For me, with the whole job search thing, that really was like it was really bad at the time; it felt bad and it felt like it was the worst part of my life or whatever the case was, but at the end of the day, I knew at some point things would get brighter and things would get better and they did.  Also, with Nancy Hernon, when she was telling her story about her moving to New York and just getting up and going, she said, “Why not? What can I lose?” She always asks herself, “Let’s just do it. Let’s just see what happens.” Rather than the fear, “Oh, no, everything could go all wrong,” it’s a much better way to look at it as what could happen.  It’s worse for you to have that regret of not knowing what could have happened. I think those are just things that you can apply to your life in every way.

[21:00]

Right, the regret being the biggest problem.  At the end of life (we’ve all seen the studies that have been done over time, the interviews with people in old folks’ homes), there’s only one problem there:  it’s the things that they didn’t try; it’s the things that they didn’t step out with and just say, “I’m going to give this a shot. I wish I spent more time doing whatever it was.”  Well, we just have to step up and recognize that we are in charge of our time right now, and if I’m going to choose to play whatever it is ten hours a day of the trending videogame versus ten hours a day of building a personal brand or with my kids or whatever…  You just have to own those subsequent outcomes. I know some very successful people, financially successful people that are absolutely miserable now with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, and their kids won’t talk to them because they made choices. And, if you talk to them about what they wish they had, it isn’t hundreds of millions of dollars; it is meaningful relationships with their family.  So, we need to own the outcomes, which means we need to own the inputs and not operate like victims or “Oh, I just have to spend more time at business. I just have to, have to….” No, you don’t; you get to choose your own path. The other story that kind of piggybacked on that one was Robert Porter, right? It’s pretty impactful.

So, William, let’s shift gears with you.  What was your favorite episode?

[22:25] – William

Oh, you’re switching it up on me, OK.  Favorite episode? I think it is Robert Porter, and the reason I say that is because he out of everybody on the podcast opened up, I think, on a personal level more than anybody else did.  Seeing somebody who is very successful in business, very successful, just be that vulnerable and open about his life and the things he’s experienced and had to persevere through was just really eye-opening ‘cause those are the things where on social media and just in public, everybody puts their best foot forward and you see one side of things.  You could look at his LinkedIn profile and think, “Oh, man, this guy has never had anything bad go on in his entire life.” But then you hear his story and you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, you had to deal with that and that and that!” And it’s really incredible.

[23:25]

And, of course, the story that William is referencing is one where Robert Porter and his sibling were abandoned by his mother at an airport and then moved into the system at that point.  Subsequently, of course, he’s built a very successful business, just rocking it financially as well as impacting market research. So, very, very successful life outcome for him.

[23:57] – William

And then from there he had the merger that he was trying to do, that he successfully did.  And during that, his wife had this severe health episode. Fortunately, he had surrounded himself with good teammates and people in his life that could support him through that.  It just really speaks to the importance of building a solid team of people you can trust and having a solid network professionally.

[24:25]

So, you have worked for me before Happy Market Research started just to build some Instagram action, I’d say, and try to figure out that pop form.  Then, of course, moving into a full-time role at Happy MR. What has it been like for you, coming out of school recently, entrepreneurial focused, into a start-up?

[24:51]

Well, it’s been absolutely incredible.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunities with Happy Market Research and Jamin that I’ve had.  Having majored in entrepreneurship, seeing it first-hand, practical, being executed is totally different than what you learn in school.  It’s just really cool to see Jamin, who’s a seasoned entrepreneur, starting a business from scratch and getting to be here on the ground floor, seeing things unfold.  It really is changing my perspective on what it’s like to start a business. In a lot of ways, it makes it feel more realistic for me in the future. I’m like, “OK, yeah, now that I know that, I can do that.”  I can definitely see myself doing this in the future, but it also made me realize how currently unprepared I am to start a business.

[25:48]

I think you’re always unprepared.  It’s like being a parent. There’s no manual:  you just have to go through the process. I want to piggyback though on the point that you made about the difference between school and real life.  Where is the delta there? The gap between education and the practicalness of entrepreneurship?

[26:06] – William

They don’t teach you really how to be an employee in your business.  They don’t teach you even if you’re self-employed. They don’t teach you the day-to-day operational things that you need to do to successfully execute a start-up.  They teach you all of the HR compliance. They teach you all of the taxes…

[26:28]

Financial…

[26:30] – William

…Everything like that.  Entrepreneurship gets really nitty gritty with what you learn about business – different than management or accounting does.  But even still you don’t learn the really important, hands-on hard skills that you need to have to be a good employee in a start-up.  

[26:47]

By employee, you’re referencing both the people that you hire as entrepreneurs as well as the entrepreneurs themselves, right?

[26:53]

Exactly, yeah, ‘cause even when I was… I briefly flirted with having a consultancy over summer.  I had two months of success, but I wasn’t sure if I could keep the pipeline up. I just know that…  They don’t teach you how to make sales in entrepreneurship (that’s the big one); they don’t teach you how to sell.  They teach you how to figure out if you have a good business idea, a good value prop, but they don’t teach you how to actually sell the thing to people.   

[27:20]

That’s totally true.  There are a lot of salespeople that start businesses, myself included, and…  I think one of the limiters is… (This is a double negative, so I’ll rephrase it.)  They’re a good salesperson, but they don’t recognize that they’re not a good CEO. So what I mean is they’re a good salesperson, but they’re not a good CEO; however, they don’t know that about themselves.  Just because they were good in the early days means that they need to push through to the later stages of a company. I would say that, if I could teach a course at the undergrad level, it would probably be on entrepreneurship, self-awareness.  It would be a lot about understanding yourself constantly – not just from a Myers-Briggs 1 and done. But learn to listen to yourself, learn to see yourself.

[28:10] – William

Be self-critical.

[28:11]

Be self-critical, not in a negative…  constructive. And not in a way where you’re always thinking about, “Oh, I wish I would have done this better or that better or this better.”  I think that can be poison. But you need to see yourself through the eyes of whether it’s the employees or the market or the customer, or what have you.

[28:30] – William

Having perspective.

[28:31]   

Totally.  And that will really help round out for entrepreneurs where you are strong and where you’re weak and then apply humility to exactly those points so that you can bow out at the right time of the business’s growth, so that you do maximize your outcome at the end of the day.

[28:51]

That would be a really awesome course.

[28:53]

I think so too, actually, yeah.  So, 2018 is in the bag… the biggest lesson you learned?

[28:59] – Chloe

So the first thing that comes to mind especially with my story and my journey – my biggest lesson of 2018 is just to get out of your comfort zone even if it’s just a little bit because you never know where that can take you.  And I’m a super shy person, but my team… I’m so glad to be working alongside them because they’ve kind of shown me too that being silly and being fun and doing things that you wouldn’t normally do, that’s just what makes life great.  So I thank all of you for letting me join your team.

[29:36] – William

We thank you for being part of our team.

[29:38]

Alright, who’s next?  Biggest lesson learned?

[29:41] – Chueyee

Well, I really didn’t think about this a lot, but one of things that popped up is probably to always be prepared and expect the unexpected.

[29:50] – William

Always have a notebook.

[29:51] – Chueyee

Oh, my God, I don’t have one right now, but I usually do.  I’m usually the typewriter and the notetaker in our group.

[29:57]

So preparation is vital.  I can’t remember who it was – maybe William – that said that always bring a pen and paper to a meeting.  My favorite example of that was a co-pitch to a company. (I won’t tell you who it was with, but the guy is still in the industry.)  The company we were pitching was Honda – so this small, little firm, right? It was for hundreds of thousands of dollars of research annually or completes, I should say, annually.  So I really wanted this business. I came; I brought a guy with me. (I don’t remember who it was now). I had my notebook, my pad; I had done my research; I knew who we were meeting with, etc., etc.  The other guy comes in a little bit more like a cowboy and then about three minutes before the meeting he says, “Hey, man.” So he saw that I was prepared: I had a paper and whatever. He says, “Hey, can I borrow a piece of paper?”  So I tear out a piece of paper from my notebook, give it to him. He says, “Oh, yeah, I forgot my pen. Do you have a pen?” I look around, “No, I’m sorry. I only brought one pen.” And I turn around and look, and there’s a magic marker on the white board, right?  So, “Dude, here you go.” I swear to God he took notes with Honda executives in the room, using a f**ing magic marker on a piece of paper. All I was thinking was, “I bet it’s bleeding through and going to stain the table.” Is it “bring your kids to work” work day?  I don’t know. I was super pissed. Obviously, we lost the business. We opted out as soon as he brought up the magic marker.

Preparation is vital.  You can’t have successful, as you’re describing it, B.S.; you can’t have improvisation successfully applied to a business UNLESS you have the framework or the preparation that’s gone into it, right?  We don’t exactly know what’s going to happen… I’ll pick on PeerSpectrum, our marketing services customer, when we’re in a meeting yesterday, one of the executives said, “Well, what is our strategy or plan around us sharing and commenting on other people’s content, right?”  That’s a really good question, and I off-the-cuff come up with an answer. The view on that could be “Yes,” or the view is “He’s done this a lot and built an audience successfully with – whatever it is – 22,000 people on LinkedIn and many Fortune executives. So maybe he actually has that framework and understands how to be able to apply it.”  See what I mean? So I think earlier in your career, you definitely need to have the preparation side of it, and then, as you get better at the pattern recognition and have some success, you still have to have the humility of preparation. And that’s the piece that I think that we fall down on. Like that meeting would have completely failed had you not, and briefed the team ahead of time, on the things that we needed to do in order to be successful, right?  When I think about… (I’m going to ask you guys this question really quick.) One of the questions we had for most of our interviews in 2018 was Top Three Characteristics of an All-Star Employee. What was one of those characteristics that you felt was consistently said, brought up, or fairly consistently brought up by the guests and how did that impact you?

[33:11] – Chloe

I think it would be having an employee who is willing to change along with the company.  I think that stuck with me the most ‘cause I started this job at Happy Market Research in late July, and I was hired to do videos.  And now I’m mainly working with clients and marketing; so, I had to shift my job position to where our company is going. When we first started, we just were basically a podcast company and did podcasts about market research.  We had two different podcasts: MRX News and Happy Market Research. And now we’re dying down on Happy Market Research and next year we’re going to go to about two a month. Now we’re going to focus more on clients, and we also want to do more podcasts like at conferences.  So like that’s kind of what we’re leaning toward. But again, the number 1 thing I noticed that is you have to change along with your company. If you don’t, you’re just going to be stuck.

[34:14]

Totally.  You’ll be stuck without a job.  [laughter] It kind of gets down to – and that’s just talking about employee-fit or company-fit – the self-awareness of “Do I want to work at a 9 to 5 where I’m doing the same thing?”  There’s a lot of people who do and are really happy doing it. So we’re not judging that view, but if you’re going to work at a start-up or, I would say, even at a more or less progressive business, then it’s probably the case that you’re going to need to be adaptable to meet the needs of the organization because in war time – that’s when you have war time promotions…  that’s the other piece, the upside opportunity, right? Executives, even in a… I managed a 400-person business. I’m not saying that that’s a big business, but it’s a lot of employees globally, but I still knew the people that were overachieving even in that framework where most of the employees weren’t located locally where I was based. I was still spending time with them; I was trying to get to locations.  But I always knew who was overachieving in those offices, and I also knew who wasn’t achieving, right? And then when there were opportunities for advancement, Boom! – that’s really easy. And, conversely, when you’re having to cut staff because of underperformance for whatever reason by a market or at a company level or at a global level, that becomes pretty easy too. Alright, William.

[35:38] – William

I think for me it was the ownership mentality of employees thinking like the CEO thinks.  I think that we have the opportunity to do that a lot here at Happy Market Research because there’s four of us.  Sometimes decisions need to get made. We have a culture here I think you really empower us to make those types of decisions.  I think it’s really key for all employees to have that ownership mentality because if you’re thinking the way that your CEO does or the C suite thinks or shareholders think – whoever it is, you’re aligning your purpose and your daily operations in the business with kind of the end goal of the business, which is driving shareholder value, driving profit, driving revenue.  If you have that approach every day when you go into work of “What are the things I can do to really add value to the business,” then you’re obviously going to be the frontrunner for any promotions or raises or anything, bonuses anything like that.

[36:44] – Chloe

I think I just have to agree with Chueyee in the words of March Zionts:  agility is really a key characteristic that an employee should have because it’s true especially working in a start-up.  You do have to be OK with change because from one day to the next your direction can change. And you just have to ride with it.  Life is changing all the time too, and if you can’t accept that, you’re just going to get swallowed by the waves.

[37:17]

Yeah, from your mouth to every brand’s ears.  Social media, if anything, has illustrated the importance of attention for companies and the willingness to apply their resources towards touching generations in that space where the generations are going.  And that’s why I keep referencing the Edwin Wong interview with BuzzFeed in most of my conversations. I love the Facebook group they have on food. What is it 23 million? It’s understated. Maybe it’s 200 million?  

[37:53] – Chloe

Probably around that.

[37:54]

I think it’s 200 million.  I think it’s around 200 to 300 million people who are part of that Facebook group.  And when Edwin brought it up on the podcast, he said the reason that has been so successful and one of the, if not the largest Facebook group, is because BuzzFeed has a culture of going where the people are and talking about what the people want to talk about.  So it isn’t about BuzzFeed: it’s about the market. And as soon as you apply that mentality to what you do as an employee or as a husband or as a whatever (boyfriend or girlfriend), I’m just approaching from the male view, but you get the point. Then you immediately, I believe, start finding success in those relationships.  

Well, I think that’s a wrap for 2018.  You guys, thank you so much. It has been an honor to work with you this year.  I’m excited to see what 2019 brings. Like Chueyee said, we’ll be doing two podcasts every month: one will be with a brand; the other will be with an agency.  So we’re kicking off January with Kantar and Microsoft, talking about customer success and customer experience, how companies are leveraging technology and research to create excellent, amazing customer experiences, and how brands are applying that technology to the decision-making of their day-to-day operations.  

So that’s it from me, Jamin, 2018.

[39:24] – William

William, 2018.

[39:27]

What do we go out on?

[39:29] – Chloe

Hey, Happy Market Research here, wishing you a great New Year and that’s that.  [laughter]

[39:35] – William

Bye, Happy Market Research here.

[39:37] – Chueyee

Bye!

Ep. 147 – David Paull – Dialsmith – How To Engage A Market Research Audience Through Podcasting

My guest today is David Paull, CEO of Engagious & Dialsmith.  Engagious and Dialsmith is a consultancy that leverages a proprietary technology solution to help companies craft and refine high-stakes messages and content.   Additionally, David started the Engagious Podcast where he connects many disciplines like Comedy and Astrophysics to help create a more complete set of skills for Insights Professionals.

FIND DAVID ONLINE:

Twitter

Linkedin

Engagious

Dialsmith

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:30]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest today is David Paull, CEO of Engagious and Dialsmith. Engagious and Dialsmith is a consultancy that leverages a proprietary technology solution to help companies craft and refine high-stakes messages and content. Additionally, David started the Engagious podcast where he connects with many disciplines like comedy and astrophysics to help create a more complete skill set for us insights professionals.

David, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.   

[01:35]

Jamin, thanks so much for having me.  

[01:38]

So it’s an honor to…  I think you may have one of the original podcasts centric to market research, at least from my recollection.  Is that consistent with yours?

[01:48]

Yeah, I think we kicked off pretty early when we launched ours in 2018.  I believe the Insights Association was doing their Audible Insights podcast; I believe it started shortly before then.  Might have been around that time. And certainly apologize to anyone who has been doing it longer, but certainly in the early days of it when we started early 2018.  

[02:15]

Well, if people listen to this and have been doing it longer know of shows that have been doing it longer, we would love to connect with them, both David and myself; so, please put them on our radar.  We will humbly submit our error and also love to have the conversation and learn from the godfathers in the space.

[02:33]

Absolutely.

[02:34]   

So, listen, man, I wanted to talk a little bit about your background before we jump into some other topics.  You have a strong background in technology and, interestingly enough, also sales. And then you founded Dialsmith in 2009.  That was an interesting point, right? Economically speaking, the U.S. was, I would say, in turmoil still from the Great Recession.  What gave you the confidence and inspiration to step out and start your own company?

[03:04]

That’s a good question.  It was really a matter of necessity more than anything.  My background is technology and sales. I didn’t start out in the market research space though I’ve been in it now for going on 20 years.  On the Dialsmith side of our business, our core technology are the perception analyzer dials that everyone in research knows from dial testing of TV pilots, presidential debates, and things like that.  Back in the 2000s, we were a division of Market Strategies, a large market research firm. It was during that time of the recession in 2009 when there were a number of smaller divisions of that company and really of others that didn’t really fit within those organizations anymore especially during that time.  So it became an opportunity for us to spin off what’s now called Dialsmith, a stand-alone business. The timing worked out really well for us because we were a small company, but as soon we got out from under a larger corporation, we were able to function is a very healthy, very profitable way as a pretty small business at the time.  We’ve certainly grown since. But we’ve had the good fortune of being profitable since the day we started, December 1, 2009: fully self-funded all along the way and have grown organically and bootstrapped all along the way. All in all, it worked out for us, but it was definitely a bit of a sketchy time.

[04:48]

Yeah, no kidding.  When you think about some of the challenges centric to operating a division of much larger organization like you did, for you to be able to step out and then be captain of your ship or master of your destiny or whatever you want to say, that had to be remarkably freeing.  

[05:06]

It was freeing and it was, of course, terrifying as well.  You’ve been in the exact same boat of starting and running your own company really from the ground up.  For me, anytime I tell this story I call it the perfect start-up because Market Strategies was a great place for us to be, and they were also an incredible partner for me when spinning off Dialsmith.  They helped me get on my feet and get the business started. We started Dialsmith with a pre-existing customer base, a pre-existing product line, and employees. So one day we switched off the light and went home, and the next morning we turned on the lights as Dialsmith, and it was business as usual.  Then we set our path for growth over the years. We had a really good, early footing. We have a great staff, many of whom are still with us today, and they were with me for the 10, even 15, years prior. Really it all comes down to the people regardless of the economic climate.

[06:18]

What was the impetus for the spin-off?  Was it is driven by the executive team? Or were guys pushing it up?  I don’t want to say a skunk works. Were you guys kind of driving that idea up to the executive team?

[06:34]

No, it came down from the executive team.  It was during the recession. I think it was really just a function of how they wanted to structure the company, going forward.  And we were a bit of a skunk works division: much smaller, kind of off to the side. I think strategically for them it was just the right time to jettison a business like that.  As you know from bigger companies, we were a relatively small division, operating in a large organization with larger corporate allocation and higher overhead, which made it challenging for us financially as a division.  As soon as we got off on our own and we were able to be structured as a pretty small team with much lower rent and weren’t carrying the allocation that goes along with a bigger company (‘cause that’s what bigger companies need to function)… We had to pull our weight.  As soon as we got out from under that, then the economics of the business instantly started to make sense. I think that Market Strategies knew that was going to happen, which is why they encouraged me and supported me through that whole transition.

[07:43]

How was the customer view going through that?  Moving out of the large and then into the smaller boutique in 2009?  Was there a concern among the customers that you were servicing around overall ability to consistently deliver quality?  And the second part of it is, from a sales and marketing view, how did the market see that?

[08:07]  

That’s a good question.  We really didn’t experience any customer push-back.  We were really diligent about the way we explained and positioned what we were doing.  As I mentioned, because we took the product line with us (we acquired all the IP – that came with us) and almost all of the staff came along, we were able to very accurately assure our customers that it’s business as usual…  you’re dealing with the same people and your getting same products and same service… You’re getting it under a new company name (really more or less was the only change to them). If anything, we picked up a little bit of positive press around that, but there was no negativity, no push-back; we didn’t lose any customers from it.  So the whole experience was positive.

[09:04]

Yeah, you’re right.  That’s like the absolute best.  That’s like a start-up in a box, right?  

[09:12]

Yeah, well, that’s the style of entrepreneur I am.  I’m not a major risk taker. I’ve known since I was a teenager that I wanted to own and run my own business.  I remember being a teenager sitting… I was younger than a teenager; I was pre-teen, sitting at the dining room table; and my father, who was also in business his whole career…  I remember he had his paper spreadsheet book – his spiral-bound, paper spreadsheet book (pre-computers, pre-Excel) – and he was using a very sharpened pencil to write all of his numbers into all of the cells on this spreadsheet.  That’s my first memory of business, and I remember just becoming fascinated with it. All through high school and college and everything was all different types of sales for me, sales and marketing. So I’ve always known that that’s the direction I was going to go in.  But I’m not a major risk taker; I’m not a grind-it-out-and-hustle kind of guy. I’m more succumbed to the feeling that businesses can be run in a healthy, productive way where everybody comes to work, does good work, but then also gets to enjoy going home and being with their families and enjoying their free time.  

So, this is the kind of business where we didn’t have to start it out under ridiculous pressure.  Because we had a good staff and a good products and great customers, we were able to just keep steady.  And it’s really been steady as she goes in the nine years since we started.

[10:46]

Yeah, well, congratulations on your success.  I love that story. I also liked the… I had forgotten this, but you resurrected the memory for me.  My grandfather used to trade stocks, right? So Sunday we’d get the paper, which would have the report on how the stocks were performing.  He’d then take that… I forget how many stocks he was monitoring, but it was a lot. I would say around 25 to 30 stocks. He would enter by hand each one of their prices into a ledger and then graph them on graph paper.  Then, after he had an adequate sample size, he would start making decisions on where he wanted to place his bets. It was completely different: I mean, talk about an analogue, an analogue world compared to how I’m tracking stocks now.  It’s been a fun transition. But I’ll tell you this: there was a connection you had with the data doing it that way that I think in a lot of ways can get overlooked, given how easy everything is nowadays.

[11:46]

Yeah, really, it’s funny ‘cause I don’t have that many memories from back in those days at all, but there’s something indelible about that one moment:  walking over to him and sitting down next to him and having never seen that giant spreadsheet before, I remember him explaining to me what it is, and how he was setting it up; he had his calculator out, doing all the math.  It wasn’t that long ago. Yeah, that was all data-based work and how he was managing the companies that he was running at the time.

[12:19]

So, let’s shift gears.  Let’s talk about podcasting.  Obviously, I’m highly passionate about this particular subject.  How long have you been listening to podcasts?

[12:29]

I’ve been listening for a pretty long time.  I’d have to say maybe five years or so. Got into them as really as something that I could do at the gym, something that I could listen to that was just more interesting than the same old music all the time.  Fortunately, I never had to drive a ton; so, I don’t listen a lot in the car. But I download them for flights, and I listen to them at the gym. It’s probably been going on about five years or so.

[13:00]   

Do you have any podcast that were that were inspirational for you in starting the Engagious podcast?

[13:07]

Maybe it’s a little cliché to say but you know what…  Ahh, ahh… Tim, ahh… His name has escaped me. Four-hour work week.  Tim.

[13:21]

Oh, ahh…  Oh, my gosh, really, come on.  All I can think of is Tim Allen.  Alright, hold on. I don’t know. It is pretty funny that I can’t…  Ferriss, Tim Ferriss. How did we not think of that?

[13:37]

Oh, my goodness!  I feel so silly. Of course!  It may be cliché to say ‘cause he’s clearly one of the largest out there, but what he’s been able to put together between a combination of long-form interviews that he then, of course, cuts down into shorter form discussions…  but then also stand-alone episodes where he picks a topic and talks about it himself, which we haven’t gotten into too much on our podcast yet. But that also has interested me. I just want to be sure that I’m covering topics where I have the authority to be of value to people as opposed to purely the value of our guests, who, I think, are far more impressive than me, which is why doing everything so far for us…  Interview-based and guest-based is what we’ve done. But I kind of look to Tim as one of the guiding lights of how to do and build an effective podcast.

Another big name one is Gary Vaynerchuk.  Gary Vaynerchuk does really with all of his media but especially what he does with his podcasts where a lot of them are done as video-recorded interviews.  So he’ll set up a camera across the table and they’ll do it as video and audio. But more and more they’re also doing audio. What he taught me – and it’s one of the things that I try to do with ours – is he taught me to look outside the bubble and to not just talk to people within our industry, but to look outside our industry to see what we can learn from others that we can then apply to what we do.  So, in the intro you mentioned I’ve interviewed comedians, and I’ve interviewed astrophysicists. That was really all by design. The main focus of our podcast is how to engage an audience. And when you think of a comedian, who has to get up on stage and make people laugh on command for seven minutes, is a pretty daunting thing to have to do, but you have to know how to control and engage an audience. We’ve tried to look far and wide for just different disciplines that we can learn from.

[15:56]

I really like how you structure your podcasts.  What evolution have you gone through? What key learnings have you applied over the ten episodes that you’ve done this year?

[16:08]

Well, I like to think I’ve gotten better.  When I go back and listen to the first few, I personally cringe.  I know all of the things that I didn’t know then that I know now. We try to make them – this probably sounds silly – we try to make them very listenable.  What we started doing after the first few episodes when we released them is we started putting a teaser at the front where we take a more compelling clip and put that right at the front before any intro or any music or anything because that’s like the subject line of an email; that’s the hook that’s hopefully going to get people to want to listen.  We try to keep the intro really brief and just get right into the meat of the discussion. We’ve been playing with different lengths as well. We talk about Tim Ferriss before, and his interviews will often run to 90 minutes to 2 hours. I’ve never done anything anywhere near that. We started out a little bit longer at about 45-50 minutes. I think we had trouble keeping listeners that long; so, we started shortening them down.  Now I shoot for around 30 minutes; some of them I deliberately structure closer to 20 minutes. So, those are really the things I’ve learned is how to structure them, how to get people hooked early, and then how to give them just the right amount of time where they’ll want to listen to the whole thing and we won’t lose their attention.

[17:35]

It’s really tricky trying to find this balance.  I think one of things I’ve noticed is if you go to a professionally structured piece of content like serial, for example, they’re very good in that they always feel the same:  length-wise, structure-, content-wise, etc. But then if you look at like a Gary V. or Gary Vaynerchuk structure, sometimes, to your point, he’s pulling just a highlight reel from the last whatever two months worth of content; other times it could be a keynote; and then other times it could be just a staff meeting that might last only ten minutes.  So you have this massive variability. I have found that one of my biggest frustration points is that I cannot track when listener drop-off occurs, right?

I tell you what, man, if this whole market research thing doesn’t work out, somebody’s got to solve that problem of content management on podcasts so that we can just get that somehow close the loop on things like new listeners, attrition, repeat, etc.  

[18:42]

Yeah, we’ve had that exact same conversation here, and it’s the one thing that makes us pull our hair out.  We know how many “downloads” we get, but we have no way to know how much people are listening. You know in our world of research, especially the work that we do where we’re tracking feedback to TV pilots and advertisements, and radio content second-by-second, that’s the world that I live in.  I want to know if there’s a trend of where I’m losing people in a podcast. And is there something about the way I’ve structured it that forces people to tune out or that’s keeping them to the end or they’re bouncing where they’re listening to the first thirty seconds and then they’re out. If there’s something out there that I’m not aware of, I’d love to know what it is, but I agree with you that’s a big thing that we’re missing as well.

[19:36]

This is probably boring the rest of the audience but a little bit more inside baseball.  I was meeting recently with the senior director of Audience Insights of NPR. He oversees podcast data as well, and you know that they have their own app and player.  So they can track all the things that you and I wish we could track. So I was talking to him about trying to get a sense of where the drop-off… and then wondering if they had found a surrogate for things like new listeners.  All the data research they had done trying to extrapolate on their own app to their broader iTunes, iHeartRadio, whatever, GooglePlay. They say it just falls apart; so, there just isn’t currently a solution that they’ve found.  I think that they’ve probably got the pockets for it, right to figure it out… that can track that piece but somebody’s going to be a billionaire when they can solve that problem.

[20:39]

That’s the next start-up idea then.  And if someone else doesn’t do it and we get frustrated enough, we just might do it ourselves.

[20:47]

There you go.  That’s awesome.  So, I think it was December 3rd you started of 2018. Talk to me about the role of personal brand and how that’s helped or maybe even gotten in the way of your business.

[21:06]

You know for us we haven’t focused too tremendously on personal brands in either division of our company, Dialsmith or Engagious.  We really try to make sure that it’s the companies that shine through and that we don’t tie the businesses to any one person or any couple of people.  So, I do host the podcast, and I’m doing more speaking now as well as my business partner, who heads up the research side of business more on the consulting side, and he’s an excellent speaker as well.  But we really try to focus more on the brand of the business, and managing two different brands is tricky. That’s been another bit of our challenge for the last year. We’re having fun doing it, but definitely some sticky moments in how to do that effectively.  So, really what I want to do is I want to establish trust; I want people to know that when they hear my name, that they can rely on what they’re going to hear; it’s going to be valuable to them. I’m obsessed with feeling like I’m delivering value and not wasting people’s time.  I think that’s the greatest disservice is if somebody was nice enough to give me a little bit of their time and listen to or either what I have to say or what I bring to them through a podcast or something, and then they feel like it wasn’t worth their time. That’s just tragic. You know really it’s trust and reliability that’s most important to me from just a personal reputation standpoint, but we focus a lot more on the company brands than we do on any individuals.

[22:48]

Do you think there’s going to be – for podcasts at least spawned this year in the market research industry, which is a pretty small industry, in general – do you think there’s going to be more podcasts that come up going into 2019 and looking forward to 2020?

[23:05]

My gut tells me that there probably will be.  The beauty of podcasting is that there’s a low barrier to entry even if you want to make sure that you do it well.  You know a good quality microphone is not that expensive and using online tools like you and I both do to record that are anywhere from free to a few bucks.  It really comes down to, “Do you have an editorial point of view?” and “Can you drive a discussion in a way that’s going to make people interested to listen?”  But the barrier to entry is very low. You don’t have to be setting up a video rig with a lot of lights; you don’t have to be uncomfortable being in front of a video camera; you don’t have to do anything on the street like man-on-the-street kind of stuff.  So I do think we’re going to see more and more of it.

The biggest trick really is diligence.  Getting started, doing a couple of episodes – that’s the easy part.  Then you realize that, if you really want to build an audience, you have to be consistent; you have to put out content regularly, and it has to measure up – it has to be valuable enough.  We’re in a cadence right now where we put out an episode every two weeks. We have enough content; we could do weekly – we just want to give ourselves enough time to let each episode breathe out in the market and be able to promote it enough so that we don’t step on one episode after another.  Our consistency right now is where we’re on every two-week-cadence. We’ll see if going into 2019 if we decide to alter that at all. I’m not sure. How often do you guys put out episodes?

[24:38]

My focus this year was figuring out how the hell to podcast.  So, the best way for me to do that was to just create as many episodes as I could.  So that was the whole meta for 2018. Kind of like your journey, when I started out, it was catastrophic.  And, fortunately, you learn through failure and you learn through success as well. We’ve gotten better and better.  We’re moving from a twice weekly to every two- week structure in 2019. My gut is telling… We’re going to do different like on-site (and this is something that you’ve done as well very effectively, I might add.) on-site interviews – that sort of thing.  I don’t know… it’s interesting ‘cause… It takes a lot of time; that’s the big problem, right? It isn’t the hardware or the software investment: it’s the focus investment. So that’s the piece that, I think, companies need to think about when they’re considering the trade-off of “Should I do it? Should I not?”  It’s very much like a trade show. The trade show itself takes time, but the prep and the trade show creative, etc. And then the post- is also… You’ve got to be committed to all three aspects of it and not just having salespeople show up and stay at a nice place. For us the big piece of learning is that (at least, we think) what the audience wants is deeper, more context, deeper conversations, more context, a few more segments.  So we’re going to move into… Next year we’ll have two different additional segments: one’s going to be HR tips and tricks for increasing overall engagement or managing up or whatever. And then we’re also going to have some technology and research tips and tricks and trends segments. So we’re breaking it up a little bit, probably going to a longer show format. Right now we’re about 20 to 30 minutes. I think we’ll probably be around 35-ish minutes with the additional segments and then adding a couple more voices in there.  I think it’d be interesting too. What do you think about… What do you think about the role of webinars and podcasts? Do you think there’s some tension that’s developing there?

[27:00]

I haven’t seen tension.  I find webinars tend to be more informative and instructive, and podcasts tend to be more informational and conversational.  We still do both, but we have a pretty natural delineation between when we want to educate versus when we want to inform. And that’s where we tend to lean more toward webinars when we want to educate.  Clearly, if you want to demonstrate something, drive an important point home, and then for podcasts we come up with our content calendar for what we think will be interesting, or things that will group well together.  We try to be informative but also make sure that there are some key take-aways. My hope is that after every episode, someone can go to work tomorrow and apply something that they got directly out of that episode and then over time I hope that it continues to unfold for them.  And they can continue to apply things as time goes by.

[28:06]

So really quick, put you on the spot:  What is one of the favorite things that you’ve taken away from your podcast

[28:11]

For me personally, it’s made me better at conversations.  It’s funny because as much as I’ve been in sales my whole career, I’m still pretty introverted.  I’m the person when I go to a conference, I’m not comfortable walking up to a group of people and just inserting myself and starting to talk.  Even though sales is my background, that’s just not the way I operate. It’s made me more comfortable having conversations on the fly because while I do script out the interviews a little bit with topics I want to cover, I try to let the conversations flow organically.  For me, that’s spilled over beyond the podcast just into how I communicate with people in general.

[29:00]

Shifting gears, a few of our guests…  (We’ve done this game, and I’m really starting to like it.)  This isn’t going to be a mainstay, but it’ll probably close out 2018, and then we’ll revisit it here in a couple of years.  I originally started it with one of our guests, Stacey Walker, the head of Insights at Adobe. It’s just sort of caught on, I guess, since there.  So here we go. If you are a VC who is investing in future technologies for market research… Let’s say that you have 10 David bucks. (It’s like the new virtual coin, right?  Everybody’s using it; it’s very popular.) So you have eight different options on where you can invest. You can distribute your 10 David bucks however you want across these options. The first one is virtual reality; the second one is augmented reality; then we have qualitative at scale, and that can be any sort of  qualitative at scale video, an LP whatever; Voice – so think about like Alex, Google Home; big data; traditional trackers; blockchain; and, I’m going to call it human intelligence or consulting. How would you distribute your 10 David bucks for a maximum ROI in five years?

[30:20]

Alright, that’s an interesting game to play.  Let’s see… The ones that jump out at me the most…  We can boil it down a little bit more from there.

VR, certainly – it is a little bit slower to ramp up than maybe some people thought it would, but it’s a huge culture shift for people who have to consume content, at least currently, inside of goggles.  But the potential there is off the charts. If we’re speaking especially about market research, specifically there are things you can do in VR that would have been impossible or incredibly expensive to do otherwise.  So we’d definitely put some there.

I think AR has tremendous possibilities as well when you can put people in these environments or put things in front of people that would be virtually impossible to do otherwise.  VR, AR – I would absolutely invest in.

I think Voice…  Voice is huge. Speaking specifically about market research, maybe not as much about just in the industry in general as you look at what Alexa and Google Home are doing.  So, specifically for market research, I might not put too much in voice, but I do think in general Voice is huge.

Qual at scale, especially since you mention video – absolutely, without a doubt, especially you look at what the likes of Voxpopme and others are doing.  I think that’s a big one. So, VR, AR, Qual at scale.

Then I would put the rest into number 8, human intelligence.  I just don’t think that we can afford to take the human element out of everything that we need to do.  Machines are great at telling you what people think; there’s not so great at telling you “why.” And you didn’t have AI on your list.  AI probably belongs in this conversation as well. That will certainly begin to help us automatically understand the “why,” but I don’t think you can beat the human intelligence when it comes to converting “what” into “why.”  And ultimately, “why” is what matters.

[32:35]

Yeah, my very first brand interview was with Rogier Verhuls at LinkedIn.  And he had this great quote that I’ve referenced a lot: “Research has to be about the ‘So what’ and ‘Now what,’ ”  It’s really kind of tethering it back to this concept of ROI and then contextualizing the data or the insights so that the executive knows what in the heck it means relative to the decision.  

[33:01]

Yeah, absolutely.  In the end, that’s all that matters, and that’s where human intelligence always comes into play for me.  

[33:09]

I’m a big believer in Voice having a material impact on our industry especially as it impacts our customers.  My thesis is that… (Like you, I think we’re similar in age; we remember the pre-internet days, right?) My thesis is that if you can remember the 90s where this internet was a sort of thing.  You really didn’t have a… didn’t know what to do with it. And then it evolved to be, obviously, one of the backbones, actually probably the backbone of information… is the backbone of information.  Today it’s actually replaced the father-child relationship in many ways to find out how to get something done. Then you think about the iPod and then later the iPhone. The initial use case for the iPhone was music, and you could do talking stuff.  And that was kind of the initial phases in 2006 and 2007. Voice right now is functioning a lot in the same sort of narrative. My hunch is that Voice, because it is passive in the way that we interact with it (We can do other stuff like drive or work out at the gym as you said)…  It starts getting really interesting because the opportunity for us as researchers to intercept and get feedback – whether it’s a post-utilization of a skill or app – gets really powerful ‘cause you can get that feedback in real time. Along with it comes things like sentiment, obviously natural language processing, etc.  But I haven’t seen market research, and I know again this is early days. I just think that once it hits, it’s going to be at scale quick and too late for brands to start paying attention or adjusting their strategies around it.

[35:06]

It’s a lot like what has happened with video.  I think video has really started to take root especially with regards to gathering feedback.  Voice is actually trailing a bit because with video you can see people’s expressions and you can read their faces and learn so much more than just voice, but like we were talking about with podcasts earlier, voice is so much more ubiquitous.  And you can do it anywhere, and you don’t worry about what do you look like or “Where am I?” or “What’s around me?” I think it’s interesting to see what’ll be to come.

[35:44]

Yeah, for sure, because voice has this – to your point – has this uniqueness of getting as close as you can, before we can do mind reading, to giving feedback to the experience because it’s passive.  You can keep both hands on your shopping cart while you’re pushing your kids and looking for groceries at Walmart and then still give feedback. There’s not another way to be able to garner that feedback other than voice.  Who knows how the big boys are going to…? I know that Neilson has recently started adding it into their reports, their quarterly reports, and there are a few other companies that are rattling sabers about it. But it’ll be interesting to see how 2019 shakes out and if voice becomes a centerpiece for the new tech companies that evolve or existing large companies that create units around it or product solutions around it.

[36:42]

Yeah, absolutely, I agree.

[36:44]

I am curious about the two-brand strategy:  Engagious and Dialsmith. Is there a rationale to try and combine those?  Or is it Google and Yahoo? Or, I’m sorry… Or is it Google and YouTube, is what I meant, sorry.

[37:00]

In some cases, we serve two different kinds of clients, and in other cases, we overlap.  So, Dialsmith was the original business, and we’re often hired by other research firms or large research divisions within large companies.  Then, Engagious being more of a consultancy, we are not generally competing against Dialsmith clients. We were pretty deliberate about not wanting to do that.  Because Engagious is so kind of laser-focused on communications, messaging, storytelling, we don’t find that we compete very often, which is important to us. But we do want the market to know that Dialsmith does what does with regard to dial testing tools in person, online, mobile, and then Engagious is all about engaging audiences with content and messages and stories.  So we deliberately kept the brands pretty separate so far in the market, and, while we do cross-pollinate a little bit and we don’t make any secrets about it (I’m talking about it openly right now.), we just find through our marketing activities it’s cleaner to keep the two separate because we do tend to serve different areas of the market.

[38:29]

I like that a lot.  I think that the clarity around brand creates this opportunity to punch through on what the products are as opposed to potentially getting enveloped in a larger brand, creating some confusion around what the product or solutions are that you’re bringing to market and how customers are relate to you.

[38:50]

Yeah, it can get really muddy.  I just imagine if we tried to set up a combined Engagious & Dialsmith website.  I think the task would drive me crazy. Dialsmith could certainly be thought of as a technology division of Engagious as a consultancy, but they’re both really niche and on the smaller side generally speaking.  Having them each stand alone on their on two feet with their own brands and their own messaging seems to be the right strategy for now, and we’ll see what the future holds.

[39:26]

So, David, tell us a little bit about what it is your company is offering now and what’s finding purchase in the marketplace.

[39:37]

What we’re offering now is we’ve definitely capitalized on the storytelling trend and especially storytelling related to market research, whether it’s telling stories with data or through data visualization or using narrative as a way to communicate as opposed to just bullet points or taking people some kind of an outline or an overview. So a lot of what we’re building through Engagious are these frameworks that can be used to take all kinds of communications and put those into more of a storytelling-type of narrative so that you can take people on a journey; you can pull those emotional levers when necessary in order to communicate a story and in order to try to influence, you know, and move a market in one direction or another.  At least on the Engagious side of the business, that’s been our big focus for this year. I think a lot of that’ll continue going into next year as well.

[40:44]

My guest today has been David Paull, CEO of Engagious and Dialsmith.  David, thanks very much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research podcast.   

[40:51]

Jamin, it’s been my pleasure.  Thanks so much for having me.

[40:53]

And thank you everyone who’s been tuning in.  As always you can subscribe on the platform of your choice.  I particularly listen to iTunes reviews. Love them, share them, take the time.  It is how we spread the word about and get fantastic guests like David Paull. Thanks very much and have a great rest of your day.  

Ep. 146 – Anne Beall: A Christmas Story

Happy Holidays from all of us at Happy Market Research! We are so thankful for all of our listeners and those who have supported us on this journey this year. Without you, none of this would be possible. Happy Market Research is heading into 2019 with so much gratitude, joy and excitement for what is to come.

Here is a bonus episode featuring Anne Beall of Beall Research. She recently shared a story and a lesson that she learned during this holiday season. We wanted to share it with you in hopes that it will touch you like it did us!

Enjoy!

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:00]  

Happy Holidays, everybody, from all of us at Happy Market Research.  Thanks so much for making 2018 such a great and exciting year. To all of our guests, to all of people who have been providing feedback, referrals…  It has been fantastic. I wanted to go out this year with this one great story that recently happened with Ann Beall of Beall Research. I hope you enjoy this story and appreciate you going to 2019 with a tremendous amount of thankfulness.  Have a great rest of your year.

[00:31]  

And I have to say I’m not that keen about Christmas.  I mean I don’t really love the holiday. I find it pretty commercialized.  I don’t really like getting gifts for people. I mean sometimes I get it right, but a lot of the times it’s really hard picking out gifts for other people.  And I feel bad when people give me gifts: I don’t really need anything, and you know.

I don’t really love the holidays and, to tell you the truth, I have a lot of sort of bitter memories.  I didn’t even put up a Christmas tree last year. And the holidays remind me of people who are no longer in my life, people who have passed on.  And there’s some nostalgia around it.

But, for some reason, I said to him, “OK, let’s go downstairs.”  I actually have a fake Christmas tree and we have decorations in the storage room, which is in the very back of my home.  When we got to the storage room, we smelled smoke. We thought maybe someone was burning leaves in the backyard, but we went outside and there was nobody burning leaves back there.  So, we went back inside and wondered whether the storage unit was on fire, and it was not. And that’s when we realized one of the condos above us was on fire. I live in a three-flat.  

For some reason, we didn’t panic.  He called 911. And, at that point, I started looking for the cats.  I have three. I have a black cat named Serena, who’s 18 years old, and she does not like to be picked up.  I chased her around the bedroom and finally got her in the cat carrier. I have another cat, who is a feral cat, and she really doesn’t like to be picked up.  I chased her all around the house, and I finally got her into a cat carrier. But I have third cat, who’s a foster cat, who isn’t normally living at my house, who I was watching for somebody.  I didn’t have a cat carrier, and no way to get the cat out safely. So I left the cat behind.

We ended up going outside with the cats – my partner and I standing there, watching my house.  And the firemen arrived: three big trucks, 20 firemen. They busted down doors. There was nobody in the building but my partner and I.  They busted down doors; they had hoses going up in front of the house and back of the house; they had a ladder going up to the roof. And they contained the fire, I thought.  I basically was watching and watching and watching. They don’t give you any information, but I’m praying and hoping this fire does not go downstairs to my unit.

And I’m thinking about my cat, my foster cat. “Oh, my gosh, I hope he’s going to be safe.”  And then I’m thinking about all the other things in my home that can never be replaced: my dad’s letters to me when I was in college; my grandfather’s letters to me when I was a child.  All these things would be gone in an instant. But mostly, I was thinking about the cat.

They did contain the fire, and it took out the entire wall of the third-floor condo unit.  It started spreading when we, luckily for some reason, discovered it. The condo on the third floor is uninhabitable due to fire, smoke, and water damage.  The condo above me is uninhabitable due to water damage. I had a little bit of water damage, but my place can be lived in. It needs a little bit of work.

But I got back into my home.  My cats were all fine; they were a little shaken up.  And I started thinking about that Christmas tree that I wanted to decorate, which I really wanted to decorate more than anything this year as a result of the fact that this Christmas I was given the most amazing gift ever – my home and my partner, and my cats were all safe after a tremendous, tremendous fire.  And for that, I’ll always be grateful.

[04:47]   

Ann, thank you so much for sharing that story.  That was fantastic, and a great way to bring in the holidays.  

[04:56]

It’s a good one, huh?  

[04:58]  

It’s super good.  That’s super good.  [laughter] Oh, my gosh.  The appreciation and thankfulness.  I tell you what: that is all of us going into 2019.  This is going to be a perfect snippet of the last episode for Happy Market Research 2018.  So, thank you so much for sharing that.

[05:18]

Oh, you’re so welcome.  You’re so welcome. And count your blessings, really.