Happy MR Podcast

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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!




Social Media: @happymrxp



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.


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.


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


It’s a good one, huh?  


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.


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

Ep. 145 – Bob Lederer – RFL Communications – 3 Tips and Tricks For Using Social Media In Market Research

Today, my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry through distributing video content.

Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997 and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since.





RFL Communications



Social Media: @happymrxp



Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major

market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry. Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997, and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since. Bob, thank you very much being on the Happy Market Research Podcast!

So one of our core questions, and it has been drawn really by the audience interest is how did your parents wind up impacting who you are today and ultimately the success that you have had?


My parents are both European. My mother is a survivor of the holocaust of Auschwitz. And she survived the end of the war. They had her come out of a concentration camp and put her on a death march, which she survived. She weighed 57 pounds when she was freed by the Russians. I think it was somewhere in Poland. She spent some time in Sweden, a year recovering from what had happened to her, and then she had the option of going anywhere in the world and she came to the United States, met my father in 1946. They were married in 1948. And I was born in 1952. And they both had a very, very profound impact on me. You do not really think about it at the time. My father had his own business from the late 1950’s until the early 1980’s when he finally sold it and retired. My mom was always a housewife, very European in that way, but they both affected me because they both stressed to me ethics: doing the right thing personally and professionally. And one of the things that my dad stressed to me was to be an independent thinker, and to not follow the crowd or what everybody else was insisting that should be done. His phrase that I will always recall is: “Don’t become part of the rabble. Don’t just do what everybody else is doing. Think, and critically think, and look at what is really happening. You can make a decision about stuff.” And that has helped me both professionally and personally in my life.


It is really interesting to have the holocaust in your story.  And then connecting that to the importance of critical thinking from your father. Of course, that makes perfect sense.


It also makes sense because my mother always said to me: “It can happen here”, which was her way of saying “Yes, Jews can be singled out in the United States just like they have been or were in Germany”. My father had come from Austria after he had left after Germany took over Austria. So he was lucky enough to escape and not have to go through the camps. But my parents emphasized to me the importance of being aware of what is going on around you at all times so that you can protect yourself and your family. And without getting political, in times like this I am indebted to them -they both passed away – for helping me understand to pay attention to all sorts of things going on sociologically and politically and all the ways.


It sounds like in a lot of ways you had to become a student of humankind in order to identify those patterns, perhaps even ahead of time. I am thinking of your father who had… fortunate enough to escape that. I don’t have a point of reference but did that have an impact on you choosing research?


Good question. I don’t think so but I was always inquisitive about why things happened. And that came from my father too. He said: “Think about what is going on and why it is going on.” For simple as everyday tasks, such as things that you do in your career. And he tried to trick me into becoming an actuary, and I was pretty good in math but not quite good enough for that. And I was very good at writing, I always had a skill. Every course in college where I could write papers instead of take tests, so that always came naturally for me. You know, I wanted to be a sports caster when I was a teenager. And I remember in college that I came home in the middle of my junior year, and we all went out to dinner, and I said: “Dad, I know what I want to do.” And he said: “And what do you want to do?” And I said: “I want to be a sports caster.” And he said: “No, seriously, what do you want to with your life?” He then said to me famously, it is a put down, but he said: “You know, you have a face for radio.” Ha! So I have told that to people over the years. But when I started Business Daily Report in 2012, and he died in 2012, I think in some way psychologically it was my way to show my dad that I could be successful in front of the camera and not just in front of a microphone, and I truly enjoy doing that whenever I can.

One of the things that I am looking forward to is come out with my new book: “Beyond Broadway Joe” and have the opportunity of both on radio and television to talk about it with people.


It is funny how our fathers inform our view on ourselves and in a lot of ways, speaking for myself, that has caused me to control some of my outcomes, or rather actions, in order to prove them wrong. So you started doing Skype interviews, right?


Yeah, the idea frankly was that back then, and even today, there weren’t that many podcasts back in 2012 when I started this. There were some but that did not appeal to me. The major news distribution method that we had on those days was we have today, and that was a couple of UK-based email research news delivery service. I was fortunate. My daughter had just gotten married to a guy with great IT skills. We were talking and he said: “I know that you want to do something media wise, and I would like to help you. What can I do to help you?” And I told him: “I would like to explore the idea of doing a regular video news report”. Back then, I was thinking in very grandiose terms and that it might even run 30 minutes a day or something like that. And pretty clearly that became pretty obviously not doable. But we hounded down and said: “Let’s see what we can do for maybe 5 or 10 minutes.” And he helped put together what we have today.


That is awesome! That all happens remotely, right? Or is it a proximity thing? Is he working in your office?


No, no, no. I am in Chicago, and he is in Israel.


Wow! That is so neat.


You can imagine the sense of relief that I had because you probably have the same thing that once you have got the program in the can, as they say, you just turn it over to a very adept technical person and they make you look good or sound good.


How has that ride been for you? Having been there… I am not going to say in the early days because that was 2006 or 2007 but when it starts hitting saturation and then riding it through, have you seen market researchers on YouTube increase, stay the same, decrease?


I will talk about it in terms of our audience. Our audience for the first 4.5 years was pretty consistence, and it was consistent of 150 views of every video we put out. We have always been doing 4 videos a week, Monday through Thursday. Something happened with Google, which owns YouTube, in the middle of our fifth year. They changed the algorithm. And they did so because they were trying to crack down on a lot of YouTube sites that were claiming hundreds of thousands of views a day, probably by putting a lot of very pretty dancing girls on the screen and having somebody sit in front of them and talk about anything. Who cared what they were talking about? But literally they were trying to crack down on that. And they were trying to do away with all kinds of mechanical manipulations of the viewer count because it is very easy –I don’t really understand how, but it is very easy to manipulate it by just having bots keep hitting the viewing button over and over again. So what happened affected us. I noticed that we had something like 82 views. And went out to lunch and came back around 12:30/1:00 pm, the number of views had jumped down from 82 to 58. So a couple of hours after that, it was down in the 40s. Now something obviously was really very wrong so I had my associate contact Google. You cannot get them on the phone but you can get them in a chat room. So we were joined in a chat room by several small video operations like our own, and we all had the same complaint! You are literally knocking down our number of views! What in the world is going on? And they explained to us what I just explained to you. And we said: “Yeah, but you are killing us? Why are you even applying that algorithm to us?” And they said: “We really don’t have any choice.” And in the end it came down to the fact, as they said to us, “You guys are just really small potatoes for us to really worry about in any way, shape or form.” So we were kind of screwed. Because we could never could claim thousands of views on our video but we could claim 150 to 200 a day, and it was valid, and we were getting good quality people. These were not low people on the totem pole in research but were pretty good research executives both on the clients and suppliers side.  And we struggled through the end 2016 and into 2017 with exactly what we should do and how we should do it. And this year we have come up with a little bit different formula: we streamline our process. Our videos are much shorter. I have done away from my one-on-one interviews with people, and instead I have been invited people to do two-minute long commentaries about subject matter that I agree with them that was important enough, different enough, innovative enough, that deserved to have the attention of the research audience. And our views have gone up this year. We are probably are at the 100-125 level because the quality of what we are presenting is I think somewhat more in tune with what the people out there are expecting. But even that is a real challenge every day, Jamin, because I tell people that the market research industry is about 3 miles wide and about 1 inch thick. And by that I mean, you have people interested in television research that could not care less about scanner data. The people in scanner data could not care less about television research. People in television research could not care less about online communities. The people in online communities could not care about on and on and on. So it is a real task every day to find a subject matter that attracts a large enough audience to really maintain some credible numbers. But I think that we are making some progress there.


That’s great! I think that part of it… and I agree with your assertion that we are as researchers fundamentally Jacks of all trade, masters of none, in some ways and in another ways right where we get really, really deep and whatever it is our thing that we really care about, whether it’s add testing or whatever, and then forget about the space around us. But when you think about the commonality across the hundreds of interviews that you have done, what stands out for you over the last 6 years, 7 years?


The words that immediately come to mind are: “innovation”, “breakthrough”, truly presenting something that is state of the art, and that is not generally known a great deal about by a lot of people. And my barometer, my thermostat basically is myself. So if I don’t have any idea about what they are telling me that they have now developed, then I assume the audience doesn’t either. Because most people in our industry, which is probably 95% of them, are so busy and so focused on their specific area of responsibility that they don’t really have the time, they probably have the interest, but they do not have the time to really absorb what is going on in another area of research that ultimately may very well impact their research and their careers.  


Earlier today I had an interview with Frederic-Charles Petit, who of course you know is the CEO of Toluna. He had mentioned that it is really incumbent upon market researchers in the industry to present ourselves to the next generation so that they choose us as a career.


I am not sure I am answering your question precisely but I would tell you that I could not agree more with what Frederic-Charles told you.

I have been on a very quiet but very stern mission for the last five years with the industry, and frankly they are not listening to me. We are completely missing opportunity after opportunity to attract young super talented, inquisitive research types. In my almost 25 years in the industry, I think I have met 3 or 4 people who actually told me that when they were growing up, they wanted to be in research. Almost all of us, and I am in that grouping, we kind of fell into the research industry. And for many people, it happened because it ended up being their first job and they liked what they were doing. But I maintain that we should be reaching out to people as early as high school because young students are interested in all the basic things that go into research: anthropology and sociology, statistics, online capabilities, and graphics, and all kinds of things that really can lead to a research career. And the last six years, without fail, among the most available jobs to recent college graduates has been Market Research Analyst, paying from what I have seen on average 50,000-60,000 dollars a year. That is a hell of a lot of money for a just graduated college senior! Their eyes probably grow very wide unless they come from a millionaire family. And I proposed to the associations; I have talked to almost all the heads of the associations and mentioned this and said: “Look, there is got to be a program I can set up. I know where we can build a curriculum from and we ought to be introducing it locally through research agencies and even through client research departments. Again, all in a localized basis to the universities and colleges. At the very least, trying to create a Market Research 101, and then shortly thereafter a Market Research minor, and ultimately, a Market Research major.” And I think we would be doing ourselves such tremendous benefit because we would be attracting some of the most talented young people out there who otherwise might not even consider because it is just not on the radar screen.


Love that framing. I completely agree. It is almost like maybe the partnership has to happen with Georgia or Michigan that are becoming a broader networking opportunity or pipelines for those universities with those specialty programs.


Michigan State has basically the curriculum that you need to establish and the books that they use at the graduate level right now. But you need to have the arms and the legs locally. For instance, here in Chicago, you would need somebody to go visit the University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola University and University of Chicago and all of the community colleges, etc. It has to be done at the local basis. And the research agencies and other entities whose lifeblood is research do exist that could do the reach-out and do the encouragement. And they could all, at the same time, and I think this is very key, offer the inducement that the top kids each year would have a guaranteed summer job internship at a research agency or at a client research department and such. And just imagine the impact that we could have across the country where you would have thousands of kids ready to enter market research as a career, and we would have the pickings of the best of them.


Yeah. I am thinking about reaching certain economies such as where I am based, a resident California, which is well above average and has about 8% of unemployment, or Detroit. When you pick these markets where there is lack of opportunity at a high school level, people are already thinking: “Okay, so how do I make money as soon as I graduate?” So you are really talking about a trade school aspect that could be introduced into that curriculum in lieu of PE or whatever, a much more educated or active part of our economy that is centric to this, what I believe is, the rudder of a brand, which is market research.


Agreed. So if you want to join me in trying to push this, I think it would be a great enterprise to be involved with. And I think we could get the industry to follow along if we would just get enough people who would be enthusiast about it.


There is a local entrepreneurship school here in Fresno called Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. It is a high school. It is completely free, open enrollment. The student body is massively diverse so it is not at all what you would normally think of a school like this. I am starting to do the podcast onsite… when is the first one? It has not been scheduled but it is this month, right? It is in September. We are going to start doing it once a month. I am going to be interviewing the students. So what I am going to do, Bob, based on this feedback, is incorporate a set of questions about market research just to gage overall interest. So that will be part of the public domain from a visibility perspective, and I think separately it would be interesting to see if we can plant a flag to help raise awareness in this space.


The idea also frankly came through the annual University Research Award that GFK had instituted five or six years ago, and I believe it is still in effect. What they do is that they have a competition. And any college or university with a research program of some sort is eligible to do a research project. They get some guidance from people at GFK, and at the end of the project, there is a competition and GFK picks a winner. And for four or five years in a row, I have talked to the winners. And the winners all told me that they had no idea what research was about before they did this project. All of them they came with very different interests, such as I laid out a few minutes ago, whether it was statistics or online research or anthropology or that sort of thing, and yet almost without fail, the four or five team members said that they wanted to go into research as a career as a result of their exposure to it. So that is really where I think we can make the greatest point about the potential for this idea.


Speaking of insights, so how do you use data to drive your organization forward?


Honestly, not very much. Ha! We are not data-oriented because we are very small. We don’t have a lot opportunity to look at things… Our data, our metrics are basically looking at our videos, looking at the reaction response we get for the newsletters that we put out. For instance, we put out now for the third or fourth year what we call “RFL global top 50”, which is our listing of top research-related organizations in the world. It was specifically designed to take on the gold top 50, that is an industry staple, and we have made some nice progress in doing that. But we don’t really get too involved in the data, because there really isn’t that much for us to do, and we only have a two or three person operation so we cannot really afford to get too enmeshed in.


We are similar, right? I only actually have one KPI, which is number of daily downloads, and that is the only thing that we care about. We have just started our journey but as we are learning and failing and winning and learning, we are going through these cycles. One of the things that has been interesting is how we utilize social media. At an organic level, not at a paying level, although you could apply this to paid, we just don’t have the budgets yet for the paid. Ha! So…


Neither do we, although I get a phone call every two or three weeks saying that they can improve my viewership. It will only cost me 30,000 dollars a month to move me up from number 5,000 to number maybe 250. And I say: “Really? Do you think that is a wise investment on my part?”


I love that. So are you using other… How have you used other social media platforms to help drive awareness of your YouTube channel?


We have followers on Twitter. We have followers on Facebook. I have over 4,000 connections on LinkedIn. We message out to those people every day. We also use a system called Hootsuite to spread as virally as we can our Facebook and our Twitter messages about what is the content on the video today, or just to send out some messages about. For instance, there is a big news item like the day that the Ipsos-GFK deal came out a few months ago. I actually put a Tweet about the fact that it had occurred because nobody else seemed to be picking it up. We just try to make use of social media that way. And it has its benefits. What we have really learned is that if you put at something out at nine o’clock in the morning and the target will be pretty large, and does not see it until three o’clock in the afternoon, or does not get around to check it at three o’clock in the afternoon, chances are they won’t see it. We do send out the same message a couple of times a day. And that actually irritates people but there is nothing we can do much about that.


Yes, I think the choke point is exactly what you just said. Every single social media platform is inundated whether it is through paid advertising or just your normal channel activity basically. I think I follow, I don’t really know the exact number of people on Twitter, but let’s say it’s between 300 and 600. But that is a lot of tweets! And then on top of it, you add in other stuff. It is highly unlikely, unless you are retweeting your things that I am going to have the opportunity to interact with you so… But then you walk this balance of how much do you choke a channel because there is this tipping point of just becoming obnoxious. We are having that discussion right now in terms of is Instagram a relevant platform for Happy Market Research. Have you played much with, whether it is Instagram or Facebook, on that front to help drive awareness? I know that there is the Market Research Rocks Hell Yeah Facebook group. Has that been effective for you?


Instagram, I don’t think so. Facebook, yes, to some degree. I have actually found it very successful in promoting my book. But we use Facebook every day, we use Twitter every day, and it just depends on how and when you reach the audience. We know there are people out there that are interested in what we have to say but it is a matter of getting them at the right time because I don’t really check my own Twitter or Facebook feed for business all that often during the day because if I do, I will spend half an hour or an hour doing that and that is not an effective use of my time.


Interesting. So let’s dive right in then, to the book “Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl TEAM That Changed Football”. So what was the inspiration for the book?


I grew up in New York City in the 1960’s. I was a New York Met’s fan in 1963, their second year. And I just got interested in baseball. The baseball season ended, and one Saturday night I turned on the radio and low and behold I am hearing a football game, and the announcer is one of the Mets announcers so I started to listen carefully, and knew nothing about football. And I really got into the New York Jets. Joe Namath joined the team, and everybody knows that in 1965. Everybody knows who he is. Namath starts to do some amazing things. The Jets have some skilled players in a number of positions but all we basically heard about, living in New York and reading the papers every day, was what did Joe Namath say, what did Weeb Ewbank say. We did not know or read too much about the other players because there was actually intense interest in Joe Namath.

Over the years I’ve thought many times about writing a book about that team. There had been innumerable number of books written about the Jets and Joe Namath, and how Joe Namath won that game. And there is no doubt about the fact that Joe Namath was the difference maker. He really was a super-star that day but over the years, everybody else on that team –and there were 44 other guys who put on that uniforms that year, and almost without exception every one of those guys faded into anonymity. That did not sit well with me. And about four years ago, I was sitting watching a re-play of Super Bowl 3 with my two teenage sons and one of them asked me: “Who is this guy 81 on defense?” And I told him who he was. And “Who is this 75 on offense?” And I told my other son who that was. And my wife walked down the steps and said: “What are you watching?” We told her. And she said: “You know, you have always talked about writing a book about that team. When are you going to do it?” And I looked at her and I said: “I have never had the right angle on this because I can’t write another book about Joe Namath. There is no market for it.” And she said: “What are you going to do?” And I said: “You know, Charley and Mikey –my two sons, have just given me the idea of how and why I am going to write this book. The book is going to be about everybody else on the team who did not have the name Joe Namath at the back of their uniform.”


That is really cool! And with media stars like Gary Vaynerchuk increasing visibility on the Jets, it seems like there is an opportunity to be able to perhaps create some sort of partnerships to help lever the market into seeing your book and having the opportunity to buy it. I am not a sports guy incidentally, I do not follow any… I don’t even do fantasy… I don’t play sports video games. I do not do anything on the sports side so unfortunately I do not have a lot of connection but I tell you, I have now pre-ordered it, I guess.  Congratulations on your book! It is on Amazon for pre-order I believe, is that correct


Yes, it is. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, you can get it on Amazon. It is now on the book stores. They actually released it yesterday but there is another angle to this that I think is very relevant. I had to use a lot of research skills to do this book. And I did not even think about it at the time but I did 70 or 80 IDIs and a number of other skills that I had to really put to use in order to do the interviews and track people down, and all sorts of things. And I am actually going to be talking about the research elements that I had to incorporate in order to use this book at a couple of conferences this fall.


That is such an interesting point that you are making, Bob. And that is the crossover of a skill that you gain as a market researcher. I believe specifically on the qualitative side but it certainly translates into the quant side as well into other things like sales. I will give you a great example: I just had lunch with a customer today, and they were asking me about… they have a very high close rate but they only own a small fraction of a specific market. So I asked: “Who is winning?” So they told me who’s winning, and I asked do they know who their customers are. They were able to access it at a municipality level, so it is public information, and they actually know when one of the competitors closes a new account and who that new account is the day it closes.  And I said: It’s really easy, you go pay that person 60 bucks and you ask them about their customer journey to identify where the channels are that you are not currently penetrating, and then you reverse the sales process and start getting in front of that new market. And they were like ”You are so smart!” And I am thinking: “No, I am just 20 years in market research, trying to learn how people think and reverse engineer success.”


I will give you the biggest research attribute that I did not really have to apply but it is the most relevant thing of this book from a research perspective, and it came from my wife, who does not really understand all that much about what I do for a living. She said that she was talking about this out loud a couple of months ago: “Don’t you talk about new product success and failure all the time?” And I said: “Yeah.” She said: “Aren’t the Jets a classic example of a great new product success?” And I said: “Wow, yeah. This was a franchise that was bankrupt. The Jets were worth $6 million before Super Bowl 3 started. The next day, after they won, they were valued at $16 million. The latest estimate that I saw from last year was $2.75 billion.


My guest today has been Bob Lederer, the owner of Research Business Daily Report. Bob, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for allowing me to talk about my book, which as you mentioned is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your local bookstore.

Ep. 144 – Adam Jolley – EMI Research Solutions – How Podcasts Are Influencing Market Research

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Adam Jolley, EVP Business Development at EMI Online Research Solutions and Market Research Influencer.   EMI Research Solutions is a leading provider of online sample for surveys.   Adam has a long tenure at EMI and has one of the earliest market research podcasts with 37 episodes starting in Jan 15, 2018, the Intellicast Podcast.



Intellicast Podcast

EMI Research



Social Media: @happymrxp



Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major

market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Adam Jolley, EVP business development at EMI Online Research Solutions and market research influencer. EMI Research Solutions is a leading provider of online sample for surveys. Adam has a long tenure at EMI and has one of the earliest market research podcasts with 37 episodes starting in January 15, 2018 –the Intellicast podcast. And he was also instrumental in me deciding to start the Happy Market Research Podcast. Adam, thanks very much for joining me today.


I am super excited. Thanks for having me. This is one of those things where you listen to the podcast and you think: “I will never be on somebody else’s, I will never be on yours.” So it is a little bit thrilling for me. I love it!


That is so funny. This is cross-over week for me. I was on Siemens earlier.


Ha! Oh, that is good! That is great!


So funny! Anyway… Hey, man! First off, a big shout-out to your podcast! Thank you so much for…




…what you are doing there. It is a great source of information, and it honestly just keeps my brain occupied during part of my commute so anyway, thanks for that!


That is great to hear because I think, and you probably think the same thing about yours, is that you do not really know what the expectations are and where you are going to go. From when I was first starting that out, figuring out why we were doing it and who we would do it for and listen, things evolved. And that is great to hear! That is the goal! That is why I listen to podcasts! On your commute. You are by yourself and you might as well just listen to something that at least instead of the same three songs over and over again.


Oh, yeah, totally! Right? My guilty pleasures are… we have about an acre, and we do some farming there. Well, we have one acre that we farm but we live in two acres. So I have been doing tractor work on the weekends. So that is what I do, headphones on, and I also have about thirty minute commute each way so it is a great opportunity to listen. Sometimes I get so involved in the podcast, I would sit outside of my house waiting for the episode before going in, which is insane!


Same thing! The driveway time is a good time!


The driveway time! Yeah! That is the thing! Who knew? Maybe that is the KPI to see if you have a good podcast or not –what is your driveway time?


Right! That’s good!


All right. So from 2003 to 2007, you were getting your Bachelor’s in Marketing at Northern Kentucky University. You were also working as a Fundraising Recruitment Manager at Sports Service Cincinnati Reds. So how in the world did you wind up in Market Research?


How did I…? The biggest thing is that I had a professor that really guided me. One thing that I leave out there, and I purposely leave out there, or change or edit or anything, is that I actually started college in 2000. My college story is probably my parents’ biggest nightmare. To me, it is the greatest story because I was in my undergrad forever! I was figuring out life. That is how I can put it. I started out in college and majored in everything. I switched majors all the time, I was just floating through worlds for a while. I really wanted to be a geologist. I was really into rocks and density checks. I was super into it! And then I transferred from Eastern Kentucky to Northern Kentucky University. And I started over. Obviously, since I was just bouncing from major to major, I did not have anything that came up and started over. And I really made a connection with a professor that was in marketing here. And one thing:  Northern Kentucky is probably 20 minutes away from Cincinnati. And Cincinnati has that PAG cover so a lot of people in recruiting they go to Northern Kentucky and start hearing some things. So in town we have Directions, a huge Nielsen office, Market Vision, Burke, a ton of primary custom market research companies. And you would have a little system where they would try to place students. My professor at that time became a mentor to me. He would ask me: “Why have you been in college for so long?” “What do you want to do with your life?” That type of thing. I was working… When you are 20 years old, it sounds really cool to say that you are working at baseball team. So there was a contentment in where I was in life. But there was definitely a ceiling in place also. And so he would say: “Don’t you expect more?” “Don’t you want to do more?” Look at research. Look at what you are doing in research. That caught on to me because I was pretty good at math, pretty good at statistics, pretty good in those type of things but I knew that I could sell. One of the things about being in college for so long is that you start to develop personal communication type of skills.




So I remember that it all came down to not knowing what I was going to do at graduation. We had a speed networking event with all the market research firms here in town. I remember Randy Brooks who started Directions, who was the keynote speaker. And it fired me up and gave me some encouragement. I was going around the tables, and I started thinking… “How am I going to do this? Am I an Analyst? Or maybe am I an employee 1800 at Burke?” That type of talking through. And I ran into Mike Holmes, who started EMI, and Aaron Walton, who was at EMI for 12 years. Aaron is a little older than me, and we started talking and had a connection. He said it was a lot of market research but also other business things as well, such as selling and business acumen. You might be a good fit. Honestly, he was a guy that was a year older than me, and he was driving a Saab at the time.




And I was like “Oh my! This could be me!”


Yeah, yeah, yeah.


So I graduated on Friday and started on Monday. It was great! I think I was employee 6 at EMI. And it was something that I just gravitated to it, and I was fascinated by research. I was fascinated by the outcomes of things. I think everyone tries to find their passion in market research when they start. So for me, it was… I started in ’07, and I started in some primaries for the ‘08 election. So it was that real life application. We were proving samples for polling companies and to see “Howard Dean wins Vermont”. And I was like “Oh my gosh!” I just started seeing things happen, real life implications of what my work was, and that was my buy-in. And that is when I knew. I love the industry, and I could see how my daily work was having an impact on everything around us, whether it was the economy or polling or consumer electronic type of company. And I fell in love! I was in!


Back when polling was getting it right.


Right, back when people respected polling. Ha! Those were the days!


Still a huge influential industry but it has been interesting to see how it has been struggling more, more and more to nail the outcome.


The polling industry needs like a PR refurbishing company.




And maybe explain to people what margin of error is. And maybe not call people. That’s a whole other thing. The whole industry just needs a whole rebranding, I feel.


Yes, I think that they will always be a big industry, right? But it is under so much scrutiny, and for the right reasons. Because as you said, you can just say: “Hey! This guy is red!” And then you go outside and… crap!


Right. Right.


You don’t get to do it too many times in a row anyway.


Right. I am with you.


Let’s talk about your podcast!




Intellicast Podcast. You started right at the gate this year, is that correct? 2018?




A lot of episodes. Thirty-seven episodes. Why in the world did you guys spend so much… I mean, this is a big time commitment. I do not think people really recognize the investment it is. So why did you guys decide to do it?


I started… Actually I think I bought all the equipment at the end of October last year. I had been at EMI for 11 years. And with just the 10-year mark, I started going through some things, maybe like a third life crisis? I do not know. Ha! I go back, and I started to post more things on LinkedIn, I wrote more in LinkedIn. And I started to think like “I have been ten years in this business, and I am, a sales person.” Sometimes when you are a sales expert in an industry, no matter where you are, you are a blank canvas because you have to be somebody for this client, somebody for that client. And I wanted to try to build something. I wanted to be somebody, the person that I was after 5pm. And my boss recognized that. And he asked me: “What if you starting doing some podcasts?” And I said: “Yeah, that would be great” And that is what I did. I bought the equipment, and it just sat; it sat in my drawer for months. I needed a kick to start doing it. And finally, I said: “Let’s just record one, and see how it goes”. I grabbed Brian Lamar, who is our insights guy here. He is a clown in the most endearing term. He is somebody who is always there to entertain and is always looking for some kind of engagement with his audience. So I knew he would be perfect for it. He is also very smart, and has 30 years in the industry. Without him, if I would have started the podcast myself, which was the initial plan, or if I did not have him there to be an accountability partner, my initial plan was if I ever record it, maybe I will do three or four until people stop asking me “When is the next one coming out?” And it goes away. But he keeps me focused. Our marketing guy makes things easy for us as well, and always has things on our calendar. He gives us topics. He is always scouting the MR news and to see what to talk about. And he keeps us on track as far as timings and everything. As far as editing, he does all that. So it really is starting to become the easy way.
The first steps are always the hardest, and sometimes you need someone to push you off the cliff to take that first step. And those two did it for me and did it for the podcast.


How was it impacted your personal brand?


Greatly. That is one of things from our podcast that is so different from… and why I wanted to be different. That is, I wanted it to be like a real person. And this goes back to what I was saying earlier, when you are a sales person in the industry, an influencer, and you have some experience in conferences and things like that, it is hard to walk that line between the “I have to be this, and I have to stand who I am and this is who I need to be to make a revenue, to sell something to be prosperous in this industry” and then “who I really am”. It is great if those two people are close to each other. If there is not a huge polarized thing but being ourselves… you know, you talk about sports yourself. We do the Mount Rushmore thing here as a joke because I rank everything in life. If we are sitting together and someone says: “This song is great.” I would say: “Yes, this is my number 14 favorite song of all time”. Ha! I am always thinking about ranking things. So we do things like that. It has really grounded me, it has helped my personal brand. It has helped me feel more comfortable about who I am and try to marry, for a panel shake, the beta-b responded me and the consumer responded me. It has helped me balance life a little more


What was one of the most difficult parts of your first five episodes, since you are into ranking things, right? What was the most difficult thing in those early days?




What was the thing that really surprised you as really hard?


There is a balance sometimes in… you never want to make anybody mad. So it is tough sometimes to talk about a company did this, and to say if this is a good or bad decision or what type of impact we have. Undoubtedly everyone is everyone’s client, and everyone is everyone’s vendor. So you don’t want to say anything that sparks something. And at the same time we walk the line pretty well. But it has been hard what is EMI’s stands on something. I have yet to get a call from a sales person and say: “Hey! You bad mouthed my client. You’ll never spend money with us again”.




It is always kind of a danger. Because we are hard on some people. And sometimes we talk about the blockchain of some people and some people say “blockchain is this” or “blockchain is that”. Or “programmatic sampling is this” or “programmatic sampling is that”. You can really come really close. And there has definitely been some deleted segments of things we talked about.


We also have some deleted segments as well, just for full transparency.


Right. But that has been a part that has been very difficult but you start to equal things out, a little bit. It is getting easier and easier.


Yeah, I do find a flow… I got to tell you one of the things that was really hard for me was listening to my podcast.


Yes, that’s true. I really hated the sound voice of my voice. So that was hard. And I would notice… I go back and listen to the first twenty, and I said “uhm” a lot, and I can’t stand it.


You just want to turn yours off! Ha!


And I say: “What are you doing? Why are you talking like that? Why do you sound like that? That is not how I naturally speak.” And I would use words I have never used before, I don’t know who this is. Nobody talks like that. And you speak into a void like we are doing right now, just you and I. And then I think: “Oh no, there is other people listening to this! What are they going to think when they listen to this?” Thing like that. To this day, Brian has never listened to a podcast. He has never listened to one of our podcasts before.


Are you serious?


Never asked. He leaves the room, we put it on over the office system here, and he goes to the one room that does not have a speaker in it and works from there when it is on.




He has never listened to us before. At the same time, it is also embarrassing… I would be… I went on vacation with my family a while back, and my Bluetooth would kick in and my wife would catch me listening to my podcast, and that is the most embarrassing… She says: “Oh so you just drive around so you can hear yourself talking, great! Look at you!”


Totally, totally! You will appreciate this: I was watching some YouTube content where it is basically just me talking to a camera. And I hooked up YouTube to our TV last night, and it had my account detail and the most recent video watched was me talking to myself so it was this miraculously narcissistic view.


Sure. Right. It is true. It’s good.


But I hate it. I would rather watch another view. It is hard for me not to go to a negative place and be overcritical. But then when I go and listen to other podcasters, who I really like, and if you can apply that same lens to them, I think it would be the same sort of thing. So I think the biggest lesson for me is: “Give yourself some grace and know that you are not going to do it great and embrace the “suck” part of the early days and just keep learning and do it a little bit better.”


Yes, embrace the “suck” part is a really good way to look at it. And keep learning from it. I was at a Wire event the other day. And somebody came up to me and said: “I really love the podcast”. And you say thank you but in my first part, I really wanted to dive in and ask “What am I doing wrong?” “Do you listen…?” “How are we…?” And try to get the feedback on it. But yes, a little bit more grace would go a long way.


That is right, that is right. I have a game prepared for us today. We all know that digital coin is the currency of the future, or at least, that is what people is telling me.


Yes. That is what everybody says, yeah.


So here we go. OK, so you are a VC, that is, a venture capitalist, and you are looking to invest in future tech for market research. You have 10 Adam bucks. Adam bucks, by the way, are the coin of choice for this future world of ours.


Got it. Love it!


You have seven options. The first one is virtual reality, or VR, the second one is augmented reality, AR. Qualitative Scale is the third one. The fourth category is voice. The fifth is big data. Sixth is traditional trackers. Seventh is blockchain.

So we have seven things. Relatively quick, your objective is to maximize your shareholder return in a five year period starting from today. So we are in 2018, so whatever that is, 2023, 2024. And you want to invest your 10 Adam bucks by either putting them all in one of these seven categories or you can distribute them around. So it is VR, AR, qualitative scale, voice, big data, traditional trackers and blockchain. Where would you make your investments?


I would only invest in four of them. And my thought process here is that they are all connected. Some of these things… To me, VR, AR, and to an extent big data, almost seem like end games to me in our industry. And what I mean by that is that if we were really to invest them and get the most out of them, if we had more machine learning type, and AI, then you start to eliminate a little bit more of the human element of it, which is a huge… As much as it is in the math industry it’s definitely a human industry as well… and learning the behaviors. So I wonder if I were to invest in that, I feel that there is a ceiling. It is almost to an end game where the returns would not be as great. I definitely feel that the money is going to be huge. But as far as the returns on it, especially if it goes beyond five years, I think it would be good for three, maybe five years but then it is going to plateau out. So that is how I feel about those. But the one I would not give any money to is traditional trackers.


Man, you just cut them off at the knees!


Yeah. And I will say that as a sample company who does a lot of traditional trackers and loves them and loves the revenue from them. And please gives us more and it is the best! But at the same time it does not make a ton of business sense in the way things are progressing in a couple of different layers, I think there is the traditional idea of pulse type thing where it is almost spending the money to make the money. And I don’t know if enough change is happening in the market or any kind of influence whatever the context is where you constantly need to be measuring something over and over again. And I do not think… I think if people really looked at it, and looked at the results until you have a huge shift, until you change the scope of things… I mean, how many times do you do that in a year on a product? And why would you need to measure that monthly if you are only doing that twice a year? It has been a cash cow for sample companies of full service market research firms but I think that full service market research firms may be feeling the heat of having that type of cash cow, and relying on something like that to bring a lot in. And along with that, I had this idea that the market research industry is a year or two behind everybody else, or behind society.

So if you think about it, everyone starts using mobile and tablets, you are never on your desktop, and a year or two later, we talking about how to get mobile surveys. And then, everyone is talking about DIY, and you’re watching HGTV and you are redoing the backsplash at your house and then, we’re coming out with DIY dashboards for programming, field work, anything. And right now, our industry is really into trackers and maybe some big data and these huge monstrous projects but society seems to be making a shift towards more like a craft type: craft bourbon, craft beers, buy local, all these smaller scale where you get so much more richness out of whatever you are consuming. I think research could make that shift as well.  That is why I put 5 Adam buck towards Qualitative Scale because even I really feel that as much as it might seem like taking a step backwards, the richer the data we can have the more in tune we are with our actual customers. The idea of grabbing an entire community or getting everybody is… there is so many different choices whether it is media, products… I think that a more craft approach to things, small batch type approach is something that I think it is really going to take off in our industry in the next few years.


That is super interesting! In your business… your whole business is predicated around completes. Quantitative does a lot less of completes than qualitative. Are you seeing an influx of qualitative companies looking for digital sample?


A little bit. Or just trying to find people more. I am seeing smaller quant studies. And when we are doing quant studies, what can we do with quant studies, what can we append to it? Can we do phone follow-ups? Would people be willing to join the community afterwards? So trying to get more and incorporate more qual into it.  Some of the bigger companies as far as noise in the industry, companies like Schleshinger are starting to grow the quant aspect and put qual into it. Companies like 2020 that are developing software and are taking things like iModerate, which is getting dusty and make that something more. Qualitative companies are getting really innovative in how they are doing things, along with the huge boom a couple of years ago in M-Rock and C Space and things like that. So I think that qual is rebounding a little bit. It has been slow because all the money seems to be in quant. And quant sample suppliers are the loudest voices in the room a lot of times.


Because they have the biggest budgets, right?


Right. And they sponsor everything. But I definitely feel that qual is something that can grow a lot.


What is interesting is that when you pull it back, at the end of the day, if we have a small company with five or six customers, I can talk to each one of my customers monthly, and know how the company is progressing, how I am doing, and my company is delivering, etc. As the company scales, it becomes necessary to do a survey. It is a surrogate conversation. What qualitative is doing is through machine learning AIs is enabling a true conversation to happen but analyzed at scale.


It is very similar to why I think that those trackers are going to go away, right? I was looking at the example of the biggest TV shows ever watched. The M*A*S*H finale got 85,000,000 or something. It was unbelievable.




Seventy percent of the country was watching the M*A*S*H finale. But at the same time, there were four channels and what else are you doing, right?




And there was no Internet. So now people would say that NFL ratings are down. And I say: “Yeah, the NFL ratings are down but there is also 1,000 channels, and we have the Internet. Movies are better than they have ever been. TV is better. You can watch things on Hulu, Amazon, Netflix. There is other types of sports. There is e-sports. Along with those 1,000 channels there are another 40 TV sport channels you can watch. So the options are so much greater. This idea that everyone is going to watch the NFL, and everyone needs to be surveyed and we need to go this broad, that is just not reality any more.

I think brands need to think about it the same way. We need to know our total universe, we need to reach out to everybody so we can sell everybody this type of speaker or whatever. But no, you need to sell to your group. You need to know what your loyal is, what your fans are, what your key demographic is and how to do those. Get rich conversations and qual with them, and that is what ultimately is going to make the most money as a company. We are finally starting to realize that a little bit.


Yeah, it is interesting… piggybacking on your NFL point, while viewership might be down, you look at trends in fantasy football.




…which are significantly up. So overall engagement is up but it is just… that getting back to your small batch analogy early on, the consumer has the choices so that they can actually detail and control and tailor their entertainment experiences.


Right! I agree. To me, one rub in all of this is less money initially. So for somebody like me to say that craft research is a big thing and qual, that does not make sense for us now but that is the thing that I urge us to do here, and I urge all companies to do. People are starting to do a little bit more of this. You have to diversify yourself a little bit. You have to diversify your revenue streams. You have to think about how do we adapt from where we are going instead of being stuck to where we are. That is kind of scary in this industry sometimes but we are blessed also to have a lot of disruptors in this industry.

So I put 5 dollars for my qual, a dollar each for VR & AR and I put three dollars for blockchain because that is the disrupt word of right now, of how things are. We are blessed to have disruptors in this industry like Patrick Comer or what the blockchain people are starting to do now. Granted they might say that they are going to put the panel industry out of business, which might be too much of a disruption but disruptors push you to do different things. So why I believe in blockchain and why would I put the investment because it is just too much of a one plus one has to equal two. If I believe that qual scale is going to give me richer data and going to get me more engagement of my respondents, and then of my customers, I have to believe that if I could have them linked and collect passive data, if I am able to append more data, there has to be some kind of sovereign identity to get paid their worth for their beliefs. If there is more security there because of blockchain technology and how that works, it has to be… people use the term “proof of concept” a lot of times in investing. Right now it is just a logic proof of concept with blockchain for me in that if we don’t screw it up, the basic building blocks of it all add up to where it has to make the industry better.


I really feel like blockchain, at least in my understanding of the technology, is being thrown away in a way like AR or VR…




…but it is a lot different than that. It is much more like online surveys were to phone or in-mall intercept. It is more of a technology empowerment thing as opposed to a new thing, right? It just enables better sample. It feels like it is not a new dollar that they are brand is coming up in order to fund a blockchain firm for their research. It is the same dollar for just a sample. It is just a sample blockchain enabled.


I agree with you. I have actually talked with Cyma about this. What we’re talking about what does that look like. But I think it does if you are doing it right. And if you are incentivizing the people right that you have the chance to… Sometimes in this industry it seems that it is just the same USD5 billion every single year, and we are just dividing it differently or whatever. But I think that you have an opportunity to gain a lot of market share. The sample industry can be so broken right now. Every year there is 4 or 5 “Here is the secret the industry does not want you to know about a sample!” Somebody always comes out with something like that! Ha! This gives us the opportunity to eliminate those arguments a little bit. And I think in the long run maybe get a little bit more, and then evolve a little bit more. So I have always thought if I am on blockchain, I can connect my Facebook, my Amazon, and maybe I connect my nest in my house or my progressive car things where… I do a survey for a gym, and they ask “How many times do you go to the gym?” And I go three times a week. And they go: “Huh. Your car says you go twice a week.” Ha! Something like that… Maybe we can get a little bit more honest and the better sample companies can make more money.


And new revenue.


Oh yes!


I had never considered that but that is… It’s funny because we are talking about blockchain right now and of course, gosh, in 2018 IIeX it is all about blockchain in Atlanta. And it just continues to be the buzz word. I just sat there listening to the presentations thinking to myself: “Man! We are still asking gender at every survey.”




Right? You know what I am saying? So it feels to me that there is a lot of fundamental issues that we need to consider when we are thinking about sourcing sample. How? Anyway,…


In a non-capitalistic environment, you have got a solo ID for every respondent regardless of panel. And you can append like the basics to everything. That was huge!




For some reason, sample suppliers are all guilty of it. We sell that as almost like a premium! Ha!




It’s foolish. We should not be selling ourselves on targeting ability. Maybe we should sell ourselves on how easy it is to work with us. Maybe like pricing, service, dashboard, visuals, those type of things instead of “this is our stuff”. All that can almost be the same, like a grocery store.


That is an interesting world you are painting. That is super interesting! Of course, nobody wants to hear that because you immediately move into, to some degree, a commodity. I will argue strongly that brands and buyers are thrilled to pay for higher level of service and ease of views. Just that overall confidence to the researcher is what they care about. And I still argue or believe that the value of research at the end of the day boils down to how good that respondent is.




And by creating this race to the bottom, in order to maximize the margin, as an industry we are really doing ourselves a significant disservice. And that is where we need to start looking at things, like incentivizing levels to respondent so that they give a shit when they are taking a survey.


I am with you. And that is a huge part… If sample is a commodity is because we made ourselves that way. There is no one else to point the finger to but ourselves, and commodity is not necessarily a bad word. But if you are looking at margin percentages, looking at those kinds of return, then that can be a taboo. And the more VC that gets into the panel industry, that is why people are not rushing to say the word “commodity” all the time. Ha!


Yeah, right? But if you look at the opportunity for differentiation, and using your example of the grocery stores, thinking of Whole Foods versus Food Max, you do have big opportunities, I think, to win in both markets. You could be can be Food Max, I don’t know how national that brand is…


Yeah, like a big box grocery type of thing.


…exactly! You can win there as one thing but then you can win even if you are a boutique type Whole Foods, on the same side.


Right. And people are progressing. You look at where Lucid started and what their dashboard looked like to where they are now or what Pure Spectrum has done in the programmatic side, to make it easier visualizing for what you can get anywhere. Innovates, their new thing is great too: they have great visualization, great demographics, what things look like. So we are starting to diversify in different ways but the sample is not there where we should diversify, you know?


Right. So interesting! All right, so we got to shift gears a little bit and talk about Qualtrics. That is… two weeks ago or three weeks ago they announced their S1, that they were going public rather, and then right before they went public, of course, SAP bought them for a bunch of money. Tell me from your view what are the three things that Qualtrics did that we as research community or Insights nation can learn from?


The first one to me is that they sold. And why I say that is that there is this disease of too much sometimes that we have in life where you think: “I can do this”, “I can do this” or “I can do this”, and you start pushing yourself in your bandwidth capacity. I think that where Qualtrics started as say a software company to a programming company to then getting into consumer experiences where you can basically do an entire research project on it. And then, last year getting into… it almost felt like they were pushing a CRM. I left Qualtrics thinking that they are going to go after Salesforce. So it became so broad and they were doing so many different  things that I think that if they were to file for their IPO and they would just get a lot of money, I think that could have grown more to your Jack of all trades like a master of none. By selling, I think, now they get a focus. SAP has a lot of different arms that Qualtrics could specialize in just maybe that consumer experience, maybe its part of market research and not the whole kit and kaboodle type of thing. So I think that it is great to be ambitious. Everyone should be ambitious. You should follow and do everything you can but at the same time, I think this, selling when they did really allowed Qualtrics to have a name, to have an identity and definition that would make them more profitable in the future, and if they were to keep going and conquer the world, or try to conquer the world, like death by a thousand cuts type of thing.


Got it. So focus is one of the things that benefitted from them selling. That is interesting. I had not considered that but that has a lot of truth. Any other things that you think we could pull from?


I think the greatest trick that Qualtrics has ever pulled is how they get into their customers: going to universities, giving them the software. To someone who is graduating from college to walk out with some kind of Qualtrics certification that may be just a piece of paper in the past but then they go to a job and they say: “Oh! I am Qualtrics Certified.” What the hell is that? “Well, let me show you”. And then, they have it. And then, they maybe to another jobs. So they start at such a young point in the researcher career by introducing their product that it is magic. It is a genius idea to start that young. If you ever go to a job fair or you walk through a community and you get all these cards on your door and then say “My first reflection of this community is that I am going to order from this pizza place all the time.” And Qualtrics did that. They were the first to market for a lot of researchers. And I think it is genius. No one has done it yet after that –which is crazy to me, or since then. I don’t know what you would do now to have the same kind of impact but I think it is super smart and it is something that we can all learn from.


Yeah, and you cannot get rid of them. It is interesting that they were the only ones pitching to colleges, and the contracts that they signed were actually profitable. They were not giving it away at least not in the later stages, after the first few years. And then, they are multi-year. So it literally… once an institution like a university has installed the platform, you know, to do all the training, it is impossible to get rid of that incumbent unless they just go out of business.


Yes, I agree.


I can quantify that with my personal experience. I am on two different boards, at my local college, Fresno State. I offered a free license to the campus, and they never gave me the free license, they are choosing to spend the money on Qualtrics because they are already in there. So unless we start in the high schools…


Right. Just keep going younger!


That’s right! That ship hass sailed! It is hard to get that institutional shift unless you move into a niche offering… We’ll see what SAP.


Right. The last thing that they have done that we could all learn from, and people kind of do this but it is sometimes a hit or miss, is a universal identity bridging their product to who they are. What I mean by that is that we are a customer experience app so we are going to call our conference the “experience summit”. Everything is going to be “experience”, whether you are a customer’s experience, how you measure the experiences, those types of things, and then they start making that be part of their identity as well. They give everybody there $1,500 to have an “experience”. When you are at the Qualtrics Conference, you can find somebody and say that you want to have an “experience” there, you want to meet a certain speaker, you want to do this while you are in Salt Lake, something like that. They are very true to their brand, 100% in that realm and that marries with their product. It is hard for a lot of people in our industry to do that but they have done it really well where when I think of “experience” –maybe I have been brainwashed, but when I think of the word “experience”, I think of the “X” logo that they use all the time. That is really good branding from their side.


Yes, it was interesting how they moved through. I think that our story, piggybacking on it a little bit, they actually tried to get into the market research space at the beginning but they could not get penetration so that is why they winded up defaulting to these schools.




One of their first products, actually I think it was their first product that they had was this thing called the “360 review”, which is where you would throw up a survey, have all your peers, and your friends and family complete it, and then it gives you this spider web graph of how you rate yourself relative to them on a variety of attributes. So it is just this idea of self-awareness sort of opportunity. Well, it is a requirement in almost every business in the US.




And it was really easy to productize. The survey is always the same. The inputs are always the same.  And the outputs are always the same. So you could build a dashboard, right?




And you could build a workflow. And that kind of was their model the whole way through. It was creating these products that would be easily understood and applied and then, just expanding. I think that recently they announced 26 or so specific use cases that had completely customized input surveys and process management and then, dashboarding and reports, all centric to that particular business question wrapped around the methodology. So it is a really interesting use case, I think, about the Who Wins, the old school radio set (they did not have any instructions) or the Lego set that comes with the Death Star.


I agree.


So tell us, what can we look forward to, we’re at the end of 2018.. What can we look forward from the Intellicast Podcast moving into 2019?


Moving into next year, I really want us to do more interviews and not interviews… My biggest interview is a lot like yours, I love hearing the origins’ story of people. I want to hear how you got into market research –that type of story, because almost everyone that you ask in market research when you ask they say the fell back into it and then they go backwards. But at the same time it is an industry that is driven so much by behavior, and it really is a passion that everyone has. Those passions vary and they go in different directions. But to me, the more we can do to learn about how people got in the industry, the more we can do to recruit more people in the industry. And I think that is always a good thing. I want people to experience what I have gotten from this industry. I want people to feel this purpose I have gotten from this industry. And that sounds super hokey, and there are probably a lot of eyes rolling right now when I said that. But I just know that when you are in school, when you are trying to figure things out, you don’t say the word “purpose” a lot of times but you are looking for what your place is. To me, market research gave me that so I am super passionate about it. So if I can share more origins stories or I can hear more of why people got in the industry or why they stayed in the industry, how they fell in the industry, and things like that, that is my focus for next year. And at the same time, my goal with the podcast, I said this from the beginning, I love when there are times when we sell. Somebody would ask me: “What is the perfect group to bring to a sales presentation?” There is always a super passionate person, who thinks you have the best product out there, there is a number 1 sales guy, then there is probably a project manager or your insights person, who is all numbers, these are all numbers; then there is the normal person in the room, and they are the person that will give you a wink or point their finger at you once or twice and always smile if you don’t get something and then say: “Guys, can we stop?”, and gives you time to think that through and say “What do you mean by that?” “Expand on that”, those types of things – the person who is not thinking about market research from sun up to sun down, I want to be that normal person. That is who I want it to be. I want our podcast to be like the level-headed wink-nod finger gun of the podcast industry, and if we can do that, I think that we will be pretty happy.


My guest today has been Adam Jolley, EVP of Business Development at EMI Online Research Solutions and market research influencer, host of the Intellicast Podcast. Thank you very much, Adam, for joining me today.


Thank you so much for having me.


And thank you everyone who is listening as always. I greatly value your input and reviews in whatever platform you are consuming this content. Please feel free to reach out to me directly @jaminbrazil of the platform of your choice.

Ep. 143 – Fiona Blades – MESH Experience – Are Human Interaction Touch Points The Future Of Market Research?

Today, my guest is Fiona Blades, President and CEO – that’s Chief Experience Officer – at MESH Experience. MESH specializes in identifying how your brand is experienced by your customers.

Prior to founding MESH, Fiona has experience as a marketer on pet food, and planning director in a variety of agencies, such as Leo Burnett.



MESH Experience



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Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Fiona Blades, President and CEO, that is, Chief Experience Officer of MESH Experience. MESH specializes in identifying how your brand is experienced by your customers. Prior to her time at MESH, Fiona has worked at several agencies, including Leo Burnett. Fiona, thanks very much for joining us at the Happy Market Research Podcast today!


My pleasure! I am delighted to be on it!


So today you are in New York City. Your accent suggests that perhaps you came from someplace else. Could you tell us a little bit about your childhood and your journey towards market research?


Of course, I would be delighted! And yes, my accent is a little bit of a give-away. I started in the UK, and it is interesting that you actually asked me how I started in life because although I was working in London for my whole career before I moved to New York, I actually come from the North of England. My parents live near Manchester, in Cheshire. So that was where I grew up when I was young. It is very friendly, it is very different, and many people would not know that I actually come from the North because my accent sounds like a Southern UK person.


That is awesome! So what do your parents do?


It was interesting that you asked that question because actually when I set up MESH, I said: “How on earth could I have set up this agency? What led me? What was in my genes to get here?” And then I thought about it, and my father was an engineer, and he actually owned a business. So I thought that maybe that was part of was what led me to where I am now. And in particular, he had something called a molding graving business. So he put the textures or the designs on to plastics that might go on to cars, for example. He invented processes, and I thought back about that. And I thought “I wonder whether he was good at inventing processes and whether that led me to think about how I can come up with a new process for market research to capture people’s experiences in real time. So that was my father. And then on the other side, my mother had a nightclub. She owned an Indie nightclub in Manchester for over twenty years during the period when it was called “Madchester”. So that was the Oasis period and those kind of songs, and I think that what I really got from my mother… when I went to her club and I did only go once because obviously that was her place, it was just an experience for me because I saw the teamwork, I saw how members of the staff felt that it was their club, and they showed me around, and they worked so efficiently, and I just hoped that one day I would be able to have a company where people bonded so well together and were all doing something that they loved. So I think I got something very different out of both of my parents.


Was your mother particularly outgoing? I would imagine in that environment that would be helpful?


She was outgoing but what was funny… she never let on that it was her club. So she was on the door taking the money in. She was over 50 before she started the club so she never had her name come publicly associated with it, which was very interesting. She was more like the person who was doing the business side, making sure everything ran smoothly, making sure all the staff was there, that the licensing was in place. And then, she had other people, she had a manager who would be helping with the promoting and the marketing, making sure the right DJs were there, so obviously it was part of a team. Yes, she was outgoing, but no, she was not the public face of a Manchester nightclub during a period where there clearly a lot crime and difficulty so it was a very unusual position for a woman of her age to be an owner and there every night at a nightclub.


That is fascinating! The fearlessness of being at the door the person that takes the money. I mean, you are also dealing or at least being exposed to people that may not want a service, in which case they got to find another place to go, which can be a difficult conversation, I would imagine.


I think so but she had somebody who was a doorman for over twenty years, Theo. And I think everybody thought the club was his. And he was big because he was the bouncer but what was funny was that at the end of the evening there were literally carrier bags of cash and Theo would carry these bags out to the car with my mother, and I think that people thought that my mother was a little old woman so they did not know she had a car stashed with cash.


That’s hilarious! That’s hilarious! That’s a great visual, especially at 3:00 or 4:00am, I can imagine, in the morning. Anyway, the connection that is interesting for me, and you have already pointed this out, is that process-oriented mentality both of your parents had and then ultimately installed in you. Maybe you can tell us a little bit about what the impetus was for you starting MESH Experience.


Well, the impetus in many ways was because I was working as a Planning Director at Claydon Heeley, and I had account planning people reporting into me, coming up with creative ideas that propositioned that they then worked the creatives and also the data team that were analyzing the data. And one of our clients was Mercedes-Benz, and I knew it was not just the TV ad that made somebody buy a Mercedes-Benz, it was looking online, it was seeing your neighbor’s car and thinking: ”Wow, I think I want to know a bit more about that car”. It could have been seeing top gear, and seeing a car that was featured on that. And I just thought that we needed a way to understand every different experience that someone was having with the brand in order so that we could know which experiences we needed more of and which we needed to get rid of. And there wasn’t anything. I think you mentioned fearless in relation to my mother, and I think that is partly true for me. If I had known about market research, I would have known that you cannot do on a mobile phone using text messaging but I did not know that in 2005. I just thought: “Well, you can use a mobile phone to collect data, and I had data people reporting in. And why can’t you use SMS?” And so from that I developed an approach, which we called “real time experience tracking” in order to actually find out those experiences people were having with brands. In many ways it was a little bit like a CRM program. So coming from a direct marketing and agency background, I knew that first of all, you sent one letter, then an email, then you had a phone call, all these different things you had to keep people engaged. And in a way I suppose that influenced the process because I wanted people to tell us about what it was like when they saw the TV ad but then they saw a poster, then they might have had a conversation, then they looked online, so I wanted them to tell us all these experiences as they were having them and to keep them engaged in the process. So I think there were some parts of what I have done in my previous role that really helped develop that process


Yeah, the real life application or need. There is this amazing brilliance with being blind to the barriers. This has come up with a few others entrepreneurs that I have had on the show, the not knowing that you could not do it or the industry had said that you could not do it, and they wind up actually executing it particularly well and creating a point of differentiation in the market. The point about measuring the impact on every step of the user journey, I’ll put “every” in quotation marks because that’s tricky but at least on the point of exposure, that is something Amazon, of course, has capitalized on particularly well and continues to exploit –and I do not mean that in… you know what I mean, to continue the leverage for the benefit. Are you seeing your work starting to move more and more in that positioning? In other words, evening the playing field against the digital giants.


I think things have changed so much since we set up the agency in 2006, and it’s absolutely fascinating, and I love the direction that things are going in. If you think about it, in 2006, when we first set up in January, there was no Twitter, for example. We were not really talking as an industry about social media and social media listening. Now there is just a wealth of digital data that we can mine, that is in real time, that gives us information about people’s behavior. And for me, that’s all about real time data. And that is where I came from when I was thinking about MESH and real time experience tracking.

I supposed what we have done over the twelve years is we really understand our data set and from that we have been able to create models, so we have an experience model, we have a manifesto for experience-driven marketing. So we created that as well. And we find that looking through the customers’ eyes in the way we do, and the data is self-reported, so it is not the same as some of the passive data collection, and I really like passive data collection but it is not quite the same. But it does pick up every touch point, and maybe some of the digital touch points we are not getting, some of the real time, in-person touch points it might be missing on, but this almost provides the glue through which you can at least look at all of these different data resources and make sense of them. So one question we often ask Marketing Directors is: “Can you draw a pie chart of where you are spending money for your brand?” And of course, they can draw that pie chart. That is really easy. But then we say: “Now draw pie chart of how people are experiencing your brand.” And that is much more difficult because what percentage of those experiences are seeing a TV ad? What percentage are drinking the product? What percentage are seeing somebody else drink the product? Or seen it on a shelf in the supermarket or at home? And that is much more difficult but that is the pie chart that our data can draw for Marketing Directors.


There are two things there that stand out to me. But one is, before 2006, or 2007 really, which is the whole mobile phenomenon, brand and social phenomenon, brands used to be who they said they were and now they really are who the customers say they are given the socialization of that and influence of those comments. In fact, we are going through a remodel on our house right now, and my wife is literally looking at Yelp reviews as the number one way to identify who are going to source different projects with. And it is quite a bit of different vendors that we are going through right now just through that process. And a few of the vendors that we winded up saying no to had really high reviews. However, the referral was to somebody else, who just simply did not manage against that. They do not care about social, and they are just stuck with two people that said something negative about that experience. The impetus now is on the brands to actually measure that experience. Because as soon as the person this really connects, positive or negative, then they have the means by which to influence everybody else’s view of that brand.


Even when we started, I had got a vision of what I called brand dialogue at the time. And very early on in 2007, we were very lucky to work with Unilever for Axe, the male body spray. And I remembered there, we were picking up a campaign that they were running called “Boom, chicka wah-wah”, which was a great campaign. They wanted to see how quickly that catchphrase could catch on. And what we could see in the feedback that people were giving to us was that they were playing with it. I remember one photograph on Facebook where someone put their status as feeling very “boom, chicka wah-wah today”. And those kinds of things really made me think… I love to be able to be in a situation where a brand can be responding quickly and picking up on the consumer conversation and taking that along. And in twelve years, we are now much closer that.


100%! The other thing that starts standing out to me is how the user’s journey has evolved. Prior to online, which I am old enough to know really, really well, there was a set architecture where brands could spend ad dollars (TV, radio, billboards, etc.) and then as we know, the Internet added another channel, social adding another channel. As you look forward to voice, how are you seeing that play out from a user journey perspective and that ultimately rolling up to your brands?


I think voice is fascinating, and I mustn’t mention the “A” word or we’ll get stuck happening here like blinds closing and lights going on. As far as we are concerned with our particular methodology, so the core one we use and we do have a number of other that we work with as well, we ask people to tell us whenever they see, hear or experience anything, so we pick up any touch points whether that is voice or not. Sometimes, for example, we know… we have a big retail banking study in the UK. There you can see an experience could have been that somebody has been chatting online about their bank account. Whether or not they are chatting to a chat box or a real person, sometimes that is difficult to know but I suspect that they do not know either. But certainly I think voice is just a whole new exciting dimension of data.


I read a statistic recently from Purina, which does lot of things one of them being dog food or pet food. The statistics was that their projects are that about 50% of their revenue will be purchased through digital assistance like the A word or Google Home or whatever over the next five years. That statistic for me really speaks volumes in the importance of nailing the consumer connection over that period of time because once people move to “Alexa, order paper towels” from a purchase perspective… Oh sorry, “Alexa, stop!” I think I just ordered a bunch of paper towels. So you wind up in this tough situation where purchase choice is being controlled obviously at the user level but the user is not processing the connection of the name of that brand with the product in the way that we do with Kleenex, right. If I was a major brand right now, I would be thinking: “What does that user journey look like?” “What is the experience look like?” And then “How is it going to map once 50% of my revenue moves to a voiced-based purchase journey?”


Again, I think that you are absolutely right with that. In fact, I started my career on pet food. I was a Marketing Manager on dog food on brands called Winalot and Bonio and Shapes and Winalot Prime in the UK many years ago, and it was such a different world then. We created a 60 second ad. It was the first 60 second award winning IPA support winning ad for dog food at the time, and now, look at how things have changed. Obviously, particularly with something like pet food is heavy, so you do not want to be lugging it around, you want it delivered. The whole user journey is going to be different. With something like dog food as well, of course, you’ve got the purchaser and you have got the dog. So you got a whole load of other dynamics going on, which I think is very interesting. And a lot around the emotional relationship so there may be something to do with the purchase experience and the choice of dog food that relates to that relationship so you will need to find moments where you can change behavior because quite often things are habitual and they happen over and over again. But let’s say the dog is ill, that is a good opportunity to change. What is going to happen then? Where is somebody going to go? What are they going to look at online, and how can your brand influence? So I think that there are going to be lots of different purchase journeys that we are going to see.


Yeah, I would love to spend… I know you have a call in an hour so I am not going to spend three hours talking about this subject but the way you just said it is super interesting to me. The reason why is because the consumer journey is exponentially changing, year over year over year, as technology is disrupting or redefining that journey. You can see the rise and I am not going to say “fall” but the “move away” from Snapchat, as an example. The “all in” and then “all out”. And that environment and the context of the platform changes how the brand needs to position itself in order to be relevant and interesting to that population. And to your point, there are only few inflection points that impact behavioral change in a consumer purchase pattern, and you have got to be relevant there, so then you have to think about “Alright, how am I influencing that journey and a big part of that is where are they finding the information that informs, that pulls the value or puts the value forward to them and you need to be that as a brand, you need to be that single source or as much as you certainly can be. Anyway, I think a very interesting subject to talk about.


Absolutely, and another thing, actually that almost the flip side of what we have been discussing, is retail bricks and mortar and the move from being transactional to experiential. There is going to be loads more, of course, that will be done online but from all that we have done over the years we know that human interaction touchpoints are the ones that have the most impact. And when people are living the brand and experiencing it so if we think of pop-ups, like the Magnum Pleasure Store, those have such a big impact on the people that go and on the news that spreads! And I think we will find more creative experiential retail environments in order to attract people into them and then the convenience shopping will obviously be more digital focused.


So you are a successful entrepreneur. I am an entrepreneur. I have been for the last almost two decades. We both know… Anybody who has been doing this for any period of time knows that there are highs and lows. Would you tell us a little bit about one of the largest challenges that you experience starting and building your company and then how you addressed it?


There was a moment during the recession, 2008-2009, that was particularly challenging. We started in 2006. Let’s remember that I had that blissful ignorance and thought that I could set this up. And all of the sudden the economy changed. We had only just set up an office in Singapore and privately funded business that we had, many clients that we had, particularly in China, and we were able to service Europe and the States out of our London office but we could not really service Asia out of London. So we thought “We’ll go to Singapore”. As soon as we set up the Singapore office, I remember that we had been at the Market Research Society Annual Awards event in 2008, and we won more awards than any other agency. We were only 2 years old. This was so exciting for us. We were looking into the new year, and all these clients had said that they were going to be working for us, and we got these campaigns and literally January came and every single client got back to us and said: “I am so sorry, our budgets have been cut, our campaign is moving, we are not going to be doing anything.” We literally had nothing coming in in January, nothing coming in in February, a time of not coming in in March. And I had to get hold of our Managing Director in Singapore and say “We cannot send any more money out to you. Can you just get back to me and let me know what to do?”  And the next day he phoned, and he said “Right. Okay. I have looked at this, and I can half our costs.” And I nearly feel off my chair. I did not know how, what they were going to do to half their costs. And I said “I am all ears. Tell me, tell me what you could do.” He said: “We are going to move to Thailand.” And I said “Right. Okay.” He said “Not forever but we are going to move now to Thailand.” And that is what they did. So I suppose that I have learned from others. I would have not come up with that idea myself but I am delighted to say that although that particular person left MESH afterwards, today we are still working with him as a Consultant in that region. I think it is really about being tenacious and listening to other people. Because other people have got great ideas and expertise to bring.


And the point you made about that you still have a relationship with that individual, who helped you navigate that very difficult point in time, that’s key, right? Because that is exactly your DNA, even expressed in how your customer’s customers or the customers of the brands need to and want to interact. Is it Casper? I might be mistaken on the brand but there is a digital mattress brand that is opening stores, obviously Warby-Parker, which we all have heard about, moving from exclusively online to opening up brick and mortar. So you definitely have a success at a digital level not being enough and needing to then enable the customer to have this full immersive experience in order to maintain that relationship.


We believe that experiences needs to go into everything that we do. So obviously we are understanding clients, the brand experiences that the customers are having. But most of us have experience in our titles and that is because we want to ensure that our clients have great experiences working with us. That our participants in our studies are – we never call them respondents because we want them to have a good experience – we want our partners to have a good experience. This is an ecosystem, and we really believe that it is important to walk the walk and talk the talk as well. We need to be thinking about the touchpoints we have with our partners and try to make great experiences rather than negative ones.


So what do you see as the characteristics of an all-star employee? What do you look for, and what do you seek to install in your team?


The first thing is a “can do” spirit. If you are coming into the smaller, more entrepreneurial business, you need somebody that loves that, that they want to do things, and they got that “can do spirit”. They also need to be creative problem solvers as well because you just don’t know what is going to happen. We talked about the radical transformation that has gone on over the last twelve years so you need someone who can think about problems creatively. And I think the third thing is an empathetic team-player. I see the difference between when a team is working well and when it is functioning less well. And it is always about the team work. You can have the greatest people but how can you make them gel? So having somebody who is the good team-player, who is empathetic and understands other people and can work out how they excel with everybody else, I think is really important.


Do you have a specific example of someone on your team that may have exhibited that and if so, a time when they did?


Yes, our Regional Lead in Sao Paolo, Marcello Garritano. He is a great example, I think, of this. He started working at MESH in the UK. He then set up the office in Brazil. There were tough times in Brazil as well, and we had to shut down the office. We then won a major pitch, and we reopened it again very, very quickly. And all the time he was resilient, he was able to build a fantastic team. And he has some of the most diverse pieces of business going through his office. I was there last week, and there are many, many different types of things, not just our real time experience tracking but for some clients is purely working as consultants, using their data, coming up with new tools for them, and he often is given a global project because of his ability to manage a great team.


So as a successful entrepreneur who has weathered more than a few storms, what do you see as one of your keys to success?


I think that if we are talking about it attitudingly, I would say is energy, optimism and resilience. In a way, I almost think that if you knew what it was going to be like having a business you probably would have not set one up. So you have got to really love it. And I think you need your own purpose. So for MESH we have set something, which is about “helping to create and measure experiences that grow brands, people, and society”. And that bit of society is important to me. There has to be a reason why you are doing something. I think that having a sense of what you are really trying to achieve is important, and keeps you going and keeps you motivated.


One of my favorite tweets of all time actually says: “If a company does not have a vision, they are just wandering around.” And you are exactly right.  You got to have a reason why. So operating at sort of that, ten or thirty thousand feet, maybe higher, what are your views of seeing as a trend in the marketing and marketing research space?


Well, we talked about some of those trends but one that I am really pleased about is that experience is coming of age. So again maybe ten to twelve years ago I don’t remember being talked about as much but now it feels as though everybody is talking about it. And I was really delighted to see in an article a little while ago in Harvard Business Review, where the authors that included Keith Weed from Unilever were talking about how share of voice and share of all would not be key metrics of the future, it would be share of experience. I feel delighted that we are here at this time, because I think that there is a time and a place, and now it does feel as though people are really valuing experience.


I mean, it is so far beyond anything else really, right? One technology company, I cannot divulge who they are, they have not been on the podcast just fyi –although I am going to fix that, they have 5 internal full-time market researchers and they have over 40 and growing UX researchers. So that user experience is driving, driving, driving a lot of the decisions that are being made throughout the organization, honestly.   


I agree. Yes.


So what is MESH offering right now that is being adopted and finding a lot of traction inside the market place?


Well, I think it is the ability to be able to measure these experiences. I think that is where we are really finding traction with. The data is collected as we talked about before but that is something that when clients see it because it includes quantitative metrics –so you can draw that lovely pie chart and you can see exactly how people are experiencing the brand, but then you can really dig down and you can see which are the positive experiences. And we now that a positive experience has three times the impact of a neutral one or a brand consideration. So that is really important to look at that. And you can see that for yourself and for your competitors. So you can immediately start to see where there is white space, what you can do, if there are some negative experiences, how you can fix then. That is what we have been finding. That the data itself, once the clients try it, that they get hooked on it because they really want to see what people’s experiences are and they are qualitative comments and photos as well. So if you know that for example, posts are performing very strongly, you can see exactly why people are saying that.


My guest today has been Fiona Blades, CEO of MESH Experience. Fiona, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast with me.


Thank you so much. It has been an absolute pleasure discussing this with you.

Ep. 142 – Dom Ricchetti – Service Now – Understanding KPIs In Market Research

My guest today is Dom Ricchetti, Senior Staff Research Lead at ServiceNow. Headquartered in Santa Clara California, ServiceNow is a software-as-a-service provider, providing technical management support to the IT operations of large corporations. Prior to ServiceNow, Dom has been leading research at many of today’s top companies including in Microsoft, Intuit, Millward Brown, Dell, and Gartner.   






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Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Dom Riccheti, Senior Staff Research Lead at ServiceNow. Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, ServiceNow is a software-as-a-service provider, providing technical management support to the IT operations of large corporations. Prior to ServiceNow, Dom has been leading market research at many of today’s top companies, including Microsoft, Intuit, Miller Brown, Dell, and Gartner.

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


Thanks so much for having me, Jamin.


I’d like to start out with a little bit about ServiceNow.  This is a massive corporation, impressive growth, yet I don’t think a lot of our listenership have heard about it.  Can you tell us a little bit about ServiceNow?


Sure thing.  We’ve been very successful, and it’s been an interesting story.  We started out really being a small engineering company, developing a platform.  Out of that platform, trying to figure out selling it in enterprise how best to apply it.  The logical conclusion to start with was in IT service management. So, most people know when they have a problem with IT, they call up IT; they create a ticket.  You make a request, or you have a problem – there’s a ticket. Somebody’s assigned a ticket to work on it, and it gets passed around. People use a knowledge base, look up information about what’s going on, what kind of things worked in the past, how to we solve this problem.  That whole process of IT service management fit our platform very well because it’s geared towards assigning things, managing the workflow process, integrating with other software and information in the knowledge base behind it. So, that’s really matured over the years to be this awesome, workflow-integration platform underlying everything, and we’ve started to extend it to many other business processes.  Besides IT service tasks, we’ve extended it into IT operations, and IT management, like asset management and other uses for IT. Then into external customer service – you have the same kinds of issues: when a customer calls up about your product, needs help, has a request, just how to use it, or break/fix kind of things. That’s also a service desk management, facilities and field service – same kind of issues and processes where the workflow and integration really benefits those areas.  

Then an area we’re really excited about – it’s been growing fast – is in HR.  You think of problems that HR internally in a company is trying to support their employees on a wide variety of issues.  An interesting scenario that we delivered is on-boarding new employees. You get a new employee you have to set them up with their computer, desk space, access right to networks, get them signed up on workday, APP payroll, United Health Care benefits.  You’ve got all these processes you have to manage and take somebody through. Different people manage those tasks, integration with different software; so, that whole workflow can be automated on our platform.


Is a large part of the pitch to your customers improvement to operational efficiency that then impacts gross margin or another way of thinking about it would be the benefit be improvement to workers’ output quality or overall enjoyment


Yeah, that’s a tough question.  I guess I’d have to say it’s both.  I think where customers realize the value is, first of all, in efficiency.  We thought maybe artificial intelligence and virtual agents would help the service desk have fewer people; there’d be fewer agents needed to answer stuff because there’s usually the top 20% that comes up 80% of the time.  People need to reset their password and stuff like that. Most companies have some way to automate that and a lot of consumer products do, and you can go down that list. But really what we found is that our customers are finding they can process more requests and do more things; so, they could start applying the resources that they have into more areas that may be important in helping the whole business process move better.  Then it becomes more about improving the way the company works, improving people’s life at work.


Yeah, and improving the overall customer experience, right?  That’s really interesting how your customer base is adopting the technology, and instead of shaving off large pieces of their departments, they’re reassigning those resources to create better customer experiences.  


Yeah, that’s right.  


Recently, you won a – I should say ServiceNow won a Forbes #1 most innovative company.  That is a very prestigious award. Can you talk to us a little bit about that award and what that means to the company?    


Yeah, that was just a tremendous success.  People really got pumped up about the recognition of it and the perspective.  We’ve been working a long time on just growing the business and the application of the platform.  We’re used by about 40% of global 2,000 companies; so, we’re well penetrated into large companies around the world.  But a lot of that is just in particular areas – maybe IT service management or maybe even they’ve adopted HR as a first application, and the expansion of the platform into helping their business processes across departments is a huge thing driving our growth, which has been at 35% – 40% been running along at that rate. But a key part of this has been just trying to get across our positioning and our value of what the platform can do in a lot of work with people like Gartner and Forrester.  Now we find that we’re recognized as the leader or, at least, a visionary in many different Gartner magic quadrants, which is where a lot of the IT departments go to the find out which vendor has got right stuff to help them with where they need to move with their company. I think it’s been an outcome of that understanding of the value and application of the platform that’s driven this number 1 most innovative company.


In April of last year, you got a new CEO, John Donahoe, who was the previous CEO of eBay.  He’s well known as a marketer and branding genius. With his appointment, is… how’s that impacting ServiceNow?  


Yeah, it was quite interesting.  Little aside: John and I started on the same day; so, I hope both of us are contributing how much stock has moved up.  [laughter] But it was an interesting move by the company. He’s our third CEO really, and another phase in terms of the company’s growth.  We’ve been growing so fast that the board and the company has recognized that we need different talents, leading the company for the next phase of what we’re doing.  So, with John coming in, we’ve put a lot more emphasis now on developing brand and marketing so that people will hear more about ServiceNow, know what that means, and what we do.  As well as just discipline in managing strategic decisions and our internal processes, we do a lot of running ServiceNow Now, we call it, so the Now platform. We use our own tools and our own… or the release.  We’re the first testers of the applications of things. And we’re a big enough company you can push and break stuff and understand how to apply it best. We learn a lot from that internally.


It’s really interesting to me that you are applying your public platform to your internal processes.  I personally found at Decipher that platform was birthed out of me needing to program surveys efficiently and then it becomes the preferred platform for, I call it, institutional or research-heavy companies.  The reason why is because we have this certain level and certain job function with a consistent type of deliverable. Everybody has shared pain points and, if you can automate… if you can apply technology to automate those processes, then you just inherently improve people’s lives.  It sounds like that’s exactly the application at a much, much larger scale, of course, that you guys have been successfully applying.


Yeah, that’s a great point.  I’m sure from that experience, you realize too what we see is that it’s the most intimate use of the product.  And you can get so deep with yourself, as a customer, that you could really understand what’s happening and how to improve things.  Yeah, we get some work actually. It’s been in HR department. It’s been interesting because we’ve done some work for our HR to understand our employees and what are the moments that matter in an employee’s experience at work.  How can we make their life better, evolve the things that affect an employee’s life? We’ve done work on both sides: we’ve done work with customers for HR product and work internally about how we can improve HR. And they overlap.  Some of the information on both sides is driving: well, what do we do in our HR, in our own HR, and what do we do for HR product for other companies?


Yeah, and that creates this beautiful connective tissue between product delivery, R & D, and sales.  So you’ve got this, in my opinion, this perfect eco-system of constant product improvements. And then you guys understanding, because you’re using the platform, the implications of those improvements and how they’re used, which then just informs everything else that the company does all the way up to or down to, depending on your view, the end-user or the customer.  So, prior to joining ServiceNow, you served for eight years as the Senior Vice-President of Radius Market Research. This is a very large market research firm based in New York. Why the pivot from the agency to the brand side?


That’s a good question.  Let me tell you a little bit about how I ended up there.  I guess I can just go into some of my background. It’s kind of unique in the diversity of different roles that I’ve had and how things have evolved.  I feel like I’ve been asked similar questions along the way in my career. [chuckles] I’ve been back and forth from tech, brand, and product side with different companies, brand companies – let’s just say – in different types of research agencies, including doing product and market research in different kinds of industry analysis.  I think seeing the world from those multiple sides in building a multi-disciplined education experience has worked great for me in my career. It is something that I would advocate for other people because I feel especially if you want to be a researcher, you should be broad; you should understand the different people in different departments who you work with, and how they might be looking at problems also helps you understand customers.  But, of course, there’s some areas you should probably be deep in; pick those based on your own talents and what the call is for you in your career opportunities. I started actually as an engineer, studying computer science, Although I did a lot of math, it was wasn’t the same kind of statistics you would normally learn to do market research, but it gave great perspective, I think, and it was easy to extend from that kind of STEM education.  I learned a lot about critical thinking, formulating and testing hypotheses, and thinking about problems as we do in research. In research we typically think of it… We’re designing an experiment to test a hypothesis and then prove it or disprove it and develop new insights from that – if not that hypothesis, what’s a new one? That’s what you try to do in both a lot of engineering and science roles as well as in research. So with that, I started working on microprocessors and personal computers and graphic workstations at Digital Equipment way back.  For those who remember and know the name [chuckles], they were the number 2 computer company in the world next to IBM. IBM brought about personal computer; Digital Equipment competed. Digital Equipment was also a leader in networking. They were one of the first companies to develop chips and low-cost what was ethernet at the time and then the internet was build on and their involvement in the internet and integrating that with the PC in the way you’d work with distributed computers. So it’s quite an interesting perspective, but digital equipment no longer exists.  What went wrong really? I learned there first-hand how some of the best technical solutions just don’t necessarily succeed in the marketplace. They aren’t solving a real valued problem for customers that makes it worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s a… you’re overbuilding, a lot of people would say, or maybe you aren’t applying it in the right way to what brings value to the market and will sell well and endure. With Digital Equipment, I actually moved out to Palo Alto, California, which was interesting. The group out there was developing Unix-based workstations and was seen as a little bit rogue in the company, but we were very plugged into Silicon Valley and seeing what was happening in the market.  I changed roles out there in realizing this with engineering roles to then do market and competitive analysis to start to look at more about how could we apply technologies better and guide the engineering teams to being more successful in what we delivered in the end for the product.


Originally, you were a… started out on the engineering side.  What attracted you to Gartner? ‘Cause you’d spent a lot of time at Digital Equipment like twelve years.  Then to move to an insights function inside of Gartner twelve years later, that’s a BIG pivot.


Yeah, it was.  I think making this bit of a transition out in Palo Alto to looking more at…  looking at the market and doing competitive analysis and being part of the Silicon Valley world really opened my eyes to that.  And that’s what got me interested in moving to Gartner and more industry analyst roles. So I was at Gartner and then a little later after Dell too, I went back to Millward Brown, and Telequest Group as a VP of industry analysis.  So there I was starting to round out more disciplines in my career, more experience. At Dell, I was actually part of a strategic group underneath Finance. We were looking a mergers and acquisitions and other areas as Dell was developing…  as Dell was expanding in the server marketplace. I first joined them to do industry analysis about what was happening in the server market. Back then, it was more of just take a desktop PC, turn it on its side, put extra disks in it [chuckles], and you could build a server.  But Dell was up against Compaq and IBM, SunMicro Systems with Unix, and all other kinds of other players who had this great VAR network about being able to load and support applications and other things on a server to make it a more robust server, but Windows was great in driving…   There was particular areas of the market: the file and print servers [chuckles] That’s where you kept all your storage, right? And also Outlook and Exchange servers. So for mail, that was pretty much standardized. So it was easy for Dell to progressively start at the low end of standardization and push up levels of standardization and push more into the server market.  That’s what my analysis was showing, what we were looking in, what we started to drive. Then in the server markets, I was doing analysis of some of the shipments out there for Gartner Dataquest where I was working previously and IDC and found that at least half or more of the revenue to be made in the server market was about storage. So, that’s where Dell got into the partnership and initial work with network appliance and EMC (EMC now part of Dell in the end), made a lot of revenue and bit off bigger and bigger chunks of the server market.

But I also did more studying then too.  So this was the point in my career where instead of a typical MBA, I took Master’s courses in operations research.  I was extending out of engineering management roles and got into more marketing and finance. That breadth got me more exposed to statistical analysis, visualization, business communications, storytelling – put together more of the picture and understanding broader perspective of the business.  At Dell, it was very different in that it was driven more by the market and financial opportunities and trying to optimize finance and optimize efficiency of manufacturing, which was very different than my years at Digital Equipment, who is very technology-driven. That provided a different perspective.  At Dell, I worked on their initial submissions for the Malcolm Baldrige award, which is an extension out of Total Quality Management, in thinking about how in the end does product and manufacturing deliver for customers, solve problems for customers, and satisfy market requirements and needs. It was a real turn that kept happening in my career from engineering to understanding the market in being able to build skills that provided other perspectives on how to analyze markets and do research.


Yeah, I think one of things that I’ve learned…  Of course, you know this intuitively, but after you hear it…  Gosh, what is this? This is over 40 times for me interviewing people (actually closer to, gosh, over 50), sorry.  But is that this diversity of experience actually applies as tremendous amount of advantage to market research because it gives a more complete lense to the data for the researcher to then analyze and understand the consumer’s point of view.  And, secondarily, and maybe even more importantly, the ability to communicate that to the stakeholders effectively so that data then has change in the organization.


Yeah, that’s right.  In research, good practice is that you involve those different departments and get their perspectives.  So being able to relate to them, I think, is something that’s really important for a researcher. I found when I’ve done product innovation research, I came from a role where I was an engineer and was like, “Well, I understand this technology better than the customer.  What’s the customer really going to tell me about how to apply this technology?” Or, in things like artificial intelligence, there are discipline experts that understand that so well. They can engineer a great solution, but it comes back to how is that solving a problem for the customer.  How would you measure that you succeed on what you envision this technology’s going to do for a customer? Trying to understand that perspective in that it not only technically does things that they need but does them in a way that they can make use of it, that it’s intuitive, easy to use.


And then the ability to be able to connect that to an ROI…  Kristi Zuhlke of a company called KnowledgeHound out of Chicago, she was a guest on the show.   She actually talked about one of the tenets of Proctor & Gamble is every research project needs to have an ROI associated with it so that just connects the research with real business outcomes as opposed to more just fodder for a library wall.  


So, let me come back to answering your question about why I moved from Senior

Vice President at Radius to a tech company, being back on the brand side.  It’s my passion in developing and applying these techniques. I did a lot of it at Microsoft; they have a very large in-house, central market research organization; and at Intuit, they had a strong Six Sigma practice where you apply a lot of different research techniques to the end result.  Although I was very excited at working these things at Microsoft, I wanted to get more into the research techniques; so, I moved to a small research firm where we became part of Radius. That’s how I ended up a Senior VP at Radius. It was great that I was working with more business units than Microsoft, Google, Intel, and ServiceNow as well as some other smaller players, and I got my first exposure to ServiceNow, but also things outside of tech – so Starbucks, Nordstrom, REI, others in the Seattle area, and West Coast, where I had clients and could broaden that perspective of applying the techniques.  But in the end, ServiceNow – great company, great opportunity, and we’d been talking for a while; the stars aligned, and I saw that ServiceNow was really ready to start to put this discipline in place, mature their practice in research. It was a huge opportunity to leverage that back around, being able to apply and develop techniques to a technology company where we could try technical innovation. I’m loving it! [chuckles]


That’s awesome.  Congratulations. Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about some issues that are facing big brands like ServiceNow.  How is market research being used by these brands to address those issues?


Yeah, it’s interesting in the industry, and you go to the conference events and stuff too, there’s so much focus on Do-It-Yourself research and the tools, like what you developed at Decipher.  Broader perspective of the tools out there have enabled a lot of Do-It-Yourself research. I was seeing this at Radius Global too that… where traditionally large research firms made a lot of money on doing tracking studies.  Tracking study is not necessarily reinvented. There’s a lot of execution. You want to have accuracy about the dashboard and great insights and interpretation out of it, but it’s something easy enough for companies to do internally with the tools.  There’s been a major shift; there’s key pieces of research process that are easy enough to execute internally. And we’re doing that at ServiceNow and encourage people to take advantage of those tools, you get very intimate with the whole research process.  But I think one of the issues is that – and not to say full custom research firms are all going away. I think they’re reinventing themselves around the things that are trickier research problems and things where it’s harder to execute yourself or that it will take more perspective to derive the insights.  So a partner in a research firm that could bring experience in a discipline like customer experience, research driving loyalty and satisfaction areas, and bring that expertise to partner with you is highly valuable.


Just piggybacking on what I’m hearing:  it sounds like the utilization of longitudinal studies – large trackers. I’ll say – is…  trackers are, in fact, going away, not ever altogether but at least in the current framework, right?  And they are being replaced. What do you see as replacing those trackers? What types of projects?


Yeah, right.  You see it in the research industry that the numbers are shifting the types of work that they’re doing.  I think more of that is coming in-house: it’s easy enough to execute yourself because if it’s longitudinal, it’s repetitive by nature.  But I think there’s something more fundamental that’s changing, and I hope researchers are learning as well as companies that… You still see a lot of management wants the dashboard.  What is our net promoter score? Or even developing better and broader KPIs, net promoter scores, and everything over the past two decades of it being around or so. It is not the end game.  But having KPIs about what needles are you trying to move and tracking them is something that’s important. There’s the old Total Quality Management adage that you can’t change what you can’t measure.  But you also have to know how to change it. And that’s where I think research is shifting and becoming more valuable is that, instead of putting so much money into large longitudinal trackers and making sure you have the nth degree of accuracy on that dashboard seeing it move all the time quarterly, whatever, it’s more about doing the diagnostics.  What’s driving those KPIs? Do we have this KPI exactly right? Do we really understand what this means when we’re measuring it?  Do we understand it from the customer’s perspective? Our target customers or as we expand our market to other prospects, do we understand what it means to them?  You know, the full scope of it and clarity around what that KPI is. I’m a big advocate of the quantitative statistical analysis. We see there’s a huge amount of customer behavioral data just because the systems are in place and then especially with the cloud solution anything online what customers are doing in social media or on your website you build this vast knowledge; so, you have a great amount of data to be able to build models and do statistical analysis about what’s really driving those KPIs and diagnostic work, both qualitative and quantitative, to dig into those, understanding what those big levers are and how you can move them is so much more valuable than the dashboard.  I’ve been at a couple places now: Intuit, and I did some other work with Google, where after you learn enough about the big levers and build confidence in what’s driving those top level KPIs and things you want to watch on the dashboard, you refocus your attention. It’s no longer so much about the dashboard but putting campaigns, initiatives in place that we focus on those big levers. And we’ve done the diagnoses, learned something unique, and often a competitive advantage, about the way the market works or, at least, how the market works in your space of what you’re trying to achieve strategically.


Right.  It’s kind of like…  I can’t believe that I keep going back to this interview, but it is so poignant, with Rogier Verhulst at LinkedIn:  the “now what” and “so what,” which is NOT found inside of the dashboard buy is entirely found in the post-analysis work that is done, whether that’s incorporating external transactional behavioral data or doing deep-dive qual or whatever.  Are you using qualitative, any unique qualitative tools right now outside of focus groups and traditional IDIs?


That’s a good question because we’re looking at them and trying to figuring out what to apply where.  Use a lot of traditional techniques, but what’s been interesting at ServiceNow too is that we’ve always had a very deep dialogue with customers.  So we have a lot of interaction CEO to CEO on down through all levels of people, great executive briefings and dialogue about implementing and applying the platform.  Those unstructured, often one on one or meeting kind of conversations more so than structured focus groups that you repeat, are very valuable but they’re not as easy to leverage for insights over time and across the company.  So having types of qualitative tools where you could record that stuff… You mentioned like Knowledge Hound and ways that you could integrate qualitative with quantitative with past research are key to maturing the process and in having more impact, other than the insights, making it more valuable.


With all of your hypergrowth that you’re experiencing at ServiceNow, what do see as the three characteristics of an All-Star employee?


At ServiceNow we say we listen, learn, and act.  That, I think, is a nice, short way of focusing on this aspect of listening to customers.  I think part of that is that researchers really need to let customers talk. Facilitate the feedback, but let them talk.  Listen beyond what you expect or what you’re looking for to hear. Something that I heard early on in my career and I like to use when drilling into things is to ask three “why’s.”  So when you ask “why,” somebody’s saying that, ask then two more times. Often they have the things they build on when they’re talking about it, but when you ask the third “why” you’ll get something unique, sometimes something unrelated.  But it gets them to open up and think more. Give them time to talk.

So, listen, learn, and act is the first thing.  I think the second thing is telling good customer stories.  There’s a saying of “Speak truth to power.” Internally, up the ladder at the company, telling good, honest stories about what customers’ situations are and how we can solve problems, how a competitors is solving the problems, or what’s happening in the market is essential to helping the organization understand the truth about what’s happening out there.  Pick your battles and build honesty and trust; be honest and build trust. But it’s about creating good contexts too for what you’re hearing. The third area is just getting that breadth of involvement across departments, leading participation, teaching things like Six Sigma practices, jobs to be done, outcome-driven innovation, how to apply different techniques.  We’ve done a lot of pricing studies. What is discreet choice modeling? Why is that best for doing pricing studies? How could we optimize the way we bundle package products? So teaching the organization how to better utilize the tools available, use the insights, create KPIs, and be clear about them, understand that you have to focus on the diagnostics besides just spending a lot of time watching that dashboard – is it moving or not?  It’s better if we spend the time and effort on the diagnostics; then we can understand how to change things and where to focus our work. That kind of leadership across departments to get them to participate and understand how the tools work in research and how to apply it, I think, is the key third thing that’s important to researches and employees at ServiceNow.


Yeah, so listen up Insights Nation and those of you that are looking to get employed in the market research space.  You’ve got to listen, learn, and act. It isn’t enough just to do one of two of those options. And that means you’ve got to be open-minded and check your biases at the door as much as possible.  And then the action – the feet to what you learn – is really important. The application to the business requires a business context of those insights. Then tell the customer story, and then lastly, lead participation.  That is critical.

My guest today has been Dom Riccheti, Senior Staff Research Lead at ServiceNow.  Thank you very much, Dom, for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast.


It’s been great.  I enjoyed it so much.


And thank you, everyone, who’s been listening.  As always, our oxygen is your word-of-mouth referrals to this podcast.  Please give us your ratings. We love to hear from you. Have a wonderful rest of your day!

Ep. 141 – Katrina Noelle – KNow Research – Qualitative Market Research Is On The Rise: 3 Keys To Maximize Its Impact

Today, my guest is Katrina Noelle, President of KNow Research, a qualitative consultancy based in San Francisco. Additionally, she is the co-Founder of Scoot Insights, a firm offering an agile qualitative methodology for decision-making. Katrina is an active member of QRCA which is the Qualitative Research Consultant Association, the Insights Association, Women In Research (WIRe) and ESOMAR. She is proud of KNow’s status as a certified woman owned business, and serves as a mentor through both WBE and WIRe’s mentorship programs.






Social Media: @happymrxp




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. Today my guest is Katrina Noelle, President of KNow Research, a qualitative consultancy based in San Francisco.  Additionally, she is the co-founder of Scoot Insights, a firm offering an agile, qualitative methodology for decision-making. Katrina is an active member of QRCA, which is the Qualitative Research Consultant Association, the Insights Association, Women in Research, and SMR. She’s proud of KNow’s status as a certified woman-owned business and serves as a mentor through both WBE and WIRe’s mentorship programs.

Katrina, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast with me today.   


Glad to be here.


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


Yeah, so I grew up in the Bay Area before it was the Bay Area that we know today.  It was more about Hayes and Fisherman’s Wharf and things like that. It was not the tech center that it is now.  But I think the biggest influence on where I ended up was the fact that my parents owned their own business. So, I grew up as the second child next to an audio-recording studio, which is still going strong.  The main thing that really influenced me was the fact that that is okay to start your own business and to start it pretty young; that it’s kind of a default option rather than a rare enterprise. So I started my business fairly young, based on that inferred approval of the small business.        


Did you parents have any specific hard times that you recall they went through with their small business?


I think it is tough.  I mean they co-owned a business and ran a family together.  So there were some general negotiations, shall we say, that went on while I was growing up.  But I think that is an industry that changes very much with the times and has to. And a lot has happened with audio over the past few decades.  So, I think just seeing the constant need to stay ahead of the game and keep track of what new technology and expectations are… Their client base has changed radically over the last years.   So, just watching that constant need to be agile and to transform with your industry… It was a challenge, but it was also very informative to watch.


Yeah, that specific industry has gone through massive disruption.  And it sounds like they were able to traverse these periods of time successfully.  As you think back on their ability to work together to negotiate both successful family and then successful business, were there some key takeaways that you learned, some behaviors that you adopted?


Yeah, I think one of the most prevalent things was the agility about what was going to walk in the door and present itself may not be why you set up the business.  They started with very small-scale production jobs: people who wanted to record books on tape or their own CD, or things like that. And it morphed into corporations needing voice mail and other kind of needs from the voice perspective.  So, that’s kind of sat in my mind as based on what you do, who might need this. And who might need this isn’t someone you might think of as the most immediate connection. So I think that that’s really stuck with me, that you have a set of assets and a set of services that you provide and to think really broadly about how to offer that and where to offer that set of services.


So, growing up in an entrepreneurial family is pretty exciting, I would imagine, and then setting off ultimately to start your own business.  How did you find yourself in market research?


As anyone who’s starting off in market research knows, it’s very irritating when people say they fell into it.  I think these days you can intentionally fall a bit better. But, when I started out, it was definitely not anything I knew about in college; it was nothing that I knew to study or prepare for.  I found myself right out of college in a marketing department sort of by…. You know I had a communications degree; I guess that’s what you went and did. And fairly soon after starting work, I ended up being borrowed by the Insights Department to go take notes on a set of focus groups, and I begged my boss at the time because, honestly, I just wanted to take the trip, right?  I just wanted to be able to travel around. “Sure, whatever this focus group thing is, I’ll take notes.” And it was within a couple of days of observing that process that I thought, “Wait, hang on. This is what I want to do.” It was more about which end of stick you’re holding, right? Instead of telling people what they might want and need, really listening to them and providing that feedback and loop back into the company about what they actually wanted and needed from the brand.  It just sort of struck me in the middle of that trip, and I don’t think I’ve ever really looked back from that. It took me a long time to get into the industry. I was trying to figure out how to do that. I was working abroad at the time. It was a visa thing; it was a lot of different things at the time. So it took me much longer to be doing what I wanted to do than finding out that’s what I wanted to do.


That’s super interesting.  So, originally the motivation there was simply just to exposure of other areas.  So, travel was kind of the big, baited hook for you into qualitative research.


Yeah.  I mean thank God, right, because that is a lot of your life when you decide to get into this field; so, you do have to have a certain amount of love for new places and continually stay curious about meeting new people and new places because that’s a big part of the job still.


So, when you’ve done it as long as you’ve have, do you…  obviously… The second or third or fourth time to London is really exciting still, right?  But like the twentieth time or whatever time? [laughter] I’m not saying like it goes away, but the enthusiasm sort of…  Do you have that, still that connection and drive and love for that aspect of the business or is it turned a little bit more into the work/grind?


It’s difficult.  I definitely preach better than I practice on that front.  Junior folks on my team know I tell them we have a trip coming up.  “Do you have any friends in New York? ‘Cause you should probably pad it.”  I tell them to do that, and I end up taking a red-eye. So, I try not to lose the love and the interest in it.  I think what’s it’s turned into for me is more than seeing different cities. That’s kind of a different soapbox that I’ll get to in just a second.  But you end up going back to the same places over and over again, it does lose a little bit of the mystique, but what it doesn’t lose is the fact that you don’t live in a bubble.  So, especially being based in San Francisco and in the Bay Area, it’s very different than most places in the state or country or certainly world, right? So, I think just the fact that we as a profession are lucky enough to meet people from so many different places and hear input and thoughts and really considered observations on life from a really diverse set of people, that to me never gets old.  It doesn’t matter what plane you’re on to what city, the fact that your world is that broad continues to be a hugely exciting benefit.


How does that inform then the insights that you derive from the qualitative efforts?


For a long time, qualitative has insisted quite rightly to touch base with a few different markets for any study, right?  These days it’s turned into doing a lot of digital qualitative and getting people on webcams from all across the country to get that multifaceted viewpoint.  So how we’ve done it has changed but, I think that impetus to get as many viewpoints in the mix as possible, you need to broaden the set. We know we’re not quant; we know we can’t get you statistical significance about X-region or X-country, but we can certainly get you depth and that depth is eroded by the fact that, if you only get depth in one area, right?  The whole point of getting depth is to have it be a very broad set of depth. So, I’m sort of talking in like a meta-speak right now, but I do think it’s important to get as many voices heard as possible. And, of course, that varies by project. So, if your client has a few targeted audiences, that’s what you’re going to dive into. But you still need to make sure you have representation from all the facets of that audience, which brings me back to the soapbox I was alluding to earlier.  We do go to the same cities repeatedly. I mean I can’t tell you how many times in the last year I’ve been to L.A., Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Dallas; this is where we go repeatedly. But there’s a lot of us who are pushing to get to second tier markets, to get to markets that aren’t heard quite as often – not only from a fresh participant point of view but just a diversity of perspectives in the insights really.


Yeah, totally.  There is definitely… I call the triple A teams, right?  The markets that tend to get neglected are the ones. But some good-sized populations have triple A ball teams like the one I am in right now – Fresno.  You got a million people that are in the center part of California, and they could not look more different than everybody else in the state: varying shades in some cases.  So you wind up… Go ahead.


I was going to say…  So, in those cases, actually we have done a couple of studies this year that have been in two markets:  San Francisco and Sacramento. It sounds kind of funny, but it’s very true. It’s very true that that’s two separate markets.  And, if you have a client whose travel budget…they still want to do in person, but they don’t have a huge travel budget; you have to think creatively like that.


100%.  So, one of things that you had brought up a little bit ago is this general notion of pulling truth out of the groups.  My boss taught me this kind of saying (He certainly didn’t invent this; it’s been around forever), “Do what I want, not what I say.”  And that’s a big part… I mean I feel like that’s the crux of effective research, is intuiting what exactly the person really desires as opposed to trying to build the building based on the schematic that they verbally try to communicate, right?  So, how do you pull that out? Are there tips in your interviewing that you can give our listeners on ways that you’re able to kind of get to what the person is intending to say as opposed to just the quote?


Yeah, it’s a very hard thing to put like five tips to hear what they’re really saying.  That’s a hard article to write. A lot of it is very intuitive, right? It’s listening empathically and being intuitive.  


I just have to say that is the best SEO hook we could ever come up with.  [laughter]


Right?  Yes. Effective interviewing in five minutes.  I mean it’s just difficult. You have to get into it.  There’s a reason why clients ask what your moderation experience is and what kind of brands you’ve worked on and what kind of insights you’ve drawn because it takes practice.  There’s certain people who definitely come to it with a more innate ability to listen for the truth behind the words, right? I usually say it’s a process of being with the person.  Obviously, this is easier to do one-on-one than in a group, but it’s still possible to be in the moment, to be with whoever is telling you what they’re telling you. And if you are truly not worrying about your rapport or not worrying about your client behind the glass or… and have your discussion guide down so that you don’t have to refer to it by the letter, and you’re able to just communicate and say and be there with them, you’re going to be a lot further towards that goal.  The other thing we do which is actually much more of a tactic is once that discussion guide – the sort of formal interview guide to make sure that the client knows that you’re going to ask about all the important points is written – we then write a check list. So we say, “Okay. After this hour, I need to have understood these ten things from this person’s point of view. No matter what the questions are, how they are written, in what order they are – I need to walk out of this room with those ten answers.”  And that really sets your mind to listen, to understand them rather than to go through a set of bullet points in a “guide.” You just need to make sure you understand that many things about that person. And then you sit down with the next person; you understand that many things about them. So that’s as much process as we put around that.


I think that’s great, and then you move towards that empathy and pattern recognition, right?  In a lot of ways, as you’ve already said, interviewers or qualitative researchers in general are naturally intuitive.  With your team, are you cultivating that EQ?


Yes, I think it’s very hard to teach if it’s missing at all.  And I don’t, honestly, think very many people get involved in qualitative research if they don’t have a degree of EQ.  If they are not emotional, empathetic listeners to begin with, there’s frankly not a lot of interest to get into the profession, right?  You have to be passionate about it; you have to be curious about people; and you have to want to listen to them. It’s sort of entry level into qualitative.  If you don’t, then you can just do something else. It’s a lot of self-selecting: “This is what interests me. This is why I’m in the industry. Okay, now I need to know how to do it well because I have the interest in it.”  But maybe honing the skill is more necessary at that point. We practice a lot on each other. We’ll sit down; if someone is training, we pick another team member and have them run through that interview. We do observations so that a junior moderator will always watch a more senior moderator and sort of see how that process works, how it’s pulled off the paper because I think it’s very tempting to stick to the paper – it’s very tempting to stick to the guide.   But a lot of those insights aren’t going to come unless you can get off script, so to say, and run that conversation. So it’s a lot of practice partnering up, learning from each other that has to happen. There’s not a lot of remote “sit and read this,” “watch this course” that will really help you do it in the moment.


I really just complete transparency…  I really struggle with that or struggled even more so – I still do – but it’s been a journey having these conversations.  I critique myself afterwards. So, of course, have to listen to the damn episode multiple times; by the end of it, I feel like I need counseling.  [laughter] I’m a very bad self-critic, but the thing that I keep coming back to, as I self-audit, is this ask open-ended questions and don’t step on the points.  You can get better at the craft, but it takes a truck load of willingness to look, to develop self-awareness, I guess, and be willing to separate your ego from the opportunity for improvement.  


It’s true and that’s a big part of this “one mouth, two ears” kind of ratio that goes on because you cannot be a moderator with an ego.  No one is there is hear you. The client is not paying to hear your wise statements or poetic turns of phrase. They’re here to hear the participants.  You’re really a conduit: you’re trying to bring something out of another person. And I think that is really key. I think that a lot of people think you have to be an extrovert, and you have to be a showman.  There’s a little bit of that to this. It’s very much not. Some of the best moderators that I’ve worked with check themselves at the door. This is really about the person in the room with you.


Right.  That’s exactly the picture that the customer is paying for:  what is the view of the respondent? In 2003, you got certified from the Burke Institute for qualitative market research facilitator training program.  How important do you see continuing education in a modern context now with Lynda.com and all these different online tutorials, etc., etc., versus more of the institutional way of self-improvement?   


To be honest, the main reason I went and got my certificate is because I had been banging my head on the wall for a little while, trying to get someone to train me

in-house and I finally… There were a series of corporate maneuvers that left me between departments continually.  I was a little bit of a mess when I was a younger researcher. And I said, “Forget this! I’m just going to go save up and get myself trained and then I’ll be legit.”  I talk to my younger self quite frequently, amazed at the kind of ego behind that particular maneuver. I recommend a lot of people to start off with an agency, and preferably a smaller one, that will let you do a lot of the work to learn on the job rather than thinking a certificate course in two weeks is really going to get where you need to be.  That said, I had an amazing training at Burke. I still remember poignantly quite a lot of the lessons and try to teach a lot of the lessons from that course. So I think that the robust training institutions are very appropriate if you’re interested in going out on your own, if you’re starting from scratch, if you don’t have a way to be mentored or learn within your organization and you really want to just dedicate a week or two to this process – invaluable.   

I think in an ongoing sense, it’s slightly different.  And you do want to kind of learn one thing at a time. The industry has changed so rapidly and grown in so many directions at once, it’s very hard to wrap your head around everything you “should be learning and doing at any given point.”  So I think the bite-size trainings now are so helpful: if you can just concentrate on a workshop, a day session, one webinar, and actually make sure you practice something from it within that week and sort of take a bite out of everything and decide what you want to get further into.  There are so many buzz words, and there are so many things you could be chasing after, you almost have to learn a little bit about something to understand, “Okay. Is this what myself or my firm wants to go tackle or is this something I just need to know enough about to have a conversation about and identify why we do something a little bit differently or a little bit not on that track?”  That’s a roundabout way of answering that question, but I think I might have gotten there.


Yeah, no, you definitely got there in a couple of different ways that is very valuable.  You’d mentioned earlier about qualitative tools. There’s been such a transition over the last 20 years in the creation and adoption of qualitative technology that’s just speeding things up, right?  And then on top of it, you’re seeing through sentiment analysis or face recognition or “you pick the thing,” a rise in qualitative scale, which is finally giving qualitative the scope to have a big enough base to say this might be representative of a sample.  Are you employing…. What qualitative technologies have you been using and how are seeing that evolve over the next couple years?


Yeah, that’s a big question.  I remember – it wasn’t that long ago – in 2014 or 2015, I think, I presented a very brief PowerPoint presentation of the tools you need to know.  And somebody asked me last year if I could update that. “No, I can’t anymore. Sorry.” There’s such perfusion; there’s such a perfusion of tools that are not only built for us but that we can use.  And I think that’s a lot of the difference. A lot of it is there are a lot of tools that are both purpose-built for the industry or you can tweak them so that they can be used by the industry. If you look at that in aggregate, it’s too much for any one firm to really get a hold of.  I think for our business, we try to make sure we have a set of tools that allow us to do synchronous, remote qualitative. So, anything where anyone is being interviewed somewhere where we are not physically, we need a set of tools to help us do that. Then we need a set of tools to help us moderate asynchronously:  so, if anyone is doing diaries or shopping or bulletin boards or any of that – it’s remote and we’re not there – we need a set of tools to do that. The third set you need are a set of tools if you’re there in person because you’re not enough these days. You need some tools bolstering that, recording it, getting all of that ready to be delivered to your client.  So those are the three buckets that we think of.

So we’re a smaller agency; we want to make sure we keep a lot of that capability

in-house and sort of judiciously bring in vendors and partners when we need them.  What we have not stepped into is forming a set of tools of our own to tackle some of the things you’ve mentioned, like text analytics or eye-tracking or things like that.  There companies that do that well. And if there needs to be a partnership… or our client asks us for something specific, we will pull them in and we will work with preferred partners.  I think you definitely need to make a decision what you’re going to keep close (develop your own guidelines, methods, tools, and relationships for) and what you’re going to treat as a partnership.  I think in a lot of boutique or smaller providers are just not in the place to be able to offer everything internally. And I think that’s okay if you’re upfront about it and you say, “These are our methods and techniques.  And for what you’re asking for, we have an amazing partner who does X. And so we’re going to put our pieces together and give you exactly what you need and work in tandem to do so.” And I haven’t found a lot of clients who are not okay with that kind of solution.  


How are you handling the…?  (I call it the “note under the door.”)  You know what I’m talking about, right? So, for those that don’t, the customer oftentimes sitting behind the glass will want to have communication or say in the direction of the dialog.  And so there’s a variety of different ways (all of them obtrusive) to pass that note. How are you handling that? Is there like a technology hack that you’re using nowadays or…?


I’m laughing because a very, very dear client of mine last week said, “Now, remind me, Katrina…  Can I text you?” And, apparently, I gave her a look that meant, “No.” [laughter] She’s like, “I’m sorry I must be thinking of someone else.”  because you’re right: it is one of the most distracting things. Not only does it remind participants that someone is watching them, right, which you’re trying to kind of dissuade them from remembering, but often it is something that you’re getting to or haven’t quite circled back to, or used those words, or something like that.  But, on the other hand, we work in a business where we’re third parties; we don’t know people’s business as well as they do. And sometimes those notes are really essential because we have gone down a path that maybe they can’t execute on or we’re brainstorming in an area that they know this product is not going to reach into. And, while it may be interesting for us – “Ah, it’s interesting that people want this,” that is not where we need to be discussing.  So it’s important to have a way to get a note under the door definitely. What we tend to say is we, in our guides, we create break points. We give our participants something to do, something to work on, some sort of worksheet, or just something without looking at their watches, right? And the client then knows, okay, at these two or three points, she’ll come back here and talk to us. So there’s just a reassurance of, “My moderator will come back and check in with me,” maybe it becomes a little less dire to put the note under the door in the moment.  And we try to create those with subject-change points so that anything that did not get covered in subject A, there’s a time to discuss that and ask those questions before you move on to subject B. Now this is similar when you’re doing something remotely in chat boxes to the moderator; we try to keep that same cadence. It’s much easier for people to put a note through the door when all they have to do is chat in a message box. But we try to keep that same rhythm in place. And also set a cadence whenever we’re doing anything asynchronously of saying “Send me your notes from Day 1.”  “Did everybody read Day 1 responses?” “Okay, feedback on that?” And give them a moment to send their notes so that we can integrate it and make it as fluid as possible.


So, how are companies (your clients, specifically) using qualitative research today?  And is it different from when you first started.


Yeah, I think it’s more entwined with other things they’re doing, which is a very good thing.  The worlds of qual and quant, like you just mentioned a few minutes ago, are getting closer. And, honestly, at the end of the day, the client wants insights.  It’s not about, “Did this come out of a focus group?” “Or did this come back in a customer satisfaction survey?” or “Did we hear this on Twitter?” They just want to know.  I think the integration or the fact that a lot different reports from a lot of different sources are being compiled together on the client side is happening much more – there’s more data sources.  But there’s also more emphasis on seeing it all under the same roof, which is great. But it also means that, as a qualitative supplier, we need spend a lot of time telling people what else are you doing, where’s this going, what is this getting pulled together with, laddering up to, supporting because we know we’re a bookend business.  Sometimes we’re the meat, but often there’s a big, juicy survey or some other kind of component of the work being done and we ARE in the business of complementing it and supporting it, And so it just means a bigger conversation about what the full scope of work is and what role our pieces are playing in it so that we can then create deliverables that can sync up with the other things being done on the client side.  


Are you seeing a shift in spend in qualitative over the last whatever it’s been… in your career?  In other words, are more dollars being sent this direction?


On a macro-level, I’m probably not the person to answer that, but in our experience, what we’ve seen is that if you are going to do “full-scale, traditional qualitative,” that’s happening less frequently and with a higher price tag because I think a lot of people are able to do quicker usability studies or customer-journey work or use their own tools, do DIY, mine their communities.  So some of the smaller-scale projects in qualitative are, we’ve noticed, being done in-house. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but we’ve seen that increase over the last few years.


So, small amount…  I want to make sure I understand.  So, it sounded like you said or what I heard you say is smaller projects are being… are more likely to be done in-house versus through an agency whereas larger ones are going to have a larger price tag but those are going to be partnered.  


Well, that was more concise, yes.  [laughter]


I just wanted to make sure I grabbed that one.  Obviously, you said I just… You know it’s an important distinction because we’re seeing the same thing on the quant side, right?  The flurry of DIY tools, whether it’s from Survey Monkey to “you pick the platform”… people are now empowered (I’ve been saying this for a couple years) from the intern to the CEO, they’re all doing surveys.  But when it comes to… it’s either… there’s a CYA element or it’s this really important project and it’s going to have a lot of eyeballs on it. That’s when you’re more likely to get the outsource scenario being conducted whether it’s through Ipsos or whatever.      


I wonder…  I mean you guys probably have these similar conversations in quant where you say, “What do you not know?  So, what are you not getting?” because most clients now are getting something. There is a feedback loop. They’re using it.  When I started, it was like, “Oh, my God, how do we talk to our customers? Show us the light.” Now, there are so many processes in place to be able to collect data.  So, it’s like, “Okay, what are you not getting? What can we supplement?” It’s kind of hard to get lapsed users to organically talk to you or a new market segment or talk about a product that you haven’t released yet ‘cause no one can give you that data right now unless you push it out as a specific project.  So, I think it’s having that kind of conversation; it’s acknowledging how much is done in-house. And it’s not something to fight. It’s something to understand and say, “This is great because I am starting a step ahead of where I would have if you didn’t do this ‘cause now we can go after something really juicy.”  


But in the quant realm, there’s these longitudinal studies, which are large and whatever, and then there’s more ad hoc, right?  So, there’s budget considerations that are done on an annualized basis for longitudinal studies and then there’s, “Oh, we need to do this project because this executive wants an answer,” which are much more ad hoc in nature.  Does qualitative follow the same budget guidelines?


Yeah, so our equivalent to that would be ongoing communities versus ad hoc projects.  A lot of our clients do. And that’s to be determined if that’s done in-house or through a vendor, through a supplier.  But it’s a very good idea to get a group of people at your disposal to answer questions. And sometimes that can be a qual/quant situation, right?  You can still ask that panel of people survey questions, but it’s really nice to be able to throw a qualitative conversation in the mix every once in a while.  And we actually then partner a lot with our clients who have those communities set up to say, “Great! You have a community. Can we recruit out of that? Can we do these ad hoc projects actually from your long-term community?”  I think it’s again kind of playing around with the methods and playing around with the options to see what you can use. In my experience, a lot of those qualitative communities are run in-house on the client side, but there’s a number of people that I know (and we’ve done this with a couple clients in the past year) to have a small-scale, qualitative community, purpose-built for them.  It is usually to track something specific. “We’re going to change our marketing messages in the next six months. Let’s get this community involved to talk to us along the way. We’re rolling out in this new market. Let’s go find people in that market and have them communicate with us qualitatively while we do it.” So it’s longer term, but it’s often more specific.


So, how are you recruiting the people and then are you recruiting them to an Excel database or is there some sophisticated technology there?


Yeah, we usually use a platform.  It definitely depends on the needs of the study.  There’s a lot of great options out there, and it definitely depends on what you need it to do, but we definitely need a repository of some kind.  Now, recruiting can happen a couple of different ways: what we’re doing a lot more of is intercept recruiting. We have a lot of retail clients and, if we can get permission to be in stores or in shopping areas for them, we often recruit live.  It’s something we’ve been pushing a lot in current years to kind of do a lot of recruiting that way. Not mall intercepts with a clip board – we try to not come across like that. It’s more about finding people where they are in the moment to talk about that topic.  So, if they’re holding a bag, they kind of qualify, right? So you have a little less worry about fit and accuracy. “Do they really buy from this place?” “Are they really involved in the brand?” If they walk out of the store with a bag, you’re probably likely to get somebody who’s a “real” customer and most likely fresh from a market research perspective.  So we do a lot of that to build communities. We have to get trickier when it’s something that you can’t do out in public or it’s a different topic or it’s a different client, where it makes that less relevant. We can do pop-up booths where we entice people to come in with some sort of incentive to give some sort of feedback on a topic and then say, “Are you interested in doing another research activity or getting involved in the community?”  And then we work with a lot of client lists to do that as well. So there are a number of different ways of populating and then, I should say, the other important part of that is refreshing because not everybody who starts is going to be there with you six months later. So, of course, you have to continually refresh. But the platform itself really depends on how robust it’s going to be. Is it just somewhere that you have to send out a couple questions? Or people needing to record videos?  Are they needing to perform shopping exercises? Do you want them to do card sorts or creative activities? So, we have about three or four go-to platforms and pick depending on what we think that community is going to need to do on it.


So, what are you offering right now that is finding traction among your clients that you’d like our listenership to know about.


Honestly, the pop-up recruiting is really helping people.  Clients are kind of loving the fact that these are authentic people found in the moment whether it’s pop up or within a specific store. We’re really enjoying being able to offer that with almost the same turnaround time if not shorter than going out to panels.  So we’re a big fan of that approach. The other thing that we’ve been doing is trying to take our deliverables up to the next level in a few different ways. Most recently, we’ve been partnering with Nimble MR and doing podcast or audio reports. So, you asked me before if I was a podcast listener:  Yes, and apparently a producer if you call an audio report a podcast. But any of those kinds of things that either increase the quality of the data in or increase the engagement with the deliverable that comes out of the process. We’re really kind of concentrating in those two areas these days.


So, I’ve got to go back to this whole like…  the trend thing that, you’ve really got me interested in this.  The theme that I’ve heard 50% of the time among the 36-38 people I’ve interviewed so far is consistently the human story is what resonates inside the organization that moves it to change, but it has to have the quantitative data behind it.  Are you seeing a closer tie with qualitative and quantitative, or are you seeing them still as the disparate bookends?


It’s tough.  To some degree, they are different animals in terms of how you conduct the research, but I think where they cross more now and where they need to be more integrated in how you feedback… how you read out on that.  So, I think what I’m finding is a much more entwined presentation of qual and quant or synthesis of the data all along the way and in the reporting deliverables where a few years ago I wasn’t seeing that as much. As a qual provider, you were lucky to be shown the quant report at some point like if you managed to get an email by mistake or something.  There was no withholding about it; it’s just like was not seen as necessary for what you were doing. It’s like here’s basically what we learned in the quant; now, let’s go do some qual. Now, we do a lot of persona development and do that very closely with a quantitative partner so that it’s almost like this entwined process where we learn from each other along the way; we recruit the qual participants from the quant survey that built the personas and it’s all very…  it’s all synthesized. And I think that’s what I’m seeing more of and so the result is this synthesized piece of information where the client gets things from both sources at once. But it is a bit tricky. The field work definitely has different processes and procedures, and that has stayed separate in most of the work I’ve done to date.


My guest today has been Katrina Noelle, president of KNow Research and co-founder of Scoot Insights.  Katrina, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thanks for having me.


And thank you everyone who’s been liking our podcasts and providing feedback on Apple Tunes and Google Play.  Special thanks to RonerForever; he said or she said, “This is a must-listen-to podcast for anyone interested in quantitative projects.”  I got to tell you I think we just added a qual to the equation. Hope you guys found value. Please share episodes. Have a great rest of your day!

Ep. 140 – Nancy Hernon – G3 Translate – Speaking The Language Of Market Research

Today, my guest is Nancy Hernon, CEO & Co-founder of G3 Translate and an official Member of Forbes New York Business Council. G3 Translate is a translation and transcription resource for the market research industry offering access to today’s top translation professionals and the very latest translation software platforms.

Prior to founding G3 Translate, Nancy has spent most of her career in the translation space.






Social Media: @happymrxp



Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses.

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Nancy Hernon, CEO and co-founder of G3 Translate, and an official member of the Forbes New York Business Council.  G3 Translate is a transcription and translation resource for the market research industry offering access to today’s top translation professionals and the very latest in translation and transcription software.  Prior to founding G3 Translate, Nancy has spent most of her career in the translation space.

Nancy, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast with me today.   


Hi, Jamin.  Thank you for having me on.  


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


Certainly.  Well, I grew up in a small town in northeastern Ohio, kind of midway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh.  So it was a town divided between the Browns and the Steelers. I grew up with my mom, and she actually influenced me by constantly pushing that I needed to be independent and that I should definitely go for my dreams and never hold back.  And when I was 16 years old, I went to her and said, “Listen, Mom, you’re always telling me to be independent; so, I want to go live abroad for a year in a totally foreign country with total strangers. And you have to let me go.” She was not too happy about that level of independence.  But in the end, I convinced her, and she let me move to Germany. And that kind of changed my whole path in life. It really opened me up and broadened my perspective and helped me to get on the path that I’m on now with the translation business. Living in a foreign country was great. 


As a parent, I’d imagine that would be terrifying if your child came to you with that same sort of request.    


You know I think about it a lot, and it’s actually not.  I would love it if my kid would do the same. I really do hope she follows in my footsteps and is just as headstrong as me and demands to get her way.  Actually, I’m kind of praying that she wants to go to Germany although she’s really super-interested in Spanish for some reason right now. So [laughs] she might be ending up in Spain or Mexico.  But now I love it. I think that we live in a global society, and it’s really important to understand other cultures and to learn about it and not to just be stuck in your own little bubble.     


Now I’ve talked about this a number of times with respect to some of the other CEOs that we’ve had.  And, when you start operating at a global level, one of the things that becomes really apparent is that the people that are heading those companies often times have grown up with some level of significant experience, I would say, abroad.     


Oh, yeah.  My family was a little bit skewed and weird because my mom and dad split up when I was just a little one.  And we moved to the Netherlands when I was two and were there for about two years. And she was with a Dutchman.  They never married, but they were together for the rest of her life. So I grew up with a Dutch “stepdad” partially in the Netherlands and back in Ohio. And my father was from Austria; so, I had that influence of the Arnold Schwarzenegger-style German.  And I loved going abroad, and we would go abroad for vacations when I was a little girl. Then on a whim, I decided to go to school like university in Germany, which was a real eye-opening experience from being an exchange student to actually going and trying to “immigrate” to go to school there.  So, yeah, I think it’s important to have that experience and understand that there are other cultures and there are other ways of thinking and doing things. It does shape you, and it changes you and helps you to see the world in a different perspective and step outside of your own personal box to look at things and really observe.      


What was one of the biggest attractions to Germany for you?


It’s so funny.  I’m like such a spontaneous person.  I chose Germany because there was a German girl that I became good friends with, who was an exchange student in my high school.  And also, my high school happened to offer German as a class. It wasn’t because of my father, strangely enough. It was just a random like, “Hey, you should do this.”  I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I think I will.” I’ve made a lot of decisions in my life that way. I guess a happy “falling into place,” “being in the right place at the right time” kind of thing.          


Do you find that the decisions that you make in that mindset are often times more right or do you second-guess them?


Definitely.  I went to Germany when I was in college in the U.S.  I went on vacation over the summer to visit some friends.  And I decided to check out some of the universities over there, and I wasn’t really sure what to do.  And my friend handed me a coin, and he said, “Listen, if it’s heads, you’re going to come back and attend the university; if it’s tails, you go home and just finish your education in the States.”  And I flipped the coin; I’m like, “OK. Whatever happens – this is what I’m doing.” And it ended up I was going back to Germany. So I went home from vacation and said to my mom, “Listen, I’m moving; I’m going to go live in Germany; I’m going to go to university there.  And, hey, guess what? It’s a lot cheaper; so, you should be happy.” And she’s like, “Yeah, it’s like four thousand miles away. I’m not too happy.” I’m like, “Well, you know [laughter] this is the way it goes.”

The same I ended up in New York City like literally.  My mother had passed away, and I wasn’t sure if I was going to go back to Europe or not.  I didn’t want that “Oh, poor girl,” you know, like the pity thing. So I thought, as I’m driving down the highway back home from the funeral, I see a sign “New York City 396 miles.”  And I said, “You know what?  Nobody’s going to care about me losing my mom and my dad and all these people in my life and being the ‘orphan child.’  I think I’m going to move to New York City and see what happens.” And my friends are like, “Oh, you’re just crazy. You’re grieving; you’re just sad.  You’ve lost so much so quickly.” And I’m like, “No, no, I think I’m going to do it.” And I got home, went online, started applying for jobs, looking at apartments, calling realtors.  A couple of months later, there I was – walking into my first translation project management job in New York City. And nobody cared that I was that little orphan girl. And I kind of got lost in the crowds and really found my place in life.      


What’s interesting to me about that is the independent spirit but also the ownership of where you are.  Your lense isn’t one of victim but one of opportunity and “This is my life, making decisions. Bad things are going to happen, but it’s not going to be the defining moment for me.  I’m making my own way.”


Definitely, definitely.  When you realize there’s no one you have to prove anything to but yourself, I think it really alters your state of mind and your decision-making process somewhat.  So I can be more impulsive and more a little crazy. When I say, on the turn of a dime, I’m going to move to Europe; I’m going to move to New York. I’m going to do this; I’m going to start a company.”  Why not?  What can I lose?  I think going in with that thought of “Let’s just do it and see what happens” rather than the fear of, “Oh, no.  Everything could go wrong” is a much better way to look at it.


So, the “Why not?” – that is going to be the title for this episode, I think.  I love that framing. When you strip away the expectations from others and even the expectations that we put on ourselves, then it starts opening up a whole different…  Like I can’t tell you how many people have reached out to me and said, “Jamin, when are you going to do the next big thing?” And I’m just completely blind to trying to compare what I’ve done in the past to what I’m doing now or what I’ll do in the future.  I could just give two bad words to that expectations that other people might… As soon as you can step into that view of “Yeah, why not? Who cares?”… Listen, I lived through that whole 2001 dot com crash as a business owner and then 2007 and 2008 as well in the U.S. economy.  In both instances, I had to move to an apartment from a house because my personal income was basically non-existent during those years, right? And I just didn’t care. [laughter] And it’s so liberating. So, that’s my rant.


It is!  No, you’re totally right.  It is. It’s freeing to just go like “OK, I’m going to try this.  Let’s see, you know, what’s going to happen.” What’s the worst thing that could happen?


Totally, and you know what?  I’ve already done that: I’ve lived hand-to-mouth.  Who cares? We can always survive. My wife has that same sort of view.  She lived in Spain right after college for several years and has that free spirit.  It helped that she’s fluent in Spanish. It’s nice you find your soul mate if you can both be aligned with that expectation of “Yeah, you know what?  It’s not the things that we have or living up to the expectations of others; as long as we’re providing enough, then everything is going to be OK. That’s a really dynamic, powerful combination.


I totally agree; I totally agree 100%.  Call me crazy but I think the universe gives you what you need.  


Hmm, 100%.


You can say it’s a higher power; you can say it’s your guardian angel.  But I know there were times in my life when I was like, “Oh, man. This bad.  How am I ever going to get out from under this?” And something would happen, some little thing, some event, some random distribution check from an old stock that I inherited would come in the mail.  It was like, “OK, alright, we’re still moving. Let’s go; let’s keep on. Just get up – Dust off and – Move forward.”


I totally love that.  And then on the flip side when you think about the upside opportunities that we’ve missed…  One example for me is I bought Yahoo when it IPOed.


Oh, wow.


Yeah, yeah, I was very excited.  And the stock actually didn’t do anything for about four to five months.  Wall Street just didn’t know what to do with the internet, with the dot com. Finally, I sold the shares.  Well, I swear it was like set on a trigger. As soon as Jamin sells the shares, let’s start skyrocketing. [laughter]  So, my stupid brother-in-law at the time would at Christmas time every year, he would calculate how much those were worth, right?  It was like some obscene amount of money. But I think to myself, if that would have hit, it would have completely dictated a different direction for my life.  And I’m just so thankful with where I am right now. In the way that sometimes bad things happen and in the way that sometimes good things happen in our lives or even misses…  Not judging them but just reacting to them and living the life that we want to live…


Definitely, definitely.  I always call that the sliding-door perspective:  you go through one side you end up somewhere totally different.  And the other side, you end up on the path you’re on right now.


Well said.  Alright, so let’s talk a little bit about New York City, get a job in a translation company, in those early days.  Did you know that you were going to be a business owner straight away?


You know what?  No, I didn’t. I was in this job and working pretty happily for a very large translation company.  I think you’ve all probably heard of it – Transperfect. It’s funny because I’m one of those people who needs a lot of change to keep excited about something.  So I started in one role and then I’m like, “Let me go to another role. Let me go to another role.” And I ended up working hand-in-hand with the CEO there and learning a lot about the business.  And it was really interesting and exciting, and I watched it grow. And it was very cool, but at that time I wasn’t ready yet to do anything on my own. So I decided to switch to a smaller company to see how that worked.  Had left there, gone to a smaller agency and that’s where I learned about market research. And at that agency, I started working in the research space, and I met all these people. And the company was kind of a shotgun-approach style, like they did work for every different kind of segment.  It wasn’t just research: it was like pharma; it was like big brands, internet companies. You name it, and they translated it.

But these researchers really struck a chord with me.  I remember going to this conference in Texas, and it was for medical devices.  And the girl I had gone with to the conference knew Jami Pulley. And she said, “Hey, let’s go have dinner with this girl.  You know she’s really cool. She’s a market researcher.” I’m like, “Oh, I’ve been working with this a little bit.” And I met her, and she was just so cool and so sweet, and I started to get to know more people in the industry.  And I said, “You know this is a totally different language.” What they’re doing… they’re not just translating into words. It’s not a manual; it’s not a how-to; it’s not like a website. It’s really looking at people’s emotions and trying to get a feel for why they make these decisions to buy this or to vote for that.  It came to me that this is something that is not really super-well serviced. At another conference with a bunch of boring medical device people again, who were not nearly as fun or interesting as the researchers, I was talking to John Labati about this. I was like, “You know it would be so cool to have a company that just did research ‘cause look at us we’re standing here for a week.  Not one person has visited our booth. These medical device people don’t care about us. They don’t want to talk to us. Why are we spinning our wheels with this? Why are we trying to do everything and be everything to everybody when we could be just the best thing for one group?” And he’s like, “Yeah, that’s really cool, you know. We should talk more.” And over the course of that week, we formed the idea to do G3 and it was then a matter of putting together a business plan and putting together some numbers and finding some partners to invest in us.  And that’s kind of how it was born.


This key of focus, I think, is so important.  A lot of entrepreneurs will, myself included, spend a lot of time, chasing whatever is right in front of us.  I don’t exactly know what the motivators are there, but the more we hunker down and focus and really nail the niche, then I’ve seen a correlation with that to success.       


Definitely, definitely.  Well, back then there weren’t a lot of niche agencies:  everybody was doing everything. And it’s like, “Why?” “Why do you want to be OK at a little bit of everything instead of being an expert at one thing?”  And now, obviously, things have shifted; the paradigms have changed. And a lot of different agencies are kind of going that route. But back then, it was either you were a single language vendor and specialized in that language or you were a multi-language vendor, and you did everything for everybody.  I think it’s not just about speaking the foreign language: it’s about speaking the lingo. There’s a language to what you do; there’s a language to the research; there’s a language to the data collection that isn’t necessarily intuitive.


Yeah, 100%.  It’s such a great point.  Even though we speak English, even if you’re in marketing, if you move into market research, there is definitely a nomenclature, the way things are framed, etc. that exists.  But then a level under that is the treatment of data whether you’re qualitative or quantitative, right? There’s nuances (I would say more than nuances; there’s just like complete frameworks) that have to be understood if you’re going to operate in those areas successfully.  And that’s one of the biggest challenges I’ve encountered with translation… is we’ll ask a question, and it gets translated in 19 languages or whatever. And the translation to the other languages often times isn’t back translated. When we skip that step, we have wound up in trouble, especially if the client has offices in that area and there are native speakers that wind up reading the questions.  Thinking about one specific project that I had with BRS out of Menlo Park. (This goes way back.) And we didn’t back translate, and it was in Japanese. Oh, my gosh, it was just catastrophic! Anyways, are companies spending the time on the back-translation still or is that a step that is starting to move away?


It depends on the company; it depends on their internal processes.  I find a lot of companies don’t have time to backtranslate, and it’s OK.  The way we do things at our company is we do a three-step process: so we’re translating; we’re editing; and we’re proofreading.  So we already have three sets of eyes looking at it. By the time it’s got through that third set of eyes, it should be pretty perfect.  And then, if a client reviewer comes on line and decides, “OK, we want to change it because this is our internal language or this is how we want to say this,” that’s a collaborative effort, and it works pretty well.  But you mentioned Japan specifically. And that’s funny because we like to get the buy-in from the very beginning on Japanese. It’s a cultural thing. In Japan, if I asked you, “Jamin, I need you to look at this. Can you tell me what you think?”  If you didn’t give me that document back with a lot of red lines, I would feel like you didn’t do your job, then you would lose face.




So what we do for that is we try to get those reviewers on with the translators, do a little sample in the beginning, have them chat it out, talk to each other.  Then you find a lot less red lines in the back end when they’re reviewing it after all the translations are done.


Where was that gem 20 years ago?  Now that you say that it’s like a veil has been lifted up.  [laughter] It makes perfect sense. That’s so funny. Anyway, that was probably one of the hardest projects I ever worked on.  In fact, it was so bad I drove four hours to meet with the client and we had two days, literally two days, where we shipped in food and worked just straight – 16 plus hours a day with their constituents in Japan.  Boy, [laughter] it was such a problem, but culturally you’re right. So, that’s the other piece of it super interesting. Language is, by definition, culture and so you’re setting that framework for… they’re just words, but the reality is there’s a lot of like how I interact with the language that can be, depending on the culture obviously, be considered.


Definitely, definitely.  How we process things is very different across cultures.  We’re all just people. A lot of people just make the assumption, well, we live in a western society; the French live in a western society as do the Germans and the Brits.  But the way we look at things, the way we rate things is very, very different. In one culture – and hopefully I’m not wrong here, I’m sure I’ll get a lot of comments – but I believe it’s in Spain where they tend to be a little nicer and rate things higher (maybe it was Brazil) just because that’s their positive spin on life.  On a scale of 1 – 5, they’re going to choose the 5 much more often than a German who might actually think it’s a great product but they’re just going really “Oh, well, there’s one little thing, so I’m going to give it a 4.” It’s funny: we do, we see the world in a different way. Even though we may feel similarly, the way that we express it, it’s going to be different if that makes any sense.  


Yeah, it makes perfect sense.  One of the co-founders of Decipher, Irving Andreasen, we went to this nice restaurant.  He said, he tells me, “The soup is the best soup I’ve ever had in my entire life.” And he’s a bit of a foodie.  And the waiter came over with traditional American, right? and says, “How’s your food?” And he looked at him and goes, “It’s satisfactory.”  [laughter] And, so he didn’t mean it like in a bad way. The waiter was literally trying to decide, “Should I discount the meals or…?” For him, it was this insult.         


Yeah, totally.


Completely lost in translation as it were.  


It’s so true.  It’s so true. It’s so funny how that works.  I remember moving when I was a kid and living there in university.  Yeah, I made quite a few cultural snafus with my American ways. Yeah, I just didn’t get it at the time, and it took me a while to learn the culture.  And I think, again, like with the translation element, you have to understand the culture and who you’re talking to because there is a very different way of communicating.  I lived in northern Germany, and they tend to be a little bit colder and more standoffish. I hate to stereotype, but stereotypes are there for a reason…sometimes. I remember the first six months, going to school, nobody talked to me.  They didn’t know who I was, and they didn’t know I was a foreigner because I was scared to open my mouth and sound stupid because my German was mediocre. Then I busted out of my shell one day and was this gregarious like, “Oh, I love…  This is so great. Blah, blah, blah” “Oh, my God, you’re an American!” [laughter]


You’ve been an American – a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  


“Look at this girl!  She just crazy; she’s just so… very vociferous!  Not reserved.” It was pretty funny. Once did make some friends and they opened up, I found them to be the warmest people, the most loyal people in the world.  I know I could call on any single one of them for anything at any time. And it’s funny, but looking from outside, I thought, “Oh, man, these people are cold. They hate me; they’re never going to like me.”  And now, after time, it’s just a matter of them warming up to you and you understanding how they communicate. I feel pretty confident now when I go to Germany. It’s all good. [laughter]


That’s awesome.  So, as a seasoned entrepreneur, we know that sometimes the roller coaster goes up, and sometimes it goes down.  What has been one of your biggest challenges that you’ve faced?


For us at G3, one of the biggest challenges is talent.  As a small company, it’s hard like when you’re first starting out, people are like, “Oh, they’re just starting out.  They might not be here. We don’t want to work there. They might shut their doors like in a minute.” So getting those first project managers on board, to trust, to know that we’re good and that we’re going to be here and they’re not going to be out of a job next day was hard.  And then again because again we’re a small business, every time a team member would get on board, we’d be like rolling and everything is great and we’re like, “This is the best team ever. We’ve got this awesome balance.” “Oh, well, I’m going to go back to school.” or “Oh, I want to move back to France.”  or “I want to get married and not work anymore.” Oh, man, that was always so, so painful trying to fill those gaps once you had it built. It feels like we’re constantly upgrading and updating. And that to me is challenging because, as much as I like to make changes and decisions on the turn of a dime, I also can be very much routine in my day-to-day.  And getting new people in and getting to know them, I find that challenging. Getting them up to speed on what we do and how we do it and why we do it… So, that’s been tough: like finding the right people and getting them into the team and then rolling with the punches when they decide to do something new.   


My view on business is that the team is the most important asset of an organization, and it’s interesting how we treat it (and we have to, I realize that) but we treat it like a cost center as it relates with the financial view of the business.  And it does cost money; so, I’m obviously not an idiot. But it’s the asset; I mean it’s the thing that enables us to… It’s the part of the company that enables us to be able to consistently deliver excellent experiences for customers.


Definitely, definitely.


Like you’re saying, the seeding of that team and then the ongoing maintenance of it, growth, etc. that happens at a personal level and at a company level is something that takes a ton of intentionality.  And, as there’s transitions, it can be… it can really set you back as a business owner.


Definitely, definitely.  In the very beginning, we had a team of three people and then me and John; so, we were five.  One decided to go back to college. I’m like, “Oh, my God, we’re never going to survive this. What are we going to do?”  ‘Cause everybody was friends; we all got along. Going out to happy hour after work was definitely a thing. And then all of a sudden, our family was like breaking up.  It was really heartbreaking and hard. But we learned from it and we grew. It was fine in the end, but you become attached to these people in your life. And I think it’s important to have those interpersonal relationships on your team because you’re spending so much of your day with them.  So much of your life is spent in the office or at work or talking on the phone to these people. And, if you don’t like them, then what are you doing? Something’s wrong. I think having a strong team is really, really important. And having the right personalities…


So, what do you see as core characteristics of all-star employees?


Well, let’s see, it depends on the business, but for our business, I think most important is having that cultural experience in life and understanding that the small town that you grew up in is not the end-all, be-all of society.  But, also being a team player is also really important to us. I know that sounds cliché, but we all wear so many hats and play so many different roles. Because we’re a small business, we have to be able to do a lot of different things and to help each other out and to fill in the gaps where one person is not able to do something, the other person can jump in and help out.  So, that team-player like “we’re all here in this together” thing is really important. I think the lone-wolf type on our team wouldn’t work because it’s a very collaborative thing, what we’re doing here. And having the feedback and the passing of the knowledge and the training each other is really key so that we can all be well-rounded and give our clients what they need and meet all the demands because it is a very demanding business.  Research is very fast paced, and you can’t afford to fall down. You have to keep going, and having your team have your back is what makes that possible. So I think those are the two things that are most important to our company.


There’s been a ton of investment by the large internet companies – Google, AWS, Amazon, services and others – in the area of both transcription and translation.  I remember when the iPhone launched visual voicemail; I had no idea of what to expect. And then – boom… there is it. How are you seeing those… Are you seeing those as complementary or competitive to your business?  And what do you think the next couple of years holds as it relates with translation and transcription?


As far as translation goes, I think it’s super exciting.  I remember sitting in a room years and years ago with a group that focuses on the automation of translation and the different types of forms in which it has evolved from.  I think that the use of the neural networks and AI is going to definitely be a big game changer probably not even five years out, probably less. I know Amazon (or maybe it was Google) had claimed parity with Chinese to English, which is pretty amazing, but for some reason, Chinese works really, really well with those networks as far as translating pretty accurately.  For what we do in particular, I think it’s complementary because again research language isn’t a manual; it’s not a legal contract: it’s something that’s looking for emotion. And as close as these artificially intelligent machines may be to understanding and mimicking emotion, they don’t feel, at least not yet. And I don’t know that they’ll ever feel the same way that we do.  So, I think that, while it will help speed up the process by providing initial translations, we’re always going to have to have someone reading it for culture, reading it for nuance, reading for the subtext, the feeling, that’s underneath the underlying words and editing that. So, are we going to be out of business? No. Are the companies who translate the documentation for Ford cars?  Maybe. But I think for what we do, it’s an exciting, innovative way of getting things done quicker, probably cheaper, and just complementary to what we already do.

And the same for transcription:  they’re always going to need a little bit of massaging here and there, I think.  But the transcriptions are pretty scary. [laughter] On the translation side, I’m more confident; on the transcription side, it’s pretty scary how accurate it can be.  But I think right now it’s not there yet; in a couple of years, it may well be pretty darn close, but I think the human touch is still going to be needed.


So, we had a couple of questions on Linkin I just wanted to ask.  




One is how is your API integration coming along?  This is from Erinn Taylor, the CPO of Critical Mix.   


Oh, I know Erinn.  He’s great. Our API…  So, we have two different types of API that we offer to our clients.  Obviously, they’re just connectors; so, it’s a plug, and it has to be customized for the end user.  We have that ready. If he wants to talk to me, tell him to give me a call about it. [laughter] We have that, and we also have a portal that a lot of our clients prefer because they don’t want to do the customization work for the API.  So they log into our portal, submit, and track stuff, and do billing and all that through there. So we have a couple of different paths that you can take to reach us with your needs.


You also had a couple of shout-outs.  Bailey Buchanan, a few others: “Really excited about this interview dropping.”  You have to check out that LinkedIn thread.


Definitely, definitely.  Bailey’s awesome. She is this amazing supporter of Women in Research, which I also support and love.  I think it’s a super great organization, helping women to help each other out in this industry. It’s not applicable to you but to all the girl listeners out there, they should definitely look into it.  It’s a great, great group of people.


Well, I will say when Kristin Luck started Women in Research, she did that inside of Decipher.  Jamie Plunkett and myself were big advocates of that specific initiative. So, both in terms of supporting it financially as well as from an infrastructure perspective…




So, yeah, we’re 100% on that.  Diversity is this interesting….  So we’re calendarizing our podcast drops going into 2019.  I don’t know what the themes are going to be. Anyway, as we’re going through that process, all of a sudden, things like Black History month…  I’m thinking, “Gosh, that’s interesting.” When I think about the African American leaders in America in market research and incorporating their voice intentionally because one of things that I’ve learned from Kristin is the importance of diversity for improving financial outcomes, right?…   No matter what your lenses is, just operate there at a baseline and improve your outcomes by having a more full view of the market and the competitive set and where you’re winning and where you’re struggling. That’s just key.


Absolutely, absolutely.  Not to be too competitive with the other guys out there, but I think about a year ago, there was an article saying that women CEOs are more profitable than their male counterparts, like the businesses are more profitable since they take things from a different perspective.  


Yeah, totally.  I mean I haven’t seen the statistics.  I have heard them. I haven’t done validation against them, but just across the board, there’s so much benefit among women-run organizations.  And, of course, we can point to other ones as well. But the broader point, I think, is so important, which is we need to have an attitude of inclusion – intentional inclusion ‘cause sometimes that’s hard because the benches aren’t particularly deep for whatever reason.  And what’s interesting about market research is actually minorities and women specifically are so dominant. From a numbers perspective… Think about the org chart where most of the people are sitting but, as you go up the org chart, there does seem to be lack of women leadership in those veins.  But the work that you’re doing with Women in Research and, obviously, being a successful entrepreneur, is certainly helping solve that problem.


Here’s hoping, definitely.  Thank you.


So, what are you guys offering right now at G3 Translate that Insights Nation can take advantage of?


So, Insights Nation, we have some introductory offers if you would like to work with us.  Send us over your information and what you’re looking for, and we will give you a special discount.


That’s huge!


We’ll definitely take some off for you to give back a little bit to the listeners.  


Love it!  So, Insights Nation, this is a great opportunity for you to experience some value as a listener of Happy Market Research.  I’m going to start using the show, trying to be a little bit more intentional. I’ve been surprised that people haven’t been a little bit more intentional that have been on the show.  I think there’s always fear of asking, but we are in business after all, right? And this is a great platform for you to be able to take advantage of offering value to the audience. So thank you for that.  If people do, Nancy, want to get in contact with you, to hear more about the special offer, how would they do that?


They can either contact me at nancy@g3translate.com or just visit our website G3Translate.com or link with me on LinkedIn, Nancy Hernon.  Those are my main methods of contact.


My guest today has been Nancy Hernon, CEO and co-founder of G3 Translate.  Nancy, thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.


Thank you, Jamin.  It was a pleasure.


And thank you, everyone who has listening.  As always, greatly appreciate the reviews on Apple iTunes and Google Play specifically, oh as well as Spotify.  That audience is growing as well. So keep those coming. It helps other people like you find value and improve market research.  Have a great day!

Ep. 139 – Shelly Bouren – Detroit Pistons – Bridging The Gap Between Technology And Market Research

Today, my guest is Shelly Bouren, Research Manager at Detroit Pistons. The Detroit Pistons are an American professional basketball team based in Detroit, Michigan.

Prior to the Detroit Pistons, Shelly worked in the financial sector for several institutions including Crestmark Bank as a Vice President, Marketing Analyst and Chrysler Financial as a Sr. Project Manager.


Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shelly-bouren-ms-prc-8b39b47/



Social Media: @happymrxp

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


Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major

market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Shelley Bouren, Research Manager at the Detroit Pistons. The Detroit Pistons are an American professional basketball team based in Detroit, Michigan. Prior to the Detroit Pistons, Shelley worked in the financial sector for several institutions, including Crestmark Bank and Chrysler Financial. Shelley, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thank you, Jamin. It is such a pleasure to be here.


So Shelley, maybe you could tell us a little bit about where you grew up and how your parents have influenced your career.


So I grew up here, in Michigan. If you are generous, you could call it “the very Northern most suburb of Detroit”. It’s really a small country town, here in Michigan. We were close enough to the “city”, in air quotes, to find shopping and entertainment and stuff like that but far enough way that it was still a comfortable enough small town to grow up in. My father was a programmer, a computer programmer and systems analyst before computers were cool. So I guess the contribution he most made to my career was comfort with technology. That is, not being afraid from computers when so many of my generation coming up through high school and into college had that a little bit of nervousness about what computers brought or how easy it could be to mess something up. I had a comfort level and knowledge about that. My mom was an administrative assistant who worked very hard in setting an example for us of putting family first. So she helped me to see how to be a hard worker but not at the expense of the family and the flexibility that you needed to support them.


Did you find your literacy with computers to be helpful through your educational process as well as your entire career?


Yeah, actually, initially when I went into college I wanted to be a programmer, and I wanted to work in information systems. The university I was at told me I had to pick one or the other. They did not fit together as easily as I wanted them to. So I just kind of shelved that and went into advertising and marketing instead. But always with that, like I mentioned, the comfort with technology and then, as I went back in to get my Master’s recently in business analytics, it was the melding of those worlds had finally happened. So it was using the information systems and the programming together, so it kind of, my career came full circle. But it started with that early comfort level.


Yes, totally. And in fact, now we see technology just being ubiquitous in every job function. It seems that the higher you get, the more familiar you have to be with things like dashboards and PowerPoint, and other things. It is just basic table stakes nowadays relative to when I started my career twenty years ago… I would say that… technology… when I first started my career, I was comfortable in coding and Basic and back early days, C++. That always felt like it gave me an edge because it was more like the fear factor of technology had been removed as opposed to there is actually something that I could do that it would be different or unique.


Well, I know that because I came in with that technological comfort level… one of the biggest benefits that came from that was my peers were always afraid to touch this button or that button because something was going to blow up or you did not counter the blue screen of that. I had more knowledge about what it really took to break things so I was not so afraid to try things. And I think that has led to a confidence and a curiosity throughout my career where there is got to be more to learn, there is got to be more to try if you are not afraid to mess things up. I know that one big narrative now is the not having a fear of failure in taking risks because that’s where you grow, and I think that is where that fits for me.


Yes, that’s an interesting topic. I did not think of it exactly in this way before but it’s almost like you remove the “I don’t know how” excuse from the arsenal of things that holds you back from doing something. The reality is that being able to create something in code, even if it is as simple as printing “hello, world”, it empowers you in a unique way so that you have the confidence to, I think, branch out and try new stuff and then understand that the underpinnings of the new sectors –like between financial services and market research, you can start understanding the systems that support both of those and the overall commonality between them as well as leverage the differences between. I know it’s a far reach but I really do think installing the command line or the creation of software is a really good way to help build confidence at the individual level.


It really is. Any time you can put something in and know whether it is going to work or not work right away. That was one of the things that I loved about technology is it’s either right or it’s wrong. It’s either going to work or it’s not. And you just have to dig into the details and figure out why it’s not working, and fix it.


Totally. It’s an accelerated version of starting a company or starting anything new in life because you are able to quickly iterate, discover your problem and then move on from there. So I would like to talk a little about this major shift that I think you have gone through. You spent much of your earlier career in the financial sector, how did you wind up finding yourself in market research?


Well, initially… like anybody… Many people who start their careers in the Detroit area, they start out with something automotive. And my automotive early experience was in marketing and advertising for some of the automotive advertising agencies, and some of them were nice big full-service agencies where I got a lot of experience in project managing traditional advertising and reproduction and even dabbled a little bit in construction design and the logistics of putting on training events on a large scale. What was great about that for me is it really supported flexibility in the gig economy, and through the connections you make throughout your career, opportunities opened up. That allowed me to put my family first for that period of my life. Really, the requirements that I had for taking a position in that timeframe was that it be flexible and allowed me to do that “family first” focus, and that it would use my degree and help me to build my resume, even in this time when I was not a 100% full-time worker. And through that you kind of follow where the connections lead you. So I have made it from automotive advertising into automotive financial services into commercial lender at Crestmark, where I was the Vice President in Marketing. So that was the career evolution up to that point. Once I was at Crestmark, I started taking on more responsibility, and it led to more hours and less flexibility. And when I stepped back and realized that I am now in a full-time job, and my requirements for the job now that it’ss taking full-time are a little different than they were before, so I wanted to make sure that it allowed me to grow and some things that I was really passionate about and interested in and so I started looking around and thinking what did that mean for me. And at Crestmark, once of the things that I was able to dabble in a little bit on was Google Analytics. You realize when you are in marketing and advertising there is really little that is really measureable. A lot of decisions are made on gut instincts and “I think this looks good, and it’s probably going to reach the people we wanted to reach” but not really measureable KPIs. So Google Analytics kind of opened my eyes to this new world of being able to pinpoint how many people are seeing this, who is reaching and some of the audience demographics around that. I also stepped back and looked at other organizations and how they do things, and one of I have always been a huge fan of Disney, for example. And of the things I love about the Disney experience is that you go, I take my family and we go and we have a good time. And things run smoothly. And we home with a great experience. And we go however it is and we get there again in a later trip, and it is even smoother and even more fun and they found the snags along the way that you did not even realize were there but they found them and they fixed them, and so your next trip is even better. I wanted to find a way to live in that space: the finding, gathering the information to find the issues and then being able to communicate the issues and fix them. So the combination of the two of those led me to getting comfortable with data, and going to get my Master’s in Data Analytics, not knowing where that was going to take me but knowing that it might satisfy both of those curiosities. And hopefully something would open up. Through the time I was getting my degree, I met through a mutual contact the Vice President of Data Analytics here at the Pistons. Through building that relationship I found out that they were thinking of re-opening a research position that had been closed for probably about a year due to someone leaving and not being replaced. And I decided to give that a try


Super interesting! So you literally just stepped out and invested in yourself to learn Data Analytics prior to having that job lined up.


Yeah, and it was a really intensive one-year-degree program where my husband was a single father for most of the year because I was at work at my previous role, going from there to class, going from there to go home to do homework till the middle of the night, getting up the next day to go to work because my employer at that time was not aware or supportive of the degree I was getting because I was really working towards that degree to be able to find new opportunities. I did not know what that new opportunity was going to be but we all kind of did it to help me get through that.


So what has been one of your largest challenges for someone that is relatively new to the market research space?


Coming into this world with not much knowledge of what market research actually was, my challenge was learning. Because the role had been vacant, there was not a lot of information left behind for me to pick up and move forward and learn from the previous person in this role. So sitting in my office, there was not anybody who I could walk across the room or across the department and say: “Hey, can you tell me how this should be done?”  There was a lot of trial and error and just research on my own part that kind of made me comfortable with the fact that I was in the right place because the research, to learn research, was fun – read all the white papers I could get my hands on, listen to podcasts, watch webinars and try to fill in the blanks of knowledge. So that is what my challenge was, and how I tried to mitigate it.


I really think that this is an interesting point. Do you remember the first research project you did? Was it an online survey? Or was it focus groups?


It was an online survey.

We have a DIY survey portal here so a lot of the things that I am still currently working on, I inherited from a research plan they had that walks through some surveys that are conducted through the NBA that many teams participate in, that we project manage them here at the team level to distribute them through our e-marketing team to our fans, mostly people we already have in our database. So part of my first experience for doing the project management on some of those to dig into third-party data providers that we have, like Scarborough Research, to do demographic-type research to support our corporate partnerships team to find which partners would be the best fit for us based on the demographics of our fan base. And that was fun because that was more of a technology thing, right? That was a tool that you could use to do things with technology. So figuring out how to do that and how to use our DIY survey portal… those were like our new toys for me. It was really fun to dig in. And I think I have squeezed as much functionality out of those tools as anybody possibly could through my learning, just digging into the little corners of the functionality to see what it does, how we could use it here, how this fits with what we are already doing and enhance what we are already doing.


I get so excited around the actual operational consideration of research, which makes me weird. The block and tackling of the consumer insight, how you gather that information in a useful way and then analyze it for really fast business decisions. For me, it’s really exciting stuff. You found that your velocity or speed to get to the insights has been improving over time or has it hit a ceiling?


I think the velocity is increasing, and I think that as it is more well accepted and more received throughout the organization, they are realizing what research can bring to help with business decisions, and I am being able to be more and more busy with requests. The research plan that I inherited when I started was, like I said, a serious of projects that were encouraged by the NBA as well as some profile updates that we did through Scarborough Research and some other information that we obtained through our CRM data. It was a full calendar throughout the year but nothing really tied it together. So one of the things that I was really excited to do when I got here was to pull it together in a cohesive way so we could figure out what questions we were answering with the research. So I just recently developed what I call “my own brochure”. I put together a customer insights process that is the umbrella for all of the research that we are doing and answering about six questions with these twenty something projects that we do. So we are figuring out who our customers are, both our fans and are our partners –corporate partners, through some of the research projects that we do. We are looking at how are we reaching them, and with that I get access to TV and radio ratings and social media measures, what their experience is here, what do they think of us. We do some brand health studies, some post-event surveys, fan loyalty tracker that we send to our members to take the temperature of what they are thinking of us. Do our sponsorships benefit them? So we do some studies specifically around how our sponsors are benefiting from reaching our fans, with the exposure that they are getting, they value they are getting, the actual data value they are getting back from that sponsorship and then recapping for them at the end of the year as well as reaching out to our fans and saying: “What do you think of these sponsors?” “Are you benefiting from the Pistons having sponsorships?” And then, “how can we grow?” So how can I support the ticket sales team even with prospecting surveys or campaign support and working with the marketing and communications group to the effectiveness of some of their communication?  And I have also gotten involved with “So what is our culture?” that is the last question that I have got in my brochure. I have gotten involved with the employee survey annually and then poll surveys we put together throughout the year to take the temperature as we make changes internally. So to be able to pull all of that together has only created, I think, more interest in what research and insights can be provided by our group.


Okay, that is super powerful! I mean, creating this really clear view of the brand through the eyes of the customer leveraging market research is such a hole in one! And piggybacking on what you said before, as you educate the executive staff on how market research can be employed for better decision making, I am remembering my conversation with Lori Iventosch of GoDaddy. She said: “The executive is going to make a decision anyway. I sure as hell better deliver the insights so it is the right one!”


Yeah, it’s been great that as we go into some business planning even for next season, I have been invited to participate in more of those discussions as they are really looking to have some data-driven decisions about how to approach our season ticket members who we would like to help them stay in the membership or how to reach new people to have them come join the team as single-game buyers or season ticket numbers


The scorecard, I am going to call it that because you are in sports, that you have got for the brand… When you think about feeding back the data to sponsors and customers, where you talked about recapping and what were the benefits, did they find them useful, etc., have you seen an improved lift or improved buy-in from those sponsors? And I am actually thinking of something you referenced early on, your experience at Disney. You know, how you would go their campus and have a really nice time, and then you would come back and it is even better somehow, right? The little hiccups or what have you had been solved that you did not even recognize, which of course, reinforces that brand. Have you seen that kind of behavior manifest itself?


Yes, our sponsors have definitely seen a benefit and a lift from being involved with the Pistons. I work with the account team, the partnership team to identify which sponsors to focus on for each season. That information gets reported back many times to the partner, and I have gotten to be part of those conversations and to share the information myself, which was another learning growing experience that I really enjoy to share not only the industry wide statistics that says “here is how you are going to benefit from being part of a sponsorship” but also the specifics our fans are telling us in this specific study that they are more likely to engage with your brand because you are associated with the team.


So about what proportion of your research work is done internally versus through partners externally?


With my learning curve in market research, I have been kind of selfish with a lot of the things that we do. If there was not already a partnership in place to conduct the study, I really tried to, at this point since I am a market research department of one, do it myself so that I can get comfortable with the technology, the reasons behind the research instead of just jumping in to having the partners support me in it. So a lot of the NBA studies that we do were already on the books. We work with tight partners on those, and those are building great relationships with those vendors, and it’s been really enjoyable for me. But as business questions come up internally, I always take a stab at it first, and I know that as the need for internal research grows, I will eventually run out of knowledge and time to do it all myself but at this point, I really enjoy learning and trying and doing and finding the insights. It’s great that my newness to this world is not a secret. So I came in with a lot of background in business and a degree in analytics, but research was something I was learning. So it’s been great that if a business question comes up, I have been given the freedom to learn the common methodologies, figure out if my tools are capable of doing that, and then conduct the study myself, and provide the information at the management or executive level to help answer those questions. And I have not had to dedicate so much time to the learning that has stalled the decision making. I think that having to go outside and teach a vendor what our problem was and what we were looking to get out of it, the timeframe would have probably been similar.


I was just speaking with Stacy Walker, at Adobe, and she was talking to me after the interview about sort of the same issue. For her, it is more useful having somebody internally managing the research just because they are already up to speed on the actual implication, and if they are the ones executing against the research, they can better understand the story-telling aspects, or apply the story-telling to the stakeholders internally for a faster adoption of the insights. There are clear efficiency gains by having, by doing the research internally, and I am seeing more brands look to move staff from external vendors to internal vendors just because it helps control and improve velocity, which means they are adopting tools to get work done faster or whatever. Do you have a research mentor, somebody you have cultivated a relationship with? Or you ask them for recommendations whether it is on methodologies or vendors?


Not at this point, no. That is one of the things I have been trying to build. But I am finding that most people when they look at someone in my stage in their career, they expect them to already have some good experience in research. The narrative I see around mentoring these days, and looking to find one, is people at this stage in their career think: We have been in market research a long time, and there is a lot changes happening so we are going to look to support these new kids that are coming out of school with these new degrees that are being offered at the universities in market research and mentor them on the new technology so they can use that knowledge and the new technology and new ideas but gain some of our experience. So it has been hard for me, and I do not know if it is because I am not generally a comfortable question asker, to connect with somebody who is a good resource. In the last month, I have been doing much better at it, I found some great resources through some of the conferences I have been at so I am building that network now. But typically I have done all of my research online through the white papers and webinars, and podcasts, and I have gotten some digital mentors like you and some other people in the field that I have been following, like Kristen Luck and Ray Poynter, and others that every time that name comes up I feel like “that’s really good information, and I should pay attention and try to learn from that”. So that’s mostly how my learning has gone, mentor-wise.


What shows did you attend in 2018?


The big one I was able to get away and go to was the Corporate Researchers Conference for the Insights Association and then locally, the Detroit Chapter and Market Research Association had a market research arm that has smaller meetings as well, and I was able to attend a few of them as well, and make some great contacts there.


Yes, local chapters are goldmine. I think they are often times overlooked by researchers, especially young researchers. I tell you what, it is such a great place meet up-and-coming researchers as well as seasoned vets who can help answer questions even that I have. I often times use it as a reference point when things come up.


Yeah, it’s great. One of the things that I have found is often difficult is that this role is not always called the same thing, right?, in different organizations. So as you are looking for someone to help with research, you do not know who to reach out to, who to look up in Linked in. I think that my role is not necessarily unique, even on the NBA team, because they all participate in research but I do not know that many of them have one point person to support the ticket sales and the guest experience operations group and marketing and communications, and everybody all under one umbrella. So even within the NBA, I am not really sure who to reach out to in another team even for advice.


Right. Makes sense. There is a local company here in central California called Ruiz Foods. Their head of research… She is a… It is a one woman shop in this case but it is a billion dollar company, right? So it is a really large company, and she spends a lot of money on research. I put “a lot” in quotation marks because it is all relative but she is the one that is actually executing the projects, and she will use vendors for specialty things like turf analysis or a conjoint study or whatever, but generally speaking, she is the one conducting the research and very successfully as well. And it is empowering this brand, like I said; it is growing significantly, double digits, and massive! And it is interesting to me that you do have that consolidation into a single-person team, whereas most companies that are that large would have potentially multiple people fulfilling that function.


Right. Or the being able to have access to all of it. So when a conversation happens in the guest experience space, I am aware of a study that was done over in the marketing group on the brand health to see how we are perceived so that I can pull that information together and help both parties. One of the things that I did early on when I was here was realize that most of our research was happening among people who were already in our database, already buying tickets from us. Without knowing what I was really thinking, what the panels really consisted of, I reached out to people who already are season ticket members, people who are single-game buyers, people who received our newsletter and then were social media followers, and I said: “Hey! Would you guys agree to participate in research at an ongoing basis as needed?” And I got a significant amount of people who raised their hand and said: “Yeah!” But it is different with a sports team because people just want to be part of it, right? And want to be able to have input and feel connected to the team. Being able to read all the different groups in the organization, if someone had a quick turnaround need, I can send that question out to what we call our “Pistons fan farm”, get the feedback they respond right away through a what you could call ”panel” that I manage.


Do you have a specific technology that you employ to handle this custom panel?


Within our DIY survey platform, I found some functionality that helps manage the panel. And it records that information and with the surveys that I conduct through there we send out through our e-marketing platform.


What is one gap that you see in the market that you wish either market research technology or a service provider would solve?


There are so many vendors doing such great things out there. I do not know that I would be able to specifically identify a gap because I am still learning what is needed, the pieces of the puzzle that I do not already have answers to. But I do think some of the solutions could be there could be a standard communication about what problems they are hoping to solve in the organization. It is not a technology question as much as it is a communication question. Because I do have a lot people calling me many times offering their services to me but I am not really sure how they fit as a solution to my problem.


Yeah, Got it. That makes sense. It is almost like the lack of social validation is not quite there in some early stage companies. And of course, the actual application to your problems. That is where I think that market research really needs to be good at listening, employing our core IP, which is exactly listening, consuming that consumer view point and understanding what is intended, what the application is. That would help us a lot in formulating exactly how are we applicable? How can we solve the add value for the specific end user?

So we have a couple of people that have posed questions on LinkedIn when I posted a few moments ago about my interview with you. Is it all right if I read a couple of them




All right, so the first one is from Mario: “How are the Detroit Pistons adjusting their marketing strategies given the rapidly changing demographic make-up of Detroit?”


We have even a greater change in demographic not only in that Detroit is going through a fantastic renaissance right now, becoming an exciting place to go and live much more than it has been over the previous decade. So along with the fact that it is changing and growing, and it is becoming more probably, as a residence base, more millennial, we also moved our team, right? So we used to play out in the Northern suburbs of Detroit and with the last year, this is our second season playing in downtown Detroit. So we have had to make some adjustments as far as who we have in our season ticket base. Because we have got some fans who have not followed us down there because they are not able to move. I think it is a 45 minute longer drive for people who are coming from the Northern suburb area. But also being able to reach new people downtown who were not willing to make the drive out. So it has been a great change for us in that we have been able to pick up a lot of excitement, and be a part of what has being going on down there. Our marketing and advertising really centers around the excitement of being at a game and the excitement of following the team. It is interesting I find in sports where you have a fan base, and your fan base is going to be your fan base, and they really want to come and enjoy the team but we are also coming out in the new arena to communicate the benefit and the excitement of the state of art arena we are now playing in.


Awesome. And this question is from Erin Walten: “I am curious if your team was involved at all in measuring Drummond’s free throw statistics in practice or personal workouts? He has gone from 35% to over 60% in just two to three years.”


It has been an amazing improvement and it has been fun to watch. But my research is more on the business of basketball instead of the actual athlete on the team. But we in Detroit have appreciated Andre’s free throws improvement.


Ha! That’s awesome! My guest today has been Shelley Bouren, Research Manager at the Detroit Pistons. Shelley, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast!


Thank you so much for having me, Jamin.


And thank you everyone who has been listening on iTunes and Google Play as well as Spotify. Of course, your feedback and reviews on these platforms enables us to grow. It is our oxygen. Please keep it coming! Have a wonderful day!

Ep. 138 – Marc Zionts – Automated Insights – Cultivating Culture in Market Research

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.

Today, my guest is Marc Zionts, CEO of Automated Insights. Automated Insights is the creator of Wordsmith, the world’s first public natural language generation platform. Wordsmith allows users to generate human-sounding narratives from data.

Prior to Automated Insights, Marc has been a leader in both technology and market research for two decades.



Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/marc-zionts-5b250/



Social Media: @happymrxp

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


Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Marc Zionts, CEO of Automated Insights. Automated Insights is a creator of Wordsmith, the world’s first language public international platform. Wordsmith allows users to generate human sounding narratives from data. Prior to Automated Insights, Marc has been a leader in and research firms for over two decades. Marc, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you, and I am delighted to be here.


So talk to us a little bit about your early days, about your parents and where you were raised, and how that has impacted your career.


Well, thank you. I am fortunate that my parents were both working throughout my entire life –as I was growing up. I was born up North and then we moved down to Florida when I was young. My mother is an educator, and my father always worked in the electronics industry. And a couple of stands-outs from there that were great inspirations for me. First of all, my mother as an educator just really focused on the importance of being a life-long learner, you could be reader. And she set a couple of examples by doing a couple of things. One, going back to school at her mid-age and getting an advanced degree. And I think that thing is very admirable. At the same time, once my parents got older, they had not traveled a lot. And by the time they were 50, I think they had just traveled to maybe two countries. But since then, they have traveled to 125 countries. So I think that the whole quest for knowledge, understanding and learning, is something that my mother –as an educator, certainly imparted upon me.

On my father’s side, there have always been good careers. But I have to honestly say that my father never enjoyed working. So that actually set another good example for me. And that is, life is short, you better love what you do, you better be passionate about what you do. And if you are fortunate enough to have those things occur, as they say, work doesn’t become work, it becomes a part of your life –it becomes something where you become hungry for knowledge, you’re continuously interested in getting better, improving and learning more.

So in different ways, my parents have had an impact on me. But certainly I think it was a foundation for me in terms of developing.


Yeah, I found that as I enjoy what I am doing for a living, it creates this beautiful bleed into every other area of my life. And it winds up that work can be an enhancer of my relationships because it is not just a start-and-stop experience. And when I get home, I don’t need to plug out and sit on the couch to have a beer or think that I have to do that in any other way. You can engage and then… There is not this “Oh, I have to go to work right now” mentality. It is more of a “get-to experience”.


By all means.


The point about your mom and dad traveling and going to just 2 to 125 countries is really interesting. Have you done a significant amount of travel as well?


I have. I have probably been to more countries than that. And my wife is a traveler too. And then, our four adult children, that is something they have always been exposed to. That is, they have always been on a plane going everywhere around the world. And subsequently, they have a passion for it as well. A number of them have spent time abroad with their college, or in between college and running overseas, spending extended periods of time, months abroad. So our children, I think, have a passion for it. And you are privileged to have that but the way you pay that back, I think, is in terms of your understanding of the world. As it relates to our business, be it technology or whatever perspective you have, I think you have a much broader and a more balanced view and hopefully you can give it back to whatever field you are in and help you relate to others. Hopefully, there is goodness in all that because I realize that is something that not everybody gets to do so hopefully you can take it and be respectful and fortunate for that but at the same time hopefully get something back and be able to contribute back as a result.


Yeah, a lot of times people think that it’s only for the rich and famous. You know, going overseas once every few years. But the reality is that you can do it fairly inexpensively, even today. You have to be very mindful obviously about planning things out and controlling your costs, you know, where you stay, etc. But it is feasible to get overseas. What I hear from the people I have interacted with that have decided not to travel is that it seems that their biggest barrier is just this fear of unknown as opposed to it being a financial constraint. Of course, you are 100% correct that we are very fortunate to travel, and I am not trying to impose that. We are not. But the fact is that it really provides a ton of value for you as an individual, and obviously your family as well, in the event that you can expose yourself to other cultures, other cuisines. That opens your world view. And provides you with a fuller idea on what it is to be human and on what we should be focusing.


I absolutely agree with you.


So in the context of your background, because you have quite a storied career, maybe you can you talk to us about one of the biggest challenges that you faced.


I think what’s really interesting as I look back, and I frankly look forward is that I have always worked in technology. But I have been very careful to not define myself too narrowly. And I think that is really important. I think you need to focus on what is it that you are trying to do, what is it that you are trying to accomplish. If you dig your heels in, for example, if you say you “I am a C+ programmer”, your career will be limited. The issue should be more like I am excellent world class at UI/UX design and by the way, the tools I use may change. But I am not married to a language or something very narrow.

In my world, if you look back at technology 30 years ago, a lot of what we were doing was in the role of hardware. Today, to a large extent, hardware, storage, bandwidth have all become more ubiquitous and accessible to businesses. So there is a lot more of innovation and development around the world of software. And software is a service. So I feel I have moved from hardware to proprietary software what opens up in the sense that software is a service and is therefore, more like a journey. I would summarize that as “you better be able to deal with change”, and “you better be agile”, and “you also need to be a learning individual”.

I am so excited about what we do as a company. I am so excited about technology. And I have been doing this since high school. So since the 70’s, I have been involved in tech, and I feel we are scratching the surface of what’s possible. I continually have moved my career from one innovative area to another innovative area. So it’s fresh. I am learning. I am working with other people that are maybe early in their careers, and they have a lot to teach me about new technologies or how they solve problems. So I guess my big summary would be: “If you’re not comfortable with change, I think the business world, whether it is technology or anything else, is going to be very cruel to you. And if you want to be relevant, currently and in the future, you better be a learning individual.”


So humble, open to change… when I was reviewing your bio, you actually read your snippet on LinkedIn talking about your cycling passion, specifically cyclocross stood out?




Competitiveness is a major part of any cycling sport. I have done cycling on and off for about 20 years, and it is such a love-hate relationship. Ha! Well, it’s all love, I should say. But it can be bitter sweet sometimes when performances are not up to snob. Do you feel that your competitive nature is expressed in business in a way that you have to be humble? In other words, you can’t just assume you are going to win, and you have to be adaptable because the world is changing?


Yes, I believe that there is a tremendous amount of analogies between sports and business, or even more broadly, sports and life. One, as you mentioned, is humility. I mean, you may think you are great compared to the general population but when you get with a bunch of people like you, all of a sudden is very humbling and very hard when you are competing, so that’s a valuable lesson because you encounter that in life, be that in business, you may be very smart but when you are around other smart people, how do you stand out, how do you differentiate? The other thing with sports is that sports is all about setting goals. Are you goal-oriented? Are you disciplined to train? To do the hard work necessary? I mean the hard work isn’t the race. The hard work is everything that leads up to the race. If you have done your homework, you are going to have a good race, just like in business. So when I see people that have an outside passion, and it can be competitive or non-competitive, I think that is a great characteristic about somebody from the work perspective because I think that translates into the work. They want to continuously improve, they want to set goals and accomplish goals. They want to be the best that they can be. They have passion in their life. It may also imply that you have some balance. I mean, you have got to take care of yourself and feel good about yourself. You have got to take care of your family or your partners or your friends, and feel good about that. If those things are in order, work is pretty good. If those things are not in order, maybe work is good for a little bit of time but that’s when you hear about “the burnout”, or that’s when you hear about the person that says: “I am a workaholic, and I am unhappy”. Well, of course you are because you didn’t have any balance in yourself and you weren’t take care of the things in your life that are really important. You know, yourself, your friends, your family, those are the things that matter. So when I find somebody that has an outside passion, be it sports or something else, I know that they are disciplined because they are trying to work on get it done and itself, and improve but at the same time they have a life. So it brings a balance to the whole equation.


Yeah, totally. My most productive years are always when I am maintaining a level of balance, specifically relative to family and also, cycling or triathlons or CrossFit or whatever it is that’s hitting me at that particular point. The thing that I think you are right that protects us from burnout is… I will call it “balance”. And I put that in quotation marks, air quotes, by the way. We are often times working a lot. So there are a lot of hours that are still happening. It is just that our view of that work is much more in line of an enjoyment as opposed to that hard drum, “have to” sort of framing. The thing that I want to pull out a bit more on though is what you said about the preparation for the competition. It really isn’t the case that businesses or a competition is won at that particular event. I mean, it is but you might know that you can get to the top three based on the actual work that you put in to that effort, right? Or to that event. I think that analogy, carrying it out a little bit, is exactly relevant for all of us.  The scariest times for me in businesses, when everything is going great and then I wind up taking off my foot of the gas pedal, and then resting on my laurels a little bit. Have you had experiences like that or seen that happen to other companies?


Without a doubt. That kind of brings up another characteristic that you look for in people, which is often reflected in competitive people as well, and that is, resiliency. I think it is pretty clear that if everything is going well, you need to be humble because I guarantee you it won’t continue forever and things will go downhill at some point. And you have to deal with that. And on the flipside of that, you need to be resilient and determined because when things are at rock bottom, at the end of the cycle, you should take some solace in knowing that it’s not going to stay there forever, and it will get better.

So if you have a wave in the top and the bottom, it’s going to be some sort of a wave when you are at the top, you know where it’s going next, and when you’re at the bottom, you know where it will go next. It’s important to keep that in mind.


It feeds the whole journey thing, right? Which is exactly what you are describing. I love that. I love that vision, or that picture. You came into this space, this company, Automated Insights, really from the outside, after it had already been launched. What was the initial focus of Automated Insights?


The company was well under way when I joined. In terms of the focus, the company in its earliest days was very much about innovation and product as it should be in a young company. I came in invited by our private equity owner to take the company really to the next level, to work on scaling it up and building it up and adding, if you will, the commercial emphasis to the business. The challenges… I love what we do from a product perspective. I have nothing but admiration for our founder and for the founding team around innovation and product. And I did not want to take any spotlight off of that. But I wanted to equal weight that with a commercial business around sales and partnerships and business development and channels and in marketing. So that was the challenge: to preserve the initial focus around product and innovation, and retain those chops if you will, while adding in the other components, which to me simply validates that “yup, we got great product”. If we are the leader, if our business is growing, and customers are benefiting from our solution, that is a complete validation of everything the product team is doing. For me it was that focus of transitioning culture to equal weight the commercial side in the same way we had initially done around product and innovation.


The point that you are making here is really important, and I think a lot of founders forget about that. And that is that the reason it is a business is that its’ making money, and it is easy to get caught up in the actual product. But the point is that there is a much broader play, and that is overall organization and the investment in the organization or organism needs to be complete, not just with the head. You need the ability to move around and grab things and that sort of thing. And that infrastructure is vital throughout the life cycle of any business, and it’s good to hear that institutionalization is a big part of what you guys are doing, and obviously, as you said, equal partner with the product in moving the market in the right direction and bringing value. Can you talk to us a little bit specifically about what Automated Insights is, and the value it is bringing to the market?


The natural language generation, or NLG as we referred to it, is taking in structure data and writing stories, reports or narratives in software that sound like they were created by a person. So there is many business use cases for this, and we work into major whelms: one where we take in data and we create this directly, or two, where we integrate with business intelligence software. Products like Tableau or Click or Micro-strategy or Tipco or Power BI. The use case around BI is that according to Gartner, two thirds of the people in the enterprise, when they look at the dashboard visualization, they think it’s very interesting but they have one fundamental question, and that question is “What does that mean?” So they don’t actually process if you will, the meaning that was intended by the analyst –the business analyst that created that dashboard. So as a result, what companies end up doing is they might screenshot or export a dashboard and then the analyst writes up bullets, narrative by hand saying what it means. Or worse yet, someone may think they know what it means, they misinterpret the data and they make a business decision based on their understanding of the data, and that is very expensive. Or even a third scenario: we see people going into a meeting that is an hour long, and they spend 50 minutes of the meeting debating what the data means, and they only reserve the last 10 minutes of the meeting to discuss what they are going to do about it. All three of these cases are not productive. So when you can add in narrative to dashboards that fully interact with the dashboard as you are clicking around and looking at different scenarios, and there is narrative there to explain to you what it means, that becomes incredibly valuable to an enterprise. It is also great for the BI software because it means more people in the enterprise can use BI software. So it expands the total available market for the BI software provider. So our BI partners benefit, we benefit, and most importantly, the customer benefits. So that’s one big set of use cases. A lot use cases is just when we take structure data and with the structure data we can create these narratives, reports and stories. And there is a good chance that you have seen our work and not necessarily realize it’s us. For example, we are quite visible in the world of journalism.  There are lot of stories that are data-driven stories. A data-driven story could be a financial story, a sport story, a weather story, anything that has really data at the core. As an example, the associated press writes and sells stories on all public companies four times a year when they announce their quarterly earnings. All of those stories are written by our software, not by a business journalist. Likewise, the associated press sells stories on all 16,000 minor league baseball games. Once again, that is being written by our software.

Or many people like to play fantasy football, be it with Yahoo, be it with a national football league, and part of that experience is getting a weekly recap telling you how your fantasy team is doing. It is a totally customized story about you and your team, and once a week you get a recap that tries to keep you engaged in the season, and frankly tries to draw you back into those software platforms so that you spend more time trying to improve your team as the season goes on. And why do they care about that? Well, they make their money with add revenue monetization. So if you are more engaged, they can make more money. So all of those narratives are created by our software as well. If you think about an NFL football season, you could be talking about over 100 million individualized stories a season that are being written through our software. There are many places where people can see us, Dow Jones Group, The Economist, Standard & Poor’s. There are many visible places where our software is being used to write stories that are personalized, or at scale, or based on somebody’s role but all these are cases where we are using data to create narrative, reports, stories and help people understand what the data means or engage them with the data.


Story is the number 1 gap that has come up in the conversations I have had with large brands. The block and tackling of getting the data in a presentable format just doesn’t seem to be the issue. And there is a million different ways and tools that they are using and vendors partners to get that to those consumers insights. But the magic for them is that last bit in the red zone when the delivery is happening to the executives. The more powerful the story, the more powerful it connects with that executive and then, the bigger lever it has in moving the decision-process throughout the whole organization. Are you seeing market research data as well as journalism playing out with using your tools?


Many people use, take survey data, which is again data story to create that into a narrative or report that people can understand and they are using our software. So we see it in the area of market research, market surveys, voting information… We have a lot of customers in the CPG space. Brands that are doing constant reports on attribution around share data, around competitive data. It is very common for them to be using that information as the data input to create the narrative, or if they are looking into business intelligence, to add the data in so that more people correctly understand what that information is. So yes, certainly a great area for us because there is good data available.


Voice is on the rise. The way we are consuming information is moving from the written word… It’s never going to go to zero, it’s a huge part of our consumption but… there is more and more audio being consumed through podcasts like this one or audiobooks or what have you. Are you guys looking into that space as well as a distribution area?


We are already there. When we think about publishing the output of our narrative, our API puts out it’s what’s called “a J-sound file” –it’s Java script object. That allows you to publish the output as an email, as a text, in html, in your application, in a game console, or write to a device like Alexa or Google Home. We have customers in the world of gaming, in the world of weather where you are simply asking Google Home or you are asking Alexa about the weather or the weather for an activity or “what should I wear today to go golf?” Or if you just YouTube “Alexa call of duty”, you will see an example of our software. Because that’s how YouTube works now. You are asking Alexa a call of duty, and it tells you your story.


That’s super interesting! So from a J-sound file you are able to generate any sort of output natively to the specific platform.


That’s right. So we basically data in, runs through our software in the cloud, the data is not retained so there is no privacy issues, J-sound back up, publish it to any platform.


What are you seeing as a macro trend inside the market research space right now?


I think it’s actually… I can answer this more broadly than just the market research space, and I just think it is very simple. People are overwhelmed by the amount of data that is now being created, and being able to try to process that and understand that is becoming a challenge that is surpassing people’s ability to consume it. So we get right back to what people really want is to understand the data. They don’t need the data to view the data. In fact, our vision statement as a company is “We make the world’s data understandable”.

I say… The way I like to take people into this discovery is say: “Just go back in time, go into a cave and look in the wall. There is not a spreadsheet, there is not a chart, there is not a dashboard; there is not a visualization. There is a story there. So someone is trying to tell you a story about what something means.” And I think that’s what people just need. They don’t have fifteen minutes, twenty minutes to be playing around with the data. They just want to know what are the three key drivers that I need to focus on. “What are my KPI?” “Just tell me about my KPIs that are more than plus or minus 3% out of range.” “Are there any anomalies that I should be aware of?”

And people are looking for that to be fed to them because of the amount of data they have to deal with in making business decisions and the constraints on their time to make those accurate and actionable decisions.


This next question I think is probably one of the more important questions that we are going to wind up covering today, and that is, a large portion of our audience are executives inside of the market research world specifically, and you come into this space with a tremendous amount of relevant experience. What is one piece of advice or secret that you leverage to achieve success for shareholders and the company?


So I think what’s vital here is defining the problem that you are trying to solve or the value proposition you are trying to offer. So the definition of what that is, the problem statement and what is that corresponding value proposition you have to address that problem statement. Now the magic is… “Is this a niche issue or is it a mainstream issue?” And I think that will drive a lot of success factors in your business. I guess, for example, if you are talking about the whole role of data analytics, you have market research, you have survey data that you want to get to the bottom of, to know what does that mean.

It means that capabilities like ours probably need to be incorporated into every solution over the next few years. So how are you going to get there? Are you going to work with somebody like us? Are you going to want OAM us, build us into your products so that you can provide that capability for your clients directly? Are you going to try to build it yourself? I think people are going to wrestle with these solutions to do what we do. But as it relates to the space in general, I think that the most fundamental issue is that original definition. We see the problem as this. Our solution will address the problem by doing these things. So I think that, to me, is fundamental because look, you can create the coolest thing in the world and if there isn’t just a big enough problem out there, it’s going to be really interesting, it’s not going to be super relevant. Maybe you will have a little niche product that you are not going to have go mainstreaming and create tremendous amount of value.


What do you see as the three characteristics of an all-star employee? Not just at Automated Insights but more broadly given the depth of your career?


Three things that I would name right away would be passion, agility and accountability.

First, and I touch on it earlier in our discussion, 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. But thinking that at the end of the day, you really have to love what it is that you are doing. And by the way, that kind of extend to who you are working with, who you are working for, what is the culture. 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 really excited about the fact that we help people understand their data. And they see data as a huge problem, and they see there is something that is creating value. So I think that people have a passion around that because 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, you don’t like having to zig instead of zag sometimes, if you think everything is going to go perfectly under your 3 to 5 year plan, good luck! That’s not my experience. I am 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 am polite. Because 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 is 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 is freedom for people who work remotely when they want to work remotely. Or if they have something in the middle of the day with their kids, and they are going to get their deliverable out that evening, it enables that to happen. So you can have a trust-based organization where people are accountable. I think that our company is an example. Many companies do this these days. We have unlimited vacation. The interesting that happens is that if you look across companies in America and you say “in a white collar job, what is the general time of vacation that people are allotted?” It works out to be three weeks. We give unlimited vacation. So what do you think the average person in our company ends up taking?


I am going to go with three weeks.


Bingo! But we do not have a documentation system. We do not have a traditional hierarchy. We do not have the “apply for vacation”. We have accountable people. So you trust them, and they deliver, and you end up with the same result. But it is based on accountability, and it is based on trust. So to me, these are three key things in recruiting: passion, agility, accountability. Now, these are characteristics. Before we even get there, we are big on being very selective in hiring. And I think this is also something people need to consider. When you have a software company, you don’t have a factory, you don’t have a warehouse, you don’t have a distribution network, you have code. You better have the best people you can. If you want to satisfy the customer, you need the best people. So our front of the process, the way we evaluate, the way we test people, it is extensive, it is selective but we think it produces really excellent results.


What is the role of culture inside the organizations that you have managed? And has it evolved over the years?


Absolutely! Culture is not a static thing. It is a living, breathing thing. I think culture is often staffed and influenced heavily by the CEO and senior team. But it is also a function of the people within the company, and it is at the stage of the company. For example, you can say “our culture is to work hard” but if the CEO does not work hard, that may not be part of it. We try to have one where part of our culture, and things that are core to our values are enjoying the journey, enjoying what you do. And we try to set that example. If you do not have fun, and levity and enjoy who you work with, again, life is going to be a bit tough. One of our values is “no jerks in the business”. That doesn’t mean that everybody charmed with each other. But they should respect each other. And you do not want disrespectful people because that is unhealthy in the organization. So I think culture is very important. I think culture though is also a product of the passion that you have for the problem that you are solving. So you can’t just go to a company where you say: “Oh, that’s the coolest company in the world because they have off every Friday and Thursday afternoons they have barbecues. And the sliding door between the first and second floor is part of their fun culture.” Well, that’s interesting but if they do not do something relevant, that probably does not last for too long. It gets you in the door. It does not keep you in the door. So culture is part of the ingredient that, to me, is got to be you got to love what you do, you got to love what your company does, believe in the mission of the company, and if there is a great culture that you feel comfortable within, that you feel it respects who you are, that allows you to have positive and constructive relationships, that you feel comfortable in, that you feel safe in, and hopefully that culture has a lot of diversity and inclusion as part of it so that you get a lot more broad perspectives to help you create better products for customers, I think that can be a great combination. But you cannot isolate it as one variable and say: “I think people are here because of their great culture”. I hope people are also because of their mission of the company as well.


So I have a personal question for you: Are you still cycling?


Absolutely! I commute to work. Well, I have to do one of two things: I Uber to the airport or I bike to and from work during the weekdays. And on the weekends, I am either racing or biking 4 to 5 hours a day.


Okay! That’s awesome! So you kind of answered my question there. One of the challenges for me in cycling has been actually dedicating cycling time just because it tends to take a little bit longer than other sports. How do you manage it when you travel because I know you have an extensive travel schedule?


So when I travel, unless I travel some place for a week, I am not going to typically rent a bike or bring a bike. Mainly during the week, it could three or four days but usually my schedules are not like that. So I am working on the road. So I am doing cross train. I am in the gym, I am out running, I am doing other things. But I never miss a day of working out.


My guest today has been Marc Zionts, CEO of Automated Insights. Mark, thanks very much for being in the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you!


And thank you everyone who has been listening. Please take time to subscribe, provide us with some feedback. This helps us grow our audience and allows other insight professionals to find this podcast. Have a great day everybody!

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

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

Find Stacey Online:



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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Yeah, yeah, it was.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


It’s really great to hear that.


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


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


Totally, totally.


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


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


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




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


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


Not exactly bubble territory, but it’s frothy.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




And all Adobe employees?


They were all Adobe employees.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


This is probably less time-consuming.


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


This is a tough one.


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


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


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


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


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


It was.


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


Inside of the data ecosystem’s sphere?


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


You have to be.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


I have.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Thank you.


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


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