Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 563 – Why you Should use TikTok for Research and how to get Started with Daniel Berkal, SVP of Research at The Palmerston Group

Today I’m joined by Daniel Berkal, SVP of Research at The Palmerston Group.

Founded in 2008, The Palmerston Group is a qualitative market research agency. 

Prior to joining The Palmerston Group, Daniel served in senior roles at Young & Rubicam, Research International, and Synovate. He is also a professor at Humber College in Toronto Canada. 

Daniel has two active TikTok channel. danielberkal and thepalmerstongroup. 

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Jamin Brazil: Hey, everybody. Today we are joined by Daniel Berkal. He is the SVP of Research at the Palmerston Group. Founded in 2008, the Palmerston group is a qualitative market research agency. Prior to joining the Palmerston group, Daniel served in senior roles at Young and Rubicon, Research International, and Synovate. He also is a professor at Humber College in Toronto, Canada. Daniel is a huge TikToker, in fact, I believe that he has the number one channel in TikTok for market research purposes. You can find him personally under his first and last name altogether, Daniel Berkal, and you can also find him with the handle The Palmerston Group, and I’ll include links to both of those in the show notes. Daniel, welcome to the show.


Daniel Berkal: Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to talk to you.


Jamin Brazil: The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full time on campus, full-time online, and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications. Insights design, or insights analysis. In addition to the certification, all the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you’re looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s program at BROAD.msu.edu/marketing. Again, broad.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation, including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit HubUX.com. So you had jumped in with both feet into TikTok, both from an educational perspective and also as an entertainer. The content that you generate is just fantastic. You post, I think you post daily. It certainly feels like that, from my feed. The topics that you post about for market research purposes, some of my favorite ones, The Perils of Market Research, Tips for Better Ethnography, a Four-Week Crash Course on Creativity in Research, and How to Approach Creative Testing. Why are you making the investment when the rest of the market research space is basically not there, they’re all in on LinkedIn?


Daniel Berkal: So it’s interesting. The world is very complicated, and there’s lots of ways of going about things. And there’s no way of minimizing the importance of LinkedIn, there’s no way of minimizing the importance of any channel you connect with your consumers, your audience, or your participants. But at the Palmerston Group, we believe strongly in authenticity, and we’ve really been on top of media. So we jumped into Clubhouse when that was the thing, we jumped into – then TikTok has been an incredibly vibrant place. TikTok’s a really, really interesting way of connecting with an audience. It’s based around this incredible algorithm that really learns who you are and learns what you like. And it’s educational and interactive and natural, but it’s human. And so we’ve used TikTok in some really interesting ways, I think you’ve seen some of them. As ways of connecting with a whole range of audiences on a brand new level, on a recruitment level, and as a way of building our brand as a human entity, as opposed to just a faceless research company.


Jamin Brazil: And what is interesting about TikTok for me, one of the many things I find interesting about TikTok, is really the ability to use the content creation functionality inside of the app itself. It’s actually quite good for creating really short snippets of information, and then it encourages you to story tell in a 15 or 30-second piece of content.


Daniel Berkal: Oh. It’s wildly creative. It’s not only a little bit good, it’s I think the best possible way of telling narratives in a really short and effective way. It’s a way of connecting deeper. The email doesn’t do well, that – very few things do as well as this. Human connection obviously does it well, but it’s very – it allows you to connect at scale also. It’s so easy to use, that it’s allowed the most simple and the was complicated players to have a voice.


Jamin Brazil: And the buyers and market research are changing. We’re seeing obviously, they’re getting younger, or maybe I’m getting older. But I’m casting them as the new buyers, that is the Gen Z, young millennials. They’re all on the platform, using it regularly, and they have purchase power relative to what agencies or research technologies are going to be used by corporations that they’re – they’re working for. And TikTok offers a really unique opportunity to create this edutainment around – and thought leadership around market research so that you can actually distinguish yourself.


Daniel Berkal: And even though you see, the humans that you see on TikTok are often very young. I’m saying young because you can’t see on a podcast but I’m an old person. And even though the look of TikTok is young, the actual people that are hitting it or actually watching it or not. More people watch content on TikTok than create content. It’s not only a little bit more, it’s considerably more. And so what we’ve noticed is, our audiences that are reaching out to us are people who you’d never expect to find on TikTok. Including ourselves, both me and you.


Jamin Brazil: And it really doesn’t surprise me because again, it’s such a – it’s such a powerful mode of communication. This is quite literally revolutionary, in the same way that Instagram was revolutionary in its day. You know? It’s –


Daniel Berkal: Yeah. And just to kind of clarify that a bit more even. For our business, for market research, which is all of us are in market research. We know how interesting and dynamic it is, this platform works so well, because it creates it – an interesting environment to showcase our passions. I get to work on some of the most interesting things in the entire world, and this lets me showcase some of them.


Jamin Brazil: It’s funny you say that. One of the things that I’ve enjoyed the most – actually biggest benefit I get out of creating content on TikTok and watching other people’s content is, it’s teaching me to be a better storyteller.


Daniel Berkal: Right, and exactly. It teaches you how to tell stories in a more effective way, it teaches you to consume stories in a more effective way, and it’s fun on top of that. And so the business advantage is very clear for us, but the fun part of it is just kind of icing on the cake.


Jamin Brazil: TikTok is expected to hit 1.8 billion users by the end of 2022. Why do you think it’s growing so fast?


Daniel Berkal: Oh. It’s such a powerful animal. When you think about 1.8 billion, that number on paper looks like a number. But think about that in terms of actual humans. It’s an astronomical amount of people. It’s essentially everyone who has a telephone, give or take. Maybe not, my math isn’t so good. I’m a qual, not a quant guy, but TikTok is dynamic, entertaining, fun and interesting. It learns who you are, it adapts to you. It’s not one size fits all, and I think that media trends in and out, so you get things that trend up and turn down. Will TikTok be around in X number of years? Probably not, and something else will come and be just as rich, or more rich, or more consumable. But right now it seems to hit all the right watermarks for a society that lives on our cell phones, that’s been locked inside for three years, and that wants to tell stories.


Jamin Brazil: Tell stories, it’s so interesting. I – my – I have some teenage children and they follow me on TikTok, and I follow them, of course. And some of their friends follow me as well, as it turns out. And they’re really enjoying the market research content that they’ve found on my channel, but then also yours, interestingly enough. So what’s funny about that is, most people don’t even know what market research is. Certainly none of them knew before they joined the channel. It’s like – it offers us an opportunity to evangelize, if that’s the right word, what market research is and how it is used.


Daniel Berkal: Absolutely. And there’s so many interesting elements of this that we didn’t think of beforehand but connecting with audiences who are interested in going into the field, potentially. With our colleagues, I get so much feedback from colleagues at different agencies, telling me comments about things that they’ve seen on there. With participants, it allows participants to quickly check up on you, to make sure you’re not some evil corporation trying to take their data. And with clients – the qual business which I’m in, is a very human business, and clients like to choose their moderators, choose their qual partners based on their personalities. And TikTok is a really good way of showcasing quickly and effectively, who you are and what you stand for.


Jamin Brazil: So market researchers and I would say most adults in general, if they have not been on the platform, they probably have some misconceptions. What are some misconceptions that insights professionals bring to TikTok?


Daniel Berkal: I think all of us have our misperceptions. When I first heard of TikTok a couple years ago, and when I first started seeing participants on it, and my cousins for that matter or my relatives, I thought it was all dance videos. I thought it was all flippant content that had no value. I thought it was people dancing to cool songs, or doing pranks, or – it was just young people. And that’s a huge misperception now. It’s a medium that has exploded in its depth of audience, and the content on TikTok is not all flippant. It can be a legitimate business tool, it can be a legitimate branding tool, they’re pouring so much effort and money and time into making it so that it has real value beyond just dance videos. That’s like saying Facebook is just for telling you – for showing you pictures of your grad classmates.


Jamin Brazil: One of the things that people always anchor to – I say always. Most people anchor to if they aren’t – have not been on the platform before, is really it’s a China-based organization or owned company that is there to extract data. Which – it is certainly owned by China, but – and it is extracting data. And then it’s leveraging that data in order to inform the algorithm to serve you content that you find interesting and engaging. Is that something that you hear very often or are concerned about?


Daniel Berkal: Do I hear it often? Absolutely. Am I concerned about it? Yeah. No doubt. All social media doesn’t exist just so we can have fun and share stories, these are -all media for that matter in general. The television networks don’t make shows about cops and people on the beach because they want to make us happy. They want to sell us products, and TikTok is a really good machine for learning who the people on it are, and then selling them things. That part I think, is one of the bargains we make when we engage in any kind of medium, but the China part also concerns me. But what – then when I started thinking about all mediums and all businesses I interact with, and all points cards I use – I went to get a coffee this morning. I used my loyalty card to get the coffee. I don’t think about that harvesting my information and using it to sell me more coffee, but it is. I think similarly, I think that all platforms have some role in making money for themselves and in harvesting the information of who they’re talking to. It’s a double-edged sword, I don’t think it’s all goodness. I think there are some concerns that do have to be addressed.


Jamin Brazil: I was recently looking into how much money Google makes on a free Gmail account, and it’s $1,600 a year. So the monetization power of companies to extract and analyze your behaviors via digital means, and then leverage that to sell space for advertisers you will connect with is just continuing to expand and grow. Creating content on TikTok has definitely impacted me, as we’ve – as we’ve mentioned a moment ago, I am curious. How has it impacted how you present your research results today?


Daniel Berkal: So I don’t think it has really changed how we present our results. Every project we work on is custom, everything has a custom audience, and so on. And we do lots of ethnography, and the pieces of the puzzle don’t work very well using TikTok as a reporting mechanism, but it’s fundamentally changed the way that we – that audiences consume content. Nowadays, it’s not unheard of to tell stories in very short clips. I think it – that TikTok over time and things like TikTok will change the rules of what’s allowed. It will allow you to play with multimedia in much more seamless ways when presenting, but I don’t think it’s directly presented our research results right now. But I think over time, things like this have a potential to do that.


Jamin Brazil: Have you done any partnerships, or used TikTok to recruit participants?


Daniel Berkal: So yes, we have. We’ve used TikTok to recruit in – for a number of projects, especially for hard-to-find audiences. And we haven’t done that – so there are various ways we’ve used many channels. But for this channel, our business account the Palmerston Group, that’s basically just kind of a billboard on the highway that people can pass by and say, “Hey. What’s up?” But we actively go into audiences in different platforms including TikTok, and we’ll look for very specific niche audiences. We’re known for finding the hardest-to-find people, and it’s good for that, because if you’re looking for someone who uses a specific product, you can do a search on the TikTok search engine and find someone who’s made 30 videos about that product. And then you can reach out directly to them and say, “Hey. We’re doing a project on so and so.” And that’s a pretty effective way of not only connecting with that person, but also legitimizing that interaction.


Jamin Brazil: That’s – that’s super powerful. It’s a great – that’s a great tip everybody, who picked that up.


Daniel Berkal: Also on the same notion, clubhouse has been phenomenal for that as well.


Jamin Brazil: It’s funny, because I never jumped onto clubhouse for whatever reason, I just – that completely skipped me. Although I of course, have used it maybe a handful of times, but it just – it just never resonated with me.


Daniel Berkal: In this business, you got to be smart and you got to be fast. And especially in the business of humans, you got to be where the people are. And it seems at least, that at this particular moment in time, people are in this place, and so that’s why it works so well for us.


Jamin Brazil: A lot of people are gonna listen to this podcast, and they’re gonna be thinking, “I should not just be a viewer of TikTok, but maybe I should start playing around and creating some content.” What are three tips that you would give an aspiring content creator?


Daniel Berkal: Ah. That’s such a hard question. So there are different ways of using any platform. So – and you mentioned at the beginning of this, that I run a personal thing, and I’m the face of the company I work at. I think that because it’s a human platform, if you’re using TikTok in a business context, keeping it personal. So we’ve made a concerted effort that I’m always the face of the business, just because it keeps it human. And it makes people watch and feel like they’re talking to someone they know, which is quite important. But the three tips I think, number one is be yourself, and no one can be as good at being you as you are. One of my colleagues always tells me, “Be the best Daniel you can be.” Cool. So I go with that, and I be myself always. Number two is, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everything is permanent, but everything is also forgettable on the internet, and you can make mistakes, and no one will remember it two minutes from them. And you can see what works, so number three is see what works. Trial and error, but I think differentiate in your personal and your professional, like my personal account is just pictures of me and my toddler, because that’s just fun. It’s just – it’s toddler videos, and dog videos. But the professional thing that I work on, is very finely focused on market research, and especially on qualitative research. On demystifying it, on making it more accessible. Tik Tok becomes a calling card for us, a recruiting tool, and a way of connecting deeper.


Jamin Brazil: It is interesting to me that larger corporations haven’t figured that out. You have Gary Vaynerchuk who’s probably one of the biggest personalities, and represents Vayner Group, whatever it’s called. His billion-dollar ad agency, but he’s – it’s – the whole thing is built around him and his personality. When you see companies like Ipsos, great company, they’ll do a social post and it’s gonna get maybe two or three likes on LinkedIn, and zero on Twitter. There’s almost no engagement with corporate posts that are not boosted, and at the flip side, if they were to change that and actually have the – put a face in front of it, then it creates a personality that people are able to connect to and they might even want to.


Daniel Berkal: Exactly. And that’s actually the exact model we use. We’re a research business. We do research projects, and we do things that are not very photogenic, let’s say. Doing reports, and that’s not very fun. But if you put a person and you put them in a consistent situation, and you make that person accessible, saying the same lines, in this case that person for the Palmerston group is me. I end up being the face of everything we do. And similarly to the examples you mentioned, Gary’s channel, it’s not just Gary. There’s lots of people working on that, but it seems just to be him talking normally. Similarly, I like to believe that it comes across as human because it is, but I think that making that effort to keep it as simple and as clearly focused on the human element as possible, it is a real benefit for us.


Jamin Brazil: Talking about tactically, what sort of investment or things should people buy, whether it’s software or hardware in order to make effective videos?


Daniel Berkal: Oh, awesome. So the coolest thing is that you don’t really need anything. And by anything, I mean anything. You need – you need a smartphone, but I think every – every person listening to this podcast based on the fact that it’s a podcast, has one of these.


Jamin Brazil: That’s true, it’s self-selecting.


Daniel Berkal: It’s a pretty self-selecting variable? But you need that, you need an iPhone and/or iPhone-like device. And the cameras on telephones now, are better than any professional video camera was ten years ago. The computing power on a cell phone is probably more than most of the spacecrafts launched in the last century. You can – and the editing power on TikTok is incredible. There are other external softwares that you can use, lighting is really important. The algorithm for whatever reason, seems to understand lighting, and so we make sure that our videos always are well lit. Whether that’s sunlight or using a ring light or some kind of apparatus, knowing what your background is, is kind of important but don’t overthink things. Just shoot and shoot and shoot and see what works. Some of our posts get 30,000 views, some get 100. And you never know, and that – that’s also the thing. Don’t be sad if you get a small audience, and don’t be excited if you get a huge audience.


Jamin Brazil: I think that’s right. That’s super Zen, and that’s the right way of framing it. Because sometimes you win, and you have no idea why.


Daniel Berkal: Oh, yeah. There is a post that went up yesterday, that has four and a half thousand views. And I’ve been getting comments all day from this, and I have no idea what made it so interesting. None.


Jamin Brazil: The algorithm just liked it, and it is so interesting how certain things can just overperform. And other things that you might invest a lot more time and effort into, might – your mom liked it, and that’s it.


Daniel Berkal: Yeah. What a cool time to be alive. It’s great.


Jamin Brazil: For sure. Not taking yourself too seriously, I think is an overarching point there. And it’s more about the consistency that you – so that you have an opportunity to win, as opposed to trying to create the winning post and hoping that it – hoping that it scores.


Daniel Berkal: Exactly. So much of the content that I see on all mediums, in Facebook and LinkedIn – LinkedIn is the worst for this. It’s people trying to be a certain thing. For whatever reason, TikTok is very good at revealing the ‘corporateness’ of much of the medium, and people don’t tune into that. People like humans. People like people acting naturally.


Jamin Brazil: It’s the authenticity that is punching through. And TikTok, the algorithm does a really great job of prioritizing authenticity over professionally produced $10,000 budget TikToks.


Daniel Berkal: Exactly. And if you’re in the call business like I am, we’re literally about authenticity. We want to talk to real humans, in real places about real things. I’m always myself, I never changed that, and I think that’s why we’ve been good at what we do.


Jamin Brazil: I would say, if someone is starting a channel and they do start posting, getting comments is gold. So make sure that you always have some sort of question at the end, some sort of call to action. Some sort of opportunity to engage your audience, and then even if it’s just having co-workers or friends engaged. But the really important thing is there, is that you then engage with that content. And then similarly, if you haven’t created content before or are new to the platform, the best place to start is pick some people and then start commenting on their stuff and see how they’re engaging with their audience. You can learn a lot just by being on the other side of it.


Daniel Berkal: Awesome tip. And it’s been really interesting on our end. We’ve gotten clients from TikTok, and you would never think that. And from far, far away. Just came across things and thought, “Hey. We’ll reach out to this company.”


Jamin Brazil: Cool. Awesome. I have one last question for you, Daniel. What is your personal motto?


Daniel Berkal: Oh. That’s – oh, man. A personal motto? I like the ‘Be the best Daniel you can be.’ There’s that, there’s ‘No one else can be you.’ ‘Try your best.’ I don’t know. I live life like I watch TV. I want to consume and flip channels, and really engage and really immerse myself in things.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Daniel Berkal, SVP of Research at the Palmerston Group. You can find contact information for him and the Palmerston Group in the show notes. Daniel, thank you for joining me on the podcast today.


Daniel Berkal: Thanks so much.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope to find you on TikTok. If you like this content, make a TikTok about it. Tag Daniel and myself, and I’ll send you a free T shirt.