My guest today is Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA professor, and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest global market research and a consulting firm with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France.
Prior to joining Ipsos, Emmanuel served as the Vice President of Media and Content Domain at Kantar, as well as in a leadership role at Dynata (formerly ResearchNow) and InMoment.
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On Episode 240, I’m interviewing Emmanuel Probst, Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos, but first a word from our sponsor.
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Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA Professor, and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. Founded in 1975, Ipsos is one of the largest global market research and consulting firms with worldwide headquarters in Paris, France. Prior to joining Ipsos, Emmanuel served as the Vice President of Media and Content Domain at Kantar as well as in leadership roles at Dynata, formerly ResearchNow, and InMoment. Emmanuel, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.
Thank you, Jamin, for having me. I really appreciate your taking the time to have me on your podcast today.
It’s an absolute honor having you on the podcast. I have interacted with you professionally over our careers in similar circles. I don’t know that we’ve actually ever done direct business together. The specific topic of today is to talk about your recently released book, How to Build Brands by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning. Embedded inside of that title are two words, brand hacks. I’ll post a picture of this book so that people can get better context. The way that you’ve framed the book is really interesting just from the cover perspective because I would say it has some powerful theory, but you take it down to a practical level, which is really unique. Actually, I can’t think of another book that has that type of framework and accessibility that your book does. But before we jump into it, I wanted to mention that it’s interesting to me how I wound up finding out your book, which was a post from Kristin Luck on Linkedin. She had shared that she was excited about her friend Emmanuel dropping his book. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And then, from that, I know I had reached out to you through a comment. And you had responded back to me through the comment on LinkedIn. Now, all of a sudden, you fast forward 60 days. You sent me a copy of the book. Thank you very much for that. I read the book and, after reading it, I’m like, “Not only is this highly practical for me and my business right now, but on top of it I had to get this guy on the podcast.” So that’s kind of the overall journey. The reason I bring it up is I think it actually some direct connection into the consumer journey into how some the theories that you’ve applied or created and then, subsequently, applied to your own, I guess I’ll call it “business,” but I’m not exactly sure if that’s the correct connotation. Anyway, long-winded way of trying to get to our first question and the worst segue I’ve ever had: Tell me a little bit about your parents and how they informed your career.
That’s a great question and highly unusual question. As you may guess, Jamin, I grew up in France. I did not grow up in the United States, and my parents were public servants. My dad worked for the equivalent of the USPS, and my mother worked for the equivalent of AT&T. Now, these companies were public at the time. How does this relate to marketing and market research? Well, I think it’s about being curious; it’s about discovering new things; it’s about meeting new people; it’s about wanting to understand why do people do what they do. So I think that’s really the background between my parents’ careers and mine.
So, you grew up in France. What area?
I grew up not too far from Switzerland in the eastern region, and I moved to the UK in 2001. I booked a one-way train ticket to London on April 15, 2001, and I never envisioned coming back. At the time—it still is by the way—London was this very vibrant city, multicultural, lots of arts, lots of different people, a lot of energy there. I was attracted with the light, if you will.
Did you have a career or a job secured?
No, and I didn’t really speak English. So the first few months were very hectic to the point that I remember that literally everything was a challenge: just to go to the store and go through the check-out process. Every little thing was really challenging for me. The first twelve months, I worked all sorts of jobs in retail, in restaurants. In fact, I’ll tell you that I interviewed for Starbucks, and I could not work at Starbucks because my English was not good enough. So I worked at a lesser coffee chain that no longer exists and that paid less than Starbucks because I couldn’t get a job there and Starbucks was too prestigious to me at the time. I couldn’t be a barista at Starbucks.
Oh, that’s fascinating. And now, think about your storied career. What was your first job in market research? How did you wind up…? Going from a coffee shop into research, it’s a big space, a big gap.
You’re right. My first job was with Market Probe, and Market Probe at the time had a call center. At the time, we would do phone interviews, and I was a supervisor there. And the way I got this job is when I started studying for my M.B.A., I needed to work and I was looking for a part-time job. And it was completely random. I found an ad for this job. I remember going to the interview, and they said, “Why do you think you can do this?” And I said, “Well, that’s because I’m an M.B.A. student,” which was a little bit, I won’t say “arrogant” but a little bit of a bold move. And they gave me the job. And that’s really how I started in the industry, managing a small team in that call center. When I graduated in 2005, that’s when I joined Dynata, at the time ResearchNow.
One of my pieces of advice I give to my M.B.A. students is, “Look around you because everybody in this room is really starting their careers and, if you fast forward 10 to 20 years, these are the executives that are going to be driving businesses at a regional level or maybe at even a global level.” I think if we could see ourselves like that and see our peer groups like that, especially in the early days—I mean it’s easy now—but that point in our careers, I really think we would have a lot more intentionality around how we treat each other and then, ultimately, stay in contact with each other. Anyway, it’s so fascinating to me seeing they started in one specific spot. I was doing in-mall intercepts; you were managing a phone room. And then, you fast forward your careers a decade or two and Voila. I just got to get right into the book. I’m actually incorporating this book into my… In full disclosure to my audience, he’s not paying me anything for this review, except for the free book, I guess. Anyway, there’s a couple of things that really stood out to me. And I’m going to include in the show notes a specific long-form blog or a link to a long-form blog where I talk about the actual application of the different theories into my own business. So I’m really taking a very, very, VERY tactical approach to the consumption of this particular book. But what I thought was really interesting is that each chapter has a theme, which has this guiding principle and then is supported by case studies, brand hacks, which are like these golden nuggets, and then some specific take-aways.
I struggle a little bit with ADD, not from a diagnosis perspective, but it’s hard for a book to retain my interest all the way through. I’m going to honest with you when I first passed through this book, I would read… I also speed read. So I was plowing through. Fascinating, fascinating, but then the take-away section was really interesting because you could almost process the book, I mean, in minutes by reviewing the take-away section. And then, I would suggest looking at the brand hacks, and then, if you wanted a deeper dive, you could… It was interesting that each chapter was framed in such a way where, depending on the amount of time that you had, you could pull something very, very valuable out of that particular chapter. What was your inspiration, reference point for structuring it like this?
Well, first thank you, Jamin, for your great feedback on the book. Your saying these things mean a lot to me. Too many books are too hard to read and too complicated and, frankly, often too long. The structure of the book is… I wanted the book to be practical. I’ll tell you something that might sound unexpected, if you will. If people want to read the book cover to cover, of course, they’re welcome to do so, but the book is designed so that people don’t have to read it all. That means you can choose to read specific chapters about specific meanings that matter to you personally or to your brand. Or you can choose to read just the consumer psychology parts. So, for each chapter, we start with, “This is why people do what they do.” That’s what comes from consumer psychology. Or you can choose to read just the case studies. In each chapter, you have case studies on “These are the Brands that Do It Right.” Or you can choose to read just the key take-ways. And the key take-ways are “This is what you guys should do if you want to build brands that are meaningful.” Or you can even read just the sound bites. So we have a lot of quotes, a lot of sound bites that are very short, that are outlined in the book and they come from a very, very wide range of marketers all the way from Franz Kafka and Daniel Kahneman, who wrote Thinking, Fast and Slow, and all the way to the Kardashians and Kid Cudi, who is a hip hop artist. In short, this book is designed to be read, but people don’t have to read it all.
You think about the overall attention span. I’ve seen anywhere between 16 and 20 seconds, and you got to earn the right for consumers’ attention. This book does a really good job, to you point of… If you want a bite-size nugget you can jump in and grab it. And, if you’re on a flight like the time I was when I actually read cover to cover, then you have that luxury of processing sub 200 pages. It’s exactly 200 pages. To you point, it’s not really a long read, but the structure of it is what I thought was just… It didn’t need anything else, but I felt like it was literally designed for the practitioner. A CMO could read this book, pull stuff out, and then apply it to their business within minutes or hours. Really interesting. Is there another book that you have seen that is structured in a similar way?
Not really, to be honest with you. What I wanted to do is reconcile academia and the practitioner’s world. There are a lot of academic books that are good, but they’re just not digestible and they don’t feel very actionable. And, on the other hand, you’ll find quite a lot of books for practitioners or books written by advertising professionals, and they might be inspirational and they can be actionable as well. And I don’t want to name names because I do love my fellow writers. But I feel those books tend to be a little bit shallow from a methodological, theoretical, academic standpoint. So here what I wanted to do was something very practical, very accessible to everyone, whether you’re an intern at an ad agency or you’re a CMO at a Fortune 50, but also something very robust with some strong academic thinking embedded in the book.
So, your book covers many, many hacks that brands of all sizes can use to increase their customer engagement. One of my favorites was centered around incorporating the arts into your venue or store. And you actually cited a quote by Daniel Kahneman (and I hope didn’t mispronounce his name too bad.) And the quote goes something like this: “Memories are all we get to keep from the experiences of living”, which is such a profound… Like we could talk about that the whole episode. How have you seen this done well and how can you apply that same principle in a digital context?
I see this done well by the likes of Nike, by the likes of Keelz in cosmetics, or in luxury goods by the likes of Stella McCartney. And I see this done well with using neon, for example. Neon is a very old technology; it’s very basic: it’s gas, glass, and electricity. But neon can be orchestrated in a very artful way. I also see this at retail locations that hire DJs for specific events or showcase a specific photographer as an example. My point here is I think that there is a great opportunity in retail. I very strongly disagree with people who said retail is dead. Retail is alive. What’s dead is your 200,000-square-foot Bloomingdale’s, if you will. What’s alive is the store experience is bringing to people something they could not experience online. And for that, people will be willing to pay premium for. And, back to bringing the arts into the store, that serves the brand as a differentiator; it serves the brand as an experience deliverer to drive traffic. But, importantly, that is also a backdrop for your store because if people like the arts—and when I say the arts, it can be neon; it can be painting; it can be a DJ; it can be dancers; it can be all of the above—people will take pictures and post on Instagram and, of course, you can insert your brand. And that’s how the brand of a store can leverage the arts to become meaningful while increasing its reach online. A good example, Jamin, is Paul Smith, and Paul Smith in Los Angeles has a wall on Melrose Avenue that’s painted in pink. As simple as that sounds, Paul Smith generates hundreds of thousands of digital impressions a week from its physical store thanks its so-called Paul Smith’s Pink Wall. So that’s giving your customers an opportunity to express themselves artistically because people pose in front of the Wall and that’s also a way for you as a retailer to increase your reach because people post these pictures. Now, all of a sudden, you’re no longer just a clothing store because there are hundreds of thousands of those, but you are a destination.
What’s interesting about Paul Smith also is connected to one of the other walls. The Pink Wall, of course, is the L.A. Pride Wall. And you’re seeing that more and more with respect to brands picking a lane and then connecting deeper into culture. But then as a by-product of that, of course, they’re upsetting a different customer. Are you seeing that connection with brands and them being willing to isolate (is maybe not the exact; that feels a little too harsh) but isolate themselves from the anti-point of view?
Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think it depends on the brand. Some brands are somewhat polarizing and that’s OK. And some brands cannot afford really to be polarizing. What I mean by this is, if you take a brand like Nike that tends to be bold in their advertising and that tend to make a statement… And that’s OK with Nike because the brand is polarizing to begin with, and also Nike doesn’t have a large market share—well, does not dominate any of the markets they play in. The point I’m making is people who love Nike, they will still love Nike, and they will very likely buy more from Nike; people who don’t like Nike, they will never buy Nike anyway. So short story: it’s OK for Nike to polarizing and make a statement. It’s easier in a way when you have a 10%, 15%, max 20% market share in any given vertical. If you’re in the shaving category or if you’re toothpaste, that becomes a lot harder because you need to appeal to the widest possible audience. Here there is a risk, of course, to do one of two things: advertising that’s not impactful because if you just say, “Lysol is stronger than Clorox,” that’s just not very meaningful. So, either you do advertising that’s not impactful or you take a risk and you take a stance and, of course, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But we know of disasters. We know of Pepsi, for example, that hired Kendall Jenner to stop a Black-Lives-Matter-type of riot with a can of Pepsi. We all remember how they had to pull the ad within days because it was not credible for Pepsi to say that they can stop a riot, let alone for Kendall Jenner, who is a very talented girl by all means, but Kendall Jenner grew up in Calabazas and that’s minutes from my house. And I can confidently tell you that we’ve never seen a riot in Calabazas.
It’s such a great point. On the counter side and then also done well, done poorly. You see that with Google in some ways as well. One of things that they’ve done or not done–sometimes silence can be as loud as doing something. Around Easter, they don’t have any religious mentions at least that I’ve seen around Easter time relative to what you see on Google’s homepage, whereas every day there’s something that’s pretty unique and relevant and interesting across that particular spot. But, having said that, there’s no risk of them isolating their constituents because you still see those people that are utilizing the brand.
Good point, absolutely.
So, in your book, you state (this is not a quote) it’s not business; it’s personal, which is, obviously, turning on its head, “It’s not personal; it’s business.” The context there is that brands need to not just sell you today; they need to sell you tomorrow. So there’s a predictive element to that kind of customer relationship that they’re connecting with you. Where are you seeing this done well?
I see this done well in DTC (Direct to Consumer) brands. I’m particularly impressed with those players because very often they start way smaller than the large CPG guys, and they don’t have any history, if you will. They’re often startups; then, obviously, they get sold, hopefully at some point. But the reason why I think they do so well is because these brands are good at collecting information, and based on that information at the user level, not in aggregate, to then personalize the message and the relationship. So, not so long ago, I heard of a brand called The Farmer’s Dog as an example, and they sell pet food, again, direct to consumers. Frankly, we have dozens of options to buy pet food these days; you can go to Petco and PetSmart and Costco and Walmart; and you can buy some pet food online and so on and so forth. So why do we need another brand that sells pet food? And I feel the answer is because they get very personal about that relationship between the pet owner and the brand on customizing a meal plan for the dog, on asking how the dog is doing. And I was very impressed even when sadly if your pet passes away, they will send a personal note to you, and they might send you memories of pictures of you with your dog—all those things that make experience so much more personal than going to a big box or grocery store, what have you, to buy a bag of Kibbles.
You think about it used to be the case that brands would sell to a mass market, and it feels like (ah, it doesn’t feel like, it’s… data) now brands really have just one customer, which is the specific human being that they’re selling to at that particular point in time. And data is, of course, the thing that unlocks the access to the consumer so that you can get to know them and interact with them on a daily basis, see their habits, and understand how you can add value as opposed to… You probably remember the days of when we would refer to customers as “Share of Wallet.” How can we pull more and more out of that wallet? McDonald’s has done a great job of seeing the customer as a partner in “How can we partner with you to maximize your value per meal?” which is a very different conversation. And I think it’s just indicative of the overall thing. And, as you’re so correctly identifying, when you think about that category, and I’ve done work for two decades almost, actually over two decades, in the dog food space, which is hilarious and maybe sad. But you’re absolutely right when you articulate a brand promise like you did with The Farmer’s Dog, all of a sudden, for me, it’s this “Ah, hah!” moment of how a brand can extend beyond just that “I sell you something, and you use it,” that sort of commodity and turn it much more into the experience, which, subsequently, I’m more than happy to pay for.
You’re right, and that’s a great example of leveraging data to build a meaningful brand because, while people are obsessed with data science and algorithms and Big Data and all those good things, all what matters is what you do with it. How do you leverage this data to foster a meaningful relationship? And how does that matter to your customer? I think that’s where the value is.
It used to be the case that the new BMW was our status symbol for success and happiness in life, but one of the things you argue—and I’ve heard this argued before, of course—is that experience and influence are… Well, I’ve heard argued before experience is the new status symbol. But you added in influence, which I thought was really interested. So, how are you seeing this play out with the older demographic. Targeting me, I grew up with, “Wow! BMW, that’d be something to attain.” And then are brands having to bifurcate their message in order to sell successfully to Generation Z and to other generations?
Yeah, I think in short, historically people would rely on material goods to advertise their wealth. So, that’s a concept we call conspicuous consumption in academia. That means you would rely on a nice watch, a nice handbag, a nice car to show your friends, family, and next-door neighbor that you did well. Today, there is less emphasis on ownership; more emphasis on the experience. Younger generations—I don’t really like the term Millennials—but let’s say younger generations are really all about the experience and less about owning. However, here’s the great news for brands: People still want to touch those nice watches and handbags and nice cars. It’s just a matter of maybe it doesn’t make sense to own. So maybe they can rent; maybe they can lease. People still love to show how successful they are. They do so online; they do so on social media. And I argue in the book that this traditional concept of conspicuous consumption is now on steroids. What I mean by this is a few years ago, you would buy a nice car, and 20 or 30 people would know about it (your neighbors, your friends, your family). Now, if you drive a nice car, it doesn’t matter if you own the car. If you drive a nice car, hundreds, potentially thousands, potentially dozens of thousands of people will find out because you post about it on Instagram. So, look, I think that’s a great opportunity for brands. The difference is in the business model. It might be about giving people access to your products, enable people to rent your product as opposed to trying to sell it as a stand-alone.
Kind of connected to that, how are you seeing the role of influencer marketing playing out? I think this year, over $2 billion is going to be spent on influencer marketing, which was a category just a few years ago that didn’t even exist. And then, connected to that if you think about market research or user experience or consumer insights, whatever, how is influencer marketing going to impact our industry?
So, the initial promise of influencer marketing is to reduce the social distance between the consumer and the influencer. Let me explain. If George Clooney advertises a product or Victoria Beckham or traditional celebrities, Nicole Kidman, for example, the shortcoming is, as a consumer, you don’t feel like you live like these people. You think they’re far away. In contrast, a social media influencer is like your best friend, is like your neighbor next-door, is someone you can relate to because it is someone who seems to lead a similar lifestyle, a little bit better than yours, so that it can be aspirational but not too distant so that you can still relate. So that’s what made influencer marketing powerful in the first place: It’s your best friend telling you to buy the product. However, as some of those influencers take on more and more brand endorsements, they become disingenuous, and the return they deliver to brands is diminishing simply because they are no longer believable if they sell shoes on Monday, a watch on Tuesday, bleach on Wednesday, and makeup on Thursday. How is this going to evolve? It is going to be a very strong advertising channel; however, I think what’s going to evolve is the mix of influencers, meaning the smaller influencers are probably the ones that are going to do best because they remain true to themselves and relatable for their audience. In market research, it brings up a measurement challenge. How do we capture this? And, as an industry, I don’t think we have a good solution quite yet. We don’t have a good solution to capture the exposure to know who has been exposed to what content and what brand. And we don’t have a good solution yet to dig into the outcome, meaning, “Did this brand endorsement, did this brand placement deliver any brand awareness and recall, and purchase intent and all that? So, for the time being, the metric of choice is going to be lower funnel metrics, unfortunately, meaning give people very good product, get people to go to the website. From a consumer insight standpoint, find awareness always upper funnel metrics. I don’t think we have a good, scalable, cost-efficient solution yet.
It’s also interesting how Toluna… I’ve watched their brand (I try to watch all the brands). But they have a new classification or term for respondent, which is “influencer,” which is actually very empowering on both sides of it. It doesn’t actually carry the same weight as a Gary Vaynerchuk or something, these macros. But at a very, very micro-level, I could see that playing out, but, all of a sudden, puts on almost a different psychological hat for the respondent. I feel a lot less commoditized as a respondent and a lot more empowered as a respondent. Obviously, similarly, even though it’s branding-centric, it creates this big point of differentiation. It actually reminds me of the original e-Rewards, later ResearchNow. Its whole value prop was around high quality, not suggesting that Dynata has moved from that, but that was the teeth behind the machine. So, are you seeing it overused (and I don’t mean that in any disrespect to anybody who’s using it like Toluna) and maybe even expanded beyond the context of how it’s originated? So, specifically what I’m asking is… So, originally influencer marketing or influencers for me were these people that had hundreds of millions or even hundreds of thousands of followers, and I actually cared a lot about them. And now, we’re seeing the role of micro-influencer becoming more and more important even to the point of Toluna casting their respondent pool as influencers. Are you seeing this almost like the evolution of the term materially changing?
Indeed. I think the term is a bit of a buzz word, ill-defined in two ways: one important metric is the size of the following, but really that’s just one metric. What is most important, in my opinion, is the level of engagement and then also the level of specialization because you can be an influencer in fly fishing and in knitting, and that’s very strong for brands that try to penetrate these markets. You don’t have to do anything mass market. You don’t necessarily have to do fashion and makeup and lifestyle. So, the terminology around influencer is evolving, and what is also misleading, I think, for brands and that’s where they need guidance is some people define themselves as influencers and some people are influencers, meaning they have a lot of knowledge; they have a lot of expertise in an area and, therefore, they built a following. So my point is we have different levels of expertise and, frankly, different levels of credibility within the influencer community. The most genuine influencers are the ones that started because they were expert in something and, again, it doesn’t matter if that’s fashion, makeup, fly fishing, or knitting and, based on this expertise, built a following. In contrast ways, some people that seek fame and money that tend to first say, “OK, I’m an influencer,” and next thing, “OK, what am I going to talk about?” And that model in disingenuous and is not as desirable for brands in my opinion. So, brands need a lot of guidance in picking the influencers, again, not some much in terms of the size of the following because that’s just the size of a panel; it doesn’t mean that much. What matters is the engagement; what matter is the quality of the connection between the influencer and his or her audience more so than hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.
You’ve clearly identified some white space. I had actually never heard that cast exactly like that in market research. Are you seeing some specific firms, Kantar included, that are preparing to go to market with some level of expertise and helping inform brands as to…? What’s interesting about the influencer marketplace is it’s the wild, wild West still. There is no set understanding of what terms of trade look like. Are you helping or is there a company that’s starting to bring to market those types of services?
Kantar is here to measure and to provide clients with guidance. As it pertains to influencers, you have plenty of other firms that would hire the influencers and pick the influencers for you. So, let me clarify. The job, the role of Kantar is to help predict, measure, optimize advertising effectiveness and, indeed, is to help brands understand what marketing channels, what market strategy, what tactics are the most beneficial to their brands and, ultimately, to their sales. However, what Kantar doesn’t do and probably should not is help you pick the influencers themselves because that’s more of the job of an agent, if you will. Agencies, like Studio 71, and even the large talent agencies, are jumping on this band wagon. Think of CAA, for example. That’s the work they do: that is to match the influencer they think is right for your brand and negotiate those contracts because it gets very dicey. Obviously, it’s usually like hiring artists, but the difference is you have to do with that scale. If a brand wants to hire Justin Timberlake or Taylor Swift, well, that’s a big chuck of money for sure. But if anything, that’s one or two conversations. If a brand wants to hire a bunch of influencers, now, all of a sudden, it can become 12, 20, 50 conversations, and that’s a full-time job.
Fast forward in the book, you have this discussion around “The Sacred, the Secular, and the New Preachers,” which, I don’t know if you know or not, but my undergrad was in theology and philosophy. This was, actually, for me the most interesting thing I have read in I can’t even remember when. You’ve got this great quote, “Google is not a search engine. Google is an atheistic god where do we pray, where do we send information, hope there is divine intervention and get a better answer back. Our new answer is the new god, Google.” First of all, crazy connection that you made and I completely see how it’s entirely true. You think about how much information I put into Google. Some of it I’d be very embarrassed if people found out about it. So in a lot of ways, in every way probably, Google knows me about better than almost everybody else, maybe even everybody else. And you’re right, there’s this connection of “I need information or an answer,” in the way that, perhaps, I would have gone before to something like—I mean me metaphorically—one would go to prayer or what have you. Now, all of a sudden, there’s this inkling of “Boom! Just go Google.” I actually wrote a blog post years ago on how Google’s displaced dads. I used to go to my dad on how I change a tire, and now I go to Google. But you’re right. How did you wind up making those connections, putting those pieces together?
Well, that ties back to how I wrote the book. I think it’s by looking around me, again being curious (So we’re going back to your very first question.) and finding a pattern around me that maybe other people don’t see. It has to do with what I read and people I listen to, but it also has to do a lot with simply walking down the street, taking pictures, and again finding that pattern, and then looking at statistics. So, church attendance in the U.S. is sharply declining. Besides a few mega churches, most churches are losing members, double digits. Why is this? Through research, that’s how I found out that people still believe in a higher power; however, brands are taking on the role of the church. So, Google is one starting point in the book, but there are many other metaphors and one being the Apple store, for example. And the Apple store is really a metaphor for cathedral in my opinion. And what I mean by this is… So, last week I was in London, for example, and there is an Apple store on Regent Street. And clearly, I looked at all the other stores in that street, and the Apple store has the biggest doors, has the tallest doors of the entire street. Why? Because it gives you the impression when you walk in that you’re walking into something that’s larger than yourself. Those large doors don’t serve any functional purpose; in fact, they’re a nightmare from an AC or heating standpoint. In short, the Apple stores are a metaphor for a cathedral.
A group workout now. Think of SoulCycle. SoulCycle is a metaphor for a cult-like experience. And that’s not even my read. That is SoulCycle’s saying so. When they wanted to take the company public, when they filed their S1 with the SEC, it clearly states in the S1 filing that SoulCycle is much more than a workout. It is a cultish, a cult-like experience where members gather around a priest, meaning an instructor. Or should I say around an instructor that endorses the role of a priest. So, that’s how this chapter came together, starting from the fact that people don’t go to church as much and noticing around me that brands take on the role of religions.
You have this one section, which I highlighted. And the insight inside of this last chapter: “We want to belong.” And the part that really stuck out to me is you say, “Experiences shared with others are some of the most anticipated, enjoyable, and memorable. The emotions that transpire from these experiences provide the foundation for a community. As individuals and consumers, we become members of tribes that are defined by our hobbies, passions, and shared emotions rather than demographics such as age, gender, and income.” And so, when you pull that out, it just turns on its head even the demographic section of a survey, which—I don’t know percentage-wise, but I’ll make it up anyway—could be 15% of the questions that are asked.
Yes, and, Jamin, I think demographics are shallow, and they’re an old-fashioned way to do research and to target people in general. And here’s what I mean: Yeah, it’s fine to collect demographics. It’s still important, but, unless you sell housing or cars, I would argue that most demographics don’t matter that much. My point is to say if you want to go to Joe & the Juice or to BlueBottle coffee where coffee is very expensive. At these places, you’re looking at $5, $6, $7 a cup. If you want to be part of the tribe, if you want to be part of the experience, if you want to be that artsy, cool freelancer who drinks coffee at Joe & the Juice, you’d be willing to pay $6 for that. It doesn’t have much to do with functional benefit of the coffee, meaning how good the coffee tastes. And in my opinion, it has nothing to do with your income; it has very little to do with your educational background and any other demographic we could look at. I don’t care if you earn $12,000 a year as a part-time store associate or if you earn $1.2 million a year as a CEO of a public company. If you want to be part of the tribe, if you want to be part of that crowd of people like you that drink coffee at Joe & the Juice, you’re going to find the $7 to buy that cup of coffee.
Actually, one of my best friends, he and his wife own a local shoe store here in Fresno called FleetFeet, which is a larger brand, but they own the local version of it. They were a big deal, relatively speaking, for a single-location, local retailer. And then, over the 20 years that they have owned and operated the business… Of course, big boxes played a big part in that and ate up a lot of share. They sucked it up through that, and then started focusing more and more on healthy community. Now they’re growing at an astronomical rate. It’s actually really interesting; it’s almost hilarious the percentage growth they have on a month-over-month basis. And it’s because they’ve pivoted the business over the last three years on creating these experiences for their constituents as opposed to selling shoes. They make their money selling shoes, but everything that they do… You wouldn’t know that. Nobody goes there to “buy shoes.”
You got it right there. I think that’s it right there. And it’s the same thing for restaurants, beverages, coffee. The point is not to sell shoes, clothes, or coffee. Not to mention that when it comes down to the product itself, you almost never can compete with Amazon on price, on inventory. My point is that, if you want to buy shoes… And my guess is that your friend in Fresno, let’s say that they have 200, 300 different shoes max, if that, in their store. My guess is Amazon has dozens of thousands. So you don’t go to the store to buy shoes, and you certainly don’t go to the store because it’s going to be cheaper than Amazon because it will not be. You go there for the experience.
And many times, we will buy shoes… I’ve seen my peers buy shoes from them. They’re, obviously, cheaper online, but might not have been the exact pattern or what have you. In other words, I could have bought all of that online and had a better “shoe” or more fulfilling shoe, but it just isn’t about that at all.
Precisely, now you’re right.
We’re really late on time. This episode has gone super long. I could talk to you forever about the content in here, it feels like, and I hope to later maybe over some wine. But I’d like to end on this question: What is your motto?
Oh, wow, that’s really a great question. We’re coming full circle because it comes back to my parents. It comes back to how I started my career and how I built my career. My motto is—well, I’m going to give it away, but it’s at the end of the book—is to say we’re on the quest for meaning. We all are: I am; you are; and our listeners. We all are on a quest for meaning. And there is no end to this project. This is not an end project. It’s an ongoing discovery of the world around us. So, it’s not about achieving a hypothetical end goal. It’s really about the quest itself. And back to social media, my motto is to say, “Don’t just follow. Explore.” Don’t just follow people on social media or leaders but explore. Explore for yourself, and explore with these people that you admire.
My guest today has been Emmanuel Probst, author, UCLA Professor and Senior Vice President of Brand Health Tracking at Ipsos. Thank you very much, Emmanuel, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Thank you so much, Jamin, for having me. That was terrific. Thank you again.
Everyone else, if you’d please take the time, if you found any value in this episode: screen capture this, share it on social media. Ideally, you could link to Emmanuel and myself, both of which are on Linkedin and Twitter. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time. Have a wonderful rest of your day.
This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research. It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team. Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research. The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace. So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx. If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com Have a great rest of your day.