Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 121 – Clint Taylor, SVP & Strategic Technologist at Sentient Decision Science

Today, my guest is Clint Taylor, Senior VP & Strategic Technologist at Sentient Decision Science as well as the inventor of Sentient Prime. Sentient Decision Science specializes in behavioral data. Sentient embeds implicit experiments in surveys to reveal the subconscious associations with brands. Prior to Sentient Decision Science, Clint has founded a company and has worked in research and technology.



Twitter: @ClintTaylor

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/theclint/



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


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Today my guest is Clint Taylor, senior VP and strategic technologist at Sentient Decision Science. He’s also the inventor of Sentient Prime. Sentient Decision Science specializes in behavioral data. Sentient embeds implicit experiments and surveys to reveal the subconscious associations with brands. Prior to Sentient, Clint founded a company and has worked in research and technology for over a decade. Clint, thanks very much for being on the podcast.


Oh, thanks, Jamin. It’s awesome to be here. Really happy to be talking with you.


It’s neat. I was going through your bio. 2001 I think is when you started, about when you started your career, at least documenting it. What did your parents do and how did that affect your career?


You know how much I love this topic right here? I mean I think it’s so underrated, how someone’s roots really form a career path. I gotta say that first of all, but it’s super important. My mom, she was a hairdresser by trade. Also broke her back to take care of us kids, my sister and I. She’s, I mean she’s super empathic and she’s absolutely my hero, my mom. My dad, he is, he’s a brilliant hands-on engineer. He worked for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He worked all over the country, all over the world. And he can’t even tell me what he does. It’s really funny. It’s like he said he works on, he worked on nuclear power submarines. That’s all he can tell me. So that’s the fun about the degree to which he was working on those. I guess he can tell me but they’d have to kill me after that. So, well, we have a really independent family, and so it’s like I have the empathic side of me and the engineering side of me. And being from an independent family, it really drove me to seek validation, seek approval in everything that I did, whether it was sports, and career wise and school wise. And so it really helped my career just by always pushing myself. I would work overnights while I was in college and shortly thereafter. My friends always made me fun at me because I would come in at three a.m. and I’d leave at six a.m. to go back to work. So it always drove me, just that independent spirit, and then having the love of the family, the empathic side and the engineering side that gave me just sort of the ability, the confidence to be able to do all the public work that I did.


I mean diving in a little bit here. Do you think the love from one parent and then the overachieving side, I mean your dad who’s working in nuclear submarines is kind of a big deal. That had a lot to do with you mentioned empathy being a key part and it moving you into market research. Did that have a lot to do with your research and your drive?


It totally did. I mean even before I got into market research or anything that was remotely psychology based, I was reading about psychology. I’m reading about child psychology, really trying to be introspective, learning how I operate, learning, self-discovery, self-development. And so I’ve always had a recreational interest in it, and so just that nature versus nurture, having that natural instinct to be interested in why things happen, why I do the things I do, why I think the things that I think. And combined with the engineering side of that, oh, that nature with my father, really gave me, I think, just a natural, and which I’m grateful for, a natural competency not just be interested in how people think and how they people behave, but also the engineering kind of infrastructure if you will to be able to break it down into data and understand it quantitatively totally.


That’s, it’s fascinating to me how as you reflect back right af-and for me two decades now, in over two decades in the workforce, and it’s just, it’s amazing that those little tiny, what I thought were insignificant bricks of my parents, that is empathy from my mom and maybe of this work ethic type on my father’s side, patriarchal structure, that really kind of drove me to success but then also gave me the tools to relate and connect at an important level and then putting those things together on market research is really the perfect cauldron to cook those things up and develop a career.


It really is. And I’d say perhaps if I had sought out maybe some more mentoring when I was in high school, in college, and shortly thereafter, people who knew broadly what industries were focused on the things that I were both interested in and did well, I probably would have entered market research as some kind of like a behavioral research often see a lot earlier. But you learn so many things from other neurologically based industries that you can bring into market research, sort of fresh perspectives, a different way of looking at things that I think has really benefited both Sentient Decision Science, the creation of Sentient Prime, and I’m hoping the industry at large just by virtue of introducing this platform focused on non-conscious research at a time when it was, we were just barely scratching the surface. It was barely becoming into the early adopter phase. So I think a virtue of not being in the industry of the last six or seven years it has brought some fresh perspectives that have helped advance both us as a company and us as an industry.


And I love that. I think you’re right. Differing perspectives and provide differing context, which then we can get, if applied, we can get a more complete view of the customers’ perspective. It’s, and also I think market gaps, right? That whenever I meet with other people, especially outside of the industry, I can start seeing, oh, wow, market research could really service this particular need that they have and inform them in a way that they’re just not thinking about. And what I think is interesting and actually really, really exciting is how market research is moving more and more towards the front. I’d say more towards the boardroom than ever before. When I started my career 20 years ago in this space, market research is more this secondary thing, but now we’re really, or actually, I didn’t even know what market research was. I understood what marketing was, but I didn’t know market research was a whole thing, so a whole industry, whatever it is, $50, $60 billion. But it’s really neat to see how we’re moving into the front lines of decision making, and I would even say, going so far as to say that we in many ways are the rudder of the ship that is the business and how those decisions are making. But talk to us a little bit about Sentient Decision Science. I’m not sure our listenership has a thorough understanding.


Sure. I mean you gave a pretty great overview to start the conversation. We’re, we have, we’re sort of a couple headed monster over there. We are a full-service market research agency that really focuses on integrating the non-conscious drivers of human behavior into the consumer decision-making process. We’ve always done that, but over the course of the past five years in change since I came on board there, we’ve created Sentient Prime, which is do it yourself, software as a service platform that in automated fashion, all e-commerce based and everything, you can essentially collect non-conscious data using the scientific methodology that we have employed for years in our own full service offering. So that’s broadly what we do. We’re really focused on using technologies that amplify the data collection, the non-conscious data collection, and also using it to integrate with conscious-stated measures in order to provide a more complete picture as science, multi-picture rather of the human decision-making process, as science pulls back the curtain on all that goes into a human making a decision. And as it does that, we’re finding that there are just more validated ways to be able to assess those non-conscious drivers, and also understand the degree to which those non-conscious drivers play into human and of course consumer decision making. We really make our focus there both on the services side as well as on the do-it-yourself software as a service side.


How does it actually work? And I don’t mean post-data collection, but do you integrate directly into a survey? Or what structurally is-how is the data gathered?


Sure. I mean to do, to explain that, we’d have to go back into the science. So in the ’90s, Harvard University developed the IAT, the Implicit Association Test. And they actually developed it in order to assess racial bias. So what they found was that people making decisions arbitrarily were able to do it with a certain speed and a certain accuracy. But what we found, what they found was that showing pictures of Hispanic people, elderly people, obese people, when people were primed with pictures of these people, it affected their behavior when making very simple decisions after. So what we’ve done essentially, and the explanation of that is a lot larger, but we’ve effectively done with that is applied that same process to quantify how being exposed to brands and products influences people’s ability to associate with emotions and attributes of interest to those brands and products. And so we leverage essentially the same scientific technique that was evidenced as far back as the 1990s and employed it in a way that we’re able to identify the association between consumers and brands and any emotion or attribute that is of interest to that brand or a product of that brand. And so what we’ve found in that in creating Sentient Prime, once I worked with Doctor Aaron Reed, our CEO to absorb the science behind the scenes, the way that technology was going, I looked at it and I said, “You know what? I think we can actually do this. And I think we can actually do this in a way that we can do it on any desktop, laptop, tablet, or a smart phone in the world. I think we can get away with this.” And so by doing that, what Sentient Prime is is we execute this evaluative priming method that was used by Harvard and the IAT, we execute that psychologically. And the way that we plug it in is it’s simply, it’s a Web app. It’s a link. And so really, the ability to integrate that product with anything, since we’re talking about primarily non-conscious drivers of behavior being a part of overall behavior, we knew that integration was just priority number one. And so what we’ve done is make sure that we can integrate with any platform, whether it’s a mobile app, software, or Web-based platform. Like Decipher, which by the way was just classic. I love that platform because for me it really validated what a platform that is built for integration should be. It was fantastic. Well, we’ve built ours much the same way, where we’ll able to integrate it using a simple Web link, and we’re relying on those other encompassing platforms to be able to redirect to us and then we redirect back. So hopefully that answers, that gives a little bit, sheds a little light on exactly how it works and how we integrate.


So I’m gonna just be completely transparent with you. I am not the smartest guy in the room. The, for clarity, so is it the case then that you integrate directly into the survey itself? So let’s say that we conduct a survey, whether it was on SurveyMonkey, Decipher, Qualtrix, whatever. And then there’s an opportunity in essence to intercept that respondent while they’re taking the survey?


That’s exactly right. And the same thing is being done with other platforms, such as eye-tracking platforms, facial analysis platforms.


There’s a lot of science. It’s funny. I was just reading a study on-and of course I can’t remember the name of it because it was last week, which seems like two years ago, on a, the impact that temperature can have on opinions. And so the way that they did the study, there was a college student. He would ask a random stranger if they would hold his cup of coffee while he did something for, and it was about a 30 minute, or sorry, a 30-second exchange. During that 30 seconds, the coffee was either hot or cold, and they found, and then about five minutes later, another researcher would approach that same respondent and ask them if they would for five dollars be willing to give an opinion on which picture they liked. And it was the same picture for every one of the respondents. Overwhelmingly, the data suggested that among the people that had a hot cup of coffee, that they were warm, that they received it more warmly and coldly conversely. So, and a really interesting sort of connection between that experience of, in this case holding a cup of coffee and then their view on whatever the product or item was that they were exposed to.


Absolutely. The, and what we’re talking about with that evaluative priming method that we use where we show an image of a brand or a product. We can accompany that with a sound, like a tagline, but it really speaks to any of the senses that impact your behavior. And so what we’ve done is we’ve actually employed Sentient Prime in a lab environment where we had people who were testing perfumes and soaps. And just having say a perfume or a soap in one hand and then swiping on Sentient Prime in the other, we were able to identify changes in the degrees of association between that, those scents and the qualities that the brand wanted to evoke by those scents and do it in a quantitative fashion. So it’s not just visual stimuli. It goes to olfactory and touch and so on.


It’s really interesting that the application of this, how it informs like a basic sale, always block and tackle. That you walk inside of a mall. There’s always people that want to spray you with perfume or whatever. So if they can somehow gauge that particular-I’m gonna use the hot cup, cold cup concept and then your willingness to then whether to be sprayed or actually purchase the specific product. So there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to help control that user journey or the customer journey up to the point of purchase.


That’s exactly right.


You started Sentient Prime. When did you originally come up with the concept? Was it after you had started with Sentient Decision Science?


No, actually. The concept was originated by Aaron Reed, and I had worked with Aaron before my tenure at Sentient on a project where he was a client of mine at a previous company. And I just really admired the work that they did, and I think there was a mutual admiration and respect. He came in and did some work and had to absorb a really large amount of data and a large amount of their workflow and process and knocked out some dashboards for them. But Aaron brought me in and he says, “I want to be the global leader in implicit research technology.” So what it really comes down to Aaron’s scientific expertise on what goes into human behavior and especially the non-conscious drivers of behavior that he studied academically. And he’d always-Sentient has always included that as a part of their discipline. It was really only in the past few years where we looked at it, and we said, this is data collection, and you have two parts of this. You have the data collection, non-conscious data collection. That’s the science. That’s really the science amplified by technology. But when you talk about generating insights for a customer, taking that data and being able to explain and tell the story that the end clients want. That’s just as much of an art form as it is the science of the data collection. So we’re thinking it’s only a matter of time before others, before science pulls back the curtain on decision making, identifies a degree to which non-conscious is a part of that, and others create platforms to collect this non-conscious data. Why don’t we do it? Why don’t we create this platform? Because the art of being able to take this data, ingest it, and be able to fulfill the end client’s needs is an art all in itself. And so doing that, we found no issue with, say, releasing Sentient Prime and having to worry about it sort of cannibalizing any of our existing services. And it was really kind of a watershed moment for us when we made that distinction.


Amazon is, as you know, dominant in the marketplace from a growth and a market share perspective and only increasing. They’re winning because of the behavioral science side of things as well as stated, but I really believe the behavioral side is absolutely what’s giving them an edge. I’ve had conversations with people across the board, large, the largest CPGs. All of them are saying that market research is right now not doing a good enough job of keeping up with the market advantage that Amazon has just given their view, their opportunity for view of the consumer level. It sounds like what this does is give CPGs and everyone really an opportunity to, again, be competitive, because it isn’t just connecting. It’s really transcending beyond, above that behavioral and stated data collection.


Yeah. Absolutely. You can get non-conscious data by, we’ve already talked about eye tracking and facial analysis. You have biometric response. You have, basically you have a lot of controlled lab settings and ways to be able to collect this data. Our goal was to make this scalable and accessible. Really providing access to the consumer non-conscious or subconscious, depending on how you like to term it. Providing that access in a scalable way that can generate these quantified associations that can give CPGs an advantage because you’re correct. I mean when you’re Amazon and you’re absorbing that much data, the talk now is less about big data and more about smart data. Of course the more data you have to work with, the more likely you are to make that really impactful and smart data. So what we’ve done is provide the scalable way to get the same type of insights that Amazon does by sheer brute force with the amount of data that they have.


We had a conversation with Edwin Wong, head of insights for Buzzfeed, and he had this great quote from their CEO and founder. “We’re data full, not data rich.” You’re exactly right, and I hear this all the time when I talk to brands. They have so much data that the problem is less about that part and more about getting to your earlier, how you inform really the science of the story. So getting that methodology in a way methodologically where you are able to systematically report the data in a way that connects at a human level to the organization that then will ultimately drive the right types of change. So we have kicked that horse. Love the points. Congratulations on finding an interesting product market fit. Part of our listenership is fairly early in their careers, whether they’re from Georgia or Michigan or maybe even outside of the universities and just looking to penetrate into the market research space. If you were going to get a job in marketing research or wanted to get a job in marketing research today, what steps would you take?


That’s a great topic. Admittedly, I have more of a technological spin and technological history to this, but I mean market research has focused so much, has come to focus so much on technology and automation that it is just a valuable and profitable haven for technologists as it is for classically trained researchers and analysts. And so from a technology perspective, I would suggest that anyone getting, wanting to get into the industry would take a look at the top technologies and innovators. I mean I think the best, one of the best resources out there, take a look at the GRIT 50. Look at GreenBook. Look at the GRIT report. Take a look at the GRIT 50, 50 of the most innovative research providers out there, and look at where they’re focused. Look at what they’re doing. You’re going to find some of the most cutting-edge researchers out there, the most cutting-edge technological platforms out there as part of that. And that is really gonna help you hone in your skills in those first few years of employment, and even in your classwork of where you want to be focusing, whether it’s data science, whether a specific let’s say Amazon services that perform AI or perform facial recognition, whether it’s working with R, the language R, capital R and sifting and analyzing data. I would really work on identifying the commonalities between what these top innovators create, and what you’ve either done in your early career or what you’ve done for academically. And then identify the gaps you need to fill, whether it’s, like I said, a data science class or some kind of a seminar or a course. School up on the science and the business of market research itself, the workflow. Really tech wise, take a look at maybe some GitHub code that performs some of the analyses that we do in the industry. And this, in this country, you almost can’t go wrong by ramping up on any machine learning and AI techniques, as long as it’s based on good data, which goes back to our previous point about full data versus rich data. So any of that, but it really starts with identifying who are the innovators, creating things that are gonna have staying power in the industry.


What are the three characteristics of an all-star employee?


These, I would say constructive self-doubt is one. I mean you don’t want to be a pessimist going around everything you do, but always questioning the things that have been handed to you, the decisions you’re making as, is this the absolute best I can do, and doing it in a constructive way and not getting into analysis paralysis as they say. But perspective self-doubt is something that I always use, and I always make sure that whatever I’m putting out there is the absolute best possible. And also the way I’m communicating is the best way I can be doing so is possible. Being able to switch between convergent and divergent thinking for me is really huge. Be able to hone in at a micro level on tasks but also be able to quickly back out and see if the way that you’ve done that overall task is best for the ecosystem that you’re in, whether it’s your department, your company, or the industry at large, to fill the gaps between, for me, specifically technology that is created and the business that drives the technology that needs to be created. If you’re reading books on consumer behavior, on leadership, even on technology leadership, if you’re reading common, if you’re reading any kind of light psychology to just understand principles, that constant learning is, I find is just a staple for all of the best people I’ve ever worked with.  


Managing that tension between doing versus perfection is absolutely an art form. I was just meeting with our staff this morning here at Happy Market Research on this exact subject. And our general rule of thumb is anything outbound has to be perfect, but at the same time, we’ve gotta get stuff done because that’s what moves the needle for us economically. It forces jobs. The other thing I really liked is this continual learning. That has got to be a core tenet of everybody’s, on a go-forward basis, especially in context of this gig economy that’s expanding. You can’t be expect, you can’t expect an employer to be able to teach you everything about your craft. And in fact, I would suggest that you have to love your craft to the point where you’re educating yourself outside of business hours, because probably where you’re working right now or where you aspire to work is gonna be different in 10 years. And in fact, it could be three or four locations. And so ultimately you’re really robbing yourself by not making those investments. And that middle thing that you had mentioned, the ability to operate at a macro and then a micro is critical. So you’ve gotta be able to roll up your sleeves, get the small tasks done, and you’ve also got to be able to pull back and recognize how that work is impacting both the upstream and downstream of the deliverables.


Absolutely, and then it really works hand in hand with that constructive self-doubt where it’s like OK. I think the worst thing you can do in a lot of those cases is do a case where you have confirmation bias on what you’ve created and set out. I am proud of this. I’m happy with this. And so to go in there and say, “Now step back. Is this the absolute best way I can do it?” And not think that just because you created something that is necessarily beautiful. You’ve gotta have that humility to go in and say, “You know what? This might not be my best work. Let me go back and see what I can do to change it.”




And if I can make a point regarding that learning, I have read books on political philosophy in the past. I’ve read books on that kind of philosophy that have helped me, just because I wanted to but that have drawn commonalities between the way that, for instance, the United States was formed, or the French Revolution. I’ve drawn commonalities between some of the principles there and the way that our organization is run and been able to bring those principles back. So it doesn’t even need to be these hardcore textbooks, but anything that helps you understand the world in general and societies in general or psychology in general, if you’re able to keep an open mind, that is super effective learning. And it’s learning in a way that someone coming right out of school is probably not gonna have because they’re gonna be focused on just the tactics. But if you can take a step back and read things that are pretty rich, you’re gonna find some ways that it’s going to make you that all-star employee and really show your value in your organization.


Hundred percent. I love this subject by the way. It’s probably my favorite ones about areas for people to be able to identify all-star employees inside of organizations. I just, I find that there’s so much value that can be, that I get out of it personally, honestly, which is funny in my mid-40s. But, so thanks for sharing. I completely agree. I can read something about, I can read this, a book on principles, which has direct impact on any business. But you’re able to apply what you learn in that book or even different fantasy series as far as that is. It’s crazy. I just recently picked up Dungeons and Dragons. My, I have some teenage boys and they’re interested in playing it, so we’re trying to learn the rule set. For me it’s I’m dusting off the books because I played in the ’80s. But I’m literally reading this series, or it’s three books: the Monster’s Guide, Dungeon Master, and Player’s Handbook. And in the Dungeon Master, it actually goes through a how to build a story, and the application for market research is so freaking relevant. We, I could literally take that excerpt and apply it to market research data, and I guarantee you, you would see a lift in the reception of how the organization receives that and acts on that data. It’s hilarious.


It really is, and it’s funny because I think that with anything that is, that can have whether tight or loose correlations to market research and what you do in market research, I think in order to be able to make those connections, you have to, you’re kind of subject to something that is beyond your control, which is you need to have passion for what you do. If you don’t have that innate passion for what you do-and like what I do with Sentient, I’ve done with Sentient Prime and other technologies that I’m interested in-if I didn’t have that passion, then non-consciously or subconsciously I would not be naturally making those correlations between things that I’m consciously reading and that the other loosely or tightly connected world that is my job. And so you need that for, it’s not just something that happens.


What is the, what is one of the secrets that drives the growth profitability or success of your company?


It’s funny. I just talked about this at our semi-annual meeting with the company. And it’s something that I’ve been doing for my entire career, but I just, I was reading, again, reading a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who’s like an empirical skeptic. I’ve read three of his books. He’s fantastic. But he called it the Barbell Approach, which is you think, you picture a barbell where you have a weight on one side and a weight on the other. So again, the weight on one side represents the past. So what I do for me is I focus on two things. I focus on preventing catastrophic events that absolutely bring us down and really, really focusing on that. Whether it’s our data being corrupted, a hacking attack, a client who creates a study at a point where the platform’s in its infancy, and we haven’t established a brand yet. And it creates something that is, and they do, let’s say they do a poor job at creating it. And they call us out and say, “Hey, this platform sucks.” But we have to educate them on the way that it’s used. That’s a killer for us. So really preventing those catastrophes that bring you down on the one side. On the other side of the barbell are those opportunities that can absolutely make you and be your swan song. Building and architecture that is open has so many doors open to those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like a client wants to come with you and they want to essentially up your-they want to up your production by 10,000 percent. Like a Facebook or a Google comes along to say, “We have this   opportunity, multi-million dollar opportunity, and, but we need to increase your productivity on this platform.” Making sure you have the doors open both in the code, in the architecture, and in your work flow processes to be amenable to those opportunities, absolutely huge. The things in the middle, again, you picture that barbell smaller as smaller the middle. Things in the middle, you do pay attention to, but you know that it’s not gonna make or break you if you those things sit on the shelf for a little bit. Things like routine enhancements to the platform, some fixes that are just inconveniences to people where of course you don’t want to have them. But in a world where money and resources are not unlimited, you need to focus on the things that protect against catastrophe or will in one opportunity just make you for life.


There was a lot there. I’m gonna talk briefly about this barbell metaphor. I would wrap that up in intentionality. When you think about any vacation, that the memory is always centric to the things that happen that were really bad or really good. And so all the other stuff where we spent 99% of our time, and the customer experience is exactly like that. And so it’s all about driving an intentional, driving your company in an intentional way, driving those consumer experiences in an intentional way, and driving those key partnerships, as you said, at a macro level. Whether you’re dealing with servicing a company like Google, you need to be very intentional so that you’re set up to succeed as the opportunities present themselves. Because those are the things that people remember, and those are the things that people take with them to the Yelp reviews or to their word of mouth among their family and friends.


Exactly right, totally.


So what is Sentient Prime offering right now that can add value to Insights Nation?


The entire industry is really focused, like I said, on non-conscious research, which is a great thing. And we’d like to think that we help raise that awareness of exactly what it is. Really what, how we can, how we differ from other non-conscious platforms, if I had to point out one thing, is that we can test every non-conscious, subconscious association that can’t be tested with other scalable techniques, such as iTracking and facial analysis in a scalable way too. I mean facial analysis, you can, they’re a great platform, and they provide data that our implicit method just does not provide. But when you’re looking at, say, facial analysis, you’re talking about maybe 15 to 17 different emotions that you can infer from the way that the face moves and the micro expressions. What were able to do as a platform is target any association, whether it’s sexy or a high quality or high tech or soft, we’re able to quantify the association that consumers have with any of those above and beyond the other techniques out there that are scalable.


My guest today has been Clint Taylor, senior VP and strategic technologist at Sentient Decision. Clint, thank you very, very much for being on the podcast today.


Thanks so much, Jamin. It’s great to be here.


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