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

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

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

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Website: Chilmark Digital


[00:00]

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

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

[00:56]

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

[01:17]

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

[01:22]

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

[01:27]

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

[02:36]

So, what area did you grow up in?

[02:37]

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

[03:21]

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

[04:28]

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

[04:35]

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

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

[06:46]

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

[07:59]

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

[08:45]

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

[09:40]

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

[09:47]

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

[11:52]

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

[13:41]

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

[14:51]

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

[15:16]

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

[15:20]

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

[15:24]

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

[17:25]

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

[18:05]

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

[18:59]

What is your biggest market research challenge?

[19:01]

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

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

[22:28]

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

[23:06]

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

[24:29]

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

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

[25:31]

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

[26:31]

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

[26:35]

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

[28:49]

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

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

[31:45]

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

[32:26]

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

[32:29]

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

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

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

[35:35]

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

[36:18]

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

[37:41]

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

[38:03]

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

[39:11]

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

[39:17]

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

[39:22]

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

[39:44]

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

[40:22]

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

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

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

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

[45:20]

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

[45:36]

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

[47:08]

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

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

[48:09]

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

[52:08]

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

[52:11]

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

[52:36]

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

[52:39]

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

[52:46]

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