My guest today is Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research. M/A/R/C was founded in 1965 and was recently purchased from Omnicom by the company’s CEO, Merrill Dubrow. Prior to joining M/A/R/C in 2004, Merrill held senior roles at Harris Interactive, BizRate and Quick Test.

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[00:00]  

On Episode 209 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m chatting of Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, but first a word from our sponsor.

[00:10]  

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.

[00:33]  

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil.  You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research.  M/A/R/C was founded in 1965, later purchased by Omnicom, and recently purchased by the company’s CEO, Merrill Dubrow.  Prior to joining M/A/R/C in 2004, Merrill held senior roles at Harrison Interactive, BizRate, and Quick Test. Merrill was an OG on my podcast Episode 105.  Sir, thank you very much for being on the podcast with me today.

[01:04]  

Thanks, Jamin.  It’s a pleasure to be here. 

[01:07]  

So, what did your parents do?  And how has that informed your current career?

[01:11]

You know that’s an interesting question for me for a couple of reasons.  Number 1 – My dad, I think, was much easier to see in how he kind of molded my career.  He was a business guy; he ended up to be a CFO for a company called Miniplex. He was very hardworking.  He made the most of his skill set. He was an overachiever. You know, frankly, I wanted to be him. Later in life, that was too lofty a goal, so I just actually wanted to half of the person he was.  He was clearly my hero and taught me so much. I think the biggest takeaway was really making the most of your skill set.

With my mom, Jamin, it was just a little bit different; it was a little bit harder to see; it was a little bit harder to understand the impact of what she had on what she had on my career and how she really brought me up.  You know she was very organized. My mom was extremely outgoing. My dad is the exact opposite; he is an introvert. She was very detail-oriented, and she was in charge of dressing my two sisters and myself in terms of picking out clothes.  I can still remember going and getting my first suit, probably crying and yelling and screaming every step of the way, went to a store called Milton’s in Newton, Massachusetts. But she was very instrumental on my career because I just didn’t see it right away, right?  So, being organized and having great time management skills and being really detail-minded. And actually, one of the things she taught me was notice everything. So I tend to notice everything there is out there. I may not comment on it. So it just really differences between my parents.  You know my dad was much more of the business, the hard skills, and my mom was more of the softer skills. Both of them are incredible people. Unfortunately, I lost my dad in September. I lost my hero, but I think about him every day. And my mom is still going strong at 82 and pretty impressive, as I say, young lady.

[03:20]

So, you are a well-respected speaker in the market research area.  In fact, I think you just spoke at the Insights show in Las Vegas.

[03:30]   

Yeah, I did.  Thank you, first of all.  I think it was a great, really, really, really great conference.  A big shout out to Lisa from Decision Analyst and Alice Butler on our team was heavily involved.  And Jami Pulley from Critical Mix/Dynata, she asked me to present and she’s a very, very good friend of mine.  They had about 150 or 180 people there, and it was a very successful conference. Yes, I did present on kind of transformation and changes of what’s going on with M/A/R/C, and how we did, what we did, and all that comes along with that.         

[04:10]

So, before we actually talk about the transformation that’s happened inside of M/A/R/C, I want to kind of dig in a little bit as it relates with…  You are, and I’ve heard you speak, probably half a dozen times. Every time, I walk away and think it’s great. In fact, one of our employees here at PureSpectrum, Travis, he wrote a summary piece, in which he wrote about your talk and how it was one of the big highlights for him in the event.  And so, my question is really… It’s interesting that your parents, your mom being more of the extrovert, and your dad – the business-minded introvert have that stark difference. How has their lenses or your lens of them, how has that helped you be strong communicator?   

[05:01]  

You know my dad…  It’s interesting. If it takes 30 words to answer a question, my dad used 21; my mom used 4,000 and is still talking.  [Jamin laughs] So I tend to be a storyteller; my stories tend to go on a little bit. That I got from my mom, and my directness from time to time I got from my dad.  You know, Jamin, it’s interesting because I remember my first speech that I ever did. I was asked to present, and it was at the Gaylord down in Nashville. Back in the day, for most of the people (They may not even know what this was) but I used to write your notes on what’s called index cards, right?  And I remember having the index cards up on stage my first time in my probably 23, 24 years old, and I remember visibly shaking with the index card. My voice was cracking. And I was smart enough to know from a number of my mentors like John Bonney and Sanford Schwartz and Mary Ann Shaffer, just a whole host of people who helped me along the way, taught me that, if you really want to be successful and you want to get your ideas across and you want to have people understand your ideas, you have to be a good communicator, right?  If you think about it, Jamin, people can have great ideas, but if they can’t communicate effectively what they are and the value, they’re not going anywhere. So, it really started early in my career to hone in on that skill and… I think if we really give some thought to when you go to conferences, how many presenters are really top in the research community? Is it 20%? Is it 25%? So, I think if you are really an OK presenter, you get elevated a little bit in the research community because I think that people don’t work on that craft as much as they should or could.  

[07:18]

Yeah, there’s a ton that we could unpack relevant to speaker hacks and practice and all of that.  I, personally, have always enjoyed your interactive style of presentation. I think every time I’ve heard you speak, there’s been some level of audience or a person’s inside of the audience participation in your talks.  And I think that just is an excellent idea and also something that you know we could all of us learn from because as soon as that happens, for me there’s always two things that take place. One is that I go from passive to active ‘cause I’m terrified you’re going to call on me, right?  And the other thing is when I’m in that active mind, I’m processing along with you and thinking about the framework that your dad provided answering in 30 words using 21. I really like that because the rule of thumb right now is, as a speaker, you have to earn the right to be heard every 20 seconds when you’re giving a presentation.  Because we live in this headline context, it becomes really important that we can consolidate and summarize the actual takeaways and the key points in a way that is memorable and repeatable.

[08:44]

I think you bring up some really good points.  If you went to Quirks, or if you go to IIEX, or if you go to TMRE, and you say, “OK, I’m going to go see 15 presenters.”  And the cost of that is… let’s just put up a cost of $1500, right? So it’s a $100 a speech basically. One of my mottos, when I present, is I want everybody in the room to take away one or two things that they can integrate into their business the second they get back to their office, OK?  I have trouble with going to… see an author present on automation or technology. I understand what they’re saying, but I have trouble forming a link between what they just said and integrating that into my business right away, right? So I try to use practical experience; I try to use real life examples; I tell it like it is.  I got up on stage last week, and I made mention of a ton of mistakes that I’ve made along the way. Why? Not to poke fun of myself, but to say, “Look, we’re all human; we’re all in this together, and you’ve got to learn by those mistakes.” I think that’s really, really incredible.

You want it to be memorable, right?  You want it to be something that people say, “Oh, you know, he’s a little crazy,” which I am.  I’ve done to make a point… You know I usually present in a suit and tie, a red tie; I usually have a Coca-Cola on stage; I usually have a thing of water, and I walk around a lot.  I’m not a podium guy. To make a point, I basically threw off the suit and threw away the soda once. And I actually took off all my clothes and got down to basically shorts and a T-shirt and actually flip flops.  And I presented that way.  And the point I was trying to get across was get comfortable with being uncomfortable.   And the reality is there’s a lot of people who are uncomfortable in situations, but they don’t ever get comfortable with that.  And that’s the point I was trying to make. And people still remember that, and they talk about it.

A few years ago at the CEO Summit, I did the closing, standing on a table.  And I went LeBron: I ripped up all my notes and I threw it and people sent me pictures.  But they remember that because you want to have those takeaways and integrate those within your business.   If you don’t, you’ve wasted time and money. I mean people don’t realize it, Jamin, if they go conference, if they went to Qualtrics this week…   So, let’s assume that it’s three days, three-and-a-half days. Well, if you boil it down, that’s 1.6% of the whole year that they spent at Qualtrics.  Now, I’m not saying that Qualtrics wasn’t a great conference; I’m not saying it wasn’t worth it; and I’m not saying there weren’t takeaways. But let’s just for argument sake, say there wasn’t.  They’ve wasted one-and-a-half – 1.6% of their entire year at that conference. That’s a big chunk, right? I mean if you think about it. And I think that, as a presenter, I’ve always felt that you’ve got to deliver; you’ve got to make sure…  That’s why when I get off stage, I talk to Jami Pulley, and I was like, “Was that what you expected? Did I deliver?” Because, if not, shame on me. And I’m not doing it to get on a plane. I’m not doing it from an ego standpoint. I’m doing it to give something back.  That’s the only reason to do it. And I take it seriously, and I want to be the highest rated presenter, and I want to continue to get better each and every time I present. That’s my goal.

[12:24]

This principle of adding value as opposed to asking is something that all of us can learn a lot from.  I was meeting with one of my marketing managers yesterday, Molly, and in the conversation, we were retooling an outbound direct mail piece.  Super straightforward. We’ve all seen them. We all get them, probably a hundred today, right? Nothing particularly magical about it. We retooled the whole thing so that not once did we (1) have an ask or (2) talk about ourselves.   It was entirely based on adding value to the customer and giving them shortcuts to their insights that they could employ literally that very day in their company. If can change the way that we communicate from… ‘cause nobody cares about us as much as I like to think they wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get to this podcast, right?  I mean at the end of the day, what people really care about is themselves. And so, the reason that people will keep tuning in, just using Happy Market Research as an example, is because they are connecting with the fantastic guests, and they’re finding value in the content that we’re generating, and it’s making themselves or their business experiences better at some regular intervals, right?  We have to move away from this level of entitlement and into a level of… We really are marketing our sales efforts, our personal brands; the strength of those is really a direct relationship to how much value we’ve added in the communities, whether it’s at home or in business.

[14:11]

I could not agree with you more.  Totally, totally agree. I think it’s just well said; it  really is. And I believe it.

[14:21]

So, let’s talk a little bit about M/A/R/C.  This is a company that has been around for decades.  You’ve been the CEO for some of those, and recently you acquired the business.  What was your thesis going into it and going into that process? I know as a previous CEO, that’s a heavy lift, trying to do a acquisition, especially out of an Omnicom.  What was your thesis going into that, into that process?

[14:51]

Yeah.  Just getting to the other side of it.  I don’t think I knew every piece of what was going to have to been done until I was on the other side of it.  I’m extremely fortunate, Jamin, that I have a great support system. My parents did a great job teaching my sisters and myself how to stand on our own two feet.  And being in the for 35 plus years, I’ve been very fortunate to have access to a lot of industry contacts that are great friends of mine, confidants, mentors, and people that have tremendous experiences:  so, like yourself, Jamin, and Steve Schlesinger. And I reported at one time to a guy named Sandy Schwartz. Being able to call on those people and having them help you get to the other side of this… And I remember something that Steve Schlesinger had said.  At beginning, he said, “Look, you’re not going to see every move that you got to make right now today. Just take it one day at a time.” And I know that’s… everybody in sports says, “OK, you know, we’re going to take it one game at a time, right?” But it really level set it a little bit because I believed in the company, I believed in the strategy, I believed in the legacy.  And I wanted to see this through, and I wanted to make sure that I did it the right way. But to have that support system in my corner to bounce things off of from time to time really, really helped me. So it was really just, “Get to the other side and continue to have it be seamless, to have no bumps, to have business as usual.” As it turned out, we, frankly, were able to do that.       

[16:55]  

I’m not sure if you can…  I’m not sure how much of this you can divulge, but I am really interested in this.  As the CEO of the company owned underneath Omnicom, I have to believe you had a very attractive compensation plan.  Where was the motivation to take it, take control the company on an absolute basis? What was on the other side of that that made that risk worth it?    

[17:29]

Well, it’s probably TBD, right, ‘cause the final chapters haven’t been written.  They won’t be written for many, many years. When that is written, you can ask me the question again.  But what I think is going to happen is this, and what has happened. You know Omnicom… I’d been there from 14½ years.  Great company. They, in Q3, the beginning of Q3, they were selling a company that they’d owned for 25 or 30 years that they were going to make a fair amount of money. They wanted to take the opportunity to divest a number of companies in Q3 that strategically didn’t fit into their strategy, moving forward, right?  So I met with my bosses, two of them on the East coast, and quickly, it was, “Look, we’ve got to list, and M/A/R/C is on the list. And here are some choices of what we can do here. But, whatever we do, you got to tell me quickly, like less than a week. And, “Oh, by the way, it has to happen in Q3.” And, Oh, by the way, we were already in Q3.  So, Jamin, you know the deal; you’ve looked a number of companies when you were all over the place at FocusVision and a number of other spots. Doing your due diligence can take a little bit of while, but having been the CEO for 14 years, I didn’t have to do due diligence. I knew about the company, the strategy, the people; I knew what things we could do, what things we couldn’t do, and decided that again the legacy, the company, the strategy, the people within it wanted to continue that and was able to work out an arrangement with Omnicom, a deal to buy the company.  I had to personally guarantee everything, I felt comfortable with that because of the team we have and strategy that we developed and the partners such as Zappi and such as PureSpectrum, who can help us get to the other side of this.

[19:52]

And that kind of leads into really another question from me about that process because it’s expensive to buy a company.  I was wondering, was it a debt service or rich grandpa, or were you able to do it through leveraging other private equity, another private equity entity?    

[20:21]

There’s no rich grandpa.  Both my grandpas, unfortunately, passed away a long, long, long time ago.  I only met one. My dad was able to retire very early in life at 50½, which is amazing, and didn’t have to go back to work. I still, to this day, have no idea how he was able to do it and how he was able live for 30+ years on what he had, but it did, and he lived a great life.  No, it was all done… I’m not going to get into the mechanics of the deal but it was… My parents were poor growing up. It’s interesting, Jamin, that my mom didn’t have her own bed until she was 22 years old. She shared a bed with her aunt. I think six people lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Montreal.  Anything that my dad accomplished was self-made. If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s self-made. I was able to draw on certain dollars that I had and then be able develop and pay Omnicom over some time. That was the mechanics. I bought the balance sheet of it. I bought, obviously, that means that I bought the receivables, but I also bought the payables.  So it has been an interesting go because we’ve… the transition happened about a little over six months ago, and I pulled the band aid off. So, what does that mean? So, nobody knew, and that was a hard part of what I did because I had to keep a big secret that I was doing this and, oh by the way, a mile and a half away, I was building a 9,000 square foot office.  So I would leave secretly for 45 minutes here and there for meetings over at the new office and pick out tile and pick out rugs and colors and blah-blah-blah, and had to put up walls and tear down walls. That was the hardest part: built an office in 28 days. So we did that. Every system that we have now is totally new. So, we have a new accounting system; we have a new payroll system; we have new benefits; we have new 401K; we have new IT; we have a new office here.  The last thing is I’m in the process of building a new office in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that, thankfully, with the lead of Rob Arnett and Brad Sypel and Susan Hanks, have done a magnificent job, taking that. And that’ll be unveiled in about two weeks… our new office there. But everything else is new and was able to put my stamp on it in terms of we did some different twists with the 401K plan that we set up. It’s been really unbelievable; it’s been a whirlwind.  It’s been… we’re moving at light speed. I can’t believe it. At one time down the road, I’ll think back and said, “Wow! How did we pull this off, but I think it was because of the talent at M/A/R/C and the trust that we had within each other and the belief that we had one common goal, which is just move this company forward. It’s been really amazing, very touching.

I’ll tell you a quick story, Jamin.  When I was going to announce the change in ownership, I was going to do it on a Monday.  And the reason I was going to do it on a Monday is because I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s weekend, right?  I didn’t want anybody to panic; I didn’t want anybody to freak out. Unfortunately, my dad had passed away, which is interestingly enough about an hour after the deal was finalized, which I think it was his time to go and he just said, “OK, Merrill, you’re good.  You’re on your own. I’ve seen this one through as well.” So I announced the change of ownership on a Friday, instead of a Monday, because I had to fly down to Florida for my dad’s funeral and to do the eulogy, which was probably the hardest thing I ever did in my life – 40 minutes talking about my hero, who had just passed away.  I remember specifically what some people had done. It’s a little bit of a blur, but people like Jennie Lovejoy, who is on our team, started a round of applause and was just really gracious with her comments. And they gave me a standing O; the company gave me a standing O, and they thanked me for doing what I did. And there’s been no looking back.  It’s been an amazing journey with this team that we have. I knew that they were amazing and great, but experiencing what we have, Jamin, brought it to a different level.   

[25:31]

Isn’t it interesting how we as a community knit together during those particular times even to the next level?  So, you think, “OK, my team, my management team, my staff we’re all in; then, all of a sudden, you have some major milestone or hill that’s been taken or whatever achievement, and then it just levels up the whole team.  I think that really speaks to the importance of culture inside of an organization and the accessibility to the executive team in order to… not from a self-serving perspective but just to make sure that it’s a genuine place where people want to, can, in fact, thrive.    

[26:19]

I think you’re a 100% right.  You know it’s interesting because back in 2005 a good friend of mine, Paul Kirch, was going to work for Jude Olinger, Olinger Group, down in New Orleans.  And then, unfortunately, Katrina hit, a Category 5 hurricane hit, and really left tremendous damage in New Orleans. And I remember… The thing I remember most about that is for 36 hours, I would dial Jude Olinger’s number every ten minutes, trying to get in touch with him.  And, finally, I did, and I said, “Look, I’m sorry about what’s going on with your great city and your company and your staff. If you can get yourself to Dallas, you can work out of our office. You can all stay in my house for as long as you need. If you need food, if you need money, whatever you need, we’re here.”  And I think that when something happens like that, when, all of a sudden, there is a change of ownership… I kind of forgot that people kind of rally, right, and are excited about what’s next and just want to help any way possible. And that’s really what’s happened with the M/A/R/C team. It’s really meant a tremendous amount to me, my family, and even shed a tear or two along the way.   

[27:48]

So, what has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming not just the CEO but now the owner?

[27:55]   

Yeah, I think you know pulling the band aid off.  Most companies that divest from Omnicom keep their shared services for a fairly long time, whether that is accounting or IT or even in the same location.  And I didn’t do that. We pulled the band aid off tremendously quickly. So, within less than a month, we had little to no shared services. That’s number 1 that I think has been a little bit challenging.  I think understanding for me, personally… understanding a little bit more of, “OK, some of my day now has to go towards not just receivables, and billings, and not just cash flow and working capital and the bank account and making sure you have a line of credit, making sure that you have a great working and banking relationship that goes hand in hand.”  You know I didn’t have to do that at Omnicom. Omnicom took care of that and did an amazing job with that. So that never fell on any of the CEOs. Sure, we knew about the receivables and what it was, but we didn’t agonize over it as much as we do now and worry about it. So that’s really been the biggest challenge: probably repurposing a little bit of my time, and it’s changed my sort of to-do list every day.

[29:39]   

Yeah, I think there’s a few that really jump out.  Number 1 – now that we’re able to invest in what we want to invest in, our senior team looked at ourselves in the mirror, and myself led that charge and said, “OK, we need a new leadership model.  We need some help with some strategy and, rather than the six or eight or ten of us whatever it is continuously working on that, we brought in an outside consultant, Bill Morley, who did a really good job with that and helped us streamline things.  He put us through some really interesting tasks that I think on the surface even, is this really going to work and it did. It was really, really solid. So I think one of our successes was admitting that you need some outside help, number 1. Number 2 – we used the tool called the AcuMax index, which has helped us with reporting structures.  It is a tool that assesses your talent, how you integrate within a company, and it helps you with hiring and training and integrating. That’s helped us tremendously. Whereas the past few years, we’ve had high team turnover rate, we’ve had not one person leave; not one person has left the company. And I think that they believe in what we’re doing, and they want to see this through too.  I think that’s the biggest success: the fact is we’ve been able to do it with this team. Jamin, you’ve been through a lot of acquisitions. And a lot of them there’s tremendous transition, right? You don’t have a spot with them. Typically, it doesn’t always go. OK, there’s some type of ownership change, and every single person in the company has a job. And every single person in the company stays six months later.  It’s not usually the same, but that’s what’s happened here. I think we have a huge success is the line of products from do-it-yourself, what we call accelerated, that we have in our pipeline is pretty impressive.

Zappi has been an amazing partner; PureSpectrum’s been an amazing partner. And I think if there is one takeaway from anything I say today, it’s “Find the right partners.”  And that’s different from finding a partner. Anybody can find a partner. But, as you know, most partnerships don’t work; most product launches don’t work. Find a partner that works that communicates the same way you do, that your goals line up tremendously and that you have the right strategy and the right partnership and right clients and the right staff to move your business forward.  And I think if one of those doesn’t line up, the product’s not going to be successful. So we’ve had some tremendous success with that in the last year or so and especially in the last six months.

[32:43]

You know the point that you made about investing in the company…  Staff, you know, your tribe, they feel that. There’s a tangible, a tangibleness to that.  I mean it’s not technically tangible, but it is. I mean I’m confident it’s measurable at a minimum.  And that creates a lot of buy-in and excitement and enthusiasm. It’s interesting if, if… you think about you and …  I’ll pick on an interview I’d heard (this goes back at least a decade) with Jeff Bezos where he’s talking about, “I don’t care about the short-term performance of the stock.  I’m thinking about what’s it going to look like in seven years.” Having that kind of a view and then having the autonomy to be able to act on that point of view is a very, very powerful weapon.       

[33:33]      

Yeah, you know, culture to me is very important.  If you think about the time you’re at work, going to work, thinking about work, driving home from work, it’s probably 70% of your awake time.   And, if you’re not going to enjoy yourself then, you’re not going to have a happy life, right? The culture here is very important. We’ve established so many different programs since the ownership change.  So, one is training. You go like, “Merrill, that’s kind of basic. You put in training. Yeah, because we had to cut out a lot of that under our prior ownership.” I’m sending someone to Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting to hear Charlie Munger and to hear Warren Buffett.  It’s called the Rising Star Conference. And we’re investing in our staff that way and sending them there. They’ll be waking up at 4 a.m. to go see the annual meeting. That’s something that a lot of people don’t get the opportunity to do. We’re sending five people to a Haiti trip with Jim Bryson with the Joseph School later this year.   And, it’s going to be five people who are in different aspects of our business; so it might be a project manager, a research manager or an account manager, maybe a DA or something like that. So we’ve got a lot of task force that we’ve set up. We made a lot of mistakes where we had a senior team really trying to move the business forward and were doing everything, including our day jobs.  Well, we have had a lot more task force set up. We’ve got our goals now connected to business objectives. We developed this leadership model. We’ve also got… You know, admitting we made mistakes, admitting that I made mistakes in front of the whole company, that really helps a lot. We’ve got what we call a mark dialog team and a fun committee. So they tell us what fun are we going to have.  

I mean I walked over to somebody on the…   we do a year-end video… who’s putting together the year-end video.  I said, “KVD, I have a few ideas on the year-end video.” And I said, “Here they are, B-dah, B-dah, B-dah.”  “Yeah, Merrill, you know that’s great but I think we’re going in a different direction this year, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to incorporate them,” which translation means “We’re NOT incorporating them, but thanks.” And the reason I tell you that little boring story that happened yesterday was I love the fact that she felt strong enough to say that to me, right?  Most people would have said, “OK, I’ll put it in there.” But, if it doesn’t go into their strategy of what they’re trying to do and project, then good for her to say, “No,” right? And we’ve got a lot of that. We have… You know we had everybody redo all of our printers, what we call our printers. Before it was Dirk, and before we had our conference rooms were named like Hendricks, Presley, and Lennon, right, for John Lennon and Elvis Presley and Jimmy Hendricks.  I could never get them to do Boston ‘cause we would have a constant argument about the band Boston wasn’t that big although I think they were big. We’re just having a lot of fun while we’re accomplishing a great amount for our clients and driving insight and making sure we’re delivering on each and every project. It’s a good time; it really is. It’s a fun time; it’s a good time. People really enjoying themselves.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

[36:58]

You talk a lot about mistakes, and I do too even in a public setting.  What is one that stands out to you and what was the learning from it?

[37:09]

Time, time.  I think that two things jump out at me. Number 1 is what I’ll call a 16-month dance.  So, when you hire a new employee, for five or six months, they’ll come in and everything they say is fresh, and you’re excited, “Oh, I got it right this time.”  And then there’s three or four months of scratching your head. You’re like, “Really, I thought I heard that.” And then there’s three or four months, “OK, I made another mistake.  Now what do I do?” So that adds up to like the 16-month dance; it’s what I call a Merrillism. And I’m trying to cut that down. How do you cut that down to eight or nine months? How do you minimize the mistakes that you’ve made?  

The other one is…  I was at my daughter’s soccer game.  If you remember, Jamin, for anybody listening who has a daughter or son who plays soccer, if the ball, as a youngster (an 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-year old), if the ball goes to the left, the entire team goes to the left.  When the ball goes to the right, the entire team goes to the right. And that’s really what I felt the market research community is. Biometrics – bam! Everybody goes after it. Sentiment analysis, iTracking, right?  The new one is AI. And I finally realized we took a lot of passes at Big Data and whether it was sentiment analysis a few different times, and social listening. The problem is it wasn’t successful for us: whether we didn’t have the right clients, we didn’t have the right strategy, we didn’t have the right tools, we didn’t have the right staff.  It didn’t matter. And I wasn’t going to make that mistake again. And that’s why we were in search of our partners. We really spent a lot time on our partnerships this time, and we’re honored to call Zappi and Ryan Berry and his entire team a partner of ours. We’re excited to call PureSpectrum and Michael McCrary and Jamin and Travis and everybody connected to your company a partner.  We’re honored; we take that seriously. And I think we did a much better job with that this time, and it’s really paying off dividends. If you think about personal assessment and if you have self-awareness, I think you’re much better off in business. How many people, Jamin, or what percentage of the people really are self-aware and know really who they are? ‘Cause I think it’s pretty low.             

[39:40]

Yeah, I totally agree with that.  And I think it transcends business and applies to life.  

[39:44]

Absolutely

[39:45]

So, market research, as you said, is a bit of a game of swarm ball but, if you kind of separate from that view, how do you think market research is going to be different in five years?

[39:57]

You know I think consolidation is going to continue to really streamline this industry.   So, when you think about everything that’s happened. You’ve got Dynata, which is the old Research Now, right?  So, they pick up SSI and that dust on that acquisition, I don’t even think, is dry yet, and Wow! Boom!, now they’ve got Critical Mix, in it as well.  I can tell you that in the past week I’ve heard from five to seven people who all are either selling their company or looking to buy companies. Not going to mention any names, but the reality is consolidation is really going to not just continue.  I think continue at the different rate than we’ve ever seen, number 1. Number 2 – I think that all suppliers are going to forced into doing as consultants. I think that a lot of client organizations are building services in-house, and they’re going to need consultants to really tell them what it means and maybe even implementation.  So does market research go into this marketing spin a little bit more than we have? I think so. I think those are a couple of the big takeaways that are going to happen down the road. I mean everybody is, “Yes, do-it-yourself and accelerated is going to have much more of a high percentage in five years, for sure, for sure. And I think the industry is going to be…  Suppliers are going to be forced to be consultants whether they know how to do it or not. If they don’t know how to do it, they’re not going to be around.

[41:46]

I completely concur with that point of view.  By consultants, in a lot of ways, we’re talking about is adding value to the product they you’re providing or service you’re providing to your customer.  Talk about full circle. So, what is your personal motto?

[42:10]

Wow!  I have a few.  Nine hundred seconds, 15 minutes a day, get better at something.   I don’t care if it’s be a better son, be a better husband, be a better friend, be a better brother, be a better presenter, be a better a better business executive.  Understand social media a little bit better, understand how to put together a PowerPoint presentation. It doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter if it’s personal nature; it doesn’t matter if it’s business.  Take 15 minutes a day; take 900 seconds and get better at something. And I think if you do that, sky’s the limit. You know I’m a classic… I’m never going to be the smartest guy in the room. I’m a classic overachiever or, as one of my contacts in the industry, Roger Green, said to me years and years and years ago, “You’re a talent maximizer.”  I take that as a compliment, and I take that as a tribute to my father, who was the same. Make the most of your skills. I think the worst thing anybody can say to you is, “Oh, there goes blah-blah-blah; they’re an underachiever.” I’d rather get punched in the stomach 1,000 times than have somebody say that about me.

[43:22]

My guest today has been Merrill Dubrow, CEO and owner of M/A/R/C Research.   Merrill, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[43:30]

Jamin, thank you.  I really appreciate it.  It’s been a pleasure being here today.

[43:35]

The honor is all of ours.   Thank you so much for your time.  

Everybody else if you would please do me the kindness of posting this episode on Linkin or Twitter.  It helps other people like you find valuable content. And, as always, if you have thoughts or opinions, you can reach out to me on any platform at Jamin Brazil.  I’m also looking for specific tech companies. So, if you’re market research technology company and you’re interested in being featured for free in one of our technology corner segments, we would love to hear from you.  

Have a great rest of your day.    

[44:17]

Schlesinger Quantitative is proud to have sponsored of this podcast.  Schlesinger delivers comprehensive online survey solutions, including survey programming, world class project management, intelligent recruitment, survey hosting, and data delivery services.  An uncompromising commitment to your success sets them apart.