Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 211 – Anne Beall – Three Ways to Leverage Emotion to Create Brand Promoters

Today, my guest is Anne Beall, CEO of Beall Research. Beall Research specializes in leveraging the theory behind Psychology, Sociology, History and other disciplines to develop actionable insights.

Prior to founding Beall Research, Anne has had a storied education career, having received her M.S., M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in Social Psychology from Yale University.

Find Anne Online:


Website: Beall Research

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Social Media: @happymrxp


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On Episode 211 of the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m joined by Anne Beall, 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 one million consumers in 80 countries on demand in just a few clicks.  Ask your burning questions, select who you want to answer them, view actual insights that help you grow your business. Join the hundreds of leading brands who already utilize the power of Attest’s scalable, intelligent platform.  Contact Attest today at http://askattest.com/happymr or find the link in this episode’s show notes.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research. Started in 2003, Beall Research is a strategic, marketing research firm based in Chicago that services some of today’s top brands.  Anne holds a Ph.D. from Yale and has worked at the Boston Consulting Group. Anne, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Hey, thanks for having me.  It’s my pleasure.


Like to start out with a understanding of where you grew up, your parents, and then also your journey into market research.


Sure.  So, I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is a city of about 180,000 people outside of Boston.  My parents were professors. So my dad was a professor of chemistry at a local college. Yeah, my early days were basically pretty uneventful, except for I lived in New Zealand for a year.   My entry into market research happened after I finished my Ph.D. I studied social psychology, and I didn’t want to be an academic. I really wanted to do research that would make a difference.  And so, I ended up at several companies but eventually was at the Boston Consulting Group, where I headed up the market research function for the Chicago office. My whole impetus for doing market research was just to do research that would make a difference.  I had an academic degree. I could have been a professor, but I wanted to do something that would have an impact.


So, what was this railing against academia from a career perspective?  What didn’t you just follow in your father’s footsteps?


You know I did consider it but, at the end of the day, I was really concerned that I would be writing journal articles.  They wouldn’t be seen by very many people. People won’t take my recommendations. In fact, I’d be studying very esoteric things and that I won’t be making a difference.  And so, for me at least, I wanted to go to the “real world” even though all of the academics in my life (my advisor, my parents) basically said, “Oh, my goodness, don’t do it!  You’re throwing your life away.” But I did, and I’m very happy for it. But it was really around sort of the issue was I just didn’t want to study things that a few people would read about.       


So, really breadth of impact sounds like it was important for a career motivation and then also impact of results also a driver, specifically I’m tying that because of the BCG connection, which is, of course, one of the world’s largest management consulting companies.


Yes, absolutely.


Tell us a little bit about your thesis.  


Well, I studied emotions, and I actually studied gender and emotions and how differential expression of emotion in romantic relationships leads to differential power.  So that made it really difficult to get a date in graduate school. [laughter] But that’s what I studied. I was really interested in how people are perceived when they express emotions.  I was really interested in how we perceive others when we are differentially expressive towards them. And I was just interested in the whole gender thing and how that played out. So that was what I studied.  


So, Boston Consulting Group.  Then you decided to step out on your own and start Beall Research.  Did you have any funding for that? What was your motivation for being an entrepreneur?


Well, I really wanted to work for myself.  I had a lot of ideas. And I had numerous occasions where I’d, “I have a really good idea.”   And I’d suggest it to my superiors, and they’d say, “Oh, you know that’s a great idea but not for this study, not for this client.”  I’m a pretty creative person. And so I really wanted to do my own thing; I really wanted to put forward novel ways of doing things. And I also wanted to use my training even more than I had been.  And so that’s what caused me to go on my own.

It was just me.  I had opened up the armoire.  I had a desk that was an armoire in my bedroom.  And that was my very first office, and my first employee was the cat.  She did not work out at all, really. [laughter] I had to fire her fairly shortly thereafter.  I have since added 12 humans, who are tremendous people, and we do some really interesting work.  As an entrepreneur, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with some amazing companies. I’ve gotten a chance to suggest new and different ways of doing things.  A lot of times my clients say, “Hey, that’s kind of different. We haven’t really heard of that before, and sure let’s try it.” So being an entrepreneur has allowed me to do exactly the kind of work that I want to do.  


It’s really interesting when you think about the journey.  So, the early days for you were… Let’s just cut to the chase.  Ph.D. from Yale, that’s a big deal in academia. I think about like the people that I know that are professors, they oftentimes are thinking about tenure.  You know what I mean? It’s more of a steady state, I would consider. And then moving into Boston Consulting Group, which is high pressure, a lot of hours, but still steady in that you’ve got a paycheck coming in.  But then to step out as an entrepreneur where there is nothing guaranteed, not that I needed to tell you that. But, as entrepreneurs, we live hand to mouth, so to speak. We earn our keep; we’re the hunters, which is now quite literally there’s probably not a different, farther away career.  I guess working at the IRS, that would be more steady state than being an academic.


[laughs]  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  No, it is a bit of a jump, and I personally never saw myself as an entrepreneur; I never saw myself salesperson.  I never saw myself as many things that I’ve had to become. I always saw myself as a researcher. But I was really lucky in that I started actually doing pretty well with the business right from pretty much from day 1.  I had a great network of people I had worked with at the Boston Consulting Group, who had gone on to do other things. Some of those people are still clients to this day. Within six months, I was actually looking at office space downtown.  Having a real address made a difference to, I think, potential clients; I wasn’t working out of my bedroom any longer. So it was a pretty nice story. But, yeah, there’s no guarantee with being an entrepreneur, and I’d say there’s no guarantee any more today then there was the very first day that I started.    


One of the topics that we’re talking about this month or January, I should be more specific, is the importance of customer experience.  And the center piece of customer experience is, from my vantage point anyway, is the emotional connection that brands or that customers make to brands.  From what I understand of your thesis, you can draw some emotional… the importance of emotion and how that emotion relates to relationships. Talk to us a little bit about emotional connections to brands and how you are helping these brands address this specific concern.


So, one of the things that we have looked at is the emotional journey.  Just like you have an emotional journey with a person, you can have an emotional journey with a brand.  You start to become familiar with the brand. It gives you some type of emotional experience. Maybe you have positive experience or sense of it, maybe you have a negative.  And we know from the emotional work that we have done that when you have an emotional response that’s positive, you tend to engage more with a brand. And, as you go along, you have different types of experiences that lead to different types of emotional reactions that can either solidify and create a strong emotional bond to a brand or that can actually cause the dissolution and for you to sort of disengage with it.  But we’ve been looking at the emotional journey. We have been really looking a lot at how brands make you feel but, more than that, how they make you feel about yourself. And that’s something that a lot of brands don’t think about; they don’t think about how a brand makes you feel. So, when you buy that brand, does that make you feel good about yourself and your choices? Do you feel proud to have purchased it? Do you feel pride when you use it?  Do you feel good about what you’re doing for yourself or your family or the people that you use that product or service with? And we know that the more that you feel and the more positively you feel about yourself as a result of a brand’s product or service, the more likely you are to buy it and the more loyal you are to it. And that’s the work we’ve done quite a bit of research on.


The tear, if you want to call it that, that I’ve been on lately is all about voice.  And I’m deeply concerned that brands aren’t paying enough attention to a voice economy.  In that world of the invisible customer journey, it becomes imperative that the brand is top of mind.  Of course, the classic example is Kleenex. I don’t even know what else to call it. I guess tissue paper, but I think that goes into wrapping gifts, as the poster child.  But, when you think about acquiring or buying a product through voice, Google Home or Alexa, how are you seeing emotion in the work you are doing, specifically, helping inform the brands to make change and connect more to the customer?          


So, we’ve actually seen it in a variety of places.  First of all, the model that we use is the intensity valence model, which says you have an emotional reaction to everything.  It’s positive, negative, or neutral, but it’s to everything. It’s to the furniture around you; it’s the people you come in contact with; it’s the products you see on shelf; it’s everything.  And that emotional reaction is actually something that propels you to engage or disengage. And so, we’ve seen emotional reactions to packaging. And we do work where we actually code non-verbal behavior and facial expressions, real time in retail settings.  And we’ve had great satisfaction in terms of understanding certain types of packaging is very off-putting to people and actually causes people to kind of back away. Certain types of retail settings are problematic for people, but we know that that emotional reaction is big.  So we’ve been helping one particular manufacturer just recently take a look at how packaging is actually causing a disengagement with their products because it’s causing certain types of associations that are negative, and they’re emotionally negative in nature. So, it’s in that case we’re seeing stuff.  We actually able to see facial reactions to all kinds of things real-time or in terms of discussion forums that we do where we’ve had people upload videos of themselves, experiencing products and services. For the first time, we’re able to code that.

The place we’ve also had a lot of success is also immediate reactions to product concepts, to brands, to new ideas where people actually tell us what their emotional reaction is, and it’s been extremely predictive of their interest in engaging with those brands.


So, it’s stated?


It’s stated; it’s reported.  And we have a way of doing it that gets at the very gut level, quick sort of reaction, the kind that you have that you sometimes aren’t even aware that you even have it.  You just kind of have this, “Ugh” or “Ouy.” It’s that level that we’re looking at.


Is this done in an in-person interview or focus group or…?     


We do it qualitatively and quantitatively.  So we do it qualitatively where we’ve actually videotaped people and coded their non-verbal behavior and their facial reactions but we’ve also done it in terms of self-reported where we actually get people to tell us immediately what their emotional reaction is to stuff and then we explore further into what the underlying emotions are.    


So, when you think about companies that have done it well as you’ve articulated obviously Apple is at the top of my list, just getting the packaging…  It’s counterintuitive but the quality of the packaging in a lot of ways tells me how quality of the product is. Now it’s even to the point they’ve so educated me on the subject that, if I buy a product and it doesn’t have good packaging, then I immediately discount it as cheap.  [laughter] It’s crazy, but it’s true.


Well, they have done a lot to give you a very strong positive emotional reaction to their packaging because it’s so good, but they’ve also invested a lot in their brand to make you have a very strong, positive emotional reaction to their brand.  So, they’ve done a lot of things where, when you see their brand, you have certain associations. You think of them as innovative, as user-friendly, as trendy. You think of them as being a company you aspire to own their products, and then you see their packaging, and it reinforces those particular associations you have.  But we also know, interestingly, it’s not just your emotional reaction to that brand and that packaging; we know that people actually feel certain things about themselves when they own and use Apple products. So, in this work that I mentioned to you where I did an overview of 17 major brands in the marketplace, what we found was that people who own and use Apple feel more confident; they feel more intelligent.  So they are actually feeling things about themselves as a result of owning and using that brand. I don’t know about you but anything that makes me feel more confident and more intelligent I’d buy by the boat load.


Right, and in fact, I do.  So [laughter] I’m definitely am solving for a gap in my Apple products as I stare at my Macbook Pro, anyways.   


Exactly, yeah.


Is this work that you’re doing, is it predominantly, I’d call it, one-and-done or is it longitudinal?


It actually is different projects with different companies.  So for one company that we’re working with, we’re helping them with their communication strategy.  So, we are actually testing their advertising. And we are looking at different ways of emotionally engaging people.  There are two things we look at: one is the emotional response that people have to their communications. But then there’s another piece of it, which is the emotional identification, which is that you know “How does it make me feel about myself?” stuff that I was talking to you about?  So we’re working with them to help them increase those points of emotional resonance.

In other cases, we just did a project for a major manufacturer.  And in that case, we were actually trying to understand why a particular product wasn’t selling, and we were doing real-time emotional analysis at retail.  And we found that there was a particular issue around the packaging that was causing some disengagement – so very specific research around that. In other cases, we’re working with brands to really help them just understand what does their brand evoke and how can we help them understand more about the places of the emotional journey that could be better that lead to a better overall emotional experience with that brand.              


So, let’s shift gears a little bit.  You have run a successful agency for, I’ll call it, over ten years.  I know, I know, I know… [laughter] I’m at the spot now where I say two decades.  And I just like, “Oh, my gosh. That’s impossible. That guy is really old.” Anyways, so, what are two key challenges that you’ve faced in running a market research agency


Only two.  [laughs]


Yeah, OK, that’s a fair point.


I would say there are challenges, I think, around…  You know we compete with a lot of the big boys. So we compete with some of the big market research companies, and they just have a lot more money for advertising out there, a lot more money to increase their awareness.  Smaller companies like ours just don’t have those kinds of deep pockets. So there’s a challenge around letting people know what we do ‘cause people often say, “Oh, my gosh, we didn’t know you did this. There’s so few companies that do what you do.”  So that’s one challenge.

I think another challenge is really around having educated buyers who understand some of the intricacies of market research, I think.  Unfortunately, I’ve seen market research… you know people want it faster, cheaper, you know; they want to do it themselves. High quality.  I think that can be a challenge as well. I think some other challenges around retaining and attracting really top talent when you’re a smaller firm.  We try very hard to maintain… We have really great people, but the industry has changed over time; people sort of want to stay at a place for a couple of years and move on.  The whole concept of staying with a company for a lifetime is just an odd idea, I think, for many people.


Yeah, I think you’re right about the influx or the transition inside of the workplace, especially in a highly competitive market like Bay Area San Francisco, Chicago, New York, you’re always competing for talent either retaining or acquiring new talent.  What is one of the ways that you’ve been successful keeping high-quality talent engaged and/or attracting the right people?


I think it’s the work we do quite honestly.  People often say to me, “The projects that you do are so interesting.”  That’s one of the ways that we retain people by having something that they can sort of intellectually chew on and really kind of think about and understand.  It’s not just sort of the same-old, same-old. We are always trying to improve. That’s one of our core values as a company. We invest in research; as you know, we actually fund our own studies about research.  Things like this emotion work that I mentioned was something that we funded ourselves. We continue to publish, published a couple of books this year. So we’ve really… trying to sort of almost be like an academic-type organization, but we are a business – and sort of always have that intellectual rigor, as the center of what we’re doing.


That’s a tremendous amount of overhead, right, for the organization, especially one that’s in the sub-20s employee size.  The volume of the content that you’re spitting out, like you said, two books in 2018. I think you did two in 2017.


[laughs]  I might have done one, I don’t know.  [laughs]


Was it one?  I can’t remember but I tell you, that plus driving new initiatives like what you’ve just described.  I mean this is a significant amount of overhead and focus. How do you maintain that… walk that line of, to your point, of driving profit and also building brand?


I think it’s a function of just what we believe in.  We basically invest in what we believe in when we can.  When we have the availability to do it and the funds, we have the resources and the human power, we do that, and when we don’t, we don’t.  But it is a core value of ours ‘cause we believe that, if you’re not improving, you’re really losing. So if you’re not really focused on trying to be better, then you’re going to be really good at what you used to do, but the market changes.  And the reality is when I entered this market 25 years ago, it was really different. I think we did all-telephone interviews back then; internet was this weird concept. And now it’s getting to this point, people are saying, “Well, I really want to launch my own survey.  So how can you support me in that?” It’s really around if you’re not changing, then you’re kind of falling behind.


Yeah.  OK, this point is so important it’s actually going to be the title of a blog post I publish here in the next couple weeks.  But the gist of it is we have to see the world as it is in 2019 and 2020 when we’re framing out the products and solutions that are go-to market strategy and the way we interact with customers as opposed to viewing it as 2015, which is, unfortunately, still stuck in a lot of the market research agencies that I’ve talked to.  And I’ll give you a great example, and that is social media utilization. If you look at the millennials and Gen Z, social media is a cornerstone of their time. It’s a material place where they exist. And, in fact, just this morning I was having breakfast with another entrepreneur, and we talking about this very point. “Gosh, you know, we’re starting to punch through, but it’s not great.”  So, I sat down with him and started looking at his feed. He happens to be a B to C, not a B to B like us, but he’s not making any investment on Instagram, and yet that’s where all of his customers are. So, and, the really good news for him is nobody else is in his space either. So he has this huge opportunity, almost for free, an investment of time, but the thing he kicks against and the reason it’s so hard, he and I grew up with a rotary phones.  That’s kind of like my baseline of age. If you know what a rotary phone is, then you and I anyway… So that’s the challenge, I think, in a lot of ways, is we just have to accept the world as it is and not judge it as good or bad or as time wasters or whatever. That’s just where the consumers are. And from that, we should be able to, we will be able to punch through.

I’ll give you another great example.  (Sorry about my monologue.) LinkedIn – so this is a marketing research company or actually a services company, and I was talking to their CEO, and he was complaining about whatever.  I said, “Well, let’s look at your LinkedIn; so we looked at his LinkedIn. And there’s just no activity there, and he’s got something like 1500 to 2000 connections. I said, “Why don’t you take the time on your plane ride, on your flight, to write a post and have let it be from your heart.  Not about “Hey, look at me, look at me,” but whatever 2018 Lessons Learned. The thing got like 30,000 organic views. It’s performed better than anything I’ve produced this year. [laughter] And so, and so, anyway, my point is that… and now, all of a sudden, that, of course, is going to be a material part of his strategy going into 2019, right, because you just have to go where the consumers are and stop this whole judging right or wrong, not a good fit.  I think about the point that you made a moment ago, consumers want, by consumers I mean market researchers now, sorry… Market researchers, you’re right, they move from a caddy, which is the telephone or in-mall intercepts, now to an internet-enabled and now we’re at a “I want to do it myself” internally.  “How are you going to come along side me, researcher, and aid me?” And that’s where I think we have to start checking our assumptions and make sure they’re operating correctly in this new world.


Interestingly, you mentioned these examples…  I’ll give you another one. I had an interview with a woman recently who wrote a book, and she was interviewing me because she had a similar topic to one of my books.  And she had a release party for her book, and it was virtual. It was on Google Hangouts and it’s broadcast on YouTube. And I’ve never imagined having a release party that was virtual, but there is was.  Hundreds of people went to her “virtual” book release party.


I think exactly, exactly.  That’s the point, right? And we have to, have to, have to at least be willing to try these things because we learn from the wins and we learn from the losses, but if we don’t try, we don’t get either one of those learning opportunities.


Exactly, yep.  


So, you talked to us about the importance of investing in knowledge and growth, and I couldn’t agree more on this core value.  And I do believe that there’s no such thing as a steady state in life – you’re either advancing or you’re not. It’s this law of entropy that we have to constantly fight against.  So, what do see as a key CEO tip to success?


I would say that one of the things that no one ever tells you to prepare for is that there are some real highs and real lows to being a CEO.  And I think the highs are extraordinarily high, but I think the lows are extraordinarily low. I think we have this vision of being an entrepreneur and you get to determine your destiny and you get to do the kind of work you do.  But no one tells you about how challenging it is and how wonderful it is, I think, in some ways. So I think that’s one of things that you can always be prepared for.

The other thing that I learned along the way and this is that other CEOs have told me is that nobody will care as much about your business as you do.  And that’s something that has always kind of amazed me. I always kind of felt that I worked so hard to create this business and create jobs and get people health insurance and everything.  At some level, I will like breathe and sort of live this thing 24/7 and other people don’t have that feeling. And I care so deeply about my employees and care so deeply about my clients. I think that’s something where you really do invest your heart and soul in these things.  And sometimes you’re surprised that it’s not always reciprocated, and I think that’s one thing I’ve heard from other CEOs is how deeply they care about their businesses, whether they started them or not, and how sometimes not everyone shares that. So, those are some things that I’ve learned.  


Yeah, you definitely have to, I’ll call it, callous up.  Then the other side of it is, as entrepreneurs, we assume all of the risk, but then we also assume some of, not all of, the rewards as well.  I think that, you know that saying, you can’t understand the color white unless you understand the color black and vice versus. To your point, that contrast – the highs and the lows – that’s really creating that full view that I believe connects us to outcome of the business that isn’t just recognized at a financial level but also at an emotional level.                     


Absolutely.  And you are very emotionally invested in it.  I work with a lot of CEOs, and I don’t know any CEO who is not really sort of living this 24/7, regardless whether they started it or not.  They just care so deeply.


Yeah, for sure.  So, you have hired, fired, promoted staff for 15 years.  What do you see as three characteristics of an All-Star Employee?


The first thing is something that was said to me on my very first day at work at my very first job, my first market research job.  I said to the senior partner at the firm, I said, “What is it that really determines whether someone succeeds here or not?” He looked at me and said, “It’s the ability to see the forest from the trees and the trees from the forest.”  So the people who can have a big picture and view of things and then can get into the details and then do it from the details up to the bigger picture. And I think that really is the case in market research. The people I see that are really successful are people who are really good at going from the very high level to the low and back.  And if they’re not good at one of those things, they get people who are good at the area where they’re not good. Those are the people who do the best.

I think the other thing that I see is that people who really function as team members are the ones who do the best.  I often say that frankly with my clients I look at those as partnerships. I don’t look at myself and our services as, “Hey, we’re going to give this to you and you’re going to be happy for it.”  I want for there to be a level of involvement and reiteration with those very smart clients that we work with so that we can really do something better together than we did on our own individually.  Employees, I think, who are really smart are the ones who understand that they work really well with each other and really leverage the strengths of their colleagues, and they do the same with their clients.  So, I think those are two really big things.

And then lastly, I believe and I think this is an area where market research is not really known for, but I think being creative is really big predictor.  Having lots of ideas, lots of different ways of doing things is to me someone who is worth their weight in gold. I see people who aren’t that “smart” but who have a lot of ideas, and they go far.    


Yeah, for sure.  You have to have both.  You have to have the ideas and then you have to have the intestinal fortitude to realize a specific idea or maybe a set of ideas over time through to action or to market. So, do you have any specific, special offers?  Or what’s got you excited right now that you’re positioning in the marketplace? I know you had your book release recently.


I did.  That’s actually not a market research book.  It’s one of the few books that is not a … It’s a research book but not a market research book.  But that book is Cinderella Didn’t Live Happily Ever After:  The Hidden Messages in Fairy Tales.  So, that’s something I did on my nights and weekends and is a data analysis of fairy tales.  So a little bit different.


A little bit.  Is that on Amazon?


It is on Amazon, yes, in eBook and paperback form.  The thing I’m probably most excited about though in the business right now is our work on emotions.  And it’s had me actually traveling around all over the country, and I’ve been presenting a really fun presentation on work that we did; it’s work we invested in.  So we own the data. It’s a couple of really big studies. It’s a statistical model. We’ve validated it, and we use it in all the work we do. But it is something that I really like to present.  I give some examples of how it actually works in the marketplace. But it really looks at and answers three questions: What is it that predicts whether or not customers will buy from you? What is it that predicts whether repeat purchases a car and what leads to brand advocacy?   And it’s an analysis of the emotions that you need to experience for those three things to happen. And it’s a really fabulous and fun presentation that people tend to say, “Hey, didn’t really think of things like that. Makes a lot of sense.” And it’s really actually changed how some people are approaching some things, which is very exciting for me.  Whether or not they use our research services or not, it’s definitely got people thinking a bit differently.


And, if people want to get in contact with you, how can they reach you?  


They could reach me by phone or by email.  


Your website is…


It’s BeallResearch.com or BeallRT.com.  So it’s B-E-A-L-LResearch, all one word, .com.  And you can get contact information there. Call or email whatever works for you.  


My guest today has been Anne Beall, founder and CEO of Beall Research.  Thank you, Anne, for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you so much for having me.  It’s been such a pleasure.


And thank you, everybody.  As always the show notes are complete.  You can find Anne’s contact information as well as links to her recent book, which I just purchased during our conversation today.  Can’t wait to read it this weekend. Have a wonderful rest of your day!


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