Welcome to the #IIEX Europe Conference Series 2019. Recorded live in Amsterdam, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Estrella Lopez Brea, Global Head of Consumer Connections at CPW.
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I have a special guest. You were a speaker earlier today, right?
Yes, I was.
Tell us a little bit about what it is that you spoke on.
I spoke this morning about the importance of large corporations to remain competitive in the marketplace, and the need to adjust their ways of working and doing innovation in order to remain competitive in this changing environment.
That’s a relevant subject.
You’ve been in market research for a long time?
That’s impossible, by the way.
No, no (laughter). It is possible.
This is 22 years for me, which, again, seems crazy.
Yes. What did you do before market research?
All my career has been in market research.
How did you wind up in market research?
To be honest, I’ve always loved getting to know people as humans and culture, their culture, their behaviors. Getting to understand where people were from, and what were they doing and why. That was a little bit in my background. When I got my first job in the U.S., in Chicago, I used to live in Chicago, in a pure market research agency, I was like, “Wow. I love it.” (Laughter.) Then I moved to the client side and have been working in different companies across the globe.
Where did you grow up?
In Spain. I’m originally from Spain.
From Madrid. I lived in the U.S., and then I went back to Spain. Now, I live in Switzerland.
Chicago’s very cold right now.
Very much indeed (laughter).
You’re lucky you’re not there.
Winters are hard.
Especially this winter oddly enough. What do your parents do?
That’s interesting. They’re not retired, but my dad used to be a lawyer and my mom used to be a VP in HR. A lot of human contact, too. That’s where I learned about the importance of empathy.
From your mom and then your dad. Lawyers, it’s very processed, right?
You have the methodology connection there, don’t you?
I do. Yes, I do.
Remember the early days of market research, when you started… This is going to be an unfair question, I’m talking about 20 years ago. How much time was spent, in those early days, on the added value or the actual impact of the research versus the logistics of the research? Do you remember on a percentage basis? I know this is going to be a wrong answer no matter what, but—
I don’t know, but I—
Was it 25 percent? Five percent?
I don’t know if I can give you a number, but I can totally see that that has absolutely shifted from back then to how things are right now. How I live it right now, because in the company that I’m working under, there’s a huge change and shift in the way we are approaching consumer research. I don’t even like to call it consumer research. For me, it’s just insights. Gathering insights from consumers.
Before, it was all processed and validation. This was exactly what my presentation was about. We were a function that supported the lead function, which used to be marketing. Now, we’re just strategic partners and we have so much accountability for the impact that the whole function has in the organization that it has to meet. It has totally shifted, and it’s much more rewarding right now.
I agree. There’s not been a more exciting time in my career for market research than right now.
I agree, absolutely.
We have a seat at the table. Successful businesses know that Amazon didn’t accidentally win over the last 10 years. They’ve been using consumer data in order to drive business decisions, that and Google. You just picked the major brand that’s had success. Data has to be part and parcel in the decision-making process, which means that market research gets to play a pivotal—
Very big part.
At the board level.
Yes, for sure.
Absolutely. In the organization and Cereal Partners Worldwide, our VP reports directly to the CEO. That’s because the CEO is so consumer-centric. That drives the whole organization to be centered around the consumer. That makes a huge difference.
These other organizations where it’s just a support function, where you have data for, what added value can do there?
Yes, exactly. You’re right. That CEO has got to drive the culture of the organization.
If you’re going to be consumer-centric and ultimately successful, it has to start at the top. It can’t function any other way.
It’s funny how it’s changing the way that businesses are… I’ll pick on McDonald’s because they’re my go-to example recently. They’re advertising high-value options for their consumers at the point of purchase as opposed to the more lucrative products, whether it’s four for two or whatever. What that’s doing is it’s creating this positive goodwill with the consumer who’s cash strapped, or whatever. That wins the long game as opposed to, “How much money can I eke out of that transaction at that point in time?” Seeing them as this exploitative view.
Absolutely. One of the things that I presented this morning is that part of the process in sometimes large corporations is that instead of having the consumer at the center at the beginning of the development journey, you have the business as the center. Business is important. You have to make money out of what you’re doing. If you start with a business need instead of with a consumer need you can accelerate and innovate fast, but that’s never going to work because there’s not a consumer need behind it. If you start with a consumer need and then try to make the business work around it, then that makes another level. That’s the mindset that we need to change in large corporations. As much as there’s a big opportunity for us to enter an opportunity, there’s an opportunity to make money in this area. Great. If there’s no consumer need, forget it.
Yes, exactly. It all centers around that wide space of the need. This is where I keep coming back to it. We need to have that fair trade or exchange so that the consumer feels like there’s a partnership with the brand.
It’s a neat time. It’s just a neat time. I’m thrilled to see where our industry is going. The other part, are you seeing an emphasis on storytelling inside of the organization?
Also, yes. In our function, too, because we can have as much data as we want. If we’re not able to tell a story with it to impact the organization, then it’s worth nothing, too. Around the value of what we do. Around the function itself, much more focused, too.
We are advocates. What we learn has to be translated to our organization in a way that it’s simple and clear. You have to be able to tell a story, your elevator pitch. To answer what they want to hear, not what your story is. Before, we came with 100 slides with everything that we’ve learned. Who cares about that? (Laughs.)
They used to go into the library, the corporate library, which is a real thing you said exists. A body of knowledge and a library.
Now, meeting for 30 minutes. You have your CO there, your story to tell, you have 30 minutes. You have to be sharp, choose the battles that you want to pick and go and tell them in an interactive and engaging way or you’re done. Your credibility is lost (laughs).
That’s right. It’s a neat time. I don’t know if you heard this first speaker this morning. He was talking about how research is a learnable skill. Transferable is his word. Research is a transferable skill. You’ve got market research as the consumer mind, but you also have user experience or customer experience. You have data science, which is sitting in some corporations outside of market research. Are you seeing cooperation across the organization across those… I’ll call them… I don’t know that they’re three disciplines. They’re one discipline, but specific focuses. Are you seeing cooperation across your organization?
I’m seeing more and more. Also, we’re leaving this time where our function is being fluid. There’s no stiff box where a consumer research function sits. The power that we have to influence is not in our function itself, but in how we can connect the dots across the different functions to make a story or to build a compelling case. It’s not about just us as, “We’re bringing the insight.” There’s nothing like that. It’s, “How is what I’m doing connecting with what my colleagues here are doing and with what others are doing? Let’s build this net of insights that are retrofitting each other.” More than anything, we need to collaborate with each other, because the answer is not in one source.
Yes, exactly. That largely speaks to our view of diversity as well. People with different points of view and with different backgrounds, even to the point of gender and ethnicity, it goes to the broader… It creates a more complete lens to understand the current market and the consumer challenges, and how we can, as brands, address those particular issues that they have.
You’ve been doing market research for a little while.
A little bit (laughter).
What do you see as a trend in the market research space right now?
Agility. The need of moving at another pace. Times are changing. What was valid before, the processes that you used to have, is not valid anymore. Having a project that goes to field, has a month of fielding and another three weeks to get the report back and then another two weeks to get the… That’s not working. That affects not only in the way we request our pieces of research but also in the way we innovate within the organization, in the way we’re building our communication. Everything needs to be much more agile.
To me, there are three words that I usually use to… The three criteria that I put as a tick in everything that I do. The same, I do with my team which are agility, collaboration, and consumer centricity. Everything that we do needs to have these three elements together.
It’s like a three-legged stool.
Yes. I feel that’s needed in order to… This element of being agile in the way we collaborate is not only about speed. It’s about flexibility to do things differently, to pivot. Things are changing every day, so we have to be a function that, more than anything, has the ability to move, to do things differently, to change the pace if needed. We need to respond to what’s coming. What was working yesterday is not necessarily working today.
Yes, that’s so true. You’re right about the, “As long as we’re set up to cope with the change, which is agility.” Then you’ve got the processes and the injection points of the consumer when the decisions are being made. That’s more of a skill or a cultural norm that has to exist. I love how you framed it. It’s got to start at the top.
Go ahead. I’m sorry.
No. I was just going to say that, more than anything, when I look for skills in my team, I always say that soft skills are more important than hard skills. When I hire someone in my team, they need to have the basics. If they don’t have the flexibility, cooperation, ability to move fast, to change, to pivot, initiative and curiosity, you can know it all, you won’t be able to succeed in the way we are right now the organizations are working. If you have those skills, everything else can be learned.
Estrella, thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.
Time to get back to the show.