CRC 2019 Podcast Series

2019 CRC Series – Joe Beier – GfK

Welcome to the 2019 CRC Series. Recorded live in Orlando, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Joe Beier, EVP of Shopper and Retail Strategy at GfK.

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Hi, this is Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. The next set of episodes are conversations I had at this year’s Corporate Researchers Conference or CRC. This is put on by the Insights Association in Orlando, Florida. I had quite a few interesting conversations highlighting specific companies that exhibited this year as well as a couple of speakers, Wells Fargo, IBM, etc. I hope you have a really good rest of your day and enjoy these short episodes.


Hi, this is Jamin. You are listening to Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Joe. GfK is the name of the company. He’s been on a podcast already. He’s got a little bit of wine left in his cup. We are at CRC insights Association’s client-side event, and you gave a presentation today.


I did.


Give us a little bit of highlight.


We were talking about trust, the whole issue of consumer trust and how there are so many challenges to that space right now and how we’re really in a unique
era of trust just eroding very, very quickly and being challenged from so many different quarters. As dark of a journey as we knew it would be, we thought it was important to lay out what that landscape looks like today and some of the key factors and bring it home with a little more of an optimistic view in terms of some of the things that we extract from those learnings that we think can be good guidelines for folks that are trying to manage brands or create trusting relationships with consumers, rule rules of the road, if you will, to operate by. So, we laid out the challenges and then a little bit of what you might want to think about doing about it for some recommendations.


The audience can’t see this because it’s one of the slides that was presented today talking about optimism in the space. And I’ll include this in the show notes by the way. But how I really started connecting this is this issue of trust really is closely tied, in my opinion, to optimism and how people are feeling about the brands that they’re interacting with. So, my broader point is that it becomes really important for us as an industry to ensure that we’re garnering trust, especially among respondents, right? And that has to do with, I think again, the ethical context of how research is actually being done. I’m wondering, do you think that there’s going to be changes to the way that we do research over the next few years in line with maybe more, I don’t know what, either data privacy or transparency with sourcing sample.


Well, you’re probably not going to like this answer very well, but I think our presentation today took a very broad view of this whole issue, and I would assert that in the grand scheme of all the things coming at consumers and shoppers and respondents, which could all be the same person, of course ,depending on their state, but to me the incident of taking a survey or being interviewed is a pretty small speck on the landscape of all the things that they have to deal with. And so, I would expect some minor adjustments to be made there, but I don’t get the feeling that the industry has such a big impact on their total view of trust of the industry as a whole, that it’s due for major overhauls. I think we’re talking about some puts and takes kind of more at the edges of how we do things and not wholesale re-invention.


Yeah, for sure. It’s interesting to see… Picking on Facebook cause they’re, obviously, under the microscope right now with respect to a consumer privacy, I keep thinking that there’s this big opportunity in front of us to somehow connect consumer opinion (stated opinion) and transactional or behavioral data into that same data ecosystem in a cohesive way that makes the analytics part a lot easier, right? Traditionally, it has felt very arduous to try to integrate external data into a primary research data. So anyway, that’s…


I agree. It’s been messy, I think, historically. I think a lot of the things that were talked about at the conference today in terms of data science and AI and the computing power that is now available to us would certainly seem to hold the promise to make that whole integration process a lot less messy. I don’t think it’s going to be elegant tomorrow, but I think step one is less messy and then maybe we can get to elegant in time. And I think we get that. GfK has traditionally been more of a survey-based… You know, we’re a classic big, global research house that’s relied a lot like many of our peers on survey data. And we’re trying to get less reliant on that every year and work in more of the behavioral elements.

But I will say that I see a little bit of an overreaction in the industry against survey work. There’s a little bit of a tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater in terms of people always make the point everything has to be behavioral. You got these almost philosophies or schools of thought. And the behavioralists are all like, “Don’t believe any of that data because, you know, people don’t do what they really say and everyone knows that and throw it all out.” And we’re like, “Well, not so fast because behavioral is great, but behavioral often stops short of telling you why things are happening.” I mean it’s great to frame up “the what,” this is the ground-level truth about what is happening transactionally many times.

But in terms of motivations and attitudes and all the things that go into that stew to get you to the point of that behavior, we think it’s vital to understand a lot of those things. And so, we were totally not ready to throw out survey work. And I think you have to be choiceful about how you use survey work, right? So, for example, we don’t usually ask questions about, you know, if you bought this category in the last three months, how much did you spend on your basket? That’s a terrible way to use survey data ‘cause no one’s going to remember that. Or what four websites did you go to last week when you were shopping for a smartphone? Bad. But things like we talked about today in our presentation a little bit: values. How do you feel about this value?

Is it important to you that someone acts in a way that’s responsible to the environment? How do you feel about shopping? Are you excited about it or is it a chore to you? There’re many things that are much more kind of lasting and salient to a respondent and much less prone to err that we think survey work is very well suited to measure. So, let’s use it there and not use it some other places where it’s more dangerous.


Okay. Last question on this subject. I could talk about this for a long time. I think it’s super relevant where you’re going with it, and I think it’s exactly on point by the way. The utilization of open-ended data or videos, how are you seeing that over the next couple of years?


We’re using it more and more. It’s great for texture and flavor and richness, if you will, of the finding. So that’s one reason we use it and also technologically what I just talked about in terms of integration of behavioral and survey data. There’s also a forefront obviously in terms of this open-ended data, classifying and reading it. And that’s all becoming much more automated too. So that’s much less labor intensive as well. So yes, we do it to enhance our insights, but one of the places we actually use it a lot is in the socialization of the study and of the findings. So, our stakeholders are typically the insights folks at various companies. We do all the work, a lot of work in consumer-packaged goods and other industries, tech and other places.

And our stakeholders at the end of a project have their own support network within the company to socialize the findings among. And the higher up you go up the corporate ladder, the less people want to read ironically, and they’d rather watch videos. And the videos have a lot of utility in encapsulating a lot of the findings that could be done in a sort of more sterile PowerPoint presentation. But our folks really like the extra topspin that they get of being able to make the point with some of the data, but then put a nice bow on it with a video that kind of reinforces it.


See, I think you’re right. It’s about humanizing the intangible in a way that creates repeatability. But it is about the humanization of that abstract data, which is quant, because nobody thinks in numbers. (Some people do, but most don’t.) And then it creates this like repeatable story inside of the organization.


Yeah. It’s humanization and putting a face on it and absolutely. That’s right.


Yeah, for sure. I love that. Last question: You sold the business to GfK.


I did.


Tell me a little bit about the business.


The business was called Interscope, and it was started by me and about five other colleagues that had spun out of another shop that we had all worked at called Meridian. Meridian was a place I went in about the year 2000, and they were more of a category management, a little bit of shopper organization. That’s kind of during the go-go days of category management as you may recall. And so, it was kind of a great place for me to get into consulting. I had been in brand for a few years before that on the marketing side. And we liked the kind of work that we were doing. We didn’t like the company that much, so we spun out and really took it… Interscope was, we called it a kind of a shopper marketing consultancy. We held on to some of that same category management capability, but morphed the business more towards shopper marketing strategy and consulting, a lot of go-to-market stuff, some retail re-invention stuff. So, we had kind of an interesting mix of things— all kind of related and revolving around the shopper. And GfK had a very well-established business in North America around a lot of consumer insights and consumer activation, but was candidly pretty weak in the shopper space. And so, they wanted to muscle up in shopper and we were kind of at the time an up and coming agency and conversations were had and they came calling. And we weren’t even really looking to sell the company at the time. We had been around for about five years, grown Interscope into a nice viable shopper company, but we decided we’d be an even better proposition if we could add all the rich research capabilities that GfK brought. I mean I was like a kid in a candy store.

I was having to beg, borrow and steal research insights before in a very entrepreneurial environment at Interscope and now was like, “Oh, my God, we do facial recognition. We do blah, blah; we do survey work. We do…” So, it’s been a really nice evolution to a really now a pretty full service. We managed to hang on to a lot of the consulting and a lot of the smart business thinking that we brought to our clients in the Interscope model, but now really flush it out with an ability to go out and get some really rich insights to work with.


And of course, I’m familiar with Interscope back in the day. So anyway, Joe, it is an honor having you on the podcast. I think we should do an extended episode at another time.


Sure. It’s been fun. Thanks for having me in.


Time for a drink too.


All right, sounds good.