In this episode, we’ll hear from Maya Kantak, Consumer Insights Manager at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products on her opinion and experiences about diversity in consumer insights.
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Jamin Brazil: Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Maya Kantak, consumer insights manager at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. Prior to joining Disney, Maya’s held senior roles in the market research and insights functions at Del Taco and Honda Research and Development. Maya, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.
Maya Kantak: Hey, thanks for having me.
Jamin Brazil: It’s an absolute honor. I’d like to start with a little bit of context. Maybe you could tell us about your parents and how they informed what you do today.
Maya Kantak: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks again for having me. It’s actually a really funny story. So my parents were both immigrants from India. They came to the U.S. during college and graduate school and what’s actually really interesting is that my dad, he went into the workforce a little bit earlier than my mom and he went into engineering on the product development side and in turn, he kind of became an end-user of market research. So when my mom was ready to enter the work force with her social psych degree, my dad kind of nudged her into market research, which makes me one of the few rare second-generation market researchers.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah.
Maya Kantak: Yeah, so it’s really interesting. She went first on the client side, she went to Pioneer, and then Mitsubishi and when Mitsubishi was moving to – their headquarters to Atlanta, my mom decided to venture out and start her own full-service market research firm, Acquired Research West.
Jamin Brazil: Do you remember her first client?
Maya Kantak: Her first client was Honda, actually. She loves telling that story.
Jamin Brazil: I bet.
Maya Kantak: We need a whole other podcast for that, though.
Jamin Brazil: I was going to dive in, but apparently, it’s a little bit too long. So you as a youth were exposed to the inner workings of market research. I assume you had some hands in the business.
Maya Kantak: Pretty much from a really, really young age I was doing – quote, unquote, I was doing market research. As a kid I was stuffing surveys into envelopes with a dollar bill, you know? I kind of worked my way up, so to speak, into transcribing focus groups, coding open ends, finally running frequencies, all before I even started college. So definitely exposed to market research at a young age. It was fun. It was actually – I really enjoyed those days because I was spending time with my parents. I didn’t think of it as market research.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, and it really is a – like the back office of market research is – I mean, it’s just like an admin job, right? I mean, 90 percent of – at least before the digital automation phase entered about five years ago, about 90 percent of the work was just operational considerations. You mentioned stuffing envelopes, probably a portion of our listeners don’t exactly know what you mean. Do you want to expand on why people put dollar bills in envelopes?
Maya Kantak: No, that’s really funny, because had I been anybody else and not exposed to market research at such a young age, I would fall in that camp that you just mentioned. I wouldn’t know anything about that. So really kind of a unique experience I have, but yeah, with the stuffing the envelope with dollar bill and a survey, that was how incentives were 20 years ago. And it’s just so interesting that I had that exposure and that ability to kind of see market research grow even at my age.
Jamin Brazil: And it’s such a psychological – I’m old enough to not have the claim that if I wouldn’t have worked for my parents, but the – psychologically, when you receive a dollar bill, which is not very much money, right? And a survey, a paper-based survey with a self-addressed envelope, you feel very guilty about pocketing the dollar and throwing the survey away. And so many people will take the time to – assuming it’s not this massive 30 minute exercise, will take the time to fill out the survey and actually has – it is a very cost effective, or was, I haven’t done it in many years – a cost effective way to actually get RDD sample, meaning random digit dialing, so to speak. But you do it at an address level, targeting usually specific DMAs and it’s a really inexpensive way to do advertising. I mean, just to kind of level set in a modern context, Chueyee and I are doing some research operations for other companies and we recruit using social media, which is the modern equivalent to random digit dialing, I guess. And a Facebook ad on a complete will cost us around four dollars, just to get the link click and then get them into the survey. So you think about that from a mail perspective, that’s functionally four, three to four pieces of mail that you would have distributed, right? And back in those days, I was getting about a one in three return rate, which was pretty high. Now that we’re talking about it, I’m thinking gosh, why don’t I do that again? I don’t know, maybe it’s time for a resurgence of mail.
Maya Kantak: Yeah, go back a little bit.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah.
Maya Kantak: Absolutely.
Jamin Brazil: So we’re talking about diversity and it’s been probably, not probably, it’s been absolutely the most insightful discussions I’ve had from a personal growth perspective with other professionals like yourself who come from a diverse background, other than me, which is white male in their 40s. And as I’ve gone through this journey, I really have been humbled by the amount of – or feeling bad, maybe, about me applying my lens as I analyze data with subgroups or specific segments, right, that weren’t me. And kind of my big takeaway so far and a-ha moment has been the context of growing up and your subsequent view of the world is entirely, that lens is built on who you are in a physical way and then also in a social economic way. And so I think that we have forgotten that or not had that as really that bias drilled into us so when we’re growing through our analytics, it’s absolutely imperative that we have this humility to say maybe I don’t represent this people group accurately. And as such, I should incorporate them in the analytics as to at least vet my assumptions. But so it kind of leads into – that long-winded question leads into – or statement really leads into our topic today. What do you see as the role of diversity in consumer research, especially in context of a post-pandemic landscape?
Maya Kantak: Yeah, no, absolutely without question diversity needs to be included and a consideration in market research and the market research process. I mean, we need diversity in the sample inclusion, in the questions that we’re asking, and perspective on the team, like you mentioned for those who are actually interpreting the results. The most obvious reason for that is because when we include groups that have previously been ignored, we’re widening our reach, which is ultimately our goal as market researchers. But like you mentioned, in the post-pandemic landscape, it’s going to be that much more important. Without question, the U. S. is very diverse. I actually had the privilege of doing some research in the U. S. and internationally in Japan and it’s so interesting to see the difference in results, not just because it’s different populations, but you will see that in Japan, there’s this very homogenous kind of thinking that response will be 80 percent said this or 90 percent said this, whereas in the U. S., we frequently see that 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent, and it’s kind of across the board answers and not just that the U. S. is diverse with a lot of diverse people, different people with different opinions, but about what’s going on now and about how that’s going to look, particularly in that post-pandemic landscape. There’s certain groups that are being disproportionately affected by this novel coronavirus, which is going to have a huge and potentially lasting impact on their consumer confidence, their priorities. Like you mentioned, ethnicity, social economic status, but also disabled people, pregnant people, elderly people, and not just at the individual level, but at the statewide level, too. New York, for example, completely different perspective and different – disproportionately affected by this pandemic.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah. That’s actually really an interesting point that I hadn’t considered, but you’re absolutely right, like it’s almost as if you need professionals if you’re representing a specific people group or segment in the population, then it’s important that you have access to market research professionals that are connected to that segment, ideally they’re part of that segment. Because it can help create – one, it will vet your hypothesis, but two, it will help you from a language perspective correct the way that you’re communicating the insights. I was on a panel recently with Pepper Miller. She is a – gosh, I’m trying to remember the name of her company and I’m totally drawing a blank. Chueyee, you’ll have to forget this part. What in the hell is the name? Hold on, I’ve got to look. Sorry, one second. I want to nail it. I want to say it’s – yeah, it’s just Pepper Miller. Got it. So I was on a panel recently with Survey Monkey and Pepper Miller was one of the panelists and as a black woman in Chicago, she started a practice under Pepper Miller consultancy, where they – she actually helps companies understand the black consumer through her lens, which is one that is very accurate, right? And she actually referenced some COVID-19 research that was published by a top market research agency and – where they depicted the black consumer or broad audience in the segment in the U. S. as being overwhelmingly optimistic about going through this process. And she was talking about why that was an incorrect and maybe even insulting point of view and so, you know, it just – it really kind of underscored for me the importance of making sure that you have that consumer insight professional as part of the research function. When you think about the post-pandemic landscape, as your – I’m just curious, on a personal level, have you seen your network expand or contract during the last six weeks, seven weeks?
Maya Kantak: That’s an interesting question. I would definitely say it’s expanded. I’ve kind of had a little inspiration by reading several articles saying this is the time to network. No one has anything else to do, so – yeah, so I kind of took that as inspiration and just reached out to a lot of my network, you being one of them, actually, and yeah, kind of went from there. So definitely I’d say it has expanded.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, it’s kind of interesting to me, I didn’t realize it but I was – like if you and I were to have a meeting, I would want to go visit you in Orange County, because I love Orange County and Disney Land, by the way. But more specifically, because I’ve used in person as the way to really create connection, but now with this kind of lockdown, we don’t have that as an option anymore and now we’re leveraging video and it is creating a real connection and that saved – you know, for me, it would have saved a day of travel. Not to say I wouldn’t have traveled for you, but you get the point, right? And instead, I was able to probably meet with many other people. Are you participating in any of the house party or Zoom – more like from a social perspective?
Maya Kantak: Oh, yeah. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Jackbox.
Jamin Brazil: I have not.
Maya Kantak: But that’s [CROSSTALK]. A lot of my friends, many of my friend groups are getting on Zoom calls and playing Jackbox together, which is basically like – games like Pictionary and trivia and other kind of games just that you – you just need a cell phone. You just need a phone to log into, so it’s really fun.
Jamin Brazil: Got it. Oh, that’s – it’s kind of like Pigeon, I think is another – is it? Similar app.
Maya Kantak: I don’t know.
Jamin Brazil: But anyway, yeah. That’s really cool. So you guys, you guys basically play the game on your phones but then you have the Zoom interaction piece.
Maya Kantak: Yeah.
Jamin Brazil: I’m going to try that with a drinking game.
Maya Kantak: Absolutely you can. And I’m saying that from experience.
Jamin Brazil: All right. So when you’re thinking about the diversity and the team, the research team, what considerations do you think we should be giving to the – to diversity and the team that’s actually doing the research?
Maya Kantak: Yeah, I mean, kind of piggybacking on what we were saying earlier, if you and not just you, but in general, metaphorical you, haven’t been thinking about diversity yet or so far, now more than ever is that time to do so. Particularly on that market research team, like you were saying. It’s just – it’s really important. I mean, the sample itself post-pandemic is likely going to change and look very different. And the team doing the research should have the perspective to recognize this. And that obviously comes out of having a more diverse representation on that team. One of my favorite examples of this is actually when I was doing some product development research for a vehicle that I was working on. So for that research, we were basically asked to ask customers to rate and tell us their opinions on 15 or so different features that we were potentially going to add to the vehicle. So of course, I go in and I’m thinking to myself oh, yeah, this one, this one, this one, those are the winners. Any researcher will say that they’ve done that. And – but when the results came back, it was really interesting to me that the results were totally different from what I thought. Almost opposite, actually. Which of course, we do market research because we can’t predict what the results are going to be. But it was so strange to me that the results were so, so different. So as I mentioned, we did this research with current customers and with current customer was heavily skewed male to the point where the male sample was actually overpowering the voice of the female customer. So when I actually – when I divided the customer sample by male and female, it told a completely different story and the features that did well amongst females were actually much more in line with my thoughts. Again, not exactly, but much more in line with my thinking and why I thought certain features would do well. Which was so interesting to me, because when I ended up presenting this to the company, to the product development team working on this vehicle, a female engineer, she actually stood up in the middle of the presentation and she’s in a sea of male engineers, she stood up in this presentation, she’s like I’ve been trying to tell them this for years. And that was probably my biggest a-ha moment of how important having diverse representation is, particularly on the market research team, but everywhere. It’s a kind of – it’s a systemic issue for a company like the one that I described, mostly male engineers. The customer ends up being a lot of males because the male engineers are catering to the male customer. And it’s kind of systemic and it’s built into our companies unless we actively do something about it.
Jamin Brazil: I mean, that’s really interesting. In some ways it’s like the self-fulfilling prophecy it sounds like, where we’re – in this case, males building products for themselves and then obviously, it’s resonating with that same people group. But then, subsequently isolating other segments of the market. When you think about that particular study, was there a clear application or insight that they were able to draw on to be more inclusive or attract the female buyer?
Maya Kantak: Well, what was really important lens for us to look at this research with was that females, whether or not they’re the primary consumer or the primary purchaser of a vehicle, have the say in majority of vehicle purchases. And so for us to ignore the female’s perspective was just – didn’t make any sense.
Jamin Brazil: That’s super interesting. And yet another insight that you would have probably missed. Were the – given, obviously, the frame of the room or the context of the profile of the people that were listening to your presentation, I’m just really curious, were they able to receive that?
Maya Kantak: Oh, absolutely. It’s a very – it was a very collaborative company and very open minded, so I think a lot of the male engineers in particular just sat there thinking how did I not see this before.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, that’s a really good point and it’s good hear that they were receiving it. I have been in situations where it hasn’t been quite so well received. But nonetheless, I think we are – it’s incumbent on us to always be truth tellers. What advice would you give to people that maybe in a similar situation where they may be the minority in the room as a researcher, but they’re presenting a point of view that may be controversial or different? What – how do you – do you have any points where you could recommend how they could communicate that to their internal customers?
Maya Kantak: Yeah. No, I love that question. I think as market researchers, we are always trying to eliminate our bias, that’s something that’s really important to us and ingrained to us at a very early stage in our career. But for that minority person or person who has that controversial viewpoint or understanding, I would really want them to think about not trying to eliminate that bias to the point where they lose their perspective and unique lens. And to really embrace that they’re looking at that data with a unique and relevant lens, particularly when the customer matches their minority status. And to be confident in that and communicate it as such.
Jamin Brazil: That’s good. That’s really good advice, actually. And it kind of helps us accept who we are as part of the sample, right, as we interpret and understand that data and subsequently relay and tell the story. I think it’s going to be the case and I don’t know, this is just a bet of mine, that we’re going to see an intentional increase in diversity among researchers at the analytics phase, side of the business. I think that can be really – that could be really powerful. My view or lens of that is – my experience so far has been Jamin standing up in front of a group of people relaying some insights, but it would be probably a lot more powerful if – actually not probably, definitely, if there was those people groups or specific researchers representing those people groups that were able to convey the specific segments point of view as it relates to the insight.
Maya Kantak: Absolutely. And don’t be afraid to ask people, too. Everyone is kind of, as you hear today, we’re all in this together. I frequently have done research on groups that I’m not a part of and I’ll actually phone a friend or go to someone within the company and just be like does this make sense to you? Are you seeing this in your community or just kind of get that perspective any way you can?
Jamin Brazil: So when you think about trends in research, how will research be different over the next few years, and really where I’m trying – what I’m trying to hone in on here is what either methods or types of research or even tools do you think will be less or used more?
Maya Kantak: Well, so as any market researcher, we see – we go to these conferences and see a lot on media research. I think again, post-pandemic, video research is going to shine more than ever, probably. Particularly because we’re not stuffing a bunch of people into a room like a typical focus group facility where giving people the flexibility of being in their own home, not having that face to face interaction, which I know a lot of people are going to be skeptical about. But also with some video research, it actually gives them the flexibility of doing the research on their own time. I actually was lucky enough to be a part of this innovative project on local video research, which was a mobile mission and it was basically asking people to record videos of themselves and – actually, sorry, Jamin. I want to answer this one again.
Jamin Brazil: So thinking about trends in research, how will research be different over the next few years? In other words, what methods or other types of research do you think we will be doing either more of or less of?
Maya Kantak: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question, particularly because of the pandemic, the current pandemic that we’re all experiencing on the research side and on the consumer side. I definitely see mobile research and video research kind of having it’s light in this post-pandemic landscape, especially and particularly because mobile research gives that flexibility of the customer answering questions from the comfort of their own homes. They’re not being forced to be in this room, face to face with not just the moderator, but other consumers, which I know a lot of people are going to be very skeptical about coming out of this pandemic. But they can do it in their own homes, they can do it on their own time a lot of times and it really allows for a more – I guess comfortable and more genuine kind of feedback from the customer, which I really love. I actually was a part of an innovative project called – it was a mobile mission research project that I presented on a bit prior to this and it was exactly that. It was asking a few questions and saying record your video answering these questions and send it over along with a bunch of other quantitative questions. And we were able to collect this mobile video at scale. We had 200 respondents sending us answers to certain questions and something like that, I could see really taking off post-pandemic.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, the whole asynchronous video is really interesting. And then also as you’re saying, we’re all – we’ve all become accustomed to video and by all, I mean quite literally all. My kids yesterday did a 45-minute Zoom call with – let me remember how many tiles, six, seven, with seven tiles, so it would have been six people plus them, other little kids. And this is a – these are not technologically advanced kids and they’re doing things like costume changes and making faces and stuff like that. And so there’s this really interesting inflection point in our culture right now where you’re seeing video adoption being forced upon us and as I think about kind of like a post-pandemic, I could see a scenario where it’s not going to replace – the video call’s not going to replace the in person play date, but it might enable the play date with more people at once. And as that relates with research, I completely agree with your thesis that we’re going to see that become a much bigger part. Do you think there’s going to be a rise in tools that are specific to enabling video-based research or do you think those tools have been established and you’re going to kind of either stay the same or decrease, even?
Maya Kantak: That’s actually a really good question. I can see a lot of tools that traditionally do other things, for example, consumer experience or something integrating video into their already established tool. But I can also definitely see smaller startups kind of throwing their hat in the game, or even larger companies that have traditionally not been used for market research to throw their hat in the game. Zoom is a really good example of a company that’s not been an insight company necessarily, but definitely has kind of the power of their name, where they can definitely throw their hat in the game.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah, that’s a good point. You think about the things that are missing with Zoom right now, it’s really just the backroom experience, meaning the ability to be able to, in real time, view a conversation without being part of the conversation. At least, to my knowledge that doesn’t exist.
Maya Kantak: Yeah, I mean, I can see Zoom for researchers.
Jamin Brazil: Yeah. And –
Maya Kantak: Something like –
Jamin Brazil: And they even have real time transcripts. Right, so I mean, there’s a lot of efficiency that is built into the tool. Interesting. I want to kind of piggyback on this point if you don’t mind. The space, market research has been identified as one of the hardest hit or impacted sectors in – because of COVID-19 and you know, we’ve – I’ve seen this through the dot com bust and I saw it again in the 2009 financial crisis. You know, market research always bounces back, I’m not trying to be all doom and gloom, but I mean, I think we are going to have, or do have quite a few companies that have made hard decisions and there’s been layoffs. If – and not just in market research. I mean, we see this in many sectors. What skills should people, researchers be trying to – or developing in themselves in order to maintain relevancy and edge in this new world?
Jamin Brazil: Do you think it’s centric to how – what – like becoming an expert – you know, traditionally in consumer insights or market research, I should say, you had to use SPSS, for example. Do you think it’s becoming more competent with the actual tools like Zoom, or do you think it’s something else, like how to do I don’t know what?
Maya Kantak: Actually, you know, sorry. Different pivot. I just realized that most – what I’ve been reading a lot about and what I’ve been thinking a lot about is how you were talking about a lot of layoffs and companies and a lot of companies kind of – a lot of market researchers being hit hard by this pandemic and I could definitely see the world of tomorrow having a lot of in house research, more than ever before. That’s how I’ve had my edge in my career is eliminating vendors and doing a lot of research in house. I can see companies doing more and more of that. Not saying that vendors don’t have their place, but vendors will need to adapt. They will need to be more specialists and more complementary to research being done in house.
Jamin Brazil: Interesting. When you think about the complementary piece of that, do you think it’s centric to like research operations, like getting people to participate, or do you think it’s more an augment of like analytics, horsepower, or something else?
Maya Kantak: I think it’s more like – what I’m seeing a lot is full-service vendors in particular, being able to piggyback on a project and do piecemeal portions of a project. Or companies taking insights to that next level and being almost the consultant due to their kind of expertise in many different industries.
Jamin Brazil: What is your personal motto?
Maya Kantak: So I was like three pretty simple rules. Very shockingly simple, actually. One, decide what you’re going to do. Two, do it. And three, decide the next thing you’re going to do. And I really like that motto for me, just because I’m the type of person who literally, I’ll decide what I’m going to do, and nothing is going to stop me from accomplishing that. Like the mobile research project that I mentioned before, I actually had to custom code the video into the survey tool and use java script and HTML and things I had never touched before, and I had to teach it, teach myself how to do it. But that’s kind of my personality is when I want a survey to look a certain way or do a certain thing, I’m going to do it.
Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Maya Kantak, consumer insights manager at Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. Thank you, Maya, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.
Maya Kanta: Thank you for having me.
Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, hope you found value in this episode. As always, screen capture, share on social media. If you tag me, I will send you a shirt and the shirt is awesome. Have a wonderful rest of your day.