MRMW NA 2019 Podcast Series

MRMW NA 2019 Conference Series – Justin Coates – Eastman Chemical Company

Welcome to the MRMW NA 2019 Conference Series. Recorded live in Cincinnati, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Justin Coates, Consumer Insights Leader at Eastman Chemical Company.

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Eastman Chemical Company


In this interview with Justin Coates of Eastman Chemical Company, he talks about some of the challenges of Eastman in bringing in the insights function to their everyday work flows and decision-making processes.  This is a really interesting subject, and hope you dive deep into it. It’s a short episode, but it’s packed full of what, I think, is one of the more important themes inside of market research. We saw with the acquisition of Qualtrics by SAP of $8 billion and insane multiplier, but I actually believe that we are at the beginning of this J-curve of almost all successful companies ultimately investing in consumer insights and that they will play a key role in the decision-making processes.  And, as that takes hold inside of the companies, not just new companies, but established firms like Eastman, over 100 years old, are going to be looking at employing whether it’s surveys or qualitative or whatever inside their everyday decision-making processes, which, again, is all greenfield opportunity for us. Enjoy.


Justin Coates, Eastman Chemical Company, right?  Been around a long, long time.


Yes, almost a 100 years.  


That’s insane.  Congratulations.  You’ve done a great job over the last 100 years.  You don’t look it.


Thank you.  I know. I look great for a 100.  A lot of Botox.


[laughter]  It’s like that Star Trek episode.  Anyway, so, you gave the last speech today, which is always the toughest, by the way.


It is the toughest.  Everyone wants to go, and there are free drinks, I hear.


I’ve heard that too.


We’re here doing this, but this still…  Yeah, that’s always a rough spot.


Yeah, no kidding.  So, maybe just give our listeners a quick overview of what you’ve talked about.    


Sure.  So, essentially, I’ve been doing consumer research for 13-14 years mostly in the textile industry but came to Eastman to kind of build a consumer research function for a chemical company that doesn’t sell to consumers but needs to understand what they want, where their needs are to really create products and materials that will eventually make their way to consumers.  So, my journey over the last two years is building buy-in within the company, within different businesses that this stuff matters, and they need to invest in it, and invest in my area so we can kind of help them solve their business problems and do front-end innovation and really reposition ourselves in front of our customers.


So, relatively new division inside of Eastman.  Is that correct?


Yes, so, it’s within corporate innovation but…  Yes, this is brand-new, started with me.


I was just going to ask.  So, who brought you in?


So, I had a great first boss, Glenda Eilo.  She was the director of corporate innovation, and I was recruited for something completely different.  Came there and did a presentation on what I was doing at Cotton Incorporated. And they’re like, “We don’t want you for this job.  We want you to do what you’re doing here.” So, she went and talked to her CTO and our VP at the time, and they created a position for me almost overnight.


Oh, that’s awesome.  That’s amazing.


That was really very impressive.


Are you a team of one or do you have…?


Right now, a team of one.  I do have some folks that donate some of their time to me for different projects, which I definitely appreciate.  But certainly, looking to expand.   


So, in that context, are you looking at…  Like you have to leverage partnerships to give stuff done, right?


Right, exactly.  Essentially, how it’s set up is Eastman has a number of different businesses.  So, it might be textiles; it might be plastics; it might be tires, care chemicals.  And so, I work with those different groups and kind of try to understand what their needs might be and develop kind of a research design methodology that could help fill those needs with consumer research, whether it’s qual, quant, whatever they might need, and convince them to invest it in.  So they invest in the project, and then they get my time to help them use the insights to help their internal work, internal strategy but also help go directly to their customers and really position us as a strategic thought partner with them.


The company that I started Decipher, we’re on the west coast.  Most of my initial customer base was out of the Silicon Valley, so predominantly in the tech like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.  And so, those large organizations are going through a very different sort of pain point, which is their constituents inside of the corporation are using research autonomously, which is causing a little bit of confusion in some cases. Just ‘cause you can do a survey doesn’t make you a researcher.


It doesn’t?  Well then, I’m out, I guess.         


Dang it!  Me too. Anyway, it’s kind of interesting.  I think that they would look at you in sort of an aspirational position where the organization is actually bending towards you for that consumer insight.


Yeah, it’s been a great ride.  Of course, there are certain businesses where it’s not necessary, but in certain businesses, we’ve gotten a lot of traction.  I’ve gotten in front of a lot of their customers, have impacted sales, which is important. If you’ve heard some of the other talks today is what are the metrics you use to show your value?  And that’s how you’re being incorporated into market strategies, how you’re impacting sales growth, how you’re getting in front of other customers, other constituencies, and kind of changing the conversation.


Kristi Zuhlke, she’s a previous Proctor & Gamble.  She started a company called KnowledgeHound, which is like a knowledge management platform, kind of like Google for insights at the corporate level.  And she had this great, great saying: “Every project has to have an ROI.” So, research has to have an ROI. If it doesn’t have an ROI, don’t do the project.  


Exactly, and that’s where…   They were talking about zero-based budgeting.  I am zero-base budget. [laughter] So I have to prove “This is what you’re going to get out of this project.”  Can’t always predict what will happen, and that’s also where you have to have great business partners who can help take it forward for you.  Accolades for the research and also the people that can champion that within the company ‘cause it’s a large, complex organization. There’s lots of players and influencers; you got to be able to navigate that.     


That’s the other part of it that, I think, is really interesting that you’ve identified; that is, the importance of researchers to have agency inside of their organizations.  And that’s something that has to be intentionally cultivated. The steamroller approach just doesn’t…


It doesn’t really work.


Not so much.


It might work once, but after that, you’re going to get steamrolled.  [laughter] The most important thing when I started Eastman, I had a good mentor who said, “Build your network.  Whatever you do, build your network. Find your people.” And that has been excellent advice.


Yeah, power of network.  There you go. MRMW – of course, you’re client side and speaker.  What do you think about the show so far?


I think it’s great.  This is my first time here.  So, I’ve done other conferences before.  I like how this is very focused on content.  For me, I love to hear the client-side stories, what other researchers are doing, and how they’re going about it.  That’s most fulfilling for me, but there were some agency presentations that were pretty good. Like I need to give these guys a call.  


For sure.  FourSquare, I thought, was super interesting.


FourSquare was interesting.  I think Black Swan was really cool.


I’ve never heard of them.  Well, I have heard of them, but not like that.


They have an interesting business model I want to learn more about.


Yeah, for sure.  Is there any specific unmet needs that you have?  That you’re like, “Gosh, I wish somebody could crack this nut for me.”


I think for us we’re still looking at trying to really dive deeper into the user journey.  And I know how to get there, but getting the organizational line on how to do that is not always happening.  But we’re creating materials that go into a product that consumers are using, and sometimes the performance may be as good, better, or underperforming.  And we need to know that because, if we’re really going to be a specialty-materials company, when we go to a PNG, a Starbucks, a Target, whoever we’re going to, we really need to show them how our material performs, give them that user-journey experience, kind of explain to them how they could potentially market it – kind of all on a silver platter – for them to adopt it.  So, that’s the one element that I don’t think we’ve really gone into yet. We can; it’s just that we haven’t done it yet.


Yeah, yeah, of course.  That’s an interesting point of view.  So, my guest today has been Justin with Eastman.  Thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you for having me.  


Awesome.  Have a great day.


You too.