My guest today is Naomi Henderson, CEO/Co-Founder of RIVA Market Research and Training Institute.
RIVA, founded in 1981, as a qualitative market research services company.
In 1982, RIVA established its moderator training division to meet growing demands from researchers for training in effective qualitative research techniques.
Today, the RIVA Training Institute enjoys an international reputation for its experiential curricula in fundamental and advanced qualitative market research methodologies.
Prior to starting RIVA, she spent the previous 17 years working for some of the companies known as beltway bandits and opinion research corporation.
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Jamin Brazil: Hey everybody, I’m Jamin. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Naomi Henderson. CEO, co-founder of Riva Market Research and Training Institute. Riva was founded in 1981. As a qualitative market research services company. In 1982, Riva established its moderator training division to meet growing demands from researchers for training in effective qualitative research techniques. Today, the Riva Training Institute enjoys an international reputation for its experiential curriculum in foundational and advanced qualitative market research methodologies. Prior to starting Riva, Naomi spent the previous 17 years working for some of the companies known as Beltway Bandits, and Opinion Research Corporation. Naomi, thank you for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.
Naomi Henderson: Glad to be here. Thank you.
Jamin Brazil: This episode is brought to you by Momentive. You may have heard that survey monkey is parent company recently rebranded as Momentive. A leader in agile insights and experience management. The Momentive AI powered insights platform is built for the pace of modern business, so you can deeply understand your market, elevate your brand, and build winning products faster. Momentum offers 22 purpose built market research solutions that incorporate an AI engine, built in expertise, sophisticated methodologies and an integrated global panel of over 144 million people to deliver meaningful insights in hours, not months. Momentive also has a team of market research consultants that can take on anything, from research design to customer reporting as needed. So you can spend more time shaping what’s next for your organization. To learn more, visit momentive.ai. That’s M-O-M-E-N-T-I-V-E.ai. Probably none of our listeners know what the Beltway Bandits are. Can you give us a brief intro?
Naomi Henderson: Sure thing. Living in the DC area, there’s so many terms and acronyms for what goes on around here. And around our city is a pair au fi? A periphery of highways called the Beltway. And inside the beltway rents are high. And outside the Beltway rents are lower for office space. So a lot of companies that serve as vendors to the federal government work outside the Beltway, but right on the periphery. And so you write a proposal, you get a contract, you execute it, rinse and repeat. So these companies spend a lot of their energy, getting federal dollars to do all kinds of services for the federal government. Well, I worked in a number of them in my formative years before starting Riva. And the nickname for those companies is Beltway Bandits. Because the government always felt that we were overcharging for simple things, not understanding that the costs we made it look easy, didn’t mean it was easy. And so they called us Beltway Bandits. And then we called ourselves that because that’s what the term was about. But truly reputable companies doing excellent work for the federal government. I remember a contract in my years at one of the companies. Right when seatbelts came into use in the US, there were people who wouldn’t wear them believing that they wouldn’t- They’d be trapped in a car and couldn’t get out. So one of the projects we did included 57 focus groups all across America, talking to people who were tall and short and fat and pregnant and had equipment on them when they were driving. And having them talk about wearing or not wearing seatbelts. And some interesting findings from that study led to shifts in how seatbelts were made. For example, a woman who is five one or less, getting in a car back in the 1980s, where you couldn’t adjust the seatbelt. It was set at one level.
Jamin Brazil: Too high.
Naomi Henderson: Yes. And it would come across her neck right at the point where her carotid artery was. So that research that we did for the federal government helped change the laws around how seatbelts were engineered. So they called us bandits, but we really were like secret hero’s.
Jamin Brazil: I just like that. The music goes on, I love that. Let’s start with some context. Tell us about your parents, what they did and how that impacted who you are today?
Naomi Henderson: I like everybody has a family story, but mine’s really unusual. So my parents got married when they were 19 years old. My mother had been married once before to her high school principal when she was 15. He passed away and by the time the Second World War broke out, my mother had just turned 19 with a three-year-old daughter. And she was a USL girl at a small camp in Louisiana. This was in the time of a segregated army. So that particular camp had only black soldiers. So my mom and her sister would go and offer doughnuts and coffee and dance with the soldiers. And it was all a chaperone event. So there were a whole lot of soldiers and not that many ladies. And my mother had lots of arrangements to go out and date people. But my father was very persistent, and he won. And they got married and two years later I was born. My father promptly left to go fight the Germans in Italy. At the same time, he became America’s first black helicopter pilot, in a segregated army which was not easy times. So my father’s rules for his children were these. If we’re not in a war zone, my family goes with me. Mainly because he didn’t have much of a family, he was an orphan. So he made sure he kept his family with him. So I went to 14 elementary schools before I was 10. And I think that helped me become a moderator because I can build rapport in like less than 15 seconds. Because I had to do it so many times as a child. My father also had really high standards for his daughter’s. Here’s one of his ground rules, I don’t want you doing 100%. Anybody can do 100%. I want you to do 130. So when you fail, you drop to 100. Not a lot of pressure for three little girls, but hey, it’s what it took to be OK with my dad. So very strict, very responsible for caring for his family. And very rigid. So I learned the power of rules and regulations and do your best and do better than expected. So definitely shaped me as a person, as a woman as a business owner. Absolutely. And then, and so my father was like steel, and my mother was like cotton. So my mother was a stay at home mom all of her life, peanut butter sandwiches every day after school. My mother asked questions like this, what did you learn today? And then we would tell her, and she would say, and how are you going to use that? And we had to stop go, I don’t know, I just learned it. But the way she asked questions and made us stop and think, turned out again to be very useful in market research, who knew?
Jamin Brazil: The framework of knowledge for knowledge’s sake has been one of the things that our industry has been accused of in a negative way. Just providing massive cross tabs or 100-page PowerPoints. Today it definitely feels, well not feels, it absolutely is the case that companies are prioritizing action over insights. And they’re hoping that insights gets a seat at the table. Have you been seeing like in the work that you’re doing on a global level, how have we changed as an industry?
Naomi Henderson: Two things I could point to. One is, prior to 2000, qualitative research was kind of like the stepsister to quant. Quant was king. Quat was the heir to the dukedom. Everything was quant. Like believe the numbers, people in qual, they can lie to you, you don’t know if it’s the truth. So we were always rushing to be accepted as a useful research tool. I don’t know what happened at the turn of the century. But suddenly, what people thought, felt, believed, perceived, started to become very important. Because I think the industry, the corporate industry, the people who make brands and products and services. I think they realize that it isn’t only important to count things like how many, how often, but to understand how those numbers come to be. Which can only be determined in qual. So I actually have a quote that I use often when I’m teaching, which is survey research ask questions, and qualitative research questions answers. So we’re looking for, if 14% of people can drive a stick shift car, how come the rest of them can’t? So what’s up with that? So we go behind the numbers and find the supporting struts that hold up the quant. And more and more companies are realizing, if they know how somebody thinks, know how they make decisions, know what the tipping points are. They got a better shot at moving products and services or shifting mindsets. So sometime around the turn of the century, I don’t have like an exact date. I think the people who buy research realized that they were missing an opportunity to get the rest of the story, if all you had was quant. And you probably remember the Coca-Cola story where they were going to pull off classic coke off the market and make new coke the winner.
Jamin Brazil: I was involved in that.
Naomi Henderson: They made that choice based only on quant. When the public rose up in horror, like how dare you? They realized they could do some qual. And I was lucky enough to be one of the moderators among many who did some of that research right afterwards. And found out that Coca-Cola wasn’t just a product, it was an icon. And Coca-Cola goes to war. And Coca-Cola is at every celebration. Coca-Cola is America. That none of which the quant people paid attention to. They just wanted to get a bigger market share. So that was a good example of where qual rose up to save the day.
Jamin Brazil: I did a lot of work for Pepsi in those days, and it was fun kind of watching that from the outside. Especially as a quant guy. And we have seen a tremendous amount of growth in qualitative methodologies, but not in market research exactly. So you have like user experience. Which is, I don’t even know, it’s growing like wildfire right now, from its application inside of the corporations. Do you think that’s a miss on market research? Do you think if we would have embraced qual more fully, we would have more of that ownership over those disciplines?
Naomi Henderson: I can’t say because, and people have asked me questions like that in the past, because I have a long history in the field. And I’ve certainly trained a lot of people. But I can only see the world from where I’m looking. I can only see it from the projects I get assigned, or the stories my students tell me. So I don’t have that satellite view of the earth position to stand on and answer that. And I guess my general sense is, like Wayne Dyer wrote a book, The Road Not Traveled. And you never know what it would have been like on the other road, because you’re on the road you’re on. And the world of research is on the world that it was on and it only got utilized when somebody found value in it. So it kind of leaves the rest of us with the position of, I wonder what it would have been like? And so I can’t answer that because I can only see it from where I’m standing. What I’m happy about is, the world of qual keeps multiplying. When I started in 1980. Actually 78 was my first focus group. When I got assigned a project to work in corporate America, there were seven methodologies for qual. Seven. And now, decades later, there are 19 methodologies. That says to me, somebody finds value in this tool. It may not be at the level of quant, but you don’t get new methodologies from nowhere. They come out of needs. For example, before there were computers, how could we do online? Ping, ping, computers show up, online research becomes a possibility. Who would have thought that your cell phone was a qual tool? Who would have thought? Yes, it is. And there are moderators who make their living doing research with people on cell phones. And the whole Zoom possibilities and the whole take a photograph with your phone and send it to a website and upload it. Bingo, instant collage. Who would have thunk it?
Jamin Brazil: That’s so clever. The Insights Association seeks to recognize as laureates, outstanding peer nominated members with distinguished careers and contributions. Who have achieved and benefited the insights industry? Obviously, you were nominated as laureate. This is considered a lifetime recognition of distinction in the field. Rather than just an award for a specific achievement. So as a winner, tell me, what does it mean for you to be acknowledged by the Insights Association, as an IPC laureate?
Naomi Henderson: Well, when I think about it, part of me wants to cry. Just like tears of joy, tears of surprise. And where the tears come from is that I didn’t enter this industry to win a prize at the end of my career. I entered it because I seemed to be well suited for it. I certainly had good childhood experiences as a trainee that were useful in moderating. But if I had to put a stamp on it and kind of label the experience of being a laureate, it is I set a goal for myself along with my sister. And I said, let’s improve our industry by being in it. And we were- We both grew up in the 60s and marched against the war in Vietnam and against civil- For civil rights and for women’s rights. We were the people marching in front of the White House because we lived there. So we took as our standard bearer, Mahatma Gandhi. And he had a phrase that still resonates today. Be the change you want to see in the world. Don’t talk about somebody should handle that. Somebody should protest, somebody should do something. What are you doing? So since we had the experience of fighting an industry, fighting a society, fighting racism. We had a lot of experience in, stand up for what you believe in. And then if it’s worth it to you, be willing to die for it. So entering my industry, I saw, wow there are no standards here. You can just type the word moderator on a business card, and if somebody buys your services, bing, bing, you’re qualified. And if they hire you twice, you must be good. Well, not necessarily so. And so I said well, there aren’t any standards so I’ll make some for myself. And my sister, and the clients that we serve. And then somebody noticed that we got really good results from how we did things and how we were reliable and dependable and count notable. And they would tell somebody, and we’d get referred on. So I thought well, it’s working. And then somebody said, can you teach us how to do that? And I went, I’m going to need a minute because I’m busy being a moderator. I’m not being a trainer right now. So much like people who are called to different careers in life. I never wanted to be a trainer of other researchers, that was never one of my goals. But sometimes when you’re asked to do something, you look around and go, if I don’t do this, who will? So I said, OK and we stepped up to training people because it was asked for. What’s happened in these 40 years of running Riva, is that I reached the goal. I changed my industry by being in it. And so being a laureate and being acknowledged for basically a lifetime of service, says it was worth it. And so, I want to say thanks to whoever put my name in nomination, and thanks for the opportunity, because it wasn’t something I was looking for. But it’s certainly nice to wear the mantle of having achieved it.
Jamin Brazil: Many laureates serve as mentors to others in the industry. Can you provide some advice for young professionals in the insights industry? Like something that is relevant for their career?
Naomi Henderson: Exactly. Since I teach in the industry so much, I’ve thought about kind of the Maxim’s are the, if you’re going to do this work stand on this platform. So I actually have about five. So I’ll keep them short, so that it will fit inside of this podcast. So the first one is, be absolutely clear on the purpose of the study you’re doing for a client. Don’t have a murky, I think this is what they want, or I hope I got close. Because the purpose affects the screener, the guide and the report. So if there’s any murkiness in there, you’re going to get caught someplace further down the pike. The second one is, really resist being an order taker. When working with clients, whether they’re in the place where you work, you’re an inside moderator, or you’re a vet, you’re a vendor to accompany. So get in on the design of the project. It’s OK if you don’t show up until it’s time to do the groups that somebody else did the front end. Be in on it as early as you can. Because you can’t say no that won’t work if you don’t know what the game is. So I’ve had client’s that go, so we’d like to hire you just 16 concepts. I go, well that’s thank you so much for the opportunity, I can do five. Because we can’t test 16 concepts in 90 minutes. It isn’t happening. But I can’t say no if I’m not in on it from the beginning. So be a decision maker, not an order taker. Item three, and this is a maxim, but it works in market research. Probably works everyplace else too. Which is, do what’s right, not what’s easy. An example of that is, I did a project for a client where people were going to watch an ad campaign and approach for an ad campaign and to indicate what the message is, and what they’re taking away from the ad. And people were recruited because they watch TV three times a week. Woman comes in with her seeing eye dog, and the client and she’s seen it. And the client says note to me, get the blind lady out of there. And I’m thinking, oh hell no, I cannot do that. Having been discriminated because of my gender or my race. I am very hypersensitive to excluding people. And in the world of the handicapped, or the disabled, you do not want to do that. So I sent back a note and said, no she’s staying. And I got pretty much basically indicated, if you want her out you come get her because I’m not taking her out of here. So nobody came and I kept going. At the end of the session the client said to me, oh my God she was so helpful. Because she watched TV with her family every week. She just didn’t see it. But she’s in the room and if she didn’t understand something she asked somebody, and they told her. But what she noticed that blew them away was she said, I knew something bad was coming. The music gave me the clue. And it was an amazing insight for the client, and they apologized for the note they sent in. I did what was right. I was not comfortable; I was hot and sweaty. I go, I’m going to get fired, they’re not going to hire me again. But I’m not kicking the blind lady out of this focus group. So item three, do what’s right not what’s easy. Item four. If a topic or subject matter isn’t in your wheelhouse, or you don’t think you can do a good job, or you’re completely opposed to being able to talk about it. Decline the opportunity. Don’t take the project. I can give you one from my experience. My parents are both Republicans. Have been republicans since the 1930s. All of their children are Democrats. My dad asked one time, what happened? We said, the 1960s. And so we don’t discuss politics in my family, it’s not a pleasant conversation. I will do work for a Democratic candidate, even if I don’t like the candidate, because I’m a Democrat. But I really can’t do focus groups for people who are Republicans. Not that they’re not good people, they don’t have good opinions. They’ll say something, I’m just going to get fired up. So I am not a good match for that. I have no problem talking to people about smoking cigarettes, and I don’t, or drinking liquor and I don’t. Those are choices adults make, I’m fine. But I cannot talk to people who feed their children sugared breakfast cereals. I think that’s crack for children. I think it’s evil and against the laws of the world. So I decline those opportunities. I’m not a good match. So number four is, if it’s not working for you don’t sell out for the project dollars. Just don’t do the project, it’s not worth it. And number five is, at the beginning of every interview, whether it’s a one on one, a shop along. Whatever it is. Build a trust bridge with the humans you’re going to talk to. They are not subjects. They are people. And you have a privilege to talk to them about something in their lives. So take a minute and build a trust bridge. Don’t start with Hi, I’m Naomi. Tell me your name and here’s my first question. No. Spend time getting to know them just a little bit. I’m not saying you get to do deep dive psych 101. No, just find a way to make a bridge so that they’re willing to reveal to you something they might not tell somebody else. I have been hugged many times, at the end of a study. Thank you for listening. I wish you were like my children. Or we said some pretty mean things about the product, but you seem to be fine about it. So there’s a trust bridge. They can talk to somebody. So those are five mentor like things that I teach. And I also live myself.
Jamin Brazil: All very hard things to do when you enter in to, as a new entrant into the space?
Naomi Henderson: Yes.
Jamin Brazil: Especially the decision maker, not order taker. That can be really tricky because as a new entrant can think of yourself or maybe demean your point of view. I do think that clients generally speaking, appreciate data informed points of view and guidance and actually look to us as the experts to help shape. They’re always going to act like they know everything. Because a lot of times people aren’t pushing back. But if you do have an alternate point of view, then back it up with data and then provide it to them so they can make a better decision.
Naomi Henderson: In fact, I have a phrase that covers that. I can’t always actually go get the data, but I’ll say, based on my experience across the last how many years I’m talking to that person. I have found that that almost never works for this reason. Or I’ll use the phrase, research has shown that when people see more than five different stimuli, they go into overdrive. And then it all becomes like tofu, it has no flavor. So I give my clients something to hang on to. I don’t just say, I don’t think that’s going to work and good luck. And if I do hit that hard point where they go, but we need to have you do 16. I go, well I’m probably not your moderator. Because I’m not doing 16. It’s just like the night the guy asked me to wear an earpiece, so he could talk to me while I was moderating.
Jamin Brazil: Oh, can you do that?
Naomi Henderson: He did. So I had said, if I had known that was your policy, I would have declined at the outset.
Jamin Brazil: Save you some time sir.
Naomi Henderson: Exactly. So we were up two, it’s time for you to go moderate and I’m not going to wear the earpiece. And he’s going, yes you are. And I go, you’re not the boss of me, because I can just quit. [CROSSTALK] answer, I don’t work for you. But I didn’t want to go there, because that’s the nasty place. So I said, here I got a deal for you. I’m not wearing the earpiece. I’m going to do these- This group. It’s eight o’clock group for you tonight, because another person has done the seven o’clock, I’m the second moderator. So I’m just doing the one that night. So I said, I’m not wearing the earpiece. I’m going to do the group. If you don’t get the data, you need or you don’t like how I got it, don’t pay me. But you got to tell the truth. If you got the data, you need and you can make some good decisions, then you need to pay for the group. He goes, deal. And he’s probably thinking, we’re not going to pay her. [CROSSTALK] And I’m thinking, you’re going to get your socks blown off mister. So I go in there and you know what sweetie? I didn’t do anything I wouldn’t have done for any other client. I did not pull out some nifty Naomi trick. God knows I have them. I just did a really good job doing, getting the data. We were looking at a catalog and choosing style and issues and size. And it was fairly basic. I did my regular good job. He comes back, I come back for the false clothes. And he says, we just have one last question. He asked them about a spokesperson and then please come back and debrief with us, no problem. So I have no idea what he’s going to say. But I’m like, you either pay me or you don’t, your choice. I’m not going to tell you if I did a good job, you’re going to tell me. So I go back and he says, first of all I want to apologize. That we learned more tonight, in this eight o’clock focus group than we’ve learned in 15 years. We have been doing a disservice [CROSSTALK].
Jamin Brazil: Should’ve paid you for 15 years’ worth of knowledge.
Naomi Henderson: He should’ve paid me twice. He said, we’ve been doing a disservice to our moderators over micromanaging them, instead of letting them- Instead of trusting them to get data we can use. Even if it’s bad news. I said, I’m happy to be a contribution to your education. So I said, that means I’m getting paid. He goes amen. And he hired me until he retired.
Jamin Brazil: Oh wow, what a great story.
Naomi Henderson: I don’t have to do this project. I don’t need to make the house note that bad, that I have to say yes. So, and like my friend tells me, you can’t be a doormat unless you lay down.
Jamin Brazil: That’s right it is a choice.
Naomi Henderson: So as a moderator, [INAUDIBLE] your vendor, we have to stand up for what’s right.
Jamin Brazil: I have a question about your mom. What nationality is she? or ethnicity?
Naomi Henderson: Well, let’s see. You know that list of races on the list of races. My mother she’ll check other, but they don’t have that one. So there’s no race on there, called Creole, which is what my mother is. So she’s white, black, French and Spanish.
Jamin Brazil: How does that inform your nationality when you answer that question of ethnicity?
Naomi Henderson: I declare myself as black. I never ever declare myself as African American. Because if I have to say African American, then I deny all the other cultures that are also part of my DNA. But I identify as black more from the political standpoint. Which is, as a culture of people who share a related history. Black describes me best. So I sometimes look like a black person, if it’s a cloudy day with a lot of humidity, and my hair fuzzes up. So I have like a little baby Afro. And then some days I look like a tanned white lady, because I don’t have that much color in my skin, and my eyes are green. So kind of like, if people speak to me when I’m in other countries. When I’m in Egypt, they speak to me in Arabic. When I’m in San Paolo, Brazil, I get spoken to in Portuguese. I get spoken to in Spanish more times each week that I’d like to remember. And one time somebody spoke to me in Tagalog, which is Filipino language or Philippine language, and I went, where’d that one come from? So I look like I fit a lot of places. Oh, and one night I had on a sari, at costume party and somebody said, namaste. So I’m like whatever. So I declare myself as a black woman, because that’s how I see myself in the mirror.
Jamin Brazil: What one trend, issue or technology do you anticipate we will have that will have a bigger impact or a big impact on our space in the coming year?
Naomi Henderson: I think it’s two areas, and one is recent out of the pandemic, but I think it’s just, we just opened the door. And that is loss of trust in our government, and its leaders. We are eroding our trust base daily. And I think that’s going to have a long-term impact on products, services, advertising, policies, procedures. It’s all going to impact. And coupled with that is this increasing issue about diversity and inclusion. To the point where it’s getting to be at the level of crazy. Like the pendulum has swung so far backwards, it’s like, whoa, wait a minute, let me do it catch up. So after excluding huge groups of people for years, all of a sudden everybody’s thrown into the pot, and we can’t say this and we can’t do that. And we can’t be this way. And we have to be whatever. And men are going to be in locker rooms because they say they feel like women, and it’s just getting crazy. So DEI issues and loss of faith in the government, I think are going to be huge drivers for market research. Both qual and quant, in the coming years, and of course, as always technology isn’t even- It’s in third place. It’s just, they’re all running neck and neck for the finish line like the Olympics.
Jamin Brazil: And a lot of ways, more about like technology enabling. To your point, the stuff that’s on the top right now that we’re seeing is exactly those things. I was- I just purchased my first album that I had purchased with my own money, LP was Pink Floyd’s the wall. And in the album, you can open it up, this goes back when I was a child, and it had question, which is mother should I trust the government? And I literally just bought that poster this week to hang on my wall.
Naomi Henderson: Oh my God.
Jamin Brazil: So it’s funny timing.
Naomi Henderson: Funny timing. I looked at a piece of poetry that I think I had to memorize it. I think I was in college. And it was Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I think he was a high Ashbury poet. And the poem was, I am waiting. And it references Eisenhower. So that’s how far back it goes. So I’m waiting for Ike to act, is what the poem starts off with. And it’s an interesting point, if you get a chance, look it up online and read the poem. It’s as relevant today as it was when he wrote it.
Jamin Brazil: And that’s what’s interesting. Living through like what happened with Rodney King back in the day when my college years. There was a very similar feel, I guess, as I reflect on it. As what’s been happening with George Floyd, from an abuse perspective. And yet, having gone through that, I feel like the media did a- Was in control and in charge of messaging. In the, I think that was late- Early 90s, or maybe late 80s. But it was early 90s right, like 92. Anyways, whereas the media really didn’t have any control, or much less control in what happened today, or last year. Which is kind of an interesting sort of how the power is getting maybe more democratized as individual influencers are having a seat at the table. My last question, what is your personal motto?
Naomi Henderson: When I get asked that question, I have to laugh. I have so many, but I’ll pick one for this podcast. Which is, no matter how bad something is in the moment it’s going to be funny later when you tell the story. So laugh early, ride the wave into the solution.
Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Naomi Henderson. CEO and co-founder of Riva Market Research and Training Institute. Naomi, it has been an honor having you on the podcast.
Naomi Henderson: Thank you so much for the opportunity. I deeply appreciate it.
Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you will take time. Screen capture, share this. If you do and tag me on social media. I will send you a T-shirt. Have a great rest of your day.