NEXT 2019 Podcast Series

NEXT 2019 Conference Series – David Almy – Insights Association

Welcome to the 2019 NEXT Conference Series. Recorded live in Chicago, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews David Almy, CEO of Insights Association.

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Hi, this is Jamin.  You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  David Almy is the guest today. I am going to play our conversation with you.  We kind of picked up at a neat spot, I think, talking about trends in the space, how insights are becoming a cornerstone of success for modern businesses.  Enjoy.


Well, from ’82 to ’84, I wrote an article called Business Aviation – The Fortune 500, which was a correlation of the use of business aircraft to financial performance.  


That’s fascinating.  


Yeah, and so, and it looked at the Fortune 500 and said that if you owned a business jet, for instance, how’d you do.  And I did it for three years times 500 companies, and big surprise to you probably is that there was a correlation between performance and business-jet ownership. 




Now, the great question then is whether or not it was causal or…


Always the question


…or otherwise.  Having done that 82’ to 84’, very long time ago, you come here and you listen to your commen


Throw that thing out there.


And I have never seen any of that correlation study in this industry.


Why is that?


Because this industry is not as evolved, not as mature (a funny word to use) as the business-jet industry, which has been around for 60, 70 years bigger 




Yeah, yeah.  So it’s an evolution of the industry’s group-think, if you will.  So, you announced to me this morning Watermark. And I’m going like, “Holy crap!”  This is exactly what I need, been looking for and did 38 years ago or whatever it is.




And I went to look for it and couldn’t find it.  So you’ve got to tell me where do find it.


I’ll give it to you.  I have it on my desktop, well, laptop.


OK, good.  It’s a keen interest, and I think particularly when you looked at the Insights Association, our mandate is economic development, is what it is.  It’s a not-for-profit 501C6.


That’s interesting you say that.  I did not know that.  


Yeah, that’s what we’re here to do.  Per the IRS, that’s our reason for being, is the growth of the industry.  And it’s a lovely term in the IRS regs, but our mandate is the growth of the industry from we draw our members.  That’s different than the growth of our members because it’s broader, bigger than that. And I’ve always loved that turn of phrase, you know.  So, come back to your Watermark, I’d really love to see that study and probably, if they want to do it again, participate in it somehow, support it ‘cause that’s… 


Yeah, I’ve just been in Twitter conversations with one of their principals.  I can’t remember her name offhand but, yeah, I’ll do whatever I can to help connect.  


Yeah, that’d be great, that’d be great.  


For sure.  I mean it’s a big deal, and it’s a great paper, I think.


It is a big deal, and it’s one that I kind of know in a different life.


Yeah, totally, it’s funny that we haven’t been driving that conversation though, to your point.  And I think that that’s systemic, or it’s endemic – anyways, it’s one of the “demics” – where we have had this like stuck-in-time framework.  And, if you pull back, you can see that… I started my research career in ’96. Market research was its thing in a department inside of a large corporation.  And then, tools came around. Remember Confirmit launched one of the first VoC at scale using Google ad words. And so, VoC all of a sudden became this like different thing.  NPS then became a component. Neither of those now necessarily sit underneath market research: they sit underneath marketing. And then you see user experience that is now also been birthed out of market research for all intents and purposes; they just don’t know it, so like an abandoned child in every way.  And so, what’s happening is on the vend diagram, they’re doing the same or similar type of work as market researchers but they’re all young. I haven’t seen many UXers (There’s a few) but many UX researchers that are like us, age-wise. They’re having to figure it out like they’re starting from nothing, which is really funny because basic questionnaire design and all these kinds of things that we’ve had in our rubric over time that to know that something’s good or bad in terms of research, they’re trying to define the rubric.  And then, you look at LinkedIn #marketresearch, 350,000 people follow it; #userexperience over 4 million. So, you see what I mean? So now, it’s like, “Gosh, we really have a stage that we should stand on and assert ourselves because they’re looking for the parental role. I really believe that.         


Right, right.  Well, the question that you’ve drawn is what’s the identity of the community and why is it segmented, fractured, spinning off asteroids in seemingly not cohesive.  I asked Simon Chadwick one day this year… I said, “When was the last time that the industry was really cohesive? Everybody was on the same page; everybody was doing the same thing?”  And he instantly said, “2004.”      




And I said, “OK, what was going on in 2004?”  And he kind of made the case that we knew all about secondary data in 2004 but it wasn’t here yet.  So, everybody was doing primary research and custom and it was all, it was like copy-cat around the room.  And then this cliff came, and the world started to just radically change. They knew it was coming; it wasn’t a surprise. It was just the ball started rolling down the hill and picking up moss in different directions and going in different directions.  I also think, talking about the culture of the industry, that we tend to self-fragment almost. Instead of kind of rallying around a center point, we tend to say, “Oh, well, we’re special; we’re different; it’s what we do.” As I say sometimes (it’s horrible and pejorative) but we get paid by the number of tabs that are in the binder.  So we got an economic incentive to fragment, which is bad. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. To take that home a little bit, we’ve been having a lot of conversations. I’ve been having a lot of conversations in the last year about whether we’re a support function or a leadership function.  

And it’s my view…  I think culturally, traditionally, we have been a support function.  That’s how we view ourselves: well, we do research and we come up with the ideas and we kind of slip them under a door.  It’s like your hotel bill at the end of the stay. And then there’s this “Oh, try to do this or do that.” But what I laid out yesterday, which was the first time in the U.S. that I had laid it out with the four-step process:  problem, research process, outcome or insights, and implementation. That’s the definition of a leadership function rather than the definition of a support function with implementation being key to it. This came from a conversation, kind of this concept came from a conversation I had with the Head of Function for Labatt in Toronto, of all places.  So, she’s a corporate researcher in-house at Labatt’s breweries, Alyssa Rodrigo, great 32-year-old person, by the way, there. I said, “What do you do? What’s your life like?” Corporate researcher, I’m asking the question to. And she said, “Well, 75% of my time is spent implementing the insights that we come up with.” And I said, “Really?” And I said, “So, 25% of your time is research, and 75% is implementation?”  And she said, “Yes.” And I said, “Do you know how rare you are?” And you could hear her blush over the phone; it was pretty funny.  

But, when you think about what she’s doing, she’s not alone in that, and I think there’s a trend in that direction because of realization – just as you talked this morning – realization about customer centricity and the key to the future and key to success and key to a company culture’s effectiveness.  She’s on the frontline; she’s actually doing it: 75% of her time. And I said, “How do you do that?” And she said, “I set up meetings; we have discussions.” I said, “Well, what about the research part?” She said, “Well, we outsource most of the research.” She said, “I direct it.” But she was really focused on the 75%.  And she said at the end of the day, the thing that makes her happiest is seeing changes in the results in the company’s bottom line as the result of the changes that she’s done, the implementation that she’s done. That’s, to my ear, that’s a completely permanent position that is essential to the company’s success and will never be optional because it’s central: it’s at the heart of who they are and where they’re going.  


When you think about…  We hear a lot about ROI on research, which is this very vacuous framework.  One of ways I’ve heard it implemented or measured is how many times are they cited?  How much is research being cited in the actual business cases of the next step that we’re going to take?  Like next quarter or whatever. So it’s like how much voice is really being represented of the customer. I mean that in a generic sense, a market research way, consumer insights into the subsequent business plans.  Is it all just gut/feel from the executive level? In which case there’s no ROI on the research. We’re wasting our time. So, I mean this is a one-use case; there’s others. But that’s one that I think I can really kind of like get my hands around.             


So, fun parallel for you.  I looked at (again, prior life), I looked at the uses of business jets.  And I asked the question, “So, what are people using business jets for?” And, of course, you think, “Well, the CEO got to a meeting in Oklahoma City or something or other,” right?  And that’s easy. That’s one. I spent 12 years on this topic and found about 37 different uses that I was able to identify of how companies were using it. The reason it took so long is that it was considered “secret sauce.”       


Oh, interesting.  


It’s proprietary.  It’s part of our strategy to succeed.  So we don’t broadcast it, and over the years I noticed that one in ten, only one in ten, companies that I would talk to would actually tell me real stuff and when you get to insights, the question is, “How many insights have I actually had handed to me?”  “Here’s what we’ve done at our company insights-wise. Here’s the outcome of the research process.” And the answer is, “Those are tough to come by because they’re ‘secret sauce’.” It’s the undiscovered country, I think. And I think there needs to be a lot more research on what those outcomes actually look like.  I think we’d be surprised. I don’t need to know Company X is doing this particular thing and that particular thing, but the tone and tenor of them, the flavor of them, the innovation that’s built into them – I just want to see and understand a lot of them to get my arms around what the benefit actually looks like. That’s before the implantation but just what comes out of the research process.      




There’s maybe two paragraphs that says, “Build this widget,” or “Offer that service,” or “Change this this way,” etc.  And I think we’d be fascinated and I think the community would be fascinated if we could benchmark effectively in some way to show each other what we’re doing.   


Yeah, I mean in a lot of ways I think that’s the function of Insights Association, is sort of that opportunity to come together as a family and have Christmas dinner and get to know each other again, right.  So, it’s… I think the Christmas dinner is kind of a good analogy anyways too because you have sometimes that you don’t necessarily like that uncle or whatever.  


Well, we have some honest broker qualities that we’re supposed to listen and not disclose but help.


But getting to, I think, the broader point, which is we are in a stage right now of a rising tide.  And this is an opportunity: I believe over the next three years is… will be in my career probably the last time I see anything like this happen where you’re going to see insights being asked, being pulled into the boardroom.  So, I was talking with Simon about this recently… I believe there’s going to be a function that’s created that is like Insights Oversight role from a consumer insight perspective. 


There should be.


Absolutely, because right now it’s so fractured.  Everybody from the intern to the CEO is doing research.  There needs to be some overarching governance around it not just from a compliance perspective – yes, to that – but also from a quality of control perspective and interest in the customer.


It’s an essential role.  It’s an essential specialty.  It’s not an ad-hoc thing. It’s its own locus.



[14:09] has to be there, and it has to, I think we need to evolve.  And that’s why we’ve just adopted this new tagline that talks about creating competitive advantage.  And that’s that central purpose. You got to have somebody that fundamentally works on that 60 hours a week.        


Yep, exactly.


And that’s where we are.


Super exciting.  Insights Association is doing…  What is new in the Insights Association? 


Well, we have a new code that we just finalized in April, which we’re going to mail to the membership.  We also are surveying corporate researchers right now; we got a research study in the field and a phase 2 coming with regard to the uses of research and the methodologies and tools as well.  We’ll get the implementation part of this, and I think you’re going to see some emphasis on the implementation of insights in both this year and in future years because that’s a big topic. 


Got it.  The next event for you is…


CRC, Corporate Researchers Conference, in October.  There’s a small event, which is CEO Summit in Edinburgh coming up. 


Is this the first time you’ve done international?  You did…


We did London last year, London last year in concert with MRS, and we’ll be back with MRS in Edinburgh in September.


Who’s hosting?  I know here it’s Merrill and Steve Schlesinger.


It’s Merrill and Steve, and Glen Foreman is going to be involved as well in Edinburgh.  I think it’s right after Congress, so…   




…Wednesday, Thursday, Friday right after Congress in Edinburgh.  CRC will be in October in Orlando, and hope to see you there.         


Oh, yeah, you will, for sure.  We’ll be exhibiting or something.  We’ll 100% be asking to do Happy Market Research on the premises.         


OK, good, good.


Yeah, good.  That’s exciting.  If somebody wants to join Insights Association, how would they do that?  


Website’s right there or give me a call or send me an email.


Love it.  



Perfect.  David, thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thank you.  


Everybody else, please take time to…  I want you to share the episodes. What I really want you to do, if you’re in the insights function, take the time, go online, check out the Insights Association.  I’m a member. I find tremendous value: they produce great content; they have a very active forum as well for you to ask questions from your peer group; look for mentors, whatever; look for vendors.  It’s a really good supportive community. Take the time. Investigate it. I’d encourage you to sign up. It’s a nominal fee relative to… It’s certainly an outsized value aspect there. So take advantage of that – Insights Association.  Have a wonderful rest of your day!