Ep. 513 – HMRP Monday Edition: How Leaving Your Discussion Guide Blank can Impact Your Research Results with Nick Graham, the Global Head of Insights & Analytics at Mondelēz

This episode is in collaboration with QUAL360 North America. 

Our guest today is Nick Graham, the Global Head of Insights & Analytics at Mondelēz. 

Mondelez traces its roots to the National Dairy Corporation, which was founded in 1923. 

One year later, the Kraft Cheese Company was founded and listed on the New York Stock Exchange. 

In 1930, National Dairy was acquired by Kraft. 

Fast forward to September 7, 2009, Kraft made a hostile takeover bid for the British company, Cadbury, makers of Dairy Milk and Bournville chocolate. This bid was eventually successful. 

In August of 2011, Kraft Foods announced plans to split into two publicly traded companies, an international snack-food company and a North American grocery company.

The snack-food company, called Mondelez, would be the legal successor of the old Kraft Foods, while the grocery company would be a new entity known as the Kraft Foods Group. The split was completed in October 2012. It was structured so that Kraft Foods changed its name to Mondelez and spun off Kraft Foods Group as a new publicly traded company.

Today, Mondelēz, is an American multinational candy, food, beverage, and snack food company based in Chicago, Illinois. Mondelez has an annual revenue of about $26 billion and operates in approximately 160 countries.

QUAL360 North America:

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Jamin Brazil: Today is March 14, 2022. Happy Monday. This is the Happy Market Research Podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host. We have a very special guest today but before we get to that here’s a word from our sponsors. Support for the happy market research podcast and the following message comes from Michigan States marketing research program and HubUX. I’ve done hundreds of interviews with today’s top minds in market research. Many of them trace their roots to Michigan states marketing research program. Are you looking for a higher paying job, to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research? Today the program has tracks for both full time students and working professionals. They also provide career support assisting students to win today’s most sought-after jobs. In fact over 80% of Michigan States marketing research students have accepted job offers six months prior to graduating. If you are looking to achieve your full potential check out MSMU’s program at broad.msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account visit HubUX.com. If you were born on Wednesday March 11, 1942, than driver’s license by Olivia Roderigo was the number one song in the US on your 79th birthday. The song went to number one on January 23, 2021, and stayed at the top of the charts for three weeks. It is a song about being 16, how with freedom comes heartbreak, and how with heartbreak comes strength. We’ll be playing the song in its entirety and I hope you enjoy it no matter your age.


Nick Graham: I got my driver’s license last week just like we always talked about. Because you were you excited for me to finally drive up to your house, but today I drove through the suburbs crying because you weren’t around. And you’re probably with that blonde girl who always made me doubt. She’s so much older than me. She’s everything I’m insecure about. Yet today I drove through the suburbs.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today is Nick Graham, the global head of Insights and Analytic at Mondelez. Mondelez traces its roots to the national dairy corporation which was founded in 1923. One year later the Kraft Cheese company was founded and listed on the New York stock exchange. In 1930 national dairy was then acquired by Kraft. So fast forward to September 7, 2009, Kraft made a hostile takeover bid for a British company that probably many of you know, Cadbury, the makers of dairy milk and Bournville chocolates. This bid was eventually successful. Then on August 2011 Kraft food announced a split into two public companies, an international snack food company and a North American grocery company. The snack food company is called Mondelez. It would be the legal successor of the old Kraft Foods while the grocery store company would be a new entity known as the Kraft Foods group. The split was completed on October 2012. It was structured so that Kraft Foods changed its name to Mondelez and spun off Kraft Foods Group as a publicly traded company. Today Mondelez is an American multinational candy, food, beverage, and snack food company based in Chicago, Illinois. Mondelez has an annual revenue of about 26 billion dollars and operates across approximately 160 companies. Nick, welcome to the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Nick Graham: Thank you very much. And I loved that little potted history of Mondelez as well. It’s like going back in time. That’s great.


Jamin Brazil: Well and almost 100 years?


Nick Graham: Yes, that’s right.


Jamin Brazil: Which is very interesting. And chocolate or candy I should say more broadly being a part of our lives for that duration and even before. But I want to talk briefly, you and I were very briefly introduced at Qual360 North America in Washington DC this week, that is the first-ish week of March 2022. The theme of the Qual360 North American conference was empowering insights through emotion. Your topic was titled Rehumanizing Research In The Era of Big Data. Please give us some highlights.


Nick Graham: Absolutely. And great that we could actually be there together in person to, for the first time in two years. So essentially the thesis of the presentation that I gave, very much in mind with the Qual360 topic itself was kind of premise on this feeling I have that we’re a bit, at a bit of an inflection point in the history of the market research industry. And you’ve seen this huge explosion in data of all kinds over the last five to 10 years and it’s really accelerated in the last two years so the explosion of big data from social media. I talked a lot about the incredible statistics. You read about the amount of the data that’s posted every minute, every second on social media. The six million people who are shopping online every minute and then on top of that all of the qualitative quantitative data that’s been generated through the enablement of kind of faster research as well which has accelerated over the last two years. I think for me the one thing that stands out is every time I talk to marketing and insights professionals, and again, it was really evident at the Qual360 conference as well is despite all of that huge amount of additional data that we have it doesn’t necessarily feel like we have better, more revealing, fresher, more breakthrough insights. It just feels like we have a lot more data than we had before. And so really the whole premise of the presentation was about why do we think that is and what do we think its missing. And the examples I gave and indeed I gave a couple examples from Cadbury and some, and [INAUDIBLE] some of our other brands was that I think that while there’s no getting away from the fact that our industry is changing and this huge influx of data is going to be incredibly powerful and incredibly important. We can’t lose sight of the fact that ultimately, the end of the day what we’re trying to do is understand human behavior and human beings our complex, emotional, multifaceted. We all know that. We’ve all experienced that. And so in addition to all of the sort of big fast data we need to create the space for this slow, deep data and slow deep research that really gets at the heart of what drives and what motivates human behavior. And I think by pairing those together that means looking at a lot of the sort of deep hidden emotional insights. If you compare those together with that big fast data that I think is the unmarked to get us to those really breakthrough, really powerful insights.


Jamin Brazil: And that really impacts the manifestation of that insights and how it translates across the organization and then ultimately into marketing and product of course. I was drawn during the conference to the presentation, did you hear Yogesh’s?


Nick Graham: Yes, it was just one or two presentations after mine I think, right?


Jamin Brazil: Yes, that’s right. And he talked about basically these micro, leveraging these micro moments for macro implications which I thought was really interesting. And your storytelling leveraging the video as we discussed earlier that emotion that was captured of the, how of sharing chocolate was just so powerful. How did you get to the sharing being of that delicious substance, sharing to be the thing that resonates?


Nick Graham: It’s interesting because we obviously, as a company that’s made chocolate for, well a century and beyond if you include the history of Cadbury in there as well. We know a lot about chocolate. We know that it’s regularly consumed. That, and indeed I think one and two chocolate occasions involve some level of sharing or gifting in some way. So we knew there was an interesting space in that. Of course we’ve always known there’s an interesting space in that. When we were working on this new campaign for Cadbury dairy milk in the UK what we wanted was to find a deeper insight though into that territory, into that space because again, we knew a lot about when sharing was happening, who people were with, but it was all very still surface level and I think if you’re going to get to that deeper insight, you just have to dig deeper. So one of the changes we made when we did the qualitative research is we set up the research and asked people to talk about moments of sharing that happened during their day and during the week and really look at what would those moments look like, what they felt like, but then I think the critical shift that we made is we just stopped asking questions. Because I think one of the traps, we often fall into in market research is probing too much, pushing too much. Well why did you do this, why did you do that. Sort of stirring and directing the conversation. And what we really wanted it to do was give the space to the people we were talking to, to tell their own story and to discover and to find the serendipitous insights so that you wouldn’t necessarily know where to look for. And one of the interesting things is we did that, we got, gave people imagery. We gave them language. We allowed them to retell their own stories of the period of time that we were with them. And one of the interesting things that really stood out for us is we sort of stepped back and we looked at all of the research was, it was really these unexpected moments that really seemed to melt people’s hearts. It was those moments that you could tell from the way they talked about the moments that they were the, where you felt so close to somebody and you got some emotional sort of rush of joy was in those moments when somebody gave you a little gift, shared something with you that was completely out of the blue, completely unexpected. Maybe to say thank you for something. Maybe just to show their love, but it came, it really sort of came out of the blue. But again, no one really ever said that. No one has ever been able to articulate that in the research but I think that was what we were able to sort of decode and disentangle from all of the stories that we heard. And for me I think the power was really letting the people we spoke to tell their own story and not try and push and probe and give them that space. I think that’s what allowed us to stumble on that deeper motivational insight. And that was really the genesis to the advert that I showed which was an advert from Cadbury Dairy Milk back in 2017-2018 where it shows a little girl buying a bar of Cadbury dairy milk for her mom’s birthday. Again, like a little surprise. But the real surprise moment is the bargaining she gets into with the shopkeeper where she’s basically offering up everything she has, little button, little unicorn toy that she has in order to pay for it. And not only the wonderful generosity in that but then the unexpected moment when the shopkeeper gives her back obviously what is for her most prized possession which is this little unicorn toy. And I think this just is vignette of little moments of unexpected kindness, unexpected generosity. It’s no surprise it’s been, it continues to be to this day one of our best performing adverts ever. But again, it all kind of came from treating the research in a different way and creating a lot more space for discussion discovery.


Jamin Brazil: We’re going to listen to that ad right now. There’s a mom and child who are very busy running to work. Mom take a phone call, daughter stands outside a corner store, walks in, and eyes some chocolate.


Daughter: I’d like a bar of chocolate please.


Jamin Brazil: The shopkeeper-


Daughter: It’s for my mom.


Jamin Brazil: Looks outside and sees the mom. Eyes the chocolate, slides the chocolate across the table, daughter pulls out some coins, buttons, looks longingly in her coin purse, a beautiful little plastic ring, and finally a toy unicorn. Shopkeeper eyes get big, slides the chocolate across the counter and gives her back the unicorn.


Daughter: Happy birthday mom.


Mom: Thank you.


Narrator: There’s a glass and a half in everyone.


Jamin Brazil: When you think about the discussion guide that moderators used for that qualitative work was it largely just blank?


Nick Graham: Yes, it was. Intentionally pretty empty. I started my career in qualitative research. I will be honest that there was nothing I hated more than the 75-page discussion guide because at that point you’re like well I’m just basically doing a quantitative interview in person. There’s no real space for, again, discovery and exploration in this. And I was always that annoying qualitative researcher who would go, I’m going to take this 15-page discussion guide, I’m going to turn into six questions that I’m actually going to build my discussion around and then obviously allow space for probing and prompting as we go. And that’s really very much how we treated this research. Which is we said, look there is some fundamental questions we’re trying to understand but we don’t, we intentionally don’t know what we’re going to discover because we don’t want to try and bias and preempt the research too much. We want to really go with the flow and see where the stories lead us. So what we would do is we, as we went through the research is we heard some of the themes that were coming out. There was an area that we thought was really interesting. We might try and probe around that. But again, we tried to allowed the discussion guide to be as you said, as blank as possible so we could discover and learn as we went.


Jamin Brazil: It’s interesting because I’ve always struggled with this particular point and on both sides of it. I tend to over engineer the discussion guide and as I was listening to your presentation, I was thinking to myself, my God I’ve been doing it wrong for 25 years.


Nick Graham: It’s funny. I think everybody works in a different way. I just, as a qualitative researcher I always found it hard to then really concentrate on the discussion if I was too structured in it but again, that was maybe just me. I just found it much easier to get to what are the fundamental questions I need to answer and then you can treat it more like a conversation. Because you know you’ll get to all of the key relevant points.


Jamin Brazil: It’s a function of late. I don’t mean to assert this for anybody else by the way, my audience, so please don’t hear what I’m not saying. But for me I think in hindsight a lot of ways is just a function of laziness, but what I mean by that is it’s easy to kind of move from this to, and so on and so forth. And then from that create your report. Because you functionally are just filling in the blank in a summary format and it requires a lot less thinking when you’re doing the summary and then also a lot more work when you’re actually having that dialogue because there’s a presence that has to, you have to be very present in that conversation as opposed to I can kind of let you talk and then I get to my next question.


Nick Graham: And I think we’ve all been in research scenarios where you can feel there’s a really good conversation happening and then suddenly the moderator’s like so I’m now going to go complete different topic or I’m going to ask the same question again. You’re like, no there’s something really rich in what you were talking about. You just, I know when we did the Cadbury work and I’ve seen this multiple times when we’ve done other pieces of research as well. We just did some behavioral disruption work in the gum category as well where again, we tried to keep the discussion guide if you like as thin as possible to allow space for discovery. But it’s really, it’s actually really difficult now as a client because you’re like well there’s all these things I want to ask. And so you have to have a confidence and the conviction and I guess the trust in the moderator as well that you know you’ll get to all of those things. You don’t need to over engineer it. You know you will get that. It is a bit scary when you look at the discussion guide and it’s pretty empty because again, you just don’t want to over engineer and over structure it. You need to allow space for it to be a natural conversation as well.


Jamin Brazil: I will be doing some focus groups, or rather IDIs in the coming week and we’ll be leveraging this approach so I’m really excited about, thank you for the tip. My next question is what do you see is the biggest issue facing consumer insights today?


Nick Graham: It’s a great question. I think I sort of teed it up in the introduction to the presentation as well which is I almost think we have so much data right now, which is great in lots of respects and I think it’s enabling certainly the speed in which we’re getting data now is fantastic, and the ability therefore to be part of conversation and direct decisions in real time. But just the sheer amount of data I think is almost a little overwhelming and then from that trying to really find the true insights, the things that are going to be breakthrough and fresh and unlock new opportunities as opposed to just data points that kind of validate what we already know. I think the sorting all of that out, trying to find that needle in the middle of the haystack or the data stack should I say of information that we have. I think that is one of the biggest challenges. I see it every day in the team which is just the challenge of sorting through all of that and having the time and space to try and sort through all of that data and that information. And then from that unlock some powerful insight from all of that. I think that is, it’s always been a challenge, but I think it’s just, it’s even more acute now, now that we have so much data to deal with and obviously more and more every single day.


Jamin Brazil: As you think about what the end result is. When I started my career in the 90s there was this, literally a term we used called the Thump Factor and you know, a customer is going to spend $100,000 with us on a project so it, so the report better be big enough or it made a noise when you set it on the table.


Nick Graham: I remember.


Jamin Brazil: And then today people don’t read, even executives and so it’s all about creating these short cuts to key insights as opposed to all the charts and graphs, etc. Do you see the role of insights moving more and more towards consulting slash actually the action that’s taken against it, against the findings?


Nick Graham: I think one of the things we’ve been talking about a lot within Mondelez is how from an insights and analytic standpoint how do we truly embrace AI technology, automation to also make as much as we can as the research data, analytics process, the sort of heavy lifting. And you saw this a lot at Qual360 as well which is I think a number of the speakers sort of passionately imploring the qualitative research industry to say don’t be afraid of automation. It could actually be your friend because there’s so much obstructed data, imagine that you can actually synthetize this much more quickly so that to your point, so that we can spend much more time on the consulting verse. So what does this mean? So what’s the really big insights. So what are the implications of the organization? And so what we talked about within Mondelez is how do we streamline the what, and even to set the why so we can spend much more of our time on the so what and the what’s next. Because that’s really where we can create the competitive advantage for the business is translating all of this data into what we do with this information now. Where do we go with this? What does it mean for our brands? What does it mean for our business? And again, what are we not asking about that we need to be asking about because it’s going to be here six months from now, a year from now, whatever. So I do think you’re right. We’ve got to find the right balance because that data, we still need to find ways to collect that data, synthesize that data or data for all different kinds, qualitative and quantitative. So we still need to play a role in that but we need to find a way to manage that differently and really rethink that our role is just collecting and synthesizing that data. Our role is being the translator, being the bridge into the business, making sense of it for the business so it can actually turned into something that is truly going to draw a competitive advantage.


Jamin Brazil: Exactly. And it’s really fun. The more that we can see as insights professionals the more that we can see that kind of insight to action and even potentially influence it. It definitely makes, at least for me a much more engaging experience. So my last question. What is your personal motto?


Nick Graham: Interesting. I would say, I don’t know if I have a personal motto. Although it’s interesting. Somebody asked me this question a while ago and something came to mind so I’ll share this with you, which is, people just want to be heard. That was the, in this conversation I was having with somebody in my team is what I came up with. And the more I thought about it I thought it was just a slightly throwaway when I thought about it, but the more I thought about it the more I though, actually I think this is very inherent to my perspective on why I got into insights and analytics in the first place which is I think people just want to be heard, want to be understood. And then even as I’ve come in, I’ve been in this role at Mondelez for the last year and it’s been my go-to thought every time as I’ve met somebody, as I’ve at different functions. You just realize that fundamentally that same principal applies to everything. People just want to be heard. They want to be understood. And what a powerful role you can play as a researcher both in your own organization but obviously also understanding the people who buy your products and brands as well is just hearing them, understanding them, giving them a voice I think is such a powerful, an incredibly powerful role that we can play.


Jamin Brazil: Our guest today has been Nick Graham, the global head of insights and analytics at Mondelez. Nick, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Nick Graham: Thanks a lot. Great to be here.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you have a fantastic rest of your Monday.