Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Orion Brown, founder of the Black Travel Box, on the Role of Diversity in Consumer Insights

In this episode, we’ll hear from Orion Brown, founder of the Black Travel Box & Brand Management Consultant on her opinion and experiences about diversity in consumer insights. 

Find Orion Online:

Website: theblacktravelbox.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/orionbrown 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Orion_Helana 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

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Website: www.happymr.com 


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Jamin Brazil: Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Orion Brown, founder of The Black Travel Box and brand management consultant. The Black Travel Box is a line of personal care products for travelers of color, that makes travel easier. Prior to starting The Black Travel Box, Orion has served as senior brand manager at Kraft Foods, Backflip Studios, and Oracle. Thank you so much, Orion, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Orion Brown: No problem. Thanks for having me.


Jamin Brazil: So, I’d like to start with a little bit of context. Tell us about your parents, and how they have formed what you’re doing today.


Orion Brown: So, I grew up on the south side of Chicago. I grew up primarily in a single-parent household. I was raised by my mom. And my dad and I actually are in touch later in life. And so, for many years, I was the only child, with a lot of time on my hands. Similar to kind of how people are feeling right now. I spent a lot of time reading, and being very nerdy. And that was always really encouraged by both of my parents, just to work really hard, and have very, very clear goals. And so, ironically, what I do today has nothing to do with what I’d say the first 20, 22 years of my life focused on. I always thought I was going to be a doctor, and a lot of life happened, and I got to my junior year of college, and I was like, I need to pivot, and I need to go get a real skill. Because all– I know pipettes and I know O-chem. But, like, how do I go out into the world? And so, really for me, I think it was the encouragement to focus on goals, and be really clear about what it is that I want. And then, just kind of be relentless– not relentless. I feel like that sounds negative. But, be very much passionate about going after that. And so, I’ve always had sort of that support in the back of my mind. Not necessarily in the cliched millennial sense, like, you can do anything. But, sort of, you can do anything if you’re gonna work hard at it, and you really focus yourself, and you’re smart about it. So, I think that that’s what sort of led me to the entrepreneurial path, having that kind of basis of encouragement.


Jamin Brazil: Who was a role model for you that installed that tenacity to pick a goal and go after it and achieve it?


Orion Brown: Oh, definitely my mom. Definitely my mom. She’s tenacious, almost to a fault, I will say. She– I’ve never seen her look at a situation and go, I don’t really know what to do, so I’m just going to sit here and wait. She’s just not that person. And so, whether it be small things or big things– I mean, growing up in a single-parent household primarily, and not having a lot of money, not having a lot of resources, I mean, she would look at an outfit, and then go learn how to make it. So, we spent a lot of time in JOANN Fabrics, and looking at patterns. And she made my clothes until I was about probably four or five. So, you know, there was never a want for being a fashionable child. And there was never a want for her to be fashionable. And so she– she saw places where we didn’t really have enough to do, to get the things that we wanted, and she found ways around that. She found ways to create what she wanted, create the life that she wanted.


Jamin Brazil: I mean, that’s super inspiring. Right? It’s so amazing how– and you know, you’re right. You can do a lot with a little. But, probably the bigger point in that framework is the grit that that installs in– or has the opportunity to install in your family, or the people that you’re around. It doesn’t have to just be family. It could be employees, or whatever.


Orion Brown: Yeah.


Jamin Brazil: Bosses even, right? So, as you’ve recognized that trait in yourself, have you been imparting that in any way to other people?


Orion Brown: Definitely. I actually do quite a bit of coaching in a number of areas. And I think the biggest challenge that people that come to me for coaching, or mentorship, or advice, is, that usually– it’s the myopathy of not knowing what you can do, and not necessarily believing what you can’t do. So, I think you know, being exposed to something as simple as seeing a person make an outfit that they’ve always wanted. I mean, you would never think about it. You would go, oh, that’s so nice. Oh, I wish I could have that. Oh– and then you start to kinda feel sorry for yourself, and all of those things. But when you realize that there is a way to get it, if nothing else– and this is totally me. Even if I choose not to make it, because I just don’t like sewing that much, but, having the choice gives me agency in the situation. Now I have chosen to not take that thing, or to do that thing, or to get that thing. And so, I find a lot with folks that I’m chatting with from a mentorship perspective, they’re stuck is less so them going, I don’t know what to do. It’s, I don’t know what I can do. And so, a lot of times I am coaching people on, well, what’s your situation? What’s the worst thing that could happen? Now what are all the different things that could lead to that? And then what are the things that couldn’t? Like, let’s just imagine. We use our imaginations to figure out potential paths. And once you start having more choices and more paths, then it just really opens up not only your own intrinsic motivation and belief in yourself, but it starts to really open up opportunities for you to brainstorm further, and to be more creative, and to find new ways to get things done.


Jamin Brazil: So, in that spirit, you’ve obviously asked yourself this question, and then you started The Black Travel Box. Tell us a little bit about that company.


Orion Brown: I started Black Travel Box– it started out as a passion project a couple years ago. I was still working in corporate. And after 15 years in corporate, you know, I had learned the routine of, get my vacation days, go somewhere lovely, decompress from all of the workdays. Lather, rinse, repeat. No pun intended. And so, you know, that’s something that I had done over the years pretty religiously. That was one of the big benefits of the type of job that I had. You know, that’s where my money kinda went. That and food. But that’s a whole other conversation. I love food. And so, on these travels, I noticed that– I started to notice that I would have the same issue of, as a woman of color, going to places– and it’s not even necessarily far flung places. Although, Japan is definitely the place that I was like, oh, no, I definitely can’t do this. But, you know, it’s the same if I go to like the middle of Ohio. Going to a place, and realizing that I don’t have enough product with me. The little one to two ounce bottles that come in travel bags, are just not enough. And oftentimes, they’re not the things that I really use. And so, it just becomes a hassle. Like, it’s very easy for me to dump all my stuff from my closet into a bag, and go. But the personal care aspect of it, and feeling and looking the way that I want to when I’m out of my home, was really a challenge. And so, I just kinda thought, this should exist in the world. There’s no reason that just because I have textured hair, or you know, slightly darker skin, I shouldn’t be able to have products that work for me, and work well for me. And so, that was sort of the impotence. And again, it becomes that thing where you see and need, and you can either look at it and go, oh, well, that really sucks, let me just complain about it, or do something. And so, that’s what I did. I started it as a passion project just to see if I could do something, and see if I was the only person having this issue. And I learned very quickly that I’m not, and the world really does need a brand like this.


Jamin Brazil: It’s so funny seeing how that ties back to your mom making clothes.


Orion Brown: You know what, I honestly never thought of it until you asked me. It does. It does. It’s what you’re exposed to. It informs so much at a subconscious level, and that’s why it’s really important to be aware of what you expose yourself to, what you expose your kids to, both on the positive and the negative side of it, because it sticks with you.


Jamin Brazil: So you’ve commissioned, executed, you’ve used a lot of market research over your career.


Orion Brown: Mm-hmm.


Jamin Brazil: The topic that we’re really diving in on today is diversity. What is the role– or what role does diversity play, in the context of the actual team that is doing the research?


Orion Brown: I think the operative word is context. Diversity provides context, so that data and observations can be appropriately gleaned, and you know, given the right value set. Oftentimes misunderstanding or misinterpretation of data comes from a lack of experience as to what that situation, or what that person– you know, if you’re interviewing someone, what type of experience they’ve had, and what their lens is. People say a lot of things. You can’t read minds, though. Right? So when you’re doing market research, and you’re asking either via survey or via focus group, or whatever it might be, and even looking at buyer data. You still don’t know why that person purchased. You can try to correlate, but causation is really hard to get to, unless you do a lot of digging, and you have a lot of sort of experience with what that person’s life looks like, and why they’re making the choices that they’re making.


Jamin Brazil: I interviewed another woman, who I think you may have met, Pepper. And she was telling me in the focus groups that she does, specifically that are ethnic, she will focus in on having whatever the ethnicity is, having it the same moderator as the entire group. Even down to like if there’s an onsite videographer, that person has to match the same ethnicity. And the reason why she thinks that’s so important, is because there’s this like shared context that exists, that as soon as you bring in somebody else, that can be potentially disrupted.


Orion Brown: Yes.


Jamin Brazil: And then there could be even a different way of externalizing a question, or the answer to a question. Is– have you seen that play out? What’s your point of view on that?


Orion Brown: Every situation is different, right? But, I think at the core of that, it is very, very true, particularly when you talk about race differences, somewhat cultural differences as well. I think the crust of it is cultural, right? If you have a moderator that uses a certain term, or the respondent uses a certain term, and the moderator has a cultural understanding of what their intent was, then that just gets you to a much clearer data point. But, broadly speaking, the idea of– I don’t know if you’re familiar with code switching? Which we– everybody– every human being does this to some extent. But, we certainly in the US, have a lot of code switching that happens on a racial basis. But it’s that idea of, you go into a room, and based off of the demographic of the room, and the context of the situation, you express yourself differently. You use different language, both in body language and verbally. And so, you know, the sort of universal example that I like to give is, people who have been to church before, and you go to a church, and you know it’s a really formal church, so you change the way you show up. Your clothes are going to be different. The way you speak to people is gonna be different. And everybody, for the most part, knock on wood, at least censors themselves not to swear when they walk into the church, because they don’t wanna offend the people around them, right? It’s sort of the same thing. And when you talk about cultural code switching, there’s an undercurrent of– and this is why I personally believe anybody who is doing market research should have a really good, deep understanding of culture, and have done cultural studies in some form or fashion, because there’s so many things that are underlying in the spaces between spaces with words and action that is very cool, and it’s very interesting, and it’s very deep, but this is what takes– this is where the art comes in, rather than the science. Because the science won’t tell you that, when a black woman enters a room, and she’s got white females around her, she will censor herself, in one direction or another. She may be more overtly expressing her culture, feeling like she has to represent herself in some way, or represent a broader culture in some way. Or she may do the opposite and say, you know what, I kinda wanna be the wallflower in the situation, because I don’t want to be the person tagged with every question that has anything to do with a person that’s black. So– but understanding that you won’t see that in the data. Data will not tell you that.


Jamin Brazil: When you’ve seen this executed well– actually, let me backup. Have you actually seen intentionality around the composition of the research team from a vendor before?


Orion Brown: Not particularly. What I would say is, typically what we’ll hear is, well, our team understands, and we are very sensitive to these types of differences. However, and then I feel like the dot, dot, dot is, well, we just don’t have enough people of color. Well, we just don’t have– we don’t have them on hand. But our staff is really good. And so, I think, you know, when you mentioned talking about having both a moderator and even a videographer being a person of color in particular, I’m like, I’m trying to think back. I don’t think I’ve ever necessarily seen that done consciously in my career.


Jamin Brazil: I haven’t either, actually. I’ve heard a lot and done a lot of, like, you know, national rep sampling. But I’ve never really thought about it before this– I’ve gone through this exercise, until now. I mean, it’s a little bit– it’s actually a lot embarrassing, to be quite honest with you.


Orion Brown: Yeah.


Jamin Brazil: And it’s a material miss. I think– one of the things that’s come up is the need to recognize the differences, as opposed to this adopt this perspective of like color blindness. Which I think– I know I’ve been– I don’t wanna say like socially conditioned to do. But I don’t really know like– I don’t know where that comes from. You know, the half dozen people that I’ve talked to about this topic all said that, listen, we need to acknowledge, and even celebrate the diversity, right? As opposed to it being this thing that somehow doesn’t magically exist.


Orion Brown: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it’s one of those things that I think the sensitivities around racism in our country in particular, are such that people are conditioned to stay away from it, and not discuss it openly, or as a fact of history. And there’s a whole– you know, there’s a ton of factors that go into that, right? But that’s sort of our American culture in many places. And so, we can’t normalize it to, hey, if you want to– if you wanna talk to people about hair care, would you put a bald guy in the room to ask them questions? It’s– there’s no offense. It’s not that we don’t like bald people. It’s just that you probably wanna put someone in, who can relate better to what the topic of discussion is. There’s a reason why we have these programs when we talk about police in the communities and stuff like that, where we want the police force to engage with the community in non sort of law enforcement type settings. Because you want people to understand each other. That’s ultimately– you cannot get to any type of cursory understanding of a group, without having participated in some kind of way, and had some experience. You know, you don’t want to– you know, hospitals have volunteers, where they’ll bring former cancer patients in, or kids who have had cancer to meet other kids who currently have cancer, because there’s a kinship there, that enables them to really speak the same language. And when you’re talking about consumer insights, yeah, it’s marketing. Yeah, it’s sort of froufrou. But, it’s also psychology. It’s psychology. So, when you think about the psychology of insight, it’s no different than going into a therapist. People pick therapists based on how well they communicate with each other. Like, unless you’re being court ordered, you’re gonna go to somebody that feels like a good fit. And they’re typically gonna feel like a good fit, because they get you.


Jamin Brazil: And the get you I think is the exact point, right? That– and even if you’re in a business enterprise environment, you’re still selling to humans. And so, you know, those human beings need to be able to relate and connect, too. I’m even thinking about like Zoom as– it’s been so dominant in this Covid-19. And there’s what, there’s probably a hundred different video conference platforms out there. And yet, this one is just like completely growing by gangbusters. And really a key to that platform has been its ability to be able to connect to people before the crisis. And then, have a real clear sort of value prop, you know, gearing. And so there’s this like– and it isn’t, I wanna sell you a license. It’s like, I wanna help enable conversations to connect humans. And so, it’s like, transcending the you know, they wanna make money off me. And moving into a, they wanna add value to my life. And that’s the– and that is the big unlock here, I think, as you can understand minorities in a true way, as opposed to in an Excel file. Then you’re able to start unlocking their whys. And then, ultimately building a relationship with them, and then figure out how you can add value to that. So what consideration should we give, as researchers, to diversity of the actual that’s doing the research?


Orion Brown: I think there’s a couple places. One, it’s the data gathering team, as well as the data analytics side of the team, right? You know, oftentimes we will at least have the benefit of the brand team being somewhat diverse. But when we’re actually talking about the folks who are gathering the data, as we talked about earlier, having moderators, or having you know, any other folks in the room, that may affect the course of the conversation. You know, it’s important to think about that. Again, it has to be contextual. So, when we think of the context of talking about hair care, and having a bald moderator, that’s a pretty stark contrast. But, if we’re talking about potato chips, it’s totally fine. Right? So, it really is thinking about the context of what the discussion is, if there are sensitivities around the discussion, and then assessing whether or not those sensitivities would be affected by the people that are in the room. On the analytics side of it, we wanna make sure that people, again, have enough context to interpret what’s being said, or what data is coming through. So, if you’re looking at quantitative data, that says, women are more likely to purchase a particular product. OK, that’s great. But, what kind of product are we talking about? Because if we’re talking about a feminine care product, then, duh. Right? But if it’s a feminine care product that people– that broadly speaking, like say men aren’t aware of that women use as a feminine care product. Think about, say, baby powder. If I were to go, what do you use baby powder for? You would probably say, you put it in baby diapers. I grew up, and unfortunately now there’s issues with talk, and all of that. But, I grew up in a culture where women use that, and kinda toss a little in their underwear, and kept it moving. You know? It kinda kept you fresh all day. Every time you sat down, you get a little tuft of baby powder. That’s an insight that, unless you’ve seen people do it, and nobody is going to talk about what they do with their underwear publicly. So it’s helpful to be a female in that situation. And I think there’s also some cultural skews as to how that happens as well. I think mostly– like a lot of my southern family would probably be like, everybody did that, and probably still does it. But, I don’t necessarily know that everybody does that in their other– you know, another home. So, it really is about having a good team that you can– and you can’t always– I say this with the understanding that you can’t always anticipate what you’re gonna need, and especially when you’re talking about on your analytics side of your team, when you’re actually distilling data, and coming up with what those insights are. But what you can do is have a fairly diverse team. And it’s not just racial diversity. I think it’s really cultural. I mean, ethnicity and race can be a great flag for that. But culture is really the underpinning, right? Because race and ethnicity affect the culture that you grow up in, that you kind of move through the world in. And so, having that– if you’re working for a company in the UK, and you don’t have people that live or have lived in the UK analyzing the data from the consumer, they’re not gonna understand the quirks of what they’re saying, and what they’re doing, and why they’re doing it. So, it really is important to look for some of the obvious things, and try to balance for that. And then also just having a substrate of diversity that’s already kind of built into the team at a core level. So the things that you don’t see coming, you at least have a good opportunity to hedge for.


Jamin Brazil: What would you think about if you were commissioning a project, and the agency said they were bringing in an outside consultant, that would represent whatever diverse group you were looking at at that particular point. Do you think that would enhance your view of the consultant? Or do you think it would cause concern?


Orion Brown: Of the consultant or the agency?


Jamin Brazil: The– I’m sorry, of the agency.


Orion Brown: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily a cause for concern. I feel like that happens in other spaces all the time. So, for instance, if you’re trying to do a digital marketing campaign, and that campaign has a look and feel– they come up with the idea, and they’re like, it should be like this. And it should be, you know, 3D, and it should look like Detective Pikachu, and it should have live action, and it should have animation, and all these things. But, by the way, we don’t have anybody in-house that does that. So, we’re gonna bring in this secondary agency, or this expert that knows how to do it, I wouldn’t even blink. I would just be like, OK, fine. As long as it doesn’t cost me anymore, you know? What is the pass-through cost? I think that’s great. Because I don’t want you to do it if you don’t know what you’re doing. And I think there’s nothing worse, at least for me, as a brand manager and a brand marketer, bringing on agencies and experts who are selling things they don’t know, and can’t execute. I think it’s better– your value to me is not just the execution, but it’s the management of it, it’s your strategic eye, it’s your capability of getting the thing done. And I think a lot of people forget that in their pursuit of getting the check, and getting the– scoring the deal. And so, I think there’s no shame in saying, you know what– and actually, I think it’s a strength to say, I have a network of people that I know are excellent, that I can dip into when we have particular needs, that maybe our core team can’t fulfill. I think that’s a great way to go.


Jamin Brazil: All right, my last question is, what is your personal motto?


Orion Brown: I don’t know that I have a core motto, per se. I do have this quote that I put in my email footer, which is– you know, I’m cheesy. But, it’s– there’s this quote from Frederick Douglass that is probably a little bit flowery, but I think at its core, really I guess is reflective of how I think about going about my day. And it goes something like, “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence.” And I think that that– you know, if I can live with myself at the end of the day, then I worry less about what other people think about the choices that I make. That’s how I sleep at night. So, yeah. I guess that’s sort of my motto.


Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Orion Brown, founder of Black Travel Box and brand management consultant. Thank you, Orion, very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Orion Brown: No worries. Thank you so much for having me.


Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, if you found value in this episode, I really hope you will take time to share it. This has been, for me, one of the most insightful conversations that I’ve had on the podcast, no offense to the 350 other people I’ve talked to. But, this issue of cultural diversity is something that I think we’re not talking about nearly enough as researchers. And I hope that you’ll take the time to share it with your colleagues, talk about it on Zoom, or water coolers if that’s where we are by the time this thing airs. And I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day.