My guests today is Paul R. Bruening, Director UX Research and Insights at Thomson Reuters.
Thomson Reuters has around 50,000 employees globally and is the world’s leading provider of news and information-based tools to professionals.
These interviews are being done in conjunction with the Qual360 North America 2021. It will take place virtually on a dedicated conference platform! The unique Qual360 concept allows for a diverse range of participants and topics at each conference, offering local trends as well as a global perspective.
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Jamin Brazil: Hi. I’m Jamin, host of the Happy Market Research podcast. my guest today is Paul Bruening, Director of UX Research and Insights at Thompson Reuters. Thompson Reuters has around 50,000 employees globally and is the world’s leading provider of news and information-base tools to professionals. This interview is being done in conjunction with QUAL360 North America 2021. That event will take place virtually on a dedicated conference platform. It is a unique concept that allows a range of diversity of both participants and speakers and topics combined into a multi-day event. I hope you’ll join. For information, please check out the link in the show notes on how you’re able to register and attend. So with that, I would like to welcome today’s guest. Thank you so much Paul for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast.
Paul R. Bruening: Well, it’s great to be here. And it’s really nice to meet you as well.
Jamin Brazil: This episode is brought to you by SurveyMonkey. You may know SurveyMonkey as a leader in feedback software, but may not know about their all-in-one market research platform. It’s powered by AI technology and taps into an integrated global audience panel to deliver insights faster without compromising quality. Their latest innovation is the SurveyMonkey Brand Tracker. It disrupts traditional research techniques by helping companies continuously monitor ships and brand perception. Instead of static presentations, data is delivered by dynamic dashboards. Revolutionary AI powered insights instantly surface meaningful trends so you can spend less time digging through data and more time on your high-impact strategy. To learn more about SurveyMonkey’s market research solutions, take a second, visit surveymonkey.com/market-research. That’s surveymonkey.com/market-research. Our topic QUAL360, you’re our speaker, tell us what you’re chatting about.
Paul R. Bruening: So I’ll be talking about effective insight communication remotely. Which as you know there can be a lot lost in that stream when we go remote, and how we’ve dialed up our communications and added extra features and strategies to make sure that we are keeping our pulse on what people are thinking and what they’re doing and also how we can improve their experiences.
Jamin Brazil: You sit in this interesting spot of top internet media distribution company. I’m really curious about, is this primary research you’re talking about? Or is it social scraping? Or like, how are you getting that type of feedback?
Paul R. Bruening: We support a lot of Agile teams because we’re also a technology company. And it’s mostly primary research. We conduct a lot of rapid testing and prototype testing. But we have decoupled ourselves from that Agile churn, so that we’re also conducting these big bat research studies which have many different formats and inputs. So we do qualitative, obviously. We also are studying a lot of behavioral analytics. We’re early in the stages of implementing something where we actually can connect qualitative and behavioral analytics in real time, and see that through a series of dashboards and other kinds of outputs and analysis. And that gives us an amazing new view of what people are doing, is it what they want to be doing? And how can we reduce barriers and increase value when someone, bless them, come to visit us and choose to use us as their source of truth?
Jamin Brazil: There’s been a trend over the last maybe eight years, moving away from the large monolithic tracking studies, and then, do you see those coming back in to fashion in some way?
Paul R. Bruening: I mean, we have campaigns. We have a marketing wing and they run campaigns, and they track effectiveness of those. But these big tracking studies I think you’re referring to, and I remember those days, we’re not doing that kind of work. Ours is more, do we really understand someone at an individual level? And can that be deployed thematically across a larger set of visitors? And then there is also the idea of turning age cases, which these big tracking studies had this regression to the mean kind of problem which we all face every day. And we didn’t really understand what was going on at the edges, which is where opportunity and innovation occurs. So that for us is really where the focus is. Not that we aren’t building a data lake that’s the size of Mars, and we’re leveraging that. But we have to figure out, what is the strategy for all that data? And it’s not really to draw a straight line, if you know what I’m saying.
Jamin Brazil: Right, I do. I think I do. Nobody has 2.3 kids. And the story is all on the fringes. If we’ve learnt anything in the last year, twelve months, it’s that we’re basically a group of people made up of massive amount of diversity. And so you can’t just like homogenize or smash all of us together.
Paul R. Bruening: That’s right. And I think our team reflects that, from an organizational standpoint. We’re building teams that reflect the diversity of our audience. And that for me, it’s been a really beautiful and powerful moment, just to see how that’s changed me and made me recognize my bubble. And I think that’s really where growth is. If we can overcome business procedures and really throw them all away and then focus solely on, have we improved this person’s experience? And can we measure how much it improved through them? Through their future actions, but also through how their voice changes when we talk to them.
Jamin Brazil: The intentionality around hiring diversity is something I’m finding very interesting just from a practical perspective in my own small business. We’re very small, we have five employees. But I’m the only white guy. Not that there’s anything wrong with white guys. And that’s not happening by accident. That’s happening around a lot of intensity. And what I found, which has been really surprising, I’ve build Teams through my whole career, but it’s the first time I’ve ever done it like this. Which is sad to say. But your point about the self-awareness that I’ve developed around my own bubble, around the people that I normally interface with has been super interesting.
Paul R. Bruening: Yes. Especially large meetings. There’s a tendency to kind of homogenize the meeting because it just feels more clean burning. But when we start listening to each other and the conversation is shifting and we’ve got a lot of different teams that we’re pulling from, who are in different geographies because we’re global, you start learning that there is something here that I was missing. And maybe I don’t need to stick to the agenda. And that’s been a really great moment for us, I would say, for me.
Jamin Brazil: What other trends are you seeing in market research that will carry us through 2022.
Paul R. Bruening: Well, there’s been a lot of burn-out for the modes that we pivoted to. So we moved to a mode of putting people on the screen. And there’s a lot of emerging research about how deleterious that is to our cognitive function. For example, accident rates go up after you leave a Zoom call. And I would tie it back to one of the hidden realities of being a human and carrying around this noggin. And that is this transactional knowledge sharing, which is a deep area of study in psychology. But it’s one of those areas that is just too dry for anyone to ever really talk about. But it’s really the automatic systems that we have that adjust our approach in our conversation and the way we interact with people and what we say and what we edit based on some snap decisions that are being made out of our consciousness. I’ll give you an example. This one’s pretty basic but really also it’s a point. When we speak to children, we raise our pitch, we speak in high frequency words and we make eye contact, most of us. That is not an accident. That’s pretty universal to humans regardless of their continent, their language, whatever system they live in. And that’s because we’re performing this transactional knowledge sharing, where we’re deciding and simulating what is that person’s level of knowledge about what I’m going to share? And I think what has happened in the industry and what has happened in my concept of the work that I do and what my team does, is we have to take into consideration our effect on the data. We’ve always talked about having a footprint on data and our software technographies that we do and those kind of things. You know, don’t wear cologne to someone’s house. All of these things that might have an effect on someone or give them an allergy. But then there are things that are more subtle, that are hidden. And those could involve how many people are watching. What are the roles those people have? If we’re on a Zoom call together, they can see all their names, they can see in brackets the area they work in. Is there a sales person on this call? Maybe I need to change what I’m saying. And they don’t do this consciously. We just affect their answer, and it’s instant. And I think that kind of work and that kind of thinking needs to be embedded in the work that we do. So my team has taken an approach that’s very simple, that’s based on that ‘jobs to be done’ principle, where we come in. Our questions are simple. We have long listening periods, and we have an agenda. And our agenda is to understand what is going on at the moment of something, and that person’s not aware of that thing. I can’t call someone and ask them about every single click they made on the Internet today. We don’t think about that. But I can get them really close to a certain set of decisions they made from the Internet. If we take our time and we go very slowly, we will reduce all of the stuff that’s going to either squelch a potential discovery or change their answer. You know we always say, customers don’t do what they say. Guess why? Because we’ve put too much pressure on something they can’t say. Too much emphasis on something they don’t know, and then being good citizens, give us an answer, and then God forbid, that becomes our data. So we’ve been learning to shut up and also learning to turn our cameras off. If this person is not used to this mode, let’s just jump to the phone, let’s just be you and me. And we’ll just jump on the phone and we’ll talk about a couple of points. That kind of flexibility, when we identify that this person has a need and has a mode that’s going to make them more comfortable, we just lean into it. We just have to do. And that’s, I feel, where we’ve been evolving. Because we were thrown into the pressure cooker with going remote. And I think the humans at the other side of our systems were thrown into the same pressure cooker, and it’s really shone a light on things that we could actually improve. We also deliver content that people need. So our audience is going through terrifying things. Like for example, I had a co-creation session set up with legal librarians, which is that audience amazing. They are not what you would expect, but they were going through such turmoil. When you think about what a library is and when you think about that library being empty and converting overnight to a digital resource, this co-creation fell apart. People started crying, it was intense. And I realized, I was living in my bubble. These folks were going through something rather powerful and threatening to their very financial existence. They also were very passionate about their work and they couldn’t solve it. It was too early in the pandemic. So I asked them all if I could come back in six months and we could regroup. We just had to do that. For me, what has happened is that I’ve gotten more flexible in the mode of which I communicate with someone. I’m trying to find that point where they can share this information openly and clearly and give them space to reflect on things that are non-obvious. I think that’s been the biggest advancement for me. And I think with the industry, I don’t think I’m alone. I could tell you a really embarrassing story about how I thought I invented usability. Because I never met anyone who had been doing this, so I came up with my own little program, and that was great. But we’re all doing this as solo practitioners in many cases, and we’re inventing work-arounds. I think a conference like this gives an opportunity for us to say “We’re not alone. You have my pain and I have yours, and look at what you’ve done with that. It’s really beautiful. I’m going to get rid of my pain now.” Or it’s something where we can come together and say, “Look, I’m starting to feel the energy here. And I’m starting to feel that the energy is on this focus. Maybe that’s where I should focus my energy as well.”
Jamin Brazil: There’s a lot of things, but there’s two that I want to bring out from what you said. The first is, it reminds me of a conversation I had with Pepper Miller who’s the founder of the Pepper Miller group in Chicago, which is an agency that’s focused on black consumers for market researchers for brands. One of the things that stood out to me in an interview that I did with her, it’s about a year ago, is that in her focus groups it isn’t just the consumers are all black in that meeting room, but it’s the videography as well and everybody else that’s support or visible. The reason why is because the language changes based on who is in the room and our ability to be able to learn. Me as a white moderator for example, is different than the insights that she can pull out of that cultural context. Then the second thing that you said that I really think is important and we don’t talk enough about it in consumer insights, is around jobs to be done. And if you’re listening to this, if you’re maybe a little bit hazy on what that means, it really gets to the specific why a consumer buys or does the thing that they do. And often times, it’s just connected from their cognitive processes. It’s more about habit. Clay Christensen did a good job of talking about that in context of a milkshake, solving a specific problem which was make a commute more interesting. I’m sure many of our listeners are familiar with that. But if you’re not, it’s like a five minute YouTube talk, check him out. I just really appreciate that this trend that you’ve identified, which is moving away from the middle point into these people groups whether it’s age or etc, and understanding the consumer through that lens. But it does make for a more complex connection to the market. Because now you recognize that you have all these different constituents.
Paul R. Bruening: Yes, exactly. And what’s interesting about this mode of really getting down to what is someone hiring this thing to do for them? Could be a product or a solution, or a website, or an experience. What are they really trying to get done via that? It becomes really stable, and it actually transcends some group boundaries, right?
Jamin Brazil: Yeah.
Paul R. Bruening: It becomes very much a human thing. We can use that as our lingua-franca. Because when we need to talk to a development team, they say developers make designers’ dreams come true, but they won’t come true if that developer feels that they can get away with serving meatloaf for lunch every day. The way we get them to rethink the tools they’re using and the kind of ways they’re implementing our designs is to share those jobs to be done with them, make sure they understand them, and actually get them to conduct one of those interviews. That’s another part of our program, is we know they’re not going to be a researcher, but we set up a system where we actually teach them the principles and we teach them Bob missed his switch interview. We get them on a call with a customer and they conduct his research, and it’s magic. They come alive, you can see them really digging in. They ask such cool questions. They don’t really generate data often, but they do change. And then when we send them our jobs to be done, they know what that content is. They know how to handle that material. We’re spreading that across. We’re a huge organization, so we’re spreading that across these Agile teams that go all the way from let’s say insight to code. And when we reach that code phase, they have to really have a deep understanding for that. Insight means for their work and how their work affects people’s lives. It’s a real nice connective point.
Jamin Brazil: I had not heard that said exactly. Like you really appreciate that point of view. It’s hard for me to stop the conversation, but we do have time constraints. I do want to ask this last question though. What is your personal motto?
Paul R. Bruening: My personal motto has been literally the same since I got into qualitative research. And as you know, none of us fell into qualitative research, because as a child we had to strain. Right?
Jamin Brazil: Right.
Paul R. Bruening: I mean, we don’t have time to tell my origin story. But the thing that has always been my motto, because people used to not understand this work, it was never featured in media or whatever, is that there is an opportunity sitting right in front of me to change somebody’s life. I know that sounds big and weird and arrogant. But the reality is, if I could change 15 seconds of someone’s life, I think I’ve done something. If I took away a single frustration from a person’s life, that is job done for me. That hasn’t changed. I mean, that was the way I explained when I was a usability specialist way back at a big ad agency, digital agency in the early days. The only way I could explain that job to someone who didn’t work in digital was, that’s what I do. And that hasn’t changed.
Jamin Brazil: My guest today has been Paul Bruening, Director of UX Research and Insights at Thompson Reuters. Paul, thank you so much for joining me on the Happy Market Research podcast today.
Paul R. Bruening: Thank you. It’s been fantastic. Great to meet you.
Jamin Brazil: Everyone else, I hope you’ll take time, screen capture, share this on social media. If you tag me on LinkedIn or Twitter, I will send you a free gift. It’s an amazing gift, you don’t want to miss the opportunity. Having said that, I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.