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MrWeb Series – Paul Lawson of Verve on Applying a Consultative Lens for Bigger Impact and Better Storytelling

My guest today is Paul Lawson, Executive Director at Verve. Based in London, Verve is a market research technology company offering solutions for agile insights and custom panels. Prior to joining Verve, Paul was a Research Director at Synovate. 

Find Paul Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/paullawson1/?originalSubdomain=uk 

Website: www.addverve.com 

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 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

This Episode is in Partnership with MrWeb:

Website: www.mrweb.com 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrwebnews 

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by HubUx. HubUx reduces project management costs by 90%. Think of HubUx as your personal AI project manager, taking care of all your recruitment and interview coordination needs in the background. The platform connects you with the right providers and sample based on your research and project needs. For more information, please visit HubUx.com.


[00:00]

Hey, everybody, this is Jamin, host of the Happy Market Research Podcast. In conjunction with MrWeb, I’ve had the honor of interviewing three of the leading custom panel companies. This is one of those three episodes. If you’re not currently subscribed to MrWeb, I just can’t recommend another resource. He gives you a daily update on happenings, whether it’s HR, M&A, technology releases, companies going out of business, companies starting. I mean there is not a single point of truth that I found to be more consistent and reliable than MrWeb. So check them out. They’re great and I hope you enjoy this episode.   

[00:44]

According to the GRIT report, there has been an increase in the number of qualitative-based tools. This is centric to user experience, customer experience, and market research. However, as with all things, the actual research operations remains to be done and that happens usually outside of those toolsets. HubUx is a solution for that. You plug your tools directly into it; you enter in who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, and HubUx literally does the rest for you. If you already have an existing customer list, you can just upload it directly into the tool. If you want to leverage social recruiting, that’s integrated as well. It is the single source for all of your research operations needs HubUx. Check it out. Thanks. 

[01:30]  

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Paul Lawson, Executive Director at Verve.  Did I say it right? 

[01:41]

You did yeah, Verve. We often get asked that question, but it is Verve, absolutely.

[01:46]

Perfect. Based in London, Verb is a market research technology company offering solutions for agile insights and custom panels. Prior to joining Verve, Paul was a research director at Synovate. Paul, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 

[02:00]

It’s a pleasure. I’m happy to be here. 

[02:03]

We’d like to start with some context for our audience. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they have informed your career. 

[02:10]

Yeah, sure. So, we’re based in London, grew up in England. So that’s the first bit of context. It was interesting thinking about this actually, and I had a chat to my parents about it last night, funnily enough. My mom had a whole bunch of different jobs, mostly I guess what you’d describe civil-service type stuff. So she worked for HM revenue and customs in the taxes department over here. So that’s the kind of money kind, not the wield kind. And she also worked for the National Health Service.  So she had a job in a hospital in an eye department. And when I was thinking about how it influenced me, I thought it was interesting because the jobs that she did often meant she was interacting with people who were probably quite stressed and potentially were having kind of times where they were quite vulnerable. And she actually got me a job at the hospital that she worked in one summer. And I always remember noticing firsthand how well she was able to empathize with people who were going through often tricky situations but also at the same time move them through the process because ultimately moving them through the process in the system was part of what she was there to do. And I always thought that it was really interesting how she managed to balance those two things. And I think the big one of those, obviously, for me is about empathy. My role in the business I work in means that I have a lot of conversations, with people that I’ve never met before. And in all of those conversations, it’s obviously, really important that you’re able to empathize with people and that you can connect with them as human beings and understand things from their point of view. And, ultimately, I suppose that helps on both a personal level, but it also helps on a business level because if I can understand them and their point of view. Then I’m more likely to be able to have a proper conversation about how we as an organization might be able to help them.

So I think that kind of empathy that she was able to display in her role was definitely something that I’ve brought forward into mine. My dad’s career was very different actually. So, my dad’s a carpenter by trade. One of my colleagues when I was talking about it the other day said, “Wow, he can make things with wood,” which I thought was a great thing to say. It’s something that has completely passed me by. He’s a brilliant carpenter, but I’m not competent in that sort of area at all. He started out in a local carpentry firm in Birmingham basically in the Midlands in England. And then he got a carpentry job with the local authority, and the local authority was actually in Coventry where I was born. And so, after a while he did the carpentry work and then after a while he moved through the local authority, through a whole bunch of different roles and got promoted basically. And he ended up working as a contracts manager and he was on the housing side of things. So effectively the local council has a whole bunch of housing stocks that they place people in. And his job was to manage the contracts with suppliers who would come in and do work on those houses and maintain them and make sure that they were up to scratch and were able to house people in the way that the council needed to. And one of the things, and not recently, but I’ve had a lot of conversations with my dad about work and one of the things that I’ve always noticed when he talks about it is how much for a large chunk of time he was there. He really, really enjoyed it. I think a lot of the people that he worked with, he was genuine friends with and still knows a bunch of them to this day, but also those kind of friendship groups extended out to their broader families as well. 

And they worked hard, but they really enjoyed each other’s company. And he has loads of stories about them, genuinely having good, fun times at work. And I think probably as he got promoted, he might’ve lost a bit of that along the way because it’s a bit of a cliché but that’s what people do. But I do think, again, one of the things that that has kind of stayed with me about that is you spend a lot of time at work and you may as well do your very best to enjoy the time that you’re there. You know? And I think if you can work with a bunch of people who have a sort of shared goal and everybody’s working in the same direction to that shared goal, which luckily enough I have a Verve, then then all of the better. But I do think that you can kind of make it a choice to be positive and enjoy your time at work because, hey, you’re going to be there anyway, so why not try and get the most out of it? 

[06:08]

I really appreciate you going into this detail about your folks. There’s a saying here in the States with carpenters (I don’t know if it’s limited to the States) but it’s “Measure twice cut once.”  And it’s this sort of aptitude of attention to detail on the front end will save you a bunch of work on the backend, which is, of course, a big part of the narrative of consumer insights and market research specifically as we think about informing the business decisions that enable really a lock revenues for our customers. And the other thing that kind of struck me listening to you talk about your mom is this combination of empathy and movement is also centric to insight professionals because we can’t just dwell and exist in this single plane of understanding the customer. We have to then process and apply that to action for our customers. So it’s really interesting to me you sitting in the role that you are in your storied career in consumer insights with of this broader application of or maybe characteristics that you’ve drawn from your parents. 

[07:18]

It’s interesting, isn’t it, when someone else plays it back to you actually what you hear and I think you’re absolutely right. I think, funny enough, one of the things that probably my dad gets frustrated with me about when I try and do DIY with him is my lack of attention to detail because I don’t enjoy it. I try and rush to the end. And he says, “You got to slow down.” But you’re absolutely right in the context, and this is something we talk a huge amount about in our world is:  so we talk about agile insight a lot and kind of working in smarter ways. One of the primary things about that is slow down to speed up. So, basically, agile people often think fast. It doesn’t mean fast right at the beginning. It means that you’re spending a lot of time at the beginning working out what the whole process is. What that means is when you get to it and you repeat it, you can do it better and better and better because you’ve put all of the hard yards in up front. So yeah, absolutely right. We talk about that a lot. And, equally, it’s interesting when you frame it that way ‘cause, equally, what we’re talking about with empathy and movement…  One of the kind of premises of our business is the idea of actually engaging the consumer in the process. So we want people to enjoy the process of taking part in research. We don’t want them to do it because they’re paid to do it or because they get points or anything like that. We want them to value participation. And so, actually, empathizing with them and understanding what their experience is going to be like and, therefore, trying to create a better one for them—that’s really important. But, also, you can’t spend your whole time on that because, as you rightly say, the kind of purpose of it is to create insight that can help clients make better decisions. So you’re absolutely right. Empathy and movement is a really key thing. I might’ve found a new way of characterizing what we do.   

[08:58]

Yeah, it’s funny. I’ve had a lot of conversations, most of which have been documented on Happy Market Research Podcast, and I’ve actually never heard it said exactly like as we’re riffing on it right now, which is you do have to go slow in context of agile. It’s almost like we’ve injected some level of stress on the time frames, which are requiring a feeling like we need to cut down on. And in some ways we do—on the silly work—but cut down on the prep side of it. But we actually can save a lot of steps if we’re smarter there. So anyway, I’m going to shift gears a little bit ‘cause we have a lot of things to talk about. But the last thing I just had to pull out was the…  In preparation for the show, one of the things that I do is I check out Glassdoor, and Verve has probably one of the most vibrant, I would say, portrayal of culture that I’ve seen on the show. 

And I’ve had (I can’t even tell you like the size of companies), like big companies and small companies too. And you guys really are shining. It’s interesting, as I was reading some of the open job descriptions and looking at the pictures, I literally thought to myself, “Gosh, if I was 10 years younger, I’d want to work at that spot.” It comes across very attractive and like a fun place. You know? So, I know this is probably sounding a little bit propaganda-ish, but when you think about the company culture, how would you characterize it at Verve? 

[10:26]

Do you know what? It’s interesting. There’s a couple of words. So we absolutely are entrepreneurial, and I’m not sure that people would sort of immediately relay entrepreneurial to something that was fun and engaging for the people who were there all the time. I think entrepreneurial can sometimes have a kind of slightly negative connotation, but we’re absolutely entrepreneurial. But our boss, Andrew, the founder of our company—and he’s still in the business running it today—absolutely believes in the idea that we want to build and grow a great business, but we want to try and have fun along the way. One of the things, to be honest, we say is that we’re called Verve for a reason. We want to get out of bed and we want to go to work and we want to enjoy doing stuff when we’re there. We want people to feel open to challenge processes, people to ask, “Why do we do it that way? And are there different ways of doing things?” So we want it to be a place where people can get on and grow and learn and do new things, but at the same time be part of a commercially successful growing business. And it’s kind of those two things. And I think if we don’t ever profess to… We don’t want it to be comfortable all the time because actually entrepreneurial businesses shouldn’t always be comfortable because you should be moving forward and doing new things. But we DO want people to be inspired and enjoy the process and have a good time while they’re there.

[11:43]

Yeah. Verve, of course, is vigor, enthusiasm, etc. Right. Yeah. Okay. Good. So let’s shift gears a little bit. Talk to me about Verve. How are you guys fitting
into the overall market research ecosystem? 

[11:57]

As I mentioned in the upfront a little bit. So we’re agile insight and community panel providers. So we deliver our research, our insights in two broad ways. So we run long-term community panels and through those we’re delivering multifunctional qual and quant and data-integrated research programs. And then we also deliver short-term projects or programs via our pop-up communities and panels. So those are the two main mechanisms for how we do what we do. In terms of what Verve is about and how we fit in, we use a range of different technologies and approaches to help us develop what we think is better insight basically. So we integrate a lot of behavioral and transactional data into the research process. So the presence of data and the emergence of all of this data that exists to help clients make decisions nowadays, I think, in some places is seen as a risk to market research. But we absolutely see it as an opportunity. So we really love data, and we integrate a lot of it into the research process. Like I say, we also really like making sure that the people who take part in the research, the consumers, take part because they enjoy it, not just because they’re getting paid to. It’s really a key part of our proposition, which is about engaging the consumers who take part in the research as well as engaging the clients and the stakeholders who were working for. Another key part is getting closer to the experiences that we’re trying to understand. So technology nowadays enables you to do a really good job of actually understanding why people are making certain decisions or how they feel about certain experiences in the moment. And that’s a big part of what we do. And we also give consumers lots and lots of different ways of sharing their feedback. So we use video; we use voice, text, links to other content, group discussions—lots of different ways of getting people to share their stuff or share feedback about the experiences that they’re having. So I guess that’s a part of the functioning of what we do. But what’s really, really important about all of this is that the technology, I think, only gets you so far. So where the real alchemy and magic happens is that we’ve got a really large team of experienced, knowledgeable researchers and broader community experts, who know how to create the right tasks, moderate them in the right way, create the right questionnaires, analyze the data, do all of that sort of stuff. That means at the end of it all our clients get information, insights and outputs that help them make the decisions that they make. So very much at the center of technology and people because it’s the people who make the technology powerful, I think. So that’s I guess what we’re doing. Ultimately, in terms of where we fit into the ecosystem more broadly, the great thing about the approach and the reason for saying all of that stuff is that, ultimately, we’re not really limited to one particular area or another. So we were in communities that are all about innovation and product and service development. We run communities that are all about customer experience and journeys and user experience. We run communities that are all about brand and communications and understanding how to make that stuff better. And we run lots and lots of communities, short- and long-term, that are about all of those things and more. So the real beauty of the approach, I guess, is the use cases for it are many and varied. And I think really in terms of communities nowadays, I think more and more clients all the time are seeing them as a really core tool, an asset in their insight armory and the reason to have it there is really dependent on what the needs and wants of the particular client is on any given day or period. 

[15:25]

Yeah, the asset framework, I think, is really, really interesting and accurate. So much research has done on an ad hoc basis. If you think about building out that respondent record over time, then you have an opportunity to get to know somebody in a much deeper way. And then, of course, incorporating that behavioral transactional data adds yet another layer. I’ve actually been really surprised that there hasn’t been a product that has entered the space that has an ad hoc survey and then tethered to that as an add-on, you can get some chunk of relevant behavioral or existing self-reported or whatever offering. 

[16:10]

Yeah, and actually not necessarily as a product, but, absolutely, that’s something that we do. So even with an ad hoc service, even in a scenario where we’re not running an ongoing community panel and all that sort of stuff, the technology exists to enable you from within a survey to actually get people via redirects to, as long as they kind of give you all the appropriate permissions and stuff, to then share with you behavioral data from a previous set period of time, which is incredibly powerful because obviously there’s this kind of perennial question in terms of research about what the kind of remembered versus the actual experience is and post-rationalized responses and all that sort of stuff. I think one of the things about the future of research is actually about really integrating and bringing in those sorts of data points and then just changing a little bit what the makeup of research project is. So in your scenario, which we do by the way, you basically take a survey as part of the survey. You actually grab some behavioral data and then you can use that as part of the analysis or what it might also be is a trigger for future activities with the same people because you’re then starting to interrogate, “Well, how do we make sure they have the same behavior next time? Or how do we try and influence them to have a different behavior?” – those sorts of things. 

[17:29]

Yeah, it is really interesting when you start pulling back. So are there concerns around like at a privacy level… Are you seeing that… And there’s been a lot, of course, of webinars and education that are happening in the public and private sectors, as it relates with individual tracking. Are you seeing that negatively impact your ability to be able to garner this behavioral or otherwise outside data? 

[17:59]

Not really. I mean, if you take a scenario where we run long-term community panels and what we often do is we link up with data in those scenarios. Now we have a double opt-in process with… So, obviously, in Europe we’re fully GDPR-compliant. And we’ve worked with big organizations; we work with big banks. We have to be all over this stuff. But, actually, the number of requests that we get from people to delete information and that sort of stuff is incredibly small, basically. And I think the key thing about it from our perspective as an agency, and I mean more broadly as an industry, is that I think we all just need to be very clear on what the purpose of collecting and asking people for that information is and, to the point I was making earlier, in a way, making them understand what value they get out of this time for participation. And I think if you can create that sort of value exchange. And there’s another reason why you need to start thinking more broadly than money. If research continues to just exist on the basis that people would do stuff for us because we’ll pay for them, then I think you’re in trouble. If you get people to kind of see the value in participation and understand why a brand is trying to understand and explore your behavior in the data and then understand why you made the decisions you made, then, I think, for the most part, people are up for that. People understand their role as consumers nowadays and they understand that brands want to get close to them and understand them so they can provide better products and services. 

[19:19]

Yeah, I mean, this is such an important point. At Decipher, I analyzed… So, we used to send tremendous amount of customer supplied lists, emails, soliciting people, customers, for payback. And I analyzed over 215 million invitations that we sent out in the subject lines. And what I found was that subject lines that connected sharing of information and community, actually, had oversized open rates versus those that were driven by a monetary return, whether it was sweepstakes or guaranteed. And so my takeaway there is, as you think about what are the true motivators, these intrinsic “I want to see the world be better and I, actually, want to learn stuff” can have a much bigger impact to driving your overall participation rate and engagement.

[20:11]

Absolutely. And you know what. It’s one of the founding principles of our business. Basically, when Andrew founded our business 11, 12 years ago, whatever it was, one of the founding principles was we want to do research with people who participate because they want to and see value in the process. And we believe through that we’ll get better information from them and we’ll get better response rates and we’ll pay less incentives. But in a way, the first one is a lot more important than the second two. 

[20:39]

All right. So, thinking about motivators, let’s talk a little bit about… I’ve been interviewing a lot of people relative to communities. What are you seeing in the marketplace right now for brands to, actually, their motivators to want to invest in building communities? And then, as a separate point, what do you seeing as the bigger barriers for those brands adopting communities? 

[21:04]

Yeah, I think it’s interesting when you think about shorter-term versus longer-term communities and there are lots of benefits in motivation that are similar for both, but that some that are different as well. One that’s kind of similar for both is certainly the ability to do great quality, in-depth work in a more scalable way. So we were in global pop-up communities that mean you can do international qualitative research in a centralized way. And, ultimately, doing it in a centralized way means less cost. That’s a good thing. Now as long as our clients understand and we make sure in what we deliver that there isn’t a compromise on the quality of what you were doing, then that’s a massive thing. And, actually, the technology that’s available nowadays enables us to do really, really good work, work that genuinely explores motivations and behaviors in an in-depth way. But we can do it internationally and in an internationally scalable way as well. I think that’s a huge part of it. Organizations whose businesses go across geographies and who want to be able to deliver research kind of internationally in a centralized way, but ultimately need to reach audiences who are across the globe – l think that’s a really big thing. I think the data point is an interesting one as well. Not for everyone, but certainly you think about organizations who have a lot of data… I think a motivation for building a community panel can be that actually a community panel enables you to integrate multiple sources of data in one place and kind of make the result of it greater than the sum of its parts. 

So at a simple level, you can put it in the transactional and the behavioral data; you can gather profiling data when people join a community. And then, every time they give you some feedback, every time they respond to an activity—all of that information kind of gets put into the database as well. Now, when you’re then building out projects, you’ve got loads more information with which to understand what is happening and then what you can start to do is just use your research to understand why and what you should be doing about it. So I think maybe a need to try and integrate more data as part of the research process is definitely a motivation for having communities and community panels, certainly the longer form variety. I think there’s one thing that you can’t avoid, which is that they do enable you to respond more quickly. And the only reason I say you can’t avoid it is because, ultimately, we’re very keen not to just make agile and fast the same thing because they absolutely are not. “Agile” is the ability to respond in a kind of iterative way, the ability to be nimble and flexible and to get really good information but via a process that’s lean. “Fast” is just fast. But, ultimately, we can still, if the processes are there and we’ve set it up in the right way, we can deliver responses in hours. We can make hours this sort of high watermark; we can make days the standard product. So the ability to get out there and ask questions in a more nimble and more agile and quicker ways is definitely a motivation. I think as well there is increasingly a desire for people to be able to work in a slightly different way. 

So the great thing about communities is that they can kind of support a more iterative and collaborative working style. So moving away a little bit from the old kind of bookended approach of brief, proposal, fieldwork, analysis, report and moving to something that’s a bit more: Let’s get a larger group of stakeholders; let’s agree on a set of outcomes that we require; let’s run some activities; then let’s pause; and let’s understand what we’ve heard; let’s actually understand whether that feedback changes what we want to ask next then; and then let’s adapt it and change it a little bit; and then let’s run a few more activities. And I think that sort of working style is kind of more in line with this agile transformations and stuff that a lot of businesses are going through nowadays. 

So I think the ability to work more in that iterative, collaborative way is a motivator. And I think the big one that sits across all of this is the ability to be able to service multiple different objectives under one roof. So the ability to be able to do quant research, qual research, the ability to be able to link the two things together and the ability to be able to service innovation, product and service development, brand comms, customer experience, journey mapping, UX, whatever else it is, all of the things that I described earlier — the ability to be able to service all of that in one place with a whole bunch of different kind of ways of doing that work is absolutely a huge motivator. 

[25:31]

So, okay, that’s really interesting. What I didn’t hear you say is cost and so it sounds like… Because for me, ad hoc research is expensive. It costs money to get people to take surveys. So why not assign a certain proportion of my spend to this more renewable resource, which is the community. Do you see a ROI motivator or is it predominantly (and I’m not suggesting that it’s not entirely worth it, by the way) but like is it just centric to the added value that you get from a time and a quality perspective?

[26:07]

Do you know what. It’s interesting isn’t it? You’re absolutely right and it absolutely is a motivator. When I made the point at the end about the ability to do all sorts of different kinds of work under one roof with lots of different kinds of approaches, the natural thing that goes with that is actually in to be able to do all of that for less money. And yet, absolutely right, ultimately, doing ad hoc research is expensive and actually the idea of clients going and paying to access their own customers via our access panels is kind of oddly expensive. And so. yeah, you’re absolutely right. ROI on your research program is a big, big deal. And, actually, I think, particularly in the kind of uncertainly… There’s obviously a lot of uncertainty in the UK and Europe and stuff at the moment in these slightly straitened times. I think the ability to get more bang for your buck in terms of your kind of research budget is a huge thing, absolutely. I guess it’s interesting from my perspective; I left that off the bottom. I think if you’d asked me the question ten years ago, I think probably the first thing I would have said to you is cost. I suppose the thing about it is nowadays there is a huge number of benefits that come with having these communities and missing off cost isn’t the right thing to do. I guess the point is that it’s not just about cost anymore.

[27:18]

One of the themes that I’ve seen materialize over the last two years is this rise in insights enablement across the organization. So, the way I frame it is that it used to be the case that market research was where people would turn to for consumer insights. But now technology has really democratized access to the consumer. How does technology influence the work that you guys are doing? 

[27:42]

I mean, absolutely and in a huge way. I suppose the one preface I would make to what I’m about to say is, as I said earlier, I think that it’s always important to remember that the technology alone doesn’t… We don’t think the technology alone gets you there basically. So we are a kind of research services business who use a lot of great technology, but, that said, the technology is a massive enabler of what we’re able to do. So if you think about a lot of the themes that I’ve kind of discussed with you today, the ability to actually pull… If you take a long-term community, the technology enables you to take a single person or our technology enables you to take a single person and basically collect all of these multiple data points around that person. And then you can target individual activities based on any one single data point or any combination of those data points. Actually, the kind of potential of that is pretty profound. And the collection of all of that data has huge potential as well. So we’re working on use cases where say we work for a retailer and we’ve got community panels that got really large numbers of people on them and if we do pieces of work where we ask people how likely they are to buy a certain kind of product, what we can then do over time is actually go back and check how many of those people actually bought it. And then you can do really interesting things. So you can go back to groups of people. And because you’ve got all the permissions in place, you can go back to groups of people and ask a certain group of people, “Well, you said you were going to buy it, but why didn’t you? So, was it because you didn’t know it was available? Was it because you couldn’t find it in your store? Was it because actually when you got there you didn’t think it was the right thing for you?” So you can do really interesting things with that data. Even over time you can start to think about working out what is the correlation between what people are saying they’re doing in research and what they’re then doing in real life. Obviously, a thing for the future because you need big data sets in order to achieve that. But, actually, starting to bridge that gap between what people say they’re going to do and what they actually do—that’s a pretty big deal in market research, I think. So the ability to collect and use all of this data is a huge thing that the technology enables us to do.

Quite simply, and I guess this harks back to a point I think we were talking about before: it does mean that you can deliver more for your money – the ability to do international qual, basically. Everybody knows about international qual and everybody knows about the revolutionary impact of panels 15, 20 years ago and online panels and the impact that had. But, actually, we’re certainly seeing that with qualitative research as well. We do fantastic, culturally relevant, in-depth qualitative research in China and Russia and all over the world from our offices here in London or our offices in Chicago. Ultimately, doing that in a centralized way means you spend less money on it. I think also the big thing that the technology does is it enables us to get much closer to the consumers that we’re trying to understand. Mobile phones have been so revolutionary for the work that we do because effectively they are carrying around with them a way of us interacting with them everywhere they go. This has so many advantages: the ability to actually get them to give feedback much closer to those experiences that they’re having, which means we’re able to get past some of this post-rationalized stuff, but also the ability for them to use that technology to share their experiences there and their feedback in really interesting ways and their ability to just record a video or share a picture or link to some content that somebody else shared or you kind of share a voice message or just upload something in text. All of these different means that we can give people to explain their attitudes and their behaviors and their experiences, that’s what the technology does for us. And, ultimately, the really interesting thing is actually then the platform that gives us as an agency and the content it gives us to try and create better insight communication. So we think insight communication is a big, big deal. And, actually, a lot of that is about using all of the content that consumers share virally via great technology in better ways to create insight communications that that are more emotionally engaging for stakeholders. 

[31:52]

The framework of agile—and we started here in context of going slow to go fast—has been borrowed from the tech sector and product sector, and I actually think it’s exactly how we need to be framing our… Regardless of what we’re doing, which is we need to be close to the point of decision as insight professionals so that it addresses a time and a space and an overall value to the company, to the organization. When you think about the actual ROI on research, how do you think that market research can do a better job of ensuring that the insights are, in fact, used in the organization?

[32:34]

Yeah, it feels like a perennial question, doesn’t it as well? And I think it’s a really interesting one. And every time you go to a conference and that sort of stuff, people are always having these debates around it. And this question around how can market research do a better job of getting a seat at the table, that’s one of the things I hear quite a lot. And I think from our perspective it’s about a couple of things. One of the things that I hear quite a lot is this idea that market research needs people who can act as consultants; so they’re not just deliverers as of data and deliverers of information. And I completely agree with that. We have to be able to act as consultants to businesses. But I do believe that there are plenty of people in market research… I think market research is full of people who can act as consultants or there’s certainly a lot of them anyway. And we have those types of people within our business. I think that the challenge there is how do you get there. It’s fine saying we need people who can act as consultants but the fact that they can doesn’t mean that they do. And I think that’s all about having the platform. And I think from our perspective, it all comes down to partnership, basically. So the only way that you’re going to get a platform when you’re genuinely going to be able to act as a consultant is if you are trusted by clients and trusted by their stake holders. And so when you talk to people they listen and then what that means is that the information you are sharing with them is more directly impacting the decisions that they make and, therefore, more directly linking into ROI and all those types of things. 

And, actually, I think certainly long-term community panels… Our experience certainly of it is that the community panel relationship can give us that platform. The reality of running community panels for us is that we sit in our clients’ offices; we hear them talk; we get to know their problems like the ones that they put in the briefs, but also the ones that they don’t, which are really, really important. And the really, really critical thing is that we talk to their customers all the time. And so when you’ve got that combination, you know when you’re there and you’re working with them and you understand them as a business, but you get to a point where you are the person who understands their customer and their consumer, then that’s a real partnership. And I think at that point and our experience is that at that point, you start to have that seat at the table and, when you talk, you get listened to. I think the other big thing that as an industry and that we can do and certainly what we are focusing on a lot is how we communicate the insights that we generate. So I’m a huge believer that there is a lot of really fantastic research that gets done, an insight that gets created that potentially doesn’t have the impact and value that it should do because of the way that it’s communicated. What we do is focus on the communication much more as part of the process. And again, to the point we were making earlier about slow down to speed up, it’s actually about starting at the beginning and saying, “Well, I need to understand the stakeholders in your organization. I need to understand who we are trying to influence. I need to understand what sort of information and content and experiences they’re most likely to respond to.” 
Some people want data; some people need to be able to more emotionally engage with the consumers. There’s lots of different kinds of ways that people can be influenced. And so, we do a lot of work up front on that and on understanding those stakeholders. And then, when we create these research projects and we generate all of this great content and information, what we’re then able to do is take all of that stuff through and build more emotionally engaging outputs. And I think if we can emotionally engage stakeholders, if we can get them to understand that this isn’t us, as a research organization, standing there telling you to do something. This is us, as your partner, and giving you the viewpoint of your customer and showing you in an emotional way why it has an impact on the experience they have. I think we are more likely to influence the decisions that they make. 

[36:32] 

Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think the other thing that really can be powerful when you’re thinking, again, in context of a community, is you, as a researcher, get to know that group of people in a way that makes the storytelling less transactional and more community-oriented, which, again, we know that the better story, then the better the opportunity or the improved opportunity the organization has to adopt those insights. I call it the water cooler effect. It’s not about how well I tell the story; it’s what story is told after I tell the story. Right?

[37:17]

Well, absolutely. Yeah, and we like to think a bit of a sort of more immersive approach to the way that you communicate insight, and it’s applying that to all of the insight communication that you do. That there’s a client that I have who… It’s her phrase. I’m not going to tell you who she is, but it’s her phrase. I’m not going to pretend it’s mine, but she had a great phrase. She always said that basically insight tells you what to do; immersion gives people the emotional context and the emotional reason to do something about it. And I love that because it’s basically creating those stories and creating that emotional connection, which means when they’re at the water cooler and when they’re talking to other people, they understand and share why it’s really important that you do something about it. 

[37:55]

Yeah, that’s great. OK, well, we have, this has been a fascinating episode and I’m going to have to move into our last question even though I’ve got so many more for you. What is your motto?

[38:06]

So yeah, I’ve thought a little a bit about this. And, actually, do you know what. When it comes down to it, I actually think it’s something that’s really simple and it’s influenced by the stuff that we talked about upfront in terms of what my parents do and it’s influenced in terms of the role I do at work and my whole career. I think it’s really, really simple. If you’re going to do something, commit to it fully and show people that you care about it. Market research is an incredibly crowded marketplace, and we have lots of conversations and we go through lots of pitch processes for programs and projects and all that sort of stuff. And there’s loads and loads of reasons why we can and can’t win stuff. In most of those things, it’s hard to always be in control of. You have an idea; you try and communicate that idea; and there are going to be certain reasons why that does or doesn’t become the one that wins. However, I think the one thing that you can always be in control of is how passionately you respond to people and how committed you show that you are to trying to create a relationship with them and wanting to work with them. And I think that’s the thing that you can always be in control of. And I think that is also something that you can pretty easily apply to your sort of life outside of work as well. You know if you’re going to do something, connect to it and show you care about it or don’t do it at all. 

[39:20]

My guest today has been Paul Lawson, Executive Director at Verve. Thank you, Paul, very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 

[39:27]

Pleasure to be here. Thank you. 

[39:29]

Everyone else, if you found value in this episode, please take the time to screen capture, share it on social media. It would mean the world to me. As always, your five-star reviews help us bubble to the top for other insight professionals to be able to find this content. We’ve got over 50,000 listeners and growing. Really appreciate the ongoing support. Have a great rest of your day.

[39:50] 
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