Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 234 – Piotr Szymski – Key Differences Between Old School and New School Insights Pro, and What We All Need to Pay Attention to

My guest today is Piotr Szymski, Vice President of Catalog and Business Intelligence at Sony Music. Established in 1929, Sony Music is among the “Big Three,” record companies, including Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Prior to joining Sony Music, Piotr served as head of insights for both SABMiller and Procter & Gamble. 

Find Piotr Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/piotrszymski 

Twitter: www.sonymusic.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’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.


In Episode 234 I’m interviewing Piotr Szymski, Vice President of Catalog and Business Intelligence at Sony music, but first a word from our sponsor.


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com   


Hi, I’m Jamin and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Piotr Szymski, Vice President of Catalog and Business Intelligence at Sony Music. Established in 1929, Sony Music is among the big three recording companies including Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. Prior to joining Sony Music, Piotr served as head of insights for both SAB Miller and Proctor & Gamble. Piotr, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today. 


Thank you for having me. 


So, tell me a little bit about where you grew up and what your parents did and how that has informed what you’re doing today. 


That’s a very interesting question. You know I usually like to think that I’m my own creation and I decide what I do. But, as a researcher and a sociologist and psychologist, I know that context does have a major impact on all what we are doing and who we grow up to be. I was born and raised and spent most of my formative years in Poland. My parents and my family definitely had an impact on where I ended up in life both in terms of professional and personal development. My parents were and still are quite an odd couple. My mom is quite well-educated, sophisticated, art-loving librarian. She studied art history but ended up a school librarian with really high intellectual aspirations. And you can trace back my love for literature and appreciation for knowledge that to her clearly. Frankly speaking, I was reading before I was walking, which I don’t know if it’s a good testament for my walking skills or my reading skills, but that was the actual truth. And my father was very much a physical guy. He was a former soccer player. I could say professional soccer player, but given that we grew up… We lived in a communist country in Poland, the professional part wasn’t really turning into any benefits, but he played football or how is it called?, soccer for a living. And then after retiring from sports, he was a policeman. And from him, I picked up a couple of things. One is definitely love for sports, but I tried to be a little bit original. So while he put me through all the different types of sports activities, including soccer, of course, I fell in love with basketball, which was the only sport that he wasn’t good at. So I wanted to be little bit more original. And apart from the sports activities, I think what I picked up from him is his blue-collar work ethics and the appreciation of competition and challenge and really putting your best effort. But frankly speaking, what I think more impacted me in life was rather than what they did, was who they were. 

My family was struck by quite a difficult challenge just about when I was born. My sister, who was three at that time, was diagnosed with cancer, with bone cancer. She barely survived. And the life of our family was very much centered around first making sure that she survived and then that her life here has as good quality as possible. She definitely has done the most inspirational figure in my life. She not only survived this horrible, horrible illness, going through more than 20 surgeries that were first lifesaving and then also trying to improve her quality of life. She survived, but it dramatically impacted her quality of life. She lost an eye. She had a very invasive type of treatment that left her disfigured and very vulnerable to any infections and struggling health-wise with life but thriving in everything else. She became an excellent lawyer. She’s actually one of the youngest judges in Poland ever becoming a judge with a lifetime nomination from a president of the country and really my life inspiration. So I’m sure that that impacted my life choices as well. One impact was that, apart from psychology and sociology, I started law, but they decided not to become a lawyer because I didn’t want to compete with her. I knew that I never had the chance to be as good as her. So I didn’t want to create that competition for her. It was a life mission for me. It was one of the options. But it also taught me to never put myself in a first place.

 My family, this life was around what we had to deal with. So it was a very, I think, humbling and a good experience that brought me to really appreciate the servitude-type of leadership in life and work, trying to be useful and thinking about how I can make others’ life better rather than being obsessed with my own challenges. Because, when you see someone overcoming challenges that I, despite being close, cannot fully comprehend, it’s very, very easy to not focus on some small issues, some tribulations that you might be going through. You really don’t have an excuse not to achieve things in life. No, you don’t have an excuse for complaining when you see someone overcoming so much more than you on a daily basis.


I’m really interested in, as a father, understanding… Your parents that came obviously from (I am saying “obvious” from my vantage point) librarians, you don’t go into that field because it pays a lot of money and, similarly, professional football player, again, especially in that context and that time in that place, wasn’t just a big wealth machine. What do you attribute the success…? You’ve held very senior jobs at top at today’s top brands, and your sister, obviously, with all that she’s overcome on top of it with her success. What do you attribute…? What does your parents do that the rest of us can hope to emulate in raising you and your sister? 


I have in mind that your podcast is called Happy Market Research. So I don’t want to go too dark because my parents are wonderful people that love me and my sister unconditionally and then knowing that was something that definitely impacted me positively, but our life wasn’t easy. And I wouldn’t apply “happy” to that and I don’t necessarily have advice of what to do based on how my parents raised me. My mom is struggling with mental illness; my father is an alcoholic. So I don’t necessarily would derive much of their behaviors and them as an inspiration for how to raise kids. They tried to do their best. I always knew that they loved me, but my life lessons was rather formed through overcoming things that my family had to deal with. And because of the challenges with my parents, specifically from a young age, I was trying to understand people’s motivations and their behaviors, which you can draw very, very straight line to becoming sociologist, psychologist and then focusing on understanding of human behavior, which probably at the earliest stages was a survival mechanism when I wanted to understand was what was going on around me and what to expect from my parents, from my family. Then dealing with that environment, you wanted to understand why people behaved the way they do and try to get the heads up by understanding the patterns and the expectations around it.


Super interesting. I think the framework of happy can’t really just be cast in all happy, right? There’s a contrast that’s necessary, and I really think it’s like understanding black and white, for example, from a color.  You need that contrast in order to really understand all the spaces in between as well. And the more absolute either end of that is the better you can understand the other point of view. I’ve heard that a lot actually from people that have had to undergo tremendous adversity in life early on and then, subsequently, navigate that successfully that that actually is one of the keys to their overall life success and later whether it’s financial success or career success and, subsequently, their overall happiness levels. Thanks for sharing that. So, switching gears a little bit, but not very much. What do you see as one of the biggest challenges that you have overcome either personally or professionally? 


There is a couple that I could pick from, but I think all of us have the challenges that we need to overcome to be who we are. And I don’t think that I really overcame anything, but there are things that I had to and still have to deal with that impact who I am and also professionally. One aspect of my life is… I mentioned about my family situation: my mother, the illness that my sister dealt with. Unfortunately, I also have quite severe health issues I’m dealing with. I was born with a genetic disorder that causes morbid obesity, and my whole life I had to deal with. So, I’m right now doing well, but it requires tons of effort. It requires really extremely strict and always evolving diet and then massive amount of exercise. Right now, I’m probably working out around three hours every day. So this is something that needs to… Either you have to accommodate toward your lifestyle and still be able to work 10 hours a day and still put the work in. So that definitely… While it’s not something that anyone would choose to, but it definitely teaches you discipline, organization, and make you stronger willed because you cannot really slip up. You have to work on yourself, not only from the intellectual perspective, but also physically. The other thing that I wouldn’t say that I overcame but is, unfortunately, something that I had to live through. Three years ago, my wife passed after quite a long period of illness. And that dramatically impacted my life, destroying everything that I built and forced me to re-evaluate everything and go through the whole grieving process that I don’t think we’ll ever really be over. But right now, three years later, I can say that I maybe not overcame it, but I survived. I’m still here, and I’m still finding a way to be useful in life and find some resemblance of joy and happiness. So, I wouldn’t say it’s overcoming challenges. It’s more the circumstances that you deal with that impact who you are and what you’re doing. 


I appreciate you sharing that. I have only almost cried on one other podcast. So, it’s the emotional devastation, the wake that that could leave I can only imagine in your life. But then thinking about, like you said, the recovery process from that, it feels to me like that would be something that would just be with you forever. I had a similar instance with a child actually, And going through that you, it just becomes part of who you are: You wake up to it and you go to sleep to it and it’s just like the on… But over time it, I wouldn’t say that it diminishes, but I’d say it just becomes part of the fabric of our beings. 


It changes you and it changes over time. Like you’re saying, it doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t diminish, but it’s with you in a different way. I would say forever I expect. 


One of the things that I’ve adopted since that dark time is this: I try to take mental pictures. Everyone’s memory is fleeting. I think we only actually see and then subsequently retained a very small fraction of what’s going on around us or in our field of vision. So, I’ll have these moments in my life with my family or people that mean something to me, friends. And I just try to like pause and take a mental picture knowing that and just be completely present in that particular moment, knowing that I’ll—and not feeling bad about the fact—probably forget about it minutes later or whatever. And then that helps cement for me, this grounding of, and just making sure that I’m completely right there at that particular point. That seems probably trivial or not important but might be a moment when like my child had grabbed my hand or something and leave me someplace or what have you.


I’m really sorry that you have to deal with that. And I can relate to using those mental pictures too. Definitely, what I am able now more than ever is to appreciate the nature of time and how everything can disappear and how big of an importance is to be able to be in a moment, appreciate that moment and appreciate the beautiful moments that all of us experience. And often we don’t have enough distance to appreciate that. You know we often focus on the negatives; we often focus on things that are not perfect. And we don’t always… are able to fully enjoy the great things that we have when they are happening. So being in the moment is definitely something that I’m trying to do.


So, as you articulated, Happy Market Research… We covered Happy, I think. Market Research is the other side of it. Tell me about the market research project you’re most proud of.


Too many, too many. Really it’s like choosing your favorite child. There are too many of them. I will try to a little bit bundle them up. The research part that usually gives me the greatest satisfaction and joy are the big foundational, usually segmentation, studies and I was blessed in working in multiple companies on a global level to do segmentation and big foundational consumer-understanding studies across different categories. And each of them, apart from being able to fully understand the category of products and the big groups of consumers, how they interact with the category, what they think, what they want, what they think about—it always brings some insights with a capital I, things that you wouldn’t expect.

 So each of those projects brought something like that for me. One that right now stands in my mind was when I worked for Proctor & Gamble. I was one of the first people in Proctor & Gamble that worked with Gillette brands after the acquisition or merger with Gillette. And on top of heading the consumer market knowledge department in central Europe, I had the global responsibility for Braun, the study that I ran also had the regional scope and focused on kitchen appliances. Braun is an inventory of hand blenders. And then I had the pleasure to work on the cooking side related to kitchen appliances with studies done across the region. So I interviewed and run the big quantitative study in Poland, Russia, Turkey and Middle East in Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, and especially the last part was really eye-opening. It was the first time that they really had to deal with such a big cultural difference that impacted the research technology. The first very simple thing is I could never in Saudi Arabia, I could never meet in person or even see on video the women that they would interview because that was illegal. So I had to conduct a lot of the work, especially the qualitative work over the phone, using the translators and trying to overcome that distance. But what helped me to get closer to the consumers despite those restrictions in United Arab Emirates, especially in Dubai… While the culture was similar, the norms were not as strict. 

So I was able to actually live in the house with the consumers, interact with them, using the translator and then with some boundaries. And, of course, we have a huge dose of respect for their privacy. But I was able to become for a couple of days a part of the household and interact and become a part of the cooking, food preparation and then everything that was related to category but that was core to that family’s lives and things that really, really changed my way of thinking about the products and the brands that I’ve learned and from that were really, really amazing. Being in the house actually and being able to observe was a major game changer because some of the things you couldn’t really comprehend if you would just read from it from the quantitative reports. One of the most interesting things were habits related to cooking during Ramadan when the family would cook for a lot of other people, for the needy people, poor people from the neighborhood. And they were basically putting up the feast. So I was trying to figure it out what is the role of the handling of the cooking appliances in this context. And the first big thing was that the average household had multiple house servants, multiple maids. So the whole aspect of electrical equipment making cooking more convenient wasn’t critical ‘cause when you had 5, 10, sometimes 15 people helping you with cooking, the benefit of having a blender wasn’t as big. But one of the funniest things that happened: I really thought that we had a translation issue because when I was asking about the appliances that they were using, I kept hearing about a concrete mixer or a cement mixer, which I was pretty sure that it was a challenge of the translator and not really speaking English well enough because we were talking about cooking and food preparation. She was coming back with this with the cement mixer, which is construction equipment. And then finally they were annoyed with me not being able to understand; they showed me how they were mixing meat. And it was actually a construction-site big cement mixer. A very nice one: silver-plated, really, really nice one. But, yes, when you are cooking for 40 people, you don’t use a hand-blender. You use a shovel; you use a shovel and the cement mixer to mix your meat. So I quickly understood that money was not an issue to spend on a blender; the functionality of it wasn’t really, really there. But also understanding other aspects of a regular life of how we called it at that time in Proctor & Gamble — female head of household,  showed us the opportunity to still find the place for the brand in consumers’ lives.

The women in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates would spend most of their time at home on the phone with their friends watching TV because in Saudi Arabia they couldn’t drive. They wouldn’t work. You couldn’t always visit other people, your friends and family. So a lot of that would be watching TV for 10, 12 hours a day and talking on the phone. And very often the subjects of your conversations are around what you are watching and some of the most popular shows were the cooking shows. And the conversations were very often focused about that. And the interesting thing was very often the commentaries of those women were around the presenters of the show, the chefs, also in the context of their attractiveness, which was quite a weird thing because often they were 50-year-old, overweight masters, not a very attractive men, but these were the ones that they looked at and those men taught cooking and showing the passion with the food. They were the Middle Eastern versions of Jamie Oliver or Barefoot Contessa. I’m cutting the long story a little bit short, but we ended up with understanding that if we put our products in that context, we can create the emotional bond with for the brand. So even if the product was not a necessity for them because you could still cut and not always the best application for that, you could definitely find the role of the Braun brand in the life if you would find a way to the household through for the cooking show, which led me to another challenge because the best partnership that we could come up with was with one of the most popular chefs in the region. And I had quite a big challenge to convince my bosses in Cincinnati to invest thousands of dollars for partnership with chef Asma after 9/11. So, Osama is a popular name in the region. Nothing wrong with that, but I remember presenting the slides and convincing P&G that we should partner with chef Asma was a difficult task, but what we did, and we found this way of moving away from a product, which for a company like Braun that is really proud of the engineering and design part, but really working on a brand level and using communication and emotional connection and connection with the image of the product and those rather than going on the product side was quite an interesting thing. And those type of projects where you go beyond the product itself and you understand the emotional connection and the place in life that the brand can play, usually, were the ones that I took the most and had the most satisfaction with. Similarly, on another segmentation protocol for Proctor & Gamble at this as the stage on fabric softeners, I also went on a journey that they showed me this dual aspect of the offering that you have for the consumer, that the product and the brand and the emotional connection versus physical usefulness are two different things often very connected. On the fabric softener, the major discovery that I had came through observing the shoppers making a purchase at the store.

 One of the most surprising things that we observed was that people buying the fabric softener very often would smell, would sniff the product itself. And at this stage, the scent of the product had nothing to do with the scent of the clothes after washing. So the scent was just… We only make sure that the product doesn’t smell bad, but it makes no sense for us as the producers that someone would choose a product based on how the formulation smells while the scent on the clothes will be very, very different. But that led us to go deeper and deeper. We understood that one of the big needs states in this category, especially in the developing countries, where women didn’t necessarily have money to buy, to invest in perfumes in things that were in the higher-level cosmetics, this basic fabric softener product was treated as a perfume of the laundry world. So, they were buying those products to have the family with something functional, but they were also engaging with this category more on a beauty level. And after a long collaboration, understanding how it really works, we make a big revolution in the category and develop the whole new lineup with fabric softeners that were focused not on the softness of the product and not on the family aspect of it, but really going into the higher world of perfumes and the indulgence, which  we never expected to have and that changed the category for it forever. And now when you go into the store, you will see that you have still family-focused softeners related, very functional communication products. But you will also have this highly indulgent, beautiful products that we would advertise later on in fashion magazines because it was the perfumes for the clothes and the emotional connection of a very different kind. 


I love both of those examples. They’re so visceral and tangible and such a great example of how it can be really hard to decode the insights if you’re just reading a transcript versus the experience of in-home ethnography. When you think about the last five years, there’s been a material migration from traditional like in-home, in-person, in depth interviews and focus groups to more digital-based research.  One – is that actually a trend that you’re seeing? ‘because I can’t actually quantify it except that I can see the ESOMAR report on the amount of money that’s being spent in the digital space. And then, the second part is what other trends are…? What else have you been seeing in the space that’s been changing? And, if you look forward, where do you see us as researchers spending more and more time? 


I will approach that from a little bit different angle not necessarily from what I always observe or what I believe it should be going. I strongly believe that the consumer insights and market research is a tool for making a better business decision based on understanding three things: how people, consumers, customers, shoppers, audience, whoever it is a specific category, how they feel, think and what they do. And all the methodological aspects of it are about best understanding how they feel, think and do. I think historically we’re talking about thinking, feeling and doing. Probably, right now with better understanding of system one and two and the whole neurology decision-making, we probably should start with doing then feeling and last thinking, but all those three aspects need to be captured in a proper way. And they think where we are going, sometimes slower than I would expect, is that there are different ways of capturing that best. So the feeling and everything that is that is unconscious (some feelings are conscious; some feelings are not) but everything that is unconscious should be measured. It shouldn’t be really asked about; it should be measured. It’s difficult to observe it, but it’s that the measurement comes into play. So that’s the whole world of neuroscience. That’s that I think we’re starting to be in a place that it stops being treated as a voodoo solution. There were some things you could easily question; there are some that are tried and true and not anymore considered as an aberration but they are proper scientific tools.

 So you can go into understanding of people’s feelings either by asking them when the feelings are conscious and easy to verbalize or by measurement. In terms of doing, what you want to do is raise rather observe; you don’t really want to want to ask. And technology gives us the opportunity right now with digitalization of a lot of processes and often the consumption and communication and purchase leaves the digital trace. So a lot of that you could observe either in a digital way or in person… And then you have the whole asking aspect when you still can ask about what people think if they are conscious about their thinking. So in today’s world, you have those three aspects that you need to measure. And you have the whole toolbox of measurement, observational, and techniques where Big Data comes into place more and more. And you still have the role for qualitative, quantitative, quantitative research. But I think the biggest change comes through market research being part of the insight tool box versus being the goal on its own. There’s still a role for market research in the explanation of “why,” but their ability to dig into a huge amount of behavioral, observational digital data and Big Data changes the name of the game. Now, if right now I would give advice to young people joining the industry, I would advise them to focus more on SQL than on question-building. It’s more about questioning data than questioning people anymore or in different way, which sounds quite negative, especially for old school researchers like myself. But, actually, this is a very positive thing that you can focus a lot more on what you’re getting out of the data and lot less on how to make the data available because the data becomes available a lot more. So 80%, 90%, 95% of cases you don’t really need the dedicated market research. You can properly draw the conclusion based on the data that is generated. And then this additional 5%, 10% of smart market research, applying the proper questioning when it’s a conscious thing that people actually can talk about, but also applying the co-creation techniques and all of that creates a better engagement with responders and consumers. 

Those two elements together can provide a holistic picture. The other part that changes from a different angle. I don’t think it’s necessarily from the perspective of the quality of the data, but more from the perspective of the role of the research and the processes, all that do-it-yourself tools that are becoming available, which, once again, you could feel threatened by it. But I actually believe that it’s a wonderful development that once again moves away from the burden of spending most of the money and time of the insights people on generating the data and creating more space for consumer connection and empathy and drawing the right conclusions and influencing the right business decisions.

So I think that started a long time ago, but this move from being market researcher and then later on inside person focused on market research into being an insightful decision-influencer based on data that explains how consumers feel, think and do is something that’s happening. What I’m still surprised is that they still, style of thinking and those roles often are separated. You still have analysts that work with a data, without often having the proper understanding of how the data represent consumer needs, attitudes and behaviors. And then you have market researchers that sometimes they think that if they didn’t create the data, if the data didn’t start from a questionnaire or a qualitative interview, it’s not the job to leverage it fully. So I think that’s where the future, and it’s already happening today. That will be marriage. You will not care that much about where the data is coming from and what tools brought them to you. It will be more about integrating the data, analyzing it properly and drawing the right business conclusions and having the right business impact with consumer being the center of it, an explanation of what they want, what they do, and how the components offering can impact that. That’s where the future lies. 


It’s an interesting point you’re making. The current org structure of most corporations that I’ve been exposed to actually has market research as a specific function that usually sits outside of the business units. And then you have like UX that is sitting alongside product and you have whether it’s in data science, which is I think the number one job right now and that usually sits inside of the R&D side of the business. And there isn’t like on the Venn diagram, there really isn’t any corporate. Like it isn’t a matrix structure where the market researcher can help inform best practices for the types of work that the UX is doing or potentially the “why” of the Big Data analysts. It’s an interesting how it’s all evolving organically outside of these functions inside of the business. But it’s not necessarily coming at all from market research.


It’s not necessarily the case. And this is one of the biggest challenges because it’s dangerous for both market research and for the components. If you don’t go with the smarter organization integration, it’s really, really difficult. I’m right now in an interesting position because in my role, I am my own client, the way I’m trying to explain usually how my realm works with being the Head of Catalog and Business Intelligence and Audience Insights at the same time. I have the opportunity to work on both sides. The catalog is the business unit. So I’m on this site. It’s a startup-type of operation. When the business intelligence provides the think tank by the operations. So it’s a think tank plus startup. On the think tank side on the Business Intelligence and Insights, we really understand the audiences and our consumers. We develop the solution, the strategy. And then I switch to my second hat and I apply it to the catalog business. So I’m actually my own best client. And then after we execute, it goes back to the think tank. We evaluate what worked, what didn’t work, what we could do better. And we do a rinse and repeat. So there’s an experimental type of structure – one of the ways of overcoming the challenge. So everything that is data- and strategy-related sits together, but we also have not full integration with the business, but we have a part of the business that the company feels comfortable with experimenting with, which is in music industry catalog. It’s the music that was released at least 18 months ago. 

So it’s the music that’s not under so much pressure for the daily performance. It’s not the music that you see on the charts necessarily. So we have a little bit of more leeway of being more strategic in what we are doing and also allowing ourselves a little bit more failure, which is a necessary part of innovation. I’m not saying this is necessarily the organizational type of solution that they would apply broadly. I’m bringing that up because it’s really necessary for the components to experiment and figure it out how you integrate data and usage of the data and how you create the proper interfaces that impact the business because in most of the cases, I see this disconnect and the industry is divided as well. It’s not only within the companies, it’s also within the industry. The conversations that are between the data people, the data scientists, business analytics, and the conversation that market researchers have are very different.  You and me, we met on the conference in Cincinnati recently, and I was quite surprised, after having a little bit of a break of participating in the insights and research conferences, how different those conversations are versus the data for conferences. It’s almost like two different words. One is not better than the other, but both are half blind. And the differences between those conversations, the subjects, the challenges that those groups see, the little overlap that there is is quite shocking for me. I understand where it’s coming from, but I would expect that at this stage we would already move past that, that we would already figured out a little bit more how the consumer-centric, data-driven organization can deal with different data sources. The integration and making that useful with people with different profiles, working together. Right now. also, from the capabilities and capacity perspective, it’s very divided. You have people that are good with data either they have the data curation of the data analytics, but they lack the psychological aspect and the ability to link that data back with the consumer behavior and have no consumer empathy or limited one. And then you have market researchers that are great psychologists, but they got terrified when they have to have to leverage the data with a hundred thousand or a hundred million records and that skill is not part of the skill set. 

So way of bridging that and the new insight that will come, that should come, to be able to deal in this complex but extremely exciting way is something that they really look forward and an organization that I worked for tried to try to build and develop because the opportunity was never bigger to impact the business, leveraging that unprecedented amount of consumer-related data. But the hurdles that we create on our own either because we are scared to learn new things or the organizations are not yet capable of overcoming the silo structures and disconnect internally. It’s surprising how far we are from making reasonable adjustments, I would say. 


Yeah, I was just last week in Las Vegas doing onsite interviews with Predictive Analytics World, which is a large conference, and it encompasses predominantly like Big Data that is used to drive outsized opportunities through just an ongoing informing the business. And so, it’s all about advanced analytics, like you said, SQL, Python, R, etc. And, it was interesting to me to see, in my opinion, the void of consumer-based data, market research specifically, being present in that ecosystem. Even to the point of vendors that you saw and I saw exhibit at in Cincinnati, they could have been selling directly into this audience I believe. But it’s just funny how there’s this separation; we see it as almost a church in state scenario. And I don’t exactly understand—maybe it has to do with the origin stories—why that chasm exists.


I think you’re 100% right. And I think it is about the genesis of different function, different companies. And it doesn’t respond to the challenges of the day and it’s not functional. Now for me, good example is where still social listening is, which for me it’s a basic and core market research tool and usually it’s not the way it is being perceived. It’s often hijacked by customer satisfaction people; it’s sometimes highjacked by the IT people it’s sometimes owned by the PR people that use it for the reputational things. The main purpose of social listening is to have a nice dashboard and do it on the repetitive level. And usually the social listening as a research tool, either doesn’t come at all or come as a last resort, and it is coming because the origin of the tool is not market research. 

When you look at it, this is America’s research dream come true: That instead of asking questions, people just talk to you and you only have to listen. For me, this is the tool that I used every day. I couldn’t imagine any researcher to not use it, but very often that’s not the case. Very often it is plugged and played to other functions. Customer service people that pick up a phone on unsatisfied customers; you have PR people that want to avoid the crisis situation; you have the salespeople that use it for leads; and you have analytics with nice dashboarding. And, occasionally, some market researcher will dab into it. Well, we should own that because the data curation that we are skilled, the ability to understand how to listen to consumers, which is exactly what we are doing, is critical for leveraging the tool. Technology is great on its own, but it’s only fully leveraged when it’s applied properly with someone that knows how to use it. And there’s a couple of both sides. As researchers, we don’t necessarily know how to do it, so we don’t claim the ownership. And then, other functions do not know the extra benefit that it would bring. So it lies somewhere in the middle.


It’s really interesting – so, even down to the name of this show, Happy Market Research Podcast. So, I’ve been in a spot recently where I’m getting invited to other events that are in UX. In fact, I was presenting at Facebook about a month ago and the majority of the audience, a couple hundred people there, were Ux professionals, user-experience researchers and not market researchers. Actually, the number of market researchers was relatively small. And so, I’m thinking about how do I more correctly name the show based on who I believe the listenership is, which is trending more and more towards this larger audience that is outside of where I have traditionally lived in market research, and I’m having a hard time figuring out what the right name is. Because as soon as I say, “user-experience researchers,” now I’ve all of a sudden cut off the other people. 


It’s very difficult. I’m gradually moving into always using insights and analytics as a descriptor and always trying to bring back that this is about the comprehensive understanding of consumers, users, audiences, shoppers, customers, whoever is your “B2” and dive into that ‘cause labeling it from the data origin, it’s just perpetuating the issues that we are trying to tackle. You have really sometimes very polarizing reactions because I’ve already met business partners that wouldn’t like to listen about market research at all because they consider market research not credible compared to the behavioral data that they’re getting from their systems. And the other way around that you have more traditional marketeers that are used to consuming market research, they don’t want to use the other types of data too because they don’t feel comfortable when they don’t necessarily understand the where the data is coming from. You have the whole challenge of, and we often talk about that the probably I think more often than we should about all the forms and boards and that affects both worlds, that affect both market research and the data that we pull from social media or from different types of digital platforms. So if we don’t turn it around and we focus on what is the end product, which is, I strongly believe, about insights and analytics that explain your customer, whatever you call them, and using the analytical expertise to draw those insights—if we don’t start to refer to that, you will always struggle with this old school “where your data came from” type of labeling. 


Yeah, totally. It’s almost like I need to come up with a brand like Switzerland, right? So you have this framework of like we can all talk about data-driven insights or business decisions that are driven by insights. And you think about a pie chart and consumer data plays a piece in that. If you want a comprehensive point of view, as does data analytics and user experience and so on and so forth. So anyways, maybe I should throw it up to the audience on how it should get renamed. I don’t know, but I got to figure that part out. I like your idea of analytics and insights. But so when we fast forward this space in three to five years, how are we going to be different?


I really hope that we’ll address some of those challenges. So I believe one big change will be that more people in the organization will be empowered and provided with the tools to use the data on the analytic side: the tailored dashboards that will pull out the data so that people can consume it a lot more directly without that much of interface and tailor-made solutions coming from the market researcher or analyst and do-it-yourself research tools that that will be that will be available for anyone on the organization. So this is a part of my plan to make myself replaceable as much as possible so that you create those tools and give power to the people.  I really believe that the truth will make you free. And the more access to the data and insights directly to people will be… Technology already makes it reasonably easy. So we don’t have to be the gatekeepers; we can be those enablers. So that will create a space for the insights experts to be more on the strategic level and be able to swim in those massive data lakes and to discover things that… to ask the questions that they wouldn’t be asked or why not asked. So that is that part that is exciting for me: The data scientist will help us to create the data integration and really the advantage that will lie either in specific people in the organizations or in the  organization themselves will be about asking the right questions and getting the right answers for those questions rather than having the data, having the access and then over competing on this underspend of data acquisition or research itself because it’s always been like that, but we have limitations because usually they end up… In the past, if we wanted to learn something, we had to literally go out and ask about it. There will be less and less of it. I’m not that focused on trying to figure it out how much you should spend on online focus groups versus personal focus groups. I strongly believe that consumer connection, empathy, and the personal interaction will be important in the future as well. And we’ll have to find the ways to do it, to find the compromise between being over-reliant on technology in that, but also not trying to force everyone in the organization like I used to in my old P&G times, literally spend days and sleep at consumers’ house because… You don’t always need that, but you have to have this well-developed empathy so when you are interacting with Big Data, you can use that to create a realistic portrait of the audience or consumers that you want to address. But the switch of us as being the reports’ creators and the developers of insights and the gatekeepers to the knowledge versus creators of the tools and being the source of empowerment of everyone interacting with the same data in a very easy way, I think, that’s where we are going. And that is achievable within five years to see a very different, different picture and very different role of data and organization, how it is being used. 


I really liked that framework. I think that’s spot on and is, like you said, not just aspirational. It’s definitely that, but it is something that we can change. And I think that the framework difference of being the gatekeepers, which we have historically have been as market researchers, to being the enablers that is such a different, and I think also a very important point of view for modern businesses that are going to incorporate consumer voice in their disciplines. So, my last question is what is your personal motto? 


That’s a good one. I’m afraid I for a long time and I still keep it close to my heart. I have a very corny one and a very commercial one. I try to live by sneaker mottoes and actually two of the selling lines. So Adidas “Impossible is nothing” and Nike’s “Just do it.” It’s really what I try to… Whenever I don’t feel like doing something or I feel the size of the challenge, I just remind myself those wise words of sneaker marketeers. But the other motto that I think in one of the postcards you actually relate to that one. I strongly believe there is one motto, adage or rule that I disagree with and I approach a bit differently. 

The golden rule about treating people the way you want to be treated, which I think was one of the biggest personal insights when I realized that this is not true and not helpful. So, I really try and live by the rule to treat people the way THEY want to be treated versus the way I want to be treated. It’s a small, small difference, but I think so many issues in life and the work comes from us projecting ourselves onto others versus really being empathetic. At the beginning of my career, I treated people the way I wanted to be treated, and that really didn’t work out because not everyone is like me—actually, no one is like anyone else. So, to give you one small example: I don’t like to be praised. I don’t need to be given credit for something when I do something right. So when I was a very young manager, I didn’t do it often enough. I didn’t praise my people. I was proud of them. I was really happy with them but because I didn’t… I never felt comfortable being recognized I didn’t do it for others. And then someone, someone wise, one of my early bosses, told me, “You cannot do that cause it’s, you know, you cannot assume that people operate like your that you cannot assume that people think and feel like, like you,” which is obvious. It should be obvious for market research person. But it really changed my life. So, so now I really spend a lot of time, trying to be empathetic, understand what people want, how they want to be treated and treat people with if, of course, with the respect and, of course, not doing them. Something that I wouldn’t like to do, be done to me, but not just having a-one-size-fits-all approach to everybody, but really trying to treat them the way they want to be treated. So every time I hear the golden rule being repeated, I kind of cringe because it’s close, but no cigar. It’s helpful. It’s better. It’s better to treat people the way you are treated, but it doesn’t really doesn’t go far enough.


My guest today has been Piotr Szymski, Vice President of Catalog and Business Intelligence at Sony Music. Thank you so much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research Podcast. 


Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure. 


We’ll work later on the renaming of it. Thank you, everybody else who has taken time out of your day to tune into this episode. If you’ve found value in it as much as I did, I hope you’ll take 10 seconds, screenshot and another couple minutes just to share it on social media. Have a wonderful rest of your day. 


This episode is brought to you by HubUx.  HubUx is a productivity tool for qualitative research.  It creates a seamless workflow across your tools and team.  Originally, came up with the idea as I was listening to research professionals in both the quant and qual space complain about and articulate the pain, I guess more succinctly, around managing qualitative research.  The one big problem with qualitative is it’s synchronous in nature, and it requires 100% of the attention of the respondent. This creates a big barrier, and, I believe, a tremendous opportunity inside of the marketplace.  So what we do is we take the tools that you use; we integrate them into a work flow so that, ultimately, you enter in your project details, that is, who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, whether it’s a focus group, in-person, or virtual or IDI’s or ethnos; and we connect you to those right people in the times that you want to have those conversations or connections – Push-Button Qualitative Insights, HubUx.  If you have any questions, reach out to me directly. I would appreciate it. Jamin@HubUx.com   Have a great rest of your day.