MrWeb Podcast Series

MrWeb Series – Stephen Cribbett of Further on How Insights Embedded in Full Market Context Ensures Success

My guest today is Stephen Cribbett, Founder and CEO of Further. Established in 2007, Further is a team of consultants, strategists, researchers and technology experts that support organizations in becoming more people-centric, empathic and instinctive. Prior to starting Further, Stephen was a managing partner of Landini Associates along with an expensive consulting experience. 

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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.   


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. 


Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Stephen Cribbett, founder and CEO of Further.  Established in 2007, Further is a team of consultants, strategists, researchers, and technology experts that support organizations in becoming more people-centric, empathetic, and instinctive organizations. Prior to starting Further, Steven was a Managing Partner of Landini Associates and along with an extensive consulting set of experiences. Steven, thank you very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Pleasure to be here. Jamie. Good morning to you.


Yeah, well, hey, thanks very much. And thanks for being patient with my poor reading skills at this hour.  


I’ll let you have that.


So let’s start out setting some context so the audience has an opportunity to get to know you. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they informed your career


My parents, I guess the way that they informed my career was actually kind of helping me choose what I didn’t want to do.  So most of my family are involved in the automotive industry in one way, shape, or form. And when I was going through college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at that point. So I just studied engineering, which I thought was the family way. And lo and behold, within less than a year, I very quickly decided that engineering wasn’t my thing, but I needed to pursue something a little bit more creative, I suppose, kind of more right brain if you like. So the precision and the structure of engineering didn’t suit my personality. So that’s really what my parents granted me, aside from our love for all things and drive and a focus on doing what I really, really love and enjoy, which is obviously what I’m doing right now. 


Now, where are you located? Where’d you grow up actually, and then where are you located?


Yeah, I was born in the UK. I’ve lived in the UK pretty much most of my life, traveled extensively with all the work that I’ve done. But you mentioned at the beginning there a company called Landini Associates that I worked with, maybe 17, 18 years ago now, I think.  They were in Australia. I was down in Australia working with those guys, helping grow their kind of design and a brand strategy business, and up popped an opportunity for me really to bring that business back to the UK. I was offered a partnership by the managing director, the owner of the business. And that was really my kind of entry into entrepreneurship, if you like — so quite coincidental, not really planned.  I kind of fell into it, if you like.


Yeah, it’s funny that that is a theme I’ve seen across basically almost every interview, not every but almost every interview I’ve done.  It’s also really interesting that story of stumbling into research is kind of how I’ve started framing it. If you look at the Insights Association, they have an active forum, and it’s actually a great source of knowledge and an active community.  The number one thread on that insights forum is how did you wind up in research, and I think it’s so interesting that we really don’t get to that through most of our conversations, and yet it’s probably one of the favorite stories we like to tell, and then also on the other side of it here, ‘cause it is most of the time people are very unconventional in terms of their entry point.


I think I’m really pleased you brought this up actually because it’s a conversation I had just this week and actually it’s something that’s really important to me as I look to bring talent into the business. I actually make a very specific beeline to try not to hire people that have fallen into research, but actually we hire a lot of very rigorous and academic professionals that have come through academia through the social sciences and consciously who have wanted to understand people, their relationships, their behaviors. And I guess going back to where I came from, having worked in the design and the brand strategy world for 15 years, I think it was, then a large part of certainly on the design and the creative side of things, it was really quite unstructured.  It was in an era where the style, the design, the results that came out of it was very sort of led by a creative director. And I kind of describe them now as aging rock stars. You know, it’s really whatever goes: there was no structure to it; there was no rationale; there was no insight that was informing their design. And that irked me. That was something I felt uneasy with. I thought there must be a better way of going into a pitch and saying this is why we’re proposing this solution rather than just relying on our fantastically lucid presenter, who could just tell his own story without any rhyme or reason. And so, that’s really what got me into insight. I think it was from the design worlds. Human-centered was, I guess, back in those days it was called ergonomics, and it was designing around the human form and the human body.  That soon moved into user- and human-centered design. And then from there, moving into the practice of gathering and garnering the insight and how we craft that and then helping creative teams, which is what we work with a lot, understand how to then activate that insight and use it whether it’s in the design of a new product or service or whether that’s, really just informing a new brand strategy or positioning. 


Those two things that pop for me there, and I think it’s really important what you’re saying. One is the ROI on data is overwhelming, right? Like if you’re using data to make decisions, you will have a positive outcome versus a random outcome. And one of my go-to examples of that recently is I was…  (I won’t say the name of it) It’s a top three media company. And when they pitch (or advertising company, excuse me), when they pitch their customers, they used to go in with this big deck and fancy presentations and whatever and story and case studies. But they added one slide to their presentation that increased their close rate by 60%, and that was a quadrant map that showed where the customer is or the potential customer that they’re pitching is relative to their competitive set. And then they mapped a set of assumptions that would move the needle obviously to the top right or their point to the top right of that quadrant map. And, obviously, it’s a data-informed position and because they’re approaching it from…  They’re starting with data point of view. Now all of a sudden everything is centered around measuring the subsequent outcome of the brand investment, which is something that is big differentiator even today when you’re thinking about advertising spend. So, it’s really interesting to me that we’re seeing these just absolute examples. Gosh, I mean the Watermark is another really interesting company where they’re a consultancy. They do an analytics on the S&P500. The companies that are data-centric or making decisions based on customer feedback outperform the S&P over the last 10 years by 45 points.

 But the really interesting thing is the people that don’t — the organizations that don’t — they underperform by 75 points. And by the way, it’s a majority of companies. So now you think about the growth opportunity inside of our space is profound.  And the second thing I’ll point out is as we’re seeing this, like this evolution in consumer insights, and it becoming more and more important, Estrella Lopez-Brea, Head of Insights for the partnership with Nestlé and General Mills, cereal partnership, she had this great quote in my interview with her a couple months ago, which was the boardroom is rolling out the red carpet to insights. So, when I was going through college, there really wasn’t a marketing research degree that I was ever aware of.  The closest would have been getting a doctorate in like experimental psychology or something along those lines. Right. But now you see a host of programs. There’s 12 in the U.S. alone, top schools that are offering market research master’s programs. So you are seeing this… You can be intentional in the last three to five years with your education if you want to go into consumer insights.


I think what we try and really hard to do we talk about human insight, less so consumer insight because I think we are consumers for only two or three hours of our day. What the reality is to understand what people really value in their lives. You have to understand all of those tensions, those contextual factors, the artifacts that are shaping the decisions they make, the relationships they have with the brands and the products and the services that are used. And so, we really marry up those social scientists and psychologists with the business strategists. And I think that’s really what differentiates us in that sense. So we go in and talk about the human story and the narrative, rather than the data.  Of course, we’re collecting the data to infer that story and to craft that story back for the client. But we’re very much about trying to humanize brands and bringing it back to a very human level so that they create these kinds of solutions for people that are harmonious with their lives and the tensions that they’re fraught with. There’s a huge difference between doing a focus group and going into someone’s home and understanding that they got to take the dog out for a walk in the morning. They’ve got to catch the bus, they got to pay for their mortgage, they’ve got to take the kids to school. All of those things create a very different reality and a very different human truth. And really that’s where we focus and our energy is very much in that kind of exploratory research space, which is fun. We love that. We’re fascinated by people.


You’re in the right job. That’s exciting. And that’s why you’ve had so much success. You started your career, at least according to Linkedin, in really entrenched in marketing. And then in 2007, you started Further your current business. Why the leap into entrepreneurship?


Well, again, going back to what I was talking about earlier, I fell into entrepreneurship because I was offered the opportunity to open a satellite office by the guy that I was working with at the time and his business, which was very successful and had been going for a number of years. It wasn’t something I had thought about. I hadn’t prepared for it. And my first port of call was a close friend of mine at the time, who was a serial entrepreneur, and I was always in awe of the things that he’d achieved and said, “Look, let’s go out for a coffee. Let’s have a chat about this. What do you think? Should I do this?”  And he was a very positive, upbeat character, and he was like, “Yeah, absolutely. Go for it.” You know, make mistakes. That’s the important thing. There’s no rule book; there’s no guide in terms of how to be an entrepreneur. You’ve just got to learn to fail fast. Don’t be afraid to make those mistakes, but take those opportunities. And so that was something I did. I came back to the UK after that, opened a satellite office. We very quickly picked up some very big contracts with big UK retailers. Harrods was one of them. We did a lot of brand strategy work, but also a lot of a retail design work for them. We built a whole new store for them, which they hadn’t done for many, many years. So it was a really prize contract to win. So I did that for a couple of years, and that got me the bug really for building and running my next business.

But actually at that time, social media was happening:  This thing called Twitter was emerging. And people were going, “What is this? What’s a blog?” I remember one Saturday morning, I think I was visiting my parents and I remember getting up early ’cause I was so intrigued by this new world. What is a blog?  And what is Twitter? What can it do? And so, I felt that it was a good time to get out of owning a business but maybe take a little bit of a gap year and learn a little bit more about digital and social. So that’s what I did. And I was also working during that period for an e-commerce business, actually doing some consulting work.  That was fantastic; taught me all about SEO and PPC and social networks and social media. And I could see how combining social media would… or the way that you could use social media to engage in audience at a distance, first and foremost. That was where I saw an opportunity. And, having been involved in some research projects, up to that point, it felt that actually we can be doing big international research studies:  understanding why people are doing what they’re doing, what their relationships are with brands, without jumping on a plane and using the earth’s resources as well, but doing that much, much quicker. So we set about designing our first piece of technology, which is still very much what we use today. It’s iterated a number of times, but it’s a social media and engagement platform that’s used for qualitative research. And that’s really how we got into that. 

And then combining that with training and helping researchers on how to use it to their advantage because the research was completely new at that time.  In 2007, the term “research communities” didn’t exist; MROC’s, no one was talking about MROC’s. We didn’t have a pigeon hole that we could even go into. That was quite scary? We had this thing that we were trying to talk to researchers about and qualitative researchers, in particular, and they were terrified of it. They didn’t understand it. Well, it’s not that I didn’t understand it, but they were really threatened by it. They were like, “We do focus groups; we do ethnography. That’s cool. We’re happy with that.”  But this whole new world was about to roll over them. And it took a good couple of years for us actually to get some really good traction with the business. But, obviously, looking back is the best thing we did. We stuck with it and then two or three years in, things started to happen. Pigeon holes appeared that we could be put into and that just helped us market the business much, much more effectively. And this helped us to get where we are today.


Yeah. And, of course, because you made the investment and had patience, you were able to take a dominant position in SEO and knowledge leadership or thought leadership inside of the sector once it actually gained purchase and interest in the category. And we all know the end of the story, well, sort of.  We’re still in it, but social media now is by far and away the most impactful communication channel.


Yeah, yeah, It’s interesting though, I feel like we’re at a point in time where I know certainly I am, and I can’t say I have the answers to this, but I’m looking for what’s the next revolution?  There‘s something else around the corner that’s going to shake things up again soon. Mobile came along when we first developed our technology. Mobile smartphones weren’t really entrenched within society; so, when kind of apps and mobile connectivity really grew, that was a big change for our business. There are other societal and technological changes, I think, around the corner and we’re trying to keep our eye on what those things are. Obviously, analytics and AI and automation is now starting to make a difference and it’s really how we combine and mash up all of those things in a very human way. 


From my vantage point, there’s really two things that we’re in the very beginning.  It’s like 2005 or about 2006 kind of a repeat for me, relative to social media. And that is voice. So you look at the lift in voice-based devices, whether it’s Alexa or Google Home.  It’s astounding right now, the adoption rate across the world. And the use cases are still very narrow, but you are seeing… I think there’s at least five companies that I’m aware of that are entering into the analytics and data collection in those environments. And the second one is augmented reality.  The Google glass becomes more of a contact. Now, all of a sudden, I can walk down the street and see Yelp reviews on where I want to go to lunch or whatever (directions, etc.). And so, just really continues to expand the amount of data… an opportunity for us to be able to get to the heart of the consumer, kind of that real time ethnography. Conversely though, you have this rise in privacy concerns, which is very important for us to address. And so, you know, there’s definitely a lot of tension right now and we’ll continue to escalate in that space in terms of what we actually have access to and the rights to be able to leverage. 


I think there’s a counter movement to this as well, which is actually consumers or us as people are actually being a little bit more a discerning about what we give our attention to or how much we let computers do the work for us. So, great idea, walking down a street with Google glasses on, giving you all the information you want, but do you want that disrupting you? Do you want that to have your attention at that moment in time? And so there’s a growing affinity with nature and spiritualism happening at the same time. We’re actually buying back more of humanity and more of our lives. So with the technological changes, there are some big social changes going on as well that, obviously, will have an impact on consumer businesses, but also in terms of how research is done and how that needs to be much more harmonious with people’s lives and how they choose to give you their time and the permissions they give you.


Yeah, yeah, point taken.  We could debate this point, and I would love to have a deeper…  We need beer. That will happen by the way at some point. The snapchat phenomenon is really interesting:  how one of their big motivators is to maintain consistent connection inside of the platform for their users or these streaks. So, when you look at the younger audience, the teens…  Gosh, in fact, just this week I was at Michigan State presenting to their Masters in market research cohort. Every time I speak in front of an audience, I do a quick poll on social media utilization.  Almost a hundred percent, (there was one person that didn’t) so out of 31 students, one didn’t use Snapchat. It was the dominant platform, right? I mean Twitter had whatever it was 16 out of the 31, if memory serves.  So, you’re seeing this. I don’t know. I think that they’re doing a good job of connecting the endorphins, which is terrifying to the point that you’re raising. So it will be interesting to see how that continues to evolve and if there will create this tension of people that separate themselves ultimately from technology, I’ll call them the new Amish. 


It’s consciously uncoupling, right? 


Yeah, exactly, it’s making a decision on technology and the utilization of technology on how that’s actually going to impact you, right?  Such a fun conversation. Anyway, I’m going to divert though ‘cause I want to talk about some other things, and that is specific to your two key platforms, Tandem and Together.  Maybe you can talk to us a little bit about them.


Sure. So, and actually I should point out I’m involved in another business called Signoi.  So there is a third platform I’ll tell you a little bit about because that’s very new and having some great success, and it might be of interest to your kind of…


Yeah, yeah, please.


So the two technologies that we have at Further:  the technology that we started out life with in 2007, which was the research community platform.  It’s called Together. We’ve done a name change on that. You may have known it, some of your audience may have known it as Idea Stream. We rebranded the business a year or two ago and changed some of the mnemonics around that. So, that’s what we call a research community platform, but research communities, as you probably know, mean different things to different people. So to us, when we talk about communities, we are really talking about human connections and bonds that emerge between the facilitators, the moderators, the community managers, and the participants. Because for us to really get under the skin of what’s happening in their lives and their relationships, we have to get to know them quite intimately in the same way that you would within a focus group. So the communities that we run are highly interactive. They’re much more qualitative in nature. What I mean by that, it’s not a series of structured questions and polls. They’re much more creative activities and exercises and conversations that we’re having with them. They tend to be more short term in nature. So, again, I differentiate that from what I know the likes of Vision Critical or Toluna might call insight communities. So these aren‘t big panels and with huge sample sizes.  These are quite small, very intimate. They can range from 30 people up to a few hundred people, consumers.


And just for clarity. Are these more like short-term type communities or are they like a six months to a year?  


Yeah, there’s a combination.  Another way of thinking about them is some of them are very put together specifically for a project, to answer one particular question, whereas others are used and built so they can respond to several different questions and challenges that the organization has.


So when you think about, from a community perspective…  Communities, I think, are very interesting to me right now.  I really think that you’re going to continue to see a massive growth in this particular segment in this type of work over the coming years. We’re seeing some data quality issues inside of the professionally managed panels.  Like one way of thinking about communities is just speed to access or speed to insight, right? So it’s kind of like I got these people, boom, I get an insight right away. I don’t have to worry about the screening per se, right. But it sounds like really in your use case as much more of a digital ethnographic type, getting to know them at an intimate level as opposed to the “I have access to this group of people.”   


Yeah, I think that’s an accurate description and actually a good way of illustrating that. So, our research director, a lady called Dr Marie-Claude Gervais, she was teaching qualitative research methods at the London School of Economics, so very highbrow institution. She was a traditional qualitative researcher for many, many years, run thousands of focus groups. And when research communities emerged, she started working with those and understanding the dynamics.  She is somebody with that kind of academic rigor who ran a lot of tests to look at the data quality, but also the emotion with the real picture of what’s actually happening in people’s lives and how it gave them the ability to be very open and honest and truthful about what’s happening, but also allow the researcher to see their lives from a number of different lenses. So they could see it’s not, obviously, not just about what the participant is saying, but what we’re observing that’s going on in that picture that allows us to then forge the insight.

 So it’s not just access; for us, it’s access to the inner workings of people’s lives. It’s technology-enabled, but it’s actually about the design of the activities and exercises that we create. And it’s about the quality of the relationships that we forge with those participants over a very short space of time. And so, we have a number of really established methods that we use. And, in fact, because we work with brands and agencies, a lot of our work is developing the capabilities of research teams so they understand that when they’re running the type of communities that we’re talking about here, they know through our training how to get that sort of relationship, how to get that depth.  Because when you’ve got people that have fallen into research, they won’t get in the same way. There are a lot of psychological hacks that we use. There’s a number of different tricks and methods that we employ to getting people to really open up and to forge that trust in the relationship really, really quickly; and then different ways of seeing the context of what’s actually taking place because we all know consumers lie. 


We do. 


We’re terrible witnesses of our own history and our own a behavior. So we don’t rely on that. We don’t rely on video insight as a way of seeing what’s actually going on. I think that’s just a data capture tool. I don’t think there is such a thing as a video insight in my understanding or my kind of world. I don’t use that language.  Insight: It’s forged; it’s fraught with tension; it’s hard; it’s difficult; and often it’s a struggle to get there. It’s a struggle working with the clients to help them really realize and actualize the insight. But it’s incredibly rewarding when you get it. And I think the communities can really deliver on that. But again, I don’t necessarily think of a community, a research community, as a method on its own. I think it’s really just a way of engaging people so that you can do different things with them. And that’s very different.  I think some people kind of prescribe a community and think, “Oh, it’s this.” Well, actually there are 1,000,001 things we can do within a community. It’s just really a way of having a great active and rich conversation with a target audience. 


All right, so break it down for me. I, by the way, completely agree with your assessment of video. I had Affectiva’s COO, Tim Peacock, on the show a while ago. They’re the number one video-based platform based on their analytics. I might be misremembering the exact quote, but it was something like either between 80% or 90% of actual communication is happening below the chin. So, if you’re just doing this, like what you and I are doing right now, you really miss…  Well, fortunately. I’m doing this with my hands, which they look really big when they’re close. But you know what I mean? You’re right. I think there’s this over-indexing right now on video as kind of the…


And that to me, I think the video stuff is used in a very tactical way, and I think that’s fine; that’s good.  But the work that we do, the type of briefs that we work on there, big strategic projects… And you wouldn’t just rely on kind of video insight.  There’d be a much more blended approach. 


All right. So take it down. So we’ve got three platforms now that you’re talking about, right? Would you just give me like a quick description, a snapshot description of each one?  And then after that, I want to dive into a centric-use case that maybe we haven’t touched on yet. 


Yeah, so sure. So we talked about Together being the kind of qualitative research, community technology.  And newest lovechild child, if you like, is Tandem. So that’s something we released just over a year ago. And that’s a kind of a much more thoroughbred, mobile ethnographic tool. So, whereas the community platform is about participants interacting with one another as well as with the moderators, Tandem is really just a one-to-one communication tool, very specifically about understanding moments and observations as well as adding more structured response to questions that are built in a sort of drag-and-drop way on the technology itself. And both of these platforms…  We focus a lot when we build this technology on two particular user bases: obviously, the participants and their user experiences of tantamount importance; but on the other side, it’s building it with the researchers in mind. So understanding that journey from data to insight is really crucial for us. And I think with the feedback that we get a lot and with our net promoter score that bears this out, which is about 77, then it understands how the researcher works and that’s what people like a lot about our technology. It makes their lives easier and gives them that license to focus more on the analysis and the reporting and the strategy derivation than the moderation and fussing around with the data-collection piece. 


So, in both of those platforms, they’re DIY-based. You also have services associated with that? 


Yeah, so we’re a bit of a hybrid, if you like. So we have clients that just license our technology and use it.  We have clients, people, our insights consulting who’ve used it for many years. All of their research communities were hosted on our technologies for a long time. But then we have clients who we might provide some fairly basic services or training and support for those clients or what we call sometimes just optimizations. So they might pass over their research design or their activities and guides, and we‘ll help break those apart, optimize them to get really good levels of traction. Sometimes just simply too that they make sense. You know, you have that plain English test, if you like.  Would your mom understand what you’re asking him to do, if I presented that to her? Sometimes you’ll forget that. 


Such an important point!


That’s the kind of a type of client. And then on the other end of the scale is the full service. So a lot of our clients ask us to partner with them to do the research from beginning to end, and we’ll deliver a debrief or a report to those clients.


I think that approach is…  Certainly, at Decipher that was the winning strategy for us. I launched the business with intent of it being a DIY platform but quickly learned that in order for it to get adoption, I was going to have to do both:  full service, not in the way of like report writing or analytics, but just in a way of programming the surveys, managing the sample, the project management, kind of the research ops side of it, right? So you’re obviously taking it full circle. Okay, got it. So you’re working with both brands and agencies? 


Yup, that’s correct. 


Is there a difference in dealing with those two segments, those two customer types? 


Always, always. The relationships look very different because, obviously, the stakeholder groups that you’re working with are often quite different. Some of them, the well-seasoned insight professionals; some of them less so and so we have to guide them and walk them through the process a little bit closer. Ultimately, we’ve all got the same endpoint. I think when we work with agencies, we tend to be focusing on the insight. When we work with the brands and the clients, we tend to be looking at how we can then activate that insight and really create some value from what we’ve learned.  I’d also say, I suppose when we work with agencies, a lot of the work is acting as a creative catalyst for them. So it’s not necessarily getting down to answering a question or making a decision for them. It’s saying, “This is a framework or the opportunity space that you can work with. So you have to go away and then develop whatever that solution is within that framework.” And that’s the kind of work that we really, really enjoy: working with those creative agencies in that particular way. Again, different ways, sometimes depending on the design solutions that we’re working on, it could be if it’s a product or service design, often we’re working in sprints. So the way that we set up the way of working with those stakeholder teams might look different too when we’re working with the brands. But again, it depends what the problem is that we’re working on:  whether it’s a major strategic shift in the business or whether it’s just a product iteration. 


Right. The economy globally has been in a tremendous amount of flux in the last couple of years. You’re seeing more of a movement towards…  I’m not sure if the right word is “nationalism,” but borders are closing, obviously. We in the US anyway, we’ve been seeing consistent growth inside of the tech sectors, but other sectors are actually struggling. When you think about the…  I can ask this question to you because you and I are, I think, of similar age; so, we’ve gone through a few different economic transitions. Where do you think we are right now? Do you think there’s going to be…? Are you seeing…? Do you think there’s going to be more growth in our sector inside of the brands, or do you think there’s going to be more growth inside of the agencies over the next three to five years? 


It’s a really good question, and I think it’s something we debate and look at a lot. I think where we do well is we employ smarts in our business. So these aren’t people that can do good research. These are really people that can arrive at an endpoint very quickly that satisfies what the client needs, or it can create a huge amount of value for the client. I think just telling them what’s happening or telling them what’s happened isn’t good enough. I guess the type of organizations we work with range from the big international brands and agencies, but also we do a lot of work with startups. What’s great about working with the startups:  they’re kind of user- or consumer-centered from day one. They’re not hindered by that kind of history or legacy that they have. However — and I think we will see this no matter what market we’re in — a lot of these digital startups start off with great intentions. They find it hard to become really profitable despite significant funding and then end up getting subsumed by some bigger corporate some where down the line. That’s what’s happening ‘cause the corporates are buying the innovation. Fine, but that the startup hasn’t been able to monetize that in a way that they’re… 


At scale.


That’s quite interesting if you think about what that journey means for the researchers and taking a very user-centered approach or consumer-centered approach to the solution, but then sometimes having to kind of retrofit what the business needs and what the business model looks like overlaying that solution. So, I think, of course, technology has democratized research. We know that. Anyone can pick up Survey Monkey, Qualtrics, whatever it is and start doing some research. That’s what I love about qualitative research. It’s a science, right? You really do need some good training, and it’s not just about having a conversation. And when we work with smart marketing directors, they know that; they get that; they understand it.  There’s a lot more to it. And that’s what we love and that’s the kind of work that we specialize in. 


Now, I am going to push back a little bit.  I do think that… 


I’m not saying…  


All right.  That’s fair. That’s fair. But, to your point, there’s so much sophistication and science around a well-crafted question in context of a live discussion versus something else. And you have that same rigor though in quant.  


And I think actually you made the point there about the right questions, but it’s the right questions of the right people. 


Yes, that’s right. 


That actually is almost the hardest bit of the sampling because access to Joe Public is quite easy now.  There are lots of organizations in our world that give you access to people and the technology and some training on how to write a question. But I just still think there’s a lot of people that don’t know who they should be asking the questions of. So that sample design in qualitative research, because we’re working with smaller samples, is SO critical. It’s so important to get that right. And a lot of the conversation and the debate we have with our clients starts with that sampling. And it lasts quite a long time. I’m always amazed, but I enjoy the fact that we love that discussion. We love that argument because for us that is absolutely fundamental in doing good research. It’s the right questions of the right people at the right time in the right way. 


Yeah, it kind of gets back to, at least half of it gets back to Doctor Who: Ask the right question. So do you have a…?  I know you do. What is one or two favorite projects that you’ve worked on? 


For me, there’s a project…  stands out every time and, and really for the simple reason that a lot of people talk in research about changing lives, but this was a piece of work that we collaborated on with someone who’s now our research director. So at this point in time is a few years ago…  This is working with Dr Marie-Claude Gervais. She was a client, and this was looking at the lived experience of ethnic minority people and black people and old people in the UK, people living with cancer. The objective there was to understand the inequalities in cancer care services amongst same audiences and, subsequently, what that different experience of living with cancer looked like with them. So, the client was Macmillan Cancer Support, which is a big UK charity over here. That was, I think, two months we followed them, observed them, engaged these people, small cohorts of people around the UK, and these are transgender people so often. So you can’t even imagine how difficult it would be to get them into a focus group facility, let alone find them in the first place.  So therein lies some of the big advantages of communities. This project was… When I think about it, the hairs stand up on my arm now still. And I get goosebumps because really what we did is we changed the lives of those people in so many ways. The project was, of course, to develop some new insights for Macmillan. But fundamentally what it did, it led to changes in government policy. But also, we had participants, and this happened not so long ago.

One participant, a lady who was living on the bread line…  Life was very, very difficult for her. She was very despondent, and it actually changed her life because she realized there was a support community that she could create herself for other people in a similar situation through getting to know other participants in the community. And what happened after that community, the online community, happened is this woman in particular created a new support community for cancer patients, black people. And that’s given her a new focus in life. And actually, about two years after the project, this lady turned up at one of the presentations we were giving — unannounced to us — and came up to us at the end of the presentation and really just thanked us for changing her life.  And that’s where market research really is very special, I think. And so, for me that was one of the projects where the research itself and the depth we were able to get through that community was incredible. You just wouldn’t have been able to do that any other way. But how that fundamentally changed government policy, access to services for people in often fringe groups on society was quite special. So yeah, that for me is a project I’ll always remember fondly.


Ah, that is a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it. All right. I have a tactical question and they’re going to get to my, the last question. But when you think about like qualitative and quantitative, we’ve hinted around this couple of times so far in our conversations…  Quantitative is just a really bad conversation, right? Surveys are just terrible surrogates for our conversation at scale. I often times joke that nobody after a date does an NPS with the person that just went on a date with. Right. So again, we actually have human ways that we interact, not 11-point scale, starting with zero. One of the benefits potentially of artificial intelligence is it can enable us to have conversations at scale and then, subsequently, potentially analyze that data in a meaningful way because the data accessibility has so far on open-ended data or unstructured data has been just impossible to penetrate. But now you’re seeing movement in there with sentiment and natural language processing, etc. So do you think that you’re going to see…?  And I guess this is somewhat bias, but do you believe that it’s going to be a lift proportionally in qualitative utilization? When you think about the global market research spend?


I think we’re seeing it already. For us, qualitative research started a renaissance a couple of years back, and we’re seeing that continue to grow because I think clients want the human story and they’re building human brands now. I think consumers can easily sniff out brands that are completely tone deaf to what’s actually happening on the street level. And that’s where qualitative research, I think, plays out very, very well. So I’d say that’s happening. We ourselves and I alluded to earlier one of the other businesses I’m involved with, which is called Signoi.  We’re also able to analyze large volumes of unstructured data. And that’s for meaning and cultural insights. So, if you think about how that might apply, if you want to then think about doing qualitative research at scale… So, for example, using bots for moderation so you can engage bigger, bigger samples of consumers in a shorter space of time, but then have the means to analyze that and get something quite tangible out of that very quickly. That’s still qualitative research for me, just using technology to speed up the process in terms of data capture, to focus in the human analysis. I don’t think we’d ever go on the results that the black boxes are giving us, but it certainly allows us to look at the right thing.  So that’s happening and that’s something we’re experimenting with and using on some of our clients. And I think that’s very, very exciting. But the human side of research and qualitative, it’s already experiencing a significant uplift, certainly here in the UK. And we do a little bit of work in the US but, you know, qualitative is much bigger here in the UK than it is in the US anyway, I think.


Yeah, you’re absolutely right to that point.  I think one of the reasons why is, well not geographically, but one of the reasons, just broadly speaking, you have such a growth in quant is it’s just easy to execute to your earlier kind of stab. You and I, or our moms could program a survey and Survey Monkey and launch it quickly. It doesn’t take a tremendous amount of sophistication. But I really think it’s interesting too as a practitioner of research to see how you’re taking the science of qualitative, which is hard by the way, and seeing it morph and move into the statistics that are normally associated with quant.  And it’s going to be fun. It is fun right now, and it’s going to continue to be fun to see this evolve over the next three years. ESOMAR‘s report’s going to be fun. 


We feel we’re in a good position for that because sitting at the intersection of research, insight, and technology allows us to play with these tools. We understand how these tools work. We can stitch them together very easily. We’ve got a team of developers and engineers. So yeah, it’s exciting times.


Yeah, for sure. All right, we’re going to end on this question. What is your personal motto?


Oh Gosh, good question. I’ve got two actually. So, I’d say both relating to entrepreneurship, but I think equally about research and the process. So, I don’t think there’s ever such a thing as win or lose. For me, it’s always win-or-learn — how everything is a learning opportunity. And I think that’s important to think about that. The second one really is just about resilience and never give up.  Fight that fight to get that insight across to the client. You know there’s always naysayers, but stay resolute, have resilience and keep on with that struggle.


My guest today has been Steven Cribbett, founder and CEO of Further. Thank you very much, Steven, for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


My pleasure, Jamin, and thanks very much.


Everyone else, if you found value in this episode like I did, I hope you will screen capture, share it on social media. That is how other people like you are able to find this content and, as always, your five-star reviews are always appreciated. Thank you so much. Have a great rest of your day. 


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.