[00:44]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is KaRene Smith, the owner of Shine Insight. Founded this year, Shine Insight was created to address the challenges corporate researchers face by offering an alternative to the traditional market research agency model, operating, scaling and delivering results. Prior to founding Shine Insight, KaRene has worked in marketing and account leadership for some of the world’s top agencies including Directions Research, Kantar and Burke. KaRene, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

 

[1:37]

Thank you Jamin, and I am excited to be here. I am a very much “Happy Market Researcher”!

 

[1:43]

Ha! Hey! That makes two of us. I am quite a few years in the space, and I am excited about jumping in with you today, listening to your narrative of working with some of the… actually, the largest brands in our space. So let’s start with your story. How did you wind up in market research?

 

[2:02]

That is always a great question. I love asking that question to people too because I am one of those typical people that sort of fell into it accidentally. I was actually an Art major to start college. I was on a full Art scholarship but I also had a love for mathematics and writing –one of those weird right and left brain people. So I thought for sure I was going to be an artist or something very much to do with the arts. But after about a year, I had decided that I really missed very much writing and math and all the more pursuits that were, you know, much more solid and concrete, and black and white sort of things. So actually I left Art and switched majors to Research Psychology. And I love the idea of just trying to figure out what makes people tick in certain situations, and I definitely fell in love with statistics. And I was all sad… and I did not know that market research was a field. I was all set to start my PHD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Akron, and a friend of mine told me about Burke Marketing Research. I interviewed for an analyst position, and I have been hooked ever since. I absolutely love working on projects and just figuring out what that “aha” is and anything about my journey is that I also love visualizing… the insights. So that’s sort of it in a nutshell. But I have had a pretty unique career. I have been in analytics and operations as well as the marketing side of research.

 

[3:25]

So statistics! That’s interesting that was your anchor point into it.

 

[3:33]

Ha!

 

[3:34]

 

I kind of get it why but can you elaborate on your connection with statistics?

 

[3:39]

I have always been very curious, and I love answers to problems. And I think that’s sort of why I struggle with art, quite frankly. Because there is not a right answer to art. Uhm… but I love math in school, and physics, and chemistry. But taking my first statistics class in college, it is more of a visual math, like calculus, if that makes any sense. Because you can see the data points on this that tells the story. And I just fell in love, and I took every class that my college offered in statistics including making… having the professor create a couple new ones for me because I loved the idea of experimental design and Latin squares and factor and regression and everything to do with the math of it.

 

[4:21]

I did not have the privilege of that experience through college but once I started in Primary Market Research, I remember seeing apply statistics in action, and at that point in time I fell in love with it in the same way.

 

[4:39]

Yes.

 

[4:40]

Seeing that scatter… Seeing that thing about correlations, for example. And then that scattered plot visualized along with your… you line, right? The regression is super exciting because it communicates so much information relative to what might be driving specific behaviors.

 

[5:00]

Yeah, and I think that it tells a story. And there is a story there. And something you would never a think a story is. A story in numbers, of course, which I have always just found fascinating.

 

[5:10]

So as the disciplines have developed more and more in the last few decades, we are seeing, obviously you are aware of it, big data is playing… is all of range over the last what? Five years, six years?

 

[5:27]

Yeah.

 

[5:28]

…statistics becoming one of the more important… in fact, I think it is the case of every single person we have interacted with has said that strong quant skills is table stakes nowadays, even if you are not moving into Python and R but just to move into a research role effectively, you have got to be able to operate in that space.

Conversely, we have seen qualitative start moving more and more into the front, with this idea of enhanced story telling. Have you been seeing that transition?

[6:09]

Yeah. And I think it is interesting. I think there are table stakes for the generalist market researcher in terms of understanding quantitative but I would also say it is table stakes for them to understand the soft skills in qualitative. But yes, you know, with all the data that we are swimming in, and that being what they say “the oil of our economy” at this point, it is critical to understand the basics of just… not to be all about the practition and do the statistics but to understand what is possible, and what are the trade-offs of one technique versus another. Or at least to know when to bring in a statistician or someone that can guide you on that path.

 

[6:43]

So let’s jump in this great reference that you made, which is “oil of our economy”. Talk to us a little bit about that.

 

[6:49]

Well, I think there is so much data out there that we are not… And as market researchers, our job often times, especially on the supplier side, is to create more data –to do surveys, to do interviews, to do whatever it may be. But there is so much information out there that I think there is almost too much information. So it is taking the pieces across the different areas, and they are not necessarily the traditional, your areas for market researchers. They can be shop-alongs or video diaries or just selfie pictures, and just creating all that to really fuel insights. But it is such an exciting time because of that. We are no longer held to… with technology, we no longer have to be held to the focus group that hides behind the glass window or the online survey. We can use the power of so many of these neat technologies to really fuel some really creative thinking and get some of the “aha’s” for our clients and our brands.

 

[7:46]

In general, are you seeing brands being more accepting of new techniques and technologies than previously? And how is that releasing budget dollars?

 

[7:58]

I think that for corporate clients, yes, to stay competitive even in industries where you are not going to see the most innovation, like education or government, or you know, manufacturing, I think you are still trying for people to understand that innovation, and what’s new, and what’s thought-provoking, to be and stay competitive in this day and age where everything is moving so quickly and the competition is more fierce than it ever has been, you really have to think outside that… you know, that box, to stay competitive and in tune with what consumers are thinking.

I spent many years when I was at Burke working on utilities. And this back with deregulation that happened, you know my age here, long time ago. But even those companies that they shouldn’t have to think about a consumer, they are. It is so neat to watch these clients or these brands that are exposed to new ways of doing things. And you can see these classic researchers that have not been able to explore getting so excited about the new things that are out there. So yeah, I do think it is an incredibly amazing time to be a researcher regardless of if you are in the supplier or the client side. And that brands, yes, they are very open. But some are obviously going to be more open than others. A P&G versus, you know, the Duke Energy, you know, there is going to be a very big difference between the brands. And the categories, etc.

 

[9:28]

So “oil of the economy”… the framework there is that in every way data, or even consumers’ insights more specifically, is what is powering the engine of business.

Are you seeing market research as a P&L, getting more funding inside of brands? Is it getting more attention?

 

[9:53]

I think… unfortunately, I think it is a really hard time for many market research firms and some companies. Because I think that marketing and other groups within the corporations have become doing more research and dealing with more data that in some instances unfortunately, your classic market researcher is sort of being edged out as marketing becomes more of a data center organization but in other cases, yes, they are getting a bigger seat at the table. It’s really mixed!

 

[10:23]

“Edged out” and also “promoted”, right? Sorry, go ahead.

 

[10:26]

Aha. Yes, budgets in general…

When I started in Shine… I went, you know, I am a classic researcher, I had decided, you know, “I really want to find out what is going on in the industry”. So I talked to over a hundred different clients and suppliers as well as, you know, Academia, professionals, to see what they were seeing, what were the trends, what was really going on in the industry. And generally the consistency, especially from corporate clients, was that budgets are not getting bigger, generally. If anything, they are flattered down. So they are being asked to do much more with less. Some of those budgets are being switched to analytics functions, or entire new teams are being created that are taking up some of the budgets from traditional insights functions.

 

[11:12]

Yeah, I think that’s true. There is this theme that we have seen, I mean, since my entire career “do more with less”, right? And technology, of course, is exactly the way that continues to empower researchers… And in fact, we are seeing a shift… I have seen this twice in my career –a material shift at this point, of brands bringing researchers in-house, just because they can facilitate the research themselves using the existing tools, in some cases free, cheaper and faster than they could with agency or partner relationships. The other point you made, which is this “edged out”, I am seeing this, literally categorically, where again I think companies are just spending money. So things like user experience is getting funded. But it is seating outside of, in most companies, of the market research division. Similarly, big data courses usually seating outside that research space as well. Or if you think about data scientists tended again to be seating outside as well. And that is because they are working in lockstep with the product manager, R&D or whatever inside of the company. Whereas research tends to be seating a little bit more in line with the executive group in the organization. Now, I am saying that not as its truth but more as a question. Are you seeing similar sort of framing with your corporate clients?

 

[12:52]

Yes, I am but as I said, I don’t there is anyone… you know, as market researchers, we are so hesitant to make generalizations. There is data supports either way! I see both. I see organizations where market research is shrinking and analytics is growing. But I see other places where, you know, they are really finally… the leadership teams and the C-suite are really embracing insights in a way like they have never before. So I think it really depends on what is going on in this specific category. For retail, you know, break-and-mortar, the challenges they are facing versus technology or, you know, consumer packaged goods, etc.

 

[13:37]

You and I are similar in that neither of us really knew what market research was. In fact, I did not know what it was at all. In fact, I did not really know what it was until I… Actually, I thought I had accepted a job at a marketing company, I swear to God. And it was a market research company. Yeah, it’s crazy. Then I had to figure it out. That was a little bit different time. Do you feel like market research right now is more visible to… as a career path than it was when we started?

 

[14:04]

Oh, absolutely! Yes. Absolutely. I think that when you and I started probably twenty years ago, marketing research… My dad –it’s so funny, he would tell everybody that what I did was telemarketing. Ha! And I was like “No please don’t tell me people I do telemarketing”. Not that there is nothing wrong with that profession but yeah, there was just a misunderstanding. But now with the pace of innovation, and people launching different products, and the different things you see out there, I think it is much more mainstream in terms of the basic knowledge of what it is… at least among business people. I would think that, you know, still some psychology and liberal arts majors aren’t as familiar with it but among business people, certainly, and there is so many good Master’s programs out there currently… you know, Georgia’s MMR, the Nielson program, all those great programs out there that are becoming more at the fore front. And it is well with just how information is now shared now with social media, etc. There is just more information out there about all the different career paths. And I think, you know, it is hard to just major in Marketing. Anyone could but you would have to choose generally a specialty so I think that is promoted hopefully the success of people wanting to understand more about market research.

 

[15:17]

So your career, you know, Burke, Side Resource, Kantar, Directions and more recently, Entrepreneur, what was the impetus? Why did you decide to move out of… I mean, what drove you to move outside of… I mean, Directions is considered to be one of the top agencies in the space, out of that company and start your own gig?

 

[15:38]

It was a really hard decision. Directions is definitely home for me. It is a wonderful company, full of 150 people that I call friends. But I have been thinking on this… I had just rebranded Directions four and a half years ago and given my art skills, I had designed a new logo, created a new website, along with some other folks but you know, new materials, new way to talk about the company, and that was so exciting to me and one of my jobs at Directions for over the last several years was watching trends of what was going on in the industry and trying to keep on top of how do you shape an organization’s positioning given all that was going on. I was so fascinated by what was… what’s happening in agile, and all the amazing DIY solutions that are out there more every day and the fact that you can, you know, download a piano software, from a platform for two hours, which is something that five years ago that would have taken a team of twenty researchers and a week to do. So it was so exciting for me. My husband and I talked… You know, I could not shut up about it quite frankly. Ha! I am listening to podcasts about how I build this, and different things, and reading this entrepreneur books and at one point, he just looked at me and he said: “Why don’t you just try it? What’s the risk? Just give it a go or you are going to regret it.” So I just did, and it was something I thought long and hard of, and still there is days where I think: “What am I doing?” But so far I love it, and it is really an exciting time to market research for so many areas not just for entrepreneurs but people at different corporations or client side that I just really want to explore what was possible in terms of having a really, really agile group of people pushing the limits with DIY solutions but also using my background in visualization to really do some compelling activation and visualization of research insights, which I think is really critical right now.

 

[17:40]

You are a bit of a unicorn. And obviously, yourself, you are aware enough to recognize that, having the art and the math expertise, very, very rare. Of course you know that is a very desirable skill given your tenure inside of the space and the customers that you have serviced. How long did it take for you to actually get a customer?

 

[18:00]

Ha! At Shine? Well, I planned to take a few months off, and I had an old client that called me and immediately begged me to work with me so… ha! Yes, I have been incredibly fortunate. Having been in the industry for as long as I have and having worked at these different sized firms that cover a wide array of expertise and categories, I have a lot of contacts in the industry that I was pretty quickly… incredibly fortunate to get rolling pretty quickly. And also I had the opportunity to, I was offered the opportunity by Anne Perret to present an IAEX on visual story-telling as a new speaker and that immediately was very successful for me, and launched me into some new opportunities that I am incredibly grateful for as well.

 

[18:49]

So have you had an entrepreneurial experience where you have, I am not going to say it is exactly like this, but you know, the cold sweat, at one in the morning, wake up, “what the f did I just do?”

 

[19:04]

Yeah, I think it’s been more around trying to find the right infrastructure. I have been blessed with my companies where I had excellent accounting people and excellent IT people and trying to cobble that together with an entrepreneur in a way… I am not good with IT, obviously. Ha! I am not good with accounting so trying to put the systems together in place… that was the most challenging for me but finally after one of my project managers I work with has helped me put that together, and I know much better now. There is always going to be, and I think that there is for anybody that is on their own, that sort of whether it is the “impostor syndrome” of the “My Gosh, am I really the right person to be doing this?” or as well as “Where is the next project going to come from?” I think everybody faces that no matter how successful you are, you are on your own or running a company.

 

[19:50]

So walk me through that a little bit. And I am really interested in the specifics. I am just going to be honest with you. Last night… This is a true story, I am operating on two hours and fifteen minutes of sleep, I woke up, and I was literally afraid for… you know, just the future, which is hilarious because it isn’t based in any sort of reality. I mean, I have had very positive outcomes, you know, sold a couple of companies, but at the same time you do have… it’s different when you are an employee versus when you are… when you starting, when you are “it”, when you are the single source of income for the company. Of course, having a customer right of the gate is a dream come true. Have you had… Was it like… Did you have mounting stress relative to the back-office infrastructure? Or was it all kind of fit together for you?

 

[20:49]

I wouldn’t say that anything fit perfectly. I mean, I have only been doing this since March so this is all very new. And we talk again, and I might change my opinion. But I feel like that this definitely… And I really have the support of my husband, of my family and friends, and colleagues to really see what I can and cannot do so in general, I have tried not to stress about it but obviously, it is easier said than done. But I am just trying to figure out what makes the most sense for the industry right now and hopefully offering something that is compelling to my clients. Part of the reason that I went with the freelancer model… because I have… my company… We don’t have… I have a couple of contracts people but generally, it’s all freelancers that I work with so I am not worried necessarily making sure that they have health insurance and all those things that come with owning a company. I am more worried about making sure there is enough work in the pipeline for myself as well as for the key people that I support. But really just making sure that we are just really doing some great work out here.

 

[21:55]

I love the focus on customers and specifically, driving new products to existing products that are making that purchase. I think that takes a tremendous amount of stress out and also say this: “There is no benefit of stress. It is just a waste of energy.” And the fact that you have really isolated accordingly, I am a little bit envious of that. But congratulations!

 

[22:20]

Ha! Maybe it is because it is going to come later, Jamin, you never know.

 

[22:23]

Ah…

 

[22:34]

I am a mom of young kids. I have enough mom guilt in my life I am going to try not to let the… parental guilt too… because I know dads have it too. I am going to try not the work stress get to me too much.

 

[22:33]

At it, girl!

 

[22:34]

And I am sort of one of those people that feeds on fast and being really busy.

I have one client that came to me the other day, and said: “What can we put out in the next 24 hours on this topic? And I need video feedback from a couple of consumers that is very specific to a profile”. And so we did it! I love that kind of stuff where it is super fast, super busy, keep me going creative and luckily I have surrounded myself with some folks that really like that as well.

 

[23:04]

So let’s talk a little bit about trends? What are you seeing in market research? What’s moving right now?

 

[23:08]

So much! Ha! It’s like everything is moving, you know? Being in the industry for twenty years, there was obviously… it felt like trends were very slowly going to happen. For how many years… I mean, we talked about mobile. We talked about: “Oh, mobile is coming, mobile is coming!” Or the switch from phone to online… It took forever whereas now it feels like if I am not on Twitter figuring out what the new thing is every day I am going to be behind. I think there is always going to be the buzz words and different hot topics out there, whether it be block chain or AI or machine learning or behavioral economics, all these different things. You know, agile, which I am really excited about.

At the end of the day, the pace of change is only going to keep it accelerating so I think that the trend is that there is so many trends out there. But there is still the key trends that I don’t feel like most clients have had fulfilled for them. It is just the whole idea of doing things better, cheaper, faster.

A lot of companies say that they can do a lot better, cheaper, faster but I don’t see it happening as often I think it can. That’s why I am excited about what I am doing and some other folks that are doing, like my company, about trying to ruthlessly take out inefficiency or cost or just things that don’t really need to be there to really get agile solutions for our clients.

 

[24:34]

Because “agile” coming out of the development world and being applied to market research specifically, in a fast turn, quick turn sort of better, better, better, lean approach, right?

 

[24:41]

Yes, yes, and having that start-up mentality of “Just try it!”, “What do we have to lose?”, “Everybody, roll up their sleeves!” and “Let’s go do it!”.

There are so many amazing platforms and perspectives and information, like podcasts like yours, and so many other ones out there, that it is neat to be seen on that sea change we are seeing in the industry and just to be part of it.

But I think, you know, as a market researcher, you are absolutely going to have to start paying attention to trends now more than ever, no matter where you are in your career.

 

[25:21]

When you look at… when you canvas the existing market research landscape, you still see the majority of spin still happening with the large players. We all know that all those large players are being impacted by this agile approach, right? Because it has a very different… terms of trade around it. How are companies adopting… or adapting, rather, to this shift?

 

[25:45]

Well, I haven’t been in a big company for several years at this point. Directions was more mid-sized. I do think there is a place for most firms that are just willing to adapt and think outside of what they have always done. So I hate to see like “us versus them” sort of thing. But I think it is harder for the larger TNS’s, the Ipsos’s, the Nielson’s to be able to say: “Yes, we have a 24-hour turnaround, let’s put our best minds together and let’s get this thing done for the client”. You know, there is POs, there is processes, there is all this legacy stuff that does not allow for that. So I think those agencies are probably going to always struggle with that unless they are able to segregate specific styles of people that are able to operate much more like a start-up, much more innovatively.

 

[26:40]

Yeah, I need to get one of those C-level executives on here to talk about that. Because as we ID aid for them really quick, there seems to be a good opportunity for them if they could sequester resources that did operate like a boutique firm.

 

[26:58]

Yes.

 

[26:59]

It seems like it would be at least a material opportunity given that they have the depth of key relationships.

 

[27:03]

Yes, but I think it is challenge for the kind of people who would want to work for those boutique firms. They are really creative little geniuses that don’t necessarily want to work for a big firm, even if it is a boutique agency owned by a big firm. But who knows, that may change, maybe the larger agencies are going to learn lessons as there have been challenges and they have done that and lost a lot of people.

 

[27:27]

What is one of the secrets that you are attributing your start-up success to?

 

[27:33]

I think I am… my start-up success lies on the fact that I am focusing on an area that I feel like we are talking about a lot but not actually doing much about, that is, activation and visualization, visual story-telling.

We have had a big focus for the last several years on story-telling but it is fabulous how our market research reporting has gotten phenomenally better over the last couple of years because of that as well as presentations and all the different media out there that talk about insights finding. Most people were given a Power Point five, ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty-five years ago, and they may have changed the words but they are still reporting the information in a way that does not engage audiences, especially the audiences of today, who have got their phone right in front of them, they are easily… their attention spans are dwindling. They are taking away too much information but I don’t feel like most reporting and presentation of information is designed with the idea of truly engaging an audience. So that’s where I feel where my background in visual story-telling and communication, and also marketing of insights, has allowed us to have a little bit of a unique space here for work that we are hopefully going to be able to take advantage of in the future.

 

[28:56]

So I love this point about having phones in front of them. You and I have both spoken… I usually have an opportunity to speak, once every couple of weeks. I now introduce myself with my Twitter handle and request that every… And I literally take 3 or 4 minutes of my initial talk to get people on to Twitter so they can interact with each other during the talk, which is very counter how I was brought up in church. Ha! Right? But what I am finding is that little hack creates this connection opportunity not just during but after I am done speaking. So I can operate at the macro level but then I have the opportunity to operate at a micro level or individual level as soon as I am done, or a week after I am done with that particular speaking engagement. So are you seeing… In your talks, how are you engaging the audience that is, to your point, not the traditional Power Point that we have grown up with?

 

[30:02]

Well, first of all, I love that, and I might steal that. I am actually talking next week so thank you for that. I think that what is powerful about what you just described is that it is not typical. It’s really getting people… OK, we sit in so many presentations. Or we listen to so many people carry on about something that we actually may be very interested in but they are presenting it in a way that we are just in auto-pilot so what I general try to do is… and I also, this is also for when I would build projects for my clients, I would come up with a research plan when we build a project but also I come up with an activation plan. Because we can put so much time and money and energy in doing the very essential part of research, and really work hard on it and it could be lovely but it feels like the presentation or the activation are an afterthought. So I always try to think about what ways uniquely or specifically based on the situation so that we can activate the findings. A couple of weeks ago I did something where we literally… it was about segments so at the end of the presentation, we brought in coffee mugs, each with a different segment, and these were placed in the break rooms and then there were pillows, one for each segment, they were placed in the little seating area. So different ways to activate the insights, not just inside the presentation but after as well but also within the presentation bringing in whatever props. That sounds a little corny but it really is. Can you bring in a consumer to literally talk to the audience? Can you do something to take it beyond that typical droning on of slide after slide.

 

[31:44]

Yeah, the humanization of that data, right?  So you got the math that tells a story but you got to have that story connect the audience. And 100% of the time I feel that is as important as the math. You got to have both, right, nowadays? You can’t just have one. And there is no one window-dressing research as there was when I first started my career, which was literally we had a library research studies. I know you have seen them too at brands and research firms. So those days are over, it’s all about action to insight, you know, give me the data and so what? And let’s move on.

 

[32:17]

Absolutely. And I think that it is not only with the overall project of finding the “So what? Now what? Let’s go?” It’s also within each piece that you present in it, making sure that you are not visually overwhelming the audience with these slides that are so data-dense or these findings that are just over articulated. It is about getting to the point and driving the insight whom, making it memorable and easily understood because I think we forget…

Behavioral economics is just a fascinating area of study, and I love reading on it and hearing people’s perspectives on it but I think often we forget that we can apply the behavioral economics in the whole idea of The Elephant and the Rider to our business communication and communication of insights and how we package them. Because people aren’t going to react to our presentation when it is a bunch of peer pie charts or it just not getting what it needs to or has too many numbers. And I think we need to make it more about that our audiences, our business partners or other researchers are human, and they only have a finite attention span. They only have a finite ability to take in information from you, and then make sure that you are not necessarily doing data dumps; that you are not telling a story-telling, arts, etc. but also visually because they eye can only pay attention to so much and so can the brain.

 

[33:41]

Exactly. I love this activation and visualization element. I really want to hear that keynote. Ha!

 

[33:51]

Ha!

 

[33:52]

Was that at IAEX?

 

[33:53]

Yeah, it was at IAEX. It was basically packaging insights visually to get better engagement. I have done it as a webinar a couple of times, and I spent two days recently, six hours a day, with another firm just speaking on it -solid. So it is a topic you could literally talk about for days quite frankly but I think it is something we really need to think about. Everything is designed in the world.

As graphic designers like to say, and industrial designers like to say: “Everything is designed”. But unfortunately, with business communication, not just for market research but in general, we are just sort of thrown out there. It is like you are pushed out of the airplane and they say: “OK, go ahead and communicate. Here is Power Point” or “Here is Google Slides”. And we are not taught how to do it well. And I think we need to take a step back and realize that attention of our business partners is a very, very precious resource. And you can send a hundred thousand dollars on that project and put a thousand hours into it but if you are not going to get their attention when it is time to really internalize the insight, you have sort of lost the battle.

 

[35:01]

Yeah, 100%. And I think that part of it is… I remember the very first time I did focus groups, one of the activities I had them do was a collage, the typical tear pictures out of a magazine and build a persona. And I have never been more scared in a presentation than when I had to present that to the customer because it fell so squishy, and the exact opposite happened. The customer latched on, I had all this hard data, math, math, it was very exciting, for me. And the customer was like: “Oh my Gosh, these collages”. And that was the poster in the literal sense for that project that they used internally to make decisions.

 

[35:52]

Absolutely. And I struggled with that for years as well. I think I am finally getting past that although I do have my moments especially when I am dealing with people in marketing. They would be a little bit too swishy on me. But it is hard, as business researchers, we want to present… we are more academic, and we want to present and not mislead, which is great but sometimes we need to understand that we are doing is inspiring things that the marketing team is going to do or providing information to get to know the consumer more. And for the company to take action on that behalf so it doesn’t have to be an academic exercise to visually or a story sometimes it really is going with your gut and taking something, as you said, “squishy” and presenting that along with your findings. But that’s where I think the real fun is in market research. It’s allowed us with all the neat tools that are out there to be more creative and curious, and asking if there is new ways to present stuff or do stuff.

 

[36:55]

So you have a little bit of a unique model where instead of building out your staff, you are using freelancers, which I can appreciate the wisdom in that, especially in the early days to deal with ebb and flow and work volumes. How do you identify and all-star freelancer and then subsequently manage them?

 

[37:11]

Yes. It is definitely a process that is ongoing. Mostly, to start with, I am very much working off my network of folks that I know. I think that the most talented people that I know in the industry are freelancers or they are people with non-traditional… They may be stay-home parents that had to leave the workforce because they wanted to be at home when their kids got off the bus, or they are semi-retired. So I started with my initial network of talented folks that I have been blessed to know and then it’s a lot about asking for referrals. Every time I talk to someone I will ask: “Who should I be talking to?” “Do you know anybody in this space?” “Here is the gap”. “I don’t know anybody that is an expert on higher education.” So constantly networking, constantly having these conversations and going on off reputation. I believe there is good and bad market research being done out there, and I am definitely not going to deliver anything to my clients or put my name behind something I don’t feel really good about so if I am working with a newer person, what I might do is combine them with someone that I… you know, if I have a new report writer analyst working on something I might not be as familiar with… they come recommended but I am going to team them up with the person that is the person that I absolute trust for that project to make sure everything is up to the quality that we are used to delivering. And because my Shine and Insight model is basically no overhead, I, we can afford to do that.

 

[38:43]

So on that subject, what is Shine and Insight offering right now that is adding a lot of value to brands?

 

[38:47]

I think that we are offering right now is that ability to move quickly as well as to just get stuff done fast, the old habit, the old desire that is always there of “faster, better, cheaper”.

Generally, the pricing that we are coming in with is 20%-40% lower than a traditional general market research firm because we don’t have over hat and we are scaling as needed. And a lot of these DIY solutions versus legacy solutions, which are a little bit cumbersome and costly, I think that’s a big part of what we are adding; that’s good value. But also we are curating what is out there. So I generally try to do one to two demos a week or have a conversation once, twice a week with someone that is offering something really unique or someone that has a platform that is really unique.

We are always on the lookout, my project manager team and I, for what is new, what is cutting edge, what can we bring to clients, and having these conversations to really be on the pulse of what’s happening. Because we are not a large corporate agency, we can move quickly to bring someone in. There is a really interesting woman in Romania, Awana Popa Rango, who is doing custom board games for insights activation. She literally creates card games and dice games and stuff, and her background is in gaming and psychotherapy. It is just there is so many neat people and neat things out there but it is about companies having the time and making it a priority to find them and those unique perspectives that can be brought in.

 

[40:20]

And it is tricky for the companies because nobody knows what the market adoption is of that, and you and I say ”Oh, we can apply this to one customer” but relative to established businesses, it’s just not moving the needle. And that’s not the future though. That’s what’s interesting is. I remember when online research was literally… people would talk about it the same way we might be thinking about this board game idea, right? The reality is very…  There is a ton of disruption that is happening, and that is going to become the new norm.

 

[40:56]

Yes, I completely agree. And that’s what’s so amazing right now. It is just not going to be this kind of “Oh, we are in the time of online survey or the time of, you know, whatever.” It’s video. It’s AI. It’s, you know, ethnography. It’s all of these things coming together to make this really amazing menu of offerings for getting into insights. And it can be different from day to day.

 

[41:19]

I am going to call it “the time of Cioppino” but we need to come up with a better name. I honestly think that would be a fun white paper.

 

[41:30]

Yeah, yeah, I agree.

 

[41:33]

Because you are right. I mean, there is not one thing to hang your hat on right now. I mean, two years ago was AI. As you know, right now it’s block chain, big data, and you just kind of pick the flavor of the year. And now everything it’s just coalescing into this smorgasbord of opportunities. And even into board games, which I hadn’t even heard of until now.

 

[41:53]

Yeah, it’s neat to be… I mean, here is the thing with market research: In my opinion, there is always going to be a need for people who can translate data regardless of how automated we make everything. There is always going to be a need for curiosity and creativity. And curiosity and creativity can be found in so many different ways, in so many different countries or techniques, or even outside of market research that you can bring in. So it’s really, really neat times.

 

[42:23]

Do you think there is an opportunity in the market research training space?

 

[42:27]

Oh, yes! Ha! Unfortunately, and I believe it was New MR and New Pointers Group that recently did a survey about the lack of training within the industry, and it’s really unfortunate.

I don’t know if your career was the same but when I started my career, I was very fortunate to start at Burke, which, you know, they are the premier training organization for the market research industry, and I was so fortunate to be trained by some of the best market research trainers in the industry. Absolutely lovely!

And as my career has gone on, I have seen less and less training. And I think that even on the client side, back in the day, when I supported at Procter & Gamble for many years, they were deep vast in terms of training. But unfortunately that’s then. I mean, they still do training and they still do very much invest in their people but the amount of training and research has gone down considerably over the past couple of years. And maybe the pendulum will swing back. But I do feel that with the pace of change and the trends, and the amount of information that we are dealing with, and the different things that we can do with data insights in the consumer center, we have to do more in training. But it’s not just about formal training that companies can provide or associations can provide, it’s also about having your own personal desire to get trained. So that’s why I am always open to mentoring more junior people or people that want to make a change in the industry; and just really taking your own personal development into your own hands. And to always be curious about what’s going on and staying up to date and always trying to be learning whether that would be LinkedIn learning sessions or podcasts or webinars or whatever it may be.

 

[44:08]

So you are started the conversation today talking about your journey into entrepreneurship, with podcasts and books being a primary source of information to give you the knowledge and ultimately the courage to step out. Is there any one of those that you would like to highlight to our listeners?

 

[44:23]

The Happy Market Research podcast, of course! Ha!

 

[44:29]

Ha! I love you! Thank you for that!

 

[44:30]

I think there is definitely great podcasts out there. I mean, Data Guru, Insure Podcast, Audible Insights, and Telequest. Some really good ones out there as well some ones that are not necessarily about market research. I think that people should listen to popular business podcasts. And also I think following a lot of influencers if social media is your thing whether that be Twitter, Linked in or Facebook. There are some really neat perspectives. And people that are, you know, making their lives work being on top of what is really going on and just by following what they are linking and what they are sharing and what they are writing about, you can really get an easy, efficient way of staying on top. You know, you can read book after book but that takes a lot of time investment. But I think it is finding these influencers that are out there and just tying along with them for the ride as they develop more I think it’s a great way for everybody no matter if you have been in the industry for two years, or twenty five.

 

[45:26]

One of my favorite hacks on social media, and you can pick the platform is that I try to follow over influencers in our space and outside of our space, in the entrepreneurship community. I often times post something and I see a number of responses. Instead of being one of the responses, I will respond to somebody’s response, and that person would be so happy that somebody is actually providing some value against their point that it creates this nice back and forth, and actually this sort of mini-conversation inside of a larger group but you are already all aligned because that content, right?, is centric to whatever it is that you all care about. It is a great way to improve your follower base, as well as send your influence to the people I network with, a network of people.

 

[46:18]

Yes, I think that is a very good point. And I think that there is just so many voices out there that… you know, some people are not going be people that the people that post all the time or writing articles but they have really valuable input to offer and just making those connections whether they would be on Twitter or setting up a ten-minute call to see if there is ways that you can collaborate, I think it’s incredibly valued and it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding not even if it comes back to help you in your own career or success but also helps them. I generally always try to make time for people who want to generally pick my brain on what they are doing, their perspective, their career, their jobs, and I find that really valuable to just extend my network to really… And try to support people that are a little biased. I am supporting a lot of freelancers, obviously. But any freelancer that is out there that I can help network or collaborate with or whatever may be to work together… because I think that there is plenty of work out there for everyone. It’s just having the resources and the shared knowledge to be able to go accurate and get it efficiently, smartly and in the best way for the clients.

 

[47:21]

KaRene, thank you very much for being the Happy Market Research podcast today.

 

[47:23]

Thanks, Jamin.