Conversations with corporate researchers

Chris Jesurun  

Manager, Consumer and Brand Insights, Potbelly Sandwich Shop

You started your career with Potbelly as a sandwich maker. In what ways has this starting point impacted your current role as manager of consumer and brand insights?

Having worked as a sandwich maker has provided invaluable insight into our customers. I’ve met so many types of customers and I’ve seen their unique behaviors and need-states firsthand. It’s an exceptional source of context that I apply when writing survey questions, understanding qualitative feedback and interpreting consumer data. 

What tips do you have for client-side marketing researchers looking to incorporate informal focus groups in the product development process?  

Recruiting is often the biggest challenge so we recruit a panel of participants that agree to attend four groups over the course of a year. We always host at Potbelly shops so all of the test products are prepared fresh, just as they would be for customers. Hosting at our shops also allows us to quickly remake products as we get feedback so we can rapidly move through multiple product iterations. 

Talk about a recent win for your team at Potbelly and what you learned from it.    

We’ve recently modeled the relationship between the feedback we receive during product testing and the actual in-market performance of those products. It’s changed our understanding of which consumer ratings are the most important because now we know which are the best predictors of future performance. Prior to this analysis, we could only evaluate potential test products by comparing their ratings to a benchmark average. Now we can use the forecasted results to make those decisions.

What steps do you take to ensure you are effectively communicating research findings to corporate decision makers so the research inspires action?     

Storytelling is key. I used to start all of my decks with an executive summary, which is like starting a story at the end. If you’ve ever had a movie ending spoiled for you, you know that you lose the emotional impact of watching the story unfold. And when you start with the key takeaways, the rest of the deck ends up reading like a defense of your conclusions. But when you start with what you’ve learned and connect it to why it’s important, then the key takeaways become the climax of the story. I now create decks that build what we’ve learned from one slide to the next. When done right, decision makers get invested in the outcome and the decks become page-turners.