Q&A with a corporate researcher

Editor's note: If you're an end-client researcher and interested in participating in a Q&A with Quirk's, please e-mail me at emilyk@quirks.com.

What led you to a career in research and insights? 

I’ve jumped back and forth between product development and consumer research in different industries, including fragrance, candles, adhesives, insulation, baby products and now peanut butter and jelly with The J.M. Smucker Co. With my previous company, I began using consumer research techniques, like CLT’s and bulletin boards, to answer questions in R&D. We answered very tactical questions like, “Does it matter to contractors if it’s easier to tear this tape?” and “How often are they teeth-tearing versus hand-tearing?” and evaluated some new product prototypes with general contractors who are discriminating about the tapes they buy. I also took my R&D team into homes to talk to and observe consumers firsthand. At the time, it felt unique to be using consumer research methods so deeply in R&D, and it was a bit eye-opening for my R&D partners to participate in primary research like this.  

I’ve now learned that this is truly a discipline! Targeted consumer research teams are often embedded in R&D at consumer product companies, including Smucker. My team specializes in research to inform product development and manufacturing, linking consumer experience to ways we measure different attributes, both physical and sensory properties. Most people know consumer research through more of a marketing and advertising lens, but it’s also very useful deep in product development to continue keeping the consumer at the forefront of every decision.

Do you have any tips for researchers looking to remove information or data silos within their company? 

Smucker has communities of practice (CoP) to help drive knowledge sharing across our different business units. We typically meet formally once a quarter, but we have an active virtual network for sharing practices, vendors and other information. Typically, I wouldn’t interact with my counterpart in pet food, but with this CoP, I’ve learned about different approaches to research and have even applied a cat food methodology to peanut butter.

What is your favorite part about conducting in-home research? 

I love the true connection – even if only for one hour – that comes with in-home interviewing! I think there’s no better way to understand your products and brands than sitting at a kitchen table and letting your consumer guide the journey. I have had so many “aha” moments come from this, whether through misconceptions of products, alternative uses or just surprising thoughts that expand our thinking. When it’s such a deep interaction, I find that there’s less pruning of their message and we get to hear more authentic feedback than in a focus group or virtual interview. I’ve really missed this type of interaction and look forward to returning to kitchen table interviews soon!