In December 2019, the Insights Association (IA) named Melanie Courtright its chief executive officer. Courtright comes to IA from Dynata, where she served as executive vice president, research science and data strategy. She succeeds David Almy, who served the Marketing Research Association as CEO since 2010 and oversaw its merger with CASRO in 2017 to form the Insight Association.

Quirk’s had a chance to connect with Courtright to discuss her vision for the role; the initiatives that IA is working on in 2020 and beyond; the general outlook of the future of marketing research and insights; and data privacy. 

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Describe your vision for your role as CEO of the Insights Association.

I love this industry; it's been incredibly kind to me. My career has spanned every function in market research, from agency and supplier all the way to brands. A big part of what shaped how I’ve approached my career – a focus on quality and integrity – has been embodied by this association and the organizations that merged to form it. So, this role brings it all together for me. I see this as an opportunity to give back. It’s really a blessing.

One of the first things I’m doing – as any good researcher would – is a listening tour. I'm spending a lot of time with members, non-members and board members – conducting 40 to 50 in-depth interviews with people all over the industry to make sure that the Insights Association understands the needs of members and non-members, what we can do to bring them into the family and how we can best help them achieve success. 

What I'm hearing so far is that IA must remain modern and that our Code of Standards reflect what’s happening in our ever-changing market. We also need to solidify a strong brand and communication plan to let people understand what the Insights Association is doing for the industry. 

My overall objective as CEO is to ensure that our entire organization constantly advances the IA mission, which addresses four main pillars: protection – protecting the industry through standards, advocacy and certification; connection – encouraging peer-to-peer interactions and networking; information – providing best-in-class learning events, publications, news and training opportunities; and promotion – promoting the industry and its members to enable growth and evolution.

Could you share some of the major programs or initiatives that IA is working on?

data image - people on coding The industry's evolving incredibly fast from a data, privacy and quality perspective and the tools and the methods that we use. [IA] will be at the center of that. We will ensure that our Code of Standards reflects what’s going on and that the entire industry has a hand in guiding those changes. We will provide objective education to further learning in these areas. And we're working hard on advocacy and that involves actively lobbying at the federal and state level on many fronts to support the work of our membership.  

Among the top priorities is addressing data privacy. Currently we have a patchwork of state legislation in this area, which is difficult for research companies to stay on top of and manage. IA is a founding member of Privacy for America, a leading consortium that is working at the highest levels to develop a national data privacy law. By having a seat at the table as this legislation is crafted, we are working to ensure that it is as friendly as possible to those working in our industry. 

Beyond that, we're going to work very quickly to reinvent some of our conferences, specifically to enhance the experience at our NEXT conference, June 1-2 in New York. 

We’re rolling out a new certification program – Insights Professional Certification. This will replace the long-standing PRC. We’re working closely with educational organizations in our industry on this.

And we’re very encouraged with the activity at IA’s Certification Institute for Research Quality (CIRQ) subsidiary, which provides audit and certification services for the ISO Market Research/Data Analytics processes (ISO 20252) and Information Security (ISO 27001). Specifically, we’re seeing strong interest in ISO 27001, which is proving very effective in helping companies get a handle on managing their data security.

We’re looking beyond this year as well – we have to – starting to craft our three- and five-year plans. 

For all in the industry, I want you to know that the Insights Association is wedded to staying current, modern and agile, and putting all information back into the hands of our members so they can do better in their business and that we all can be proactive in protecting our industry.

What are some of the major issues or potential problems facing our industry in 2020?

Companies operating in our space need to remain keenly aware of new data streams. This is an issue in terms of data privacy, but also how we evolve our businesses to lead in a new era. Insights needs to prove we add value. Analytics alone won’t provide the insights and strategic action that businesses need. Making sense of the data, connecting the right dots, leveraging our consumer behavior expertise to craft the most effective, impactful messaging and campaigns. 

CMOs have the shortest tenure of any corporate position – many companies are phasing this role out altogether. Companies are merging UX and MR. Analytics is being done across companies in various silos. We need to know where we fit, where we add value – now and as these organizational structures shift and analytics functions broaden and strengthen. Staffing and skills development also will be a challenge. The competition for data scientists is fierce and companies in our space are competing for talent against many other industries. There’s also a demand to infuse soft skills into the mix. We feel IA can help in these areas through our education programs and conferences.

In what ways do you see data privacy regulations changing the industry in the next 10 years?

2020 with ladder to 2030We are hopeful that a national data privacy law will be enacted. This will help with clarity and consistency, however advances in technology and new ways to collect data from individuals will continue and at a more rapid pace. As an industry, we need to be proactive by setting clear guardrails and staying true to our commitment to integrity and a strong ethical compass. This way, no matter how the insights practice evolves, we know we’re doing all we can to ensure that we remain a largely self-regulated industry.  

What are some reasons for optimism within our industry?

Data will continue to drive business decisions, but not raw data alone. This is where the expertise and skills applied by those in insights can really shine and prove instrumental – our knowledge of data sources, marketing and the entire corporate structure, and perhaps most importantly, the consumer and how individuals interact with the world around them. But to secure a place at the forefront, it’s crucial for insights teams to maintain that curiosity and thirst for learning. To remain important partners within corporations, insights must continue to prioritize and invest in the study of human behavior, neuroscience and technologies of all kinds.

How can we interest the next generation in becoming marketing researchers?

Taking every opportunity to showcase just how exhilarating and vital a role that insights can play. How we’re on the front lines of important decisions. We also need to illustrate the wide variety of roles which exist across the field – for introverts and extroverts, for those who love the social sciences, statistics, technology or innovation. It’s also proven to be an excellent pathway into the highest roles in marketing and the C-suite. And there’s a vibrant entrepreneurial spirit here as well. IA has strong ties to many colleges and universities and we’re looking to leverage that to help our industry. Companies will serve themselves well if they look to connect more with collegiate programs and student marketing clubs and be available to them – share with these young students why we love working in the field, explain to them the many opportunities that exist. Spread our passion.