Editor’s note: In conjunction with his BOSS Academy Radio podcast, Paul Kirch, CEO of Actus Sales Intelligence, a Fort Worth, Texas, business and sales consulting agency, is interviewing authors, marketers and marketing researchers on a wide range of topics. By special arrangement, we’ll periodically feature edited recaps in the e-newsletter including portions of the conversations that touch on research-related topics.

From the popularization of eye-tracking studies to the boom of big data, DIY and social monitoring, the traditional market research industry is being disrupted. While many researchers are embracing the changes, others are resisting the new information sources and research techniques, isolating the field into separate specialties and reducing the positive impact on both the industry and the end user. An industry-wide shift is necessary, according to Joan Lewis, a market research consultant and former Procter & Gamble senior vice president and officer of global consumer and market knowledge. Researchers have the challenge of accepting new ways of learning while ensuring quality data is being gathered when drawing from a new variety of fields.

Lewis, a veteran to MR’s fast-changing trends, spoke to Paul Kirch in an interview for BOSS Academy Radio and discussed how her previous roles at P&G and years in the market research industry have motivated her focus on driving innovation and transforming the way companies look at the industry.

Paul Kirch: You spent 27 years at Procter & Gamble and served in various roles. How have you leveraged that background experience since leaving P&G?

Joan Lewis: Market research at P&G is a very fortunate place to be because of the very broadly-designed stretch of the industry. The market research industry is something that is changing fast and probably needs to change faster and P&G always had the ability to be pretty much on or near the leading edge of some of the emerging trends in market research.

Your focus is around using research to really drive innovation and working with companies that you feel are very innovative. What do you think is really driving that resistance to change?

I think it’s a couple of things. Anytime there’s an industry in disruption, there’s a feeling of resistance because it is hard to know when [you’ve reached] the tipping point to move on to new ways of doing things. I think we’re past the tipping point. Now, the challenge for us is to weave all those things together into a more integrated field instead of a bunch of separate specialties.

I think the other resistance comes from a real – and I think well-founded – fear that there’s so much new going on that maybe it’s not all very good. Researchers throughout the history of the industry really wanted to be giving good guidance, revealing consumer truth [and] providing business input that’s grounded in consumers in a way that is reliable and valid for the business. The ways that we used to do that really related to a lot of research rigor, statistical rigor and sample design rigor. Those ways have changed. What is valid today when you’re analyzing social media? What is representative when you have millions and millions of households but they only represent one retailer?

What other forms of innovation are you seeing or identifying that are exciting to you and you see as a good direction for this industry?

I think there are three or four big pillars that are reshaping the industry as we speak. Some of them are seen as more mainstream than others but if you could step forward five or 10 years, I think all of them will be enormous pillars or characteristics of how we think about learning about consumers.

One of them is empowering many people, not just people who call themselves researchers, to be more in touch with their own personal understanding of their consumer base. The most basic thing that a lot of people surprisingly are not necessarily doing is [going] online and reading the reviews of your product, using pivotal analytics and free analytics on Facebook Insights.

Everybody has something to contribute and everybody has an obligation to be in touch with these information sources that are literally at our fingertips … and to not look at market research, every bit of it, as an isolated field that needs to be delivered to someone else. That I think should be a foundational mind-set shift for the commercial parts of the business in general.

Where do you see the industry going from an innovation standpoint? What about specifically cognitive research like eye-tracking?

I think biometric research is going to add a lot to our business insight and our consumer insight but to be very noninvasive, the sorts of things like EKG and pulse rate. I think [the tools] are offering a lot of insights that are helping us identify when the research may have missed something or illuminating something that was unclear in more traditional research.

I’m a big fan of incorporating some aspects of biometric research into lots of ways that we learn. I’ve spent a lot of time telling people with my last job and in the industry to be method-agnostic. I think that [biometric research methods] are interesting and they’re going to grow and they’re going to bring us some insights we didn’t have before.

The larger picture of [asking], how many decisions people make? How rational can they really be? What are we guiding our brands to do so that we make it easy for people to find a brand? Maybe we should stop changing the packages every two years. There are fundamental business insights in there that are so much more important than any single methodology implication. I think when we see ourselves as consumer experts instead of research experts we will be faster to move on those big-picture implications that are so much more important to the businesses we serve than which method we use to answer certain questions.

Do you have any perspective on how research can play a part in helping companies identify ways to create more loyalty?

On the consumer brand loyalty, I may have a different view than a lot of other people in the industry. There isn’t unreasonable loyalty in consumer goods or even cars or other kinds of things because there’s so many variables that come into play in any given purchase experience. Price is always going to matter, availability will matter.

Quality products that bring people back [are] extremely important. When we think, “I need to go build loyalty,” we end up talking with a smaller and smaller group of consumers.
If we’re looking at always bringing new people into the brand and keeping them satisfied, we’ll foster both larger consumer bases and people who are likely to buy more often. I know that that is different from a lot of other people’s point of view [regarding] lifetime business contribution and that we should be retaining the very best consumers. I would just say that most of the data would indicate that most people switch and the majority of your brand volume comes from a lot of people who buy other brands too.

You can listen to the entire interview at www.bossacademy.com.