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Kate Zilla-Ba

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TMRE 2020 Takeaways

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, Oct 14, 2020

Post TMRE Oct 2020 Blog Opener

Planning a virtual conference is a job you couldn't pay me enough to do. From what I heard in chatting with this year’s TMRE attendees, sometimes the tech works and sometimes it doesn’t. However, those of us who attended witnessed a great willingness to get the most out of the event and a lot of positive energy. So for sanity’s sake, let’s keep the elephant in the room that is COVID-19 to the side, skip the things we have all heard already, and focus on the most interesting takeaways from this week’s event:

  • What’s Next for Preparedness? Some speakers said you should’ve been prepared for the chaos that is the current  business environment. But most said, “…umm who could have REALLY been prepared for this insanity?!?” For me, the key is how to be prepared for next month and next year. Thankfully, there were lots of tips on what alternative research tools (aka virtual) have been applied successfully and behavioral data was front and center.
  • A Warning for “Agile” Researchers. Talk about being "agile" was everywhere, but in many cases the word was used as a synonym for "fast". While fast can be great, it's not always best. Iterative agility in the traditional sense of the term for research can be amazingly impactful. An iterative approach– develop, measure, change, retest, rinse, repeat– clearly has a role to play in improving the research of tomorrow. But being quick is only as good as being smart. On this note, Abby Finnis, Sr. Director of Portfolio Insights & Analytics at PepsiCo Beverages, made the point of needing to embrace hybrid solutions that bring a variety of sources to bear during her panel session, “How Dunkin’, PepsiCo, and Unilever are Shaping the Future of Research.” To me, that feels more like the best type of agile.
  • How to have a seat at the table. This classic question was reframed a bit for 2020 as how to bring together disparate business users and uses of research to maximize the utility of insights and ensure successful socialization and implementation. Sure, some of this was looking for ways to ensure insights can be efficiently developed once, and be used in a variety of settings and applications. But more importantly, TMRE addressed how we can be more consultative. For some, being more consultative meant forgoing a degree of certainty, which is not necessarily a comfortable space for a researcher, but in the end we must “elevate” the most relevant themes to each stakeholder in order to make an impact, and to have a seat at the table.

These themes were particularly relevant in my colleague Lori Vellucci’s presentation “Wealth of a Generation | Get Inside the Minds of Young Investors,” which explored investors under 40. Her research on young investors, which leveraged our BrandFxSM approach, is a strong example of how brands can understand a diverse and important demographic, based on four pillars of human motivation: functional, emotional, social, and identity. Research like this can help people across disparate organizational silos create roadmaps for change – there’s a way to get your seat at the table; measuring in a focused ongoing way allows brands to keep insights relevant and quick-turn – that’s a way to be responsive to the oft-sought agility; and in a rapidly changing environment where being prepared means predicting right, understanding human motivation sets brands up for future success by, to quote one presenter at TMRE “building resiliency into business strategy.”

Kate Zilla-BaKate Zilla-Ba, Account Director

Don't forget to immerse yourself in our latest financial services research: Get Inside the Mind of the Young Investor. And stayed tuned for more of our findings—experiential and beyond.
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Topics: strategy consulting, financial services research, conference recap, Market research, agile research, COVID-19, financial services

Maximizing Segmentation Impact with Smart Trade-offs

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Thu, Jul 11, 2019


Every day we help our clients solve for as many needs possible while staying laser-focused on business objectives and decisions. It can be a tricky balance, but there is no better time to be in research—mobile stitching, AI, agile qual, etc.—are helping us extract more value in less time. So, with all that is available to us, why do we believe it’s so critically important to focus on best and highest uses?

The ability to make smart trade-offs is critically important in segmentation initiatives. The investment of time, money and resources mean stakes are often especially high. Here are a few recent examples of how we’ve helped our clients make appropriate trade-offs to get to a solution that maximizes impact.

What works:

  1. We can’t say it enough: communicate early and often. Our lift-off workshops spend a good deal of time surfacing stakeholder input that may indicate potential disagreement about the use of the insights and decisions that must be made. Often, once the different needs, wants, use(r)s are brought into the light, stakeholders can see and reconcile themselves to a greater good.
  2. “We know we need this segmentation, and we want it to be ‘actionable’ but our business handles customer type A through one department and customer type B through another, can we segment after splitting on this?” Yes, of course. But recognize you may be trading off tactical implement-ability against an incisive view that could change the way you approach customers—including not treating them in these silos. In other words, it may be fine, but let’s try to think through all the downstream implications and make the most informed decision.
  3. “We want to be able to track people by segment in our database.” Of course you do! We need to build in the elements that will create those linkages. Customer databases typically do not have some of the types of data we would include in a comprehensive segmentation—attitudinal and even behavioral can be quite sparse. We often find ourselves helping businesses determine what is critical now vs. what can be done in stages, later. Creating a smart segmentation that can be used immediately for marketing but will need more work to develop an implementation plan for back tagging your database for the longer term is something we address often.

And what doesn’t:

  1. Looking through only one lens. True or false: running a demographics only model because that is the only way the business believes they can find the people later. False! We often need to work in some demographics, but more often they will lead you down an overly simplistic (and non-strategic) path.
  2. Underestimating how much time is needed to socialize the segments. We have been a part of some amazing socializations in our day. Keep the engagement and excitement building through a multi-faceted, communications plan that begins at project inception and continues well past the release of the new segments. Have a release party, where people can “type” themselves and see, feel, hear, what it is to be the segment. In one of my favorites, posters were placed around the halls, updated over time to go from fuzzy to sharp images—to show how the business was gaining clarity on who its targets were but also just to build excitement through basic human curiosity. A common thread for successful socialization is to keep conversations going, planting seeds, and listening for pockets of resistance, so that when the full release is ready it has allies, and has lowered the risk of unexpected roadblocks. This is sometimes a hidden investment of time that researchers don’t adequately factor in.
  3. Overestimating accuracy. We will often find a desirable solution that resonates and feels actionable and sensible, but then in implementation, panic! Some of those typing into segments don’t feel exactly right. It’s important to deeply consider how a learning segmentation that has firm roots and a clear strategic vision, may need to be fine-tuned to become fully incorporated into business practices.

Smart trade-offs take careful planning, communication, and partnership. Taking the time to focus will make all the difference! Let us know your thorny trade-off challenges!

Kate is a CMB Account Director.

What's driving and deterring consumer adoption of Autonomous Vehicles? Listen to what people are saying and download the ebook here.



Topics: market strategy and segmentation

Why We Still Use Facebook Despite Privacy Concerns

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, May 23, 2018

facebook (cropped)

The kids are on Insta and Snapchat, and even as those are a bit dated at this point, the question for Facebook seems to be how to stay relevant. But recent revelations about how Facebook had been using customer data have led to less of a backlash than might be expected. Why?


We humans tend to normalize things. What was scandalous the first time it came around, is less so over time, until we just expect it.

Why are we so complacent about Facebook? Well, for starters, we live on it. How many posts are things the poster could google, but instead, feels the need to ask the town group—when is the next trash pickup, or how do they get rid of the dead squirrel in front of their house, or… the list goes on. Facebook has become part of nearly 1.5 billion peoples’ daily lives around the world, suggesting most people have become okay (complacent) about how social media might be collecting, sharing and using our information.

And this shouldn’t be that surprising. Back in 2010 (and likely earlier) Mark Zuckerberg was clear that he felt privacy was no longer a social norm, saying, “People have gotten really comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.”

We’ve come to expect less and less privacy, which is directly associated with the continued growth of Facebook usage—despite what happened with Cambridge Analytica.

We still care about privacy. Just not as much. Maybe if what happened with Cambridge Analytica felt individually targeted and less of a mass invasion of privacy, we’d care more. But it happened to a lot us, so what’s a user to do? Keep posting and sharing seems to be the net answer. Probably even in the EU, where strong consumer concerns about privacy has the EU setting standards for the world with GDPR.

Understanding consumers' psychology, such as Facebook users, is core to market research. What are they seeking to achieve? How do they express that in attitudes and actions? What barriers exist and what catalysts motivate them?

In addition to the normalization of information-sharing, users continue to use Facebook because of the functional, emotional, and identity benefits the brand provides. Facebook is a space where users can feel connected to other people (social identity), can find and share content that animates them (emotion) and is a convenient tool for things like selling your couch or getting recommendations for a reliable plumber (functional). Facebook has done an incredible job providing the right balance of these three benefits, which we know are key drivers of customer loyalty and advocacy.

Knowing all we know, we still use Facebook. We’ve normalized making public details about our lives we would’ve considered “private” 10 years ago—and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. For most of us, the benefits Facebook provides outweigh privacy concerns.

Will you share this when I post it? Like it? Love it? (No sad faces please!)

Kate is a FB user who loves to keep up with old friends and family but rarely posts. Her research background helps keep her eyes wide open (or so she thinks), to the privacy she has given away.

Topics: big data, consumer insights, social media, consumer psychology, data privacy

Sponsorship Advertising: Odd Couples That May Succeed

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, May 28, 2014

advertising sponsorships

We are constantly talking with companies about how their positive and desired brand messages—from all possible sources—need to match up with the experience their customers have when interacting with them.  Our approach to brand tracking is based on the premise that movement along the customer journey is driven by customers’ perceptions and is informed by what is promised as well as what is delivered. However, some experiences are obviously more in the control of the company than others. And one place where a company can really have impact is via sponsorships in advertising—and some of these partnerships aren’t always as straightforward as beer and football.We’ve all seen unusual pairings.  One recent example is Meb Keflezighi, the 2014 men’s Boston Marathon winner, who is now sponsored by Skechers.  This has drawn some attention as Skechers has not historically been a brand associated with running—much less elite running.  In fact, some might associate Skechers as more of a soccer mom brand. (Remember those rocking walking shoes from a few years back?)  But this new partnership certainly has the makings of a game changer for their “GoRun” line now that Keflezighi has catapulted them onto this new scene.

Here’s another seemingly odd-ball combination that is hitting the stage this summer.  The Colorado Symphony has a three show concert series coming up sponsored by the cannabis industry (which was recently made legal there for recreational use).  They already have numerous concerts that look to be targeting a younger demographic, such as a Harry Potter themed concert and their “Beethoven and Brews” series. This new concert series called “Classically Cannabis” appears to be just another attempt to draw in a new audience while keeping their art alive and kicking (not to mention that the cannabis industry has increasingly deep pockets).  It has certainly drawn media attention, and their online explanations via an FAQ are thoughtfully done, regardless of your stance on this issue. 

But what does this new series do to the Colorado Symphony as a brand as it currently exists? Presumably, they have researched whether or not this will cause damage to their brand image by alienating loyal customers, and moreover, whether this will in fact be appreciated by those loyal listeners as well as expand their existing audience with new listeners. 

Let’s shift to the world of high fashion. Fashion Week has both some expected and perhaps unusual sponsors.   Mercedes—check.  Office Max—huh?  Apparently, the latter had some “fashionable office supplies” to put out on the runway.  According to reports of those who work with Fashion Week sponsors, those brands do need to have a relevant story to tell, which in this case may well be true.   Understanding the impact or ROI of an ad sponsorship can be tricky, but should always happen and be taken into consideration.

There’s also outer space—the final frontier.  We’ve probably all seen or heard about the private rocket companies (e.g., SpaceX) that are building and sending people or satellites up into the nether sphere.  But one of the most outlandish companies may be Mars One, a non-profit company with plans to “establish a permanent human settlement on Mars.”  This venture is to be funded through crowd-sourcing, TV rights, and sponsorships. 

The plan is to launch teams of four on a one-way ticket to a pre-established mission, which will begin to be set up in the next few years with the first manned launch currently planned for 2024.  So we could see Pepsi on Mars, although most sponsors thus far are technology firms.  Taking the hypothetical (at the moment) notion of cola on Mars:  what does that potentially do for the brand sponsor?  Perhaps it could be a way to reinvigorate their brand with a sense of adventure or a way to evoke emotions of excitement.  

How about Mars candy on Mars?  Of course, I am not the first to make this connection.  Though I strongly suspect that the rockets sent out on that journey will be stocked up with water and nutrient-rich supplies instead of candy bars—or so I hope for those brave enough (some may say stupid enough—but they probably said the same of Columbus or his fellow “explorers” once upon a time) to sign up.  Apparently, there have been many to volunteer—upwards of 200k of which 700 or so are still in the running. 

It will be fascinating to see what unexpected brands might sponsor Mars One over time.  However, once arrived on the red planet, there’s no guarantee that the participants will keep the cameras on and the sponsored items in view.  Now there’s a risky proposition. 

Maybe Mars One could look to the example of the Colorado Symphony if they really wanted something unusual.   And, if they want CMB to measure the degree to which that is compatible with their overall strategy and goals—BEAM ME UP!  

Kate is a Project Director, working with clients across many industries at CMB. She has been known to perform in local musical theater here and there, speaks three languages well and a few others passably, and would never sign up for a Mars mission. 

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Topics: advertising, marketing strategy, brand health and positioning

Customer Experience Time Machine—Back to the 50's

Posted by Kate Zilla-Ba

Wed, Dec 18, 2013

Last year, when Gizmodo released a copy of Apple’s Genius Bar training manual, there was much talk that the company was educating Geniuses to engage in a type of psychological manipulation. Why were so many people distressed by these sales and marketing techniques? Using these techniques to “frame” the customer experience is hardly a new concept. Maybe it was because Apple’s product and service offerings are so strong and so beloved, some people forgot that the Apple Store is just that, a store, where things are bought and sold. 

This led me to wonder about how such training approaches have changed over the years –after all we’re so much more highly evolved nowadays, right? Ha! Enter the 1950 Packard Service Management Training Manual. Obvious cultural tags of the times aside (“That’s a swell idea.”), there’s almost nothing Apple purportedly tells Geniuses to do that Packard didn’t tell its employees 60+ years ago!

Take this line: “Although the merchandise and services we have to offer consists of: parts, accessories, lubrication and service labor, they are not the items the owner is buying. The owner wants to buy results. So, let’s sell him results such as: economy, safety, performance, comfort, convenience, and pride of ownership.”

Translated to a modern day perspective with a swap of only a few words:  “Although the merchandise and services we have to offer consist of: [smartphones, MP3 players], accessories, and service, they are not the items the owner is buying. The owner wants to buy results. So, let’s sell [her] results such as: performance, convenience, and pride of ownership.” This could be Apple, or many other consumer-oriented service companies.

A hilarious 1950-style exchange…

Packard Manual

This brings me full circle to 2013 and Amazon’s Vine reviewer program—a program which provides an elite group of customers products to review, and often to keep.  The program has drawn a bit of attention lately, including a recent NPR piece. Some commenters are ambivalent, and a good number take a strong position that this is manipulative or biased (even if they sometimes sound envious), and a few defend it. In 1950, Packard reps were told to focus on their town doctors, and the logic holds up—doctors needed their cars to make house calls, they were highly respected community members and, guess what, they were the ones with money to buy new Packards! Was this strategic or manipulative? Or did it just feed off of basic human nature, for better or worse?

Speaking of worse, one thing that has changed across the decades is that individual sales and marketers aren’t allowed to take responsibility for, or acknowledge mistakes directly. As a Packard rep in 1950 you were encouraged to take responsibility for errors, omissions, or other flaws by directly addressing them with the customer. Nowadays legal compliance departments appear to have outlawed use of any terms that imply responsibility. 

So what’s a marketer to do? How to be honest while simultaneously “framing” your product/service strategically? Well, it helps to start with a solid offering (yes, I am a fan of Apple). If your product doesn’t meet the basic promises, don’t expect to build success on that with brilliant service—it won’t ring true. Measure the connection of what you promise and what customers perceive so that you can focus on what matters.

We help clients do this every day with customer studies—call them voice of the customer, customer experience, customer satisfaction, even call them customer journey mapping or NPS. Our focus is on providing the insights from customers that will answer business questions like:  What motivates customers to advocate our brand/product and how can we drive more of it? Or, Where are customers getting “stuck” in their “journey” with us and how do we remove barriers to repeat purchase?

But sadly, none of this work is of much use other than for a self-satisfied pat on the back if employees are telling customers to give a high score, instead of just earning it and allowing the process to work to get the real feedback for change. I cringe when staff say things like, “You will be getting a survey and we must get all 10s or I will (fill in the blank: be fired, lose a bonus, etc.).” They are seriously undermining the premise that this research is being done to learn what to improve and make better customer experiences. And even if I loved the service, I will then often not want to complete the survey.

To that end, kudos to Jiffy Lube, for whom I recently took a post-service satisfaction study where they explicitly asked if their rep had told me to give a good score. Probably as a research geek I noticed this in a way that the average person would not. Nevertheless, it was refreshing! It allowed me to give true customer feedback and feel confident the company really wanted to know what I thought, not just check a box, so they could make it better for the next person.  Satisfying as a customer and as a researcher.

Topics: marketing strategy, brand health and positioning, customer experience and loyalty