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5 Questions with Qualitative Moderator Eileen Sullivan

Posted by Savannah House

Wed, May 16, 2018

Meet Eileen_new_cropped

I recently sat down with Eileen Sullivan, CMB's newest Qualitative Moderator, to learn more about her experience, perspective on storytelling, and what she's most excited about in the world of qual.

SH: Tell me a little bit about your experience, what drew you to qualitative research?

ES: It wasn’t until my junior year of undergrad, when I studied abroad in Vietnam, that I discovered anthropology. The study of culture–and all the implicit and explicit ways it shapes human experience–was a perspective that immediately resonated with me. After school, I worked for some years as a buyer in the retail space, but ultimately returned to pursue my MA in medical anthropology, researching health outcomes associated with marketing “beauty” to women. A career in consumer insights became a natural extension of those interests. I feel quite lucky to spend my time digging into this dynamic space where psychology and culture meet to shape the way we live, how we think, and what we buy. Before I came to CMB, I was with LRW and later Basis LA, working with clients such as Chase, Estée Lauder, Facebook, Hulu, LEGO, and Whirlpool, among others.

SH: What qual tools and methods are you excited about right now?

ES: While qualitative has always been iterative to a degree–the ability to throw out a guide or revamp stimuli on the fly–we’re now making great strides to scope research that is agile from the outset. It’s exciting to execute studies that put consumer feedback at the center of research design–first identifying the problem and its root cause, and then hypothesizing solutions. Within this framework, there are some great digital tools that enable researchers to look over a consumer’s shoulder, fascinating AI tools that offer the potential for scalable qual, and innovative forms of “traditional” qualitative as well, like agile co-creation and ideation sessions. There’s been a lot of focus in our industry on “breaking down the glass” – putting clients face-to-face with their consumers. It’s critical for not only engaging our research clients, but their internal stakeholders as well. The reality is that great research is useless if no one uses it, but I think an agile research framework makes the process more inclusive and collaborative, and ultimately delivers greater benefit to both client and consumer.

SH: From your perspective, what makes a successful moderator?

ES: Moderators have different styles and traits that make them great, but for me, the two most important characteristics are a willingness and openness to connect, and an unquenchable thirst to know. “Respondents” are more than the sum of their responses–they are people, having good days and bad, but still showing up to give their time and thoughts. It’s very important to me to hold some space, to recognize and appreciate each participant before we even get in front of the glass. And as for curiosity, well, you stop living when you stop learning. Striving for deeper understanding, and asking questions – to me, that’s what it’s all about!

SH: How critical is storytelling?

ES: Humans are “storytelling animals.” Narrative shapes how we perceive and make sense of our world: from our macro worldview, to the personal brand stories we share, to the little stories we tell ourselves. As a moderator, it’s important to dig into participants’ stories – to unpack them and sometimes question them because insights don’t always neatly come through in answers to questions. If you think of all the ways communication extends beyond language (i.e., emphasis, volume, body language, pause), you realize the “story” is usually much broader than just what’s said. And storytelling is every bit as critical on the backend. For research to have meaning within an organization, it must find an audience – and that audience must care. Has anyone ever cared about a book or a movie, when the story just wasn’t that good? I think that’s an important responsibility that we researchers have – to bring our findings to life, to transform our participants’ needs and wants, pain points and delights, from data points to narratives. We must deliver insights that captivate our clients’ audience, with actionable recommendations to drive impact for their business.

SH: What resources help you stay connected to the latest industry thinking?

Information and inspiration can come from a lot of different sources. For instance, a friend turned me onto design thinking. I just finished Change by Design, and Sprint is next up on the recommended reading list she shared. I’m always tracking what’s going on in my professional network, and try to stay abreast of Quirk’s periodicals as well as Greenbook’s announcements/blog. WIRe and QRCA also sponsor some great events.

Topics: our people, qualitative research, storytelling, agile research

Agile Innovation Begins and Ends with the Customer

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, May 01, 2018

collaborating-2

It’s a daunting reality for today’s executives: consumers can provide feedback with the tap of a finger. Just ask United Airlines about the havoc social media can wreak. On the flip side, this empowerment is also a tremendous opportunity for innovators.

I believe we’re lucky to be innovating at a time when it’s so easy for customers to give us their ideas and feedback. Collaborating with customers at the front end of innovation is critical to building truly customer-centric products and services, making the most of your innovation dollars, and mitigating the risk of a public backlash or loss of brand trust and equity.

What starts at the front end can move through an agile process of ideation and development, one that integrates the customer through roll-out, communications, measurement and optimization.

At CMB, we help clients innovate through a Design Thinking framework—including the customer in all phases: Empathize/Define/Ideate/Prototype/Test. As Jeff Immelt, former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, urged the crowd of engineers and designers at last week’s Front End of Innovation Conference (FEI), it’s critical to “accelerate customers through the business model”.

As CMB’s VP of Strategy + Innovation, it was gratifying to hear that at FEI, “customer” wasn’t just a buzzword. In fact, there was an entire track devoted to “Customer Driven Innovation.”  In another keynote address, Dr. Peter Koen of the Stevens Institute of Technology, lectured on the incremental innovation that often comes from internal-only ideation—disruptive innovation comes from users, not corporations.” Consistent with that, manufacturing giant 3M has found its user-generated products are eight times more profitable than products generated internally.

Here’s how we incorporate Agile and Design Thinking to include customers at every phase:

  • Empathize: As you obsess your target, research and share all you know about them.
  • Define: A clear understanding of your target and their needs will help to inform a clear definition of the problem that needs solving. It answers, “What are the ‘jobs to be done’?” At least three presentations at FEI quoted Albert Einstein: If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”
  • Ideate: You might not find inspiration inside the halls of your office. Instead, we take you and your customers into a creative space for an engaging and collaborative workshop that utilizes System I and System II thinking. We diverge and converge to elicit dozens of new ideas, then narrow the list and envision the path forward.
  • Prototype: This begins during the ideation workshops. We use an illustrator at your workshop who can visually record the day’s conversation and progress—sketching the ideas that teams have brainstormed.
  • Test: Test qualitatively as you build out ideas with customers. Then, test quantitatively as you move towards commercialization.

Some organizations are more open to the principles of Design Thinking than others. So how can you prepare your organization for this? Encourage an environment grounded in collaboration, where failure is expected (not just accepted) and humility is rewarded. Design Thinking is more than a process—it’s a mindset.

Contact us to learn how to tackle innovation with your customers.

Kathy Ofsthun is the VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation for CMB. Her favorite vacation destination is Cambodia and her favorite class is Philosophy.

 

Topics: qualitative research, growth and innovation, agile research

Telling Your Insights Story: Reflections from a 2018 Qually Award Finalist

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Apr 04, 2018

Earlier this year, I ditched snowy Boston for the Qualitative Research Consultants Annual Conference in sunny Phoenix. I’d been to the conference before, but this year was particularly special because I was a 2018 Qually Award Finalist—a competition that challenges researchers to demonstrate a creative approach to problem solving.

In the competition, we were asked to respond to a client RFP. The three finalists then were invited to present our proposals to a live audience at the conference. While I didn’t win the competition, it was an incredible opportunity to challenge myself to think creatively about how we can approach qualitative research.

Since working in the industry, I’ve learned that storytelling—finding and communicating the story from the data—is one of the most important skills a researcher can have. It’s our job to dig into the data and create a compelling narrative so that our clients have relatable and actionable insights.

I wanted to incorporate storytelling into my proposal in an unconventional way. So rather than looking at how other researchers tell stories, I looked outward—how are people telling and consuming stories in everyday life?

One of the most powerful and culturally-relevant ways stories are shared today is through podcasts. I listen to them every day on my way to work, so I thought, “Why not create an insights podcast?”

I proposed taking the audio gathered from in-person interviews, ethnographies, shop-a-longs, etc., and piecing them together into a podcast. It’s a simple yet powerful way to tell an insights story.

Too often our minds default to a PowerPoint presentation when we talk about storytelling. But as you’ll see in the video below, inspiration for storytelling can come from anywhere:

Kelsey Segaloff is a Senior Qualitative Associate Researcher at CMB and an avid consumer of true crime and Bachelor-themed podcasts.

 

Topics: qualitative research, storytelling, conference recap

Qualitative Research: Thinking Outside the Box(ing) Ring

Posted by Kelsey Segaloff

Wed, Aug 02, 2017

My friends and family greeted the news that I was joining a boxing gym with more than a little disbelief. Granted I am an imposing 5 feet tall and have a reputation for tripping over my own feet, so maybe they had a point. But four months and two pairs of gloves later, I’m not only fitter and stronger, I’ve learned some essential truths about boxing that I can apply to my professional life as a qualitative researcher. 

 kelsey boxing.jpg

Don’t forget the “Why”

Boxing is a commitment—physically, financially, and mentally—and it’s tempting to hit the snooze button when I don’t want to get out of bed for an early morning class. Oftentimes, I must remind myself why I keep up with it. To help motivate members, there’s a large chalkboard titled, “Why I Fight” filled with trainers’ and members’ “whys” in the front of the gym.  It’s the first thing you see when you walk in and serves as motivation to both me and fellow boxers.

Focusing on the decisions or the “why” is critical for researchers. Before kicking off a project, we work hard to fully understand our clients’ business needs and the decisions they need to make—this focus keeps us on track for everything from designing a study and choosing a methodology, all the way to the final deliverables and implementation. It’s also important to consider our participants’ “why”—that’s the reason we often use tools like projective techniques in qualitative research to dive deep into participants’ thoughts and uncover their beliefs, motivations, feelings, etc.—the old one-two punch, as some might say.

#FightFam

One of my favorite things about my gym is the sense of community it provides. My #fightfam challenges me to put my all into every class, whether it be Gennifer reassuring me I’m “crushing it,” or Roscoe in the bags room reminding the class we are winners (“And what do winners do? THEY WIN!”). While I feel a personal sense of accomplishment after every class I finish, I also feel a shared sense of pride with my fellow classmates and trainers—and that’s important.

A knockout team is also the foundation for greatness in qualitative research. At CMB, our all-star roster, VP of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation, Kathy Ofsthun, Qualitative Research Director, Anne Hooper, Qualitative Project Manager, Erin Stilphen, and I work together and encourage one another to perform at our highest capacity. We bring inventive and innovative qualitative methodologies like co-creation, and over 40 years of combined qualitative experience to the ring. We’re also adept to thinking on our toes—ask me about the time I recruited for a study in a Canadian train station! And when we need to tap other teammates, we’ve got specialized qualitative research consultants in our corner.

Master Technique, Prepare to Improvise

Boxing is known as the sweet science (the nickname is an appreciation of the technical skills required—strength, endurance, conditioning, core, and flexibility), but it’s just as much an art, requiring improvisation and creativity.

The same goes for qualitative research. We’re masters of improv, but good technique is integral. Recently, I was thrown through a loop while moderating an in-home ethnography for our self-funded research on Millennial and Gen Z use of virtual assistants (think Siri, Cortana, etc.).  Shortly into one of the interviews, it turned out the participant belonged in a different segment than what my guide had indicated. Instead of stopping the interview, I used my improvisation skills and reframed the questions without interrupting the flow of the conversation. Going a little off script helped us gather the insights we needed.

I love that I’ve discovered a sport and gym I am passionate about, and I’m even more thrilled I can draw meaningful parallels between boxing and my profession. Of course, there are times when my muscles ache, my wrists hurt, and I’m tired, but then I remind myself why I keep going. I box because it makes me stronger, faster, and confident—and that these attributes help me be a better qualitative researcher is a bonus!

kelsey boxing 2.jpg

Kelsey Segaloff is CMB’s Qualitative Associate Researcher, and can be found working on her jab-cross at EverybodyFights Boston.

 

Topics: our people, qualitative research, Consumer Pulse, co-creation

Breakthrough Innovation with Co-Creation

Posted by Kathy Ofsthun

Tue, Jun 06, 2017

creative mind-2.jpg

Innovative companies have long recognized that failure can be an important step on the way to success. Brands are told to “quicken the pace of innovation”, “try new things” and “don’t be afraid to fail”. But these days there’s little room for failure: the stakes are high and there’s more pressure than ever for brands to innovate. Customers have spoken and it’s time for brands to listen—to be customer-centric.

So how can brands challenge themselves to innovate and to try new things without wasting time and money?

Co-creation can help you innovate and sometimes, fail faster. This innovative approach is based on principles of Improvisation and System 1 / System 2 thinking and brings brands and customers together to ideate and build out promising new ideas, products, and services. Co-creation inserts customers directly into the conversation—not through a survey or by listening from behind the glass, but by working right next to you. Our approach lets you collaborate with your customers to decide what the issues are, where the pain points occur, where joy happens and where the opportunities lie. Then together you build that future.

Technological advances, including social media, 24/7 news, online reviews and the resulting rapid word-of-mouth, have put customers in the driver seat. It’s no longer brands talking to customers, rather, it’s a two-way conversation. Brands need to listen intently, be accessible and available, and authentically work with their consumers, instead of working in isolation, creating products and services that often don’t address customers’ needs, or messaging that misses the mark.

Co-creation eliminates the guessing game in an energetic and productive day or ½ day workshop. Facilitated by an expert moderator, a group of cross-functional stakeholders together with customers, collaborate at an offsite, creative space. Pre-work is assigned to upskill and orient participants to the topic. Using divergent and convergent methods, in plenary, small group and individual exercises, you jointly explore the relevant topic, ideate scores of new ideas and begin to build out the future, together. 

At CMB, our Innovation team has successfully led co-creation sessions for large CPG brands, insurance clients, academic institutions, hospitality execs and more.  We have explored food, beverages, loyalty, apparel, deductibles and education with Gen Z, Millennials, Moms, sneaker heads, professors, underwriters, patients, and probably your customer. 

Want to see co-creation in action? Check out this recent video of a workshop we facilitated in NYC for a global leader in hospitality.

Kathy Ofsthun is the Vice President of Qualitative Strategy + Innovation.  She is a facilitator and RIVA trained moderator and has co-created with clients and their customers in the Hospitality, CPG, Insurance and Academic industries.  Her Twitter handle is @ShopperMRX as Kathy loves to shop, hoarding shoes from heels to hiking boots.

 

Topics: product development, qualitative research, growth and innovation, co-creation