What It Takes to Be a Strategist in Today’s Research Industry

What It Takes to Be a Strategist in Today’s Research Industry

The Strategist Imperative

–By Mark Wirthlin, published in Survey Magazine

Marketing research is an incredible business. Those of us who labor over precise surveys and detailed analytics provide the solid factsthat propel the decisions of corporations, politicians, nonprofits and all kinds of human organizations around the globe.

The research industry also has what might be the smartest collection of thinkers in the world. Our unusual mix of social scientists and math- ematicians can provide a balance between the heart and the head that’s often sorely missing in other disciplines. We have a lot to con- tribute to the health and well-being of humanity in these turbulent times.

…Click here for full article where Mark shares the “Four Cs” that undergird the strategist’s ability to bring insights to life and drive action in the C-suite:


What’s Missing From Most Customer Journey Work?

–By Maury Giles, published in Quirk’s Magazine

We are seeing an explosion of interest in the Customer Journey.  Why? Digital and social media have dramatically changed the path to decision-making.  Old models assumed a compelling message, when repeated, would build awareness, interest, desire and finally action.  Voila! In aisle, the voting booth, the boardroom, they’d choose your brand. It’s not so simple any more. The most compelling message can fall short as a swirl of influencers, channels, and options stand between your customer and the decision you need them to make.

But the old linear models remain.  We hear clients talk about getting customers ‘into’ or ‘through the funnel’ as though decisions still follow a straight line.  How do you resonate within today’s journey dynamics?

Our strategy is to leverage a systems approach.   We know the path is shaped and behaviors influenced by the brand and life systemsin which people make decisions.We unpack these systems to identify the rational and emotional needs they have at key points along the journey. This involves assessing the discrete phases, behaviors, and drivers of the journey in addition to the ecosystem of influences shaping how decisions are made. The resulting Journey Map captures a visual and holistic view of these dynamics to provide a common framework for your planning teams. It also allows us to isolate the role the brand must play to deliver the right solution in the right way at the right moment. Our bottom line: we architect clear imperatives for brand success.


Click here to view the full webinar.

The Prism of Human Decision Making and Liquid Expectations

–By Brian Elkins, published in Quirk’s Magazine

It seems every category is undergoing some form of transformation. It is difficult to distinguish the signal in the noise and impossible to chase every trend. However, within the range of shifts underway, we believe there are universal forces that have implications for every market researcher and brand strategy practitioner. No such force will be as far reaching nor critical to sustained market success as the paradigm of ‘liquid expectations’.

What do we mean by liquid expectations? Consumer experiences and expectations are no longer rooted to legacy, insular category or brand assumptions. Consumers increasingly expect best practices from one interaction to be swiftly adopted across traditionally different contexts.

Take for examples the impact of frictionless consumption: the seamlessness and ease of the Uber experience creates a desire for similarly frictionless experience within the department store. The tailored “next best action” experience of Amazon changes consumer expectations of their cable TV platform and innovations in hospitality drive expectations for health care delivery.

Why is this so important? People are more interconnected than ever—not only with each other, but with the contexts and systems in which they live. People give, take, exchange, and build connections at a rapid pace. The result is increased expectations about how we connect, why we connect, and ultimately what we choose to connect with. Businesses that factor liquid expectations into their market research and strategy development will win big.

Ultimately, we believe the full spectrum of customer experience and brand resonance is best examined through the prism of human decision making and liquid expectation. Therefore, we cross-pollinate research, strategy and category expertise at every turn to bridge insight to activation.


Understanding the Emotions Surrounding Aging – AARP Consumer Aging Confidence Study

There are about 70 million baby boomers and as they retire, they’re changing the way our culture thinks about age and retirement. Never content with the cultural status quo, baby boomers are already challenging the very idea of retirement. They expect to live longer, be more active and continue to go, see, do.

AARP is already ahead of this trend with the publication of the national bestseller, Disrupt Aging, by its CEO Jo Ann Jenkins. They wanted to go further by launching their #DisruptAging initiative. We were asked to help this effort by understanding emotions surrounding the concept of aging and chose Heart+Mind Strategies through a survey exploring attitudes Americans have about age and aging.

The creative study design unearthed a surprising gap between the perceptions of aging among younger adults vs. those 60+. Seemingly paradoxically, the older Americans are, the younger they feel. General levels of satisfaction with life were significantly higher among the 60+ cohort than the younger. Importantly, negative misperceptions held by younger Americans were not borne out by the experiences of older Americans.

These kinds of counter-intuitive findings illustrate the “insights spark” that Heart+Mind Strategies seeks in every study we do. They help support and drive effective decision-making right up to the C-Suite.

This fascinating report is available on AARP’s website here.

For Eye-Popping, Mind Blowing (Rigorous) Insights…

The tsunami of data that’s swamped marketers in the past decade has driven a sharp hunger for “insights.” Senior marketers need to make critical decisions for brands struggling to thrive in a densely competitive environment. There’s no room for reams of data; their advisors must distill the numbers into shrewd, concise bits of wisdom they can act on.

Companies providing marketing advice are scurrying to reshape their deliverables to focus on these bits of wisdom. However, “insights” can be as light and fluffy as popcorn – – the first ideas that jump to the top when a little heat is applied to kernels of data. Just because they taste yummy and are easily digestible doesn’t make them good for you.

To uncover insights that are not only logical and digestible but that will truly solve a business problem requires rigor in three critical components:

  1. Client knowledge: there’s just no substitute for client knowledge when it comes to producing insights that result in informed, correct business decisions. It’s not just a matter of creating a study to meet a set of rfp objectives – – any reasonable researcher can do that – – great research is created with the client’s broader business context in mind. Even if it’s project #1 for a brand-new client, smart desk research and deep curiosity about broader business strategy sets the context for more rigorous insights.
  1. Research smarts: A good carpenter knows what tool works best for the job at hand. Pick the wrong tool and you risk botching the job. Research is similar. Even the biggest research toolbox doesn’t guarantee that the tools are used right. It takes driving skill to maneuver a Lamborghini, the USAF doesn’t put newbies at the controls of an F-22 fighter jet, you don’t run rapids on the Salmon River without a seasoned guide. Enough analogies, but you get it. These days it’s tempting to bolster the bottom line by pushing critical research decisions down to (less expensive) junior researchers but it’s a risky proposition. Companies that are serious about providing great insights to clients ensure that seasoned experts weigh in on them.
  1. Interpretive framework: Truly eye-popping, mind-blowing insights are more likely when results are placed in a proven, rigorous framework. Here’s an example of what I mean:
    • Knowing that moms want easy-to-open snacks for their kids’ lunch is helpful.
    • But understanding that when moms give kids easy-to-open snacks:
      • they feel like they’re ensuring their kids’ nutrition,
      • so they are being a responsible parent,
      • thereby fulfilling their personal value of “good mothering”

That’s eye-popping insight. The marketing team has not only a strong product benefit, but a deep understanding of moms’ motivations to work with in creating and executing strategy.

That second bullet shows what happens when you take a simple consumer choice and benefit and place it into a “values” framework.   The product benefit is linked to the deep, enduring values that truly motivate that mom. Maybe you would have stumbled on that insight without an interpretive framework (and a method designed to unearth such findings) but the framework dramatically increases the likelihood of not just good but brilliant insights.

Taken together, these three components: 1) deep client knowledge, 2) research smarts and 3) rigorous framework spell the difference between popcorn and insights that sizzle.

Our New CXO Role: Designed to Grow Client Love

“Chief Experience Officer” (CXO) is a relatively new title in the corporate world.  As companies have wrestled with ways to be sure customers have a consistent positive experience, no matter what part of the firm they touch, the CXO role has emerged as the answer.

Beth ForbesBeth Forbes, a founding partner of Heart+Mind Strategies, is taking on the new CXO role at Heart+Mind.  Previously, Beth wore many hats, overseeing operations, finance, staff management and quality.   This broad background, along with her experience providing strategic counsel to clients, gives her a particularly appropriate set of skills for designing an end-to-end experience with the goal of delighting clients.   The unique twist in her new role is Beth is also focused on delighting employees and steadfastly believes employee delight is tightly linked to delighted clients.

“We’re a company that has a deep history in understanding human emotions.   And we’ve always functioned like a big family.  When it comes to delivering great work to a client, we can’t set that history aside and say we’re just going to use our heads and forget our hearts.  We have to ensure that associates working with our clients love what they do, care deeply about the client and believe that the client’s problem is their own, until it’s solved.”

To deliver that kind of deep commitment to clients requires a lot of support for each and every associate.

“First of all, we are a company of people who have a passion for understanding human motivation and apply that passion to solving client problems.  All of our clients need to persuade, motivate and move stakeholders to action.  We have a great research toolbox, but it’s the craftsmen wielding the tools who make the difference.  So, as a company we want to find likeminded people who share that passion and give them the support and tools to help them ply their craft as skillfully as possible.  It’s my job to make that happen.”

“Second, our staff is growing quickly.  Heck, we’ve grown by 40% in 2017!  Some folks are just starting out, others are in the later years of their career. However, all want to know their pathway in the company because we’re all better at meeting the needs of our clients if we feel like our own path is clear.  In my new role, I’ll be working closely with all our associates to help them define a clear path that capitalizes on their own strengths, interests, ambitions and abilities.

“Finally, it’s important that good people be recognized and rewarded for outstanding work and the kind of innovation our clients want, need and value.  As we’ve expanded our team in the past couple of years, we’ve brought on folks who bring exciting expertise from outside our world – –  from management consulting, ad agencies, PR firms. They bring deep knowledge of different industries.  We want to be sure that everyone in the company can benefit from each other’s diverse and sometimes divergent experience.  I will be working to be sure everyone at Heart+Mind Strategies and at our clients benefits from the collective expertise.  And that innovative ideas, whether home grown or from new colleagues, are recognized and rewarded.

Most importantly, though, Beth will be keeping an eye on all client interactions, measuring how close we come to our ultimate goal:  to “grow client love.”

Growing Client Love

Several years ago, a client sent this email: “I would say ‘I love you guys’ but it would sound unprofessional.”

Not very long or complicated, just a few words, but the most meaningful words you could hear from a client. They’re meaningful because they represent a deep, trusting relationship.  While this type of relationship usually grows with care and nurturing over time, the bedrock foundation comes when these disciplines are applied right from the get-go:

Keeping promises – from the very initial interactions with a client, delivering on promises is what starts to cement the relationship. We’ve all heard many sad stories about ‘bait and switch’ tactics that happen so often in research and consulting. The polished, senior team goes in for the pitch, makes compelling promises and then disappears. They’re nowhere to be seen for critical decisions on project design, execution and delivery.

While we have wonderful, capable junior staffers who are smart and speedy learners, we also know they need senior support and leadership to deliver on our promises. Everyone here understands that our goal is to overdeliver and we revel in not just keeping, but in exceeding our promises.

Having empathy with our clients – whether a client is the leader of a company, a marketing director or a researcher, they are always under pressures that surround research-based decisions. Regardless of their position, their reputation rests to some extent on how smart our work is and on how well we communicate it. One of the things we look for when we bring new people into our organization is strong empathy. A side benefit – – it makes this company a really nice place to work, but more importantly it means everybody is good at walking in clients’ shoes.

Taking on our client’s challenges as our own challenges– regardless of how large or small a project is, we know it takes place within a larger context. Often the biggest challenge is not solving the issue expressed in the rfp, but getting buy-in from other people who need to act on the findings. To bridge the gap that so often occurs between research insights and action, we’ve created a “Strategist” role. Strategists are people with hands-on consulting experience, whose focus is less on research results and more on helping clients apply insights. They typically have broader business backgrounds that give them a wider perspective when answering the question: “How does this client put these findings to work in their organization?”

One thing you might have noticed is that building this kind of relationship is a little bit like being in a successful marriage. While the proposal/wedding/honeymoon phase is exciting, it’s the long-term work that continues to keep the flame alive. We love our clients and we work hard to keep that love strong!

Is Social Media Marketing Worth the Investment?

In light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations and consumer concerns about privacy, how should we think about the value of social media?  Erin Norman, Senior Solutions Consultant, Public Policy, takes on the question here:

Link: Is Social Media Marketing Worth the Investment?



Trends You Need to Know: At the Intersection of Human Understanding and Market Dynamics

From ‘frictionless consumption’ to the ‘ethics economy’ a whole host of trends are shaping and responding to the way people make decisions.  Brian Elkins, Group Strategy Director in our Brand, Strategy + Journey Team will be presenting a 1 hour webinar on this hot topic.

In this webinar, you will learn how to incorporate consumer empathy, cultural forces and brand strategy to win hearts and minds and create lasting value for your business and customers.

  • Learn about important connections not just between people, ideas, products and organizations . . . but between whole contexts and systems that support those connections.
  • Learn how these interconnections and the surrounding trends are built into client engagements to create stronger bridges between research insights and business results.

Heart+Mind Strategies’ Brian Elkins, has split his career as both a marketer and insights professional, and is passionate about creating stronger connections between human-centered insights and market outcomes. Brian will use actual case studies to demonstrate how understanding trends within the context of these interconnections can make for stronger research, insights and business results.

To watch a recording of the webinar, follow this link:

Heart+Mind Strategies Webinar


Heart+Mind Strategies to Present at Worldwide Partners’ Global Agency Summit in Miami

Independent advertising agencies from around the globe gather to collaborate, inspire and discuss trends.

April 12, 2018 – Reston, VA –Worldwide Partners, Inc, (WPI), one of the world’s largest agency networks with more than 60 agency partners in 40 countries on five continents, is hosting a Global Summit in Miami April 15 through 17 for partners in their network. Heart+Mind Strategies, one of the network’s newest members, will be presenting on the topic of, “Persuade by Reason, Motive through Emotion – Winning the Battle for Hearts and Minds.”

“In an increasingly complex and competitive marketplace, brands must do more than communicate … they must connect, they must persuade and they must motivate,” says Mark Wirthlin, President of Heart+Mind Strategies. “The kind of insight and framework we’re talking about in Miami can make that possible,” says Wirthlin.

Worldwide Partners has brought together experts from around the globe to speak about topics important to the network, such as branding, data, media, ethnology, social media and creativity.

The theme of the Summit is “Art + Science,” signifying the intersection of creative talents, data and marketing now required to truly connect with consumers and drive business results. The Summit’s setting will echo this junction of creative and data, with events taking place at the world-renowned Miami Ad School and The Betsy South Beach hotel.

The quality of a consumer’s experiences is increasingly becoming the defining factor for how successful that brand is. It is predicted that by 2020, 85% of a customer’s relationship with a brand will lack any human interaction. If that proves true, dynamic and personalized digital interactions will be more important than ever. But it will take more than implementing more sophisticated marketing strategies to connect with consumers. It will require collaboration and alignment from marketers, creatives, media specialists and analysts to determine how creative organizations like agencies can respond to increasing demands from their clients’ marketing departments.

The Global Agency Summit is an opportunity for WPI’s partners from around the globe to gather and discuss this trend, as well as other important topics impacting their network and the constantly-evolving advertising industry as a whole. It allows them to collaborate face-to-face, learn from and empower each other and innovate to help guide their clients into a new era of advertising.

“Today’s agency leaders are navigating new and uncharted waters that represent tremendous opportunities for their organizations and for their clients,” says John Harris, President & CEO of Worldwide partners. “Consistent collaboration with peers and with industry leaders is a crucial step in building a formidable, long-term strategy for success.”

To learn more about Worldwide Partners, Inc, visit https://www.worldwidepartners.com/.

About Worldwide Partners, Inc.

Worldwide Partners, Inc. (WPI) is one of the largest networks of independent advertising and marketing communications agencies in the world, comprised of over 60 independent agencies located in 40 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America.

WPI serves as a hub that harnesses the creativity, local expertise and resources of the agencies within the partnership to solve problems for clients on a local, regional and international basis.  Global brands including Coke, Heineken, Caterpillar, Las Vegas Tourism, Dana and 3M gain access to best-in-class, entrepreneurially-driven agencies steeped in local knowledge in all markets where they engage WPI agencies. 

For more information about Worldwide Partners visit http://worldwidepartners.comor contact John Harris, President and CEO at john@worldwidepartners.com.