Getting noticed in the boardroom by helping make great products & services

Day One Podcast: Insights Room 101

Episode 08: Steve Phillips 

On The Day One Podcast – Insights Room 101, hosted by Hannah Mann, our guests describe three of their worst insight industry pet peeves and aim to lock one of them away forever in Room 101, much like the popular British TV show. Our guest on this episode is Steve Phillips, CEO of Zappi and Chair of the MRS Sustainability Council. Steve joins us on the Room 101 podcast to share what things in the marketing research & insights industry he’d like to see banished to Room 101 forever. The main pet hates Steve describes are: researchers trying to get into the board room; conjoint analysis; and focus groups. Steve provides meaningful criticism during our conversation, and we hope you enjoy it.

 Steve shares with us his proudest moment – and most embarrassing – when he won the MRS Award and nearly knocked over the founder of MRS who is in her eighties. He accepted the award in front of the conference but shared he was too hungover to give a speech.

 Steve fell into market research. At university, he was watching career shows, during which Proctor and Gamble did a presentation where they described spending most of their days in meetings. That sounded like something Steve could do. He liked the idea of getting into marketing. He now thinks sitting in meetings all day is an apt description of marketing.

 There had been a recession in the UK when he applied for marketing jobs. A recruiter had told him to get into market research. He did a free internship, and they gave him a job. He’s been in marketing ever since.

 Steve’s first suggestion for Room 101 is the idea that researchers should try to get into boardrooms. Boardrooms are very boring, highly financial, and sometimes strategic. Yes, they are driven by data. But it’s not where decisions are made. Companies should instead focus on coming up with ideas people will fall in love with. They need to work with the people who launch ideas and services. Striving to get into the boardroom is dull, unnecessary, and it’s not where decisions are made.

Boardrooms make decisions about where profit distributions are placed. People are obsessed by the hierarchy when they need to be obsessed with ideas. They need to inspire creators with trends data for the target market. Then, companies can help creators distribute and improve. We need to be understanding people in their houses, their shops, and their workplaces and using that to inspire people in innovation labs.

Instead of hierarchies, market researchers need to help the people who are making new things, for example, the CMO or the junior brand director. Give her the ideas and the understanding of the target audience. The next brilliant thing will get noticed.

Steve tells us that it’s our job to inspire brilliant creators. Yes, we do need to be in decision-making forums because that’s where budgets are set. But we can do great work through great work. He says all of our energy should go into inspiring and validating great ideas. Our clients would put money into marketing if we’re proving our case.

Steve says that we make it clear that we’re important by making great products and great services. Then everyone will be pushing for us to get a bigger budget. If we inspire creators, they’ll want us in the room. They’ll want the data researchers in the room. The first person on a creator’s team is a data person.

Steve’s second nomination for Room 101 is conjoint market research, which is an interesting method with wonderful output – a gamified output that appeals to researchers. But it comes out of a utilitarian process, and it comes from a belief that it can find results from breaking up a process. 90% of people make decisions based on simplicity. Conjoint researchers think everyone else thinks like them. But it is opposed to the actual decision-making process for most people. It’s an attractive but false belief that people make decisions this way.

Conjoint research doesn’t have a place in market research because it’s fundamentally wrong and fundamentally inaccurate. It might work for a comparison website for financial services like insurance with different policies down the left – is there a cashback? – and features across the top with ticks or crosses. It’s set up in the most rational way to pick a service. If you talk to people, they maximize simplicity. They bought the second one down on the list because it had the most ticks. And they had no idea what the ticks were – it just had more ticks.

Steve tells us to replace conjoint research with qualitative research. We need to know how people make decisions: they tend to maximize simplicity not utility. If you stop thinking about a feature, process and instead focus on the way people make decisions, you’ll realize conjoint is asking the wrong questions.

Steve’s third nomination for Room 101 is also methodological: focus groups. He tells us they were a compromise, to begin with.  They were originally designed as a compromised methodology. It’s expensive getting individuals together? People don’t usually make decisions with random strangers. There are fundamental flaws with focus groups, making them useful for very little. There is a small place for them: maybe for 5% of projects instead of 85%. Focus groups have always been a poor methodology. And now there are so many more much better methodologies.

Steve admits focus groups are sometimes useful for coming up with good ideas but only if they’re well run. Creating ideas in a verbally active environment is already discouraging most of the smartest people – most of the smartest people are not extroverts. They won’t come or they won’t participate. Then, there’s a framework within that rewards extroverted people the most. The focus group may not come up with the best ideas.

Instead, companies should do asynchronous qualitative work. Doing consumer research that involves following people while they’re shopping is the most expensive.  Digitally mimicking following people while they’re shopping would be best. Zappi’s aim was to reduce the price and time to get qualitative work. Then, we can spend more time on deep-dive qualitative work. This helps creators do deep dives.

On occasion, Steve says if you have a good group of people, you can get some in-depth research, but it’s rare. Data researchers should fight for the moderator to only have a one-page focus guide.

Steve agreed with me that we should put in room 101 researchers trying to get into the board room. They’re going about it the wrong way. They just need to do fantastic work. Steve doesn’t want to throw anything else into room 101. He’s a big fan of market research. He just wants to see them trim the fat – and instead focus on being creative.

About – Steve Phillips:

Steve is the CEO of Zappi and Chair of the MRS Sustainability Council. He leverages technology to automate market research. A pioneering technology company in the Insights world, Zappi empowers creators globally with the data and insight to inspire and validate their ideas. Steve is also passionate about helping to move the world of insights onto a fully sustainable pathway.

 Relevant Links:

Steve’s LinkedIn

Steve’s Twitter

Zappi –