Propelling innovation by preventing the need to make information proprietary

Day One Podcast: Insights Room 101

Episode 12: Elina Halonen

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 Elina Halonen, a behavioural insights strategist. Elina joins us on the Room 101 podcast to share what things in the industry she’d like to see banished to Room 101 forever. The main pet peeves Elina describes are: the shiny, shiny syndrome, proprietary methods, and a lack of knowledge of the history of market research. Elina provides meaningful criticism during our conversation, and we hope you enjoy it.

Before kicking off her first insights pick for Room 101, Elina and I discuss how market research is not only misunderstood but also misrepresented by people who claim to be in the industry. I point out that professionals from the industry are almost embarrassed to say they’re in market research. Elina piggybacks on this idea to say because it is misunderstood, we are not properly compensated. Market research is always the first thing to get cut. Advertising doesn’t get cut.

Coupled with cutting market research, the timelines are shortened when it is kept in the budget. It doesn’t leave time for the development of strategy or that kind of thinking. It’s a vicious cycle that erodes the value that qualitative research can provide. Continuing this cycle, when agencies don’t get paid properly, they then can’t hire the best grads, and it’s a downward spiral. People even leave the industry to go to other industries that pay more.

A huge amount of knowledge and skills are required to work in the insights industry, says Elina. No one is good at everything. Then, we end up selecting people who are okay at several things instead of finding people who have expertise. Then, those in the industry are focused on fixing our weaknesses instead of building on expertise. We become a jack of all trades, masters of none. We don’t have specialists, and we can’t allow them to focus on what they’re good at.

For her first insights irritation, Elina wants to get rid of the shiny, shiny syndrome, especially at conferences. There’s an obsession with innovation, with the next piece of technology. Because the cycles are so fast, we don’t even have time to fully engage or adopt something until it’s gone.

Several years ago, behavioural science was the next shiny object, but when Elina did talks on the subject, she always had to start with the basics. Because the audiences were always slightly different, she couldn’t discuss something more sophisticated. Everything tends to be superficial because everyone wants to cycle through to the next innovation.

Transitioning from this shiny new object syndrome to the secrecy about best practices, Elina compares the insights industry to software companies that open source all of their products. Anyone can learn anything about new software. Languages are not proprietary. There is no gatekeeping.

Elina asks why does the consumer insights industry think that the only way to be successful is through secrecy. Training is very expensive as a result. And if a market researcher’s boss doesn’t give them the budget and time to train, they have to spend their own money during vacation time to train as a market researcher. She decides to make the proprietary methods of market research her second pick for Room 101.

Elina’s final banishment for Room 101 is the industry not knowing our history. She did a talk about the phenomenon of WEIRD science in psychology. 95% of the subjects in psychological experiments are male college students. WEIRD stands for research subjects who are from Western, educated, industrialised, rich, and democratic countries.

Market research is also WEIRD. All of the market research practices were created in the United States. Most of the practices were started in the 1920s – 100 years ago! We should stop and question that! This also makes survey research irrelevant in other cultures. Elina said no individual agency can address this problem.

Bringing in behavioural psychology is not a new idea. That’s how we did it long ago. And because most market researchers accidentally fall into the industry, they don’t know the history of market research. Then, they’re promoted to leadership positions, and they don’t know enough to do anything different.

Elina and I both agree to banish the shiny, shiny syndrome forever. We both enjoyed the conversation, and we hope you do, too.

About Elina Halonen:

A Behavioural Insights Strategist, Elina helps companies use insights about human behaviour to design their strategy. She’s worked in consumer insights for 15 years, and 10 years of that as a behavioural science specialist. Her academic expertise is in consumer behaviour, linguistics, and cultural psychology. Before becoming an independent consultant, she spent eight years as the co-founder of a London-based insights consultancy working with global brands on branding, communications, and product/service development projects.

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