RW Connect has scoured the globe for a group of young researchers that will share their thoughts and journeys as they begin their careers in market research. In the first post of an on-going series, say hello to Kyle Nel of the Walmart Customer Insights team in the USA.

My childhood can be summed up by the Super Bowl. While other families longed for the game to start, and postulated possible strategies for the dueling teams, we Nels, with equal fervor, debated and anticipated the upcoming ads. The volume was turned down during the game, and cranked up during the commercials. Why such an odd approach to a favorite America pastime? Simply put, my Dad is a creative. Due to his work at some of the biggest agencies in the world, brand strategy and consumer behavior were always a constant in our family discussions. It wasn’t until undergrad that I discovered this thing called Marketing Research—I fell in love. I remember thinking, “So, I get to think about why people do the things they do all day, and get paid for it? Cool.” From there, my Dad and his friends fed me a steady diet of Brand Planning and MR books—the best of which is Truth, Lies, and Advertising by Jon Steel. I had found my sweet spot. Post undergrad, I worked for two years in media research and brand planning, worked for a non-profit in Costa Rica, graduated with my MBA from the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin, interned at Wrigley/Mars, and lastly, I joined the Customer Insights group at Walmart where I am currently cooking up delicious marketing research.

Here Come the Nerds: Research vs. Insights

I know what you are thinking, “Great, another dissertation on the virtues of insights over data.” Over the past few years, Research vs. Insights is a topic that I have come across in many forms. The problem is, it doesn’t seem like we, as a group, are making any headway on the subject. I have worked in research functions called Insights and others called Marketing Research—they all have one thing in common: what we produce appears mysterious to those we present it to. This sense of mystery and discomfort, that others in the organization feel, seems to relegate us to some nerdy class of people. I have often heard, “Here come the research nerds,” from marketers and others in the organization as my fellow researchers approach. The larger the nerd mystique grows, the lesser the partnership role becomes. This may be for a few reasons:

Problem:  What we do can be complicated and, like a proud parent, we love to talk about every detail and every finding because every detail and every finding seems relevant and important to us.
Solution
:  Think carefully about what is most relevant to each shareholder.  One deck may not suffice anymore. We should target our results to each key person along the chain.

Problem:  Our findings can come across as mysterious and the methodologies too complex to fully understand.
Solution
: Involve key stakeholders with the process. Invite them to calls and explain why you chose Max/Diff over another choice-based test, etc.

Problem:  Too much data, not enough actionable insights.
Solution
:  Don’t just tell stories, Tell the stories with the data that those you did the research for want to hear. Keep the audience in mind.

Having worked in media research, briefly in CPG, and now in shopper insights, I’ve found that the key ingredient to success is: communication and socialization of the findings. Very rarely have I heard from anyone in an Insights function that they did not have any Insights to share—almost always the problem is: “How do we get them to understand and use this?” The solution to the problem starts well before methodology design with setting up the relationship that we are not the nerds crunching numbers in the corner, but partners in solving business problems.   Basically, if you hear, “Here come the nerds,” you may be in bigger trouble than you thought.

What do you think? Am I way off base? Please comment.

Kyle Nel is manager, customer insights – food and small formats – at Walmart.

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