Nov 11, 2022

Market Research 101

Katrina Noelle photo

byKatrina Noelle

Posted on Nov 11, 2022

How do brands know what their audience thinks or expects? By asking them, of course! That's the role of an insights expert like Katrina Noelle, founder of KNow Research. She joins Will Francis on the podcast to explain how that asking is done, and all that happens from that initial point of contact through to the all-important final insights - and even pearls - that come from the process. They chat about how market research has changed over the decades (short answer - customer expectations), tools for social listening, AI as friend or foe, and the importance of clean, reliable, and secure data. She offers advice on tools you can use, and adopting a mindset of listening to your audience at a myriad of sometimes surprising touchpoints.

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And you can learn more about Katrina on her Twitter.

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Katrina Noelle on the DMI Podcast

Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis. And today, I'll be talking to Katrina Noelle, all about insights and market research. Katrina is president of KNow Research. A full-service insights consultancy, specializing in designing custom qualitative insights projects since 2003, to unlock insights about brands and target audiences. She's also co-founder of Scoot Insights, whose trademarked Scoot Sprint approach helps decision-makers choose the right direction. Katrina, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing?

Katrina: Doing well. Thanks so much for having me.

Will: It's great to have you. It's a topic that I think we've needed to talk about for some time, and haven't had a chance to. So, I'm really glad you are here because, yeah, I think we clearly...I think we could all go a little bit deeper and all put a bit more of our time into this side of marketing. So, let's just start by setting the scene as we often do. Is it still called market research? That's what it's colloquially referred to, isn't it? Or insights. And is there any real difference between marketing and market research?

Katrina: Well, debates abound, I will say. We do have a bit of a naming convention. It's not a crisis, it's just a creative opportunity, I suppose. There is great debate between market research and marketing research. So that is always a divide of if you are studying the market or if you are studying with the end goal to serve the marketing department. Then insight is kind of incorporate of a wider field that includes innovation and, you know, all kinds of other things. We also have user experience research, which doesn't always like to be categorized within market research. We have design thinking that is used quite a bit to understand people and what they need and want. And I do think, at least here in the States, those naming conventions do definitely vary based on where you're based. So, if you come from a Silicon Valley background with a tech startup lens, you are probably calling it user experience. And if you are in sort of a traditional CPG category, consumer packaged goods, you might be calling it marketing research. So, I think the main thing is are you listening to people, and are you as a brand hearing what they have to say, and is that affecting your strategy? And whatever you wanna call that, it's fine.

Will: Yeah. I get it. So, it's just really tuning into what people are saying, but I suppose also trying to then divine what's truly in their heads, right? You don't just take what you hear from customers and users on face value. There's some sort of divination there to try and work out what is actually in their heads. Is that right?

Katrina: It's a really important point to emphasize actually, because they don't just hand you insights. No one walks around in their life saying, "Oh, brand X, let me, you know, bestow these insights upon you." That's not the way it works. It's a data collection process and then an analysis process to understand what people are thinking, wanting, needing, right, where those pain points are, where potential moments of surprise and delight occur. And then thinking about that, analyzing it, looking at it through the lens of the brand or product or service that you're trying to improve, right? And all of that comes together into a set of insights that hopefully helps the brand move forward. So yes, it is more complex than just talking to people, but that's the best place to start.

Will: So, you've been in the industry for 20 years. Twenty years is about the timeframe digital marketing has been a mainstream thing for brands, I think. So, what has changed over that time? How is it different now than when you started 20 years ago?

Katrina: Honestly, I think the main difference is customers are just people's expectations. You know, there were very separate expectations for things like in the real-world experiences versus something digital. And now, I think the idea of a brand meeting my needs, serving me in an empathetic way, hearing what I have to say and taking action upon it, and making my user experience clean and easy. It doesn't matter what brand you are, or if you're playing in the physical or digital space. I mean, we spend a lot of time using the word omnichannel, which used to specifically refer to shopper insights and retail work. But now we're really thinking about omnichannel as any touchpoint. And so, it doesn't actually have to mean you are selling something to somebody, but most people are. It's really about understanding the entire world of the consumer and how you play in that. And I think historically, it may have been a little bit more siloed.

Will: That's very interesting. Yeah, because customers' expectations have changed hugely, haven't they? I mean, 20 years ago we didn't have things like Amazon Prime delivery, we didn't have Uber Eats, and things like that. You know, we are so spoiled as consumers today. And because so many brands have become digitally savvy, has that made it really hard to actually find a new insight? Have all the insights not been found now and discovered?

Katrina: The short answer is no. I would say, you know, is science done? No. You know, I think I sort of think of it like that because people are growing and changing, the world is growing and changing. So, with every move like that, the research, the insights, the aha moments are always shifting. And I think that is... It's actually an important point to make sure that marketers and the audience are thinking about that, and think about when you've last collected feedback. And if it has a one in front of the year instead of a two, might be time to do some refreshing because people are moving and shaking and changing. And that's what changes the insights, really. People. And people are always in flux.

Will: Yes. Absolutely true. Yeah. They are always changing, aren't they? So, you know, marketing's been through this just absolutely huge change. And is basically every month is going through a massive change, pretty much. So, the tools you use must have changed quite a lot over the 20 years, what kind of tools are in your toolbox today to do this kind of thing?

Katrina: Far more, right? And I do want to just speak to... I wanna make sure that I'm speaking clearly from a qualitative lens, which is a little bit different than the tools and resources that the quantitative friends I have in the business have access to. But in general, we had a very small toolset, very effective, right, but limited choices. Around '07, '08 we had kind of a proliferation of the first set of digital tools to help us do qualitative research, to enable both what I call synchronous and asynchronous research, right? You can talk to somebody in real-time, or you can get them to do assignments and catalog things over time. And, you know, you could count the companies on one hand for a few years, and then there was a great expansion in the toolset to do those things.

And however, there was some resistance in going digital by some of, you know, a lot of traditional brands, because, you know, there's a concern, there's a concern of continuity of data. And so, if you're gonna approach it a new way, how do I know that it's gonna match or build on what I've already done? And then as we all know, 2020 happened and that toolbox shrunk in a very, you know, precise way very quickly. We've been about 50-50 digital versus traditional at KNow since 2010 pretty much. So, it wasn't that big of a shift for us, but the industry really shifted. If you hadn't embraced some of the digital tools by 2020, you learned them very quickly that spring. So, that's sort of been... It's not that they emerged then, it's that really there was no excuse anymore to grow that toolset in that direction.

Will: When you're talking about physical tools, are you talking about, like, in-person consumer panels and things like that?

Katrina: Yeah. Well, everybody knows, you know, the phrase, the focus group. It sometimes gets a bad rap. So we call them group discussions. But they're basically people in any number talking about a thing. So that can be an interview, that could be a panel, that could be a friend group, that could be... You know, we do a lot of dyads so, you know, two people in charge of a purchase decision, or a couple making a decision for their home. Like, any structure of people talking about stuff. That's kind of the traditional route. That is now very, very easy to do digital, online, webcam, hybrid, you know, all the things, all the way that we're running our lives now, you can do research in those ways. And then separately from that, we used to send out physical diaries for people to fill out to do a diary study in that asynchronous example. And now we're able to do the... I mean, we've been able to do that digitally for quite some time, but now it's about mobile capture and being able to follow someone through their day, or through a shopping exercise, or be able to see their digital shopping process by them sharing a screen. So, there's lots of ways that we can really get more enmeshed with them in behaviors and patterns.

Will: It's funny you very kind of you instantly and instinctively likened what you do to science when I quid about whether all the insights in... Is a bit of the scientific method at play there, is it about having a hypothesis and then going and tearing that apart, or trying to, you know, approve or disprove it?

Katrina: Yeah. It's actually very interesting when brands come to us, they say, "This is completely open and we don't know. We just wanna learn." And you really have to press them to say, "Yeah, but you have a suspicion." Like, what do you think?

Will: Well, I was gonna ask you about biases. How do you handle bias?

Katrina: But you've gotta handle all those things. You've gotta handle everybody's bias, everybody's hypotheses. You've gotta put everything on the table so that you know what you're dealing with, because when something comes back, you don't know how to interpret that if you don't already know those hypotheses bias conditions going in. So, we do have a very lengthy kickoff call where all of that is discussed. Not only the brand partners but the research partners. We're doing a study right now about shopping in a way that I do not shop. So, I have to check a lot of my, you know, preconceptions at the door and I need to acknowledge to the team, "Hey, this is something new that I'm learning along with having these conversations." So yeah, it starts with you.

Will: Absolutely. I mean, for all that we know, for as smart as we are as creatures, there's a part of us that thinks that the whole world thinks like us and that our worldview is really probably the only valid one, and it's the know, it's the definitive one, right? And it's so hard to overcome those biases, I think. I can imagine. Just interested in that, I think. Right. So, just to really nail you down, what kind of tools are you talking about? Are you talking about things I might have heard of as a marketing person, like Hotjar, and Google Analytics, and stuff like that? And Zoom of course, for interviewing people.

Katrina: Less so. We really do have a pretty proprietary set of tools for the market research industry or whatever you want to call it. However, all the webcam platforms are definitely being used. So the Zooms, and the Teams, and all of those, are definitely... They're very user-friendly for participants. And our main goal is whatever the tool, it has to be really easy for them to use, right? That's hands down. And then hopefully, easy for us. This is, you know, priority and second priority. So, yes. I think a lot of the platforms are very market research specific. I'm trying to think if there's something that you could use for your marketing efforts as well as your market research. I think mainly the toolset that you would be able to use are any database or customer list tools, right? Receptacles. Because often when you do wanna talk to current customers or, you know, importantly lapsed customers, it's very helpful to source them from online communities, lists, databases, all the things. So, in that way, we often work quite heavily if your marketing department is using something like a Qualtrics, or something like that, we would be able to kind of use or tap into the customer databases carefully. But that's probably the main crossover.

Will: Yes. I get that. I mean, I suppose marketers are kind of doing a casual version of that with their CRM systems already. Like, yeah, looking at their lapsed users, maybe using a tool like Google Analytics or Hotjar and just trying to get a very broad understanding why are these people not coming back, or why are these people coming back and not buying a second time around because they don't quite make it to checkout, and then can we absolutely hammer them with marketing messages, cart abandonment campaigns, and things like that? So, but of course, not really understanding and probably not uncovering true insights, I think.

Katrina: Well, because a lot of it's anecdotal and a lot of it is, you know, some problems are felt in a really big way when you're looking at it that way. And so, you know, we have a lot of why are they abandoning the cart studies, because they know they're being abandoned. There's a certain point at which people are being lost, but, like, what is happening at that point? What is going on? And so, we really encourage marketers to not only, you know, commission primary research, but to also talk to everyone who has a touchpoint with their customers. So who's running your social, and what feedback are you getting anecdotally there? Who's running the call center? What are people calling in about? Like, there's lots of data streams that you can use within your organization to understand that customer experience better. And then you can fine-tune if you actually have to go out and do additional research, you can make the objectives for that much more precise if you listen to everything you already know.

Will: Yes. Yes, it's true. I suppose I've been speaking for myself here, but I think a lot of marketers, we don't... Because marketing is in our title, we like to do marketing. And, you know, marketing is, you have a big cannon to fire messages at people. And you do want to, like, obviously, you know, do all the other stuff around it, the admin, the plan, and the research, but you just wanna get all your cannon and just fire the messages at people. And I would say that we're all in this industry probably a bit guilty of that, not spending enough time considering, and researching, and finding those insights, but...

Katrina: But at least look at what the cannon hit.

Will: True.

Katrina: You know. Right? Like, check it out, like, go look at the battlefield and see how successful that...

Will: Postmortem.

Katrina: Yes, exactly. And, you know, do you have AB cannons, and is that AB testing something, you know, that you can learn from? So, yeah. It seems a bit dramatic. But yeah, I mean, I think at the very minimum, that's also because you're right. You do want to do the thing. We all want to do the thing that we're supposed to do. But, you know, listening to the effect of that, it will only help you make a better cannon.

Will: And we do do that. I just think it's a bit broad. It's all done in very broad strokes. Oh, people prefer the picture of the dog to the picture of the cat, right? It's all dogs now, you know, and like, because an AB test said so. But maybe I'm just speaking for myself.

Katrina: No, no, no. No, I think that's very true because what else was in that picture of the dog? Do you know it was the dog? Maybe it was blue in the background and people like blue. Like, you don't know, right, unless you ask.

Will: Absolutely. That's true. And let's get deeper into that. So, I know that in research there's qualitative and quantitative research. Just explain to our listeners what the difference is between those and why you lean towards the qualitative side.

Katrina: At its very base, you know, primary difference, quant is about putting numbers to something. So, if you ever read something that 75% of people do X, that is quantitative. Qualitative is the reason why 75% of people feel that way. So, I think thinking of them in buckets is helpful, right? Do you wanna validate, do you wanna put a number behind, do you want to assess something statistic that has statistical relevance, right, or do you want to get to the gut of it? And I don't love that the word or is put between those, because ideally, you are doing both. Ideally, you are measuring and also understanding. So, I think yes, there is a divide, but ideally, you should be doing both.

Will: As someone who's not really from that area, I have thought that myself. It's a bit odd that they're so separated as disciplines sometimes by roles, because yeah, you're absolutely right.

Katrina: And it's getting more clouded. So, data sets are becoming more tricky. So, when we get... There was great debate about there's a lot of social media listening and social scraping, which is a horrible-sounding word, but it's used to understand social data. Now, what is that? That could be millions of people. So, the instinct is to call it quantitative, but they are people expressing their feelings, views, wants, and needs. So, is it qualitative? Like, does it matter? I don't actually think it matters other than making sure you have skill sets to be able to deal with all kinds of sets of data, right? Like, at its core, it doesn't matter if you're learning and if you're improving your business. But yeah, it does get a little too siphoned off for my liking sometimes.

Will: Hello. A quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies, to toolkits, and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing? Head to to sign up for free. Now back to the podcast. So, at what stage in marketing activity are you engaged by agencies and brands?

Katrina: Many. So, I didn't answer your early question about why qualitative, but I got away with not answering that. It's because the why has always been what's resonated for me. Like, I really love understanding people and knowing how they tick. And I get to do it in my job. And that is amazing. And I get to connect with a lot of people. You know, I'm a people person and I enjoy, you know, those connections.

Will: Are you a bit of an armchair psychologist?

Katrina: You have to be very careful not to be, because we are not trained that way, right? So, there is a very big difference from coaching or psychology, compared to empathetic active listening. And that's what we're really honing as skills as qualitative researchers is we are empathetically listening, we are right in the moment with them, but we are not giving any advice, putting any layer on that. It is just an absorption kind of method. But back to the question of when, there's a few main reasons. So one is something is wrong. So, there's that. Some sales data, some moment, you know, what on earth is going on? Why are we losing people, why is this being reduced? You know, where are they going, what's happening? That's a big one. We wanna do something new. We're launching a product, we're launching a new service, we're going into a new market that could be a geographic or that could be category, right? Do we have a right to play in that space? Let's find out.

And then there are also lots of projects that have to do with companies, you know, if there is a acquisition, or a combination, or a rebranding effort, you know, anything that's shifting within the organization, a lot of brands at that point really wanna come back to their customer base and their, you know, aspirational ideal customer bases, and make sure that that's all gonna resonate with them because they don't want to do that in a vacuum without checking with people. So, I mean, those are big buckets, but those are sort of the main ones.

Will: Yeah, because I suppose, you know, when I tell people in my workshops and trainings about insights, I mean, I'm thinking I'm just caught up in the romance of like McNamara advertising, because that's my background in ad agencies. And these insights are like pearls that can be the basis of incredible creative work. You know, and you might use examples like when Ogilvy, 20 years ago were tasked by Unilever to find something interesting about people by, you know, about women. And they found out all this stuff about what women really feel about beauty advertising. And out of that came Dove's Real Beauty Campaign, right? Because it spoke to people in a way that they hadn't been spoken to before. But it was all based on this insight that they didn't feel represented and they actually felt quite insulted by what was currently out there. And I love the idea that these pearls of something that's in consumer's heads and it hasn't been spoken to yet, you know, I mean, by a brand or a media entity. And I think that can be just really powerful and, like I say, the basis for really quite fun creative work. So, am I just lost with the romance of it, or is that quite a big bit of what you do?

Katrina: No. There's definitely pearls. We all get very excited when we find one, right, when we're... You have to, you know, open up a lot of oysters. But no. I mean, and those are amazing moments, right? Those aha moments where everyone on the team is like, "Oh, my god. We didn't know that before." Interestingly, sometimes things are a pearl to a client, that us and from the agency world are like, "Oh, did you not know that?" Like, you know, because we work a lot in similar categories, and so we're like, "Oh, yes. Ta-da." You know, sometimes that happens. But I think a lot of time marketers, and especially folks from the advertising world get very nervous when we show up because we're gonna test things, right? And this is their like creative brainchild and oh, these people are gonna come in and tear this apart. That is not our role or our goal. And ideally, we are coming into your point to inform the process rather than judge the process. Now, at some point, you do have to make sure what you are going to put out in the world is having the effect that you want it to and your intention is seen, right? But really what we spend more time doing is, to your point, informing that team so that they can create with that knowledge base.

Will: Yes. No, absolutely. I think consultant fear is probably widespread across every industry, isn't it? When the consultants show up, everybody goes, "Oh, my god. We're gonna be told all I have been wrong."

Katrina: Yeah. Yeah. And we spend a lot of time when, you know, if we know... Sometimes, you know, our client will say, and there's this media agency, there's an ad agency, there's you as your market research aid, there's a creative agency. We're like, "Ooh, could we get a meeting? Could we have like we're all team players meeting just to make sure..." Because we're all going for the same goal. No one is against anyone. In theory, yeah, we're all trying to move this forward together. So I think it's really important for that cross-agency communication.

Will: You did in passing there, mention social media listening, and of course, again, someone with my background in sort of digital and social media advertising very much, yeah, in my head when I think about gathering insights digitally. Did that have a really big impact when we realized that we could listen in on initially, Twitter, but then other networks that have come along since that are open like Instagram and TikTok? Has that had a big impact on finding insights in what you do?

Katrina: Yeah, I mean, at one level it has really helped brands do that themselves. So, right, because they often have the tools already. They have the social dashboards, and to be able to look at it through the lens of learning rather than fire putting out, right? And it's a great data source because people are talking organically. Most of what we do as market researchers is ask, right? I don't care whether that's a survey or conversation, you're asking a question and then people are responding. What's really nice about social data is that that is unasked. That is just what people feel like talking about around the topic. And that is very essential to know what is organic. Now, you have to put a lot, speaking of biases, you've gotta put a lot of filters on that, you know, you've gotta throw some grains of salt on that because those are the people that feel like posting and feel like commenting. And is that an irate Reddit thread, or is that, you know, a mom group on Facebook trying to, you know, do the best things for their kids? Sorry Meta. To do the best things for their kids? You know, you have to look at it for what it is. It's a great data source, but, you know, like, with everything little, you know, asterisk caveat point on that too.

Will: Yeah, absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Yeah. It's like those news stories you see where the headline says something like, "Everyone's freaking out about this thing." It turns out like 20 people on Twitter are freaking out about it. And that's not everyone. So, yeah, you're right. You need a filter on it. But there is something special about observing people just saying stuff. And when they don't, they're not really thinking that they're saying it to the brand. For sure, that's interesting. But I suppose other than the obvious, you know, just the availability of it, has it changed the way that you are gathering or interpreting insights in any way, do you think?

Katrina: For sure. I think it's now a question we ask of what your social data is telling you. So, if we start a relationship with a brand, what are you learning there, what can we use and learn from it to make our work more targeted? So, that is, you know, one drum I am banging quite a lot these days is that it is quite different than it was 20, 15, 10 years ago when people didn't know anything. Brands did not know a lot. And we came in and it was like, "Who are our customers? We have no idea." That is not the conversation anymore. The conversation... And I think this is a helpful direction that it's moving in. The conversation is now, "We know X, Y, and Z, but we do not know this." Like, "Here is this chunk of information we do not know. We don't understand that and we need to know that to make some business decisions. So come help us with that." So I think social feeds in a lot of tools that you are using as marketers is helping you understand your business better and your customers better so that we can come in and use kind of a smaller implement or a more targeted approach to fill in those gaps for you. That is a very big shift, and I think a really helpful one.

Will: Yeah. I mean, do people ever question the value of what you do because they go, "Well, I can just look this up on Twitter. I can just do what people are saying on Twitter." I suppose you've had to come and show that you go above and beyond that with like you say, your proprietary tools or more precise tools.

Katrina: Yes. I think by the time they're talking to me, they're very rarely coerced so badly that they don't believe in the process by this point. So I'm usually talking to someone who has at some point made a decision that it is valuable to get more data. However, we do come up against a lot, "Wait, do you just talk to people? I can do that." Which is why at the beginning, I stress that analytic process, right? Because it is not just talking, getting a transcript, and making a decision. There's a lot that happens between the talking and the insight, right? And so, that's what I think what people may not always appreciate. We get a lot of pushback of how long does the report take? It's like, "Well, there are smart minds putting this together." Like that is not instant, right? It does take some time. So, that's where we get the push more often, of I can interview someone and why do you need a week? Those are our bigger pushes.

Will: Yeah. I get that. I think we all get that in creative industries and in marketing in general, right? Because everyone can run a Facebook ad if they want to now, and everyone can do a bit of social media, or, you know, publish a bit of content somewhere.

Katrina: But I will say that there are a lot of DIY tools now that marketers can use to start understanding their audience. And I again, do not think that is a bad thing. So there are a lot of like DIY platforms that you can have some customer conversations. Often now, we are noticing that, for instance, a brand will have talked to a lot of current users. They will have used one of these interfaces, they will have had some conversations and learned who their current users are. And then they realize, "I have no idea how to talk to people who aren't using our stuff." And so, "Katrina team, how do you do that?" And we'll find some people that are like, who your users should be, but they're not your users yet, and we'll talk to them for you. So it's almost like a combination approach. And we learn a lot from them because they've had all these interviews and they really get the current customer viewpoint. And then we can go from there.

Will: Yeah. I get that. Talking of the value of what you do, I have to ask because everyone in marketing is being asked this or asking this. How does the onset of AI technologies affect what you do? Do you think that AI will ever be able to do your job?

Katrina: I will answer this carefully, and I will say that AI is already helping us do our job. So, helping, I think yes. Yes and thank you AI. Because there's lots of tagging, and analysis, and you know, even just where we have come from an automatic transcription standpoint, where we were not three years ago. You could not use a computer-generated transcript. You know, it was like 70% accurate, which is essentially gibberish, right? Like it doesn't help unless it's 99% accurate. So things like that have really helped us move, to my earlier point, at the speed that we need to move at. And so it's helping researchers. I think, you know, there is always the threat of some computerized moderator being able to have an empathetic conversation and be built to be something that this person can open up to. I have to admit, I'm not very worried about that. There is a human side to our business that I think requires humans, but I think humans are being helped already and will be helped more by AI tools.

Will: I do agree with that. Yeah. It seems the more kind of strategic roles in general, and certainly what you do. I can't imagine how you'd start writing the algorithm for that, whereas okay, finding the best headline for a piece of content or creating an image, that's basically possible now, and it's just gonna get a bit better over time. So, you sound quite safe for now, I think.

Katrina: Yeah. And I think, you know, there's been a few different developments kind of on the online survey route, where there's like a better version of a question that is suggested. So, if someone is playing around and is not a survey expert, some of the tools out there will say, "You might wanna make that a multiple choice rather than a single select because it seems like people would have more than one answer to that." Right? So there's that kind of thing. There's also, you know, we have to deal with fraud and data integrity, and like all of us do. And there are some great tools now that tell you if somebody answering your survey is a bot. That's helpful. So, yeah. I mean, I think I am positive about it also because I also believe in the power of human beings and I don't think that's gonna be completely strategic human beings. Yeah.

Will: Yeah. That does make sense. So, if you are kind of collecting and gathering data, obviously you're based in the U.S. and, you know, you're thinking from that standpoint. But just in general, how do you handle data privacy? Do you have to be quite cognizant of that, or is it not something you really need to think about much?

Katrina: I mean, to get even more regional, we're based in California. So, it's...

Will: It's quite relevant because I think California is, you know, the shape of things to come in a lot of places anyway, isn't it? Like GDPR?

Katrina: Yes. But people don't exist within their state walls, right? So, we cannot just get away with being California compliant from a data privacy standpoint. We have to follow U.S. guidelines, we have to follow GDPR guidelines. Like it's everything. Because again, people move and change, and physically move about the planet. And so, you have to make sure... You don't know if they've just immigrated somewhere, you know? So we have to be very careful. There's a lot of great industry associations that are setting best practices and standards and making sure we're all very informed about what we can and cannot do. I mean, I can imagine how frustrating it is from a marketing standpoint because people want things customized and personalized, and how are you gonna customize and personalize them if you can't track data, right? We have similar situations. Like, we want to tie someone back to what they have done, but how do we collect that safely and securely, so that we can actually see the patterns without getting into trouble?

Will: Yes. We don't want that. Yeah. Do you know what I'm interested about? I mean, you run KNow Research, and you've been thinking about this stuff deeply for a long time, but of course, you know, your career has been on something of a trajectory as all of ours has. What have you learned over that 20 years, ascending to where you are now? What lessons have you taken that you would love to relay back to yourself of 20 years ago?

Katrina: Wow. Yes. I would say the short answer is much. I have learned much. I think the need to have, whatever you call this insights business, at the table is not something that I realized when I started out. I thought I was doing this fun thing where I got to talk to people and do research and write reports. But really understanding people and creating products and services to meet their needs. And communicating them so that they know that that's what you're there to do, right, is so important. And I think maybe I would've come out with sort of bigger guns blazing of the importance of it rather than sort of being like the stepchild of sales and marketing, and like informing other people, right? You know, I think there is really a need to understand the humans behind the brand. Because who are you as a brand if you don't understand your customer? You can't function, right?

You can send that cannon out, but if you're not understanding who you're trying to hit, that's... Maybe that metaphor needs...maybe that has an endpoint, that metaphor. But I really think it's the importance of it. You know, there's no... The CIO is not the chief insights officer, right? So I think the push to have a seat at the table, the push to be found valuable and to... And I don't think we do a good enough job at an industry level of talking about ROI for these efforts, because it does seem like an expenditure, not a benefit, but there is sales data that indicates that if you know somebody better, you're gonna have a better relationship with that customer. So, I think we need to talk more in that way as an industry.

Will: So, on that, when you write up your case studies, what kind of ROI is typical in those case studies?

Katrina: If I am having the ears of marketers, please tell your market research partners what happened. Please tell us because sometimes we don't know. Especially in, you know, the B2B world, like business to business you don't know if you can't see the product on the shelves like, "Did that help?" I have no idea. So we do a lot of feedback calls to try to understand what happened with that campaign or, you know, what happened with your subscriber growth targets so that we can kind of tell the case study with that impact. But it is tricky because we're often not around. Now if you're internal, if you're a market research person and you are internal within the organization, the benefit is that you get to see that outcome. But in our case studies, it is often, "This was successful. They did this learning beforehand. That learning must have contributed to the success." Right? Because if they hadn't known that, they wouldn't have been able to have that result.

Will: Yes. Yeah. That makes sense. I know a lot of people listening to this they're at a range of businesses, right? There's some people who are sole traders, like one-person businesses. Some people are working in massive organizations and everything in between. So, you obviously are gonna do this stuff yourself when you get started. So there's a couple of stages to this question. When you start out doing it yourself, where would you turn? And then at what point do you call you guys in?

Katrina: So, I do think when the business is small or the business is young, there is a lot that you can do. I think, Will, you mentioned Google Analytics before, and I said that's not really what we use. But that's definitely what brands can use. So, there's a lot of tool you should be looking at your website traffic, and your click rates on any newsletters that you're sending or any, you know, how are your socials accounts doing? Who's reaching you? Like just assess what is going on using the tools that come with those products and services. So that's base level. I also think a lot of people get very nervous about asking their customers questions. They don't want to ask. What I will say is that no one ever thinks worse of a brand for asking them how they're doing. How are you doing? Are we serving you all right? Like, that's never a problem.

Now, it could... I know I may not have time to answer that survey right now, but it's never like an imposition. If anything, it is a great brand marketing business development touchpoint to say we care. We're taking the time and energy to ask you how you feel. You know, we hear that a lot from participants in our studies saying, "Well, I'm just really glad they're asking me this question. Like, this is just improving my experience with this brand already because they've obviously paid you to do this study. They obviously care what I think." So I think that it can be as simple as, you know, a post-purchase questionnaire, it can be as simple as sending a newsletter like an email, a Lister message out and saying, "Do you have a moment to give feedback?"

And I don't care how you collect that back. That could be an email, Google Form, SurveyMonkey, you know, quick interview with the sales team. It doesn't matter. If you're getting that feedback, it's only gonna benefit you. I think at the point where then you want to make strategic shifts, you want to start doing something differently, better, moving forward, launching something new, then I think it's really time to tap in someone who's more of an expert in the field to do that for you. Also, because you've grown to the point where you shouldn't be doing your own research at that point, you probably have other business priorities that you should be doing. So, I think... And then there's a certain point past that if it's often a third transition into, we need to get that on staff. We need to have someone within the organization whose job it is to do that research and, you know, keep us all informed and the rest of the company. So, I kind of see it as three stages.

Will: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I suppose, you know, if you are untrained at this stuff, you know... We don't know about the quality of the data necessarily, because you mentioned something earlier about data not being as pure as it used to be, or some people perceiving it that way because it's not all in these kind of like, you know, in-person focus groups. Is that something to watch out for kind of, you know, impure sketchy data?
Katrina: Yes. I think if you are doing the kinds of collection methods that we just talked about, if you are a small business and you're talking to your customers, you have less to worry about. You know, they bought the thing and you're talking to them about the fact that they bought the thing. Or they subscribe to the thing and you're talking to them about it, right? So, you're less likely. However, you do need to be aware that the moment that you offer monetary compensation for feedback, that is a game that people want to play and see if they can get one over on you, and see if they can get paid even though they are not your target audience. So, yes, I think as soon as that comes up, you do need to be aware. I think the biggest kind of caution I can give is about buying sample, buying databases. If you are doing that, there are amazingly great suppliers out there who are your conduit to people. Just have a conversation with them and understand how they clean that data, what they're looking after in term, you know, what their policies are.

There's lots of, back to AI, great tools to help them out. It's just, please join us in the crusade of keeping our data clean, and therefore the insights relevant and just have that conversation. Just understand what's being done on your behalf and make sure that you feel good about that. It's not something that you necessarily need to pick up the gauntlet and like do yourself, but you need to make sure that when you're working with a partner, they're doing what they need to do to make sure that you're getting quality data, because you're gonna make a decision on that. So you wanna make a decision on valid data. So, just have that conversation and make sure you understand what's going on.

Will: Yeah. I get that. Can you give our listeners a few practical tips that they can execute straight away?

Katrina: The first and most important thing is don't take away from this episode, "Oh, I've gotta do some research." Like, just... You know, I think it's about writing down what I wish I knew. I wish I knew these things because if I knew them I could make better decisions on behalf of my customers. Start there. Start with what I need to know, what I wish I knew. Then you can figure out how to get that answer. But if you start with, I guess she said if it's, you know, in the 20s rather than the 10s, and I haven't done research, I better do a survey. Like, that's not the takeaway. So definitely think about that. Think about what pieces you are missing. That would be my first tip. I think that's crucial because if there's a lot of, like, somebody told me I should do some research so I should do it. And that just doesn't have the impact as much as when you're answering a question.

I also think is... This tip I give quite often is, if you are having a customer touchpoint, always please have an opt-in for, "In future, we may be doing some customer research. Would you like to be a part of that? Are you open to being contacted for that opportunity?" It is so simple, it is one question. And that allows you, if they opt-in, back to our kind of data privacy conversation, that allows you to contact them and say, "Thanks so much for your interest in participating in some research. We have an opportunity for you." So, that is very simple, can be built into almost every point of that customer journey. And so, really think about that. How can you get that in there? Because you may not have those questions right now, but you will at some point need to know something from somebody. And if you're like, "Wait, I've got a list of opt-ins." You're 17 steps ahead.

Will: Yes. That's good. Very good. Good tips. Thank you. Okay. Well, there's only one last question for you. Tell our listeners where they can find you and connect with you online.

Katrina: Please do reach out, connect with me anywhere and everywhere, The company KNow Research is like know for knowledge, not, no like you didn't do any research. So I'm on LinkedIn, we're on Twitter and YouTube and all the places. But our website is probably the best place to start.

Will: That's great. Well, Katrina, thanks so much. I've learned loads in a period of time, 50 minutes or something, that absolutely flew by. So, I really appreciate your insight, your knowledge, and your advice there. So, yeah, thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

Katrina: No problem. Happy to be here.

Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Katrina Noelle

Katrina Noelle is president of KNow Research. A full-service insights consultancy, specializing in designing custom qualitative insights projects since 2003, to unlock insights about brands and target audiences. She's also co-founder of Scoot Insights, whose trademarked Scoot Sprint approach helps decision-makers choose the right direction.