Leadership & the Future of MR: Insights from Melanie Courtright, EVP ResearchNow SSI

Market Research is struggling to find a product-market fit given the way technology rapidly changes the industry landscape. My recent interview with Melanie Courtright gave practical advice to insights professionals as well as tips on how brands and agencies can thrive in today’s data full world.

Characteristics of a Leader

There is a central theme among the industry leaders that I have interviewed for the Happy Market Research Podcast. Leaders are not born but made, and this making starts on day one when they embark on their career.
Similar to the previous insights leaders including Edwin Wong, Merrill Dubrow, and Rogier Verhulst; Melanie Courtright embodies these three characteristics:
  • Diligent: Embracing whatever task they have, they quickly separate from their peers due to their work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the project done.
  • Knowledge Seekers: Not seeing their job as a list of items to check off, they look at the workflow and see identify opportunities for improvement as well as gain market insights.
  • Humility: Staying close to their roots, they are willing to do the “grunt” work which keeps them close to the end customer.

Melanie started her career translating and transcribing customer and employee open ended responses from around the world.
“I spent years translating, cleaning and coding verbatims. It was at that time that I learned about the needs of employees and consumers. I spent a lot of time getting to know the hearts and minds of people which grew my love of research.”
For those of you who are early in your career, consider apply these principles to your work. It’ll pay off… big time!

How to Advance in Your Career

When coaching young professionals, they often are frustrated with their current job. I always counsel them to beware. This frustration will impact your personal brand. Your peers and supervisors will feel it and it will hold you back.
Melanie offered similar advice to us:
“Act like the role you want to be before you are given the role…Start acting like the role you want in 3 years now. Think big, plan ahead and don’t let people give you any boundaries.”
It is rare to promote someone who isn’t dominating in their current role. The hundreds of people I’ve promoted over the last few decades…
  • First, kicked ass in their current jobs and then
  • Extended their thoughtfulness to the entire delivery process from sales to delivery and back to sales.
Do this and you will be indispensable to your organization.

Lessons from Melanie’s Military Service

Not surprisingly, Melanie brings a wealth of wisdom from her time in the Army. What stood out to me was this quote:
“The art of discipline is about practicing and exercising and honing your talents so that when you are under pressure you can rely on muscle memory.”
We’ve all heard the axiom, “Practice makes perfect.” This is not true. Instead, “Practice makes permanent.” What she is describing here is the importance of doing the right thing in the right way until it is simply automatic. This is more evident the more pressure someone is under to perform. Think about professional sports and esports stars. They are 100% operating on reflex.
  • Recognize the pattern
  • Auto-respond Succeed
My recommendation is that you apply this to kindness. Practice it. Someone cuts you off on the freeway? Shrug it off. Running late and racing for the front door of Starbucks? Hold it open for the person you just barely beat.

Smile more. Grumble less. You’ll find you and the world are much happier. And, when the pressure comes, your headspace will automatically stay positive. ☺

ResearchNow+SSI Trends

Not all respondents are created equal. Near term, Melanie is working with her team to bring a data quality rubric to market.
“You can have a perfect dataset that doesn’t accurately represent any population that you are trying to make a decision about. The market has not yet developed an explicit measure of the accuracy of your data. This is something we are committed to deliver to our clients and will be educating the entire market.”
Over the last decade, the end customer has increasingly lost visibility on sample origination. This is important because origination informs the respondent’s “why”. For example, if a respondent is recruited from an “I love Pepsi” Facebook page to take a Coke survey, there are obvious impacts to the data.

Future Trends

Every interview I’ve done has hit on the central theme that it used to be hard for brands to have a conversation with their consumers so, market research was primarily fulfilling the logistics that facilitated those conversations. Now, brands have access to tools that enable them to easily and cheaply have that conversation without the help of research. Melanie addressed this issue head-on…
“In the next 3 years we will see important progress on the connection of data across the market spectrum from product development to sales activation…. More technology firms will join us from outside our industry.”
Research agencies want to deliver insights that matter and emotionally connect to the brand. Now is the time for us to unite under the banner of “Why” and enable our customers, the brands, to win because of research!
Have a great day! ☺

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