Boundaries In Research

When you hear the word “boundary,” what is your immediate thought?  Personally, when I hear the word, I immediately get tense and shrink back. I begin to question why the boundary is being put into effect? Was it something I’ve done? Something I’ve said?


Merriam-Webster defines boundary as “a point or limit that indicates where two things become different.” Rather than focus on it as a bad thing, I’m beginning to understand that boundaries are respectful and connecting – not dividing or fake.


Brené Brown is a researcher, a college professor and a storyteller. More importantly, she is a human being who wants to live in a society where love and compassion are at the forefront. I came across an interview she did with entitled “Boundaries,” and it changed my viewpoint.


We live in a society where we are told to drop our walls and be open with the people in our surroundings. Brown completely turns this viewpoint on its head and shows that boundaries are not restrictive, but instead open the door for us to connect with people. They allow for us to be real, honest and upfront with people rather than getting in too deep and hurting someone in the process. “Boundaries are not fake walls, separation, or division,” Brown says. “They are respect. They are ‘here’s what’s okay with me and here’s what’s not.’”


As researchers, we need to be able to connect with our consumers on a more emotional level while also maintaining the integrity of one’s self. Moreover, we need to maintain the integrity of the brand we’re representing. The video brings into focus one major idea: Boundaries are good— like, really good. Putting boundaries in place allows us to be more generous and build relationships with people that go beyond the surface.


Boundaries create respect and an empathic connection. We can assume the best in people and actually feel for them rather than simply wanting to feel for them. Instead of saying, “that’s awful,” initializing boundaries allows for a mutual understanding that we are separate people. Yet we can connect on an emotional level and say “this must feel awful.” Brown says, “to assume the best about people is almost an inherently selfish act because the life you change first is your own.” As researchers, the inherent boundaries we put in place allows us to not only change our own lives, but perhaps also the lives of the people we serve.


See below to watch the powerful Brené Brown interview in its entirety.


Continuous Learning

We know that building a relationship with consumers is important to a brand. However, we also understand that staying engaged in their lives is often easier said than done. We have developed a monthly continuous learning program that gives companies the opportunity to keep consumers top of mind and foster an on-going relationship with them. Our in-house Studio team can even brand the program specifically for your business to help drive cohesion of the program and make it your own.


We think it’s a great program but rather than asking you to take our word for it, we reached out to Allie Engelhart who has spearheaded a successful continuous learning program for her team. She worked hand-in-hand with Seek to create their customized monthly program now known as Atlas.

Allie joined P&G as a Consumer Market and Knowledge Intern within Family Care.  She is now a full-time member of the North American Baby Care team and her primary focus is Luvs, Pants and Wipes.  


Seek: Tell us a bit about the continuous learning program designed for your team.

Atlas was designed to be a first of its kind, engaging program that enables our multi-functional business team to develop a deep gut level understanding of our consumers. The program was built in two parts: activations and immersions. In an activation, 40 physical boxes show up in the office once a month and they are filled with activities and data that bring certain business related topics to life.  Immersions occur twice a year and they allow our 40 person team to leave the building for a day to spend time with the people we serve.


Seek: How has this helped you and the team to better understand your consumer target?

It was extremely encouraging to see how quickly our business embraced the program! The Baby Care team loves the hands on learning style as well as the layer of competition included in each activation. Members have reported using the insights found in boxes to fuel their work plans.  The leadership team noted that our first immersion was extremely beneficial and the findings were used to drive large business decisions.


Seek: What is it that makes you most proud of this program?

I am proud of the Seek/P&G team for not being afraid to bring the consumer’s voice to life in a new way. I love how iterative the process has been. By monitoring how the content is received and interacted with, we are able to get better at serving the multifunctional team with each and every box.


Seek: In what ways has the program benefited you personally?

I have had a blast working on Atlas. Being new to the Baby Care family, it has been a great opportunity for me to dig into and reorganize data from all around our business.  This provides me with a more holistic view of our portfolio and consumers. Atlas has also been an excellent creative outlet in my work plan. Brainstorming sessions with the Seek team are energizing and practicing how to bring concepts to life in an engaging format will be very beneficial as I progress through my career.

Designing For People

I love to bake. I take a lot of pride in choosing the best tools for my kitchen. Sure, I’ve accumulated a fun collection of colorful spatulas and measuring cups as gifts over the years, but when I look at my favorite tools, they are almost all OXO brand. I’ve been buying their products for years. So, what makes them so special? Why do I trust them so much? Their strong commitment to Universal Design makes their products a pleasure for me to use in my kitchen. I never struggle to understand how to use them and I can count on them to do the job.


OXO was founded when Sam Farber noticed his wife struggling to use her vegetable peeler due to arthritis. Her experience inspired him to create a new and better peeler that was more comfortable for her to use. According to the OXO website, “In 1990, after extensive research, hundreds of models, and dozens of design iterations, the first 15 OXO Good Grips Kitchen tools, including the iconic peeler, were introduced to the US Market.” By designing for his wife’s extreme needs, he was able to create products that also benefit everyone else.


The success of OXO is admirable, and I’m inspired by their attention to design and user experience. In my opinion, great design requires an understanding of many human needs. OXO didn’t just design a product to peel vegetables. They designed a product to work for a person. Humans are at the core of their business. All of their products are used and tested by numerous people with various needs to ensure they are creating products that serve as many needs as possible. On their website they claim: “Great products don’t make themselves. They need inspiration. Design. Testing.”


Due to the success of companies like OXO, designing for user experience has become a hot topic for businesses. However, the amount of research involved in creating a great product can make a company hesitant to spend the time and money. I recently attended a local guest lecture hosted by the Interaction Design Association. Chris Bovard, a UX (User Experience) Leader at Paycor spoke about the importance of UX leadership to an organization. He outlined three reasons why UX design is worth the investment.


1.  UX design neutralizes your competition. If you make a product that is well understood and easy to use, why would people look elsewhere?
2.  UX design converts your users into believers by offering overall perception of quality and security. In my case, if I’m shopping for a new kitchen gadget, I don’t even need to shop around. I know that If I buy an OXO product, it will be well designed and stand up to the job.
3. UX design reduces support costs. If a product is well designed and rooted in human research, there will be fewer problems down the road. The product becomes easier to make and more simple to communicate to your consumers. OXO’s simple packaging, clean lines and rounded ergonomic handles make them intuitive to use & easily recognizable in the store.


We talk a lot about humanizing innovation at Seek. We believe that when you empathically connect with people, you will be inspired to act on their behalf and innovate in a way that truly serves them. An empathic connection creates the opportunity to design for the needs of real people. Designing for people helps to build relationships and create consumer advocates for your brand.

Insight Buzz Kill

How many times have you heard the words “deep” and “rich” to describe the insights a research company provides for you?  You’ll find these words on our website because they give us a quick and accurate way to differentiate our insight work.  Without context, they can appear to be just buzzwords that we like to throw around instead of providing an understanding of how our research methods can benefit you. We don’t speak for all companies doing qualitative research, but here’s what a rich or deep insight means to Seek.


It’s like pulling water from a deep well rather than dipping a cup into a puddle.

Traditional insights tend to skim along the top of the consumer’s life paying attention to the topical parts of his or her life. They often give us obvious and probably one-time solutions. An empathic insight is informed by going deep into the consumer’s experience to uncover the tensions and motivators that reside in the subconscious mind. It’s from this place of depth and connection that we find multiple opportunities to engage with and serve this consumer. A “deep” or “rich” insight is the well from which you can continually draw ideas.


For example, a specialty retailer wants to attract a specific group of people. The obvious approach is to research which brands are important to them and carry those brands in-store. Using an empathic approach and immersive research, we discover that the brands themselves are actually not enough to attract this consumer. This consumer wants authenticity. Expertise in the category is of primary importance to them.  Digging deeper, we define what authenticity and expertise means to them. As we synthesize the research and identify patterns, many opportunities such as staff training, services, marketing communication and community involvement are revealed. The retailer can continue to come back to this rich insight to generate ideas for long-term and meaningful engagement with this consumer.


It tells you why.

Quantitative data is important. We know that you also need to go further in your research to uncover the why behind the data. It is good to know that 70% of your target consumers aren’t responding to an ad concept or a product feature, but if you don’t know why, it will take longer to innovate for them. The “why” can often be found in the subconscious mind. Our methods are designed to identify non-verbal cues and emotional content that add depth to your insights.


It reminds you that your consumer is a real person & changes behavior.

When you have a more complete picture of your consumer, they are no longer a statistic like 35% of people or the 50 year old white male demographic. They are humans with real lives. They have feelings and thoughts that you can relate to because the insight activated your empathy and imagination. The insight becomes inspiration for you to advocate for your consumers and share their stories. It serves as motivation for Innovators to create something significant. The marketing team is excited to develop communication that resonates. Your organization can begin to move from the traditional brand-to-buyer mentality to a human-to-human relationship. Innovating from this “deep” and “rich” understanding of your consumers leads to meaningful engagement that makes your brand more relevant.

Tech & A Human Touch

A common challenge for research teams is finding the best way to use social media to collect and analyze data. They often face resistance within their organization because the data is messy and finding nuggets of useful information is time-consuming. Interpreting the data and determining how to best use it is a daunting task. As a result, many companies are missing out on potential opportunities to better serve their consumers and save time and money in the process. We think there’s a winning formula to help brands tap into the unfiltered stream of online data and use it to move them forward.


Natural language processing software is a popular tool used for social media analysis because the data is created by consumers and reports are quickly generated. These reports are generally used to measure sentiment around a brand, campaign, a service initiative or a new product launch. But software can only go so far and often misses part of the story. Sentiment is a useful starting point and provides direction for further analysis, but we think you also need the context and insight that comes from a human being to build an effective strategy.


We think the best approach combines automated software with a qualitative researcher who reads the data, hand-codes the commentary, discovers the meaning behind the commentary and provides human insight.


Getting social data is easy. There is plenty of software available and after plugging in a few keywords, you receive pages and pages of data. The hard part is trying to navigate the overwhelming amount of data to find something that pertains to your objectives. Where do you start? A qualitatively trained researcher gets you started by selecting the right keywords to find the data you really need. They read through all of the commentary, hand-code it and identify key themes. Once they’ve identified the themes that are most relevant to you, they can organize the the commentary to support each theme.


Software can’t divide commentary into different parts to understand relationship and meaning. It cannot pick up on sarcasm and contradiction. It will completely miss the emotion expressed behind an expletive or emoji because most software filters them out and in some cases, it will even kick out comments with a misspelled word. Adding a human researcher to the mix will give you a more accurate picture. They read through and include all commentary generated by the software and then dig a little deeper into a stream of content that is relevant to your objectives to provide context and clarify meaning.


So, you’ve used the best software and it generated a report that gives you a lot of data and statistics. According to the report, the joy people feel when interacting with your brand is down 23% from last year. What do you do with this information? The report doesn’t provide any details regarding why joy is down 23%. And how did the software identify joy in the comments? What would increase your joy metric? A human researcher will understand why you want to measure joy and how it fits with your overall strategy. They will understand that joy means more to you than just its basic definition. Our researchers read through the commentary and code it based on what is relevant to you and your definition of joy. They find overarching themes regarding how people are experiencing your brand and combine it with the supporting data to give you a complete story to clearly direct your next steps.


Our researchers are trained in empathy and it’s at the core of everything we do. When our team is reading and coding social media commentary, they understand that behind every comment is a real person who is more than just that online post. Our researchers dig deeper to try and discover more about the people behind the posts.They work to identify habits & practices, pain points and un-met needs that will infuse rich human insight into your software-generated data.


If you’re interested in learning more about our approach to social media analysis you can learn more HERE.

What’s Really Driving Our Decisions?

In the last five years, the marketing and innovation worlds have been buzzing about the behavioral sciences, and with good reason. The advent of brain-scanning technologies like the fMRI and PET have offered a new look at what our brains are really doing while we make choices, and the findings are stunning. For those of us who solve for human problems it is the Wild West, and our new explorers are the neuroscientists, psychologists and behavioral theorists who are linking arms to stake brand new claims in human understanding.


As a matter of summary I thought I’d share the one theme that resonates with me through study after study and headline after headline: your “gut” is doing most of your thinking for you.


The “Thought” Myth
The pre-frontal cortex, the part of your brain believed to be most responsible for conscious awareness and executive function (your “thoughts”) is a relatively new evolutionary invention and at its oldest, about 500,000 years old… a mere speck in an evolutionary continuum spanning 4.5 billion years. Like most early tech launches it is riddled with glitches. Your conscious structure is a masterwork of computational power that can establish rules, apply abstract concepts to concrete phenomena, suppress animal urges, and override emotional function. Not a bad hand of tricks for such a young system, but it is wildly inefficient and highly susceptible to unconscious influence by the far more established limbic and autonomic systems. Its greatest flaw is its blindspot; your conscious mind is historically terrible at recognizing its own weaknesses.


Those of us who create new things for a living do well to strengthen our thoughts, but we also need to exercise our “gut” to empower our unconscious minds for creation, as this is where our core creative intuition lies. To do so, we must feast on a constant stream of experiences that “build our gut” by linking us physically, emotionally and mentally with those we are creating for. Why? Because it turns out that our gut is actually doing most of the thinking and creating.


Conscious Mind As CEO
David Eagleman, a neuroscientist with an unquenchable drive for innovation, offers us a helpful analogy: the conscious mind as the CEO of a large company. She is very smart, capable, and experienced; she is infinitely qualified to make strategic choices for the company. But there is no way she knows all that is going on in that company every day. She can’t, because no one person can possibly retain and process that much information. She can’t know what everybody is working on or tell you how much the company spent on restroom paper towels last year. When big strategic decisions are needed or when hit with brand new problems, she is at the wheel in action, but her attention is a very limited resource, and after setting priorities and getting the strategies and tactics rolling, she lets the system run and turns her focus to the next most important thing. She leaves most of the day-to-day choices to the much more plentiful resources of her broad organization.


Your brain works the same way. Your conscious attention (“thought” power) is a limited-capacity resource and requires a tremendous amount of energy to operate.  In order to conserve that energy for what matters, your brain wisely outsources non-essential or predictable operations to your unconscious mind, pushing operations further back into the much more efficient limbic (emotional), autonomic (peripheral) and enteric (gut) systems. These unconscious systems have a 4-billion year evolutionary head start on the conscious mind and act in concert to make most of your choices. In fact, neuroscientists studying decision-making estimate that around 95% of your decisions are made unconsciously or pre-consciously.  What you think of as your “gut” intuition is actually an entire complex system of neuronal networks built by both evolution and every experience you have ever had in your life. This system links with your central and peripheral nervous systems to drive decision-making. It is your most evolved problem-solving structure shaped by hundreds of millennia of evolution and sharpened by millions of personal data points to help you make well-informed choices.


Your Big Blind Spot
The trouble comes when you believe that your conscious mind is making most of your choices. Chances are good that you believe this because, by definition, it is all that you are consciously aware of.  The reality is that the vast majority of your “choices” have been pre-determined by your unconscious mind, then retroactively rationalized by your executive function without telling you that’s what happened. Those early drafts of the marketing materials that you green-lighted without hesitation?  Your conscious told you that you it was based on absolute trust in your agency and reasoned deliberation of the content. Your unconscious had long since decided that it was a go because it remembered the key elements and emotional impacts of your previous failed campaigns, and knew a winning idea before you did. That date you turned down last week?  You couldn’t quite put your finger on it, but something told you he was “creepy”. Meanwhile, your unconscious recalled a vivid emotional memory of a disastrous college date with a man of similar facial structure. That bag of chips you turned down at lunch?  Your conscious mind cheered you for minding your diet, but your unconscious mind had already rejected the chips with revulsion as it recalled throwing up the same brand as a kid.


Building Gut Through Empathic Experience
Those of us who solve the problems of others through creation and innovation thus do well to hone our gut instinct by creating rich connections with the people we are creating for: our end-users, our customers, our patients, our stakeholders, our loved ones. These connections will help build a deep reservoir of personal experiences to drive our strategic instinct. To do so, we must do the dirty work of empathy:  we must feel what they feel, struggle with what they struggle with, and encode their experiences into our own until they become almost inextricably enmeshed, and we can have confidence in our gut instinct. To serve our customers well, we must step out from behind our desks and drafting tables and get wholly immersed in their experience, not as a bi-annual exercise or a kick-off to ideation, but as a matter of regular creative discipline. We must hone our gut-level instincts to care about what they care about and reject what they reject, long before our conscious mind becomes aware of it. After all, that instinct is making most of our choices anyway; we should make sure they are good ones.

Justin Masterson is Seek’s Account Strategy Director and resident neuroscience geek.


The Case For Consumer Connects

Why not just do a focus group?  We’re often asked this question when we recommend a Consumer Connect as a method for doing consumer research.  We have an experiment for you. Try having your next family meal sitting in your bedroom and just watching your family eat in the dining room on FaceTime.

Do you feel disconnected? Are you unengaged? Do you feel an urge to jump into the conversation and learn more?  Are you distracted by your surroundings and missing out on part of the conversation?  In our experience, this is what it can feel like to participate in traditional focus group settings.

We believe that a Consumer Connect can have a big impact on your research and innovation.  Here are some benefits to consider the next time you need insights.

1. Helps you uncover the information you really want.
Consumer Connects are simply a conversation between you and your and consumer. It’s active participation versus just listening to a conversation between a moderator and the consumer.  Even the best moderator may not explore a topic that’s of great interest to you and your team. If you are at the table and part of the conversation, the issues that most benefit you can be discussed and the conversation has room to evolve. It becomes very personal.  It’s an opportunity to look a consumer in the eye and engage with them rather than just observe them and take notes.

2. Leads to more meaningful innovation
We believe that you create best for people when you have a personal connection with them.  There is a stronger desire to solve problems for people when you can feel their tension in addition to just hearing about it. Ten feet of distance and an inch of double-paned glass removes the motivation to create something new because it removes the engagement with the real people you serve.  When you get in front of them, allow them to challenge you, ask them the hard questions and let them return the favor, it creates an empathic connection. This connection motivates you to create something for your consumers that makes a difference in their lives because now you know them.

3.  Gives you a competitive advantage.
If you want to differentiate yourself from your competition, why not try something they aren’t doing? Focus groups have their place if you just need traditional insights that reveal surface observations. Your competitors have access to the same information.  A consumer connect allows you to go deeper and get to the core motivation behind a person’s decision making process. It gives you access to information that your competitors don’t have and paves the way for products, services or messages that truly resonate with people.

Know Your Consumer

First, I’d like you to buy a birthday gift for YOUR sister. Here’s $50. Go ahead into the mall, it’s OK; I’ll wait, this won’t take long.


You know how this works: you’ll go inside, and you’ll immediately move towards the part of the mall with the fancy tea shop. You’ll bypass the curiosity shops and knick-knack boutiques; she’s too classy for that. You’ll blindly walk by the high-end cosmetics and the ninja perfume-spraying fragrance ladies at the kiosks; too glam for her style. You’ll beeline for the fancy tea shop, drawn in by the wafting scent of orange blossom and rose hips… it’s not really your scene, but you know your sister, and she has dragged you to enough essential oil demonstrations and Jane Austen movies, you just know what she wants. Within a couple of minutes, you’ll pick up the white-tea-with-ginger gift pack, it’s just perfect, and you’ll head out the door knowing you picked another winner.


Now, let’s try something different. Here’s $50. I’d like you to pick out a gift for my sister.


Don’t worry, I’ll give you some help. She’s tall. She’s 35. She vacations a lot in the Pacific Northwest. She’s married. She’s an accountant, and she earns in the mid-sixties. She loves small dogs and horror movies, and she has never broken a bone.


Struggling? Of course you are. That shopping trip would be a nightmare: nerve-wracking, and lengthy, walking glassy-eyed past every store, wondering if she’s an Ann Taylor girl or a Banana girl, if she’s into bareMinerals sleek or MAC showy. Every store, every shelf, every product… they would all look equally good and equally bad, equally likely to wow and disappoint. You would be on your phone to me constantly, running every option by me, and eventually your selection would be whatever feels least risky given that you have run out of time.


Sound like innovation where you work? Creating something truly meaningful for your constituent by starting with a segmentation profile and a qual summary is like shopping for someone else’s sister… it takes forever, it’s deeply taxing, and the odds of getting it right on your first try are pretty low.


So, what’s the difference?


The difference is empathic connection. You know your sister well beyond her demos, per product usages, her likes and dislikes. You know her feelings, her touchy spots, her dreams, her failures, and chances are good you have felt most of it along with her. That’s empathy; the moment when you have gone beyond I feel for you, and crossed into I feel with you, and it is the most powerful problem-solving force in humanity.


Your body is a finely-tuned problem-solving machine with a couple million years of evolution towards just this purpose. The conscious “thinking” mind (the sapiens part of homo sapiens), the part we typically try to use for innovation, has only been at it for a couple hundred thousand years, and is still wildly inefficient. Deep, lasting and relevant innovation requires engagement of the whole person, and empathy is the tool that fires up head, heart, and gut for the task. But engaging in true empathy is messy business, and most businesses and brands struggle to do it consistently, and with authenticity. We find sometimes you have to slow down in order to know how to innovate quickly.

By: Justin Masterson, Global Accounts Director