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Monica Wood, Quirks Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

As contributors to the market research industry, the deep insights we share about the human behavior data gathered is essential. With meaningful context and in-the-moment data, they confidently create shopper-centric strategies and effectively move brands forward. Without exceptional people, the data is well, just data. Celebrating exceptional people who impact the market research and insights industry is one way we can give back. We couldn’t think of a better way to do so than by sponsoring the Quirks Lifetime Achievement award!

Through her empathy and willingness to take risks, Monica Wood, Vice President Consumer and Member Insights of Herbalife Nutrition, established herself as a leader in this industry. Her perspective about what it takes to be an outstanding market researcher demonstrates her experience and proven track record. From MR best practices to common mistakes market researchers make; a forecast of the market research industry and key mindsets for success in this industry, Monica shares her knowledge in this powerful interview.

Q: What would you consider markers of a great market researcher?

A: Whether I’m talking with a newbie or a seasoned professional I’m almost always looking for one of three things at any given time – a capacity for forward-thinking, willingness to adapt and level of empathy.

When I consider what it takes to thrive in this industry a forward-thinking focus is key. While data is being captured in the past or in the present, the strategies brands rely on happen in the future. Successful market research professionals address where the puck is going, as opposed to where the puck is. It’s not enough to know where the industry has been; market researchers need to be forward-thinking and looking for what’s next. When you have a forward-thinking approach, your focus isn’t to learn how to fix things through studies but to learn how to strategize for the future.

A great addition to this forward-thinking mindset is the ability to quickly adapt. Market researchers are constantly taking seemingly disparate pieces of information and weaving multiple data points into a story for a broader synthesis. When you don’t have the exact type of data you wanted, adaptability comes into play in how a very well-thought-out story can be managed and integrated into other pieces of data meaningfully.

At the end of the day, market research is a science of people. Whether interacting with participants  or colleagues, providing empathy and truly understanding the needs of others is crucial. When we are empathetic to others’ timelines, needs, and individuality, we begin to create an environment that is moving. It’s no longer just about numbers — instead, it is about helping the world around us.

Over my career, I’ve noticed these three qualities are great indicators that a researcher is doing great work.

 

Q: Possessing great qualities as a researcher is one thing, but what are some of the best practices you like to keep top of mind?

A: One very simple, but often overlooked best practice is knowing what research has already been done and using it as a resource. I find that research is unnecessarily commissioned because the currently available data hasn’t been appropriately analyzed. Instead, one should ask, “What other data points do we have, and how does that tie together?” This focus on meaningful analysis as the first best research move means resources are effectively used. Even looking at past research to inform HOW a new study should be structured to eliminate redundancy is an effective use of everyone’s time. As this mindset pervades teams the added benefit is an uptick in strategic thinking that can bring multiple data sets together more powerfully.

 

Q: What can researchers do to continually improve the perception of the industry?

A: The core competency of objectivity sets respected insights professionals apart. When others know they can be counted on for this kind of non-biased critical thinking, they often become central to the continuity of a given brand or business. Making an impact means squarely dealing with your own biases and the biases of stakeholders or other team members. Curiosity drives innovation and meaningful change and that is only fueled with a genuine commitment to objectivity in all we do.

 

Q: Do you have a particular guiding principle you’ve leaned on throughout your career?

A: It is essential that insight work does not begin unless we know how it will be utilized. While ROI on market research can be hard to prove, it will never get its due if it is not directly tied to actions and clear desired outcomes. Insisting on a clear road map of how insights will be used will keep the challenge of delivering ROI no matter what the data reveals.

 

Q: Do you see common mistakes in our industry you’d like to see change?

A: Unfortunately, I find it common that professionals and teams don’t seem to always learn from their mistakes. As I believe the moment you stop learning is the moment you stop growing, I challenge teams to review each project and look for opportunities for continuous improvement.

I also want insights to have a bigger place at the table with key stakeholders. Too often I see researchers buried in reports or simply not addressing the right audience in order to present the core outcomes from a research project. Getting in front of senior-level leadership is the only way to not only increase the likelihood your work will make an impact, but it also the only way to grow your stature for the value you bring to important business-impact decisions.

It is also important to how we are using technology and specifically, real-time insights. While there are very powerful tools which put immediate responses into the hands of research teams I see too much extrapolation from a very small subset of data. How you use or misuse information is critical. Whether you’re working with a single survey or connecting with an online community for quick or iterative responses, it’s important to keep the size of the sample and the pool of respondents in context to the larger population.

 

Q: What would you say has been a secret to your success?

A: I’ve worked on many different sides of the business –  from the client, the supplier, and the association. This has given me perspective on how different parts of the industry can optimally work together. I think a big part of my success, which I am happy to share, is my willingness to work together which requires treating other business partners with equality.  When I worked with suppliers I made sure to lean on their expertise instead of creating a demanding and subordinate relationship. The same is true from all sides and when equity is not the order of the day, expertise leaks and the work is compromised.

I believe in bringing your IQ together with your EQ. No matter what industry you’re in, this will always create a win for others around you, the companies you work for and your community of colleagues.

 

Q: What do you see in the future for the insights industry?

A: We are all working from many directions on incorporating the use of artificial intelligence (AI) into our industry. While AI is the perfect solution to help brands understand more of the ‘what’ — we will always need insightful and seasoned professionals to provide the kind of perspective that is needed to champion the voice of the consumer. The insights industry needs to continue to focus on the ‘why’ regardless of the changes in technology. Brands, teams and organizations who stay committed to uncovering the ‘whys’ behind consumer behavior will always lead their industries. I see a future of this industry where successful market researchers maintain their critical roles as storytellers.

Congratulations to Monica Wood, recipient of the 2021 Quirks Lifetime Achievement award!

 

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