Artwork for podcast Greenbook Podcast
71 — Beyond the Horizon: Forming a Vision for the Future of Research with Melanie Courtright
Episode 7131st July 2023 • Greenbook Podcast • Greenbook
00:00:00 00:41:17

Share Episode

Shownotes

Do you want to know what it takes to succeed in the research industry?

In this episode, we are joined by Melanie Courtright, CEO of Insights Association, to discuss crucial topics like data quality and privacy. She emphasizes the significance of professionals developing a diverse skill set, including proficiency in multilingual data analysis and power skills like storytelling, listening, selling, and negotiation. Melanie also sheds light on upcoming events and initiatives, such as the association's leadership event and their focus on inclusion in AI at the Idea Forum. Tune in to learn from this industry leader about the keys to thriving in research today.

You can reach out to Melanie on LinkedIn.

Many thanks to Melanie for being our guest. Thanks also to our producer, Natalie Pusch; and our editor, James Carlisle.

Mentioned in this episode:

Join us at IIEX LATAM

Visit greenbook.org/events/iiex-latam to register for the upcoming IIEX Latin America event. Use code PODCAST for 30% off your pass!

Transcripts

Lenny:

Hello, everybody. It’s Lenny Murphy with another edition of the GreenBook Podcast. Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to spend it with us. And as usual, by us, I don’t mean my multiple personalities. I mean, my guest. And like a broken record, everybody’s a special guest, but today… boy, Melanie Courtright, the CEO of Insights Association, and Mel and I go way back.

Melanie:

I think that’s right, yeah. 2006, 7.

Lenny:

Yeah, way back. And we’ve not caught up in a long time, so definitely looking forward to this. So Mel, welcome.

Melanie:

Thank you. Thank you. And as always honored and humbled that you want to hear what I have to think and, you know, what our board has to think. And so, thank you for having us. Very, very good time.

Lenny:

Well, let’s hope, hopefully, that you think that when we’re done. And you dived right in. That is absolutely why for our listeners, you know, Melanie is the CEO of the Insights Association. She has been in the industry longer than I have, so well over 20 years at this point. And—

Melanie:

Three decades now, Lenny.

Lenny:

All right. All right. So. So, we definitely want to find out through this period of transformation, what your view and the Insights Association view is. But before we get into that, let’s talk about those three decades for those who may not be familiar. So, you want to give a quick, quick bio?

Melanie:

Yeah, thank you. So, Lenny said, I’m CEO of the Insights Association. Insights Association is your trade association if you don’t know who we are. We are your professional body advocacy, standards, certifications, you know, overseeing the US body of work. And before this, I was actually EVP of Research and Data Science at Dynata, which was a merger from Research Now. I joined Research Now, before that uSamp, AOL before that, and before that, like, 12 years at a full-service research firm.

Lenny:

Yeah, that’s great. I remember. I remember hanging out in Richmond. We were pitching to Genworth Financial jointly, back in my Rockhopper days and your AOL days. So—

Melanie:

And we were sitting there pontificating about the future, and some of the cool things we could do in the virtual world I remember. And now all those things that we thought were possible are reality in today’s world, it’s fun to think back to, you know, those envisioning days of what might happen and to see them all come to fruition, you know, 10, 15 years later.

Lenny:

Yeah. Well, and some things we didn’t see. So—or at least I didn’t. So, [laugh] maybe you did. Which is a good segue. So, hot topics, right? What are the coolest emerging trends that the Insights Association membership are talking about and that you see within the industry. And we’ll play off of that. So, what are the big burning issues that is on everybody’s mind right now?

Melanie:

Yeah. So, I mean, I have to say, AI and generative AI because everybody knows that is a big, hot, burning topic. It’s really important, it’s changing how we work, and no matter who you talk to across the board, everybody’s talking about it, either from learning about it or implementing it or thinking about it or using it. So, everybody’s talking about that. But then based on who you talk to, if you talk to the agencies, they talk about, you know, AI and generative AI and methodology and how it’s helping them tell better stories, so storytelling.

Lenny:

Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. We talk about it a lot on this show and everywhere else. I will reiterate, right, that every conversation—wearing my Gen2 and my GreenBook hat—with brands and suppliers, this is an absolute huge topic. And it’s more than just where things in the past, we talked about mobile for years, right, the transformative effects of mobile, but we didn’t see pragmatic implementation, right? It took years for adoption. Same thing online, [laugh] right? This is different. This is being adopted right now.

Melanie:

Yeah, we just had a town hall and we had a bunch of people on the town hall and they all said that for the first time, they feel like we’re only a few months behind the curve. Like, with mobile and with online, research was years behind the curve and it took a while to catch up. But for a lot of good reasons, for curiosity because innately, they’re using it more in their own personal lives, and then because of just the need for this kind of data that just never existed before. Right now, they feel like, at least with generative AI and even with broader AI and machine learning, we’re only a few months behind. We might even be a little ahead of understanding things like representativeness and fit for decision making, right, and being able to replicate.

Lenny:

Let’s talk about the risk for a minute because I think that’s one of the areas that you and Association has always shown leadership, particularly your lobbying efforts around data privacy and data use and sometimes the exclusions for research versus some of the other issues—sample quality, obviously another big one—and I have a concern—and maybe it’s not valid, but let me [unintelligible 00:07:45] expressed this publicly yet, so let me share it with you and see what you think. It’s garbage in, garbage out, right? And I am increasingly concerned about the tail wagging the dog as far as… as driving more personalization for consumers on social media, we’re shaping their perception to such an extent that they may not have an unbiased view, for instance, of a given topic or product. Because the AI has done such a—or is doing such a good job of giving them all of the things they think they want or need based upon their profile information that that can be a challenge. And that’s with, you know, surveys, but same thing as when we’re talking about synthetic sample, right, because you were talking about mirroring.

t? And one of them was this::

it was the quality of the data.

Lenny:

Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, if the audience could have seen me, my neck hurts now from nodding so violently during all of that. And it’s back to the old days of proprietary panels, right? And it’s just a different use case of the panels, for all intents and purposes.

Melanie:

Well, and then even with panels, people are saying, “Panels are going to go away.” And you know, I’ve been in this profession a really long time; I don’t believe that they’re going to go away. I do believe that they’ll be able to drive scale. I think you’re going to need this base of data that is constantly current so that you’re feeding in constantly current, otherwise, the datasets are going to age too quickly because society is changing very fast. And so, you’re going to need this constant feed of data. But then those thing—those tools are going to allow you to scale that data, you know? You won’t need ginormous panels every time you want to study, but you’re going to need really good panels that feed really quality, current data to drive these AI tools.

Lenny:

Yeah. We got to stop because my neck is really hurting—

Melanie:

You know, we are actually SMR and Insights Association are pretty close partners these days, which is exciting. And I’m on their professional standards committee and I’m on their AI taskforce, and so I’m pretty close to this. There are some you know, big legislative pieces coming out around AI and the use of AI and rights. The concept of consumer consent is still front and center. Like, you still must have consent to use data.

Lenny:

And, again, thank God for the powers-that-be, whatever, the universe, substitute your term of, you know, whatever beneficial forces exist in the universe for the Insights Association for focusing on those things. It’s always been one of the things that I am thrilled you and SMR and the other trade orgs for tackling those issues to help protect us all.

Melanie:

Yeah, you’re welcome. And there’s, you know, that the only other piece that’s interesting for US listeners is that the only real point of difference between the US version of legislation and the US version of legislation is this concept of research being for good. So, AI should be used for good. And the problem is, how do you define good? Like, who gets to decide if doing research on a 64-ounce coke at McDonald’s is good for society or bad for society?

Lenny:

Yeah. You know, that’s a big topic. It’s a whole other thing. I [unintelligible 00:18:10] the older I get, the more I think about those things. I didn’t used to think so much about them. I lived my life so that we look back and there’s a legacy of good, making the world a better place. And I certainly would… 90% of all of my work, I would say, “Sure.” But there’s a few things I look back, and like, I don’t know if that really helped anybody [laugh].

Melanie:

The US tends to be a little more consumer and market-friendly, right? They let the market decide what’s good for them and what’s not. And then, you know, other regions can tend to be a little more, you know, legislation-driven and let the powers-that-be decide what is good for society and what’s not. And so, that’s the only other, you know, sort of big rub we’re struggling against right now is, where are we going to land in that so that we still end up with something that is globally practical that everybody can implement globally, and not too hard to, you know, to—not fighting against each other.

Lenny:

Yeah, yeah. No, good stuff. All right, so let’s play off of that a little bit more because one of the other key things that Insights Association has always done is, you know, training, education, professional certification, so with these changes that are happening, I think you and I would agree that there’s still need for methodologists, there’s still need for understanding, you know, sample, certainly statistics, et cetera, et cetera, but the tools that we use in all of those areas of research are going to change the skill sets needed. So, you know, is there going to be as much need for people to—for coders [laugh] we’ll go back to that or for tabbers or even for scripting surveys? Probably not. Probably not, right? Those, those tools—

Melanie:

[crosstalk 00:20:06], right? Yeah, those skills are portable, and so my advice is to begin thinking about how you would use those, like, survey design and coding skills to learn how to ask better questions of an open AI. Like, if you’re not using it right now, our biggest advice is to start using it personally, right? Go online and at least—and tell it what you have in your refrigerator and ask it to give you a recipe, right? If, you know, I’ve got these seven ingredients, what can I make?

Lenny:

Yep. And again, we’re seeing it right now. So through, you know, our sister company, Savio, the talent marketplace, a huge driver of volume through that right now, requests—client requests—is research subject matter experts who are prompt engineers.

Melanie:

Prompt engineers. That’s awesome. Yeah.

Lenny:

Yep. And doing that to do early-stage work just using generative AI, right? I mean, that’s the request of, you know, okay, we have this concept, let’s mirror that out based on existing data and see where that gets us and then make decisions on where do we go from here.

from a place of confidence::

confidence in your skills, confidence in the data, and confidence in understanding their business. And so, building those kinds of power skills on top of it’ll be critical.

Lenny:

Yep. Sage advice and wisdom. So, that’s interesting. We’re just wrapped up the latest wave of data collection for GRIT this weekend—and thank you, I know you guys helped with that as well—and I’m most interested in, we added a whole new series of questions on this topic, right, around AI, personal life and professional life, and you know, how are you using it? What do you think?

Melanie:

There is a big effort going on around data integrity, right? So, data quality, data integrity, whatever you want to call it. There have been, you know, some pretty big, splashy findings around what’s happening with data quality in our profession. And so, you know, some of the language that we’ve used, it leaves buyers confused. And it’s very important that we address problems in our profession, especially problems of depth data quality, but it’s also important that we do that in ways that don’t erode trust, right?

Lenny:

Yeah, that’s exciting. I’m thrilled. You know, it’s a topic near and dear to my heart as well. So, again, thank you for the leadership, it is desperately needed. So—

Melanie:

Yeah, we’re going to talk about everything, everything from the sample design, the sample frame, the incentives. Australia’s working on the incentives and the use of incentives, a proper use, to the survey itself, to cleaning to an analytics, to all of it, where there’s going to be tools all along the project path to help drive quality and help brands understand quality in ways they’ve never been able to before.

Lenny:

That’s awesome. All right. What else? I know you guys have done, you’ve continued to support the AI initiatives. Anything along those lines to talk about?

Melanie:

Yeah. We have just kicked off our second year of IDEAtor. If you don’t know what that is, you know, we—so it’s benchmarking season. Let me start with that and say it’s benchmarking season for us, and we’re about to roll out the US market report, which will tell you how much the market grew. It’s the first version—the highlights are coming out this week, in fact—of how much the profession grew, and then how much each of the eight segments grew. So, we measure the profession overall, and we measure each of the eight segments so you can see, you know, which ones are growing faster and which ones are growing slower.

Lenny:

Very cool. Now, how can everybody—particularly myself—access all of these great reports coming out?

a new directory, by the way::

Pair. Pair, P-A-I-R. Stands for Professional Analytics and Insights Resource, pairing buyers and sellers. So, you can find that there as well. But everything’s insightsassociation.org. If you don’t have access to something, it might be because you’re not a member, and then just talk to me, I’ll tell you how to become a member. But there’s a lot of content that’s available, member or not. So, especially in this DE&I space, where we’re just trying to help the profession, you know, do better work, and so we try to make some of those types of things available to anyone, member or not.

Lenny:

Okay. Very cool. All right. So, as we’re kind of wrapping up from a time standpoint, what else do you want to make sure that the industry as a whole knows, that you think is just—[unintelligible 00:32:07] everything we’ve talked about already, and we’ve talked about a lot of important things, anything else that you just want everybody to listen to?

Melanie:

I would say that the privacy framework and the privacy world is actually getting pretty risky. And if you’re not following privacy legislation in the US and in every state of the US, and globally, if you don’t have a focus of that, you need to be paying more attention and you need to reach out to me and let me help you get engaged in that. But then also, if your company doesn’t have a policy already in hand for your employees, around the proper use of your customers’ data in open AI platforms, if you don’t have a pro—an AI and open—generative AI use policy for your company, your employees are using it, you just don’t know it, and so you’re introducing risk.

Lenny:

More sage advice and wisdom. So, that’s a great one, Mel. Thank you. All right, so more of an optimistic note versus foreboding note.

Melanie:

You know, you asked me this one question once, and what like, “If you’re online, what are you doing?” And personally, believe it or not, I am just loving all the new word games that are coming out [laugh]. I know this is silly, but I certainly play Wordle, but they have a new game called Connections. I don’t know you—it’s in beta and it’s in the app right now. It gives you 16 words and you have to put those 16 words into groups of four that have themes. So, that’s very fun. I love that game.

Lenny:

Very cool. Now, my wife got me into Words With Friends years ago, and she just, she beat me so often, I got frustrated and stopped. As my son would say, I rage quit.

Melanie:

My husband rage quits about once a week. And then he comes back [laugh].

Lenny:

[laugh]. I’m just way too competitive and she is way too good. So, [laugh] well, very cool. And yeah, I’ve watched the events that you guys have coming up. I think the leadership one is really interesting. Is that is [Merrill 00:36:57] and Steve—

Melanie:

Well, it’s um—it’s Merrill, Steve, [Sema 00:37:01], and Isaac, and then [Tara 00:37:04], from [Burke 00:37:04] and [Vashti 00:37:06]. It’s a really cool group of people because it’s not just CEOs for the leadership event. It’s CEOs, and emerging, aspiring leaders, and—from across the functions. So, it’s a very cool group of people. And the speakers, there’s a lot of them from outside that are going to talk about, you know—and there’s even a banker that’s going to come and talk about how to think about valuation and P&L and margin and core company Metrics, so it’s very cool.

Lenny:

That’s very cool. So, you’re not—

-:

melanie@insightsassociation.org. You know, if you send me a message on LinkedIn, I’ll find that there too. And I might be a little slower to respond on LinkedIn. Best, fastest way to reach me is melanie@insightsassociation.org or to send me a text or call.

Lenny:

All right. Well, there we go. So, now expect your phone or email to blow up after this. So, you asked for it.

Melanie:

See me at the leadership event. Come see me at CRC. We’ll have a drink.

Lenny:

And if you’ve never had a drink with Mel, it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Melanie:

Yeah. I think I got in the water [laugh].

Lenny:

Anyway [laugh].

Links

Chapters

Video

More from YouTube