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Robert Rose is the author of Content Marketing Strategy,” October’s Bigeye Book Club selection. In this episode, Robert explains why coordinated communication and well-managed operations are key to establishing a successful content marketing strategy. We discuss the value of thinking like a media company, team structure, and outsourcing. Listeners receive a 25 percent discount on “Content Marketing Strategy” at by using the promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Robert Rose: When we go into businesses, the experiences that they have ideas to create or the creativity of the idea that they want to manage, those are all usually amazing. There’s no shortage of creative people in businesses. What the shortage is is the collaboration and communication to take all that amazing creativity and actually make something useful out of it.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Over the past decade, content marketing has undergone a transformative evolution, shifting from a peripheral tactic to a central strategy for businesses across industries. In the early 2010s, most digital content marketing was limited to blog posts and social media updates, primarily aimed at driving short-term engagement and boosting SEO. But brands began to recognize the value of delivering high-quality content across multiple platforms, and in 2014, The Lego Movie debuted, making it the first example of a feature-length major studio film that doubles as branded content marketing. Of course, this year, Barbie broke box office records and is currently the highest-grossing film of 2023 in America. Our Bigeye Book Club selection for October is Content Marketing Strategy: Harness The Power Of Your Brand’s Voice.” Drawing from real-world examples from leading brands like Salesforce and Amazon, the book offers a practical guide to streamlining content marketing. It covers everything from assembling a team and goal setting to developing content and measuring the business outcomes. The book’s author is Robert Rose, a consultant, keynote speaker, and one of the world’s most recognized experts in content strategy and marketing. He’s the Chief strategy advisor for the Content Marketing Institute and the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory, a consulting firm that helps businesses design a pragmatic approach to creating, managing, and measuring enterprise content. Robert has advised hundreds of enterprises, including McDonald’s, SAP, NASA, Hilton, CVS Health, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has co-written three best-selling books on the topic of content marketing. To discuss his new book, “Content Marketing Strategy,” I’m delighted that Robert is joining us today from Los Angeles, California. Robert, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Robert Rose: Oh, thank you so much for having me – what a delight.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Robert, let’s start with definitions. What is content marketing strategy? 

Robert Rose: Well, thank you for asking. I mean, what a great place to start. You know, definitions are always sort of… at heart, too formal, but we did indeed attempt to write one for the book. So it’s a marketing discipline – it is a discipline within the practice of marketing more broadly, but the key is that it’s a sum of all of the activities. So content marketing strategy is a discipline, a sum of all of the things that we do, the activities that enable a business to consistently communicate in a way that creates tangible value for target audiences. It’s basically what enables a brand to have not just a voice but actually something worth listening to.

Adrian Tennant: In 2011, you co-wrote one of the first books on content marketing entitled “Managing Content Marketing.” Well, it’s been 12 years since its publication. What prompted you to write “Content Marketing Strategy”

Robert Rose: Yeah, 2011 – I mean, feels forever ago, of course, and when Joe and I – Joe Pulizzi, my colleague and my good friend for so many years – when we wrote that book, we wanted to write then the owner’s manual, it were, of content marketing, the approach, the process of content marketing, because at that point we realized that there was something going on in the world of digital and how social media and search were truly changing things that started to really disrupt the entire industry of marketing. And over the last decade, what I’ve noticed is that, you know, in all the work that we’ve done for so many brands across the planet and so many different workshops and trainings and events that we’ve had, there’s been no shortage of books on content marketing. Let’s just be clear: There’s a lot of really good work, a lot of really good books that have been written, but most of them, if not all of them, have been written either about the first two words: so either “content” or “marketing.” So the books were really how to get good at content, how to write better, how to create better videos, how to create more engaging, more compelling content, how to create better customer experiences, or marketing, which was about measurement, of course, the process of marketing, how to interact with content and marketing and make it all work together in a broader strategy. But what hasn’t been written, really, since Joe and I attempted to do it so many years ago was a book on strategy, a book on the activities, the things that teams and individuals need to do in order to make content marketing actually work for their business, whether it’s a business of two or whether it’s a business of, you know, 10,000. And so that’s what I really wanted to do. I wanted to create sort of an orientation or a view on all of the different activities that I’ve observed over the last 10 years that businesses do when they’re successful and actually make content marketing work. So that was the real impetus for the book. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, you and I have something in common. We both started our careers working in TV. you started in marketing at Showtime Networks, and in your book, you write about marketing teams needing to think more like media companies but also reflect that this advice is often misinterpreted. Why is that, do you think?

Robert Rose: You know, content marketing was something that was going on and has been going on organically as well as by design. what we’ve noticed is that there are companies out there that sort of consciously do content marketing, you know, they read the books, they look at the thought leaders, they look at the best practices, they look at their competitors, and they actually design something purposely. And then there are, of course, companies that don’t, right? There are companies that just sort of fall into it. and if you ask them, they would say, “Oh, we just need to find better ways to engage audiences because it makes our business better.” So they’re unconsciously doing content marketing. Both of them are correct. Both of them are actually practicing the practice, but where companies fail, the biggest sort of pothole that companies fall into is when they look at content marketing, like “We’re going to market ourselves like a media company. In other words, we’re going to adopt some of the same processes that media companies, you know, whether it’s television or publishing, et cetera, are adopting as part of their marketing strategy.” And that’s the wrong way to look at it. What the goal really is is to operate as a media company. In other words, to treat content as the strategic asset and to engage with audiences and look at them as the customers that they are. It’s a different viewpoint for the entire business, not just optimizing one campaign with great content and marketing ourselves like a movie or marketing ourselves like a TV show, but rather how do we build in the infrastructure and the operation of a media company into our business? That’s where you see real success happening.

Adrian Tennant: Do you have an example of a brand that you think is getting it right in this regard?

Robert Rose: The brand that comes leaping to mind for me of one that gets it completely right in this space, and we talk a little bit about them in the book, is Cleveland Clinic, the hospital network here in the US, and based in, of course, Cleveland. But they’re not just a Cleveland hospital, they’re a complete medical network with hospitals and medical centers all over the country. And what they’ve done is they’ve actually built an entire media company, it’s almost a division of the entire business. At this point, Amanda Todorovic runs that program, you know, she started out with three people and the social media team, and they were literally just trying to get social media up and running. But now she’s just north of a hundred people, and that includes everything from data scientists to designers, to writers, to journalists, to subject matter experts, to a complete staff of people who operate their main content properties, which for them is their giant digital publication called Health Essentials, and then they also maintain an expertise site, called their Health Library, where you can go look up diseases and challenges and those sorts of things. They even have an ad sales team. I mean, they are monetizing both of those properties to the extent that they’re selling advertising. And so they are really truly a marketing department that operates like a media company, and, by the way, creates a marketing department that operates at a profit because they get revenue from the things that they do, but more importantly, they still do all the marketing for the hospital. They still do the signs in the hospital, and they update the website, and they send out emails, and they do all the things for marketing, but they also have this operation that actually creates value for the business.

Adrian Tennant: In “Content Marketing Strategy,” you write, and I quote, “Most businesses think about how they can change content to fit marketing’s purpose, instead of how they might change marketing to fit content’s purpose,” end quote. Robert, can you unpack this for us? 

Robert Rose: I can. You know, it gets right to what we were just talking about, right? Which is not acting like a media company but actually becoming a media company with your marketing. And, if there is a through line or a theme or an underlying foundational idea of the entire book, it is that what I have observed over the last 10 years is that marketing itself, you know, we used to say that, “Well, at some point content marketing just gets subsumed into the marketing strategy and then it just sort of becomes a thing within marketing.” And I actually now, perhaps because my ambitions are a little bigger, but also because of what we’ve just seen over the last, you know, five, seven, 10 years, Is that it’s actually the other way around. It’s actually it looks very much like marketing itself is getting fundamentally changed into what we would call content marketing. So what I observe out there is that the businesses that struggle with this are basically saying, “Well, how do we actually continually focus on the content to fit our new marketing, you know, strategy,” right? So we’re going to launch a blog, or we’re going to launch this thing or social media or whatever we’re going to do instead of saying, “Hey, how do we make content a strategic function in our business? How do we make ourselves the best content producer, the best media operation in our industry, and use that to change how the business operates?” And that’s basically changing marketing to fit a new content purpose. And that’s the real shift that we start to see for those companies that are actually succeeding with this. It’s making content a strategic function in the business, much like you would marketing or sales or legal or comms or really any other part of the business. Content is probably the thing that every single …  it’s the biggest expense. It’s the biggest activity that any business does. And it’s the one activity that we don’t have a real functional strategy around.

Adrian Tennant: Yes, I think you note in your introduction to the book that we don’t really see content marketing mentioned in the pages of Ad Age or Adweek.

Robert Rose: That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. I mean, you do, of course, you see their whole Creativity, I think they call it, the section, is basically a Hollywood-style credits of the last ad campaign that, you know, such and such brand did, or other brand did. And it’s lovely, and it’s wonderful that they note that, but it’s basically, what’s the best TV advert that’s running online right now. And instead what you don’t see is how is a brand like Lego or Nike or Cleveland Clinic, or really any of the other ones, how are they using content across multi-channel strategies to create a media brand for themselves. And there are plenty of brands out there doing it, but it just doesn’t get highlighted very often because it feels so overwhelming and big and complicated, and it feels sort of like, “Well, isn’t that the entirety of marketing?” Yeah, it kind of is these days!

Adrian Tennant: In “Content Marketing Strategy,” you trace the origins of what we now know as the marketing mix and the four P’s – namely Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. And you know that today, most marketers are concerned primarily with that fourth P – Promotion. Robert, why is that, do you think? And what does it mean for how brands approach content marketing strategy?

Robert Rose: Yeah, so I am a marketing geek going way back. You know, I’ve been doing this for 30 years now, and I am a student of marketing. I am a fanboy of marketing. I really cut my teeth on some of the basics, going all the way back to the Forties and Fifties and really learning about the origins of the practice of the marketing idea. And, of course, the four P’s were a core component of that. And it used to be all the way up really until digital, I would argue, that marketing and especially the practice of marketing in most larger businesses really took on the role of product, price, place, and promotion. They really determined what the product features, benefits, and the things that would make up the product would be. And they figured out what the distribution strategy was going to be. And they figured out where the pricing should be for a particular product, whether that’s retail or wholesale or distributors-based or whatever it is. And promotion was really, at that point, the packaging and making sure that you were putting in the right television ad, radio ad, print ad strategy, the paid media strategy because that was kind of it. And that was the idea of promotion. What happened was, digital really fundamentally shifted all of that. Product, place, and price really started to get enveloped into other parts of the business. You know, the whole idea of product marketing versus product management really took a big disruptive shift. There’s a whole book that could be written on that, just alone. But really, what happened was, because of so many channels with digital, and because marketing teams became responsible for the entirety of the customer’s journey from awareness all the way through to loyalty, and upsell, and cross-sell, and back around again. Well, the idea of promotion became just huge. It just became a big job. And so that has really fundamentally become the job of marketing these days. And as a result of that, content becomes the center of the universe for those marketers, right? Because everything about promotion is about, “How do I communicate my value in a way that engages audiences to become buyers?”

Adrian Tennant: You provide readers with several practical frameworks in “Content Marketing Strategy,” so let’s explore one of them: the three pillars. Robert, can you explain what this is and how it describes the strategy of content marketing? 

Robert Rose: Yeah. Ultimately, the idea here is that, like the four P’s, I wanted a way to sort of categorize the broader activities that we have to account for when we think about a content marketing strategy. So very much like the four P’s categorize the activities of what marketers did for years and years, these three pillars, I think, are a way to start to think about how do we categorize the content marketing strategy that we need to create for our business. Again, if you’re a business of… Three people, or if you’re a business of, you know, 10,000 people. And so the first one is all about content as communication, right? It is coordination. It is the communication and how we do that. Ninety percent of content strategy has nothing to do with content; it is everything about how we communicate and collaborate together. So coordinated communication for how we organize ourselves: Team charters, the governance structures, workflow, all those kinds of things is a core pillar of that. Then all the way on the other side, the third pillar, if you will, would be the experiences themselves, right? The containers of content, whether that’s websites, emails, PDF files, videos, television, whatever those containers are, those experiences are something that we have to account for and manage much like we do products. These days, our website, our blog, and our email newsletter are every bit as important as the products we put into the marketplace. And so those experiences have to have a set of activities around them as well. And then bridging those two, the sort of pillar in the middle, if you will, that bridges the idea of coordinated communication and the experiences that we create is something I call operations, which is how do you create the new operations with technology, with the idea of the skill sets, the workflows, the things, the processes that move fluidly content through an organization so that it can be managed effectively? And so there are five core activities that make up the other categories of activities within those three pillars. But getting those three things right is really the core of any great content marketing strategy. And then, not surprisingly, maybe is that that’s how we organize the book. The book is organized across that idea so that each one of those things can be used as pressure points. So you can say, “Ah, we’re strong here. We’re weak here. We need to shore up this. We do this really great. So we don’t want to break that,” those kinds of things.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Robert Rose: Hello, everybody, I’m Robert Rose, the author of Content Marketing Strategy: Harness the power of your brand’s voice.” I draw from real-world examples from leading brands like Salesforce and Amazon, and my new book offers a practical guide to streamlining your content marketing. I cover everything from assembling a team to goal-setting to content creation, measuring business outcomes: the whole gamut of content marketing strategy. And as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, well, you get 25 percent off on a print or electronic version of “Content Marketing Strategy” by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25, that’s BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders, and when you order directly from the publisher, shipping is always free – because they’re kind that way – to the US and the UK. So, to order your copy of Content Marketing Strategy,” head on over to the publisher’s website – the wonderful folks at That’s Kogan – K O G A N – Thank you so much.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Robert Rose, the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory and the author of October’s Bigeye Book Club selection, Content Marketing Strategy: Harness the power of your brand’s voice.” At The Content Advisory, you and your team consult with companies and brands on optimizing their content marketing, helping them with everything from creative ideation to technology selection. What is the single biggest challenge clients typically face, would you say? 

Robert Rose: In most businesses, content is everybody’s job and nobody’s strategy. Content for most businesses simply just kind of happens, right? If you go ask anybody, any senior leader in any business, you go, “How do you get content done?” They go, “I don’t know. I give it to John or Mary, and then they just kind of get it done.” It’s just sort of a magic black box that ideas go into, and somehow, some way, content gets out the other side of it. And so it’s that coordinated process, it’s actually making it a strategic operation in the business that is the biggest challenge that we solve for companies. It’s not that people aren’t creative. When we go into businesses, the experiences that they have ideas to create or the creativity of the idea that they want to manage, those are all usually amazing. There’s no shortage of creative people in businesses. What the shortage is, is the collaboration and communication to take all that amazing creativity and actually make something useful out of it.

Adrian Tennant: In “Content Marketing Strategy,” you provide links to several resources, including an organizational self-assessment and a sample team purpose charter. Were these resources developed in response to the kinds of questions clients typically ask you during consulting engagements?

Robert Rose: Yes, some of them were. I’ve created a website called, so funny how that works out, and paid a lot of money for that URL, by the way, so I hope it’s useful! And basically, what I wanted to do was do two things. One was to do exactly what you just said, which was to take the questions that we were getting from clients and some of the deliverables that we would feed back to them, for how to organize their ideas in sort of a worksheet or a template or a sample that they could actually see it in context. and so that’s one thing. And then the second thing was, I am a big fan of writing it down. As I like to say, “There’s always magic in the telling.” And so, when you write things down, and you categorize ideas, you get them out of your head, and big jobs seem less overwhelming. And so thinking through some worksheets or simply just frameworks where we can start to draw on the wall helps us really get ourselves organized. So much of this is about working together, and so much of it is about organizing communication, which is just not visual by definition, so trying to put some level of visualization to that was really my main goal, which was to give something useful to help people organize their thoughts and creativity in a way that helped them figure this stuff out.

Adrian Tennant: I love the inclusion of the frameworks in the book. And in the fourth chapter of “Content Marketing Strategy,” you introduce readers to one that you’ve dubbed the Content Marketing Operating Model, also stating that a content marketing team’s job is not to be good at content, but to help the business be good at content. So could you explain a little bit about how that operating model supports this?

Robert Rose: Sure, you know, it gets back to what we were talking about earlier in the show, which is this idea that communication and coordinating our communication is the biggest challenge for most organizations. So many times when a company says, “Okay, we’re going to start doing content marketing, we’re going to start doing that, right? We’re going to get a team together, and they’re going to start doing that.” Well, what ends up happening is, is that the team gets together, and the business goes great. “You’re now our internal agency. You’re now our internal team to support the content production idea.” And they go, “Yay!” And everybody cheers, and everybody goes … And then all of a sudden, it just goes to hell in a handbasket. Because the entire business starts throwing requests in, all of their requests are considered valid. The content team has an incredibly hard time keeping up so much so that they can’t even do their own ideas that they want, you know, that then the CEO is saying, “Well, why don’t we have a blog yet?” And the team is saying, “Well, because we’re too busy creating sales enablement assets for the sales team. And the demand generation team is demanding all these other kinds of things from us. And we can’t keep up with it.” That’s madness. And so we said the key here is getting a purpose and an operational charter for the team from the very beginning so that you understand how that team is going to be measured and managed to what their expectations of production will be so that we ensure that we have the right skill sets and the right people doing the job. And so that we don’t neglect another process somewhere else. And so I created this four-quadrant idea to say, okay, given two axes, right? One is, are you internally focused or externally focused? In other words, are you creating content that will be shopped internally for their own nefarious purposes, like sales enablement or demand generation? And they’ll feed that content out. Or are you externally focused and where you’re focused on building an audience through a blog or a magazine or an email newsletter or a podcast or something like that, where you’re building content directly for audiences? And then the other axis, which is at the bottom, is are you providing one single service, like literally just content creation and production and design, or are you offering multiple services to the business? Everything from SEO to persona development to translation and localization, you know, what parts of the content process are you responsible for? And then plotting yourself against those two axes. Are you all the way in the lower left-hand corner? Great. It’s not wrong to be an internal agency, but we just need to acknowledge it as a business and manage the requests accordingly. But if we start cross-functioning, right? In other words, if we start demanding that yes, you’re both an internal agency and you’re responsible for the blog, but we haven’t given you the resources, the budgets, or the measurement strategy to be able to deal with, well, you’re just destined for failure. So the self-assessment is really to say, where are you today? Again, whether you’re a team of one or a team of 40, where are you today? And where do you want to evolve to tomorrow? And then draw a line. And that starts to give you a visualization, if you will, of what kind of skills you need to develop, what kind of measurement strategies you need to develop, and what kind of operational workflows need to be developed in order to maintain that scalability.

Adrian Tennant: Now, if a brand doesn’t have all the resources it needs to execute its content marketing strategy in-house, in what kinds of ways do you see external agency partners being able to contribute most effectively?

Robert Rose: That’s a great question. And you know, one of the benefits of doing the self-assessment is to identify where external help may be really useful. In other words, if we discover that our team is really skilled at creating content and supplying it to the internal teams, however, what we’re not good at is SEO, and what we’re not good at is persona development, and yet that is still an expectation of our output, well then, okay, that’s a place where we could go get external help. Or, we could say, and this is more common than you might think, “We’re really good at managing the workflow, we’re really good at working the process, we’re really good at making sure that all the cats are herded, but what we’re not good is very creative content creation, we’re just not terribly good writers, we’re not terribly good content designers, etc. And so, we go for external help on that.” To the extent possible, my recommendation is always in-source strategy and outsource execution where you need to because in-sourcing strategy … nobody’s ever going to care about this or have the subject matter expertise theoretically that you do for your particular business. But what you can successfully, or more successfully, I would say, outsource is the execution of some of those things. Design, the words, the persona development, the research, you know, some of the executional pieces of it. And that, I think, is, a great place and sort of a way to pull the levers of which decisions can be outsourced versus not.

Adrian Tennant: Chapter 5 of “Content Marketing Strategy” discusses one of my favorite topics: Audiences. Your background in entertainment marketing is evident here, so could you briefly explain the key difference between audiences and customers and why it matters?

Robert Rose: Yeah. You’ve hit upon, probably just as you were just mentioning, one of my favorite topics and chapters of the book, which is that this gets to the idea that we talked about at the beginning where we need to operate as a media company, not just act like one. And the key is that today, modern marketing, modern business, all audiences are customers, but not all customers buy our classic products and services. And what I mean by that is that engaging audiences and building an audience asset, people who want to hear from us and subscribe to our ideas, and engage with our brand, may never actually purchase our product. They may only ever recommend it. And the interesting thing there is that one of my favorite examples of this is Red Bull. So Red Bull, at one point, did the research, and what they discovered was is that a great amount of their business came from people who either dislike the drink or have never tried the drink, but yet will still recommend it to their friends to drink, because they’ve gotten value out of the content. That’s the power of having an engaged audience these days – is that people will recommend your brand or your product before they’ve tried it or if they’ve tried it and didn’t like it. And so that has all kinds of implications when it comes to things like B2B marketing or B2C marketing, where creating an engaged audience can be an asset to your business – from referrals to the data that you can get the insight about – that adds wealth to your business – to even direct revenue, think about the Cleveland Clinic for a moment, you know, – all of those kinds of things can add wealth to a business. But they aren’t traditionally customers of our classic products and services. And of course, it’s just a redefinition of how we define customers. And so, Peter Drucker, 60 years ago, said the entire purpose of a business is to create a customer. I agree with that wholeheartedly. My only quibble, I guess, these days is we just have to redefine what “customer” really is. And media companies understand that. Media companies really understand what a customer is. It’s an audience member. And I think about examples like Amazon, for example. Amazon Streaming Services, Amazon Prime Video, is the most unprofitable business you could think of. I mean, if you looked at it as a standalone business, you would go, “Put that thing out of its misery!” Because it’s awful. They spend billions of dollars on content and make low billions of dollars in return from their subscription fees. But of course, the purpose isn’t that; it’s to engage their audience, who have a much higher preponderance of becoming Amazon Prime members who spend twice as much on products and services at Therefore, it is totally a marketing loss leader for them, Amazon Prime content, to get Prime members who will ultimately spend twice as much, and that is just a classic view of what a new customer looks like. It’s an audience.

Adrian Tennant: We can’t talk about content marketing strategy without acknowledging the role that artificial intelligence is already playing in generating content, including copy, imagery, video assets, and, yes, even music. So Robert, did you use AI to assist you in the process of planning and writing “Content Marketing Strategy” and how do you think AI should be used in content creation?

Robert Rose: I love that question. The answer is, for the book, no – with some very small exceptions. So, I actually use AI quite a bit in my work, in my writing. My philosophy on it is that generative AI, as it stands today, as we sit here in 2023, is best at what I call constructed content, not created content. In other words, constructed content is that stuff that we have to construct: the abstract for the white paper, the transcript of the podcast, the meeting notes, the abstract of our webinar – that’s constructed content, the stuff that we just have to create that’s sort of like making the donuts. You just have to do it every day. Created content is that content which is loved before we even finished it, right? It is our passion, what we want to write about, our thought leadership, our original ideas, our creativity – that. So, I think AI is great at the former and not good at all. And quite frankly, I don’t want it to be good at all at the latter because I want to do that. That’s what I’d love to do. So, for the book, as an example of that, I did use AI to give me, I had come up with a title and a subtitle for the book. The title was sort of like a foregone conclusion. That was going to be the title of the book because I wanted it very on the nose, and I wanted it very straightforward. And I really wanted that URL. And the subtitle, though, “Harnessing the power of your brand’s voice” was up for grabs. And so I had written maybe five or six different subtitles of that. And I used AI to say, “Look at these and see if you can come up with something better.” And actually, the AI came up with the word “harness,” and I thought, “That’s a better word!” I had “capture,” I had “get your arms around,” those sorts of things, those sorts of words. And AI came up with the word “harness,” and I went, “That’s a better word.” So, I ended up using the suggestion of AI for the subtitle of the book, but that’s the only thing that AI had a role in playing for the book. But that’s overall my approach to AI is that there is value to be gotten there. creating content is the least interesting thing that generative AI does. 

Adrian Tennant: Great! Robert, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you, The Content Advisory or your new book, “Content Marketing Strategy,” what are the best ways to do so?

Robert Rose: So our little website for consulting and for sort of our daily, weekly thinking, basically our blog, is, which, of course, is the Dad Jeans of domains. And so yeah, – you can get all of our content there. There’s the brand new, the book website, as well as a place to get coaching and other assets. We’re going to do some events there, we’re going to do some online classes, we’ve got some big plans for that coming up for the New Year. And, also I’d love to connect with everybody on social media. I’m a big user of LinkedIn, so would be happy to, of course, connect with everybody on LinkedIn. And the book is available through your favorite online bookstore and available in some printed formats in your favorite offline bookstore.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of “Content Marketing Strategy,” you can save 25 percent when you order directly from the publisher, Kogan Page. Just use the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25 at the checkout. And we’ll also include a link in the transcript for this episode. Robert, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS!.

Robert Rose: Oh, thank you so much for having me. This has been fun.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Robert Rose, the author of October’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, “Content Marketing Strategy.” As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, along with links to the resources we discussed, on the Bigeye website at  – just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. Thanks again for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Guest Katie King is the author of “AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing.” In this encore episode, Katie offers practical advice on how agencies can leverage AI, providing case studies illustrating how AI in marketing is impacting several different industry sectors, plus a practical framework for managing the introduction of AI tools. Listeners receive a 25 percent discount on “AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing” at by using the promo code BIGEYE25 at checkout.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS:

Katie King: AI is not sentient, it isn’t creative, but it can turn creativity into a process.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency, growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Since our first episode of 2023, we’ve been tracking the use of generative artificial intelligence-based tools and learning how brand marketers, strategists, creatives, and media planners are using them. We’ve heard how AI can support ideation and concepting, be used to streamline the production of creative assets, and improve marketing mix modeling, to name just a few use cases. A recent report from the management consulting firm McKinsey and Company illustrates the integration of AI in a growing number of productivity tools, including email, word processing, and presentation software. McKinsey’s research suggests that by 2030, AI could automate 70 percent of business activities across nearly all professions, potentially injecting trillions of dollars into the global economy. McKinsey itself has developed a generative AI chatbot named Lilli for its consultants to use, which reportedly reflects 40 curated knowledge sources and the content of over 100,000 documents. In a blog post about Lilli, McKinsey describes the app as a researcher, a time-saver, and an inspiration. When asked a question, Lilli scans the firm’s databases and identifies five to seven relevant pieces of content, summarizes key points, includes links, and even identifies experts. Speaking recently at DMEXCO, Europe’s leading digital marketing and tech conference, Gaurav Bhaya, VP & GM of Google Ads Meaurement, characterized AI as being at an inflection point. Using the AI in Google’s Performance Max platform helped the German airline Lufthansa increase new bookings by 59 percent while at the same time reducing the cost of acquisition. Bhaya also told attendees – quote – “You’re not competing against AI. You’re competing against other marketers who are using AI. The sooner you start practicing and experimenting with AI, the greater the advantage you have over your competition,” – end quote. And industry publication AdAge has identified several agencies that are assembling internal “think tanks” to discuss the AI space, inform how they address clients’ needs and concerns, and help agency employees navigate new tools and business practices. In January, the Bigeye Book Club featured AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing. While there are specific technologies included in the book, at its core is a practical framework for understanding how AI and machine learning can be harnessed for marketing and sales. The book’s author is Katie King, the CEO of AI in Business, a UK-based firm specializing in AI consulting and training. With over three decades of experience, Katie has advised many of the world’s leading brands and business leaders, including Sir Richard Branson and Virgin, telecoms companies O2 and Orange, and the consulting group, Accenture. Katie is also a member of the UK government’s All-Party Parliamentary Group task force for the enterprise adoption of AI. She’s delivered numerous TEDx talks and is a frequent commentator on BBC television and radio, as well as a sought-after keynote speaker. Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS is another chance to hear our discussion about the ideas in Katie’s book 


Katie, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Katie King: Thank you very much, Adrian. Greetings from the UK!

Adrian Tennant: Katie, first of all, could you tell us a little about your career and what led you to specialize in artificial intelligence?

Katie King: With pleasure. I’m 56 as of last week, and I’ve spent the past 30 years in marketing starting, as you would expect in the late eighties, and early nineties, in a very traditional sort of environment. I’ve worked for big agencies, servicing some of the world’s biggest brands like Virgin and many others. And I started my own business, Zoodikers, in 2010, a digital marketing company, and I’ve always felt that it’s essential to be on this journey of continuous learning. I was ahead of the game with digital and did TEDx talks on that subject and then around 2015 I thought, “Alright, I’ve now moved out of London, I’m now over a certain age, I need some unique selling proposition to give me that edge.” And I got involved in AI, wrote a white paper for a major organization, and it’s gone from there. [I’ve] since written two books on the subject and got heavily involved in the industry. So it was really a question of survival, staying ahead, trying to foresee what’s coming down the line, doing my own research.

Adrian Tennant: Well, as you know, for the Bigeye Book Club this month we selected AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, which came out at the beginning of 2022. But before that, in 2019, your first book Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, was published by Kogan Page. Katie, what prompted you to write AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing so soon after your first book?

Katie King: Well, as many of your listeners will probably know, AI moves very fast! There are new developments and innovations every day. So I wrote book one in 2018, published in 2019, but already as you are writing it, and in that process of it being published, there are new case studies, there are new developments, new entrants into the market. So although the book was only a year old, it felt that a lot had moved on. It’s still very current, especially my scorecard for success. But I felt that particularly the sector of PR, public relations, marketing, comms, was late, so it hadn’t yet come to the party and I really did need to write another book. Book One opened lots of doors, but more and more vendors were coming onto the market, so I started writing book two and the conditions when I wrote book two were very, very different because we had the pandemic, and that was really reflecting the way the world was. You know, I got started on it and we couldn’t do all of the festive things, couldn’t go out to the shops, couldn’t see family, but we did have the technology. And technology meant we could all remain connected. And so actually the digitization that happened during the worldwide pandemic accelerated people’s interest and knowledge of AI and I think actually helped quite a lot of the vendors to get on board. So that’s really the main reason.

Adrian Tennant: So Katie, in brief, what can readers expect to learn from AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing? 

Katie King: Well, it’s packed with very pragmatic, accessible case studies. Lots of tech vendors, but also lots of end-user companies. It’s rich across a number of different industry sectors and where Book one had the scorecard for success, which a lot of companies have gamified, in the second book, I also, you know, realized that people liked those pragmatic, how do I get started? So I came up with my standardized framework. It talks about what’s the S? The S is the strategy, and the T is time. And then it sort of talks you through how do I get started? Who are some of the vendors that I could talk to? What are some of the limitations and is it affordable? So, like book one, a very pragmatic, honest overview of what AI machine learning is, how people can use them, how they’re impacting, particularly the business functions of sales, marketing, and CX across a number of different industry sectors.

Adrian Tennant: In your book, you identify, of course, several benefits of using AI in business. Now for folks involved in marketing and advertising, what are some ways AI is already being used to support marketing, communications, and sales functions? 

Katie King: Yeah, that’s such a good question. That’s what people want to know. How can we use it? So you’ve got many marketers using AI-powered tools so that they can craft their social media messages, their email marketing campaigns, their web copy. So on the sales side, it’s helping organizations to come up with a pitch to a potential customer to keep the pipeline of leads warm with prospects. There are tools like Concured and Phrasee, and it’s saying to people, how do I tailor my message to a specific audience so that I can offer the best value proposition every time? So contrary to what people think of big, shiny robots coming taking our jobs, this is mass personalization. So I like to talk about augmented intelligence, that’s what AI can give us, whether we’re in comms, PR, marketing, sales, or CX, it’s a series of tools that we need to invest in that can give us big data insights on all different aspects of what we do. And that might be analysis. It might be like I say, lead generation or lead scoring. It could be brand watch and it could actually be automating some of the more monotonous tasks that we do of creating reports and so on. But one of the keys is identifying trends and sentiment analysis and crunching data at volumes and speeds that our, albeit incredible human brains can do, but maybe across multiple languages all over the world, you know, and so on. That’s really the benefit at the moment of AI in the sectors that you mentioned.

Adrian Tennant: We often talk about retail marketing on IN CLEAR FOCUS, and you devote a chapter of your book to exploring how AI is reshaping retail and hospitality. In what kinds of ways are you seeing retailers using AI?

Katie King: Mmmm, retail’s such an interesting place right now. I mean, the pandemic changed a lot of our habits. But we haven’t given up on our old ways. So we’ve got some retailers struggling with, are we going all in on digital or are we holding onto some bricks and mortar? And so, what we’re doing is we’re seeing AI applied in a hybrid manner. So physically, you know, it might be delivering digital experiences to customers. They’ve come to expect that, and then it might be bringing something into the store, you know, for more of an omnichannel experience. So maybe the AI is part of the website for personalized product recommendations. And then maybe in the store it could be a sensor. So you’ve got artificial intelligence, but then you’ve also got the Internet of things. So these sensors could be used to track footfall, assessing which products customers are gravitating towards so that we can offer them push messages and offers and so on. and then you’ve got smart mirrors and other kinds of areas. Even wastage, it might be a food retailer and the AI might be really predicting with great accuracy how many people are going to dine in that store or purchase that amount of perishable goods. So, you know, really, really useful information that is making us as retailers greener, and more able to offer our customers what they require.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in the context of supermarket chains, many of whom now have their own retail media networks, do you foresee AI impacting food producers or CPG brands in some ways? 

Katie King: Most definitely. So I’ve got a whole section of book two that talks about how various grocery chains, particularly in the United States, you know, how they’ve adopted AI. And food producers and CPG brands aren’t any different. So one that springs to mind is Nestle, and Nestle actually featured in book two and gave me a really good review of book one. So I got to know them through that. And they’re using AI across their business from marketing to manufacturing, to product development. So, you know, for organizations like that, for retailers like those, it’s about AI helping develop, you know, better products, safer practices, as well as insights into what customers really, really want. And I think in the long run, what we’re looking at here is, um, a better, a more efficient supply chain, like I said a moment ago, less waste and a better product offering. Now all of this comes with the caveat of consent. You know, the consumer, the customer needs to give consent to the usage of that data in order for the retailer to be able to give a much better experience.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common pain points or problems that motivate your clients to reach out to you, and have they changed during the years that you’ve been advocating the adoption of AI?

Katie King: At the heart of everything is a competitive advantage. I think that’s the main one. The nature of that has changed, but that’s really been the crux. We need to survive. We need to thrive. We want to be an innovator, or we are a laggard and we need to kind of keep up. But for many of them that are adopting it, you know, in this sort of earlier phase, then it is about a competitive edge. Um, and many have found themselves having to do more with less or facing new challenges and setbacks post the pandemic. So I think, you know, the pandemic made us less loyal and more likely to switch, and now we’re going through difficult economic times globally. And the same is true there. You know, people are shopping around for the best bargains and so on. So what the AI is doing is enabling us to satisfy existing client demand and understand the profile of that customer and help us find customers and clients like that. And I think, you know, many struggle with where do we start? It’s such a wild west out there with thousands of different vendors, who do I turn to? So my advices are often around, you know, how do I access it? Who do I turn to? What are some of the big macro issues to consider with that?

Adrian Tennant: Your first book, Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing, presented a framework for marketers to identify and apply opportunities to maximize their results with AI. Katie, you referenced it a moment ago, but I’m interested in how you’ve expanded on this idea in your second book.

Katie King: It’s really interesting because I speak a lot, and I run training and, you know, do podcasts like this, and I keep going back to the scorecard cause it’s still super relevant even though it was published in 2019. But I did produce for book two, the standardized framework, which I touched on a moment ago. And I also included in the book other frameworks like the Rolls-Royce ALETHIA framework. So, some might be highly complex projects, and some might be a customer in all different industry sectors, an organization looking to get started with AI. So, each chapter of the book has 10 tips, you know, for how people can get started. And the whole premise of the book is these are case studies that are analyzed, and we’re giving you steps as to how you get started. So both of those two frameworks plus the Elithia Rolls-Royce framework, plus lots of hints and tips, is really how I advise and what the books focus on.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club brings you interviews with authors who are shaping the future of marketing. Our featured book for September is From Marginal to Mainstream: Why Tomorrow’s Brand Growth Will Come from the Fringes – and How to Get There First. This groundbreaking book by Helen Edwards explores the often untapped potential of fringe consumer behaviors and shows how they can be a renewable source of innovation for brands. The book provides a practical framework for identifying non-obvious opportunities and applying qualitative and quantitative research-backed insights for sustainable brand growth. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of this month’s featured book using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all Kogan Page titles, including pre-orders, and their free paperback and e-book bundle offer. Shipping is always free to the US and UK when you order directly from Kogan Page, and it supports the authors as well. So, to order your copy of From Marginal to Mainstream, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. You’re listening to an encore of a conversation with Katie King, the CEO of the consulting firm AI in Business and author of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, published by Kogan Page. 


Adrian Tennant: Katie, your book includes case studies from organizations across a range of sectors, including Samsung, Rolls-Royce, Deloitte, and Hilton, to name a few. Is there one case in particular that you think would be especially relevant for brand marketers or folks working in advertising?

Katie King: Yeah, definitely. I mean, all of the case studies are compiled mostly from my own interviews, but also from my own research, I find really fascinating. Phrasee is a vendor, and the organization using their services is Dixon Warehouse and Nissan Car Manufacturing are really, really interesting case studies for marketers. So without delving deeply into them, what we’re really looking at here with Phrasee and Dixons is a case study of how AI is helping a brick-and-mortar business to get through the pandemic. And with Nisan it’s about allowing customers to be part of your business, which I think is really interesting for marketeers. So there’s excellent case studies in chapter three that talk about how advertisers and brand marketers can benefit like L’Oreal and Perfect Corp who are really intriguing cuz they’re demonstrating something really personal like beauty and how beauty can be shaped by technology. So they’re the ones that I would really sort of pick out, as some of the highlights for marketers.

Adrian Tennant: And for folks who may be unfamiliar, could you just give us an idea of what Phrasee is?

Katie King: Yes. So it’s really a tool for identifying, what is that sweet spot of marketing, how can we understand our customer and come up with some fantastic content and find out how that content is going to actually be served to that particular retailer, for example. So, you know, what is the profile of the Dixon’s customer? How can we create content that’s really going to hit that sweet spot and make them really resonate with our particular offer and get better click-throughs and get better engagement with them.

Adrian Tennant: Excellent. In chapter seven of AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing, you state that “the new era of AI demands a more fitting economic model.” Katie, can you unpack that for us?

Katie King: Yes, definitely. So, you know, really what we’re saying here is we need to adopt an economic model that doesn’t just further the interests of the business, but has a positive impact on the world at large. So we’re seeing a rising corporate social responsibility and business for good, AI for good, and other types of initiatives. But the entire structure of our economic system needs to prioritize better outcomes for everybody involved. So I’ve been heavily involved with the All-Party Parliamentary group, which looks at adoption of AI, and we hear evidence from all over the world regularly, about initiatives about that. And I also run my own program: it’s all about the leaders of tomorrow in tech, and it’s all pro bono, and it’s looking at how young people in schools need to understand how AI is shaping the careers of tomorrow. So it’s really about, what are the ethical considerations of the way we collect data and the way that we use it. So it’s making sure that this new economic model prioritizes not just what’s best, you know, for businesses. And I’m really passionate about that. And I don’t think this type of technology that AI and machine learning will really take off until we can reassure people that the frameworks and the regulation and the, you know, the guidelines are all in place. 

Adrian Tennant: Katie, how should educational institutions, many of them here in the US, facing declining numbers of students taking traditional courses, be thinking about their future in relation to AI?

Katie King: Yeah, I’m very passionate about that subject, Adrian. As I mentioned briefly, I have this program, Leaders of Tomorrow in Tech and I have a whole chapter in book two all about AI and education and some very frustrated, commentators in the book, you know, frustrated about how slow schools are, um, particularly governments, you know, the education, departments of governments all around the world in some countries are too slow to respond. But of course, the schools have got to work within that national curriculum, so you know, it’s finding opportunities if their governments are too slow and if the students aren’t being taught what they need to prepare them for careers that are going to be reshaped by this kind of technology, then from an extracurricular point of view, guest speakers and so on, they need to be thinking about, you know, how is this technology being leveraged? Because the technology can actually help the delivery of the actual training. And the training needs to teach them how is this technology going to reshape all of the things you’re going to do in the workforce. So I think they need to try to influence their own education departments government-wise, and, you know, give some pushback, but also fill the gap in the meantime so that they inspire their students and equip them with what they need going forward.

Adrian Tennant: Since Open AI’s ChatGPT-3 was released in December, print and online publications covering marketing and advertising have been conjecturing whether or not AI will one day replace human creativity. Katie, what’s your take? Do agency copywriters and art directors need to fear applications like ChatGPT or DALL-E? 

Katie King: Not fear it. Not fear it in terms of it’s going to take away all of their jobs, but if they aren’t using it, then they’re going to get left behind quite quickly. So, of course, I’ve seen all the discourse on it and yes, it’s amazing what both can do, but they still are fairly limited. That’s the reality. They operate within the parameters we give them. So ChatGPT, it can only write what you tell it to. And DALL-E can create what we tell it to create. So we, the creatives, we are the, we are required to come up with the ideas, to analyze them, to be the person that interacts with the client about it. So, you know, AI is great at producing the insights following our lead, but it lacks that well-rounded knowledge to truly grasp what this information is about. How do we transform those insights into a strategy? Now, it’s interesting when you think about creative strategy, AI is not sentient, it isn’t creative, but it can turn creativity into a process. For example, IBM Watson working with Lexus luxury car brands and the AI studying many, many years of award-winning TV adverts and then understanding what is it that makes it award-winning. Is it the setting? Is it the wording? Is it the people? Is it whatever it might be, the colors, the imagery, and it can then break all of that down and come up with an award-winning TV advert. So yes, we do need to be mindful of being left behind and not using these tools and our competitors will. And others might turn to them as a result. So I think we have to get on board with it, we have to continue enjoying maybe more of the strategic aspects of what we do, and leave the AI tools to do more of those analytical, data-driven tasks that we can then oversee. And I think it’s a very exciting space to be in and not to be feared.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, you and your team consult with businesses to help them develop AI strategies. Now, from a client’s perspective, what does an engagement with your team look like?

Katie King: Good question. So everyone’s different, every client’s different. Their needs are different. Just to also clarify here, I’m not a technology company. I have uk, but I’m a management consultant. So I’m helping organizations first of all, what is ai? How do you apply this technology, in particular, to your comms, to your marketing, to your sales? How do you implement the software? How do you oversee the AI project? So I help them with that, help them find vendors. But more often than not, again, being completely direct here and transparent, I’m helping them from the point of view of running training workshops on it, delivering keynotes on it, some consultancy on it as well. And often that is about their mindset. Maybe the management team or the board need to understand why this is so important in order to get on board with it, in order to free up some cash, in order to then let it escalate down the organization. Or it might be a marketing team, training that team on how is it being deployed. Who are some of the vendors that they need to go out there? So they tend to be the types of products and services. I’ve got an MBA and 30 years of experience in the tech sector, but I’m not teaching people how to code, in AI and so on. There are many other very talented people who can do that.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, you’ve enjoyed a successful career in what is still typically a male-dominated industry. Have you faced challenging situations as a woman working in tech?

Katie King: Not necessarily. I know that women certainly, well, we are still outnumbered in the AI space, but I’m heavily involved with Women in AI and there’s so many groups like STEMX, and Girls Who Code, and Code First Girls. So there’s loads of, loads of initiatives, and I’ve had the pleasure over the years to work with people like Maria ? from PwC, Caroline Gorski from Rolls- Royce, and Professor Rose Luckin at University College London, and I haven’t necessarily, because of the nature of my personality, I’m gregarious and confident and have self-esteem, and I’m really, really tenacious. If you are not like that, you could find it daunting to walk into a room of men or go to a conference, very male-dominated. And so I do think it’s really, really important that we have programs that push girls forward in this space, like my Leaders of Tomorrow in Tech, like some of the other initiatives that I’ve mentioned. So I think it’s important that we redress that balance and that we encourage girls into technology, even in other sectors that they’re going into, whether it’s fashion or media or the law or construction, that they understand that still those industries are quite male-dominated. 

Adrian Tennant: Katie, if there are any young women listening that have an interest in some of the topics we’ve been discussing today, what advice would you give them?

Katie King: If you are of a technical nature, you love the sciences, the IT, and so on, amazing. You know, go and learn to code, go and get involved in some of the more technical aspects of these technologies. But whatever your type of skill set, it’s essential that you understand the impact that these technologies are gonna make. and really what I’m coming to is more of a personal trait, don’t have imposter syndrome. Go out there and join LinkedIn. Ask to join LinkedIn groups. Invest your own time in virtual and face-to-face networking groups. Ask for work experience. So it’s that tenacity and that self-esteem, you know, whatever your upbringing, whatever your financial means. There are so many free courses, like, there’s a fantastic free course on AI from the University of Helsinki, which isn’t that technical and is for the non-techy people. So it’s a mixture of that, you know, get involved in this space and enjoy it and make sure that you are tenacious and you ask, and you don’t wait for it passively to come to you.

Adrian Tennant: Katie, if IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about you and your consulting and training services, where can they find you?

Katie King: The best place to go to is uk. That’s my website and that covers the books, the keynotes, the training, and so on. You can find me on LinkedIn, you can find me on Twitter. So, Twitter is @KatieEKing and Facebook and others are KatieKingMBA. But go to the website, and all of the digital links, social links are there, you can listen to extracts from the book and from the book launch and so on. So yeah, please, I’d love to connect with many of your listeners.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like a copy of Katie’s book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing,  you can save 25 percent on either a print or electronic version of Katie’s book when you purchase directly from the publisher online at Just add the promo code, BIGEYE25, at the checkout. Katie, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Katie King: Thank you, Adrian. Thank you for a stimulating conversation. Yeah, fantastic.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest, Katie King, the CEO of the consulting firm, AI in Business, and the author of the book, AI Strategy for Sales and Marketing. As always, you’ll find a transcript with links to the resources we discussed today on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at Just select podcast from the menu. If you enjoyed this encore episode, please consider following us wherever you listen to podcasts – we publish new episodes every Tuesday. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant, until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Market research innovators Holland Martini and Maria Vorovich, the co-founders of GoodQues, discuss why they’re on a mission to humanize research data. Learn how their unorthodox methods yield emotionally intelligent insights, the benefits of conducting taste tests in bars, and how using storytelling makes data more ‘sticky.’ Holland and Maria also address the role of AI in research and discuss examples where techniques drawn from psychotherapy yielded deeper consumer insights.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Holland Martini: I truly believe less is more because it helps you focus and make sure the decisions you’re making are based on the right questions and the right answers. 

Maria Vorovich: We tell stories so that our clients remember the data, so that they’re excited to read it, so that they’re excited to share it. 

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. 

Today, brands look to their agency partners to create advertising campaigns that not only capture attention but also forge meaningful connections with consumers. As we’ve discussed in previous episodes of this podcast, to understand audiences, market research typically uses tried and true tools like surveys and focus groups. But researchers working in marketing communications are increasingly looking for ways to bridge the divide between objective, rational behavioral data generated by quantitative research and the more subjective, emotional aspects of consumer attitudes and preferences revealed through qualitative work. This gap can be especially problematic in the development of advertising during strategy development, media planning, and creative briefing, all of which require a deep understanding of the target audience. One company believes that what’s needed is an approach rooted in data while also deeply attuned to human emotions and experiences. GoodQues describes itself as an anti-research market research company that aims to humanize the data collection process. Challenging traditional research norms, GoodQues combines psychotherapy techniques and academic research principles to inform and inspire mixed methodologies, with the common aim of providing concise yet informative data that clients can easily understand and apply. Well, it’s an approach that’s clearly working because GoodQues counts TikTok, Pepsi, Frito Lay, Meta, Tropicana, Jägermeister, and many other household brands among its clients. And this year, GoodQues has been named one of the top fastest-growing companies by Inc. Magazine. Our guests today are the co-founders of GoodQues. Maria Vorovich is the Chief Strategy Officer, and Holland Martini is the Chief Insights Officer. To talk about their unorthodox approach to audience research, Maria is joining us today from Denver, Colorado, and Holland from New York City. Holland and Maria, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Holland Martini: Hi, thank you so much for having us.

Maria Vorovich: We’re thrilled to be here.

Adrian Tennant: So Holland, first of all, how did you two meet?

Holland Martini: I love this question. It’s probably the first question we always get. Everyone thinks we were friends before GoodQues, but Maria and I actually met at our former job. We worked at one of the largest creative agencies in New York, which is Grey New York. Maria was the Head of Beauty for strategy within Grey, and I was the Head of Data Strategy. Our work fed a lot into one another. And we just naturally built a ton of respect for the way that we worked, the insights that we were looking for, and the approach to problem-solving. And then, ultimately, when we discussed research and what we wanted research to be, we realized we had the same vision for research. So definitely built off of a foundation of respect and colleagues, but we’re essentially family now. 

Adrian Tennant: Maria, you co-founded GoodQues in 2019. What prompted you to establish the company?

Maria Vorovich: In our experience, initiative tends to be born out of frustration. And this was very much the case for GoodQues. So Holland and I were working together, and we were constantly ideating the What-ifs and What if we could do this? and What if we could do that? And what happens is often long-established companies have really complex infrastructure and a way of doing things. That’s what a lot of the benefit is the strong foundation. But the downside of that is that they really struggle to adapt and adopt new approaches and new ways of doing things. And s, while we were working at this kind of behemoth company, we only had one option for our ideas, and that was to start from scratch. 

Adrian Tennant: As I mentioned in the intro, you’ve positioned GoodQues as the anti-research research company. Can you unpack that for us?

Holland Martini: My background was predominantly in market research in the market research industry. I spent my entire career in it. And I can just say with experience that I think the primary goal of the research industry is to provide answers. And that was constantly what we were doing, scrambling for answers. Where the industry is really lacking is the emphasis on what those answers are, and how those answers are being used, and how those answers are being retrieved. And so what we decided to do, is buck that trend. So as Maria said, you know, GoodQues was founded on exactly that frustration. We were frustrated by all these age-old techniques simply to get the answers to the client. Instead, what we wanted to do was ensure that the answers we get are truly human, that people can really sense that those answers are something that they could work off of as opposed to trying to showcase rigor through these hundred-page decks of raw data. Which is, I think that was, you know, a big frustration I experienced in my career was that the bigger, the more complex [it] was, the better ultimately. And instead, what we’re trying to showcase is how to make deliverables that are designed for who is reading them and how they’re being used so that they become sticky throughout the organization. I can’t tell you how many times I would deliver a research report, and maybe it ended up in the trash for all I know. And for us, it’s really important to make sure that those insights are just top of mind, that they’re exciting, that people are using them, and that it’s something that you want to share. And that’s really where the anti-research research company came from. We all have the same goal, but we’re really almost doing the opposite of normal deliverables and the opposite of more of those traditional techniques.

Adrian Tennant: Maria, Do you work directly with brands, partner with agencies, or a mixture of both?

Maria Vorovich: So, we predominantly work with brands, not agencies, and it’s really due to a simple reason, and that’s just infrastructure. We absolutely love agencies. We hail from agencies. We know agencies. We speak agency language. But the problem with the infrastructure is actually on the client’s side. So by the time a creative agency receives a brief, the client has already done the rigmarole of going through the insights group, and their research vendors. So the agency receives this research-backed brief. And at that point, the agency might have some questions, but the research then becomes a stepping stone to getting creative output versus the main event, which happened a few months back. So what we found is that because we’re hyper, hyper specialists in our field, because we live and breathe data, we tend to be the most useful on the client side, developing even the brief that the agency gets. And then once the agency, the creative agency, is brought in, we’re more of the support team than we are, then we are kind of an equal partner.

Adrian Tennant: How do your skill sets complement one another? And I’ll begin with you, Holland.

Holland Martini: Yeah. We are very much yin and yang. Her strengths are my weaknesses, and I’m sure she would say the opposite for me as well. But we’re very left brain, right brain. And I think that’s actually what makes GoodQues so strong. I’m very much a math person, I think in numbers, I think very linear. Maria, you know, her background is in art. She’s very conceptual. She can think of things and piece together different facets of insights that I wouldn’t be able to. And so what that does for us is ultimately create a perfect storm of the rigor and the math and the analysis that makes very concrete insights. And then the story and the strategy and the creativity that makes them sticky, that makes them actionable, that makes brands want to use them.

Adrian Tennant: Maria?

Maria Vorovich: I couldn’t have said it better. You know, the part of the anti-research research model is that we’re able to have extremely creative methodologies, but never at the detriment of rigor. That’s kind of a yin and yang partnership that Holland was talking about. We can become really, really creative. We can think outside the box. We have that muscle, but we will never compromise on it being sound data. and that’s the magic of GoodQues.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, GoodQues serviced over $72 billion in client revenue, researching audiences including moms, bone marrow donors, juice drinkers, at-home chefs, and environmentalists, to name a few. Maria, you touched on how creativity is central to your research methodologies, could you give us a couple of examples of how GoodQues uses novel, non-obvious approaches to yield richer audience insights?

Maria Vorovich: Absolutely. One of my favorite examples is one of our more emotionally complex problems that came across our desk. So we were working with a government-funded agency that was studying racism in healthcare, specifically with the AAPI community. And they came to us to help understand the issue and help understand the source of any problems. And I believe a typical research agency would go about it qualitatively. They would conduct some kind of interview, even if it’s one-on-one, in-depth. But racism is such a difficult thing to talk about, especially with a stranger. And just asking the question we knew straight off the bat just wouldn’t be enough. So this is where the creativity came in and what we started to think about was how do we loop in some psychology principles, how do we put on our psychotherapist hat, and approach the problem that way. And that’s exactly what we did. We use the technique that we often use now, which is art therapy. And what this does is we gathered our respondents, and we gave them access to software that allowed them to create cartoons. And when they are creating these cartoons, they can choose their avatar, they can choose their clothing, they can choose the word bubbles, they can choose the environment, they can choose the characters around them, they can choose as many or as little panels if you imagine a cartoon as they’d like. And what we essentially got are these storyboards of situations where they were reenacting the moments that had happened to them in their lives. And through that, the kinds of things we were able to learn were absolutely extraordinary and we have never come out of a conversation. So the example I love to give is what we learned racism is very much felt in the healthcare environment by this group, but it’s rarely felt by the healthcare providers. So the doctors, the HTPs, the nurses, typically where it’s coming from is from the tangential surrounding staff. So from the billers, the receptionists, this kind of thing. And again, you know, if we had had just a conversation, I don’t believe that that would ever have come out. And so that kind of creativity is what takes us from mundane insights or surface level to real, real depth, giving people that comfort, thinking about how do we make them feel able to open up to us versus forced to have the conversation. So hopefully, that gives a little bit of a taste of what we do.

Adrian Tennant: It does, thank you. Now, Holland, you referred to the 100-plus page decks a moment ago. You, however, feel that less is more when it comes to – rather than more is more – less is more when it comes to research. Can you share some examples of how this is reflected in the work GoodQues does for clients?

Holland Martini: Yeah, absolutely. and I think the less is more is a bit taboo coming from a data nerd, so I do have a strong opinion on this, but I think what makes GoodQues extremely unique is the fact that we’re a team of not just researchers and analysts, but we’re built both by analysts and strategists. And that creates a different level of thinking. And it’s not just can we provide the answers to our clients’ questions, but it’s to make sure our clients are asking the right questions. Why are you asking the questions? And that helps us focus on the right answers. I think a big pet peeve with a lot of people who look at different metrics and data, for example, you have five different data points, two go up, three go down, and then it’s, then what, what are you doing? And people are making very large brand decisions off of this. And that’s why I truly believe less is more because it helps you focus and make sure the decisions you’re making are based on the right questions and the right answers. So I’ll give you an example to contextualize it. One of our clients is one of the biggest beers. You go in any bodega in New York or anywhere from wherever you’re listening, and you see this beer. And they really think that the backbone of their brand is quality, and all the decisions they make are off of these various metrics that showcase what quality is to them. Variables like the price, the packaging, what people think of the packaging, where it’s placed, the taste, and whether or not people know the heritage of the brand. And they’re making huge decisions off of these data points that they measure every month. And ultimately, our opinion of a beer isn’t necessarily changing every month. And are these even the variables we’re looking at to decide if it’s quality? So what we did with this brand is we actually focused the client. We asked the single most important question, which is: “What does quality mean to your consumer”? And we looked outside of the box. We strategized what other answers are there other than the ones that you just think of top of mind, like the taste, like the packaging, like where it’s located. And we actually found out that for this particular drinker, quality to them was scarcity, whether it was like hard to find, hard to get. We think of brands that have drops, for example, where you have to go out and be the first one to get it. And that’s how they were measuring quality. So different from the variables that the brand was originally mentioning. Now, yes, scarcity is a very complex thing to build a brand strategy around, so I don’t want anyone to run with that. But the point being is that it focused for the client. and they had kind of a North Star to look at when making decisions as opposed to, sorry for the bad analogy, a universe of stars that they were trying to digest and then make decisions off of.

Adrian Tennant: Maria, on your website, you talk about conducting qualitative work in bars instead of research facilities and gamified surveys versus standard questionnaires. What motivates these kinds of unorthodox approaches?

Maria Vorovich: So it’s interesting. It’s unorthodox for our category, but, it stems from a principle that’s been widely used, I would say, from the early 2000s of human-first principles and design thinking, and even product development. It’s very squarely fits in the tech space. It’s actually an idea that showed up on a TED stage as far back, I believe, as 2002. but what we’re doing is we’re bringing it into research, which is very novel and very, very fresh. And the main idea of it is to focus on people and their context more so than the goal, which, again, for our industry, is revolutionary. So if we think of a spirits company, for example, and if we think about them developing a product, and the goal is to determine which flavor drinkers will like best. So what happens historically is that taste tests are conducted in research facilities. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a research facility, but usually what that involves is fluorescent lighting, two-way mirrors, these office chairs, office tables, you know, three-day-old sandwiches. And it’s actually the opposite environment in which you might be drinking alcohol or taking shots. So yes, you’re going to achieve the goal in terms of, you’ll get some semblance of an idea of the flavor people like, but will it be accurate? Will it mimic a real-life environment? And so the human-first research design approach, we start to consider the people again, above the problem. So then it’s not just about getting the alcohol into people’s mouths, but it’s about thinking about what environment would they drink it in? Who would be there? What time of day would it be? What are they feeling in that moment? And the result is, and we’ve actually done this before, the result is a taste test, but it’s in a bar instead of a research facility. It’s at happy hour instead of noon time. And it’s with people of a similar age. Someone that they might actually be surrounded by in this environment. And again, the result of that is just a much more accurate reading of what will happen in the real world, than creating this kind of, you know, manufactured, environment because it’s more simple for research.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

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Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with the co-founders of GoodQues, Holland Martini, Chief Insights Officer, and Maria Vorovich, Chief Strategy Officer. Maria, in a piece published in Inc. Magazine, you said that GoodQues reports read more like steamy novels than Excel spreadsheets. So what role does storytelling play in communicating data to your clients?

Maria Vorovich: So there’s a statistic that I can’t take credit for. I believe it was something that came out in the 1980s, and it says that people are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it’s wrapped in a story. And it’s as simple as that. We tell stories so that our clients remember the data so that they’re excited to read it, so that they’re excited to share it. And the more that our data and our insights and our research seeps into their minds and their soul, the more likely they’re going to use it for strategic decisions. So, you know, you’re much more likely to read a steamy novel than a spreadsheet!

Adrian Tennant: Makes sense! Holland, this year, has of course, seen a tremendous amount of interest in marketing and advertising circles about artificial intelligence and a lot of debate about the merits and demerits of using generative technologies in creative work. We’re also seeing new AI-assisted tools coming on the market every week, it seems, including research tools with ChatGPT-like features. So given that GoodQues’s mission is the humanization of data and more emotionally intelligent insights, what’s your take on AI’s role in research?

Holland Martini: So, AI is, it’s really useful in research, so I won’t ding it at all, but there is something to be noted that there needs some sort of human element to it. Every answer that you ask artificial intelligence, the output is based on the question that you give it. The brief that you give it. So unless you are asking from a human perspective, with background and context, and writing the questions in a way that are human, in a way that’s going to tell the artificial intelligence to deliver the right answers, you simply won’t get them. The other thing to think about as well that is really important to me is that artificial intelligence, especially if you think of the ones like ChatGPT, they’re all based on things that people wrote on the internet. It’s all human-based at the end of the day. And so that’s why it’s also really important to think about the way you write the questions because you have to probe this artificial intelligence to look for the right information based on the way people are writing it online, digitally, et cetera. So for us, again, it’s something that we see really adding to the future of research. It’s just how we use it and how we’re thoughtful about using it to make sure that it actually feeds our brands with the right insights.

Adrian Tennant: Maria, do you have anything to add to that?

Maria Vorovich: I like to think about it as an analogy. It’s almost the commander and cadet dynamic. Whereas the human is the commander and the cadet, no matter how talented, without the commander, won’t know where to go. And I think that’s the exact dynamic in AI. Again, AI is tremendous at analyzing data, and brainstorming formulas, but you can test it yourself using ChatGPT. The question that you input will so drastically impact the output you’ll instantly realize the power of the human element.

Adrian Tennant: Holland, What are some concrete strategies that marketers can use to build loyalty now to grow their brands through emotional intelligence? 

Holland Martini: I might be a little bit biased here, but I do think emotional intelligence is the key to building brand loyalty and seeing sustainable growth for brands. Obviously, as long as all functional needs are met within the product or whatever you’re delivering to the consumer. If research is done right, each strategy should really be bespoke to that brand, or that company, or whoever their client is, and it’s unique to that customer. But what I can give you is two concrete research strategies that we use that ensure you’re getting the right answers to build your emotional intelligence. I think the two that are most important are first, it’s always important to get to know your audience before you build a study for them. So we completely immerse ourselves in who the audience is, how they talk, the brands that they mention. We do it in things like Reddit and in forums, even just the people around us that we know. And I can give you an example of this. So one of our bigger clients had us researching developers. You don’t know how developers talk, their lingo, or what makes them open up. And we found actually that when you act like you know everything about. developing, that these people actually close up because it becomes almost this competitive, well, “I know just as much as you, I’m not going to give away my secrets.” But if you act like a newbie, if you will, then they love to teach you. They feel like they have the upper hand. And so it’s these small personality traits that you learn about your audience before you even write the study for them. That can evoke so much more meaningful responses and make them feel like they’re actually talking to a person within their community as opposed to talking to a person within a research facility. So we always say that, you know, and this leads me to my next point, the way that you ask a question is the way that you respond. So if a kid is like, “Mommy, I’m hurt,” like “I fell.” You respond, “Oh baby, is it a boo boo?” It’s a natural response for us to mimic the way that we are responding to people by the way that we are being spoken to. And so my second one is also to think about the questions. Copywrite your questions when you’re building a study for your different audiences, and you really want to ensure that you’re gleaning the right emotional intelligence. I’m going to steal this from Maria. This is Maria’s example, but it’s the best way to put it. So sorry, Maria. She always gives the example of these two statements. One is the difference between “Would you like to work with me?” versus “Would you like to work for me?” It’s asking the same thing, but that one change in the word changes the entire intention and the meaning of that sentence, and the way that you would respond to it. One is a little more closed off, and one is a little bit more open. For me is a very intentional, “This is what you would do for me” and with me is “What we would do together.” And so the one thing that I would really encourage people to do when they are trying to gather more intelligent, emotional intelligence through research is to make sure that they are copywriting each question and being very, very thoughtful about the way that they are asking the questions. It’s new to the world of research. We use this example a lot as well, but when you see a tagline on a commercial, Someone thought of those five words for probably six months. And then when we do research, we’re expected to turn around a research brief in a week, and it’s hundreds and thousands of words sometimes. So it’s really being thoughtful about how you ask the questions to gain the right emotional intelligence.

Adrian Tennant: An article in Adweek’s Agency Spy earlier this year revealed that at GoodQues you’ve developed a custom deck of playing cards, which you now consider essential work tools. So, what prompted you to create the deck? And how did you decide on the specific questions or prompts to include?

Maria Vorovich: Yeah, that’s a great question. So we’re very much culture vultures at GoodQues. We love to monitor what’s going on in the world. We live and breathe it, and these question cards were gaining steam. I’m sure you’ve seen some of them. And we were seeing our friends, our lovers, our coworkers, all kind of playing these games. With the intention of getting closer to each other. Again, whether it’s a co-working relationship, an intimate relationship, a friendship, et cetera. And so we were extremely inspired by it. And we thought, as a company named GoodQues, a good question, we should probably have our own stake in the ground around what good questions are. and the truth is, is that it could have been an infinite amount of questions. We chose some of the most hard-hitting, empathetic, and interesting questions that we like to ask of ourselves and our audience. And the way that the card deck was developed was not just a tool for GoodQues but also as a gift for our clients and prospects. So we sent it out, and again, in the hopes that people think twice about how they ask the question and the kind of question they’re asking of themselves and of others.

Adrian Tennant: Holland, can you share an example of a time when using your custom playing cards led to a breakthrough or significantly improved a session with participants?

Holland Martini: Yeah. So I think one thing that also was a catalyst for why we built these playing cards is because there are so many studies that suggest that people are more likely to be honest with you and open up to you if they know more about who you are as a person. And the playing cards are meant to do exactly that, provide more color, more context to who you are as a person based on these more intimate or interesting questions that really provoke thought. And so what we’ve done before is we’ve actually used these cards in qualitative focus groups to allow people to open up with one another, especially when these focus groups are about to talk about sensitive topics. By giving someone some background of who you are, there’s a little bit more context to why you are answering the questions the way you are, and it provides a little bit more empathy. It’s led to more fruitful conversation and a lot less beating around the bush, if you will, when suddenly being asked a sensitive question in front of a group of strangers. It’s a way to make people feel a little bit less like strangers, even though you kind of are. You have one hour with people you’ve never met before. And so we’ve seen a drastic increase in the insights we get and the authenticity behind them.

Adrian Tennant: Maria, looking ahead to 2024, in what kinds of ways can brands grow profitably by understanding customer emotions?

Maria Vorovich: As recently as 2022, a Gallup poll found that approximately 70 percent of consumer decisions are based on emotional factors and only 30 percent are based on rational factors, and that’s one poll. The truth of it is, and in my opinion, it’s probably something like 90%, it’s based on emotion. And so brands need to tap into that emotion in order to outmaneuver their competition, in order to truly understand their audience, to inform their strategic decisions. It’s the only way that a brand can go profitably is by, again, re-pivoting and beginning to focus on the people and the context, what we were saying that human design principles over just the goal or the problem, which will lead down the path of functional, rational, and uninspiring.

Holland Martini: So we actually did our own study that shows that people are willing to spend up to 20 times more on a brand that quote-unquote truly gets them. So for me, and I can speak to the rest of GoodQues as well, instead of thinking how customer emotions can drive profitability, I like to think of it as customer emotions and understanding customer emotions equals profitability. It’s a direct link as opposed to just a variable that will increase profitability.

Adrian Tennant: Maria, you led a session at South by Southwest in 2022, and you’ve also submitted an idea for 2024 centered around the language of digital culture. Can you tell us more about that?

Maria Vorovich: Absolutely. And some of the listeners listening to this podcast now might remember the era when digital was a separate work stream entirely from traditional. and that was a separate work stream from social. And it’s only recently that all of those social, digital, mainstream, and traditional are starting to blur together. And I would say that the same thing is happening with language. Digital language patterns are bleeding into everyday language. So people are very likely to say something like, “LOL,” when they find something humorous, which is just shorthand for a “Laugh Out Loud.” And that was born, that was birthed in text messages. And now it’s part of everyday nomenclature. And so this has so many implications for research, an environment where, again, how we communicate, what we say, how we write the question is really critical to getting the point across and getting the right insight. So we’re studying this phenomenon closely and we’re starting to integrate memes. We’re starting to integrate emojis. We’re starting to even integrate slang into how we write our research studies when it’s appropriate in order, again, to connect with people and speak like them. So it’s, it’s really kind of interesting to see how digital culture is just, making its way into everyday culture, specifically with language.

Adrian Tennant: This May, you both became new moms just two days apart from each other. Well, obviously, first of all, congratulations! What has the experience of being new moms and business partners been like, and how has it impacted your day-to-day involvement in the business?

Maria Vorovich: Wow! What an extraordinary journey. And to say that the two days apart was unplanned is an understatement. I think that it’s taught us so much in terms of how to be better business partners to each other, how to really practice trust with each other and with our team. And more than anything, for me, it’s taught me efficiency. Our involvement with the business is the same as ever, and we just have less time to do the same amount of work, if not more. and so, you know, again, it teaches you how to be really empathetic to not only your business partner, but your team, and also how to practice trust with not only your business partner, but your team. And Holland, I’d love to know if you have thoughts on that as well.

Holland Martini: Yeah, for me, it’s exactly what you said. It’s really reinforced the importance of empathy. My day-to-day involvement, it just requires way more flexibility, way more coffee, and way more patience! And I think the other thing that is more of a learning, if you will, is it also has given us room to allow our team to grow in a way that I don’t know it would have before without us with Maria and I both being out for a substantial time, which again was – it’s wildly unplanned. It’s given our team time to shine and really step into roles that we never expected. And we’re lucky to say that they’ve exceeded all of our expectations. And it’s not that we haven’t given them that potential before, but it was just a set of circumstances that allowed people to step into roles well above what was anticipated. And it was beautiful to see our company grow and shine regardless of us being less present.

Adrian Tennant: What are your future goals or aspirations for GoodQues? 

Holland Martini: That’s a good question. It’s a hard one. I think we’ve been very lucky to run GoodQues as a lifestyle business. We’ve had very good momentum. We’ve seen a lot of growth, but it hasn’t been at the expense of our personal lives and at the expense of hiring quality people, or at the expense of doing good work for our clients. So for me, it’s just maintaining sustainable growth. While delivering quality work and ensuring that we have a fun company culture and environment, it’s really rare to be able to say that you get to do a job that you love, especially in the industry that we are in. and to have hours that are comfortable and deliverables that you’re proud of. And for me it’s, it’s just maintaining that growth, and that will make me happy enough.

Adrian Tennant: Maria?

Maria Vorovich: I couldn’t have said it better than Holland. I’ll leave it at that.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in learning more about GoodQues, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Holland Martini: Yes, this is an easy answer, short and sweet. We respond to emails at That’s our primary form of communication. So that’s where to find us.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to learn why memes and emojis are the new language of research, you can vote for a session on the South by Southwest panel picker. We’ll provide a link in the transcript for this episode. Maria and Holland, thank you both very much for being our guests on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Holland Martini: Thank you so much for having us.

Maria Vorovich: Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guests this week, the co-founders of the market research agency, GoodQues, Holland Martini, Chief Insights Officer, and Maria Vorovich, Chief Strategy Officer. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Branding Insights Strategy & Positioning

Prospective tenants can help inform housing choices by looking at overall and seasonal rent trends. Just as important, property managers and owners should look for trends that help them develop data-driven forecasts to inform business decisions. While many factors can impact rental prices and vacancy rates, the calculation usually depends upon forecasting supply and demand. 

Rental prices and availability vary by season, demand, supply, and the economy. These factors can vary dramatically in different regions of the country and within specific metro areas. Consider the trends in US multifamily housing while understanding that national patterns may not reflect changes in particular regions or cities. 

Various factors impacting rentals vary considerably because of the season. For instance, the threat of icy roads and bad weather discourages people in cold, northern cities from moving during the depths of winter. Similarly, most families with children try to schedule moves from one school district to another during summer vacation. Thus, most property managers consider summer their peak season and winter a slower time of year. 

Apartment List presents with data that demonstrates online searches for new homes tend to peak in late spring and summer but drop off dramatically in the late fall and winter. Demands for movers tend to follow a similar pattern. Thus, few people will be surprised that rental prices and other moving costs tend to increase during warmer months and dip again later in the year. People prefer to move when they expect good weather and without disrupting their children’s educations.

In response to established seasonal trends, many multifamily developments offer move-in specials or reduced rental prices during the slow seasons. In contrast, apartment complexes generally increase prices and reduce specials during the summer without impacting vacancy rates. 

Apartment List pointed out that 2021 broke records for its rate of rental price growth and the low number of vacancies. Partly, the coronavirus pandemic slowed construction projects because of supply chain issues, stay-at-home orders, and illnesses. Also, many families decided they needed more space for home offices and activities, which increased demand for existing units. 

However, the rapid spike in apartment prices cooled off in 2022. That year also saw a decline in people searching for new housing. The end of the year even saw some dips in rates and slight increases in vacancies. This pattern suggested that rental prices may climb modestly or even level off during 2023. 

Perhaps sparked by rental rate increases of 2021 and part of 2022, property developers began more multifamily construction projects but fewer single-family homes. Cities in the Sun Belt led the pace for constructing multifamily units, which should help level out the demand and improve affordability. For instance, three top metro areas where apartment projects surpassed single-family home construction include Austin, TX, Raleigh, NC, and Jacksonville, FL. 

At the same time, many of the largest coastal cities, like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, still need more units to satisfy the demand generated by population growth. These cities also rank in the top 10 for least-affordable rental housing, according to The Motley Fool. Analysts believe these high-cost-of-living areas are less likely to experience dramatic drops in prices or demand within the next year.

The September 2023 National Rent Report from Apartment List showed a negative trend for rental growth rates, meaning growth has slowed as predicted. At the same time, vacancies have increased to 6.4 percent, the highest since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

With fewer people seeking new apartments and construction rates at the highest since the 1970s, average vacancy rates may remain stable or grow modestly in the next year. At least, analysts expect to see little price growth through the end of 2023.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Bioethicist Dr. Jessica Pierce joins us to discuss her newest book, “Who’s A Good Dog?” Our conversation addresses US dog ownership and pet care marketing, the trend of humanizing pets, and the ethical considerations it raises. Dr. Pierce also introduces us to three ‘C’s that she believes are essential for a fulfilling human-dog relationship: Collaboration, Curiosity, and Compassion. A must-listen episode for all dog owners and anyone responsible for pet product marketing.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS

Jessica Pierce: We often don’t recognize that dogs have a different sensory experience of the world in our keeping and care of them. Walking in the paws of a dog is a very different experience from walking in the feet of a human.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: A strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Pet ownership in the US has seen a significant rise over the past three decades. Today, around two-thirds of American households own a pet – that’s 87 million homes. Dogs are the most popular, with 65 million households owning at least one. Overall, pet owners spent $137 billion on their fur babies in 2022, an 11 percent increase from the previous year. Bigeye’s 2023 National Pet Owners Study revealed that 97 percent of owners consider their pets to be members of the family. Gen Z and Millennial owners are more open to purchasing premium and health-conscious products for their pets. For those responsible for marketing pet-focused products, services, or retail, understanding the social dimensions of our modern relationships with domestic animals is essential. A new book, Who’s A Good Dog? explores the complexities of living with dogs and offers insights into how humans can cultivate a shared life of joy and respect with them. The book’s author is Dr. Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist whose research and writing focus on human-animal relationships. Her work covers a range of topics, from hospice and palliative medicine for aging and ill animals to the considerations of animal welfare science. Dr. Pierce is affiliated with the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. To discuss some of the themes and important ideas in her newest book, Dr. Pierce is joining us today from Lyons, Colorado. Jessica, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Jessica Pierce: Thank you, Adrian. Thanks for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Now, as I mentioned in the introduction, you are a bioethicist. Could you explain what that entails and what led you to focus on the relationship between humans and animals?

Jessica Pierce: Sure. So bioethics is, it’s a multidisciplinary field that deals with moral and philosophical implications of, the biomedical sciences and particularly advancements in biological sciences and medicine, as well as ethical dilemmas that arise in healthcare and the life sciences. And it seeks to address questions that are related to human and animal life and how to value human and animal life, and how to appropriately and ethically apply new biological knowledge. Some bioethicists come from a philosophy background, some from theology, some from law, some from medicine, sociology, anthropology, and so on. My own disciplinary home is theology, so my Ph.D. is in religion, and I’ve been especially interested throughout my career in environmental and animal ethics and how religious and secular traditions shape human values toward and relationships with animals and ecosystems. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, your new book focuses on dogs’ relationships with humans. What inspired you to write Who’s A Good Dog?

Jessica Pierce: I’ve been researching and writing about dogs for a long time, and my sense is that dogs who are kept as companion animals, which incidentally is only about 20 percent of the billion or so dogs on the planet, live as pets. My sense is that group of dogs are, they’re struggling, and they don’t get a lot of attention from ethicists because people think, “Oh, they’re pets. you know, everybody dotes on their pets. And pets are well cared for, and there are really no ethical problems.” And, you know, there actually are a lot of interesting ethical problems in this realm, ethical issues. And the most popular choice among all those animals is the dogs. So there are millions and millions of dogs, living in human homes who need our attention. And we do love our dogs, and we love them abundantly, but I don’t think love is enough. My sense from looking at the veterinary literature and just from talking to trainers, behaviorists, and pet owners is that a lot of dogs are having behavioral trouble. One of the statistics that really jumps out at me is that about 80% of dog owners report that their dog has behavioral problems. That’s a lot. And another thing that I’m seeing in the veterinary literature is that more and more dogs are suffering from severe chronic anxiety. So there’s something about the home environment that’s challenging for dogs right now, and you know, I love dogs, and I want dogs to be as happy and healthy as possible. So I wrote the book to help think through why dogs might be struggling, and how we can help them do better. 

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you introduce us to your dog, Bella, who has some unique behaviors that could also be considered challenging. How has Bella influenced your perspective on what it means to be a good dog?

Jessica Pierce: So Bella, as the title of my book suggests, Bella has really challenged me to think differently about the idea of what a good dog is and what a bad dog is. I’ve lived with Bella for about 11 years now. And you know, for the first number of years that I lived with her, I was really stuck on the idea that she had behavioral problems that I needed to fix. if she went to a behaviorist, she would be labeled reactive, and training books would label her a bad dog, and they would label me a bad dog owner because I haven’t fixed my dog. You know, Bella does not like to be touched by people she doesn’t know. And, she even sets pretty hard limits on what I can ask of her. So she just doesn’t match the description of a good dog that you see as this kind of reigning cultural narrative. So, you know, a dog who’s friendly to everybody who’s compliant with all of their owner’s commands. But when it came down to it and over time, I realized that Bella isn’t – she is not a problem who needs to be fixed;  she is who she is, and I need to love her for who she is. And maybe the problem isn’t that she’s a bad dog, but that my preconceived image of what makes a dog a good dog was inaccurate. So broadening out to dogs in general, and having spent a lot of time in the literature on dog behavior and cognition, you know, I’ve really come to think that what we expect of dogs behaviorally is what needs to change. Our expectations are off-the-charts unrealistic. And, training a dog is basically the process of taking the dog out of the dog, as it were. I call it de-dogging in my book. teaching a dog not to bark, not to sniff other dogs’ butts, not to hump things, not to roll in stuff, not to beg, not to seek attention. All of these things are perfectly natural dog behaviors that they’re highly motivated to perform. And you know, in the veterinary literature, I think it’s really interesting that a behavior problem is defined technically as a behavior that the human owner doesn’t like. So it’s a human-centered definition of a behavioral problem. And what I’d like to do, what I’ve tried to do in my book, is shift that to a dog-centered definition. And there’s no doubt that dogs are struggling, and that manifests as behaviors that are challenging for dog guardians. But all dogs are good dogs; they’re just struggling to adapt to environments that are hard for them. 

Adrian Tennant: Dogs possess a sense of smell many times more sensitive than humans. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2022 revealed the senses of smell and vision are closely connected in the brains of dogs, something not yet found in any other species. Jessica, what are some of the most common challenges that dogs face living with us in environments we’ve created for humans?

Jessica Pierce: So as the study suggests, and it’s a fascinating study, olfaction or the sense of smell plays a role for dogs that’s really different from the role that it plays for humans. For dogs, as one of the headlines about this research put it, dogs see the world through their noses. Walking in the paws of a dog is a very different experience from walking in the feet of a human. And we often don’t recognize that dogs have a different sensory experience of the world, in our keeping and care of them. And one of the main ways that plays out is that we don’t let dogs adequately use their really impressive noses. And you know, I’m sure that you have seen this, more than once. I see it all the time. Somebody walking with a dog on a leash, and they’re pulling the dog along, and you can see them saying to their dog, “Come on, there’s nothing there.” And the dog is just saying, “Yes, there is! Somebody just peed here a little while ago, and it’s really interesting.” There’s all kinds of fascinating olfactory information left behind in this, this pee-spot, and, you know, it’s like a social media post or pee-mail! We don’t give dogs enough chance to use their sense of smell. And at the same time, our human environments can be full of sensory stimuli that are pretty frightening and overwhelming to dogs. And one of the ways that homes, I think are pretty hard on dogs is the level of noise and the kind of noise that dogs are exposed to. Dogs have ears that are more sensitive than ours, and they hear a broader range of frequencies. So some of the ultrasonic sounds in our homes we don’t even hear, but our dogs are perfectly aware of them. And it’s kind of like this, over-stimulation, and there’s been some really interesting research, just to give a specific example, on the effects of traffic noise on dogs and how dogs who live near football stadiums have much higher levels of anxiety on game days because of the increased noise. 

Adrian Tennant: In Who’s A Good Dog? you mention Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, a collection of talks given by Shunryu Suzuki, one of the most influential Buddhist teachers of the twentieth century and widely considered the founding father of Zen Buddhism in America. How can cultivating a beginner’s mind help us better understand and relate to our canine companions?

Jessica Pierce: So one of the things that I noticed about myself, and I think it’s true for a lot of people who live with dogs, is that we’re awash in human expertise about dogs. We’re endlessly being advised by trainers, by behaviorists, by nutritionists, by veterinarians, and a whole range of other canine professionals, including pet product companies, about what dogs need. And, you know, a lot of the information is really instructive. It’s good information, and it’s important to absorb it. On the other hand, I think there’s a danger in passing over to other people, to the so-called experts, the responsibility for being observant ourselves, of our dog, and being insightful about what’s going on for our dog and being compassionate toward our dog. And I think [a] beginner’s mind is the opposite of [an] expert’s mind. The beginner’s mind is empty, it’s free of the habits of the expert. It’s ready to accept, it’s ready to doubt, to question, and it’s open to all possible interpretations. And I think in relation to our dogs, there are two benefits to at least some of the time trying to inhabit a beginner’s mind. One is that I think it can help loosen some of the preconceptions we have about who dogs are, and especially, as I was talking about in the introduction, what makes a dog a good dog. So letting go of some of the expectations that have been handed over to us by other people. And then, secondly, I think a beginner’s mind can help us be with our dogs from moment to moment in a more mindful and compassionate way. And really, when you think about it, there are no true dog experts except for dogs themselves. So let’s ask dogs what they’re thinking, what they need. 

Adrian Tennant: The concept of “humanizing” pets has been a driving force in the pet industry since the 1860s, when James Spratt used shelf-stable crackers eaten by sailors at the time, known as hardtack, to create the first commercial pet biscuit. Humanization continues to fuel the industry’s growth today, with pet foods featuring human-grade ingredients, CBD supplements, and even La-Z Boy dog beds. As we learned from Bigeye’s national study earlier this year, 97 percent of owners view their pets as members of the family. Younger owners, in particular, the Millenial generation, who represent the largest cohort of pet owners, are concerned with sustainability-related issues and corporate transparency. Jessica, do you think companies who produce products for dogs have a responsibility to be transparent about their products’ sourcing and sustainability standards?

Jessica Pierce: Yeah, so I’d say that all manufacturers of all products should be transparent about sourcing and sustainability so that consumers can make purchasing decisions that align with their values. I don’t think that pet companies have a special responsibility in this regard. but I would say that companies selling pet products do have a special responsibility to be transparent about the effects of their products on animals, on the animals that they’re targeted for. If a product, for example, is designed to inflict harm on an animal, and I’m thinking here of products that impose what behaviorists would call an aversive experience, like a shock, and that are used in punishment-based training scenarios, And thinking here of ultrasonic bark deterrence. I don’t think that these should be marketed as safe and humane, which they often are. I think that is a non-transparent practice. I would love to see more alignment between the valuing of pets and the valuing of other animals. So more attention to cruelty-free sourcing and non-animal ingredients, and the example that comes to mind here is BarkBox, which I love, I love the concept of it, and I really, really want to get BarkBox for Bella, but they don’t have, a cruelty-free option at this point. So, it would be great to see more of that.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club brings you interviews with authors who are shaping the future of marketing. Our featured book for September is From Marginal to Mainstream: Why Tomorrow’s Brand Growth Will Come from the Fringes – and How to Get There First. This groundbreaking book by Helen Edwards explores the often untapped potential of fringe consumer behaviors and shows how they can be a renewable source of innovation for brands. The book provides a practical framework for identifying non-obvious opportunities and applying qualitative and quantitative research-backed insights for sustainable brand growth. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of this month’s featured book using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all Kogan Page titles, including pre-orders, and their free paperback and e-book bundle offer. Shipping is always free to the US and UK when you order directly from Kogan Page, and it supports the authors as well. So, to order your copy of From Marginal to Mainstream, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with bioethicist, Dr. Jessica Pierce, the author of a new book, Who’s A Good Dog? And how to be a Better Human. Many pet products are marked with terms like “natural,” “organic,” or, as you’ve mentioned, “humane.” How can dog guardians navigate these claims to make ethical choices?

Jessica Pierce: Oh, it’s really hard. I think, you know, as in the human realm, Consumers of pet products need to do a lot of research and approach shopping, armed with as much good information as they can. And I don’t think there’s any such thing as having full information because it’s just, there’s too much information to try to gather. And I think, you know, a lot of people experience that, in trying to choose what kind Of food to feed their dog and where to buy it. I think the labels like natural, organic, and humane don’t really mean very much and can be a source of confusion. I know that they sell products too, but I think they are often misleading, particularly humane. I think it’s useful for consumers, and I try to do this. It’s hard, but I think it’s useful to bear in mind the emotional power of advertising when it comes to our animals, who we love, and to recognize which narratives draw us in particularly, and why, for example, are we drawn especially to dog foods that are marketed as feeding “the inner wolf” in our dog. And why, what is it that makes those attractive to us?

Adrian Tennant: Well, I’m curious to learn more about what you think about the ways that dogs are portrayed in advertising. Are the mistakes that you see marketers making consistently?

Jessica Pierce: Yeah, I think one that I just alluded to is that dogs are often portrayed as, or described as little wolves. So you see advertising tags like, “Feed your dog like the wolf he is,” or something like that. But dogs are not wolves. they have been evolving in connection with humans for 20,000 years, give or take, and have a much different gut microbiome. They have a different feeding ecology. they have different nutritional needs. so I think that’s not beneficial to dogs. It also suggests that dogs are behaviorally like wolves, and they’re not. Another one that really bothers me is dogs being hugged by children. I know that tugs at our heartstrings to see dogs and children together, but I think it can create, an aura of safety about dogs that might be, Not the best for children and parents because a lot of dogs do not appreciate being hugged and are nervous around children and there are so many bite incidents that could be avoided. so I, I think that’s one that bothers me. sometimes I see ads where I think we’re supposed to think that they’re happy. but behaviorally, they’re actually showing signs of stress. There is one ad in particular that I’m thinking of, and every single dog in the advertising campaign for this company is panting, which is not actually necessarily a sign of a happy dog. It may be a sign of a stressed dog. I could go on and on in this category, but the final one I’ll mention is the glamorization of brachycephalic dogs like pugs and boxers. And they are cute, but they have so many health problems that I really think, we should be cautious in using them as the models of, you know, the happy, healthy, well-adjusted dogs who are selling whatever product it is. 

Adrian Tennant: Are there aspects of dogs’ lived experiences that you think could be depicted more effectively? 

Jessica Pierce: So yeah, I think depicting dogs, doing dog things! So depicting them as dogs, engaging in species natural behaviors like sniffing, and maybe it’s a little too risque, but even sniffing each other’s butts, which is a really important place to gather information. Rolling in the mud, cautiously checking each other out before engaging in a play session. just as dogs themselves, not as humanized, but as their own beings. 

Adrian Tennant: In Who’s A Good Dog? You also explore a concept inspired by Emily Dickinson of “Dwelling in possibility.” Jessica, I know this may have some sad memories attached to it, but how does this apply to our relationships with dogs?

Jessica Pierce: To give some context, my mother was a great fan of Emily Dickinson and often Used lines from Dickinson’s poems, and she said once to me, something about dwelling in possibility. And it was near the end of her life, and she was bedbound, she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was really close to the end of her life. had lost the use of her legs and was gradually losing the use of her arms as well. So she was under increasing physical constraints, but she described herself as dwelling in possibility. And that was, it was really touching to me that She focused on possibility rather than constraints, and I think in relation to dogs. I mean, the basic idea is that there are certain constraints that we and our dogs live under. Like the structural constraints of modern pet keeping that make it really hard for us to live well together. you know, for dogs, I think some examples are The lack of freedom to move about on their own, to roam around, or to reproduce on their own. And, you know, we have our own limitations in terms of our patients and our financial and emotional resources and so on. But within these constraints, the possibilities for mutually enriching relationships are endless. 

Adrian Tennant: How can keeping an enrichment journal aid in fostering a more mindful relationship with our dogs?

Jessica Pierce: There’s been a lot of talk in end-of-life care circles about keeping a quality-of-life journal for dogs. And it’s really focused on the things that are causing dogs pain, or are constraining things that their activities of daily living. and I think that’s a wonderful thing to do, a very important thing to do. But I also think that we can and should pay daily attention to, what makes our dog happy. And, you know, I think the contours of our dog’s life are determined almost completely by the choices that we make for them. So we’re in charge of when they eat, what they eat, where they go to the bathroom, who they get to be friends with, where they sleep, when and if they go out into the world. And I think because of that, one of our primary responsibilities as their caregivers is to make sure that they have an abundance of rich and interesting experiences to make sure that they experience joy. I. Whether that’s from going on a micro adventure to the lake or getting a new puzzle toy or playing with a new friend. And I think keeping a journal of what we’ve done to give our dogs joy is, well, it’s not, it’s fun for one thing because we’re reminded of their happiness and hopefully our shared happiness. And it reminds us that providing joy is something that we can and should do often, and we can keep track of what our dog likes the most so we can do more of that. I. 

Adrian Tennant: For all dog guardians listening, could you share some practical advice on how to improve our relationships with our dogs based on the three C’s you mention?

Jessica Pierce: Yeah, so in the book, I call these three Cs the Rules of Engagement for sharing a rich and mutually fulfilling life with a dog. The first rule, and I think the one that is most often overlooked is that each human-dog relationship is a delicate work of collaboration. Our dogs are working really hard to adapt themselves to our way of life, and we can work equally hard to adapt ourselves to theirs. We can meet them halfway. I think an attitude of curiosity helps foster collaborations. So being curious about who our dog really is. what is it like to walk in her paws and. Collaboration and curiosity can help us care for our dogs well and can generate compassion for animals and for people alike. 

Adrian Tennant: In Bigeye’s National Pet Owners Study results, approaching nine-in-ten owners say they understand what their pets are trying to communicate to them – 87 percent – and two-thirds of owners believe their pets understand most or everything said to them – 66 percent. Jessica, how do you interpret these data points?

Jessica Pierce: Overall, I take them as really encouraging numbers though I think they’re a little bit rose colored. What it tells me is that people value clear communication with their pets and are at least trying to understand what animals are trying to communicate. I suspect that the actual numbers are probably reversed and that animals are paying really close attention to what we are communicating. And it’s not just what we say, not just our words, but even more importantly, our body language, our facial expressions, our gestures, and so forth. And we are doing pretty well listening to our animals, but we could probably be doing better by trying to get more educated about dog behavior and cat behavior – the same goes for cats – and just, actually, trying to understand what their facial expressions, postures, tail position, gaze, et cetera, actually mean, and not just what we want them to mean.

Adrian Tennant: What advice would you give to marketers and advertisers in the pet industry to promote products that better align with ethical and mindful pet guardianship?

Jessica Pierce: I would encourage the first question about a product to be this: “Will this improve the quality of life for dogs?” And not dog owners, I think they come second. “Will it improve the quality of life for dogs?” And another, maybe even more important question should be, “Can this product potentially cause harm and in what ways? And what can we do to make sure that dogs remain safe if this product is on the market?” And I would say don’t assume that people know very much or anything about dog behavior or about the emotional experiences of dogs, and avoid supporting what you might call convenience practices. Which I would define as dog-keeping practices that squeeze dogs into human lifestyles and homes, sometimes at significant cost to dogs. And two examples that come to mind. I’ve mentioned one of them – bark deterrents I think are a convenience for humans, but they offer no benefit to dogs, and in fact, they harm dogs, and if I must be honest, I’d say they shouldn’t be on the market at all. A second example is crates, and it’s a tool that’s often used by people as a convenience practice. So a crate is often used to keep a dog confined in lieu of appropriate training or in lieu of spending enough quality time with a dog. On the other hand, crates are extremely useful, and it benefits every dog to learn to be comfortable in a crate. And I think everybody should have a crate. And when there’s a natural disaster, Crates are often a lifesaving intervention for dogs. And if a dog or cat is already comfortable in a crate, it’ll make a very stressful situation slightly less awful than it might be if they weren’t comfortable. And also, of course, veterinary emergencies, and also for dogs in a muzzle, which I think, you know, people have really sort of scary opinions about muzzles, and they’re a really useful tool in a very limited set of circumstances. And I would love to see more education with products about appropriate use and ethical use. pet product manufacturers have a huge amount of influence, and often they’re one of the only sources of information that a dog guardian will encounter. So providing behaviorally accurate, appropriate information would really, really benefit dogs.

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in Who’s A Good Dog?, any of your previous books, or your articles in Psychology Today, what’s the best way to learn more?

Jessica Pierce: So my website is a good hub for information. It’s just My Psychology Today blog is really easy to find – it’s called All Dogs Go To Heaven if you just search “all dogs go to heaven” and “psychology today,” it’ll bring it up. And there are a whole bunch of different blogs on a zillion different topics.

Adrian Tennant: Jessica, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Jessica Pierce: You are most welcome. It was nice to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, bioethicist Dr. Jessica Pierce, the author of Who’s A Good Dog? As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Just select ‘podcast’ from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

To learn more about Bigeye’s pet product marketing solutions, check out examples of our work and client case studies at 
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

A thought-provoking discussion with Pepper Miller, author of “Let Me Explain Black Again,” about Black Americans’ lived experiences. Pepper sheds light on some of the historical misunderstandings about Black consumers and common missteps in multicultural marketing. Pepper also explains the growing influence of Black Millennials and the shift in societal consciousness surrounding race, calling for more accurate, respectful representations of the Black community in advertising. 

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS: 

Pepper Miller: US-born Black people, in particular, have this lens in terms of how we see ourselves and how we perceive how others see us. So Black is a culture and not a color. 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on marketing and advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Sixty years ago, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a quarter of a million people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to deliver his iconic I Have a Dream speech. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a pivotal moment in the US Civil Rights Movement, advocating for economic, racial, and social justice. Fast forward to today, and Americans have mixed opinions on the extent of progress made in achieving racial equality. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in April revealed that just over one-half of people believe that either a fair amount or a great deal of progress has been made in the past 60 years, but one-third felt that only some progress has been achieved, and 15 percent stated that little to no progress has been made. Notably, white respondents are twice as likely as Black respondents to believe substantial progress has occurred, highlighting a racial divide in perceptions of equality. As we’ve discussed on this podcast previously, evidence-based, research-driven perspectives are needed to assess US consumers’ ever-evolving attitudes and behaviors. And this is especially true for multicultural marketing. For those interested in really understanding the contemporary Black experience in America, a recently published book serves as a guide, Let Me Explain Black Again: Exploring Blind Spots And Black Insights For Marketing & Understanding Black Culture And Perspectives examines nuances that brands and individuals often overlook when interacting with the Black community. The book’s author is Pepper Miller, president and Senior Analyst of The Hunter-Miller Group, which specializes in multicultural market research and strategic planning. A recognized authority and thought leader, Pepper has dedicated her career to helping organizations better understand and engage with Black Americans. To discuss some of the themes and important ideas in her book, I’m delighted that Pepper is joining us today from Chicago, Illinois. Pepper, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Pepper Miller: Thank you, Adrian. It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: What inspired you to write, Let Me Explain Black Again?

Pepper Miller: Well, you know, several reasons! I had written a couple of books before, but a lot, as you can imagine, has changed. So number one, there’s the growth of the Millennials. They have a lot of power, Adrian, they’ve finally surpassed Boomers in terms of growth. They’re on the front lines of political change and cultural change. And Black Millennials are driving the progressive growth. And when Black people talk about “progressive,” it’s not related to politics, it’s about our advancement. So Black Millennials are driving that advancement in the Black community, and they continue to be highly influential in American culture as well as Black culture. The second reason – there are five of them, you bear with me – is three American disruptors: Trump, COVID, and George Floyd. It really changed how people started thinking about race. Now, Black people tend to think about Blackness 90% of the time, versus whites who think about being white 10% of the time. But with those three disruptors, there was this increase in, “Maybe there’s something going on with the Black community that we didn’t know.” That’s to the positive. And then the other negative part is, we’re coming up with the great erasure, erasing our history, and that was the third point. So I wanted to be part of the discussion of people becoming aware of race. I wanted to have that. And then I felt like we needed something to counter the erasure of our history. And so the Black people needed a narrative to have – not to be defensive, but to be able to tell our story without being defensive. And because AI, artificial intelligence, is becoming so popular. So when we look at looking for artificial intelligence to write things for us, I understand that it’s out searching for this in cyberspace, on the internet, and there are so many negative messages about our history and how it’s hurting white kids and how that didn’t happen, and, you know, Black people were happy being slaves, that we needed to have something to counter that too, for artificial intelligence. And then the fourth thing is, I saw how strategists struggled to identify insights for Black people looking everywhere to find this and that and to substantiate. The book does that. And then, finally, four words that I’ve been continuing to hear since I began this journey in 1995: “Pepper, I didn’t know.” They would say that, many colleagues and non-Black colleagues, mostly white people, would say that after they heard my presentation or some research that I’ve done or a workshop that I’ve done, they pulled me over confidentially to say, “Pepper, I didn’t know.” Hence the title, Let Me Explain Black Again. Long answer!

Adrian Tennant: You’ve explained what led you to choose the title, but why the emphasis on Again

Pepper Miller: Because of the “I didn’t know.” Because particularly working with brands, a lot of brand managers stay there for a couple of years in a particular position or brand, and then they move on. And then you get new brand people, and you’re starting over again. They don’t understand or know the foundations of Black people. These books that I write, they’re very foundational to me. It’s like, “You’ve got to start here before you can get there so that you won’t make mistakes so that you can engage people in a relevant way. So you can have a better message, and so that you can have a positive bottom line.” My work life and personal life have been explaining Black over and over and over again. I love being Black, Adrian, I do. I’m proud of my culture. It is also exhausting. It’s exhausting. So it’s not meant to be punitive to people, it’s just that, “Okay guys, let, let me just try this again and let me go broader and let me go deeper.”

Adrian Tennant: You’re the author of two other books, What’s Black About It? And Black STILL Matters In Marketing. Pepper, how does this work differ from your two previous books? 

Pepper Miller: It is broader and deeper than the other two books. I do revisit some of the things from the other books, but I also connected to what was going on in current culture and pop culture. To go broader and deeper on that as well. So basically, it just goes a lot broader, a lot deeper, and it’s well-researched. The other books were researched too, but this is really well-researched. Whatever idea or insight I had, I made sure that I substantiated it with a source outside of my own work.

Adrian Tennant: In the cover notes, you describe your newest book as a resource tool to support the rationale for understanding “the why” about Black America. Could you talk a little about the kind of work you do at the Hunter-Miller Group and how it’s reflected in the pages of Let Me Explain Black Again?

Pepper Miller: Sure. So I am a market researcher, and I primarily focus on qualitative research. And my broad focus with that, obviously, is with the Black consumer market. So when we think about qualitative research, it does answer the question “Why?” and I call myself “The Why Girl.” Smaller groups of people, focus groups, and they could be small groups, or one-on-ones, or one person at a time, where you have a chance to explore and go deeper into how people feel their beliefs and their behavior. Quantitative research is more measurable. You’re talking to measurable groups. You’re collecting the “What” and sometimes the “How” from quantitative research. And the research industry has gone back and forth on that. There was a lot of emphasis on qualitative at one time, and then they switched to Big Data is important. So Big Data became the focus of the research industry for a number of years. But they realized they had this data. They had the “What,” but they didn’t have the “Why.” And so the pendulum is starting to swing back that way, from a research perspective. Well, it’s swung back, and now it’s going back the other way, I think, with artificial intelligence. So qualitative helps us understand the “Why”; quantitative is more measurable. Larger groups answer the “What” and the “How.”

Adrian Tennant: Throughout the introduction, I referred to the Black experience, not African American. Now, this is an adjustment I’ve made since reading your book, but could you explain why most Black people prefer the term Black over African American? 

Pepper Miller: So while all African-Americans are Black by race, not all Black people are African-Americans. So we have this tremendous, wonderful growth of Africans from the continent of Africa. And then we have a lot of Black Caribbeans. They prefer Black over African American because they like to be part of America, but they want to stay connected with their homeland. And then there are people like me, who like to see themselves connected with the larger global community of Black people as well. Now many of us, particularly US-born Black people, are not offended if you interchange Black with African American. Most of us don’t, even though there is a preference, and several studies tell us that there’s a preference for that. That is the number one question too, Adrian, that I am asked, is, “How do we reference Black people? Is it Black or African American?” And I’ve been posting on social media, on LinkedIn and Instagram, some information about that. I have a post called Cap Black: Why We Capitalize Black because Black is a culture and not a color. And so there’s more reverence and respect that comes with that – or needs to come with that. And that’s something that most Black people embrace, but we’re not offended, most of us, if you reference us as African American,

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you identify seven blind spots that prevent businesses and brands from getting it right with their Black customers. Pepper, could you give us an idea of some of them? 

Pepper Miller: So I often talk about the top three: the avoidance of America’s history;  misunderstanding the language of Black culture; and Black identity. So the number one insight and blind spot about Black people, and I’ve been talking about this, Adrian, for years and years, is not understanding our history. Black people, US-born Black people in particular, have this lens in terms of how we see ourselves and how we perceive how others see us, this historical lens. And as a result of that historical lens in slavery that causes is the reason behind the lens, it’s the “Why” behind the lens. We have different beliefs and behaviors. And the different beliefs and behaviors we don’t leave in our households; when we go out of our dwellings, we take our Blackness in everything in this lens with us and how we see things in how we perceive how others see us. And it is the most important insight for understanding Black people because all these beliefs and behaviors, they ladder back up to it: colorblindness; the need to respect, which is king; being unapologetically Black; smoldering coals, which is the pain and shame around history that comes out in many ways, it’s like a little spark that something could happen and it could ignite. Why? The reason why we sometimes have these riots and marches and things like that. So understanding this history and the beliefs and characteristics associated with it, it is so important to connection, and messaging, and understanding this segment. So that’s an example of the first insight. And then there’s identity in terms of how we see ourselves. Black, African American, as you brought up, there’s mixed race. There’s the Black LGBT+. There’s the Black Africans and Caribbeans, and identity is just so important. So those are a couple that I talk about a lot in my, presentations. And language is the other thing that’s important. So for marketers, because we speak English, English becomes then the cultural identifier, and I’ve heard it’s been said in my presence, “They speak English, don’t they?” as a reason for not investing in Black research, Black marketing, Black advertising. My response is, “Yes, we speak English,” or “Yes, I speak English, and are you talking to me?” So helping them understand the importance of language and how we talk to each other. And not necessarily Ebonics, but how our culture is intertwined with our language. The language of Blackness and what we see and what we do. And that’s really important, as well. So those are the top three insights that I talk about often in my presentations, and I share with clients.

Adrian Tennant: What are some actionable steps that you recommend to rid marketers of their blind spots?

Pepper Miller: I think one of the biggest stereotypes about Black people that’s related to our history is stereotyping. And it’s been this cloud that continues to hover over Black people. You know, some whites say, “Suck it up. What’s wrong with you all? We had Barack Obama, and you got these leaders, and what’s wrong with the rest of you people?” And they have these stereotypical messages about us. If one Black person does something wrong or smaller groups, then that’s all of us. So an opportunity, in terms of an actionable step, is to make it the mission to overcome stereotyping. One of the examples that I talk about is Black men and how they are stereotyped. You know, when you think about crime, that’s one of the platforms for getting elected today with politicians. And when you think about crime, it’s usually Black or brown people and mostly Black people. And then that becomes Black men. And then we hear on the news about the carjacking and the shootings, and it’s all Black men are like this, and that is so not true. So there’s a commercial, and I show a lot of commercials how they’re starting to show Black men as caring caretakers. And usually, that comes from Black agencies. And there’s recently, there’s been a commercial, Adrian – and maybe you can share in your podcast – it’s a commercial done by Amazon, or it’s a commercial for Amazon, about this Black guy who’s a security guard that wants to be a chef and he buys these knives and cooking utensils from Amazon, and he’s practicing his cooking, and he is sharing it with one of his coworkers. It is so wonderful. But it is a stereotype breaker because it shows this guy, a Black man, typically a security guard, who has a desire to do something else, but it’s what we see versus what white America sees. We see more, and we see differently. We tend to scrutinize commercials and images about our culture differently. And that’s an example of overcoming a stereotype, showing a Black man who wants to progress. And what I learned is when you get it right with Black people, you get it right with the mainstream. If that had been a white guy, that was going through that, I just don’t think it would have the same impact on Black people. We’re like, “Yeah, we get it.” But because of that, it’s positive realism. It’s what we know in our community. So this mission to overcome stereotyping is important. And there’s, there’s a lot more speaking, you know, to us in terms of what matters. And there’s a lot more, but that’s an example because I know we have limited time here.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.  

Adrian Tennant: Each month, in partnership with our friends at Kogan Page, the Bigeye Book Club brings you interviews with authors who are shaping the future of marketing. Our featured book for September is From Marginal to Mainstream: Why Tomorrow’s Brand Growth Will Come from the Fringes – and How to Get There First. This groundbreaking book by Helen Edwards explores the often untapped potential of fringe consumer behaviors and shows how they can be a renewable source of innovation for brands. The book provides a practical framework for identifying non-obvious opportunities and applying qualitative and quantitative research-backed insights for sustainable brand growth. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25% on a print or electronic version of this month’s featured book using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all Kogan Page titles, including pre-orders, and their free paperback and e-book bundle offer. Shipping is always free to the US and UK when you order directly from Kogan Page, and it supports the authors as well. So, to order your copy of From Marginal to Mainstream, go to

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Pepper Miller, president of the Hunter-Miller Group and the author of, Let Me Explain Black Again: Exploring Blind Spots And Black Insights For Marketing & Understanding Black Culture And Perspectives. In Let Me Explain Black Again, you examine how many well-meaning folks misunderstand Black identity, especially in the context of product development. could you talk about the example you give in the book, about sunscreen?

Pepper Miller: Sunscreen, yes! So it’s interesting how in the medical world as well as day-to-day life, there’s a perception that melanin protects our skin. and it was really something that Black people believed as well. From a medical standpoint, doctors believed that we didn’t need pain medication and all of that, that was related to that, but that fosters that belief about not needing sunscreen. So Black people were dying from skin cancer at a very high rate. They were getting diagnosed at a lower rate, but dying from it at a higher rate. And so there was this need for Black people to use sunscreen. And women, in particular, were not using it. “I don’t need it. My melanin was protecting me” until social media voices came on board. So it was Black dermatologists and just everyday social media gurus, or people, not necessarily experts. So the Black female dermatologist talked about the importance of sunscreen. And then these gurus were talking to us in very raw, realistic language. And these women got hundreds of thousands of followers, and people started paying attention to them and then looking for sunscreen. So the sunscreen products that were out there, they would leave an ashy residue, so the gurus would encourage the people to do sunscreen tests to make sure that it would blend in with your skin, and then that wasn’t working. And then a young woman created a Black girl sunscreen, so that is an example of language and how you talk to people and letting the Black community know that you need this, and to do the sunscreen test and your melanin won’t protect you. That’s a message that we were not getting from mainstream companies. And I’ve done a ton of skincare research for these companies and tried to get them to include sunscreen As part of their messaging, and they wouldn’t do it. But it was the Black community that was galvanized on social media that figured it out, and I was very delighted to hear that.

Adrian Tennant: In addition to blind spots, you also write about five segments of what you call “cultural shapeshifters.” Pepper, what characterizes a shapeshifter? And could you give us a couple of examples? 

Pepper Miller: A shapeshifter is one that not only has influence over people to do something, but they are impacting from a revenue standpoint, the bottom line of America’s revenue. Or they are changing the cultural standards in our community. So an example I often use is Rhianna, the popular singer who launched a skincare line at retail. And she had 40+ shades of skincare that she insisted to be launched at retail. Nobody had ever done that before. Now, L’Oreal, and Lancôme, and Maybelline also had 40 shades of makeup, but they never launched it in the way that she did, so they followed her example. That opened up the possibilities of makeup to more women of color, and then it had a positive impact on the bottom line for those companies. Cultural shape-shifting. 

Adrian Tennant: You write about the perception of a post-racial America during President Obama’s time in office. How did this impact marketing and advertising targeting the Black community?

Pepper Miller: When President Obama was elected, there was a perception that we have a Black president and we are now post-racial. Again, we don’t need to invest in Black media, Black research, Black advertising. It was a really tough eight years for me and for many Black-owned agencies that were Black-focused. I mean, it was tough, you know, it was rolling, and then revenues went down. Even the second book, I purposely wanted it to launch during the Obama presidency. I thought there would be more interest in Black people, and it was less interest in that. And it wasn’t until Donald Trump was running for office, and that was when people had an “Aha!” Moment. But those were really, really tough years. And we are still not post-racial. We still aren’t.

Adrian Tennant: Do you think the Black community had unrealistic expectations of what Obama’s presidency would mean? 

Pepper Miller: I think we did. I think. I know I did. I felt really happy because he was not elected by just Black people, that white America stood up and voted for him, and I thought we would be embraced more. I thought people would come to us more. I thought we would bond more. I thought we would work together more. I thought we’d have more conversations. I thought we’d be included. That was all of these things that I thought, and I think many in the Black community thought as well. That was the feel-good moment. Yes, we felt pride and America electing a Black president, but it was also “Woo! Finally, now we can come together a little bit more!” And we knew it was not going to be easy, but we became more divisive instead of coming together. That’s what I didn’t see coming, and I don’t think the Black community saw that as well. 

Adrian Tennant: Let Me Explain Black Again has been available for a few months now, and I know you’ve spoken at a number of high-profile marketing and research-focused events about it. What kinds of conversations has it sparked? 

Pepper Miller: I have been blessed to be interviewed on other podcasts by people from the Black community, like Black Enterprise, and then, for your audience, Mallory Waxman, and Mario Caruso. I’ve been very blessed to be able to keep these types of conversations going in podcasts, so I’m delighted to have that. Professors have reached out to me more. I did a lot of presentations for college students. I always tell professors if you want me to speak to your students on this topic, I am absolutely happy to do so. So professors have been asking their students to buy my books, read them, they’ve been writing papers on it, and I come in and do a Black Insights presentation. And I love that. And these students are not necessarily the Black students, they’re more non-Black students or Asian, white, Hispanic students, more so than Black students, but I’ve been grateful for that. So to be able to keep the conversations going and with those young minds has been really good. So I’m grateful for the brands that reach out for presentations, the podcast community, and the professors and the higher-level education community who see the value in my message. So it’s been great.

Adrian Tennant: What advice would you give to young professionals looking to enter the research or consumer insights industry?

Pepper Miller: For young people who want to get into this industry, I do think this mindset of curiosity is so important. To have an intellectual curiosity and wonderment: “I wonder what that means? I wonder why they do that? I wonder why people feel like that?” Curiosity is very important. Having a sense of written and oral communication skills is also important. Being comfortable with tedious work. When you do research, for example, like focus groups, sometimes you, you know, you get transcripts, and maybe you’ve taken copious notes, but sometimes you miss something. You have to go back and look for it. Or if you’re doing secondary research, you have to search around to find out what might substantiate a thesis or another idea that you may have about something. So you have to understand that. I think it’s important to bring your whole selves to the table. Don’t be afraid to bring your culture and history to the table. It helps people understand and learn it and expands the learning and insights process. And then to work for positive change. The research industry is notoriously not diverse. Seventy percent of the research industry is white, 13% is Asian, and I think 10% is Hispanic, and only 4% is Black, and the Native American is point something. So we need to work for positive change that is more inclusive, that we change the standards of research, the questions, how they’re asked, the orders of how we ask. It’s not necessarily relatable to this multicultural segment. So that’s important, as well, being curious, bringing your whole self to the table, working for positive change, and having excellent, or working toward excellent written and oral communication skills. And understand that you might have to be tedious, with this work.

Adrian Tennant: What are your future goals or aspirations for the Hunter-Miller Group? 

Pepper Miller: Well, the Hunter-Miller Group is Pepper Miller. Here we are. I do have some partners that I work with on particular projects, but I like to do more workshops and public speaking on this topic of, Let Me Explain Black Again and Black Insights. I’m working with some young people who have started a Black research organization, OverIndex, and there’s another Black CRX organization, and we are thinking about combining and making some of these positive changes. So those are the things that I want to keep doing: writing and speaking. More articles: I’d love to write an article about that commercial, for example, that I saw. I’ve written an article about why being woke is not anti-white and anti-American and anti-flag, things like that that I want to continue to do, to keep pushing out these messages of our truth. 

Adrian Tennant: Pepper, what do you hope readers will take away from Let Me Explain Black Again? 

Pepper Miller: I hope probably overall that they learn that Black people we have value, we have value as a people, and we have value as a market segment, and that we’re different but not deficient, and that Let Me Explain Black Again answers the question: “Pepper, I didn’t know”; that statement becomes, “Pepper, now I know.” 

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in learning more about you, the Hunter-Miller Group’s services, or your books, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Pepper Miller: They can find me at They can find me on LinkedIn at Pepper Miller. I’m on Instagram at @PepperMiller40. And I’m on Twitter @PepperMiller. So if you Google me, you’ll find me.

Adrian Tennant: Pepper, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Pepper Miller: Adrian, it was truly my Pleasure. Thank you.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week. Pepper Miller, President of the Hunter-Miller Group and the author of Let Me Explain Black Again. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Just select podcast from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Additional Resources Recommended by Pepper:

Widen the Screen

The Look

The Talk
Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson of SMU discusses Bigeye’s 2023 US Pet Owners Study, revealing that 97 percent consider their pets family members. Hear how owners derive personal happiness and emotional support from having pets, and why the data reflects consumers’ desire for healthier lifestyles, holistic well-being, and the growing number of child-free or involuntarily childless individuals who treat their pets as family. Download the full report at

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Today, we have dogs and cats specifically being thought of as actual family members, and in many cases, being given human identities, like brother, sister, and child. Some of us are choosing the properties that we buy to live in based on what works for our dogs and cats. This is not a pet anymore – it’s very clearly a family.

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us today. Back in March, Bigeye published its second national study of pet ownership. The report reflects responses from over a thousand pet owners nationwide, revealing what kinds of pets are most popular, how owners acquire them, and the food and non-food pet products that are purchased most regularly. The report is available on our website at, and you’ll also find a link in the description and transcript for this episode. To discuss some of the findings from Bigeye’s 2023 national pet owner study, and to provide some context around why dogs and cats have evolved from domestic animals to cherished members of the family, we were joined at the launch by an expert in the field: Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson – a research assistant professor and lecturer in the Department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Laurent-Simpson is also the author of the book, Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined The Household, which examines how pets have become so integral to families in America. Today’s episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS is another opportunity to hear our conversation. 


Adrian Tennant: Andrea, welcome back to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Thank you, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: The last time we spoke on this podcast, we discussed your book, Just Like Family. For anyone who didn’t hear that episode, could you explain the book’s thesis and what the multi-species family is? 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Of course, I think the main thrust of that book was to try and make an argument based on family demography, about how changes in mortality rates and fertility rates post-industrial revolution have changed just the American family structure in general, from one that say, early to mid 19, 20th century and earlier was more of a nuclear family. Got a biological mother and father, heterosexual couple, living under the same roof with very traditional gender roles. But with changes in mortality and fertility rates, drops in both of those rates, we started to see some fracture of that traditional family structure. Probably around the 1970s, we started to see increases in divorce rates, decreases in marital rates, and increases in cohabitation. And so the emergence of single-parent families, divorced families, stepfamilies, like lots of non-traditional family structures, that became emergent, and eventually eroded away that more traditional family structure, which continues to be somewhat dominant today, but is definitely, a much smaller percentage of family structures in the US today. In the midst of all of those changes, the argument in my book is that the multi-species family,began arising in the 1970s. When I think of multi-species families, I’m thinking of the families that we see today where we have dogs and cats specifically being thought of as actual family members, and in many cases, being given human identities, familial identities, like brother, sister, child,within the family. And as a result of that, actually being afforded the privileges that come with being a family member. Also the disparity that comes with being a family member. Whether that’s domestic violence or impoverished states, economic states, right? But being included as part of the family. The historical kind of movement in that direction I think was prompted by, industrialization and prompted by movement, within kind of technological innovation in the United States, towards forms of relationships with pets that were no longer as utilitarian in nature, that were no longer as rural in nature. Certainly, our relationships to pets became much more urban in the late 18 hundreds and into the 19 hundreds with the disappearance of the draft horse by the early 20th century actually, so as most of our population was living in urban areas, I guess our relationships became much different with pets or domesticated animals in particular pets, dogs, cats, and birds. So we kind of started to perceive them as pets, defined more like animals that have names, that live indoors, and that don’t really have any other purpose than entertaining us. Some researchers point to that and say, well, that’s the multi-species family. And you talk about this being, kind of a new, relatively new emergence, in terms of relationships within the family structure. But I don’t think we’re thinking of our dogs and cats anymore as simply entertainment, right? And we’re not just simply giving them names and letting them live indoors. We’re actually, as some of your research has shown, sleeping with our animals in bed, where some of us are making food from scratch for our animals, and some of us are choosing the properties that we buy to live in based on what works for our dogs and cats. This is not a pet anymore. It’s very clearly a family. And so this is what the book is about. How that historical demographic drift and changes in family structure have really helped to lead towards the emergence of a multi-species family where our dogs and cats are like people with familial identities, and that they’re no longer disposable. They are indispensable in our families now.

Adrian Tennant: In Bigeye’s Pet Owners Study, 97 percent consider that patch to be family members. More than four in five owners say they love and spoil their pets as if they were children, and approaching three in five owners describe their pets as being like a child to them. Andrea, did these statistics mirror what you’ve seen in your qualitative research?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: I think definitively, especially for child-free families and for involuntarily childless families, dogs and cats have taken on a very significant role. Where these families are very aware that their dogs and cats are not actual children, but that they have bonded with them as if they’re children. And their behavior suggests that they think of them as children where they are engaged in reading stories to their pets, where they travel everywhere with their pets, where they are willing to lay out thousands of dollars for things like veterinary care to ensure that their pets have the absolute best lives possible. I think definitely the qualitative work that I have for those family structures indicates empirical support for your quantitative findings. I would also say that for families who have human children, who have young human children, there is also the tendency to identify their dogs and cats as babies, as kids, as four-legged family, but they’re much more, I think, careful to draw a line of distinction between their human children and that of their furry children. So while they may refer to their animals as children, and say that they willingly think of them that way, their behavior suggests a little bit differently, which makes sense because US society is very pro-natalist, it’s very supportive of having human children. And so once you’ve had human children, if you begin equating them or holding them on an equal level with furry children, stigmatization becomes a very real thing very quickly. So I think that that also probably lends some support to the quantitative data that you’ve found here. Just kind of, I think, refining it a little bit with thinking about how different family structures are gonna impact the ways in which people think of their dogs and cats and how I think their behavior exhibits the ways in which they’ve identified their dogs and cats that way.

Adrian Tennant: In our study, four in five owners report gaining personal happiness and emotional support from having a pet. Approaching three in five owners report that they experienced less anxiety or depression from having a pet. And half of all owners report that having a pet helps relieve stress. Andrea, what did these stats reveal about the perceived or real benefits of pet ownership? 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Well, Adrian, I think this is, an interesting, ongoing methodological dispute between those in psychology, sociology, and human-animal interaction research. There is a good deal of research to support the idea that companion animals support human health, mental health, and physical health in a number of ways. The CDC argues that bringing dogs and cats, in particular, into our households helps to bring on decreases in blood pressure, decreases in loneliness and anxiety, and even symptoms of PTSD. That triglyceride levels are likely to drop, as well as cholesterol, bad cholesterol levels are likely to drop, and that dogs, in particular, bring on increased opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities that we may not otherwise be engaged in given the ways in which we live our lives: sitting in chairs working and staring at screens all day long. But also for older adults, the CDC has highlighted particular benefits for older adults who are likely to experience isolation and depression, and owning a dog especially, but a cat as well, leads to greater opportunities for our elderly to socialize. Some people argue a little bit against this, like they counter that, well, maybe we see qualitative reports – although your research has offered quantitative reports – qualitative reports, where participants highlight all of these benefits that they perceive as happening with their animals and their relationship. There is quantitative psychological research that says the impact is actually negligible. But I think that ultimately – and this is an argument that I’ve made multiple times as a qualitative researcher – I think that it’s better to foundationally actually listen to what people’s perceptions are and the ways in which they see their lives being bettered by this relationship than to necessarily depend on statistical measures and operationalization of variables through researchers who have well, based in the literature, decided how or what they think is the most important way with which to measure this so-called pet effect. I think those perceptions are much more important and was actually very pleased to see this quantitative support, for the pet effect in your work. 

Adrian Tennant: Thank you. Well, we found that pet owners are pretty brand loyal. Over two-thirds say they’ve always purchased the same pet food brand, but if they do switch to trying new pet food brands, the top three reasons are related to price (46 percent), availability (44 percent), and the quality of ingredients (42 percent). Three-quarters of owners report that they strive to feed their pets only ingredients that they would be comfortable eating themselves. And three in five Gen Z owners say they would prepare meals from scratch to ensure the quality of what their pets consume. Andrea, do you find anything interesting in these findings? 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: I find this report to be very interesting. I especially find the Gen Z reports to be very interesting. There’s an increasing tendency – and there has been, especially for the past decade – for human trends in eating to be reflected in the ways in which we’re feeding our animals. And so I think that generally, US society is moving towards healthier eating habits, at least encouraging healthier eating habits, healthier lifestyles, and even, although affordability is an issue here, even towards more organic lifestyles, right? Eating cleaner. And so, looking at Gen Z, the results were 60 percent of those owners are reporting that they’d actually prepare their pet’s meals from scratch, represents a couple of different things to me. First of all, it represents this continued trend where we are just seeing more and more focus on how we take care of our bodies and what we put into our bodies,the kinds of ingredients that we put into our bodies. But I think also it reflects, potentially, a continued trend for Gen Z coming out of Gen X and, Millennials and now Gen Z, where I think that probably as they get older, as they start building their own families or choosing to be child-free within their family structures, that they’re going to turn to their pets in particular as child-free persons. Gen Z certainly has the potential to have greater child-free choices, I think, percentage-wise, as they grow older, to turn to their pets. And really treat them behaviorally as if they’re human. So we prepare our meals from scratch, and parents of human children, sometimes, depending on whether they have the time or not, are preparing meals from scratch for their human children. Such a high percentage of Gen Z reporting that they would be willing to prepare meals from scratch is not surprising to me at all because I think there’s an increasing trend for child-free – and involuntarily childless owners especially – to think of their pets as children, but also the Gen Z finding was really interesting to me because I think also it might, I wanna be cautious in that analysis because I think it might also reflect, at least currently, a trend that includes opportunity, time opportunity of Gen Z. They’re in their late teens, into their early twenties right now, and so they’re still, you know, when you look at their income, a good chunk of their income is still coming from their parents, right? As their parents hand them discretionary income. They still have some time on their hands, especially since the younger ones might still be in High School, and the older ones may be in college, right? So a lot of them may not actually be living that adult life yet that has so much demand on, time resource,as well as a financial resource. They may actually have more time on their hands with which to engage in this kind of behavior. So I think that analysis is such a young generation, we have to be a little bit cautionary about it. But certainly, I know marketers and research in marketing that is examining discretionary income, is watching Gen Z really closely because of the percentage of discretionary income that they have right now, but also because of how careful they’re being children coming out of the Great Recession. I think that they’re more prone to saving and being a little more frugal instead of going out and buying prepared foods, they are probably more likely to be preparing from scratch, which is a cheaper alternative.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.  

Lydia Michael: Hi there. I’m Lydia Michael, the author of Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. Reflecting my experience as a multicultural marketing and brand strategist, Brand Love is for any marketing and brand professionals, entrepreneurs, and those who oversee brand messaging, communications, and other consumer-facing strategies. Whether you work for a big or small brand, the book is designed to provide you with actionable strategies to grow and build any successful brand. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Brand Love by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and the UK, so to order your copy of Brand Love go to And thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking to Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson about the results of Bigeye’s 2023 US Pet Owners Study. We found that approaching four in five dog owners celebrate their pets’ birthdays or adoption anniversaries. In multi-pet households, approaching one-half of dog owners have birthday or adoption parties for their pets. Well over two-thirds of all owners purchase birthday or adoption anniversary gifts. Christmas is the most popular occasion for owners to purchase gifts for their pets, with 57 percent of owners doing so. More than one-half of dog owners with annual household incomes of $200,000 or more also report purchasing gifts for their pets for Valentine’s day and Halloween. Andrea, can you unpack this consumer behavior for us?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: I think for sure, and that last point on household incomes of over $200,000 purchasing Halloween and Valentine’s Day gifts, discretionary income, right? There’s just plenty of discretionary income there with which to do so. But I think that probably the most interesting finding, and I’ve always been very fascinated about the celebration of birthdays for our dogs and cats. I think that this really has a root in the historical processes of birthdays in the United States, in particular, in the history of birthday celebrations. If you look throughout history, usually birthday celebrations were reserved for the elite, for nobility, for rulers. Birthday celebrations for the average family or Joe we’re not engaged. But with the Industrial Revolution – I always tell my students, “Look to the Industrial Revolution for why we’ve changed so much!” – with the Industrial Revolution, that brought decreases in family size with increasing importance placed on human children. Certainly, the 19th century is probably when we first see in the US this kind of emergence of birthday celebrations at all. And it rested on children,and it comes alongside some demographic changes where as those families are getting smaller, because of drops in fertility rates and mortality rates, and children are increasingly being seen as more valued emotionally. Whereas in the past, they were more valued economically, right? They could go work in the fields – “We’ll have lots of kids and they can help support the family.” But with industrialization into the 20th century, you start to see kind of this shift over to that smaller size format and greater emotional and financial investment in human children, and part of this is the birthday celebration, and this emphasis on the importance of these children coming into our lives. It’s also, I think, the emergence of birthday celebrations are rooted in or increasing awareness of how time impacts our lives. again, not something that really was paid attention to pre-industrial revolution. Keeping track of time was not something that was really done. Clocks, if there were clocks, they were not usually very accurate , but industrialization brought on urban jobs, right? And brought on the need to be at your job on time and to leave on time. As education became more widespread for children, same thing, getting them to school and back home on time. All of these things shifted our understanding of how time changes, and the birthday celebration is just part of this, thinking about how our lives are changing, and thinking about the importance of those in our lives with birthdays. So, what does all of this have to do with how people are spending money on buying gifts for their dogs and cats today? This is, to me, a very predictable trend. Thinking of dogs and cats as family members, as valued family members and needing to spoil them as such, needing to demonstrate to them in the same ways that mid 19th century into the early 20th century, children were increasingly celebrated. These four-legged children are now being increasingly celebrated and being doted upon with adoption or birthday gifts and anniversaries and other holiday celebrations as well. It’s simply a demonstration of the emotional value we place on you and your presence and the time spent in our family. It’s a little bit morbid, but you can also see the same thing in terms of the evolution of the ways in which pets pass away, and how we memorialize them when they pass away. In the early 20th century, you can see the emergence of some very early pet cemeteries. but when you go back and look at those stones, the names that are on them, for the pets, are not human-like. They’re not usually dated, like you don’t usually have a date in terms of how long the pet lived. And you don’t usually have any kind of In Memoriam statements. Right? Whereas today, when you go and you look in places where we bury pets now, pet cemeteries, you’ve got all of that information just like you would in a human cemetery. It is really just literally this kind of historical shift over towards assigning personhood over to our animals. The birthday piece, right, is thinking about how you’ve come into our lives and celebrating these yearly markers, and then the passing away and recording of some sort of historical markers about your life on your headstone as how we kind of sum up our pets as well.

Adrian Tennant: Last year, we saw devastating wildfires in the west and the deadly impact of hurricane Ian across the Southeast. Emergency orders from the authorities to evacuate can present pet owners with terrible dilemmas, especially when their closest shelters don’t accept pets. In our study, almost two-thirds of owners report, they would be extremely or somewhat likely to risk their own lives, to save their pets from a dangerous situation. Owners in households without any children are more likely than others to say this as our owners, belonging to generation X. Andrea, this data suggests that we need more pet-friendly locations for people to shelter during natural disasters. Have you seen anything in your research that reflects this willingness to save pets during dangerous life-or-death situations? 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Definitively, in my research, while we didn’t speak as much about disasters, I certainly saw evidence that people were either willing to sacrifice their own safety for the safety of their pets, whether that was physical safety or emotional safety. I think that that broke down by family structure, especially the physical safety piece. It broke down by family structure, again, with people who had human children reporting that if you put me in a situation where I have to choose between my dog or cat and my human children, I’m going to choose my human children every single time. But speaking with child-free families or involuntarily childless families, it was a very different story right? There was definitively an increased willingness to put themselves out there, for what they might have perceived as emotional bullying of their pets, either by partners or by friends, but even physical safety. I remember a particular participant, talking about his dog being endangered. He had a Dachshund and he had let his dog down, I guess off of his porch onto the sidewalk to go for a walk. His dog was on a leash and another dog that was not on a leash came barrel, a much bigger dog came barreling down the sidewalk, and could have easily killed his dog and was growling and very aggressive. Well, the participant had some chronic knee problems that made it very difficult for him to move around. And really going up and down steps was an activity that he’d been advised against in totality. and what he reported to me was that he went as fast as he could down the steps. He stumbled a little bit as he went down them, got to his dog, picked his dog up to keep his dog safe from being attacked. Not only did he put his own physical health, kind of at risk going down those stairs, but he also put his physical health at risk because the other dog could have easily attacked him instead. But in his mind, as he reported to me, he didn’t care. He just wanted to make sure that his dog was safe, secure, and that he would be able to ward off any kind of attack. So there’s that. In terms of actual, natural disasters or human disasters like war, and I think that the most common example that human-to-animal interactions think of, maybe I should say the most influential example would be Katrina. The response during Katrina to evacuation was for first responders to go in and get the people out. that was their imperative: you go in and get people out before they die. And what they ran into was people saying, “Okay, I’ll go with you. I’m gonna bring my pets too.” And the first responders had no policy or procedure to take animals with them. They didn’t have shelters to take their animals to. and so essentially, what they were left with was saying to evacuees, “you either come with us without your animal, or we have to leave you behind.” Guess what happened? People stayed behind. They stayed behind, and there’s increasing amounts of research and just empirical evidence and news stories of people saying, “Okay, I’m gonna evacuate, but I’m going back in and I’m going to get my animals. I don’t care if you say it’s safe or not. I will go back and get my animals.” Post-Katrina, the federal government answered this issue with pet evacuation and transportation standards. And essentially, what that did do for natural disasters was govern first responders’ policies about how they would evacuate humans and their pets. Essentially, what they were given was imperative that if you go in to evacuate a person and they have an animal they want to bring with them, you must also bring the animal. and so I mean, different emergency response organizations respond to that in different ways. But ultimately, what it means is now people get evacuated with their pets because there’s obviously a public health concern if people are willing to stay behind with their animals, then that means that we are increasing the risk of public health with, damage from natural disaster, physical injury, disease and the spread of disease, but also post-disaster in terms of post-traumatic stress, disorder and depression and anxiety being much higher amongst pet owners who were forced to leave their animals behind. So, and I will just add this other piece cuz I find this fascinating and it’s not about the United States, it’s actually about Ukraine, right? And the invasion of Russia into Ukraine. there were lots of pictures, as just the mass exodus from Ukraine, with Russia invading the country, of people carrying their animals with them and walking, you know, hundreds of miles to try and get over the border. And some research that’s been done since then found that, 39 percent of people actually reported staying behind in Ukraine, in part because of their pets. They didn’t feel like they’d be able to take their pets with them, so they stayed. and of those that left, less than about 10 percent actually left their pets behind. So one thing that I’ve argued in my book is that this is not actually just an American thing. I think what this is, alongside, looking at total fertility rates and mortality rates and levels of development, is it really is unique to post-industrialized nations that have, higher GDPs, and that have opportunity to build in these kinds of relationships with their pets. They’re not no longer just focused on their own physical safety and survival. they’re no longer focused on building big families with human children. and this opens up opportunities for, bonding with dogs and cats in the way that we see here in the US. one more thing. some more kind of interesting research from the ASPCA indicates that about 90 percent of pet owners say that they bring their pets with them in an evacuation. So the vast majority of pet owners in the USA say “I’m taking my pet with me during evacuation.” Interestingly, 84 percent of them have no like emergency pet sheltering planned, so they would take their pets with them, but they don’t know where they would take them to. And as you mentioned earlier in your introduction to this question, that’s a problem. Like we need some more government funding or something in terms of setting up more pet shelters as we Come upon and approach more and more natural disasters. 68 percent of the people, according to A S P C A that were interviewed, said that they actually feel like the government needs to put some funding in place to support that. So, you know, I mean that’s kind of another, piece of refinement about thinking on natural disaster preparedness is that most pet owners really want that in place, but either they don’t know how to do it or they haven’t gotten a chance, the opportunity, to do it. Vast majority of them don’t have that planning in place, but also a large majority want the government to be the ones that take that responsibility on.

Adrian Tennant: So Andrea, if IN CLEAR FOCUS, listeners would like to learn more about you, your academic work, and your book, Just Like Family, where can they find you?

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Well, they can find me on and with my name, Andrea two-thirds, or they can email me at

Adrian Tennant: Andrea, thank you for being our guest again on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Andrea Laurent-Simpson: Thank you for inviting me. I’ve had fun!

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Dr. Andrea Laurent-Simpson of the department of Sociology at Southern Methodist University, and the author of the book, Just Like Family: How Companion Animals Joined The Household. Andrea’s work was a source of inspiration for the Bigeye Pet Owners Study, and she very kindly reviewed the questions with us before we fielded the survey. If you’d like to obtain a free copy of the report, please go to our website at And if you have any questions about the results or the insights contained in the report, please let me know. You can email me directly at Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS this week, and I hope you enjoyed learning more about pet ownership in the US. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

As advertising grapples with the challenge of capturing and holding viewers’ attention, Lumen Research has emerged as an industry leader, providing innovative solutions to help brands develop effective creative and plan media more efficiently. Bill Forelli, Lumen’s VP of Sales for North America, explains the components of Lumen Research’s suite of attention measurement, targeting, and activation tools and discusses the impact they can have on clients’ campaign performance.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS 

Bill Forelli: The target isn’t high attention, the target is selling things, brand awareness. It’s the outcomes that the advertising is trying to generate. Biometric response is critical for understanding how to optimize media to serve the outcomes. 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. One of the most famous quotes from advertising legend Bill Bernbach is: “If your advertising goes unnoticed, everything else is academic.” In today’s fragmented media landscape, the quality and amount of attention consumers pay to advertising varies significantly across different channels, platforms, and contexts. Studies showing how much or how little attention people pay to ads reveal that some channels are better than others in capturing and holding viewers’ attention. Failure to capture attention means that a brand’s advertising goes unnoticed In Ehrenberg-Bass terms, unseen advertising won’t contribute to building mental availability for the brand. Although lab-based eye-tracking technology has been available for several decades, recent innovations in the field, including the miniaturization of devices, advances in phone cameras, and machine learning algorithms, have made it possible to track people’s eye movements on personal devices like smartphones and tablets in their natural environments, rather than in artificial laboratory settings. This has enabled researchers to collect precise measurements and analyze attention across various media platforms at scale. A leader in attention and eye-tracking for over 10 years, Lumen Research serves the industry with solutions designed to help advertisers use attention to develop effective creative, and plan media more efficiently. To discuss Lumen Research’s suite of attention measurement, targeting, and activation tools, we’re joined today by Bill Forelli, the company’s VP of Sales. With career experience spanning sales, marketing, and content creation, Bill has been instrumental in launching Lumen’s attention measurement products in the North American market. Before joining Lumen, Bill led global sales for in-game ad campaigns with Frameplay and served as global marketing manager at Newegg. Bill’s also a Twitch streamer and YouTube content creator in his own right. To discuss his multifaceted interests and how they intersect with attention measurement, Bill is joining us today from The City of Orange, California. Bill, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS

Bill Forelli: Thank you very, very much. That was a very professional intro. The imposter syndrome is real on that one, so I really appreciate you having me on, Adrian, and happy to be here.

Adrian Tennant: Bill, could you tell us a bit about Lumen Research’s history? 

Bill Forelli: Sure. So Lumen Research is a little bit over 10 years old. It was started by Mike Follett, who’s still our CEO, and Mike really started his career on the planning side in Media. And he’s a brilliant guy. If anyone listening has had the pleasure of meeting Mike, you know he’s as brilliant as he is kind, and he’s a lot of both of those things. But his brilliance really led him to the realization that within the media planning process, there was no real data that led to his job being easier and the outcomes being more accurate and better. So what he did is shift his focus from the actual media planning to finding new ways of acquiring data to help in the planning process. That led him directly to attention. So he started the company with the idea that he wanted to learn more about human interaction with media itself. What are the biometric responses? What are the cognitive responses to the media, as the industry was planning, you know, where that media went. And it started with eye-tracking and looking at what the biometric responses were from an eye-tracking perspective. From there, the company has evolved to add technologies that help us use the research that has been gathered over the last 10 years to expand that and duplicate that over billions and billions of impressions using things like the big buzzword of the day now, aside from attention, which is AI and machine learning. So we’re leveraging these new technologies to harness a lot of the data and the biometric stuff that Lumen and Mike have captured over the last 10 years.

Adrian Tennant: What does your role at Lumen Research entail? 

Bill Forelli: So I’m the VP of Sales in North America for Lumen. Late last year, Lumen started to expand its footprint within the US on US soil. So, I oversee all of the sales operations in North America, so a rather large region. But it is super fun. I have a lot of experience in marketing and product commercialization, and messaging that help me tell the Lumen story in the US. So it’s a big responsibility, and I take it very seriously, but I have so much fun doing this, and it’s incredibly interesting to me. When I get hooked on something, I like to deep dive into it. And what I’ve found, what a lot of people are finding, is that there’s so much stuff to dig into with attention that it’s a daily, fulfillment to uncover as we go and help spread the word of attention.

Adrian Tennant: Well, Mike is certainly a pioneer, but as you know, over the past couple of years, attention has been the topic of multiple industry events, numerous articles in Adweek and AdAge, and reports published by the Advertising Research Foundation and the Association of National Advertisers among others. Bill, what’s driving the interest in attention within the advertising industry, would you say? 

Bill Forelli: I would honestly say that it’s as simple as we simply can now! I really think this highlights what happened in the advertising industry based off of what we were able to measure before, and it comes to one of my favorite laws. I have a favorite law, which is Goodhart’s Law. And that law states when a measure becomes a target or the target, it stops becoming a good measure. And one of my favorite examples of this was from, Colonial India, actually in Delhi. And some of you might know the story, it’s referred to as The Cobra Effect. But what happened was the local Delhi government had a problem with venomous cobra snakes, you know, an explosion in snake populations, biting people and livestock. So they wanted to come up with a way to help lessen the snake population. So similar to what we do here in California, where if you turn in a Coke bottle, you get 5 cents refund. They did the same thing with cobra snakes. So people would bring in dead snakes. They would, you know, bring in the severed head of a snake and then get a monetary reward. So what some industrious people started to do was breed cobra snakes. So there were these big snake breeding grounds where people would breed snakes, cut the heads off, bring it into the government. The government caught wind of this, shut the program down, and those people had all these cobra snakes, and they just let ’em roam free. So the idea was that they wanted to lessen the population of snakes, but the target became the measure. That led to an explosion in Cobra snakes. And that’s what advertising did with viewability – we bred cobras by saying the measure is viewability, and we started to breed impressions. So you get this explosion of websites and publishers trying to deliver as many impressions as possible without considering what that’s doing to the target, which is selling stuff. The explosion of ads out there leads to all the statistics – you know, “People are exposed to 10,000 ads per day and they only see this many of them” – really have done a disservice to what the original target was, which was to figure out if someone was seeing the ad or not. With attention measurement, now that technology has advanced, now that we have a better understanding of what starts to lead to outcomes and where eyes are actually falling on these ads, it’s becoming way more accessible for people to measure and understand. “Did somebody see my ad? Yes or no?” Being able to accurately measure that and then make planning decisions off of that has really led to, I think, the fact that now attention is also the buzzword – along with AI – that kind of works hand in hand. So I think that’s really the cause of the explosion and interest of attention in the last couple of years.

Adrian Tennant: Could you explain how eye-tracking works?

Bill Forelli: There are a couple of different methodologies for eye tracking that we utilize. They’re largely the same in terms of how we take in the data, but we use them in different situations. So the first one is what we call our biometric data set. So we have this opt-in passive participant group that is being eye-tracked on a daily basis to help feed our AI models. So we have access to forward-facing cell phone cameras, webcams, and on desktop and laptop devices. So they open up a portal, sign in to Lumen, and they go about their business online, and they’re being passively tracked in those natural environments. The other method is where we have a recruited panel, where we actually recruit an audience for a specific creative measurement. So those audience members are recruited specifically for geodemographic reasons and then taken through a forced exposure experience where they look at a social media platform website, and we eye-track them and produce heat maps, gaze plots, and feature analysis based off of those one-to-one eye tracking results.

Adrian Tennant: Lumen Research offers a suite of products around attention. Bill, could you give us an overview of each of them?

Bill Forelli: Yeah, so the three product lines that we have are the Attention Review, live measurement, and then SPOTLIGHT. So the Attention Review is a product that looks at a historical analysis of a campaign. So we can go back six to 12 months, and we take in all of the campaign data for that time period for a brand. And we analyze attention over that period of time. Gives a bunch of data in a relatively short amount of time to really benchmark where the brand is at with attention to help make, planning, and buying decisions moving forward. The live measurement piece, which we call LAMP – the Lumen Attention Measurement and Planning Suite – is designed to measure live. So we tag and ingest live impression data on an ongoing campaign, and we can look at optimizations and actually measure the effects of those optimizations live in a campaign. The other side of that, on top of the measurement, is the opportunity actually to activate for attention. So we have high attentive PMPs and custom pre-bid algorithms where we’re actually buying for attention ahead of time. That comes with the live measurement as well. And then, finally, SPOTLIGHT is that kind of second eye-tracking piece where we’re looking at custom creative eye-tracking studies that are conducted in a number of different realms. So we can do cinema, out-of-home, digital out-of-home, print, social media, rich media, you name it. We will do an eye-tracking study on that. So that’s a little bit more of an open-ended component of attention and more of the cognitive side of things to go along with the replicable, digital stuff.

Adrian Tennant: The Association of National Advertisers held an event last year to discuss attention metrics. Data showed that shorter ads tend to attract a greater percentage of high attention compared to longer ones. Live events such as sports and award shows drive more attention than prerecorded or on-demand viewing. And there’s a correlation between the attention paid to programming and attention paid to advertising during live shows. And this might be a surprise to some: brand-building ads typically attract higher attention than performance marketing or direct response formats. Bill, what myths about creative effectiveness or media performance are you seeing being busted by Lumen’s attention measurement?

Bill Forelli: I’m going to try to be … I’m going to try to answer this question as carefully as I can because it’s a very interesting question, but as a research company, we really try to look at measurement as an open-ended question, we can definitely see patterns. We definitely see trends, you know, one of them being the larger the ad size, the more attention it gets – that’s an obvious one. But what’s really interesting that we find on a campaign-per-campaign basis with clients is that we want to understand how attention works for that particular client, and in a lot of cases, for that particular campaign too. I don’t like using brand names because we’re in advertising, but it’s really hard to make this point without using a brand example. But Coke is a good example of a brand that will have vastly different attention criteria than a pharmaceutical company would have. So Coke, for a branded campaign, might only need a couple hundred milliseconds of attention for it to reach their outcomes, whereas a pharmaceutical company might need much longer attention on an ad to get across their message. Attention is different for every campaign, for every brand. Some brands have branded campaigns and performance campaigns running at the same time. We’re going to optimize those completely differently because one’s going to need more time per user. The other one’s going to need more users in order to perform at its maximum. So being able to communicate directly with brand teams and with clients to help walk them through how to use attention and how to look at it specific to them, I think is a really important thing that we try to, really instill in our clients right off the bat.

Adrian Tennant: Some listeners may be curious about the accuracy or efficacy of the data collected from eye-tracking studies. So could you tell us about the study that Lumen commissioned from the global consulting and professional services network PwC?

Bill Forelli: If you want to see a bunch of ad tech people sweat, tell them that you’re having a third-party audit done on your data! When Mike told us all that he was doing, everyone in Lumen was just like, “Oh my gosh, Mike, what are you doing?” And he was so confident, and rightly so, and in hindsight, he should have been. But yeah, we all were like, “What is going on? Hope, hope this goes well.” And it did go really well. One of the things that is really interesting about AI right now and is important to remember with how we deliver data is that there’s no instant verification of its accuracy. So if you go into ChatGPT and type in whatever, “Write me a poem about Lumen in the style of Edgar Allen Poe,” or something, it’s going to deliver something that you can read and go, “Yeah, that’s actually pretty close. That’s pretty good.” Stable Diffusion, you know, “Make me a picture of a blue car.” It’ll do it, and you can look at it and say, “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.” Or, you know, “That’s not very accurate. It’s got five wheels!” Or whatever. But you have that instant recognition of its accuracy. And that’s something that this PwC audit really did for us is show that the amount of data that we’ve collected and the AI models that we’ve built off of them are incredibly accurate because what they were able to do is say, “Okay, predict attention here.” And then they actually measured the attention there with actual people. So it was really kind of replicating that “type something into ChatGPT” and using the eyeball test to verify it. But it was using the actual attention predictions that we were making, comparing that to what was actually happening.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.  

Lydia Michael: Hi there. I’m Lydia Michael, the author of Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. Reflecting my experience as a multicultural marketing and brand strategist, Brand Love is for any marketing and brand professionals, entrepreneurs, and those who oversee brand messaging, communications, and other consumer-facing strategies. Whether you work for a big or small brand, the book is designed to provide you with actionable strategies to grow and build any successful brand. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Brand Love by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and the UK, so to order your copy of Brand Love go to And thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Bill Forelli, VP of Sales for Lumen Research, an industry leader in eye-tracking and attention measurement. Could you talk a little about the work Lumen Research has been doing with the marketing and advertising agency network, Dentsu, over the past few years?

Bill Forelli: The work with Dentsu is really fun. They’ve obviously leaned into attention for a number of years. I think Dentsu’s The Attention Economy hit a five-year anniversary this past year. But they’ve obviously leaned heavily into attention, and the best part about what they’ve done is they’re focused on the outcomes. And that’s some of the most exciting things that we’ve done. The exciting studies that we’ve done with them is showing that high attention equates to better outcomes. That’s an obvious thing to say. A famous Orwell quote is, “The first order of an intelligent person is to restate the obvious.” And in the case of advertising, the obvious is an outcome is far, far more likely to happen when an ad has been seen than if it hasn’t been seen. But it really took Lumen and Dentsu joining forces to do studies to prove that with The Attention Economy, to really show that that is the case. That’s really the foundation of what’s made our relationship with Dentsu so strong: our absolute belief that this is about the outcomes. You know, go back to Goodhart’s Law: the target isn’t high attention; the target is selling things, brand awareness. It’s the outcomes that the advertising is trying to generate. 

Adrian Tennant: Do you have any favorite client success stories or case studies that illustrate the impact of Lumen’s work? 

Bill Forelli: I actually do, I have a really good one that this is the perfect platform for because I don’t think this would work in a case study that we’d publish on the website. When we set up a new campaign with an agency team, we will typically have a cadence of optimization calls with them, whether it’s weekly, biweekly, to go over the dashboard and look at the results and help walk them through how to use attention. And there was this team that we were meeting with, and a portion of their campaign started to lag below benchmarks for attention. And they were trying to figure out how to help improve that, what they could do to help improve their attention on this campaign. So we walked them through and got all the way down to domain-level attention. And we look at actual domains from average time to percent viewed to our APM, which is attentive seconds per thousand impressions, which is an aggregate of both percent viewed, which is, “Did they look at it or not?” and then average time, which is “For how long did they look at it?” So we went through this domain list, and we pointed out a few domains. “See this domain, this is serving a lot of impressions, and it has a very low attention score. See this domain, this one has a, has very good attention, but is not serving as many impressions. So what you could do is let’s shift some of that budget from the lower performing domain to the higher performing domain and shift those impressions over.” So they said, “Okay.” They went back, they made some adjustments to their media plan, and it only took, I think, two days for them to come back, and we jumped on, not an emergency call, but we jumped on another call with them, and they could not believe what was happening. They could see in the dashboard the attention, their overall attention score going up as a result of those optimizations that we made. That was really fun to see that happen, and it was in such a short amount of time that it really highlighted how cool it can be when you look at attention data to make optimizations and actually see those effects happen.

Adrian Tennant: Lumen recently announced a partnership with Nexxen. What are the main goals of this collaboration? 

Bill Forelli: The main goal of the partnership with Nexxen is to really do cool stuff! So Nexxen has some awesome technology that we’re able to complement and a lot of companies do too. To be fair, a lot of companies have cool technology that we can also supplement. But what we’re doing with Nexxen is using their AI facial coding that optimizes creative dynamically for brands. From the creative perspective, we come in and then help place that creative in the most attentive locations. It’s similar to what we do with SPOTLIGHT, where SPOTLIGHT deals with what’s in the box, and LAMP deals with where that box lives. The same thing goes with this partnership with Nexxen and the CTV inventory. We’re able to do things that are incredibly efficient for brands. Again, to that eyeballs per dollar, in cognitive response per dollar, you’re optimizing things in a biometric way. That’s the key with Lumen and, Nexxen and a lot of the partnerships we have, even with our partnership with TVision, for example, who’s a huge partner for us with Linear TV and CTV, is that biometric response is critical for understanding how to optimize media to again, serve the outcomes. We want to get to those outcomes as efficiently as possible, and that human interaction is key.

Adrian Tennant: Bill, I mentioned in the introduction that you are a Twitch streamer and YouTube content creator. What I didn’t mention is that you also have a passion for aviation and hold a Private Pilot License. Could you explain how these are linked? 

Bill Forelli: They’re incredibly linked In a very funny way. I was living in the Seattle area, and anyone who’s lived in that region knows that in the winter months, you need to have a very good indoor hobby. And I had been out of PC gaming for a long time and decided to build a gaming PC. After I had built this PC, did all the research, CPU, GPU, RAM, all the stuff, put it together, didn’t have anything to play! So I was browsing this online game website and saw this sale price for a flight simulator. It happened to be XPLANE 11, and I hadn’t played a flight simulator since, I think ’95 or ’97, like Flight Sim 95. And I was like, “Wow, I bet flight simulators are really advanced. Now I’ve got to check this out.” So I download the game, and I’m sitting on the ramp with the default plane, Cessna 172, and I couldn’t figure out how to start it. My dad happened to be an ex-Navy jet pilot and private pilot himself. He hadn’t flown in years and years. I only flew with him a couple dozen times, but I knew that General Aviation existed, and I knew that he knew how to fly a 172. So I called him, and I said, “Dad, I’m on the ramp with this 172, and I can’t figure out how to start it.” He couldn’t figure it out. I was like, “I am on the ramp on a video game, in a 172. Can you help me start it?” So my dad on the phone, on the speaker phone, is walking me through based off of a plane he hadn’t flown in 20 years, walking me through how to start a 172 on a computer program, and it started right up. It was that exact moment that the light bulb went off when I thought I could actually learn how to fly a plane using computers and using a flight simulator. So that’s where the passion came from, and the ball started rolling from there where I said, “Hey, if I stream this, if I post these on YouTube, this would be fun content to make.” And I took it all the way through Private Pilot’s License, and still to this day, my real-world flying and simulator flying are completely intertwined where I will brief a flight before I do it on Twitch, go do the flight, film it, post it on YouTube, and then do a flight debrief back on Twitch and continue that process. And it’s been incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you are in the unique position of having experience both as a marketer and as a content creator. How do you foresee the intersection of technology and creativity playing out in the advertising industry?

Bill Forelli: I think it’s similar to what it’s done in the content creation industry, and that’s enable people to do things more quickly and easily and be more nimble in the creative process where you don’t have as many gatekeepers or, you know, I mean just from when I started on Twitch and making YouTube videos, the software that you use to just edit the videos and post the stuff has become way easier. And now, with AI you can offload some of the more tedious tasks where you can focus more of your time and energy on the stuff that really matters, which is the content, which is the messaging, which is the emotional side of things. You’re not so held to the actual production stuff that can take a lot of time and money. So for the advertising industry, I think a lot of this technology is going to help make brands and agencies quicker to react to changes within the media landscape – react more to different content that comes out just with cyclical news cycles and, you know, sports teams. So, you know, more attention’s going to be focused on sports and we’re coming into an election year, you know, so that content’s going to change. And being able to react to those things quicker, I think, is going to make the messages become a little bit more honed rather than spending a lot of the time on chasing your tail with some of that more tedious stuff.

Adrian Tennant: What’s the coolest piece of technology that you’ve seen employed at Lumen Research? 

Bill Forelli: The coolest thing that I’ve seen at Lumen is really the AI algorithms succeeding in the PwC audit. That really was something that opened my eyes to how to explain better what we were doing in a way that drove a lot of the new marketing materials that we’ve come out with over the last couple of months. I’ve used a lot more AI-generated artwork in our collateral as a maybe not-so-subtle nod to those findings from that PwC audit to really highlight that the validation is important to trust in AI-generated data and content, and that was a really important thing for me to recognize and realize just from a messaging standpoint, that we really do need to see that in order to believe it. You asked the question – rightly so – how do people, really look at the accuracy of these models. It’s way easier to look at the accuracy of a ChatGPT or Stable Diffusion output; it’s not so easy with attention measurement. That audit really helped tell that story.

Adrian Tennant: How do you believe attention measurement and technology will evolve? And what role do you want to see Lumen playing in the future?

Bill Forelli: I think that attention measurement in technology will really become what viewability data is now. Frankly, I think it’s more of the true story of what we’re trying to do in advertising. I would love to think that Lumen’s methodology and our research-focused take on that will be a key part of how that evolves. I really do want measurement, and attention measurement, in particular, to be a measure. I keep going back to Goodhart’s Law, but I love it so much because it highlights a lot of, I think, the follies that we can get into in ad tech measurement and so forth, I want it to be a measure. I want the target to be outcomes, and I want that to be the legacy that Lumen with attention has in the industry. I want us to be the company that really made attention a measure again and made the outcomes the target. 

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in learning more about Lumen Research’s suite of attention measurement, targeting, and activation tools, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Bill Forelli: The best way to get in touch with me is Bill.Forelli – that’s F O R E L L I You could also go to the website, which is, and hit the Contact Us page.

Adrian Tennant: Bill, thank you very much for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Bill Forelli: Thank you so much. This was an absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Bill Forelli, VP of Sales for Lumen Research. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at – just select “Podcast” from the menu. Thanks for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

This week’s guest is Lydia Michael, CEO of multicultural marketing consultancy, Blended Collective. Lydia discusses her new book, Brand Love, explaining the eight stages of brand love, the importance of incorporating emotional and rational drivers, and the power of multisensory marketing. We also examine how brands like Warby Parker and Trader Joe’s cultivate meaningful customer relationships. For a 25 percent discount on Brand Love, use promo code BIGEYE25 at

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Lydia Michael: Brand Love is an emotional connection and a long-lasting connection between consumers and brands that results in loyalty and advocacy.

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising, produced weekly by Bigeye: a strategy-led, full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. In today’s fast-paced, highly competitive market, brands of all sizes seek ways to foster connections with their customers, transforming them into loyal advocates, and creating communities around their brands. In this episode, we’re going to look at some of the strategies and tactics successful brands employ to achieve high levels of consumer engagement and explore how brands can cultivate meaningful relationships with their customers. Our Bigeye Book Club Selection for August is Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. The book’s author is Lydia Michael, the founder of Blended Collective, a multicultural marketing and brand consultancy based in Detroit, Michigan. Lydia works with organizations to develop brands and marketing strategies, and her experience includes working with startups and scale-ups as well as established companies such as Deloitte and L’Oréal. To discuss the process of building culturally inclusive, long-lasting consumer brand relationships and some of the ideas in “Brand Love,” Lydia is joining us today from Detroit, Michigan. Lydia, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Lydia Michael: Hi, Adrian. I’m happy to be here today. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, congratulations on the publication of your first book. What prompted you to write Brand Love

Lydia Michael: Thank you. So, you know, looking at the market and the different books around emotional marketing and Brand Love, I saw an opportunity and really a gap in the market to talk about Brand Love and approach it from a different perspective. And that perspective being culture. So I wanted to write a book on the topic of Brand Love that would consider the role and the relevance of culture in marketing. So that was really one of the key drivers. And then on a personal note, I’ve been really researching this topic since 2016 and have been really passionate about the concept of Brand Love and have integrated that into my work over the years. And so at some point, I had so much information, and again, just so much passion that drove the need for a book I think that I’m able to share with everybody across the world. 

Adrian Tennant: Lydia, how do you define Brand Love?

Lydia Michael: In the book, I define Brand Love as an emotional connection and a long-lasting connection between consumers and brands that results in loyalty and advocacy.

Adrian Tennant: And what are the benefits for brands of attaining Brand Love? 

Lydia Michael: I think there are so many different benefits, right? I mean, the definition already says part of it is the loyalty and advocacy portion, but really when you want customers to be loyal to your brand, to your products, it’s all about creating this level of trust and making sure that people want to stick around, making sure that people want to choose you, and really become a brand champion for you. So in order to do all of that, there are a lot of different stages that you have to go through, both as a brand and a customer. But I think once you’ve attained these different levels throughout the consumer lifecycle, in the end, it’s all about having a loyal customer and somebody who advocates for you. 

Adrian Tennant: Your book is structured around eight sequential stages toward attaining Brand Love, beginning with awareness, and culminating in loyalty and advocacy. Now we’ll dive deeper into some of the steps in a moment, but could you give us an overview of the Brand Love drivers and the eight Brand Love stages? 

Lydia Michael: Yeah, so I created the Brand Love Drivers sort of in association with the eight Brand Love Stages model. And the idea is to create this practical tool for companies of any size at any stage to be able to use this in their day-to-day. And so when we look at the Brand Love drivers, I introduce both emotional and rational drivers. And in the book, I talk about 10 of these on each side. This is not to say that there are only 10 Brand Love drivers on each side, but it really is an idea to help you understand the concept. And I take the idea of the brain, the right side of the brain, and the left side of the brain. And a lot of times we hear that the right side of the brain is the more emotional side, the more creative side, and the left side is the more logical side that’s focused on rationale, on reason. And so I take that foundation and I created those Brand Love drivers around that. And, you know, on the emotional side at least, things from authenticity, empathy, humanization, personalization. Those are all drivers that contribute to that emotional experience that we have with brands. And then on the rational side, you have things such as innovation, convenience, relevance, differentiation, things of that nature. And so taking all of these and looking at the Brand Love stages, which again are eight stages, there are the stages that take us through the brand consumer connection, right? And so when we start with things like awareness, familiarity, those are all foundational elements that we need in order to, at some point, get to the level of trust and attachment, love, and of course in the end, loyalty and advocacy. And so all of these drivers ideally happen throughout these eight stages. So it’s not to say that we only have one or two drivers that appear, but more so the fact that the more drivers you have as you’re building your brand, the more you’re setting yourself up for success, the more you are setting yourself up to achieve different levels of Brand Love, if that makes sense.

Adrian Tennant: The first part of your book lays out the foundations of Brand Love in which you make the point that a brand isn’t owned by a firm or an individual, but by its consumers. Lydia, can you explain what you mean by that and the implications for marketers? 

Lydia Michael: Yeah, absolutely, Adrian. When we look at any brand that we build, a lot of times we’re very intentional, or we should be, at least, we should be intentional about the brand that we are creating and building. And many times that is the brand identity that we as the brand owners or the founders, or even just anybody in that role, we control that brand identity, but the brand image, the way that we are perceived by our customers, a lot of times it’s outside of our control. And so the brand image is owned by the consumer. So a lot of times when we talk about the brand identity that we want to create, and the brand image, which is the way we want to be perceived, the best way to make sure that that aligns is through brand positioning. But what happens a lot of times is, because the brand image is outside of our control, our customers really define and tell us who we are at the core, based on the experiences that they have with our brand, based on what they see on social media, their interactions, you know 360 degrees, just from a holistic perspective. I think in the end, they tell us who we are, right? We can tell them all we want, as to who we want to be or who we strive to be. But in the end, it’s all about how we are being perceived. And so if you’re actually perceived the way you want to be perceived, that is successful branding. That means that you are positioning your brand in the right way to make sure that those two worlds align.

Adrian Tennant: Now you believe it’s important for brands to build communities. Do you have any examples that illustrate this approach? 

Lydia Michael: I give a few different examples in the book. You know, I focus on streetwear brands, for instance. So in the fashion industry, the clothing retail space, you see a lot of streetwear brands that are not just about the products, but they’re really about people over product. And so you have brands like Melody Ehsani, for instance, a woman-owned brand that has been around for a decade or longer. You have brands like The Hundreds; they’re both very different but very successful streetwear brands that, again, prioritize people over the product that they sell. And they really focus on community, and they do that by activating their brand. So things like activating the store, the retail store, for instance, to have panel discussions and talk about relevant topics and social topics that are important to the community, to create a space where people can come to and have these uncomfortable conversations sometimes that are needed though for growth in order to really drive that community element forward. 

Adrian Tennant: In the book, you write that Brand Love is achieved through a mix of emotional and rational drivers. Can you explain the differences between them?

Lydia Michael: I think I talked a little bit about it when I explained the concept of the brain and sort of focusing on the right side of the brain and the left side of the brain. And so similar to that, when we talk about emotional and rational drivers, the emotional drivers are the ones that really tap into that right side of our brain, right? The ones that allow us to be more empathetic, the ones that allow us to be more human when we tap into brands. Other drivers on the emotional side include things like desire, inclusion, and nostalgia, which is a big one. Or, you know, these days, a lot of brands focus on purpose and sustainability, and those are all the emotional drivers that are important on that journey to Brand Love. When we talk about the rational side, again, that’s sort of the left side of the brain that’s more logical, it’s rational. There’s also a function that’s involved on that side. So we look at drivers such as consistency, convenience, performance, quality, uniqueness, and things of that nature that are just as important for the journey between a brand and a customer. So what I want to highlight and what I want people to take away is that you don’t just need one or the other. You always need a combination of drivers. You need both emotional and rational drivers to really build a successful brand. And again, really important to remember, the more drivers you have, the better, right? The more, the merrier! 

Adrian Tennant: The second part of your book focuses on the emotional drivers. In chapter four, you discuss authenticity and values, including reliability, trustworthiness, truth, honesty, and transparency. And you also include a case study of the US grocery chain, Trader Joe’s. So Lydia, what can Trader Joe’s teach marketers about authenticity?

Lydia Michael: Trader Joe’s is an interesting example because I think that they check the box for a lot of different things. And so Trader Joe’s is a popular choice among customers and, you know, when you look at Trader Joe’s, they don’t actually do any marketing. They don’t really have any advertising in place, and yet it has become such a popular brand that resonates with people. And I think authenticity is a big factor, whether you look at it from the cultural perspective of them really tapping into different cultures in an authentic way. I think authenticity comes through in even just their product innovation and their product selection. When you see that certain products are actually imported from that part of the world, which really makes you feel like, “Oh, I’m getting this unique, this different food or, you know, anything, from this part of the world here locally.” So it has a very local vibe, but at the same time, it also has a very global cultural vibe that adds to the authenticity of brands. And so I think that that makes it a very unique case study. And even outside of authenticity, we look at different drivers, such as experience, which can be both emotional or rational, but we look at that experience, and every time you walk into that store, there is warmth. There’s greetings. There’s this connection that you have with the staff that is very different than your traditional grocery store that you just run into to grab an item or two and leave. Again, it’s this experience that you have every time you’re in that space.

Adrian Tennant: Well, of course, Trader Joe’s is owned by Aldi. Most consumers that I’ve spoken to are quite surprised by this. Do you think it’s something to do with the human element? I mean, Trader Joe’s prioritizes human interactions between what they call crew members and customers versus Aldi’s focus on low prices and a self-service model.

Lydia Michael: Yeah, I think the human element and the human interaction are huge when you compare the two brands, and just like you said, a lot of people don’t know that Trader Joe’s is actually owned by Aldi. But when we look at that, there are a few different elements that are important here. One is the value proposition is very different for the two brands. Even though they’re owned by the same company, they target a completely different audience, which is why the value proposition is different. So again, you have the low price and the self-service model with Aldi, but then you have this human element with Trader Joe’s. And the way that this is achieved, again, goes back to brand positioning. So, based on the values that are associated with each brand, we position them completely differently, targeting different audiences. So when you have that human element and that people interaction, it does tap into more of the emotional side of connection, right? And I would say Aldi probably taps into more of the rational drivers and elements versus the emotional drivers. And this is a really good example where you see how that can result in Brand Love. Personally, I haven’t really heard of anybody talking about Aldi as a loved brand necessarily. But it still gets the job done, and it’s still very successful. It’s because it checks off a lot of the other drivers that are still very relevant in the customer journey, whether it’s the low price, the convenience, or the different values that are still relevant for success.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Lydia Michael: Hi there. I’m Lydia Michael, the author of Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. Reflecting my experience as a multicultural marketing and brand strategist, Brand Love is for any marketing and brand professionals, entrepreneurs, and those who oversee brand messaging, communications, and other consumer-facing strategies. Whether you work for a big or small brand, the book is designed to provide you with actionable strategies to grow and build any successful brand. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Brand Love by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and the UK, so to order your copy of Brand Love go to And thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Lydia Michael, the founder of the Detroit-based multicultural marketing and brand consultancy Blended Collective, and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. In chapter eight, you write about opportunities to develop brand experiences and illustrate some of the ways brands can engage with consumers more holistically by engaging all of their five senses. Lydia, how can brands effectively incorporate multi-sensory experiences into their marketing? 

Lydia Michael: You know, when we look at marketing and advertising, we naturally, I think, are so used to focusing on visual assets, things that stimulate the eye. And all of that is important, but I think over time, focusing on the senses has really shown us that the more we do that, the more we connect with the human that is behind our brand, the human that is supporting our products and our services. And so this is really where connection happens, where we all realize and recognize that we are human at our core. And things that affect our memory and our emotions are very much tied to different senses that we experience things with. And a big part of that, for instance, is olfactive branding. It’s the scent, but a lot of times it’s also the sound, for instance. And in the book, I talk about the five-sense marketing approach that MasterCard actually does very well, if you ask me, because they have been really good with tapping into all five senses and provide brand experiences that deliver a holistic customer experience. So, with MasterCard, to give you an example, they have this innovative touch card, which is a card that’s specifically designed with unique notches to help the blind and the visually impaired so that people are able to differentiate their cards when they make a purchase, right. The brand has also tapped into the sense of taste by opening restaurants around the world that are called “Priceless.” And then they use that same brand to also tap into the Sonic brand identity, which is the sense of sound, where they’ve created a music album so that people associate the company with features outside of the logo that again, tap into things outside of just the visual marketing that we’re so used to. And I think when we’re able to tap into all of those senses and provide a holistic experience like MasterCard does here, for example, I think that we’re able to really connect with customers on all different levels in a very natural way. 

Adrian Tennant: The third part of Brand Love speaks to the rational drivers, including relevance, differentiation, and consistency. Lydia, in what kinds of ways are rational drivers helpful to brands that want to stand out from the crowd?

Lydia Michael: Rational drivers are just as important, like I was saying, whether they focus on function or not. But it’s important to stay relevant and to provide value nonstop. And so when we look at those rational drivers, things like consistency or offering convenience, we see that brands that are able to tap into one of these drivers or more are really, really successful. Amazon is a good example that I give in the book, and I think that that’s a no-brainer for a lot of people that are listening. It’s the element of convenience, right? People almost don’t care anymore to support a brand if it’s not convenient for them. You know, so people want to save time. People want things to make sense for them and their lifestyle. And so convenience plays a huge role in that, and getting things quickly and getting things on your terms and how you want that. So that’s one of the key drivers on the rational side of things that explains a lot of that. 

Adrian Tennant: What’s the strategic value of a brand’s founding story? 

Lydia Michael: It’s interesting. I see it a lot of times when I work with small businesses, but I also certainly see it with larger businesses. One example that I give in the book talks about the Warby Parker brand, you know, the eyewear brand. And I think the brand really does a good job at going beyond just the store experience, beyond the website, beyond the emails. And they do that by tapping into their founder’s story. So when I bought my first pair, I opened up the case, and I saw that there was a cleaning cloth that had a message on there that was short and sweet. And to me, it was really inspiring because it tells the story of the brand, the founder’s story essentially, and it talks about the why, basically, the reason why the brand was born into that world of eyewear. And you know, it talks about wanting to make eyewear more accessible and more affordable and that traditionally eyewear has been really expensive, especially if you need to get a pair with a prescription. And so this is their differentiator as to why they came to be, but also this founder’s story to me as a customer. And, of course, I look at it from both the lens of a marketer and a customer. But you know, looking at that cleaning cloth, I mean, I don’t remember the last time I celebrated a cleaning cloth, right? For a pair of eyewear. But looking at that, I was like, “Wow, this is such a great way to connect and to tell your story.” And I think Warby Parker is one of those brands that is really successful in connecting their values to their story, but also telling their story everywhere the customer is.

Adrian Tennant: In the final part of your book called “Love Reinforced,” you discuss some of the things we learned about consumer behavior during COVID-19. You write that quote, “empathy is the new relevance when it comes to important brand factors,” end quote. Lydia, can you unpack this for us? 

Lydia Michael: Yes. So empathy is also an emotional driver that I highlight in the book. And I think if we go back to the basics and we as brands understand that the people that are buying our products or services are human at the core and that they need to be dealt with as such. So really this empathy, this understanding of who is our customer, why do they matter? How do we connect with them besides just selling them our product and beyond just being this transaction? And so the brands who show that they get you, that they feel you, that really understand who we are as customers, I think are the ones that show the most empathy and the most humanization. And this, again, translates into success. So one example that I also just remembered is that as I was on a flight last week and I was heading to New York to meet the publisher, I was on Delta and I remembered the story of when Delta one time threw a pizza party for their passengers because the flight was delayed or canceled. And so that created so many feelings of joy and excitement and people started sharing different pictures on social media and it began trending. But that example shows you that brands really need to embrace the moment marketing. They need to embrace the human behind all of their brand support and connect with them in the simplest way possible.

Adrian Tennant: One of the early reviewers of your book described you as a global citizen. To what extent has your personal background influenced how you approach client projects at Blended Collective? 

Lydia Michael: So I grew up in Germany, and I have a Middle Eastern background, and then I came to the US years later. And so for the better part of my life, I’ve been navigating three completely different cultures, three different continents, essentially, on a day-to-day basis, whether it’s in my personal life or in my business life. That has been a big part of who I am and also the way that I show up when I work with my clients at Blended Collective. And so I think the way that that has impacted or influenced the way I approach my work is I can easily adapt and be very agile and flexible in any work environment that you put me in. And I think a lot of that comes from understanding the different cultures so well, but also being able to read people very well based on whether it’s their cultural background or different diverse factors that they bring to the workplace. And I think that that only adds richness to any project because, you know, I’m basically practicing what I preach, right? I’ve lived all of those cultures. I’ve lived the multiculturalism. I’ve lived and worked in different spaces and different places. And so I think being able to bring that to any project adds a lot of value.

Adrian Tennant: Well, in the book, you recount coming to the United States and your first experiences with drive-throughs. Lydia, why do you think American consumers prioritize convenience compared to European counterparts? 

Lydia Michael: You know, I think it’s something that’s simply embedded in the culture. Anytime I go back to Europe, and I come back here to the US, the element of convenience is something that sticks out to me very much. And even though we as humans are creatures of habit, I also believe that we’re creatures of convenience. And so consumers are really addicted to convenience and they trade their money for convenience. And I think a lot of times we see that more so in the US because again, I think it’s part of the culture that we grow up in and sort of our surroundings that shape the way we are as customers. So whether it’s our attitudes, our lifestyles, I think a lot of it is built around convenience here in the US, or in North America compared to our European counterparts where convenience can be important, but I think only in certain categories. Because again, growing up in Germany, convenience wasn’t always superseding other values for us as customers. It wasn’t always at the top of that pyramid if that makes sense. 

Adrian Tennant: You write passionately about the value of having a diverse workforce and growth in supplier diversity programs. Yet, as you know, legislation has been introduced in at least a dozen states aimed at cutting DEI spending and rewriting hiring guidelines at colleges and universities. Lydia, what impact do you foresee for business and culture?

Lydia Michael: I am a huge proponent of culture in the workplace because of everything I just explained. When you add that richness and that understanding to the workplace, I think one, having that representation in the workforce to then better create campaigns and projects that are touching customers directly and targeting specific audiences is really important. And when we look at the cultural landscape of companies and especially corporations where a lot of times you think that they would have the manpower and the resources and the staff to make no mistakes, that’s actually where the mistakes happen. And I think it goes back to not having the right representation in-house to work on those campaigns, to really bring this cultural understanding to the drawing board. Reducing that, I think, will have a more negative impact than anything because when we look at research studies, and this is not just an opinion, but it really is a fact that has been researched by multiple studies and McKinsey and Company, for instance, is one of them. But if we look at different diversity studies, they do show that people who have a more diverse workforce are not only more innovative in the work that they do, but they also bring more creativity to the table. They provide better problem-solving skills, and, you know, all of those different positive elements that contribute to the work that we do that is not just internal, but also that’s consumer-facing, which is really important for that to resonate with your customers. 

Adrian Tennant: What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

Lydia Michael: I want readers to really go back to the basics in marketing. I think there’s so much happening in the world of marketing and business every single day, it’s tough to keep up, but there’s a lot of foundational elements that we need in our day-to-day work, that sometimes we might forget. And those things are brands are human. Customers are human. And so finding that common line and that connection to create a more human brand is really, really important. But at the same time, also making sure that culture plays a relevant role in marketing and so does emotion. 

Adrian Tennant: So Lydia, can you describe your book in just three words?

Lydia Michael: My book in three words: Brand Love is human, emotional, and multicultural. 

Adrian Tennant: Perfect. If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners would like to learn more about the book or your work with Blended Collective, what’s the best way to connect with you? 

Lydia Michael: The book can be found on Amazon and anywhere you can find books. Don’t forget to leave a review on Amazon, by the way, it always helps authors. And you can find more information about me and my company, both on and also And of course, I’m on all social media, so feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and everywhere else. 

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to read Lydia’s book, Brand Love, as an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you’ll receive a 25 percent discount when you purchase a print or electronic version online at the publisher’s site: Just enter the promo code BIGEYE25 at the checkout. Lydia, thank you very much indeed for being our guest on IN CLEAR FOCUS. 

Lydia Michael: Thank you for having me, Adrian.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Lydia Michael of Blended Collective and the author of this month’s Bigeye Book Club Selection, Brand Love. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at, just select “podcast” from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

Audience Analysis Audience Segmentation Consumer Insights Consumer Journey Mapping Market Intelligence Podcast

Greg Dolan of Keen Decision Systems joins us to demystify Marketing Mix Modeling. Greg explains how Keen’s AI-driven model offers real-time insights and simulations, facilitating financial optimization and long-term brand value creation. Greg emphasizes the need for continuity in marketing, citing case studies that illustrate how going dark can result in loss of profitable demand. Learn how MMM supports decision-making with Keen’s predictive and prescriptive planning outputs.

Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: Coming up in this episode of IN CLEAR FOCUS.

Greg Dolan: There’s a big difference between what was traditionally marketing mix consulting and what we do. The use case for both marketing teams and agency partners is that they’re using this as a planning tool that they can understand and simulate outcomes and then execute those plans and be able to validate the original plans through the system. 

Adrian Tennant: You are listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye, a strategy-led full-service creative agency growing brands for clients globally. Hello, I’m your host, Adrian Tennant, Chief Strategy Officer. Thank you for joining us. Today’s media environment is increasingly complex, with a myriad of online and offline channels available to marketers. Understanding hybrid consumer journeys and the effects of advertising in newer channels like retail media is a significant challenge. Economic uncertainty, tighter privacy regulations, and the death of the cookie have all renewed interest in one analytical tool, in particular: marketing mix modeling, or MMM for short. It promises to provide marketers with a holistic approach to planning and media optimization by combining data from multiple sources to generate historical analysis and future marketing planning scenarios. To discuss marketing mix modeling, we’re joined today by Greg Dolan, the co-founder, and CEO of Keen Decision Systems, an Inc. 5,000 software-as-a-service company whose unified measurement and optimization platform enables brand marketers to make data-driven decisions. Prior to co-founding Keen, Greg had brand and corporate strategy experience at CPG companies, including Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company, Nabisco, and Mondelēz. He frequently contributes to research publications and is a guest lecturer at UNC Keenan Flagler Business School, teaching MBA students advanced analytics. To discuss how marketing mix modeling can help brands understand the effectiveness and efficiency of their marketing investments, Greg is joining us today from Keen Decision Systems’ offices in Durham, North Carolina. Greg, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS! 

Greg Dolan: Thanks, Adrian. It’s great to be with you.

Adrian Tennant: I gave a brief description in the intro, but can you tell us more about your background before co-founding Keen Decision Systems?

Greg Dolan: Absolutely. My background really led to the creation of Keen, so I started my career as a consumer packaged goods brand marketer. So I worked in the food industry at Nabisco and then Kraft Foods and the Campbell Soup Company, and I was primarily in general management-focused P&L management of brands. I had responsibility for large marketing budgets. And my biggest lever in generating profitable demand was marketing. And unfortunately, I had, you know, old fashioned marketing mix, where I had a marketing mix study that was delivered, you know, once a year, about six months after the data was delivered to the consultant. It gave me a report card of what happened in the previous two years, but it didn’t give me a good understanding of what I do next. And as a P&L owner, as someone managing a business, I really had to understand, you know, “How do I make better decisions based on the information I have?” So I was lucky enough to meet my technical co-founder, John Busbice, who had been doing marketing mix analytics for the pharmaceutical industry, and he was tired of putting together the marketing mix presentation, a 200-page PowerPoint deck, and delivering it to marketers for it not to be used for decision making. So we felt together there was an opportunity to disrupt the market, develop a next-generation solution that was delivered through software, and not only really focused on just measurement, but more importantly, started to guide decision-making as information became available, and really tie that directly to the financial outcomes that the brand was being held accountable for. 

Adrian Tennant: Well, in the context of today’s still uncertain economic outlook, an article you wrote for Quirks recently discussed the shortsightedness of companies slashing their marketing and advertising spending. Greg, why is it important to maintain long-term branding efforts regardless of the prevailing economic conditions?

Greg Dolan: Well, as marketers, we know that marketing drives value and value over time. And I think that this is missed in a lot of traditional marketing analytics. So what we’ve been able to do as a system and as a software application is account for the timing impact of marketing. So in our system, we were able to build in long-term effects and really understand how each dollar of marketing is impacting both short-term revenue and long-term value. And what we found was – and this is supported by Ehrenberg-Bass and others who really, you know, focus on continuity of marketing – is that when you cut marketing, and you go dark and even flight the business in intervals, then you’re not in front of the consumer. And that marketing that you have put into the marketplace and deployed starts to decay, and it takes that much more spending and time to get the same amount of volume back. So it’s more expensive over time to build back after you’ve gone dark and cut budgets and not invested in the consumer. 

Adrian Tennant: I probably gave an overly simplistic description in the intro, so could you explain in a bit more detail what marketing mix modeling is and how it differs from the kinds of research and reporting that brand managers are likely already receiving from their marketing teams or agency partners? 

Greg Dolan: So there’s a big difference between what was traditionally marketing mix consulting and what we do. In the past – and again, I was a consumer of the traditional marketing mix – every single year, you would go through an exercise with a consultant where you would deliver to them your financial data, all of your marketing activity data across your marketing mix. So your TV data, radio, all your digital, your trade for the CPG world. And those consultants would build a custom analytics model, primarily time series regression. So they’re looking at the correlation between all of your activity and spend and your sales. And they would deliver that analysis in a PowerPoint presentation that gave you a report card for how the brand or business had done over the past two years. And that is an exercise that’s recreated and basically, done over every single year, created from scratch. So it was helpful in terms of, “Hey, I have an understanding of what worked in the past,” but it wasn’t, as I mentioned, as you know, helpful when it came to making the next decision and understanding what you do next. And that’s really what we are looking to disrupt. So the brand manager in the past would use that as validation for what happened in the past. What we’re trying to do is really pivot that from measurement to decision-making. So we know in this world where it’s a lot more complex, there are a lot more channels, a lot of silos within organizations that it’s important to have an omnichannel perspective when it comes to planning your marketing. So we are focused on bringing in all the information that we can bring to bear. So that’s a combination of the traditional time series data that you would give to a traditional marketing mix, but combine that with industry knowledge through our proprietary marketing elasticity engine, which serves as an information base for our models, but also any other analytics that is being done across the organization, whether that’s MTA, or copy effectiveness studies, or A/B tests or any of that information that can also inform the model. So we’re bringing the full knowledge state to the table in order to inform not only what happened in the past but, more importantly, on a real-time basis. “How do I make the next decision? Where am I going to get the most significant return on the next dollar invested? And how do I show continuous improvement for the brand looking forward?” So the use case there for both marketing teams and agency partners is that they’re using this as a planning tool that they can understand and simulate outcomes and then execute those plans and be able to validate the original plans through the system. So it’s a continuous planning, execution, and validation system.

Adrian Tennant: What typically prompts brand marketers to seek out a marketing mix modeling solution, do you think?

Greg Dolan: Well, it’s becoming a lot more complex to understand all the different pieces of marketing, and how do you balance the top of the funnel, mid-funnel, and bottom of the funnel? I think what we’ve seen is that, you know, where we’ve had the best luck understanding impact is at the bottom of the funnel. And, you know, those revenue-driving transactions. So, what we know is that there’s a lot of complexity, a lot of fragmentation across the funnel. It’s as important to have a balance at the top of the funnel as it is to have a heavy investment at the bottom of the funnel. So brand managers and marketers, in general, are looking to understand the full impact of the marketing mix on financial performance. And that’s been largely something that marketers haven’t been able to demonstrate. And that’s one of the reasons why, You know, CMOs have a very, uh, short tenure in the C-suite. They’re not able to demonstrate with accountability the impact of the decisions that they’re making across the marketing mix in service of those financial objectives they’re looking to achieve. Really closing that marketing proof gap, being able to understand, “I’m putting a dollar in all these channels, what does it mean for the value that I’m driving for the organization as well as the short-term impact from a revenue perspective?”.

Adrian Tennant: What are some of the most common use cases for MMM? 

Greg Dolan: The primary use case – and it’s a little bit different for the way we approach it. So we approach it from a decision-making perspective, and we’re working with clients and agencies to develop a decision frame around what decisions they’re looking to make. And the best way to think about that is in terms of a hierarchy. So if I’m the CMO of an organization and I have a lot of different brands across my portfolio, the first decision I want to make is understanding, “How much do I put behind brand A versus brand B?” And then, we can get to lower levels of granularity. So, for brand A, maybe I want to understand sub-brand A versus sub-brand B and then across all the channels within each one of those brands. So it becomes a deeper and deeper understanding of how all of the marketing pieces, all the marketing channels, are contributing to the financial outcomes. And that’s really the primary use case for us: in a brand-based, macro-down perspective, around marketing mix from an omnichannel perspective. But then we can get to more granular use cases. So an example would be, a huge use case in CPG right now is understanding retail media and how that plays, you know, across retailers in interaction effects with shopper marketing and trade. And how potential retail media investment in, say, a Walmart impacts Target and other retailers. So we’re able to build models at the level where decisions are being made and give unique perspective on how to optimize those resources. 

Adrian Tennant: Marketing mix modeling has traditionally been offered by large well-known marketing and shopper measurement companies, and it can often be several months before clients are presented with a model. These engagements also typically require a six-figure investment. Greg, your disruptive approach considerably compresses the traditional timeline and reduces the cost with a system designed to provide real-time insights. How do you achieve that? 

Greg Dolan: Well, the secret is software. So we realized early on that the market was moving a lot faster then a human could actually inform decisions. Back when I started my marketing career in the late nineties, you know, I had a decide between tv, radio, and print, right? So there were a couple of channels, we could take the time. There were long lead-time buys, right? A lot of upfronts. And we were able to do that, and it was perfectly fine to have, you know, a report that was provided once a year. And as digital became more prevalent and that fragmentation started happening, and then we got into shopper marketing on the CPG side. And then there’s retail media. There’s more and more fragmentation, and the buying cycles are shorter. So you can’t make decisions or understand impact without technology and without the right amount of data to be able to support that. And if you’re looking at a pure consulting model, it’s cost prohibitive because each model is very expensive, to your point, north of six figures. So technology had to drive efficiency there. So we were able to build a model that leverages information, ingests and maps information in real-time, builds models with the click of a button. And then you have a historical perspective that’s based on the latest information and a foundation then to run planning optimizations and look forward and start to build, you know, prescriptive plans based on the latest information, based on a learning model that embeds machine learning and AI into that decision-making process. So really all enabled by technology, and the ability to quickly ingest and map data, when it’s available into something that’s actionable that the marketer can though go execute.

Adrian Tennant: Keen recently published details of a study that reveals the most effective flighting strategy for linear TV advertising. Greg, could you share with us what you learned? 

Greg Dolan: Absolutely. It’s fundamental to the math in our system. So as I was talking about before, you know, we’ve accounted for long-term effects in our models. So in our marketing elasticity engine, we have different decay rates for every single marketing channel you can think of – so for TV versus radio, print versus couponing, and some of the shorter transaction-driving tactics as well. So we’ve built, based on that, a response curve weekly into the future. So we know exactly, based on both internal and external factors, what the point of diminishing returns are for a given channel, including TV. So we can see what the marketer is giving up from a revenue and profitability standpoint by going dark, right? So if you’re flighting, and you’re two weeks on, two weeks off, or three weeks on, three weeks off, those three weeks that you’re off actually, there’s an opportunity cost that’s created where you’re giving up profitable demand. So we’ve been able to show the power of continuity, and the impact that has on building value over time. And as I was talking about before, when you are dark, it’s more costly to then get back on, get in front of consumers, and have that spend drive profitable demand in the short-term. So really it is all about driving continuity of activity as a means to continue to build, as marketing decays over time.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message. 

Lydia Michael: Hi there. I’m Lydia Michael, the author of Brand Love: Building Strong Consumer Brand Connections. Reflecting my experience as a multicultural marketing and brand strategist, Brand Love is for any marketing and brand professionals, entrepreneurs, and those who oversee brand messaging, communications, and other consumer-facing strategies. Whether you work for a big or small brand, the book is designed to provide you with actionable strategies to grow and build any successful brand. As an IN CLEAR FOCUS listener, you can save 25 percent on a print or electronic version of Brand Love by using the exclusive promo code BIGEYE25. This code is valid for all products and pre-orders and applies to Kogan Page’s free paperback and e-book bundle offer. When you order directly from Kogan Page, shipping is always free to the US and the UK, so to order your copy of Brand Love go to And thank you!

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Greg Dolan, the co-founder and CEO of Keen Decision Systems. Artificial intelligence is currently very much in the news, but at Keen Decision Systems, you’ve been using it for several years. Greg, how does the inclusion of machine learning impact your platform’s predictive and prescriptive planning outputs?

Greg Dolan: So we think about ourselves as an AI decision-support agent, right? So the system is based on the fact that the model will learn from new information as it’s ingested in the model, right? As we were talking about before, old-fashioned, more traditional marketing mix is a point-in-time analytics exercise that’s recreated every year. So there’s no learning from the new information. It’s actually a new analysis. Ours is actually built and additive over time. So our model is based on, you know, thousands of data points over time from our marketing elasticity engine that’s built on with every new model that’s published in the application. So marketers using our system are learning from the rest of the industry as they go, but also new data that they ingest that’s their own as part of their custom models. So every single data point that comes into the model teaches the model based on that data point. So the marketer is constantly making decisions based on the newest, most recent information.

Adrian Tennant: Well, you’ve mentioned it a couple of times: a patent-pending feature of your platform is the marketing elasticity engine. Greg, can you explain what that is and how it supports the optimization of marketing investments across different channels?

Greg Dolan: So it’s the best industry information possible. So we built our models based on Bayesian regression, which means that there’s prior information that becomes a starting point for all of our models. So we’ve built this database that’s initially populated with about 40 years of academic research. How much does a GRP for TV deliver on average for typical brands and businesses across industries? We’ve then built in this automated mechanism where every single elasticity is blinded and informs the elasticity engine. So, when we publish a model, we learn from the changes in the data patterns and signals for businesses across industries. It helps to infuse the marketing mix model with more information, more relevant information, we’re able to source from businesses across industries. So it actually makes the model, you know, more predictive and more prescriptive over time. The other aspect I’ll just add is that, we can use that information to simulate marketing channels that have not been executed in the past. So if the brand is considering as an example, investing in a new social media platform, we will have an elasticity in our engine that can form that initial investment. So you can actually simulate, if you’re looking to optimize a fixed budget, you can simulate the allocation for a new channel, and we could see exactly where we’d pull those dollars to be able to fund that new channel.

Adrian Tennant: So that’s very powerful – if a client is considering adding a new channel to the media mix but has no prior data of their own, Keen Decision Systems’ model can predict their performance.

Greg Dolan: Correct. And then, as we get experience in that channel, so we execute the spend and we then incorporate that new data in the model, the model will adjust based on that data signal, and the actuals coming out of the market. 

Adrian Tennant: Does your model typically allow for factors such as pricing changes, new distribution partners, the broader economic environment such as inflationary pressures, and seasonality? 

Greg Dolan: All of the above. So you can’t really forecast the right investment plan or forecast, you know, the top and bottom line without a good understanding of the external factors that are impacting your business. So we incorporate all of those into the model, and their key factors that contribute to what the right amount of spend is and what the impact of that spend is across channels. You know, a good example obviously, is COVID. I mean, as we went in, we really leaned in with our clients, with all that uncertainty, incorporated a hundred-year pandemic into the models. So we were able to see in real-time as the pandemic unfolded, you know, how behavior was changing, how channel performance changed, and we were able to make changes with a lot of agility through that time period that, you know, helped the brands grow even in the face of all that adversity. 

Adrian Tennant: What types of data integrations does your platform support? 

Greg Dolan: This was always historically the biggest challenge for marketers. With marketing mixes, you know, the heavy lift associated with collecting data. So we’ve spent the last, you know, 10-plus years really focused on the data problem and have as much flexibility in ingesting data as possible. So we have APIs, so we’re able to connect into data systems. We have data connectors that are connected in, so all of your major platforms can connect directly into our system. And in the absence of that, we’ve developed some CSV templates that can be automatically uploaded and mapped. And we have smart mapping within our application, so based on how we’re modeling and at what level we’re bringing the right amount of data into the system to quickly model and build plans.

Adrian Tennant: How frequently are Keen Decision Systems’ models updated?

Greg Dolan: So it depends on the client’s decision cycles, as we call them. You know, how often are they looking at marketing and understanding marketing performance and then making any changes to marketing? So the system is set up to update every single time there’s new data. But on average, we see clients that are updating quarterly. Some of our clients are as they get more accustomed to the model and leverage it more their decision-making have moved to monthly, which also then can inform their monthly forecasts, for the business as well. So as often as, new information is available, they can update them. But it also depends on when the information will be utilized for decision-making.

Adrian Tennant: Typically, what’s the margin of error for revenue forecasts generated by your system? 

Greg Dolan: So generally, it starts pretty accurately. As I was mentioning before, we use a lot of data, a lot more data than just time series data to inform our models. So a combination of the marketing elasticity, priors, as well as other analytics, as well as the time series and financial data, actually leads to more prescriptive and predictive models. So on average, to start, we’re less than 4% error. And as the model learns more over time, through the course of our relationship with brands and businesses, that will tighten even further. And the more we get to know the business and can incorporate the right information, that will tighten as well. 

Adrian Tennant: Greg, could you walk us through some case studies that illustrate your platform’s capabilities? 

Greg Dolan: Sure. I mean, we work with a pretty diverse group of clients. So we’ve built the system to be industry and data-agnostic. So, you know, we’ve worked with clients anywhere from direct-to-consumer cleaning products, to golf grips, to food delivery systems, right? So there’s a lot of different brands we work with. The primary use case really is around financial optimization. So, you know, on the DTC cleaning products, we really wanted to get to a monthly optimization cycle with them using the platform to refresh data channel optimization, timing optimization. And for that brand in particular, and this is the key that I’ll mention across all the case studies I’m going to talk about, we’re able to identify pretty sizable financial opportunities. And in this case, we’re able to identify a $33 million top-line opportunity. So there are real dollars and cents once you understand where the waste is, to be able to reallocate and optimize. You know, I mentioned the frozen food delivery company that we work with. You know, they had some challenges from COVID. During COVID, you know, a lot fewer people were going to restaurants, a lot more people were getting food delivered to them. So their business really peaked as they went through 2020, but then had to cycle it in 2021. So our role changed from ‘20 to ‘21, where we’re helping them to fuel the growth in 2020, but then had to identify how to cut back in 2021, right-size the investment to make sure that we’re still optimizing the ROI, and able to drive some growth even though there were external headwinds. And then, you know, the example with golf grips, right? They were looking to, one, get a lot more impact with the same budget. So we’re able to show them a path to optimize both their timing and their mix of spend across channels to drive –  and I know it’s going to sound crazy – but a 344% increase in ROI increased revenue by $14 million. So real dollars and cents, real value being driven, just knowing in real-time where the dollars are most effective and where you can step on the gas and invest more.

Adrian Tennant: Over the past several weeks on this podcast, we’ve been examining how brands grow, discussing some of the universal laws established by the work of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute. Greg, how does Keen’s analysis reflect or support Ehrenberg-Bass’s principles?

Greg Dolan: So we talked a little bit about continuity of spend and I think, paramount to Byron Sharp and How Brands Grow is making sure that you’re constantly in front of consumers, and as broad reach as possible. And I think that’s what we’ve scientifically proven out as well. So you can’t be dark. You have to be in front of consumers. You have to maintain continuity and consistency in your spend to be able to continue to drive growth in the brands. And we, given that we have that long-term effects viewpoint of how businesses grow, we’re actually able to show the layers of rock. And we have a chart in our system that show layers of rock and how marketing year after year is building value over time. And that’s very consistent with what Ehrenberg-Bass would promote as well. 

Adrian Tennant: If IN CLEAR FOCUS listeners are interested in learning more about marketing mix modeling with Keen Decision Systems, what’s the best way to get in touch with your team? 

Greg Dolan: Please reach out via our website, and you can request a demo or an introductory conversation, and we’d love to share more.

Adrian Tennant: And if you’d like to see some of the platform’s capabilities, follow the link to the short video included in the transcript for this episode. Greg, thank you very much for being our guest this week on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Greg Dolan: Thank you, Adrian, I really enjoyed it. And again, we’d love to have a conversation with anyone that’s interested in more background on Keen.

Adrian Tennant: Thanks again to my guest this week, Greg Dolan, the co-founder and CEO of Keen Decision Systems. As always, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation along with links to the resources we discussed on the Bigeye website at Just select podcast from the menu. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.