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Published on

January 25, 2022


Season 1, Episode 3: Using Research to Drive Results

In this week’s episode of Outsmart, your hosts Nicole Allen and Rex Petrill sit down with Matt Robins, Head of Research and Insights at TEAM LEWIS.

In this episode we explore:

  • Leveraging always-on research in your marketing strategy
  • How to connect the dots with first-party data
  • Gen Z’s digital-first impact on the research community

Resources Mentioned


Matt: We did some great research for the UN HeForShe campaign last year that really demonstrated that compared to all the rest of the cohort generations, Gen-Z was mostly focused on what does the company stand for, what do they represent? And that was the leading indicator or whether or not they would purchase or interact with that brand.

Rex: All right, everybody, welcome back to the latest episode of Outsmart. I am Rex Petrill and joined by my co-host Nicole Allen. And we are super excited to be joined by Matt Robbins head of Research and insights at TEAM LEWIS, who’s here to talk about how we can create points of connection with audiences through research and through understanding first party data sources as well as market research trends. Matt, give us a quick introduction. Who are you?

Matt: I’m excited to be here, guys. Obviously, I lead the research group here at TEAM LEWIS, but I have kind of a nontraditional research background for a marketing agency. I started out running more quantitative surveys. I worked in think tanks here in the DC area, more focused on corporate compliance issues, where we’re going out and running surveys across really large organizations to understand the impact that certain policies and regulations are going to have on industry. So, my background was much more on the primary side of going out and creating the data for projects, whereas the work we do here at LEWIS, we’re really looking at bringing in a lot of disparate data sets and connecting them. So that could be the primary surveys or focus group or IDI’s, but it will also include metadata, social media data, digital marketing data, secondary data, company sales data, really any data that would impact the marketing mix.

Nicole: I guess that leads us into our first question. Where do you see research fitting into the marketing mix? Because it often, I think, on the agency side, sometimes we’ll bring up research to a client and they think, oh, it’s just a one-time survey for a report, kind of they think of it as a means to an end, but obviously it’s a lot more than that. So where do you see it fitting in?

Matt: Traditionally, I think it’s been used almost solely for strategy creation. And normally, like you said, it’s that one time strategy. So, we may go do a survey or do a secondary analysis to help inform the strategy for the next year. But I think even now and obviously into the future, it’s really about ongoing research and using it not just for strategy creation, but also optimization of those campaigns while they’re running. We’re also seeing a really big uptick in the use of qualitative data to inform campaigns. That can be everything from going out and conducting one-on-one interviews with users of your products or services to understand some of those specific points that helped trigger that buying moment. They could even be looking at UX of websites and videotaping, people going through websites and how they’re clicking on it, the comments that they’re making as they’re going through that process. So, it’s really the idea that you’re going to start to use research much more of an on-demand basis. But the idea of what research is, is really going to expand as well. You’re going to use a lot of different sources and really focus on just answering those questions versus making sure that you have a specific methodology type. You really want to broaden out the types of resources that you can use to help you.

Rex: And so, when you’re bringing in all these different disparate data sets, you mentioned a couple of things that are evolving from the qualitative side as well as observational research. What is the landscape looking like? What does 2022 look like ahead for the research industry?

Matt: Well, I think for a long time we’ve been saying that and a long time, probably being at least before coded, whatever that time period was like. We all thought that there was going to be this rise in qualitative research methods again, and that’s like doing focus groups, doing phone interviews, in person interviews. And I think Covid has really just accelerated that. And there’s two reasons. One, we’ve been able to successfully take what we’re traditionally face-to-face methodologies, like a focus group or interview, and bring them online. So now you can have an online focus group where you’re seeing the faces of the individual. You can do that small group dynamics control to make sure that you’re optimizing the types of content that groups producing, and you can have the proverbial glass window where the client sits on the other side during the administration of that focus group and can jump in and ask questions. And the best part about that process is where a focus group may take you four, five, six months to produce because you have to get all the people into the right facility. You’re normally running multiples of those. It costs a lot of money and a lot of time to bring those people together. With online focus groups, you can typically do the entire process, get three times the amount of respondents, and only do it in about two to three weeks for a fraction of the c0st. So, I think Covid has been a benefit, and that has helped us realize the type of work that we can do online and, in the future, I just don’t see us going back to some of those offline qualitative methods. I think the future is going to be almost purely online for a lot of those strategies. And I think that’s going to drive, especially from a digital marketing standpoint, that’s really going to start to drive and help us answer some of those questions around why consumers do things. I think we’ve done a really good job of identifying the what and being able to quantify and show the impact on some of these from what consumers are doing but once we start to layer in the why, I think that’s really going to give us a much bigger way to talk about some of the strategy focuses.

Nicole: I mean, the why. That’s the big question. Right. And trying to better understand the behaviors that audiences are taking and again, why they’re taking them. And that’s something that we’ve been talking about quite a bit on this podcast is more audience-led storytelling, audience-led creative and campaigns. And so, I’m just curious, with that lens, how can we use research to mine for some of those opportunities? You talked a little bit about watching somebody kind of take that user journey through a website and trying to understand why they might click in one area and not in another. But what are some of those other ways that research can help us better understand the why?

Matt: I mentioned this earlier, it’s great to come to a question that is being asked whether a strategy question, or consumer question, or marketing dynamics questions and come to it really with an open mind to the types of methodology that you want to use. With my background ten years ago, for almost any research question I would ask, I would immediately go to let’s write a survey. Right. Let’s go find those individuals and ask them directly, in an efficient manner, to get the exact responses that we want. Today that’s nearly never my response immediately. Mostly, I’m looking at the types of data that we need to answer those questions. And so, it’s not uncommon for us to start an engagement and do something like our marketing tonality research, where it’s really just us going out and looking at how companies are talking about themselves, their competitors, their product sets – not only on their own channels, but also on their earned channels. So how are they being viewed within the marketplace? We’ll supplement that information with looking at media data to understand the media in the industry and around those competitors. We’ll add social conversations to understand how people are actually talking about those companies. So, we’re pulling in some of that social data. We may then go out and do a focus group, or an in-depth interview, to understand a little bit more about the specifics for why people are coming to the website, or why they’re buying those products or services. And then we may have a survey that gives you a little bit more of that scientific, quantitative look at some of the actions that they took. We’re even going to try to use some client-owned data. So, we want to understand the sales data. We understand if there are any issues there that we can further explore within the research. I think it’s really the idea of almost being a big tent researcher. Right. Like not just looking for data that you can create known but trying to understand how some of these outside data sets really help you answer that question.

Rex: And I think we all wanted to talk about how a specific segment of the audience population, Gen Z, is really changing things too. You mentioned all these changes within the research community itself, and that works for a large segment of the population. But how was the first digital generation really changing things in your eyes?

Matt: It seems like with every generation that comes through the research always highlights how the youngest one is being really radical and changing and being different than the generations that preceded them. But I think Gen Z is really one that differentiates themselves exactly like you said, Rex. They’re digital first. They’re the ones that grew up with smartphones. They’re the ones that grew up almost online immediately. Right. Their expectation is that the company is going to have the same style of brand engagement in person and online, which is really a newer concept for a lot of brands. And so, we’re seeing everything from their expectations on companies being more focused on sustainability or taking a stance on causes. We did some great research for UN HeForShe campaign last year that really demonstrated that compared to all the rest of the cohort generations, Gen-Z, was mostly focused on what’s the company stand for, what do they represent? And that was the leading indicator of whether or not they would purchase or interact with that brand. The other generation, I mean, the numbers weren’t really close. And sometimes we’re talking about like 20 percentage point differences in some of those preferences. And so, I think you see it now in a lot of marketing for those global consumer brands. I think it’s great if you look at a Nike commercial or if you look at what’s another great large brand that’s been doing a lot of DEI-style marketing recently, even like consumer like Taco Bell has done great recently with their brands. They don’t even mention the foods, or Nike doesn’t even mention the shoes that they have. They talk about the stances that they take, the types of people that they represent, and that’s really going to drive what Gen-Z is going to buy and how they’re going to interact with brands. It really is a true difference. And I think years from now we’re going to continue to talk about how brands have really had to shift their marketing and their expectations of marketing to focus on some of those key issues for Gen Z.

Nicole: And it’s not just B2C either consumer brands. You know, Gen-Z, I think the oldest Gen-Zers are maybe early 20s right now. Right. If you look at how they’re defined. And so, when you think about that buying committee in a B2B sense, those core concerns and sort of areas of focus are going to be really crucial when we’re looking at trying to sell and market IT software and cybersecurity solutions and things like that.

Matt: That’s a good point. And that even goes back to the idea that we’ve always tried to say that B2B businesses have B2B customers, and B2C businesses have B2C customers. That’s not true. They’re the same people. Their expectations of brands are exactly the same. So typically, any trends that you see from a consumer purchasing habit also will come across in B2B purchasing habits. And so that’s exactly right.

Rex: And Matt, Nicole, as you guys were discussing about the trends, and Gen-Z, and these folks becoming of age and coming into different types of products and brands and growing – research has been so helpful for us as marketers to just stay ahead of these impacts. And while I may not have to worry about a Gen-Z audience for the next five to ten years on certain clients, we have to know their behaviors and we have to know how the landscape is changing and how we can best market to them. Because if we talk in the same old language, our audience has shifted, and we’re now left behind. Even though we may be a market leader, if we’re not talking in the language of the audience, communicates with and understands, and we’re going to be dinosaurs very quickly and overtaken by challengers who just more readily accepts an audience and more readily are able to communicate with them. So, I just want to say thank you to your teams and all the great work that you guys have done to keep us one step ahead and just thinking always into the future and the trends that exist.

Matt: I think the great thing about it is typically if you do get some of those really difficult to define questions that have to be answered in market research and you do a great job of answering them, it just opens up more questions. Right. It opens up how to drill in more to those specific audiences, or you’re able to pull forward a great piece of insight that really starts to generate a thought for a new campaign. And so, it almost builds upon itself. You never really are going to close that door and say we solve all of our issues. But as you start to stack some of those answers on top of each other, whether it be from content, or optimization standpoint, or from strategy, you really get the idea of how important research is and how it can really start to build upon itself in solving some of those key issues for any organization.

Nicole: So, Matt, as we look to wrap up here, what are some of the innovations in how companies are using or can use research and data that you’re most excited about? 2022 – think big picture.

Matt: Well, obviously we’ve covered the qualitative side of things, but I think it’s really the use of these data sets. Right. I think companies have done a really good job. Well, depending on who you are, a really good, or a really bad job of building these really robust data sets about how we purchase things, the types of products we purchase, some of those triggers to purchase, but so far, they haven’t done as great of a job of connecting those data sets. And I’m talking about doing something like purchasing habits or purchasing intent and combining it with social media profile data and basically creating pairs to where you can track someone socially and how they talk about certain or specific products and then also understand the actual products that they bought in the past and those types of trigger moments. And so, it’s the idea that these data sets in silos are fantastic because you can pull a lot of readily information for them, but they really become enriched and powerful when you start to connect them. It’s the idea that you can use that internal sales data to impact a type of primary research study that you’re going to produce to help you answer a question that was generated because you saw a gap in social media data around a conversation around you. It’s the idea that these different data sets are going to optimize your research, but also going to open up new avenues that you didn’t even know existed. And the best part about it is all these companies already own this data. It’s just a matter of connecting them.

Nicole: I love that theme of connection. I think we’ve written about that and talked about that a lot as just creating those connection points, making sure that all of the different departments internally are connected, but that our channels and our strategies and our tactics and everything are connected as well. I love that theme.

Matt: It’s always been odd to me when we work with some organizations how they may have a really robust digital marketing plan and have a really good idea of the types of keywords they want to own or the types of advertisements they want to run digitally. But on their earned content creation side, they’re not using any of that insider knowledge to produce content that will also, by the way, help optimize the content they’re producing on the digital side. So, there’s this ecosystem that I think a lot of organizations haven’t realized that they’re right at the edge of that. Once they start connecting these data sets, it just makes everything more optimized and more efficient for the types of marketing they want to create.

Rex: So, Matt, in your experience, I think we all have been asked interesting questions by clients or internal stakeholders. What’s one project that was either particularly fun, challenging, or rewarding that sticks out to you from a research project perspective?

Matt: Start off on that. I think our job as researchers is to take some of those Zany requests and try to distill them and understand what the reasoning is. What’s the ultimate question they’re trying to answer is. I would say most of our client requests start off with something like, we would like to talk to all Fortune 500 CEOs, which is just an unrealistic expectation. But if their ultimate goal is to get to, we want to understand why a certain consumer segment is buying our product. Well, then that’s something we can help answer and make it more efficient and make it cost worthy or even feasible to conduct from a research standpoint. But from a project standpoint, I feel like one of the best projects we’ve had recently is one that we’re wrapping up currently with the Elton John Foundation, where from their angle, they really wanted to understand globally just what are some of those current views of the LGBTQ + community, both from that community’s view, but also from the general population views, and specifically within sub-Saharan Africa. This was a project where that population is not 100% online. So, we couldn’t go out and conduct a more traditional online survey request. For that, we had to think a little bit more out-of-the-box. And so, we really came at it from a way of a mixed mode. So we actually had people knocking on doors in certain African countries to find some of these individuals to participate. And then if they agreed to participate, we basically had them answer a brief questionnaire in person. It directed them to an online survey link to participate. So we were able to get some of that quant and that qual-style research into it. But ultimately, when the research report comes out a little bit later this year, what it’s going to show is that from an LGBTQ+ community standpoint, COVID has shown that the impact of them from Covid has shown that there has been a greater disparate treatment for them, meaning that they’re not getting the types of services from a medical community that they had gotten before, mainly because Covid is now sweeping through some of those countries and impacting the hospitalization rates there. But from a community standpoint, they also still almost feel like they’re mired in this social inequality that they’re not getting the types of social structures from a government standpoint to support them. On the converse side, we did a survey out to the general population there. There’s still just a lot of negative stigmas and negative, almost false beliefs from not only those individuals that are in that community, but also those that are afflicted with HIV or AIDS for them, for the organization, it shows them that they’ve done great. They have really high awareness for who they are and what they do. There’s still a lot of work to do across the world. So, I think it yielded some positives to show that their work actually is making an impact, but it hasn’t ended there. And I think it’s going to give them a lot of content, too, from a content marketing standpoint, just starting to focus in on what some of the specific issues are and start to make some very specific recommendations about how to overcome them. Anytime you do a research project that’s really big, that’s global, that’s going to talk to multiple countries, multiple languages, you have to do a quant call, anytime you’re knocking on doors – those are really difficult projects. You can already see even though we haven’t gotten to the report phase how a lot of that data is going to be of use to the organization and also just in use to the conversation globally about those groups and what we can do just as humans to help further their calls.

Rex: That is incredibly important work. Matt, I think we are so proud to be a part of an organization that’s supporting that type of work and is a pillar of our prioritization and our beliefs. And so, I’m incredibly excited to see what that research comes out with. I know that it will be so impactful in raising awareness, as you said, across the globe, but also helping the organization identify those areas where they can go out and fundraise and continue to do the good work that they are already doing. So, kudos to you and the team for undertaking that. No idea that we were knocking on doors in Africa. That is incredible and amazing.

Matt: Well, I think the best part about it is once we do get to the reporting page of that project, we’re going to use the results to help in the digital marketing campaigns. We’re going to help create video and social content. We’re going to create messaging content both for owned and earned media opportunities. It really is like the idea of using a multi-channel approach and breaking down those silos. From a marketing standpoint, we just get to do it from a really great cause for this one.


Nicole: That’s fantastic. That makes me feel small.

Rex: Are we reevaluating our day-to-day jobs, Nicole?

Nicole: Pretty much, yeah. Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining us today. This has been a fantastic conversation and I know I think I speak for both Rex and myself, we’ve definitely learned a lot from you. So, thank you and we’ll see everyone on the next episode of Outsmart.


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