The impact of AI and Automation on the business of insights and research


Transcript of recording with Kristin Luck – generated automatically by HappyScribe which means it will be about 80% accurate – if you spot confusing errors, please email The timestamps are included to help you jump directly to a point of interest.


[00:00:00.620] – Ray Poynter

Kristin, thank you so much for joining us today to talk about AI and automation. I know you are super, super busy, both with the success of Scale House and being at the helm of ESOMAR. And automation is the title of the session. What do these terms mean to you?


[00:00:20.250] – Kristin Luck

Well, it’s interesting to me because I think that oftentimes they’re used interchangeably automation to me is a is a process versus AI, which is more of a more of a technology. So so we’ve been doing automation since I started out in research, which I think was in 1996. When I think of automation, I think of what are all of the different technology solutions that make our lives easier as researchers. And when I think of I think of artificial intelligence, which is where, you know, there is a programming component and and is creating a process that is obviously being influenced by whoever is doing doing the the programming.


[00:01:12.690] – Kristin Luck

And of course, I’ve written extensively, I think, about bias and A.I. and, you know, how to how to avoid it or what are the challenges, particularly for our industry around it. But I but I don’t think that automation and I are too interchangeable terms. Yeah, I think yeah. I think there I think there are two very distinct, two very distinct ones of practice and one’s a technology.


[00:01:40.260] – Ray Poynter

Absolutely. So how do you think this this practice and technology are impacting market research at the moment? So you get a global picture of it from the inside, on the outside.


[00:01:54.810] – Kristin Luck

Yeah, well, I mean, I think it’s you know, in many cases, I think it’s it helped many, many firms this last year who and particularly traditional research firms that suffered quite a blow financially from the pandemic and who I think were in some cases, and particularly on the qualitative the side of the business. This is not to pick on qualitative because I love Palis and I think qualitative, traditional qualitative research, as you know, is necessary and a real asset to our to our industry.


[00:02:30.360] – Kristin Luck

But I do think in many cases, qualitative was lagging in terms of adopting technology, which includes a lot of the automation processes that we saw really jump forward last year. So I think originally, and I believe it was about a 22 percent downturn that Azamara had predicted for last year when covid hit. But because we saw about a nine percent growth across the digital and tech enabled segments, which includes automation and isolation’s, that overall industry downturn was significantly less than what than what we expected in it.


[00:03:12.000] – Kristin Luck

You know, I think it really did fuel what we’re seeing as kind of the industrial revolution. It’s it’s accelerating these really dynamic shifts that we were already seeing. And I think also creating this increasing divide between digital or technology focused segments and the established market research segments.


[00:03:32.060] – Ray Poynter

So just to push that little point a little bit further, what are we seeing in terms of valuations between companies that are using this tech and companies that are not?


[00:03:42.440] – Kristin Luck

Yeah, I mean, tech valuations have been higher for years, and I think that that’s not just a result of technology and this is kind of a drumbeat for services based companies. I think there’s this misnomer that if you’re a full service research firm that doesn’t have a technology solution, that you can’t achieve a high valuation. I don’t think that’s the case. I think that tech firms tend to get higher valuations because they have recurring revenue streams, which is an area where traditional research firms have struggled to, you know, to produce those types of outcomes, to produce, you know, ongoing or recurring revenue.


[00:04:23.360] – Kristin Luck

That said, I will say because of recurring revenue streams and the value of tech in, you know, 2020, we saw private equity and venture capital firms invest in the industry at levels that we had not seen since, you know, the kind of big data surge of 2014. And there was a particular focus on technology transformation and mergers. And you can kind of see that not only from the types of firms that were raising money. So I want to look, if you’re familiar with them, you know, early stage analytics firm, they raised 20 million US dollars last July.


[00:04:58.880] – Kristin Luck

I mean, that was right in the middle of covid. And then, you know, we saw, you know, Qualtrics, you know, mind boggling, twenty seven point three dollars billion IPO since recently had their IPO on the Swedish Nasdaq at one point to one billion valuation. So, you know, certainly if you look at where the investment money is going, yeah, a lot of it is going in data collection or technology platforms. But there was also, you know, some 600 million that was invested in market research related enterprises, most of which was in analytics and specifically customer analytics.


[00:05:41.090] – Ray Poynter

Certainly an enormous number of transactions and investments going on at the moment, flipping to the other side of the industry, what’s the implication of all of this for clients? What’s changing for clients?


[00:05:55.830] – Kristin Luck

That’s a tough one, I mean, I think I think clients are being challenged to gain a deeper understanding of not just primary research data, but of all the different types of data that that are available to them. And I think a really great example of this is a conversation that I had with Pavi Gupta, Johnson and Johnson when he and I were both up for Estima elections. And Pobby just did this great presentation at Temari at home on behalf of Estima, which he called the power of.


[00:06:34.770] – Kristin Luck

And and Pavi and I were having a, you know, kind of a conversation about what some of his key challenges were at Johnson and Johnson. And he he relayed this story, which I thought was really fascinating, which was, you know, a year or so ago, the KMO of Johnson and Johnson came in his office and said, hey, you know, I got the results of the latest research study. But what about using Point-of-sale data?


[00:06:57.990] – Kristin Luck

Where was the sales force data? And Pavi looked at them and said, well, you know, I do primary research. I’m a researcher and and I don’t use those data sets. And then the CMO left his office and and Pobby said, when I realized I wasn’t going to have a job in 12 months if I didn’t figure out how to use these, you know, these other types of data streams in order to provide a more holistic understanding of, you know, what consumer sentiment or consumer buying habits are.


[00:07:32.340] – Kristin Luck

And if you you know, you can I don’t know if Temari has a recording of his presentation, but, you know, he’s working with firms like graphene to leverage A.I. to establish baseline metrics. You know, he’s he’s using lots of different tools and techniques. And I think that this is a you know, if I was ever going to advocate for lifelong learning, this would be a great example of it. You know, somebody who’s really in the prime of his career and is having to learn how to use a lot of different new tools and techniques in order to, you know, to get a broader picture of what is going on with his buyers’.


[00:08:07.790] – Ray Poynter

And again, flipping. So if we were to think about a traditional market research agency, what sort of things do you think they should be doing, somebody who doesn’t see themselves as a tech enabled agency? I mean, obviously, they’ll be using tech. But if a behind the curve with might be some good starting points, do you think?


[00:08:30.070] – Kristin Luck

Yeah, I mean, you know, as you know, right, I’m a huge proponent for partnerships and integration. And I think that there is I think fortunately, as I think one of the great things that came out of Copan was that I I think there were some traditional firms that had been very reluctant to partner and collaborate in the past, but then realized that they really had to if they were going to survive 20, 20 and some partnerships, collaboration’s API integrations, all of those things I think are really valuable for full service research firms because it’s you know, because there are so many great technologies now, it almost always makes more sense to buy than it does to build.


[00:09:14.410] – Kristin Luck

You know, realize what your strengths are as a full service firm. From my perspective, full service firms, you know, where their value lies is in is in design and analytics, not necessarily in the data collection components, not in creating custom or proprietary technologies. It’s really in the research design and then producing the best possible outcomes, using whatever data sets you need to in order to in order to produce that. And so that, you know, that to me is one area where full service research firms, I think maybe out of nervousness of working with types of data that they’re less comfortable with or not understanding where to access that data have have lagged a bit.


[00:10:02.800] – Kristin Luck

And then I also think that there’s huge power and not just being a research generalist, but figuring out what you’re really good at and doubling down on those strengths. I think, you know, if you’re a big firm, like a Cantor or an Ipsos. Yeah, you can be it you can be more of a generalist, you can be all things to all people because you’re big enough to do those. But for most mid-market and smaller firms, they really need to figure out what it is, what’s their special sauce, what do they do different and special and better than anybody else.


[00:10:37.840] – Kristin Luck

And, you know, really differentiate themselves based on that rather than trying to be all things to all people.


[00:10:44.320] – Ray Poynter

Absolutely. That’s great advice, so people sometimes will say to me, you know, well, that’s a system, that automation system, whatever, it’s not as good as the best research you can buy. It’s not, but it tends to be better than about 30 to 40 percent. So you really don’t want to be in the ordinary space. You as you said, you need a special sense.


[00:11:06.670] – Kristin Luck

You need a space. Yeah. I don’t want to be in the ordinary space.


[00:11:11.560] – Ray Poynter

No, definitely not.


[00:11:12.890] – Kristin Luck

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, and I think that when you look at industry trends where the investment money is going, where where buyers are spending their money, it’s not in traditional full service research. Those are not the growth areas. You know, traditional market research has been flat or in decline for years now. And you can see that from looking at S.A.M. Gomaa data. So, you know, yes, if you’re a big firm, you can grow through acquisition and you can show growth year over year.


[00:11:50.650] – Kristin Luck

But you’re not showing organic growth, you know, and if you want to show organic growth as a traditional full service firm, then you’ve got to figure out what it is that makes you special and different and also figure out ways that you can partner and collaborate with other firms to stay ahead of the curve from a technology perspective.


[00:12:09.480] – Ray Poynter

So I got one more question and then we’ll we’ll dive in to see what people have been putting into with questions, but again, changing our focus. Now, imagine that you’re talking to a young researcher, perhaps twenty five years old, two years experience in market research, things like the business, they like the people. What would you suggest they focus on?


[00:12:34.270] – Kristin Luck

From my perspective, analytics for sure, I think there is a virus, and I think well, I think there’s there’s two issues that we have as an industry. I mean, one is that so much of the analytics has become automated now that as a skill set. Analysis is, at least for folks that have been in the industry for some time, is is becoming less of a differentiator. I think that any time somebody asked me if I was going to put my money somewhere in the industry, where would it be?


[00:13:07.420] – Kristin Luck

It would absolutely be an analytics, because that’s that’s the power of researchers. And that’s that’s what makes us special and different to our analytical skills. But not just analyzing primary research data. It’s almost like taking more of a business intelligence approach to it, which is trying to look at a business more holistically rather than look at it on a project by project basis, which is what we have a tendency to do in market research. And this is you know, this is one of the reasons why I think Alex Gelman, who’s the former CEO of Amitabh, you know, he he came out of McKinsey and he wrote a really great presentation a few years ago about why big consulting is eating market research for lunch.


[00:13:46.930] – Kristin Luck

And it was about the fact that we have a tendency not to strategically look at everything that’s going on in the business. And so I would say a understand business finance and, you know, the traders that that drive growth in a business. I think, gosh, I think that Asmar I can’t remember the name and you might remember this right. There was a really great keynote at Samaan Enbrel two years ago, and he’d just written a book. And I think it was like the title, something like Think like a CFO or act like a CMO.


[00:14:23.050] – Kristin Luck

Wasn’t that the title?


[00:14:24.550] – Ray Poynter

It was, yes. It was something like think like a CFO.


[00:14:28.160] – Kristin Luck

And that’s what I really encourage people to do is like and that might be counterintuitive. Some people and particularly like for me, I didn’t certainly didn’t get a degree in business finance. I went on to learn a lot about business finance the hard way when I started my own companies. But I you know, I don’t think that I think one of the most valuable skill sets a young researcher could develop would be a really good analytical skills and B, really good business finance skills, because I think that that that allows you to understand what are the triggers that actually drive business growth.


[00:15:00.430] – Kristin Luck

And that that to me, is invaluable from a political standpoint.


[00:15:04.090] – Ray Poynter

Thanks. That’s great. So just looking ahead, extreme, there’s one that links so closely to what you’ve just been saying. So based on the change, for example, would you think there should be more focus on decision intelligence systems utilizing traditional market research data augmented by other sources such as transactions, and build one version of truth for the decision making?


[00:15:28.050] – Kristin Luck

I have to tell you, Ray, I and I apologize to all who are asked this question, but I really hate that one source of truth statements. And I, I hate it only because it seems like every research company in the world right now is using that this one source of truth. Like, I don’t think there’s any I don’t think there’s one source of truth. I think there’s a you know, I think that there are many, many opportunities to look at different data streams to, you know, to figure out what the best path forward is.


[00:16:00.990] – Kristin Luck

I try to to steer away from that that truth commentary just because to me it feels like marketing speak and marketing speak makes me a little twitchy when it comes to the practical skill sets.


[00:16:13.440] – Ray Poynter

I agree trying with you. So let’s go back to the rest of the statement about this. OK, utilizing traditional market research augmented with other sources of transactions to build an integrated view.


[00:16:28.160] – Kristin Luck

Yes. I agree with that, yes, absolutely that that is where I believe the industry not only should go, but needs to go 100 percent. I don’t you know, I’m not I’m not saying that there is not value in any traditional primary market research. There absolutely is is just one. That’s the only thing that you’re using. I think that you’re missing out on a lot of a lot of consumer insight.


[00:16:58.680] – Ray Poynter

So what do you think the most significant pain point that the industry needs to solve?


[00:17:06.860] – Kristin Luck

The most significant pain point, I think, is getting comfortable working with non primary research. That’s one hundred percent. And I think that that’s why when we see folks that are coming into the industry that are more data science folks, maybe they’re coming from data as a service companies, maybe they’re coming out of business intelligence. I mean, I think one of the you know, one of the key objectives that we have in Estima, which we also had during the term where we served on council together, was, you know, how do we become more inclusive, that some are such that we are attracting data scientists and by people and data as a service companies, not just from a skillset perspective, but also from a data perspective, which I think is something that we often overlook.


[00:17:53.330] – Kristin Luck

I mean, there you know, there’s there’s two sides to the to the using alternative data sets. Coin one, you know, one is yeah, we’re getting all this great information. But the but the second question becomes then. But are we collecting in an ethical way and are are we compensating people correctly for it? And what we know there’s a fine line between marketing and market research, and we need to say we need to be aware of it and be one of the benefits of inviting folks from those industries into our associations is that they then understand.


[00:18:33.370] – Kristin Luck

The importance of the difference between marketing and market research.


[00:18:38.040] – Ray Poynter

So we got a shout out from profit, actually, so it was Chris Van Belgrave in Edinburgh. I like CFO present like a CMO.


[00:18:50.450] – Kristin Luck

Yeah, that was such a good keynote. Thanks, Ben.


[00:18:55.780] – Ray Poynter

We have this point that Simon Chadwick would make fairly frequently as well. We need to be more like consultants incorporating survey and non survey experiences. That’s something presumably you’d summarize as being fine.


[00:19:10.690] – Kristin Luck

I, I, I would agree with Simon on that, it’s very rare that Simon and I disagree, by the way. Yeah, we communicate regularly and I think we see pretty eye to eye on it. You know, the consultive part is is hard, I think, for a lot of researchers, because, you know, we for so many years have often functioned as order takers and worked on a project by project basis versus understanding it. And again, this requires you having some business experience.


[00:19:41.800] – Kristin Luck

And a business background is understanding how research relates to the overall health and growth of a business. And that’s a deeper conversation. And I think, unfortunately, many times the folks that are running projects or having the day to day client contact are not having those more strategic conversations. And that that’s problematic for for us as an industry with all the sort of time. But it was a quick factual question. You said the Janjua use grapheme to leverage metrics.


[00:20:18.520] – Kristin Luck

Yes, what that is.


[00:20:21.740] – Kristin Luck

You know, to be honest, I haven’t looked into graphene since I saw Poppy’s presentation, it was included it was included in his presentation. And my understanding is that he’s using graphene to leverage A.I. to establish baseline metrics for his consumer base. But unfortunately, I don’t have any other information about graphene. It’s actually on my very long list of technologies to to dig into and to learn more about. So if anybody on this call hasn’t heard of them either, I would encourage you to do the same.


[00:20:57.210] – Ray Poynter

Excellent. Well, we’ve still got several questions, I’m sure if you were to reach out to Christian Social, she would be more than delighted to engage. And I’m kind of think there’s one more thing that a 25 year old young researcher can do. And let’s join the summer. That is a young member. They get a discount, a huge discount. I think it’s 100 euros to join versus, you know, three threes, I think, from 370 and change.


[00:21:27.120] – Ray Poynter

Yeah, I will I will say and I’m not saying that’s just because I’m a smart president, but also because I’ve been a member for 11 years now. It is fundamentally it has fundamentally been the biggest catalyst in growth of my career. I would I would not have traveled as much internationally. I would not be spending almost half a year living overseas. I would not have access to the same technologies and connections that I do. And I am in no way would have learned everything that I needed to learn had I, you know, just been part of an association in the US and stayed in the US.


[00:22:05.130] – Ray Poynter

I think that there’s so much we can learn from people in other parts of the world. I mean, I think I’ve said this multiple times on multiple stages and in multiple presentations. But, you know, one of my favorite tracks at Estima Congress every year is the Estima Foundation track, because it’s all about doing research for NGOs and like some of the most challenging areas of the world. And and when you see the types of technologies, the ways that they’re doing research to me, that that is such an eye opener.


[00:22:36.210] – Ray Poynter

And so if, you know, if you love learning about new new ways of conducting research and connecting with people all over the world, I really I really cannot stress enough, you know, the important role that Estima plays plays in our industry in terms of making those connections. I mean, I don’t think you and I would have that.


[00:22:55.050] – Ray Poynter

I know. I mean, I would I would echo everything you said, except I’ve been doing it even longer. Kristin, thank you so much for your time. That’s been fantastic.


[00:23:04.710] – Kristin Luck

My pleasure.