Interview mit Adele Gritten und Joan Cassidy (LRW) Über Innovationen in der "so what?" Company

Im Interview mit Adele Gritten, Managing Director Europe, und Joan Cassidy, VP of Marketing, beide bei bei LRW | Lieberman Research Worldwide, sprach über die Rolle von Innovationen auf Instituts- und Kundenseite sowie Unterschiede zwischen den USA und dem Vereinigten Königreich.

Adele Gritten und Joan Cassidy, Lieberman Research Worldwide

Adele Gritten und Joan Cassidy, Lieberman Research Worldwide LRW recently appeared at the IIex - Insight Innovation eXchange Europe 2015 in Amsterdam. What roles do innovations actually play within your company? 

Joan Cassidy: LRW will be celebrating our 43rd anniversary this year. As a custom research firm, we’ve often thought of ourselves as being very innovative as we’re known for our flexibility and custom solutions, our creativity, and our willingness to break the rules if it delivered for our clients and our mission. It has served us well; we have 25 years of continuous, organic growth. The times when we have focused on building new capabilities and providing more sophisticated offerings our growth rate accelerated. How do you as a company determine your capability for innovations?

Joan Cassidy: At LRW, we’re not the biggest company in the industry, but we have a mission to link world-class market research to real business impact. LRW’s “no barriers” culture has led us to achieving things that if we had pondered or evaluated we might have held back. It doesn’t mean we chase every new shiny object. We only embrace those innovations that help us provide guidance to our clients to help their businesses grow and that serve our strategic mission of being the “so what?” company.

For example, one of our leaders developed a unique approach to understanding less conscious associations of a client brand that was in decline. The resulting impact for the client company was profound and this became the launching point of our Pragmatic Brain Science Institute®. We understood that many clients would benefit from a more holistic understanding of why consumers do what they do and what companies can do about it. Our research and development process on Pragmatic Brain Science led us to exploring virtual reality to help understand consumer motivations and behaviors. It’s having impact on our clients in the area of customer experience, product development and branding.  

One of the biggest areas of innovations for us has been in the area of marketing science and advanced analytics. This was a strategic decision linked to our mission so we have invested heavily in this area for the past few decades. We feel that in order to address the complex business challenges faced by our clients it is imperative to have the most sophisticated analytics capabilities and talent available. Lieberman is doing business in the USA as well as in the UK. Can you tell if there is an actual difference regarding the ability to be innovative between the two regions? 

Adele Gritten: Innovation is crucial to what we do at LRW. It’s usually one of the top 3 reasons why clients come to us on top of our “so what?®” business impact thinking and award winning Marketing Sciences/Pragmatic Brain Science. Certainly, some of the more genuinely forward thinking innovation such as using Virtual Reality for market research purposes is spearheaded from our HQ in the States and, there also appears to be more of a forward-thinking appetite for innovation amongst marketing and MR client-side professionals in the States vs. Europe. That’s a bit of a generalized, sweeping statement of course, but I can think of one current automotive client that we work with both in the US and Europe where the former has embraced Virtual Reality as a new tool or creative vehicle if you like for gleaning customer insight and feedback. The European arm of that business is treading somewhat more cautiously and as yet, does not see the merit in trialing our VR research applications. In short, I think there are some stark cultural differences with North American clients generally happier to adopt a ‘try it and see’ mentality, whereas many European clients are a tad more cautious and need to see the valid and proven business reason before changing the ways things have always been done. There’s more of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality in Europe, whereas, with our HQ being based in California and academic partnerships with some of the world’s leading tech experts and behavioural scientists for example, means that HQ more easily feels, lives and breathes cutting edge tech advancements and as a result entices more enterprising and entrepreneurial driven clients.

Joan Cassidy: Innovations at LRW have come from all parts of the company and the different regions. It’s really about creating a culture that allows ideas, successes and failures to be bubbled up. An entrepreneurial attitude and taste for innovation are two crucial criteria when we hire from the outside, especially at senior levels, regardless of where you plug in your laptop. Does a possible difference also apply to the open-mindedness of the clients? 

Adele Gritten: Yes, and this also differs by sector. Media clients both sides of the pond for example have always tended to be eager to innovate and use digital research methods and more seamlessly blend the old with the new. e.g. traditional focus groups supplemented with blog style diaries and/or passive metering or other digital data collection. Innovative R&D also tends to be rife with CPG and HealthCare and Pharma clients. Industries such as Financial Services, though more and more keen to engage in behavioral science led research designs than ever before, tend to be more traditional in their research requirements and overall briefing style both sides of the Atlantic. For sure, the requirement to innovate, whether in terms of new methods, methodologies, data collection, data capture and/or analysis and interpretation is not going to go away. Open-mindedness and adaptability will be key for insight professionals of the future as data is gathered in the moment and becomes redundant so quickly. Smart innovation will increasingly be required to customized business questions, rather than just innovation for innovation’s sake.

Joan Cassidy: Some clients want the latest and greatest. Others are more risk averse. In all cases, it is about the nature of the relationship between LRW and a given client. Even risk averse clients will take on a beta or a relatively new offering, if it can help them solve a big challenge and elevate the role of insights in their organization. I do agree with Adele that Americans tend to take on experimentation as part of life, whereas the Europeans may prefer to let "others" test things out first. What part do innovations play within the European market research branch? What is your personal opinion on the matter? 

Adele Gritten: Being the smaller arm of our global company which is headquartered in LA, innovation plays a key part for us as we constantly learn from what our esteemed colleagues in the States are doing.

Joan Cassidy: Innovation is crucial on both sides of the pond. In fact one could argue that it is even more important in Europe where the economies struggle and top multinationals are having difficulty building business. But as Adele has mentioned, the taste for doing the R&D work for testing new innovations is limited. What part do innovations play within the US American market research branch? What is your personal opinion on the matter when comparing the situation globally?

Joan Cassidy: There is a growing appetite for innovation in the US and it’s appropriate. The marketplace and marketing itself has changed dramatically in a few short years with the advent of the digital, social and mobile age. We all need to take a fresh look at our methods and techniques, especially in global research. Technology created the greatest change in the non US markets. For example, only 60% of US adults have mobile phones, which is a much lower number than some smaller, less developed nations. That said, the major technology platforms impacting the market research community do come from the US. In this year’s salary report examined the special topic „innovations“. 70% of the German market researchers that took part in the study mentioned that they are explicitly asked to come up with new ideas. Nevertheless only slightly more than 50% of the employees in bigger companies believe that their ideas would actually be implemented. Do you have an idea on how to explain that specific gap?

Joan Cassidy: It all comes down to culture. Change is difficult for all humans and this is especially true in larger, corporate environments that have decision structures, histories and heritage that people value and rely on to guide them. There are cases of people taking the lead on experimentation and innovation and, when it doesn't work, getting penalized for it. That doesn't encourage being proactive. If the organizations do not have cultures that embrace and foster innovation, then it will be a longer and bumpier road for them, and there are risks associated with being slow to change.  

Adele Gritten: I think it goes back to simple aspiration vs. day to day realities. Most people would relish the time to do something different, be able to think outside of usual paradigms and business parameters and be part of something new, big, bold and different. But as the cliché goes, nobody got fired for failing to innovate, at least, that has been true up until the digital, social, mobile revolution really started to take pace. Clients are increasingly being forced to innovate because their clients or customers have been doing just that, often ahead of them. The “Consumer as Editor” and increasingly Brand Gatekeeper has shunted formerly complacent market leading brands into unprecedented action to stay ahead of/remain number 1 in the game. There have been so many Nokia, Blackberry and Tesco demise type stories over recent months and years that clearly show why and how consumers can make or break a brand depending on how innovative or differentiated the brand appears to be in any given market context. Often, such market leading organizations are spending so much time trying to stay that percentage point ahead of the competition in terms of market share and/or profitability that, genuine, unfettered innovation has no place where the day to day tactical moves take precedence over longer-term strategic planning. Our still, largely shareholder driven successful capitalist society often means that blue-sky innovation does not take pride of place in many client-side organizations. Increasingly, they will look to external providers and partners to help them see the wood from the trees and act as partners in innovation. Again, much like we are doing for many of our clients with VR, marketing sciences and behavioural economics. How does LRW act when it comes to innovations? Are the employees actively integrated in innovation processes? Do you expect innovative thinking from your employees and are ideas from the staff being implemented accordingly?

Adele Gritten: We have a company culture of “make it happen” with our growth coming from 14 autonomous business units founded on the principle of organic, scalable, self-motivated and self-directed growth. In other words, in many ways we are a franchise of companies/business units who all leverage centralized resources but all of whom have the ability to shape their own destinies and ultimately financial success. Our talent acquisition process means we attract and retain the most inquisitive minds, the brightest and the best who want to push boundaries and move the dial. In other words, an innovation-led personality is a hiring trait of LRW employees!

Joan Cassidy: We have a very unique organizational structure of independent business units. I think of them like smaller LRW’s inside of the larger LRW. The leaders of those units are empowered to make decisions in support of their clients. This no bureaucracy philosophy allows innovation to take place all across the organization at every level. Every employee is encouraged to bring ideas to the table. 

As with the example given earlier, most of our innovations come from our business units, not from a central innovation group. When we have something we think holds promise, we create small cross functional teams to bring new ideas to life for the broader organization. In some cases, we pilot the ideas in few other business units before going with wide release. 

In most cases, it’s about pairing great ideas with the right leaders. The managing directors who took part in the study mentioned that especially financial aspects are responsible for slowing down potential innovations. Furthermore they say that from their point of view not all innovative approaches can be implemented or fit into the daily business. What do you think?   

Joan Cassidy: Most advancements have costs: some are hard costs and some are opportunity costs. Companies need to pay more than lip service to innovation to succeed. In those cases, I would suggest it all comes down to crystal clear objectives, laser focus, and excellent execution. It is one thing to have an idea, it is another thing to apply it well, make it work and adapt it across the company to ensure it gets support from employees. As much effort needs to be focused on roll out as to development, if companies really want traction. Once companies can enjoy success with some of their innovations, the more likely they will be to open their wallets.

Adele Gritten: It takes a while for a valid business case to be made for anything new. It’s a bit like my colleague Eric Ash wrote in a recent LRW blog: often, what seems like early adopter or innovation centric territory can be traced back to a plausible adoption curve – think Apple Watch which, revered by some, still seems a little „out there“ and whacky to a significant number of mainstream tech adopters. Yet it wasn’t that long ago that the idea of sending mail from one’s phone seemed unnecessary. Fear, often coupled with a lack of imagination, tends to be the main internal barrier to innovation. Arguably, the stakes have gotten higher since 2008 with companies more and more accountable for every £ they spend, especially Public Sector led organisations, but also Publically listed ones too. Moreover, often, by the time R&D budgets for a certain type of innovation have got the green light, the world has moved on and it’s on to the next new thing so the project life-cycle has passed. I think it’s certainly true that the internal systems and processes (e.g. for project sign off) of many client organisations are not yet as nimble or as agile as the internal innovation led teams would like. Further points mentioned as a factor to be a problem for innovations besides time and cost are bureaucratic specifications, rigid structures, distinct hierarchies, standardized processes or lack of capacities. How does LRW conquer these obstacles?

Joan Cassidy: It all comes down to culture and structure for LRW which helps us be nimble and to course correct. We also believe it’s ok to fail. People won’t take risks if it isn’t safe to fail. Some clients’ demands and guidelines may slow down or even stop innovative approaches as well. What experiences have you made in the past? 

Joan Cassidy: We aim to serve each client according to their needs. We don’t believe in a one size fits all approach so it doesn’t necessarily impact us. That said, we have helped many client researchers bring fresh ideas into slower, less innovative oriented companies that stimulated change. We helped one mega CPG brand find new routes to building business in a mature, and sometimes, attacked market using our Pragmatic Brain Science techniques. The insights caused the organization to develop a new strategy and with it some innovations in packaging, messaging and product. Adele, Joan, thank you very much for this very interesting interview!


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Lieberman Research Worldwide (LRW Europe)


Lieberman Research Worldwide (LRW Europe)


LRW Europe is part of  Lieberman Research Worldwide. We focus on delivering "So what?" consulting that's informed by marketing…

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