Interview Series: Norman Kurtis, IE School of Human Sciences and Technology

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Upfront Analytics is continuing with its market research program director interview series. Last month, we interviewed Dr. Michael Richarme, Associate Director of the Master of Science in Marketing Research Program at The University of Texas at Arlington.

norman kurtisThis Month we reached out to Norman Kurtis, Vice Dean of Behavior & Human Development, and Professor of Consumer Insights & Behavior at IE School of Human Sciences and Technology, located in Madrid, Spain.

Norman has 20+ years of experience helping brands ask the right questions from a strategy, marketing and consumer insights perspective. He has worked at American Express in New York, as an Associate Partner at Accenture – Strategic Services in Europe, as Spanish CEO of Marketing & Market Research agencies such Kantar and Ipsos and is currently the Vice Dean of Behavior & Human Development at the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology. He holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and an MBA from London Business School.

The Interview:

1) What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the market research industry?

The blur between on and off-line consumers behavior – in many consumption categories, it is now necessary to analyze both situations jointly to truly understand how the consumer is making buying decisions.

2) What direction does market research seem to be trending toward? Any particular field or method which seems to be picking up speed?

If there was one word I would use to describe where market research is going it is “convergence” – quantitative and qualitative, online and offline, survey data and transactional data, traditional research and social media listening, etc. We have taken our program in this direction as well, and this convergence is also reflected for us at the school level – we are a school of “Human Sciences and Technology” –  that converges behavior, communication and technology in the service of driving business results.

There are a number of hot topics / fields in market research:

  • Attitude segmentation (demographics no longer a valid indicator of consumer behavior, customers are choosing many brands without any regard for demographic conventions.
  • Passive research (observation, ethnography social listening, etc.)
  • Neuromarketing / Neuroscience (like last year and the year before!)

3) What has been the biggest change in the market research industry in the past 50 years?

  • Some would argue online research (PC, mobile, tablet, etc.) but I think, more fundamentally, the increased access to more relevant information from different sources that tell a holistic story (traditional research data, transactional data, social media data, web data, etc

4) Are landline surveys and other traditional methods still viable in today’s tech-shaped world?

Yes, there are many parts of the world where they are indispensable. In addition, there are some targets who may not be tech-savvy to access online. Even further, there are certain topics you might want to discuss face-to-face due to the complexity of the material (i.e., criteria to choose insurance policies) or due to the advantage of developing rapport between interviewer and interviewee (i.e., immigration, crime, etc.)

5) Do you think brand managers today are utilizing the full potential of market research when it comes to concept testing and product development?

  • In general, large brands do a good job of going through the standard process defined for their company regarding concept testing and product development. However, there exists an opportunity to integrate more creative steps, especially in the concept stage, to ensure that creativity is not stifled a priori
  • In addition, some large service companies (i.e., telecom, financial services, energy, etc.) have a long way to go in this area and could well learn from adapting what has been done in FMCG/CPG for many years.

6) Professor Daniel Kahneman’s recent book Thinking Fast & Slow talked about the difference between system 1 and 2 thinking, and how it affects respondents’ answers. Do you agree with his differentiation?

  • Very few people would argue that this differentiation exists in human beings. In terms of market research, I think the key issue is understanding when and why some people react subconsciously while other reach consciously to the same stimuli (e.g., a TV ad) and how to incorporate this in the findings and analysis.

7) Qualitative or quantitative research: Do you have a personal preference?

Depends on the objective – my personal preference, if timing and budget allows and there is alignment with the objectives, is to integrate them to help make better decisions.

8) What is the biggest challenge you face as dean/director of your program? 

  • The two biggest challenges are ensuring that our students develop the marketing and leadership skills required to deliver holistic answers to real business problems through market research and helping them stay ahead of the curve regarding the changes the industry is going through.
  • The content of our Masters in Market Research & Consumer Behavior has recently been updated to ensure we capture these challenges, by integrating behavioral insights together with the full range of tools and concepts required to do good research in a business setting.

9) How is teaching market research different than when you were a student?

It is much better now!!! Our Market Research and Consumer Behavior Program at IE is focused on developing professionals who are knowledgeable about the marketing/business issues and address them via market research and behavioral insights. When I was a student, marketing research was studied mostly in isolation from the underlying issues.

10) When is the ideal time for a post-graduate degree in market research? After finishing college or after getting a few years of corporate experience?

Each student is different – some do it right after college because they know they want to specialize in marketing/consumer insights/market research and move to a position in that arena while others develop this interest once they have started working and decide to do it later in their careers. At IE, we try to have a combination of both (our average work experience in the Masters in Market Research & Consumer Behavior is 3 years) and feel that the mix is enriching for all the students.

11) If you could invite any one advertising/marketing/business (living, dead, real, fictitious) person to a meal, who would it be and why?

Tough question! Probably David Ogilvy – the “inventor” of modern advertising as we know it today. Not many people know that he was tremendously influenced by the 10 years he spent at Gallup (1938-48) and that he applied the consumer behavior and marketing research guidelines he had acquired to help the British Secret Service during WWII at the UK Embassy in Washington D.C.

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