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  • 00:00


  • 00:25

    BEN JACOBSON: Hi.I'm Ben Jacobson.[Ben Jacobson, Co founder & Partner, Conifer Research]I'm one of Conifer's two partners.And so what does partner mean?That means you have lots of ideas,and think about the big picture for the firm,and sweat all the details.So in design research, I think the powerthat ethnography brings is to connect business

  • 00:50

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: strategy, design efforts, whether that'sproduct or other kinds of design,to the important senses and sensibilityof the ultimate group of people whowill be using those products or services, et cetera.The more we know about what people value,

  • 01:12

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: how they communicate that value, the exact behaviorsthat they're going to be going through, the better preparedwe are to design things that are going to be suitableor even excel in their ability to deliver on that.I think that is actually a nice opportunityto flip back to the different ways in which we think

  • 01:36

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: about our projects, as well.Right?So you can learn different thingsif you are looking at the very tangible, specific attributesof a prototype or a future productthat you're putting into the worldthan you can when you don't even have a product,you just want to learn what might be good.And so the lens gets to be pretty different.

  • 01:59

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: But the hallmarks of both are that you have an opportunityto see behavior unfold in as closeto a real, natural setting as possible.And that's irreplaceable.And whether that's with a prototype,

  • 02:20

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: in a lab setting, or a prototype that's literallyplaced in someone's home or in a workplace,you're going to see things that you could neverhave dreamed would happen when you were thinking about iton the drawing board or building your first prototypes in a lab.Everyone is always surprised what really, reallyhappens when you get out there.

  • 02:42


  • 02:47

    SASHA MCCUNE: I'm Sasha McCune.I'm a Director here at Conifer Research.[Sasha McCune, Director, Conifer Research]When I talk about design, I came from a placeof technical training in graphic design.But where I was really focusing within that field, whichis very large and vast, was in storytelling and informationmodeling, making sense of really complex problems,

  • 03:11

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: and creative problem solving.I had a lot of interest in using my skills as a creative personwho had a vision for the future, and applying thoseto innovation problems.What is this going to look like in five years, 10 years?I was less interested in the production side,of let me make this pixel perfect.Let me make this layout beautiful, right?

  • 03:33

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: Let me spend hours designing a thingthat we might throw out later.I was more interested in what the future looked like,and how we could begin thinking about the waysthat we would get there.Design here at Conifer is executedthrough a research lens.Pretty much everything we do is in serviceof insights, ideas, innovation, and moving thinking forward.

  • 03:57

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: And design does play a big role in that.But research is the primary focus of what we do,whether that's uncovering insightsto fill an innovation pipeline and start to think ahead,or whether that's more of an understanding and uncoveringunmet needs so that we know where to start diggingor where the business might go.It even plays a part in understanding an audience

  • 04:19

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: and audience definition, so that the marketing teams thathave to communicate a product knowhow to talk about that product in a waythat real people would actually resonate with.

  • 04:31

    BEN JACOBSON: I teach a class in this at the design school,and I send my students out to do all kinds of data gathering,and we play with the data, and so forth.And one of the things that I always tell people to dois that they should be recording thingsin a variety of different ways.They should sketch.They should take notes.

  • 04:51

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: They should videotape and photograph and do audio.And so one of my students came back,and he had just a handheld recorder.And he was playing this, and it was stunning.He's like, I listened to this over and over and over again,and I can't figure out what that noise was for like an hour.And then I finally figured it out.So he was sitting at a Starbucks.

  • 05:12

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: This is Starbucks of old, so this dates this really, reallywell, right?And so you could hear the normal music and chitter-chatter,et cetera.And then every once in a while youhear bang, bang, bang, like someonehammering the living daylights out of something.And then the normal noises, and then bang, bang, bang.And it was just the most dominant noise

  • 05:34

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: in the entire thing.Well, it was them banging the grounds out.But when you're there, you don't hear it.You're too in your own world.But on tape it was just overwhelming.A number of years ago, we did a projectfor a company that is in the greeting card business.And they had a plan.Their plan was to--

  • 05:56

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: and they were also in the digital greeting card world.They owned a bunch of different brandsout there, different websites, and things like that.And so what they wanted to do wasto make things even better for their highest-volume users,which is a decent business strategy.And so they wanted to do research on them,because they really hadn't done any of this sort of research.

  • 06:16

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: And they had an idea.Their idea was that they were goingto build all of these sort of planning tools,like so you would never forget a birthday or a wedding,anniversary, or any of those kinds of things.So just like this whole suite of toolsso that people would always be getting remindersthat they should be sending various kinds of cards,

  • 06:37

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: et cetera.So we went out to do the study, and we were blown away,just completely blown away.It was overwhelming.We went into something like 24 different homes of these folks.And they were the sweetest, kindest people you would everwant to meet, exactly the kind of personyou would imagine who would send a gazillion cards, right?

  • 07:01

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: They had pets like you wouldn't believe, uniformly.I mean, we see a lot of pets.We go into a lot of people's homes.You see pets.Every single household had pets, and most of themhad more than one pet.You know, just odd.OK, so it was a small sample, right?And then-- this is, again, what do you get by observation?It's a good example of this.When we looked around in our photographs and our video

  • 07:24

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: and just being there, we talked to people--all of their calendars were expired.They love them for the pretty pictures on them,but they were all expired.There wasn't a functional planning devicein any one of their homes.But what they were really, really excited about

  • 07:45

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: was new content.That's what jazzed them.When they went on to send a card from any given site,and they would--a lot of them subscribed to multiple of these sites.So if they couldn't find the perfect content,they got unhappy.But planning that was irrelevant to them.They just didn't care.They weren't even sending a lot of their cards

  • 08:06

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: for typical events.They were sending it because they thought their friend Margedown in the other end of the office was having a bad hairday, you know, and lots of other sort of quasi,probably-inappropriate-for-video occasions,like so-and-so's shitty boyfriend broke up with them,

  • 08:26

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: and I know that, so I'm going to send her a "shitty boyfriendbroke up with you" card.And so the stunning takeaway was we told them,please don't build the tools.These people would never use those tools.They wouldn't value those tools.Spend your money and invest in content, including,like, create these quirky new categories,because that would really delight these people who

  • 08:48

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: are your highest end users.[MUSIC PLAYING]

  • 08:55

    SASHA MCCUNE: So our work serves many different typesof teams and functions.We run the gamut of design, product portfolio, and productmanagers, people on the insights and intelligence side,and even people in marketing and communications.So one of our jobs as consultantsis adapting our approach and our research

  • 09:16

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: to best serve those teams within the functions that they serve.So what that looks like is, for someoneon the design and engineering side, or product portfolioor product manager side, we might behelping them test prototypes.And we might be helping them identify,within their current products, what needs pushed,or what the opportunities are to solve for current features

  • 09:39

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: or functions.And then on the marketing side, wemight be helping them better reach their audienceand talk to their consumers, or even grow their audienceand understand or segment their audience in new ways.On the design side, we might be workingwith teams from different backgrounds within designto, say, tackle a innovation pipeline.That might come to us in a lot of different forms.

  • 10:01

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: Sometimes it comes to us and they say,hey, we know this industry is changing,and we need to figure out what we do nextor how to prioritize all the ideas that we have.Sometimes it comes and say, hey, we acquired this company.We have all these new assets.We need to figure out how to best use that.So we've done innovation pipeline projects and things

  • 10:22

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: as far out as plastics and sensors,and figuring out what the applications of those thingsare in 10 years to different spaces,all the way to coconut products, and howcoconut can be better leveraged in snack and food and beverageitems.What does the next wave of those products look like?

  • 10:42

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: We don't work in food in R&D, but we work in understandingwhere consumers are today--what are their associations and mental models around a product?So we might go in and really investigatewhat people are associating with coconut,and those health benefits, and tease those things outin order to build a set of criteria

  • 11:04

    SASHA MCCUNE [continued]: and a direction for that innovation strategy to go in.

  • 11:07

    BEN JACOBSON: Aside from those very observationbehavioral kinds of things that you justcan't get any other way is what people have cometo call empathy in our work.And what that really means is, I guess

  • 11:28

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: I'd like to draw a distinction between identificationwith someone or their situation and an empathy which hasa huge biological component.We can identify with someone in a story.And I think a lot of research thatremains in sort of a narrative form,

  • 11:51

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: or you're far away from the peoplethat you're talking about--we have opportunities to identify with them,but that's really saying, how am I like them?It's about me at the end of the day, right?And that's not a bad thing, but it's fairlylimiting if you're trying to design the future basedon yourself, or what you identify with out in the world.

  • 12:14

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: Empathy is far more profound.It happens because we can see each other,we can read our facial expressions and our bodylanguage.There's all kinds of biochemical things that happen in a group,or in a one-to-one interview with people.And when you've observed that human connection,

  • 12:36

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: people have powerful reactions to other peopleand what they're going through.And it may not be about them, but they feel it.And that level of empathy, you can't get any other way.And I think it's super-valuable.We always try to approach things with this weird sort

  • 12:56

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: of dichotomy of trying to approach itas if you're naive and stupid like a child,and at the same time we've been reading about itand trying to learn and get ready for it, right?But the goal is to try to see it with fresh eyes,and to try to bring that sense of a fresh perspective

  • 13:18

    BEN JACOBSON [continued]: to our clients as well.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Video Info

Episode: 4

Publisher: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Publication Year: 2020

Video Type:In Practice

Methods: Marketing research, Ethnography, Data collection

Keywords: data collection; decision making; empathy; ethnography; innovation and creativity; innovative leadership; market research; marketing objectives; marketing research; observation (research); problem solving; project management; research design; research design models; Serendipity; Storytelling ... Show More

Segment Info

Segment Num.: 1

Persons Discussed:

Events Discussed:



Ben Jacobson, Co-Founder and Partner, and Sasha McCune, Director, of Conifer Research, discuss innovative research design, including examples of unexpected findings and the role of empathy.

Video Info

Publication Info

SAGE Publications Ltd.
Publication Year:
SAGE Research Methods Video: Market Research
Publication Place:
United Kingdom
SAGE Original Production Type:
SAGE In Practice
Copyright Statement:
(c) SAGE Publications Ltd., 2020


Ben Jacobson
Sasha McCune

Segment Info


Segment Num: 1


Segment Start Time:

Segment End Time:


Things Discussed

Organizations Discussed:

Events Discussed:

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Methods Map

Marketing research

Often referred to as market research in Britain, marketing research involves the collection, analysis and use of information about customers and consumers and is used by firms and organisations to make decisions about the provision of their products and services.
Marketing research
Doing Design Research for Innovation: Conifer Research

Ben Jacobson, Co-Founder and Partner, and Sasha McCune, Director, of Conifer Research, discuss innovative research design, including examples of unexpected findings and the role of empathy.

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