Editor’s Note: Today I am extremely pleased to interview Sion Agami, Research Fellow at Procter & Gamble Fem Care. Sion will be participating in the panel discussion “bridging the client & supplier gap” at IIEX Conference.
In this interview Sion provides in depth insights on various topics related to the market research industry – especially in the context of client-agency relationships. I am sure that the readers of this blog will be enriched by his views.
Brief Background of Sion Agami: Sion was born & raised in Mexico, graduated in 1991 from Monterrey TEC Mexico with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He has 21 years of experience in Product Research/ Product Innovation working for P&G, inventing and launching new products that have left a mark in consumer minds and in the business around the world, transforming knowledge into action. Sion is now in Feminine Care, bringing new consumer understanding tools and designing holistic product experiences, creating new discontinuous products.
Akshay Kanyal: Given the wide variety of roles you have played – which professional stint really helped you gain enormous experience?
Sion Agami: The opportunity to interact with processes and consumers in Latin America to gain experience to do things with very limited resources, finding alternate solutions to experiment and exploring creative ways to try new and relevant tools (i.e. low penetration of computers in Mexico in 1995, but were able to execute an “online survey” using laptops taking them door to door, when others thought it was not a relevant survey methodology in Mexico).
Deciding to dedicate my career in Product Research where I can interact with two relevant worlds: a) the technology behind the product AND b) the consumer, to create a great product experience.
This unique approach in P&G opened the door to fuel my creativity and technical curiosity, which has fostered my passion in product innovation.
The move to P&G US headquarters in Cincinnati in 2003 was a great experience as I was in touch with a myriad of great minds and more resources that help me crystallize many more ideas while significantly expanding my network.
I’m in touch with new tools as they are created, having the ability to try some of them for the first time, vs waiting several years to have access to them, often spending more time to justify why a new tool created in a developed region will also work in a developing region.
Learning from different product categories (Surface Care, Laundry, Air Care, Snacks, and Feminine Care) enabled me to develop a unique ability to make unexpected connections and see things through different perspective which often results in new product ideas.
Akshay Kanyal: There seems to be an inefficiency of traditional methodologies to connect with the new age consumers – how will you deal with it?
Sion Agami: I would not say that the inefficiency is only linked to new age consumers, the issue is that the current methodologies are insufficient as frequently we are not able to extract relevant information (i.e. what consumers are really doing/ thinking/ feeling).
How technology is advancing at an accelerated pace is enabling us to use new tools/ approaches to extract relevant insights we were not able to get before. Several of these tools are not only relevant to new age consumers but to consumers >50yrs, several are familiar with smart phones, computers, tablets, etc.
We can now see how they are feeling (via face recognition programs/ video, and emotion algorithms) vs how consumers think they are feeling, which are often two different things.
Technology is also helping us reach consumers at relevant moments and often observe what they are doing and how they are using the products we are interested in, vs what they remember doing…
Akshay Kanyal: Finding the right information from the haystack of data has become increasingly tedious – what is your take on it?
Sion Agami: We now have new methodologies that are able to generate more information than what we had before, the key is that each new methodology needs to come with a novel approach on how to process and interpret all that data.
We are inundated with data, which can often hide the golden insights from our view.
From own experience, a “hands-on” approach often helps unveil the relevant insight from the data, having access to systems that make a “hands-on” analysis feasible and simple, breaking the information into relevant groups and creating models to help explain the data it key.
Knowing the technology and how the product works, coupled with knowing the consumer behavior & needs, gives us the tools to explore the data through two different lenses.
Farming out the analysis often leaves out one of the two lenses, and is more difficult to make appropriate connections.
Having systems like user friendly dashboards, ability to do breakouts instantly with statistical analysis, data visualization tools, and modeling/ simulation, are key enablers to identify relevant product and consumer insights.
We need to remember that the key ingredient to identify and leverage a good insight still requires the human brain!
Akshay Kanyal: In the coming decade do you feel that existing research methodologies will no longer serve the purpose? And if so then how can the research community embrace such changes?
Sion Agami: In the coming decade new and sexy technologies will appear in our research repertoire, and we will all be tempted to move/ adopt the most modern tools. It will be critical to identify what is “the job to be done” or “Critical question that needs to be answered”.
We need to also be able to decide what needs to evolve but also what needs to stay as it might be more relevant. The face to face interview and abilities to listen to the consumer will always remain as a key relevant tool to establish that key connection with the consumer and extract key insights.
Plus having that interaction in a place where the consumer feels comfortable to share their thoughts will be more and more valuable. I do see that technology will help in several cases, for example we are now able to get into Saudi Arabia consumer homes and men can talk/ observe ladies while doing laundry using mobile phone cameras.
Knowing which tools to keep will be as important as to identify which new tools we should adopt.
Akshay Kanyal: How can market researchers truly derive premium for their services and not get stuck in the price war?
Sion Agami: The key to justify a “premium for their services” is to come with relevant insights that drive action, and create a memorable story from the data they have access to. Delivering a new insight or model that other companies/ services can’t deliver, something that is unique and valuable to the company, is what creates a premium.
Of course, the “Human Brain” is a key component for data analysis/ insight identification, experience and right judgment to create a relevant and memorable story supported by data.
Researchers need to have the right training and become experts in story-telling to find the “why” behind the numbers. Everybody can see that an 80 is higher than a 60, but we need to be able to understand WHY.
Akshay Kanyal: Which 3 areas need immediate improvements in the market research domain – especially in context with rapidly changing business dynamics?
Sion Agami: 1) Enable client/ market research interaction to understand methods and needs, to co-create and adapt methods to best fulfill client needs. There is no universal mold and clients often leverage customized tools in a much better way. A tailored suit will always fit better than a 42,44,46,46 conventional sized suit.
2) Not only be aware of new tools, need to try the new tools to better understand possibilities and identify relevant applications. Market research companies often need to think how they can make clients “immerse” with new tools.
3) If a new tool is able to get more/ new information, it often needs to come with new ways to handle/ analyze/ interpret the information. We (Clients) need to interact with market research companies and be able to create the “Customized One pager”, infolitic, video clip, or vine summary with most relevant insights/ stories, supported by the data.
Akshay Kanyal: Technology adaptation is still not so quick by market researchers – your thoughts on how we can speed it up?
Sion Agami: If you do not adapt to new technology you quickly become obsolete. I think that market research companies need to identify where they can deliver unique solutions and focus on how to adopt relevant technology in that area, vs trying to adopt all new technologies.
They need to become real experts in few technologies and innovate in that specific camp to become best in class and undisputable thought leaders, vs trying to be experts in everything (by the way I do not think one can be an expert in everything) from which the result of trying is often reflected in average/ standard services.
To note, every market researcher needs to be in touch and familiar with modern technology and how the market research ecosystem is evolving, so they can identify which new technology they should focus on and adapt to.
Akshay Kanyal: What critical steps an insight expert should undertake to act as a bridge between the clients and their customers?
Sion Agami: I think that is critical to define what an “Insight Expert” is, and how we can teach that expertise. An Insight expert needs to be linked with having the right tool to get the right information, and then to have the ability to extract a relevant insight and frame it with a memorable story supported by key data. A relevant insight becomes obvious when you see it, but it is a needle in a hay stack.
An insight expert needs to know where is the right place, which is the right gear to use, and what is the right bait required to catch the big Marlin us clients are looking for deep down in the big sea of data.
Akshay Kanyal: Do we really comprehend BIG DATA – especially in the context of actionable insights for clients? Or is it just the case of ‘I want to be a part of the latest buzz’?
Sion Agami: Speaking as a Chemical Engineer, I see Big Data as the concept of having the ability to measure something (i.e. temperature, volume, concentration, color, etc). But we need to identify what is that we need to measure, and how exact that measurement needs to be.
It is often the case that we are measuring the wrong thing, having the ability to get more data is not always better; we need to have the right data.
We can monitor social media to understand what consumers are talking about, but a lot of that conversation is not relevant for our purposes. We need to identify ways to engage better with consumers to get them talking passionately about a relevant topic for our brand/ product.
Often the answer is not behind big data. The US was able to get to the Moon with less computational capacity than what is now inside a mobile phone. Big Data without the model behind the data is not useful.
For example, I pioneered the usage of smart phones to get photographs of how consumers were using one of our products, so we got 10,000 of pictures (Big Data in the context of pixels), but without a system to extract the relevant information from each photograph and create a model, the 10,000 pictures were not useful beyond just saying “I was able to get 10,000 pictures of relevant product usage”.
From my personal point of view, we need to switch the conversation from big data to how we can model consumer behavior.
Akshay Kanyal: How can we bridge the supposedly HUGE gap between client expectations and agency capabilities?
Sion Agami: Promote client and agency interactions to create an environment of trust that will often result in opportunities to co-create. The concept of “Early Pilot” needs to be adopted as we often do not know what we do not know. We need to start small, prototype, learn, and create.
As with product development, prototyping is key for learning.
I encourage agencies to create “Prototype tests” and “Prototype summaries” for clients to understand agency capabilities better, and for Agencies not only to match expectations, but to exceed expectations in the process.
Akshay Kanyal: If we want to know more about your company what will be the best source of information?
Sion Agami: P&G web page has relevant information, but it is always better to connect with representatives from each category/function to really understand their unique contributions and how they impact the business.
Akshay Kanyal: What is the most important ingredient to become an awesome market researcher?
Sion Agami: Passion to unveil key insights with a commitment towards a higher purpose, which could often be linked with improving consumer lives. Other elements that spice up that key ingredient are: Curiosity and Strong Analytical Skills. Market researchers need to make sense of data and convert it into relevant insights.