Inspiring Research Stories through Life Experiences and Myths

By Raquel Leon and Livia Mello

On the night of July 19th, the MRIA’s Emerging Leaders Task Force (ELTF), with support from the Toronto Chapter and the Client-Side Researchers Council (CSRC), presented their second annual informal storytelling series: “In.Sight – Inspiring through Storytelling”. Five experienced market researchers and storytellers shared their career adventures including challenges, innovations and successes at the Rose and Crown Pub in midtown Toronto. The event drew a diverse audience of students, alumni, researchers, and marketing professionals, all excited to hear stories, learn and network.

The night opened with the ELTF’s Arundati Dandapani, CMRP, referencing the importance of storytelling in our lives as marketing researchers, often poised with the challenge and opportunity of “intersecting worlds” to succeed as emerging leaders and young professionals in today’s globalized workplace. Then, Amit Louis, In.Sight’s emcee and “braingineer” described the history and importance of this event as a platform that promotes creativity, imagination and community among marketing researchers.

The first storyteller was Julia Shisgal, Client Development Manager at Quantability, who won hearts with her story “From General Curiosity to the Scientific Method,” describing her curiosity as a little girl, always interested in finding the hidden and deeper meaning of things including her early fascination with an analysis of Freud’s interpretation of dreams. While just a high-schooler, Julia followed her curiosity into research as a telephone interviewer at a CATI call center, where she was intrigued by how survey questions were worded, and why certain answer scales were chosen. As a result, she gained a lot of exposure to the respondent experience that would enrich her later career in market research. She quickly fell in love with psychology as an undergraduate honours student and was among the exceptional few who conducted negative psychology research studies on what influences relationships. In her early career days in market research, she acknowledged the role of “timing”, and being the only one present in the office one day, she got called to manage a project that landed her the role of a project manager. After years of studying and working with the human brain and personality, she now uses advanced methodologies in neuroscience and brain-imaging technologies like biometrics, heart-rate response, eye-tracking, and skin response to better understand consumer psychology. At Quantability, she helps companies communicate with their audiences using her expertise and reaps the rewards of her curiosity and scientific methods.

Next, Amy Davies, Head of Insights, at Ackland-Grainger, took the stage to tell us about her “rare” opportunity to build something from nothing in the client side in Canada. Her adventure was all about exploring uncharted territory. Last year when she was invited to join Acklands–Grainger to found an insights department, she had to build the confidence of her team members, not only in the research process but in her ability to lead that process without starting bad habits or bending to popular demands like “cheap, quick and dirty” solutions and remaining firm in her ability to provide “the answer” rather than “an answer”.

She advised career seekers to know their “imprints” or influences. She said, “It’s important to think about the kind of imprint you want to leave on people.” Amy then asked the audience if they had any “irrational fears,” and shared her own, her colleagues’ and the audience’s: birds, drowning, germs, zombies and flying. She traced her own fear of flying to James Taylor’s song, “Fire and Rain”, which she used to hear repeatedly in her childhood.

“You can’t fight belief systems or imprints, or irrational fears, you just create new belief systems,” she reasoned. She talked about the importance of storytelling in market research but more importantly for her in building the confidence of her team members and using stories to change these belief systems. A memorable part of her talk included a very important marketing campaign that saw an immediate impact, aimed at combatting the misinformation connecting getting vaccinations with autism wherein a new belief system had to be built around an ad that focussed on the dangerous consequences of not getting vaccinations rather than on refuting the old claims or belief system that autism was caused by vaccinations. She finds that sharing this story often has a powerful impact on her team.

The third storyteller was Enrico Codogno, Managing Consultant, Customer Foresight who presented as a philosopher explaining his story of “The Galileo Dilemma – Challenging Established Beliefs”. He talked about the influence of the myths that make up corporate culture in marketing research, including his experiences with finding new opportunities, new segments and customer satisfaction. He talked about his experience with a client to come to terms with the research findings and how he reacted in the face of client pushback. Enrico built our self-confidence, and made us think and respond to our self-worth, sharing that the value of research (qualitative & quantitative) must always be quantified, not diminished.

After a short break for networking and refreshments, Kathy Cheng, President of Selffii Intelligence Inc, introduced her tech start-up, Selffii, a research platform to understand people better, including citizens, consumers and companies to create more meaningful human experiences. Kathy charted her journey as an “unlikely” tech entrepreneur,” sharing her first fear of tech at Ipsos, where she worked 12 years ago. She spoke about her long and illustrious career, starting out as a simultaneous interpreter for focus groups in Shanghai, and then growing in eminence as a qualitative researcher, gathering experiences as a moderator, managing respondent relationships and boosting engagement, and how she found and grew her niche in multicultural market research in Canada. Technology continues to tease her in its thrall as she purposefully delves into new research methodologies like chatbots and AI to gain behavioural insights in the race to make technology more “human”.

The night ended on a high note with Stephen Popiel, Senior Manager, Customer Experience, at the Bank of Montreal.  His story was full of excitement and hope. Stephen took us to the time when his grandfather in the early 1900s in Ukraine at a very young age lost his arm in a farming accident, but never let this limit him in life. Winding up in Winnipeg and then in Toronto, first owning a small farm in Streetsville, then later a pawn shop on Queen Street West, his grandfather built violins, guitars, banjos and made boats in the bottle, all with a single arm! Stephen’s grandfather’s golden words were “Luck is what you make.” Stephen found his own luck in market research, his “second marriage” of 25 years now, dating himself back to the days of face-to-face survey research. He got to drive hydrogen cars for Toyota, work in a coal farm, meet interesting clients and help people get better products and policies, all through his research. This industry had given him the best experiences in life, allowing him to visit wonderful places around the world, and work with great companies, products, and people, making him truly the luckiest person in the world. For Stephen, marketing research had also given him the 3 important P’s: places, projects and people. With that, he raised a toast to us.

This amazing night of storytelling offered researchers like us valuable insights on how to tell a good story using personal and professional experiences. Every storyteller had started with their struggles and ended with triumph, and that’s why they perhaps created the best effect, and became imprinted on us[1]. They also used sensory language or words that touched our senses to get inside our brains and emotions. Finally, we observed that their stories were told very conversationally, so people could interact with them. We would like to thank the MRIA’s ELTF, the Toronto Chapter and the CSRC for hosting such an engaging industry event.

A video recording of In.Sight 2017’s Toronto event can be viewed here:

Livia Mello is a business administration professional with 16 years of experience in Digital Marketing, International Business, Logistics and Administrative areas with a post-graduate certificate in Marketing Research and Analytics from Centennial College in Toronto.

Raquel Leon is a marketing leader with 5 years of experience across different industries in the United States and Latin America with a Business Administration Bachelor and highest honors in the postgraduate certificate in Marketing Research and Analytics from Centennial College. She has just finished an internship as Research Analyst at Synqrinus in Toronto.

Photography: Shishir Handa, MRIA Toronto Chapter Member, Collage: Raquel Leon

Video & equipment: Julien Naggar, Louis Dutaud, Patricia King, Emerging Leaders Task Force

[1]Zak, Paul J. (2014, March 11). “Why your brain loves good storytelling?” Retrieved from Harvard Business Review

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