Editor’s Note: The following interview features a GreenBook Future List Honoree, Ben Lundin. The GreenBook Future List recognizes leadership, professional growth, personal integrity, passion, and excellence in the next generation of consumer insights and marketing professionals within the first 10 years of their careers.
Introducing Ben Lundin of Escalent
When not spearheading insights generation for EVForward at Escalent, a solution that identifies the next generation of EV buyer, Ben Lundin spends his time as an Advisory Council Member at the Kidney Cancer Association and as a Member of Pfizer’s Kidney Cancer Patient Steering Committee. Over the past 2 years with the association, Ben has raised more than $9,000 to help patients, caregivers, and organizations who fight kidney cancer to honor the memory of his father who passed due to this cancer.
Hundreds of people attend his events to learn from his insights, and he has become a go-to source of trusted information for the media. He has had work cited by dozens of national publications (including Automotive News, Bloomberg, Insider, Forbes, the Detroit News, and Detroit Free Press), has been presented at dozens of global conferences (including the New York Auto Show, Chicago Drives Electric, and the Asia-Pacific Charging Infrastructure conference), and has transformed the way people and organizations think about EVs.
Outside of insights, what are your passions and interests?
My favorite thing in the world is trail running
I love being in the woods, breathing fresh air, and exerting myself physically. For me, running is an amazing outlet for both physical and emotional regulation, and generally makes me an all around happier person. Each week, I am typically running between 20 to 30 miles on average, so it is pretty much a part time job at this point!
To date, I have run a handful of 50k ultramarathons, road marathons, half marathons, and dozens of lower distance races like 10ks and 5ks. I used to run a lot in high school for track and cross country season, and grew up in one of those running households that did Thanksgiving turkey trots and Christmas Day Santa runs. When I was a baby, my mom and dad used to push me and my brother in a jogger so that they could get their daily runs in without leaving us unattended. They would give us a bagel, wrap us up in warm clothes, and push us on the roads during the cold New England winters. I am pretty sure those early years were super formative in instilling this hobby in myself.
“I love being outside, trying new things, being bad at stuff, and slowly watching myself improve. Each and every day I want to get incrementally better.”
This year, I am training for a few different trail races. I have a 30k trail race scheduled in March, a 50k trail ultra marathon scheduled in April, and a 50-mile trail ultra marathon scheduled in June! One of my goals for the next two years is to run a 100-mile ultra marathon, though I am a bit nervous to commit to a date for that. I am going to see how the 50 miler goes and plan from there. In the next 3 years, I also want to do a full ironman triathlon.
Outside of running, I am really into skiing
I used to ski a lot as a kid but didn’t ski much at all during college and grad school. In the months before COVID, I reconnected to the sport and fell back in love with it. Over the past 3 years, I’ve managed to get out to the mountains a ton, with several trips to Vail, Beaver Creek, Copper Mountain, and Telluride in Colorado; Stowe, Mount Snow, and Okemo in Vermont; and Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Palisades in California. As my skiing continues to improve, I am looking more and more at exploring the backcountry.
This month, I am planning to buy a mountain touring ski set up so that I can start doing some off-piste, big-mountain tours. Apart from skiing, other winter activities I love include snow-shoeing, cross country skiing, and going to hot springs. This year I also managed to do a good amount of surfing. It was always a sport that appealed to me, and I wanted to try and get good at it. Well, it turns out that surfing is really, really hard…and super humbling!
This year, a friend let me have his old short-board and boy was it difficult to figure out. Shorter surfboards are generally a lot less forgiving, require much more precise movements, are more tiring, and make it a lot more difficult to time the wave. Though after about a month of struggling, I feel I finally got the hang of it! Apart from surfing, other summer activities I love including walking on the beach, swimming, biking, going on long hikes, fly-fishing, and getting a nice sunburn.
At the end of the day, I love being outside, trying new things, being bad at stuff, and slowly watching myself improve. Each and every day I want to get incrementally better. Whether it is in my work, in my hobbies, or in my relationships, there are always things I can do to get marginally better than I was the day before.
What are three skills you believe to be crucial to succeed in market research and why?
When designing surveys and questionnaires, analyzing data, and understanding the needs of clients, you need to keep an open mind.
Each survey question can be designed in dozens of different ways. There is no perfect way to structure a question. Sometimes it requires team deliberation, several iterations, and constant edits/updates. If you get married to a specific survey approach, don’t be surprised if the team wants to change it, edit it, or go in a different direction. Rigid thinking in survey design will only frustrate you.
When analyzing data, sometimes results will be different than what you expect. If you design a question hoping to realize a certain analytical takeaway, often times it won’t work out in the way you expect. Rather than expecting certain data stories to pop out, you need to keep an open mind and go to where the data is telling you to go. The data is the driver, not the questionnaire, or the market, or any specific the client. During data analysis, open mindedness is essential.
As market research and insights professionals, we constantly study the market in order to get a better sense of the challenges facing our clients. By staying up to date with current events and market dynamics, we can get a general sense of the challenges facing our clients, but sometimes the larger picture is not enough. Internally, our clients may be facing challenges that we never expect. So as researchers, we need to keep an open mind when it comes to the challenges our clients are facing as well.
An eye for detail
When designing surveys, analyzing data, and building reports, the little things matter. Whether it is in making sure that your survey has proper punctuation and grammar for respondents; making sure the sample sizes for certain questions are viable for reporting and reflective of the market you are looking to speak to; or making sure each chart header, data visualization, and data point is accurate; at the end of the day, these little things are vital in making sure that your project is accurate, well-received, and useful to clients. If you overlook the little things, questions will surely be asked about your methodology, your data, your sample, and the integrity of each. In order to avoid this type of criticism, you need to make sure you do all of the little things right. Nothing can be overlooked.
If you skip over the little things, it can put the entire project into question. This makes attention to detail a pivotal skill for any market research professional.
An orientation toward action
Oftentimes from my experience, projects can get stuck in “idea-mode”. This is where too much time is allocated toward ideas and deliberation, and not enough time is spent on actually making progress. As a mid-level manager/director, ideas will come to you from tons of different directions. Sometimes these ideas come from above you, sometimes they come from external contacts, sometimes they come from the people you work with every day.
Most people out there are full of ideas. In my opinion, you’re not unique if you have ideas. What makes you unique in the market research industry is an orientation toward action/execution. The true stars in market research, in my opinion, are those people that keep the ball moving. They listen to ideas, take notes, stay focused on the goals, and push the team/project along in a concrete direction. Those people that can put the ideas to life are the true difference makers!
What do you think the key characteristics or qualities of a leader are? How does this play into MRX?
In my opinion, leaders have a few clear qualities that underpin their success.
Leaders need to be able to see where their industry is heading and develop a clear strategy in order to keep their research up to date in the constantly changing world we live in. They need to have their finger on the pulse of the industry and have to be able to see the writing on the wall. This way, they can make sure their research program/project continues to stay relevant, fresh, and useful to clients. They need to be able to identify new areas for growth, adapt to changing trends, and explore/understand new methods for gathering data, analyzing it, and showcasing it.
Effective leaders in the market research industry need to be able to communicate their vision to their team members, stakeholders, and clients. They need to be able to explain complex methodologies, datasets, and analysis in a way that is easy to digest and they have to be capable of disseminating it to large audiences.
“Leaders need to be able to see where their industry is heading and develop a clear strategy in order to keep their research up to date in the constantly changing world we live in.”
They need to be able to create linkages between the data available to them, current market dynamics, and the challenges facing their clients. At the same time, they need to shape their communication in a way that is digestible, impactful, and compelling. Both internally and externally, communication is one of the most pivotal leadership attributes in the market research industry.
Successful leaders work well with others, care about knowing the people they are working with, and are great at bringing in the right voices to build strong and compelling products. Good leaders bring the right people together, which is particularly important in market research where projects generally require a lot of collaboration on survey design, data analysis, and insights reporting.
Often, market research projects require collaboration between leadership, dedicated insights professionals, project managers, statisticians, analysts, survey designers, graphic designers, and outside consultants. And sometimes, clients have a collaborative role to play in the projects themselves. So essentially, a leader needs to make sure all of these different stakeholders work smoothly together, making collaboration a key leadership quality in market research.
Leaders need to be able to adapt to the changes around them. A good leader needs to be able to pivot when confronted with obstacles, switch gears when things aren’t moving in the right direction, and respond swiftly to changing industry and client demands. A leader who has an adaptable/flexible mentality can ensure that their team, their work, and their organization keeps pace with the changes going on around them. With new technology constantly surfacing each and everyday, an adaptable/flexible leader is one who is never married to “the way things have always been done”. They are open to new ideas, new methodologies, and new ways of doing things.
Those leaders who intimately understand the people around them are more likely to get the best out of their staff and their teams. A leader who understands the inner world of their colleagues will be able to better train those individuals to reach their true potential. Every team member has specific strengths and weaknesses. When a leader truly understands what motivates their specific team members, they can make sure that each individual team member is put in a position of success.
Leaders in the market research industry need to think creatively and need to develop innovative solutions. With clients facing an array of complex problems, market research leaders need to constantly come up with creative topics, methodologies, questions, and novel insights to help clients to achieve their goals. Creativity is the crux of this.
Where do you see the future of insights heading in the next 10 years?
In my opinion, the future of market research and insights over the next 10 years is likely to be shaped by several changes and trends.
The continued rise of technology is going to alter the way we do business
Market research, especially quantitative research, is powered by large data sets that are difficult for humans to analyze without the help of data analysis tools like R, SPSS, Excel, etc. These tools make sophisticated statistical analysis and market segmentation efforts possible for humans to do themselves.
And with the continued rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, data analysis and quantitative research tasks are likely to get even easier for humans to do themselves. Eventually, market research and insights firms will be able to automate more of their day to day data operations, which will improve workflow and speed up product delivery.
In a similar light, I feel that there will be a greater integration of different, outside datasets into the work that we do. Now, there is so much data out there across millions of different websites, platforms, and data sources that can be integrated into building even more accurate profiles of the people that market research firms speak to.
In the future, I believe market research firms will work harder at cross-analyzing larger, outside datasets from multiple different sources and find ways to better integrate the rich, outside world of data into their consumer research projects. At the same time, further integration of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies—along with integration of larger outside datasets—will greatly improve predictive capabilities, allowing market research and insights firms the ability to capture a better understanding of consumers, target markets, and key shopping demographics.
Insights and market research companies will start putting a much greater emphasis on emotional insights and sentiment analysis
Currently, most qualitative and quantitative consumer research relies principally on targeted surveys, focus groups, interviews, communities, product clinics, etc. These methodologies are good at capturing consumer opinions, attitudes, and behaviors, but most of the data we capture is either based on explicitly stated responses or predicted behaviors captured using internally constructed algorithms. However, those people who participate in these studies live complex emotional lives that current market research methodologies don’t capture in their entirety.
At the moment, we really are dealing with just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of consumer decision-making stems from the emotional side. Consumers have a mix of emotional motivations and emotional hesitations that either encourage them to buy a specific product or steer them away entirely. These types of motivators/detractors live under the surface and they are quite difficult to pinpoint.
But I believe as technology improves, market research and insights teams will start incorporating more consumer reactions and emotions in the work that we do. Perhaps future research studies will leverage video interviews and facial recognition technology, social media listening/scraping, or real time trackers and sensors. Generally, I feel that as technology develops, qualitative research will likely become a bit more quantitative in nature.
Consumer behaviors and attitudes are going to continue evolving in different, complex ways
Traditionally, shopping decisions center upon several key factors such as price, quality, and brand. Though nowadays, consumers are looking for products and services that check off a lot more boxes.
For example, consumers are increasingly willing to pay more for products and services; try out new, innovative brands; and risk lower quality if those products check off certain boxes such as: sustainability (they want to be sure that the products they use aren’t negatively impacting the environment); diversity and inclusion (they might buy products from brands they feel are more diverse, inclusive, and representative of marginalized groups); health (they want to buy things that are healthier; that augment their physical and emotional well-being); and more. I believe the decision-making calculus for consumers everywhere is going to continue evolving in unpredictable ways.