Editor’s Note: The following interview features a GreenBook Future List honoree, Zach Hebert. 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 Zach Hebert of Insagic
Zach has presented at IIEX Health 2022. Has had his research presented at European Respiratory Society 2021..He also has facilitated linguistics outside academia mixers and events.
Zach’s greatest contributions to the market research industry include: First, he’s been able to mentor already well-trained researchers who are newer to market research. This means that he’s had a hand in some truly brilliant researchers becoming more adept at bringing their abilities and insights to wider, non-academic audience. Second, he personally measures some of his project successes in terms of whether he thinks he’s “converted” clients, which is to say he’s brought them to see the unique value that ethnographic research can bring to their operations.
Outside of insights, what are your passions and interests?
I’ve been rowing for a little over 15 years. Let me be clear: that’s hardly an accomplishment — and that’s one of the things I love about it. It’s a lifelong sport that anyone can be a part of and still make all sorts of new connections, across levels of skill, experience, or competitiveness.
It’s also a great way to get to know where you are from an unusual point of view, both literally, from the water level and often with your back facing the direction you’re going, and more broadly, pieces of a place’s history and trajectory can reveals themselves through how the place lives with water.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your career, what advice would you give to your younger self?
To new-to-The-Industry researchers (and new-to-The-Industry Zach): You (emphasis!) are what makes your company an insights service, rather than only a data vendor. Even if the data or methods actually are unique, your clients usually want contextualized knowledge (aka insights!).
It will sometimes be difficult to remain aware of this through the noise of your company’s goals and day-to-day, sales pitches, and marketing initiatives, but without analysts, your company is just selling data or information. Even if working in flashy, heavily branded data or methodologies, don’t forget that “insights” part of the services being provided is still your expertise – don’t lose sight of that.
What are three skills you believe to be crucial to succeed in market research and why?
Success in market research requires some facility with method or inquiry. Is that obvious? Sure (I hope.), but it’s what sets us apart from only (emphasis!) “storytelling.” (More on that later.) It’s a big tent, so what this looks like can range widely, depending on what kind of research you’re doing, but everyone from statistician, to ethnographer, works with (for example) hypotheses, induction, and synthesis – regardless whether they call it any of those things. No matter how interpretive or phenomenological your work is, you’re still going to be working systematically and not just feeling your way through the data.
Second, which is a bit of an extension of the first point: ability to recognize, understand, and work with research limitations. It’s not unusual to feel pressure, particularly from clients, to draw conclusions that are inappropriately directional or suggestive of simple causality, or that oversimplify the world you’re trying to investigate. Being a good researcher means interpreting and navigating the limitations, and being a good research partner means being able to foster productive conversation with and around those limitations.
That leads me to number three: being able to communicate with a diverse audience of stakeholders – or, not only, but also storytelling. A more useful way to put it might be that of a guide or host. Rarely will anyone be more familiar with your particular research world than you! Everyone in your research audience has their own unique needs and reasons for being there. Through a research engagement, you’re not only developing their familiarity with and understanding of the world you’re exploring, but you’re also equipping them to continue to develop their own relationship with that world and an ability to continue to make sense of and be inspired by it when you part ways.
If you could change one thing about insights, what would it be?
This is the linguistic anthropologist in me griping: I would love a deconstruction and sophistication of “conversation” research. We’re all rightly fascinated with how individuals, groups, organizations, brands use language or communication for navigating their social worlds, fashion their identities, accomplish tasks (the list goes on).
We’re also all rightly fascinated with what the heck all those behaviors might be able to tell us. But many get tripped up by the word “conversation,” and understandably so. I was recently at a conference where “conversation” research meant social media posts, written survey responses, audio-recorded verbal survey responses, moderated interviews, non-moderated recorded verbal interactions, or just sort of ~vibes~, depending on whose work or capabilities were being presented.
Uh-oh! Those approaches all provide interesting, differentiated points of view, but eliding online behavior, written responses, verbal responses, structured interviews, and naturalistic speech all into “conversation,” “conversations,” or “the conversation” undermines the unique merits of any particular method or type of data.