Guest Post: From Anthropology to Marketing

Another fascinating interview courtesy of Profiles in Linguistics. Today’s topic: the world of marketing and branding.

This afternoon, I had the very great privilege of chatting with Casey Scott-Songin of Sapient-Nitro, a Marketing and Branding agency. I met Casey at the Career Expo at the American Anthropology Association meetings last month in Chicago, and because she shares my belief in the power of pay-it-forward networking, she agreed to have a chat with me this week while she is home for Christmas vacation.

sapientnitrologo-banner-150Sapient is a huge organization with over 11,000 employees and offices worldwide (Casey works in the Toronto office), and Sapient Nitro a division that focuses on “telling stories in new and unexpected ways across brand communications.” In their words: StoryscapingSM is how we help our clients create experiences and tell their story in ever-present and never ending ways by marrying imagination with systems thinking. Learn more about Storyscaping here and clients that they have worked with here.

Casey brings a background in Anthropology to her work (she studied at the University of Toronto), which means that she has a keen eye for observation, and a good ear for awareness of the ways that clients are communicating. As she explained to me “its all about getting the best data possible!” and as for the skill that a would-be researcher could bring to Sapient-Nitro: Flexibility.

I heard the truth of this over the course of our conversation, as she described no fewer than six methodologies that she draws from regularly including: usability testing (out in the field, in-store interviews, have consumers use technologies in the store), market research, persona development (who customer is, person that you relate to), participant observation (to figure out who ideal customer is), customer journeys (steps that someone go through when trying to purchase a product like a Christmas tree, what are the variables), shop-alongs, interviews (remote, in person, in home interviews), surveys, and social media analysis.

Her elevator pitch: “I work with companies to solve specific problems”

So, for example, in a recent usability testing project, Casey was working 3ff99bewith a client who had developed a gift registry website. She interviewed users as they worked through the site, which had three sections: create, manage, and find registry, but when it came to wanting to make changes, what she heard users saying was “I just want to be able to edit.” Users were looking for a section called “edit” not “manage,” so this insight can be passed on to the client. Another insight: for the baby registry, have a chair for the mothers to sit in if you expect them to stay in the store for to hours to set this up. From the client’s perspective this is good business, because it will encourage her to stay longer / spend more. From Casey’s perspective it is a way to attend to people and their needs, to make their lives better, even in a small way.

In walking me through a typical project, Casey shared some great ideas for people who want to break into the world of consumer research. Most projects begin with secondary research. Firms like Forrester, Mintel, and Data Monitor do research and put out reports that marketers and researchers use, noting industry trends, and, analytics modeling. In sifting through these sources to get up to speed on a new client’s needs, Casey’s job is to find the right report and then summarize, to inform the primary research that her team will conduct. Students who are interested in getting into research as a profession may be interested in looking into working at one of these secondary research firms. Over the course of a project, Casey comes to work closely with her counterpart at the client: companies like Target who have extensive research departments. Often, over the course of a career, researchers might work first in an agency to cultivate a broad expertise and then when they have found a sector that they particularly enjoy and might want to specialize in, they might move over to be in-house research.

Her last words of advice: in taking on this work, remember that you will not be doing research for other researchers (as you might be used to from working with colleagues in graduate school). When you interact with the client, you are the expert, but to cultivate trust and comfort with your position of expertise, you must be able to communicate why you take the approach that you do, why it is the best way to get at what the client wants (this also means that you need to be listening attentively to the client when she tells you what she wants). Luckily for you, dear reader, attentive listening, expertise in communication, and an expectation for misunderstanding come with the linguists’ toolkit.

Thank you Casey for taking the time to talk!