Confessions of a Former Brand Market Research Leader – Part II

Aug 31, 2021

Picking up where we left off in Part I of Ciara O’Connell’s brand market research leader confessional, here is Part II.

If you missed Part I, you can read it here.


Q. ‘Empathy’ has become something of a buzzword in many corporate circles. At GutCheck, ‘leading with empathy’ is one of our core beliefs. What does ‘leading with empathy’ mean to you and how does it relate to the way companies should approach innovation?

A. To me leading with empathy means getting into people’s hearts and minds to uncover what really matters to them, what delights them, and what causes them struggles or frustrations – and then translating those insights into all that we do.  We talk about “participant-observation” in anthropology.  It’s not just observational research, but meaningfully trying to walk in another’s shoes or embrace another’s situational struggles to truly feel the emotional power of insights that are uncovered.  If companies embrace an empathic approach, their innovation will be clearly anchored in resolving the struggles, tradeoffs and work-arounds that consumers currently face.  It should generate new product and service solutions that truly delight consumers – solutions that are both ownable and differentiated in the market and, thus, drive sustainable growth.

Q. This brings us to our newest product launch, Innovation Illuminator – a state-of-the-art new solution which unveils deeper dimensions of human understanding to drive breakthrough innovations. Can you tell us a little about this product and why you’re so excited for it’s potential to help companies grow?


Innovation Illuminator is actually one of the solutions that gave me goosebumps when I first talked with GutCheck about career possibilities.  It is essentially deep, emotional qualitative insights brought to quantitative scale, enabled by machine intelligence.  It eliminates any former tradeoff between agility and depth of strategic exploratory when looking at categories, benefit spaces, or other opportunity areas early in the innovation research process. 

Nothing is better at identifying unmet needs and pain points for innovation like in-context exploratory qualitative research.  But the days of spending 3 months traipsing in and out of consumers’ homes is a thing of the past.  Now that consumers spend more and more of their lives online, online exploratory qualitative research is the new in-context or in-situ research.  Native, unstructured qualitative data can be tapped for emotions and frustrations associated with different opportunity spaces in ¼ the time and for ¼ the cost of traditional in-person qual… so companies can spend that time and money developing solutions that truly delight consumers and drive sustained growth.  This is what makes me so excited about Innovation Illuminator.

Q.  Ciara, thank you so much for sitting down with us and sharing your thoughts and experiences.  Is there a thought or message you’d like to leave our readers with as they start to plan their innovation strategy and budgets for 2022?


I have two parting thoughts.  The first is that if you embrace a consumer-first mindset – one that starts with empathy – your strategies will absolutely delight consumers and drive growth.  The second is that even as innovation budgets and timelines are squeezed, it is more important than ever to stay connected with how consumers think and feel about our innovation efforts.  Even the up-front strategic exploratory work can be done in less time and for less money – without compromising the quality or differentiation of the insights – as long as you leverage both deep human insights and advanced technologies in the best ways possible.

Written By

Ciara O'Connell

Ciara O'Connell

Director of Product

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