Amy: How long have you been practicing the art of marketing research and what attracted you to the field? (Was it by chance or through careful deliberation?)

Gayle: I have been practicing the craft of marketing research in various capacities for close to 20 years and my path was more by chance. I held many roles in both sales and marketing (territory sales manager, marketing management, marketing communications, brand and strategy) with fortune 500 companies such as J&J, AT&T, Roadway Express and several major utility companies.

At the utility companies, where I was responsible for strategy and marketing communication (and as director of marketing information at Roadway), marketing research was included as an area of responsibility. After Roadway, I accepted a position with FedEx, and for the first time in my career, the primary focus of my job was to lead a marketing research group.

I enjoy marketing research because as a marketing and strategy leader, I understood early the value of information and how lack of the right information could easily lead to decision traps or poor decision making. I like solving problems; putting missing pieces together and unlocking the knowledge gate. A quote that resonates for me is “I try to recognize the pattern before anyone else does.”

Amy: Tell us a little about your role at Batesville and the company itself.

Gayle: For more than 125 years, Batesville has been dedicated to helping families honor the lives of those they love®. A wholly owned subsidiary of Hillenbrand, Inc. (NYSE:HI), Batesville’s innovation has changed the face of funeral service, from advancements in casket manufacturing and design, to profit-enhancing burial and cremation merchandising solutions, technology offerings, innovative vault products, as well as comprehensive personalization and memorialization offerings. Our history of manufacturing excellence, product innovation, superior customer service, and reliable delivery helped Batesville become – and remain – a market leader.

Currently, my role includes handling qualitative and quantitative research, working with business partners to define their business needs and what is driving the need for research, and crafting learning plans and implementing the right solution to make sure the business need is addressed. I also manage our online community panel and marketing research knowledge management portal.

Amy: In your opinion, what is the biggest threat facing corporate-side research today?

Gayle: I think corporate side researchers are facing threats on several fronts: easy access to a proliferation of information from a variety of sources; quick and easy tools that allow “non researchers” to create their own surveys (and, unfortunately – consider it marketing research), and; in some cases, actually being our own worst enemy, e.g. thinking like marketing researchers instead of savvy business people who happen to be skilled in the craft of marketing research.

In and of themselves, these “threats” are not necessarily bad, but together they can devalue the role of corporate researchers – if we are unable to demonstrate our value, maintain a leadership role and position ourselves as the go-to source for insights. Our value really begins when serving in a consulting capacity once the research project is completed.

Amy: How should the profession best deal with these threats?

Gayle: My advice is for researchers to first be what I call the Bold Researcher.

This is not just about focusing on research techniques, but on becoming a savvy business person and developing a new mindset:

  • Knowing and understanding the business issues
  • Realizing data is not a crutch; being able to tell the story using more than charts
  • Being a knowledge consultant
  • Seeking out knowledge from multiple disciplines; knowing no boundaries
  • Becoming a student of human nature, e.g., well read, curious about people, an exceptional listener, fascinated with people not just the numbers

Amy: Since you began working in research, do you think the institutional value and reputation of corporate researchers has increased, decreased or remained the same?

Gayle: To some extent, I believe it has decreased.

Amy: Why do you believe that?

Gayle: In many cases, we have become order-takers (and the makers of impressive charts), rather than being great thinkers, consultants and problem solvers. We are really good at the “what”, but still struggle with the “now what”. This way of thinking requires a certain skill and new mindset about our role as marketing researchers.

Amy: How can corporate researchers better sell the value of what they do within their organization?

Gayle: Today’s researcher has to be like a symphony conductor who makes all the pieces work in harmony – weaving studies together, connecting the dots and combining disparate pieces. In other words, hearing the rhythm of the data and playing it for business partners. It goes back to what I said earlier; not setting ourselves up to be perceived as just researchers, but instead as partners who understand the business issues. The value is in the patterns we uncover.

 I have five questions that I start the conversation with upon receiving a client request to do a survey:

  1. Tell me about your business issues.
  2. What decisions need to be made?
  3. What information is needed to aid in the decision making process?
  4. How will the information be used?
  5. How will the information add value?

Once I’ve obtained the answers to these questions, I additionally ask what information already exists. This proactive approach allows me to see what exists and define the information gap.

Amy: What professionally inspires you? What do you enjoy most about working in the field of marketing research?

Gayle: The impact I have had on the lives of individuals who have worked for me. I gain great pleasure in watching others grow and succeed – knowing I had a small part. My joy especially comes when somebody I have mentored shares with me the role I played in their success. One such example from a former staff member comes to mind: “My experience working with Gayle has forever abolished the cookie cutter mentality so cherished by many of today’s research vendors. With her guidance, projects are approached boldly; fusing internal data with current research going above and beyond the obvious to provide true insights into the business question. ”I heard someone say years ago to measure your success as a leader by where the people you led are now. I have had the pleasure of watching people who reported to me do very well, including moving on to senior leadership roles. That keeps me motivated.

Amy: What advice would you give to someone just starting in the marketing research profession?

Gayle: Learn all you can about your craft and the business you are in; talk strategy as much as methodology; use your left and right brain; don’t be held captive to data and charts; old school researchers were primarily linear and logical, whereas new researchers need to be inventive and have big picture capabilities, and; find the harmony in the data and tell the story – don’t just show the data.

Amy: You’ve spoken at numerous industry events, including MRA conferences. What motivated you to first become a member of MRA and what services are of greatest benefit to you/your company?

Gayle: I think it is important to stay abreast of your craft and benchmark with your peers. I like being able to learn what others are doing and best practices that I can apply. I do not believe in reinventing the wheel and enjoy learning from the best in the profession. MRA provides these opportunities. I read the publications from cover to cover and definitely grab nuggets of knowledge and apply them when appropriate. I am always in a mode of continuous learning and improvement. MRA feeds this need.

Amy: You have many interests outside the industry – reading, dancing, special collections and cooking. Please tell us a little about these areas of your life, including the altruistic causes that you support.

Gayle: It is important to me to be a well rounded individual and give back to the community.

I belong to two book clubs. I was an English major and I mentioned earlier the importance of being well read. It helps give you insight into people and their motivations. I read fiction, non-fiction and business books, all of which helps in the journey of being a student of human nature.

I love entertaining, so cooking comes with the art of doing so. I create my own themes and set the stage. I have a set of dishes and decorations for every major holiday.

My prize possession is my collection of teapots. I have over 125 from all over the world, many that past employees have picked up for me in their travels.

I am deeply committed to educational causes and have been active in organizations that focus on this area. I have also served on the board of directors of several non profit agencies. The more you give, the more you get back.

Amy: Do you have a favorite quote or life philosophy?

Gayle: I actually have two quotes:

“Have the courage of your convictions.”

“To thine own self be true and thou cannot be false to any man.”