Here’s the full interview from Greenbook’s series “Insights from the GRIT Future List Honorees.”
If you could change one thing about insights, what would it be?
There are far too many organizations that view insights and marketing research as a “nice to have” and not a “need to have.” The industry must do a better job fighting for itself, especially given current economic conditions.
And, I believe that, because of this mentality, lower costs and faster delivery have led organizations to justify cutting budgets, laying off talent, and accepting mediocre research. DIY tools opened the Pandora’s Box of faster & cheaper projects, which can often result in poorly executed insights or analyzed data.
Because of this mentality, too many projects are left behind on the cutting-room floor: projects of ambitious scale and design that focus on a knowledge whitespace. These are the projects can lead to transformational insights. Large research investments and access to “on-demand” insights can scare brands away. My hope with Collaborata, that by bringing organizations together to share project costs and results, ambitious, original, meaningful projects will have a home and not be left in a client’s draft folder.
Since starting your career in MRX, what would you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
When Collaborata launched, we were told brands would not be willing to collaborate, especially with competitors. Well, four years into this experiment, we can unequivocally say that brands are not only willing to work with competitors, they’re embracing the opportunity. We’ve launched several large-scale, transformative projects, thanks to the collaboration of insights innovators from AARP, Procter & Gamble, Fruit of the Loom, Kids II, Reebok, Nestle, Hartford, the NBA, Unilever, Quester, RTi, 747 Insights, the Business of Aging, and many more.
So, I would say, our biggest accomplishment has been proving that insights can be collaboratively developed, designed, and shared amongst competing organizations – that our industry-first business model has proven to be a powerful asset for many of the world’s most powerful brands.
Where do you see the future of insights heading in the next 10 years?
The wave of startups and new technologies relentlessly entering the insights and consumer research world will continue – which is a very good thing! Our research toolkit is deeper than ever; and I see growth continuing for the next several years before some consolidation occurs. Right now, startups (and even some tech-enabled incumbents) love to market their “DIY,” “AI,” “Machine Learning,” and “Blockchain” capabilities. Well, over time, we’ll learn what has staying power in the industry and what turns out to be just a shiny new object. Which new platforms and tech-tools will actually be additive to clients’ research stacks? Which ones will burn out as simply buzzworthy fads? Now, to be clear, I strongly believe that insights innovation has allowed clients to access insights faster and with less financial investment than ever before. With any evolving landscape, there is plenty of movement and uncertainty.
So, my 10-year prediction: these new technologies and methodologies are not the new normal, but are a reflection of that new normal. Our industry should be prepared for a new pace of change. New technologies, methodologies, and startups brandishing themselves as disruptors will enter the insights world even more rapidly. The incumbents are going to have a harder and harder time maintaining their status. Innovators in insights — both brands and suppliers — will continue to evolve and look for any edge.
Who is your career role model or source of inspiration?
My cofounder, and father, Peter Zollo. He was the founder and CEO of Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU), the firm that contemporized the field of youth insights. He served as the chief youth campaign advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and was instrumental in developing the anti-tobacco brand, “Truth.”
He never tried to drive me towards marketing research; but instead, his love and passion for entrepreneurship and innovation was contagious. Somewhat fittingly, one of my first jobs was at an early-stage company: GrubHub. Their fast-pace and innovative mindset further led to my love affair with startups. So, when the opportunity came to launch Collaborata from the ground-up, with my biggest role model, I couldn’t have been more excited.
Getting to work with your Dad is a unique experience! It means getting to learn from him in a new atmosphere, in a new way, and with a different type of pressure on the line. One lesson I’ve learned from him: always take the high road; to always do what is right for your clients, your partners and your employees. And, whenever possible, make sure to have a little (but hopefully a lot) of fun along the way.