I love John Kearon.
There; I said it.
I have a big ol’ man crush on him (and by extension his company BrainJuicer), comprised of respect for his business success, inspiration from his iconoclastic approach to the traditional market research industry, delight of his charisma and quick wit, and (like most Americans) a bit of jealousy because of his British accent. He is a like a mix of Richard Branson and Colin Firth, with a healthy dose of Monty Python mixed in.
It’s the same type of love I have for folks like Diane Hessan, Elon Musk, Lisa Gerrard, George R.R. Martin, Kristin Luck, Robin Williams, Peggy Noonan, Stan Lee, Ayn Rand, Kevin Smith and a host of others. Regardless of their specific area of focus, what they do and who they are resonates with me.
They push buttons in my head and my heart, and I respond on an intrinsic level.
In short, John and BrainJuicer as a brand (and make no mistake, John IS a brand too) have elicited an emotional response from me. They have engineered their communications across all channels to provoke those responses in their target audience. Far from being calculating or disingenuous, it’s the height of integrity (another important value to me). What they say, what they think, and what they do are all in alignment. They are consistent in applying their core values to their business and communications, and it shows.
And all of that is a lead in to my post today, since it is, indeed, about John and BrainJuicer.
You see, because they engage me, I want to share that positive experience with others. I genuinely look forward to my interactions with them, and think others in my network might as well. It’s proof positive of their theory of brand engagement, in action right here.
I knew they had some cool stuff cooking due to their 15th birthday this month, so I thought it would be a good time to do one of my annual interviews with John. Be warned: they’ve earned the right to brag a bit, so there is some of that here. They went through a rough spot a while back and came back better than ever and the message they have been spreading for years about the importance of understanding nonconscious drivers of behavior is generally universally accepted today. They were the Champion of the battle between measuring the impact of the rational vs. emotional in modern commercial market research, and they have pretty much won the war (although I am not sure the Rational folks have gotten the message yet).
So, John and I exchanged a few emails to put this interview together. It’s about his entrepreneurial journey so far, what BrainJuicer has accomplished, and what the next stage of their journey might hold. It’s hard to argue with their success, so hopefully you’ll be inspired too.
And if you don’t develop a crush on him too, then at the very least I hope you’ll find something of value in our little back and forth.
Here is the interview:
LFM: Hey John! So I understand you have a big day coming up: BrainJuicer’ s 15th Birthday! Congratulations! In honor of such a milestone, what are you most proud of having accomplished in the past 15 years?
JK: You mean apart from still having my own hair after 15 years of entrepreneurial angst? We’re hugely proud of helping our terrific clients do famous marketing, like the 3 Mobile Moonwalking Pony, Guinness Wheelchair Basketball and the John Lewis’ Christmas ads. It’s also incredibly rewarding to have started a company that’s now global, doing research in over 70 countries and staffed by some of the most incredibly talented people I’ve worked with, who seem to thoroughly enjoy what they’re doing – joyous. I should also mention we’re incredibly flattered to been voted by clients and competitors in your GRIT report as, Most Innovative research agency for the last 3 years in a row.
LFM: What has surprised you the most in your journey?
JK: How often the safety net appeared when we took a leap into the unknown.
LFM: When we last spoke you talked about the need for research companies to focus on behavior change, not just understanding and were exploring how to move the research process “up market” on a par with business consultancies. Is that part of the path to change for the industry as a whole? And how is BrainJuicer embracing those ideas?
JK: If we can genuinely help clients do famous marketing and accelerate brand growth, we’ll quickly find ourselves in demand as a key contributor, with a voice at Board level and accepted as charging management consultant level fees. To achieve that, researchers need to get out of the prevention business, peddling outdated, over-rational measures that add little value and get into the promotion business, offering modern, more emotional measures that directly contribute to famous brand building.
LFM: The industry has changed a lot in 15 years, and of course BrainJuicer has been on the forefront of many of those changes. From your perspective though what’s different today vs. when you started the company?
JK: Ok, time to be controversial – you’d expect nothing less. While it’s gratifying we’re associated with change in the industry, I can’t help feeling too little has really changed. The industry is still predominantly in the prevention rather promotion business; stopping marketing doing stupid things rather than helping marketing doing famous things. The vast majority of the $35 billion spent annually on MR, is still spent on flawed models of tracking and over-rational research that’s a poor predictor of fame-and-fortune marketing. Habits, however bad are difficult to break and making a broad scale change from over-rational research to System 1 emotional, intuitive research takes a great deal of vision, skill, patience and creativity on behalf of senior clients. But it’s possible and its happening at some of the world’s largest companies. Where they lead, others will follow and I believe when we look back in another 10 years, Behavioral Science and System 1 research tools will have changed research more fundamentally than online, mobile and Big data put together. We’re doing everything we can to help clients make those changes, through Behavioral Science training and inspiration sessions, together with pioneering System 1 research and tracking tools that better help with famous brand building.
LFM: It seems were entering another consolidation phase in MR, with significant deals happening in the last few months from not just Nielsen and Kantar, but also firms that I would consider to be closer in size to BrainJuicer. You’ve never shown any interest in joining the M&A game though; what’s that about and do you see it changing?
JK: That’s a really simple one. When you’re challenging the status quo, there’s really no point buying market share in companies doing research in ways we don’t believe in, only to stop them doing it. By contrast, we’re always on the lookout for innovative businesses that can genuinely help marketing do famous things.
LFM: Obviously you’re inspired by your team and clients, and you certainly inspire many folks outside of BrainJuicer as well. What other sources of inspiration do you have?
JK: I’ve always liked creative contrarians who challenge the status quo, so I get enormous inspiration from the likes of Brian Eno in music, the Chapman Brothers in art, James Dyson in product design and the likes of my friend, Mark Earls and Rory Sutherland in marketing.
LFM: As evidenced by all the awards and the GRIT 50 ranking, you’ve done an amazing job of really “owning” the innovation in MR brand. How are you going to maintain that status? What’s the next “wow!” product you’re working on?
JK: On January 15th, BrainJuicer will be 15 year’s old and to celebrate we’re launching a number of new things. The first is a short book; ‘The 15 Things Every Modern Marketer Should Know About Famous Brand Building’, in which we’ve produced 15 rhyming couplets + illustrations to capture the implications of Behavioral Science on marketing. Here’s a taster:
If brands come readily to mind
Then profit won’t be far behind
All round the world, the rule’s the same
Your only objective – AIM FOR FAME
When your brand needs that fame ignition
You can’t rely upon cognition
Replace your message with pure emotion
And really KICK up a Commotion!
A longer book of the same name, ‘ComMotion®’ will follow later in the year. In a related innovation, we’ve tested over 400 of the world’s most awarded or popular adverts in 2014 and will be revealing the Global FeelMore50™ on January 12th. Then, on the 15th January we’re hosting Movie-Morning, a red-carpet event for clients, agencies, staff and friends at a Leicester Square cinema to reveal the very best adverts of 2014 and what it takes to make famous 5-Star ads. We’re aiming to repeat the event in New York in February after this year’s Super Bowl and then in China, Singapore, Brazil, India and Europe where we have offices. As 2015 kicks off, we’ve reached some major milestones, with our award winning, FaceTrace® which is now the world’s most deployed measure of emotion, having been used over 5 million times with over 3 million respondents. Also our wisdom of crowds based, Predictive Markets methodology, has now been used with nearly 2 million respondents, who’ve made over 15 million trades, testing over 35,000 concepts globally.
LFM: Wow, that is a lot of cool stuff; congratulations! All of your success is well deserved a real testament to the hard work, vision, and spirit you and your team have put into everything you’ve done over the past few years. It’s well deserved success and I hope this year sets the stage for another phase of massive growth for you and the company!
JK: Thanks Lenny; your kind words and support are greatly appreciated! It’s always a pleasure to catch up and I hope your 2015 is even more exciting as ours is going to be!