Last year Alex Hunt made news in the industry when he transitioned from President at System 1 Group to assume the role of CRO at PRS Invivo, and then shortly after became CEO. Alex has been a thought leader in the industry for many years and watching his journey has been reflective of the changes in the industry as a whole: rethinking traditional research approaches and models, growing innovative new companies, and transforming industry stalwarts to be positioned for success in a tech-driven marketplace.
I consider him a kind of bellwether for the industry, and as such it is always interesting to get his take on the industry. With that in mind, I asked him if we could catch up to get an update on his newest mission, his read on the tea leaves of the industry, and what has him excited for the future.
I hope you enjoy reading our interview as much as I had conducting it!
LM: Alex – You are in a unique position having very recently held senior roles at two agencies: global President at System1 Group and now, global CEO of PRS IN VIVO. As the first quarter of 2019 wraps-up, what are you seeing, and as importantly, how are you feeling about the industry?
AH: I’ve always been a passionate enthusiast for the power of customer feedback to drive business growth, including the growth of insight providers. It is, self-evidently, a transformative time for the industry. Disruption will inevitably provide massive opportunities for those client-side functions and agencies willing to build a new status quo. The future will see our industry evolve from simply collecting data and generating outputs from research studies, or in the bravest scenarios, going so far as to suggest actionable recommendations, to being confident enough to apply customer insight to deliver real world outcomes and business growth.
Since taking on leadership of PRS IN VIVO, I have been massively impressed by all our global team members; they are the assets who have collectively enabled our business to take a proactive stance and live up to a commitment to deliver real world outcomes for our clients. We’ve shown this commitment in our willingness to leverage technology within our suite of product and shopper solutions to both enhance accuracy and better align with client decision-making cycles. As important, we have integrated our behavioral framework into all our consultancy engagements.
So as enthusiastic as I am about the future of the insights industry in general, at a time a new status quo is being built, I’m certain PRS IN VIVO is today, and will be in the future, increasingly well positioned to contribute to the growth agenda of each of our clients.
LM: What have you heard from clients about their priorities in 2019?
AH: My belief in our new strategic direction at PRS IN VIVO specifically is a direct result of listening hard in many discussions with our clients, particularly those clients who already hold or are bold enough to embrace true responsibility for driving their company’s bottom line. In a future where technology will continue to democratize data access, and the economic and competitive pressures afflicting client organizations will only intensify, increasingly I hear from insight buyers that they must prioritize application of customer feedback to drive true business growth. In turn they will prioritize relationships with partners they trust to deliver real world outcomes not just research outputs.
The challenge for insight providers is that the classic market research practitioner hasn’t always manifested a growth mindset, traditionally viewing research as a mechanism to place constraints on the new product development process or marketing execution, or a stage-gate to clear when bringing new products to market.
This has muted the impact of insight providers in a way not seen in adjacent consulting, design and advertising sectors. As data becomes commoditized, and the capability to apply data-backed insight to drive real world outcomes gains currency, the insight agency of the future must be prepared to demonstrate a contribution to its client’s growth agenda. Those research agencies capable of being bold and confident in doing so will earn assignments against a wider competitive set. It’s one reason why being part of the BVA network is a vital advantage for PRS IN VIVO, as our sister companies provide us with access to an array of additional and complimentary business outcome consulting talents.
LM: Well this is what is shaping your strategy at PRS IN VIVO. When you first joined you told us three reasons you were energized by the opportunity ahead at PRS IN VIVO. It is six months in now, three months into your tenure as CEO. Has your level of enthusiasm changed?
AH: Yes, massively as I’m more energized than ever! The new vision we have developed and operationalized at PRS IN VIVO over the past six months enables us to focus our collective energies around several strategic imperatives across the company globally – making use of all talents within our team in a way that best serves our clients’ needs.
PRS IN VIVO has always been known for the rigor and depth of our research methodologies in packaging. What the outside world has not necessarily always seen is the aspect of our DNA that has created some extraordinary innovation, dating back to the introduction of eye-tracking literally 40 years ago. Our current innovation pipeline is robust, and it touches all facets of shopper and product marketing. Our behavioral framework is validated and proven. Our ability to provide state-of-the-art in-context observation in our shopper labs is unparalleled. We have biometric tools and approaches for the measuring shopper and product experience and to assist in NPD. We are leveraging the world’s most comprehensive database of tested packaging and shelf designs by applying AI and machine learning to create predictive algorithms for what makes packaging successful. We have invested in developing e-commerce shopper research capabilities. Our product foundation is potent and credible.
What we have done in the past six months is to rededicate ourselves to marrying a genuinely superior behavioral science led consultancy on shopper and consumer experience, with the speed and efficiency that today’s business environment demands. We are now bringing this all to market globally with an eye on how retail is digitizing and knowing that clients’ brands are under unprecedented pressure to succeed.
Personally, I find our mission incredibly energizing. We will transform PRS IN VIVO’s reputation from being that of a full-service market research agency with emphasis on physical packaging, to the recognition that we are the leading Shopper & Product Experience consultancy – applying behavioral science to deliver business growth across all physical and digital channels.
LM: Wow! It’s is an audacious plan. Is it doable?
AH: Unequivocally, yes! This is a totally realistic goal for PRS IN VIVO. Is it ambitious? Definitely, and it should be.
One thing I consistently ask of our teams is that we empathize with the increasing complexity of the challenges faced by our clients. If our clients have ambitious challenges to solve, both at a functional level and within their brands and businesses, it follows that to continue to serve as valuable partner we at PRS IN VIVO must have an ambitious plan to improve our own offerings.
Part of the challenge for PRS IN VIVO is also identity and communication. When you are known as the market leader, in a specific category such as packaging, and you have spent decades delivering research in an environment in which speed wasn’t as critical an element in business decision-making, you don’t necessarily enjoy the reputation for agility and innovation that you might actually deserve.
So, we at PRS IN VIVO must better communicate with those clients who trust us for our ability to deliver extensive in-context studies, as well as inspire new clients that they too can have access to world class research that might once have been out of their budgetary reach. Our deep domain expertise in shopper and consumer experience has enabled us to create inventive ways to reimagine qualitative research tools and automate quantitative data collection. These transformations deliver greater value, at the same time as enhancing our widely recognized best in class reputation.
While I might be energized by our strategy, it’s also been immensely rewarding that initial client feedback on our refreshed offering has been overwhelmingly positive. Over the next several months we will be revealing more of the new tools in our innovation pipeline that will exemplify the power of marrying our behavioral consultancy expertise and new technologies. What will clients get? Business outcomes quickly and cost effectively, that they can most importantly fully trust, because all our solutions and our consultancy is grounded in a behavioral understanding of how consumers make the choices they do.
LM: So, when you are speaking to the PRS IN VIVO teams about this new vision, what are the reasons you are giving them to be optimistic in 2019?
AH: HA! Well I just got back from a whirlwind tour talking to virtually every employee in the global PRS IN VIVO community. There is tremendous amount of energy, behavioral science expertise and commitment to embrace changes underway internally to operationalize our ambitious plan. On any journey we all have opportunity to grow personally and professionally. But more than that, if we are successful at helping our clients build improved product and shopping experiences for consumers, we’re also making a small contribution to people’s lives and the wider world – something that should be important to all of us and is aligned with the timeless values of our agency’s founders.
As a team we also look forward to sharing tangible proof that clients are seeing and believing in our progress. Dare I say it?! We hope that this will be the year that PRS IN VIVO scores well on the GRIT most innovative ranking, because THAT will be a solid data point that we are the trusted advisors who blend technology and behavioral consulting to help change outcomes for the clients we serve.
LM: From your lips to God’s ears my friend! Thanks for sharing your time and thoughts with us; we’ll revisit these topics in the future to check in on how things have progressed.