Episode 60

Drinking the honey: Customer centricity as a superpower

Ivan Arrington, Insights Lead at Burt's Bees, discusses how living the brand’s values keep them truly customer centric, what research suppliers need to do to to move from vendor to partner, the benefits of jumping on new software tools and reveals why researchers should think like journalists.


Ryan Barry: Hi, everybody. And welcome to this episode of Inside Insights, a podcast powered by Zappi. My name is Ryan, but you already knew that and I'm also joined by two people who you also already know are here, Patricia Montestioca and Kelsey Sullivan. Hello and good day, ladies.

For those of you watching on YouTube, you will notice a beautiful background in Columbia where Patricia is, and there's Canadian geese already migrating down to, Columbia. So, uh, they got the memo. It's cold up here in the North. Fire pit is on. Um, and it's a good time of year. 

Ryan: How you two doing today? 

Patricia Montesdoeca: Beautiful. It's beautiful. I'm good. Kelsey's not sick anymore. Yay, Kelsey! 

Ryan: That's right. Whoop, whoop. So, uh, Katie Sweet, who also helps us with the podcast, said to me that this episode is the least she's heard me speak in seven seasons. And I wasn't sure if that meant that she thinks I talk a lot or not.

Just kidding, Katie. Um, the reason I didn't speak a lot on this episode is... I was really enjoying this conversation. Um, and I felt like Ivan had a lot more to share than I could. And so I wanted to just like, let him go. He was awesome. So today's conversation is with Ivan Arrington. Um, he's a very experienced insights professional.

He leads insights for Burt's Bees, which, um, is a wonderful brand. He's going to tell you all about it. It was acquired by Clorox not too, too long ago, a couple of years ago. Um, but also it's such a customer centric, business, uh, that he's in. And, uh, and the reason why I wanted to speak to him is in my opinion, Ivan is the quintessential prototype for what an insights professional of tomorrow needs to be.

In terms of how he shows up, the way he uses technology to do his job, the way he's not just using technology, but also referencing a lot of different data points. Um, he's also an extremely humble, hardworking, and kind man. So enough of me, let's get into Ivan, because y'all are in for a treat today.

[Music transition to interview] 


Ryan Barry: All right, everybody. Very excited to get into today's conversation with my guest, insights lead at Burt's Bees, Ivan Arrington. Ivan, how are you? 

Ivan Arrington: I'm great, Ryan. Thanks for having me. 

Ryan: It's a, it's a pleasure. It really is. I'm so excited for our conversation. I want to talk to more people like you who are in the work, who are actually transforming how brands get insights.

Before we talk about you and your journey, I want to talk a little bit about Burt's Bees. Obviously, Burt's Bees has gotten acquired many years ago by Clorox. But Burt's Bees, I think, is one of the most famously customer centric companies I know.

Um, you know, dating back to the founders going to, um, Fares and, and, um, and flea markets and everything else. And so talk to me a little bit about that. Obviously in your previous experience at IRI, you saw a lot of businesses, but I guess like what attracted you to Burt's Bees and how has the company, despite being owned by a very large organization remains so customer centric and love to just unpack that a little bit with you.

Ivan: Sure. So, uh, we have a thing at Burt's Bees called drink the honey. And, uh, it's like, it's what new, new higher orientation is called. Uh, and new higher orientation happens everywhere you go, right? There's some kind of training that brings you into like the quote unquote work culture. But like, it's different at Burt's. It really is. 

And even within the Clorox culture, there's a subculture. And so part of that is because we're in Durham, North Carolina and Clorox is headquartered in Oakland, California. And so the distance itself creates an opportunity for like a second culture to live within that. Um, but a big part of it is that it's still reflective of like, uh, a founder startup type of environment.

And so, what we have is we're still tied directly to the story that created the brand, and it's a key part of everybody's life, essentially. So, like, small things. Um, we do extensive recycling and we're, um, zero waste of landfill in the office and in the plant.

And so like when you come in, they tell you this thing, like in your first week, they're like, Hey, you're going to be confused about what to do with your trash. It is okay because there is a, uh. like a series of five trash cans. There's multiple within the building and like you have to figure out like, is this plastic? Is it a thing that gets recycled? Is it go, is it incinerated? What am I supposed to do?

And so every quarter they're like, Are you living what you say is the sort of core tenants of the brand. And then we get like rated, so it makes you be mindful of what you're doing as part of just like your overall presence in the world.

And, and this is everything we do. Like, you know, just like every other corporation, we have catered lunch, right? So like when you have lunch brought in for a meeting in Durham, now they have a, an entire infrastructure where the boxes are brought in and they're brought in and reusable container. So we are always, um, getting lunch from the restaurants that take the better care of their utensils and their trash and their plates 

So before I worked at Burt's Bees I worked at Butterball, which is like a radically different culture, right? It's big ag, it's mostly male dominated. It's been around for a hundred years. Um, it's not in a sense of founder culture. And so my very first meeting when I changed companies , I was sitting in this table, we call ourselves a studio. There's like a different nomenclature at Clorox. So like we're the Burt's Bees studio. So I'm in the studio meeting and I look around and I realize that it's 90 percent women. This is like a flip almost exactly of the culture I had come from.

And I was like, Ooh, this is a remarkable difference. Right? I mean, this is not something that just happens by accident. We have a female GM, we had a female marketing lead. The people who run our teams are women, not granted. We're in personal care and you could stereotype that, of course, that's going to attract different people than like big ag would, but it is a very different way of thinking about things.

I mean, like you notice the most of the really big CPG companies now have women leaders, Clorox included. Right. And it was just such a breath of fresh air. It was just so radically different than everything that I had been used to my entire career, that it really made an impact on me.

So we're female founded, right? That's also part of the deal. Like people think about Bert as Bert's bees, but really it's Roxanne who was his partner, who is the founder of the business. And she's sort of this unspoken. We, we know about her internally. Her story is not as well known outside the business. And she's gone on to do sort of amazing things with the money that Burt's has created as far as like being a caretaker for the environment.

So it's all wrapped up in that, right? I mean, it's just, it's, there are things that you see when you see the brand and if you pick it up and you read the marketing puffery on the back . And you know, everything we source is responsibly sourced and we try to make our packaging as recyclable or as biodegradable as possible and there's no animal testing. 

So like we box check right in that way, but it's more than that. It's not just like we did some research and these are the things that will motivate people it's because we think they're right. So we have a natural standard for our products. It's a standard that we care deeply about. Research would tell you often that people will sometimes pay for it, sometimes not pay for it, but you do it because it's the right thing. 

And so when they talk about, um, building for your super user, right? Our super user is someone who cares deeply about those things, and if we make it for them, then everyone else gets the benefits of those things. So that's embedded into the culture, and I think all of these things are synergistic, in creating the culture that we have at Burt's that it just makes it a completely different place to work.

Ryan: It's just fascinating to me, like, it's one thing to have a founder instill values. But as the business gets bigger, the network gets more complex. As the business gets acquired, the parent company's culture pervades. Now, Clorox, also a great company, very customer centric business. I mean, it's one of the only CPG businesses I know that has a consumer center in its home state in California, which I've had the pleasure of being at.

But it's just, it's fascinating to me that the values are still so entrenched today. And so what do you think that is? Like, cause, cause obviously Roxanne doesn't work there any longer. Because I can feel the values as I'm talking to you, like, and by the way, folks, the reason I wanted to talk to Ivan about this is being a business that is values led, and one of the values being what matters to our customer matters to us is table stakes if you want to be a customer centric business, and a lot of you are working in businesses that say we're consumer intimate, but it's a bunch of fluffery, and I think this is an important example of how to look for companies, and that's why I wanted Ivan to start here. 

But yeah, Ivan, like, why do you think you've been able to maintain that, that passion and those values, I mean it's really palpable.

Ivan: Probably any book that you read about culture building, right, talks about the business itself needs to be able to attract people who are already interested in maintaining that culture, right? And I think Burt's very much is, like, when you look at people that we're, that are interested in coming to work for us This is always at the forefront of their mind.

Um, again, it's, it might be cliche to talk about, Hey, I came here because I've read it, had a wonderful culture, but at the same time. That's a real thing. And you can feel it from the candidates that you're interviewing and, and you can see it in the things they do outside of work, right? And so you can look at their accomplishments and say, this is something that you care deeply about in all facets of your life.

So I think attracting the right talent is part of it. Um, I also think that once you're in the business, then. It's pretty easy to figure out if it's a place for you or not, right? I mean, like, 

Ryan: Yeah, good point. 

Ivan: The challenges that are created by internally because of like, here's what it takes to be successful.

You need to follow these set of rules. No shortcutting, right? That's kind of like you have that conversation. And so if you came in and you're like, Hey, if we could just change these two rules, this would be a lot easier. And like from the top down, everybody says yes, but then we're no longer different and it doesn't line up with what we believe.

Those people will opt out, right? They'll, they'll deselect at that point. Um, normally we don't get that far though, right? Because if in order you don't have like the, that realization after you've been hired in a critical meeting, you've already sort of worked through that. And we try to ask you those questions when you come in to see if you're part of the team.

But it's pretty easy to understand at some point like, wow, okay, these people really care. And I'm willing to do the extra thing to do this right or I'm just going to go somewhere else that doesn't have what they would probably perceive as limitations versus like what we could see as the places that make it a special place to work.

Ryan: Yeah, that's right. I mean, these are, these are principles. These are brand promises. And I think that what you say resonates, right? Like the fact that from the leadership down to this day, those values are held firm. Isn't black box thinking, which I know I've talked a lot about on this show. It's actually, this is who we are and it's a, it's a brand with a backbone.

And so I say this a lot, like it's, it's incumbent upon the leader to hold the space for values, for promises. But also everybody in the business has to hold to him. You can't expect the boss to hold it tight. So the fact that all of you through the business are like, We're here because we believe this. Is, is um, it's refreshing actually.

Um, and I can draw a lot of parallels to what I'm also trying to do within my, within, within our business here at Zappi. So that, it's. It's really great. 

So let's talk a little bit about the customer centric side of the business. We talked about the values it's, I think it's well documented that Roxanne and Burt themselves were testing products at fairs when the company was not in stores and didn't have as many skews as y'all have now.

And so how does the customer get represented in the business? Cause they have a seat and they're there and it's part of everything. But like, talk to me a little bit about how that actually works inside the business. 

Ivan: Yeah, absolutely. So anything beauty and personal care, especially these days, right?There is a product for every person for every need and every moment, right? I don't know that you can find this concept of mass customization, right? Is really taken to its nth degree in personal care. And so we are lucky enough. To have the resources to, to go find out like, what are all the needs now? We can't, I'll be honest, we can't satisfy all the needs.

That's like a big challenge, especially in a natural world is you have to figure out where you can win your battles. You got to kind of pick those places. Um, but there is a sense of. Ownership, there's a lot of give and take with this particular customer, right? Because there, especially when you find someone who feels the stuff so deeply, you know, it's almost a sense of betrayal.

If you move away from your core tenants, like I, you, I, I bought this when we do brand equity work for personal care and with our brand specifically, some of the key things that you see are the typical, like, is a brand for people like me, but also is a brand I want to tell other people I use becomes really important.

And so. Um, so luckily for us, we don't have to go try to be the thing, right, that, that they want to use as a badge or a proxy. We already are. That's why they selected us. So, so when we talk about being consumer centric, there's some aspect of like, we need to live up to the things that people expect us to.

So when they pull the product out, that connection with whomever else sees them using it exists. From like just a product performance standpoint, though. There's a lot of fun stuff that goes on from a research standpoint. So everybody knows that we make lip balm. That's like the thing that, that we're known for.

And in the lip balm world, you're always looking for like, what's next? Is it a new form? Is it a new, uh, fragrance? Is it a new flavor? 

And so, you know, when they started this project, Roxanne's story is really just amazing. So she's first, she's, uh, making candles, because they have all this, she and Bert have all this beeswax from all the honey that he's selling. And, uh, a regional retailer in New York finds them and it's like, wow, I can sell the heck out of these things in New York. So he buys everything from that particular fair, sells them in his store. People love them. 

So overnight she goes to being like a huge success. And so then she had to make the critical decision of selling off the candle business and deciding to make personal care products, because again, they'd been making them, people love them.

And she had a partnership at the time, um, with the woman who had found at The Body Shop, so she's got a partner in crime, basically, whose name was Anita Roddick, so she and Anita basically are working together in the same industry, both driven to do purposeful things.

And, um, and research at that time, I think was just like, Hey, we're making this stuff, can we make more of it? Can we like, people love it. We talk about how it's, it's, um, the, the recipes for all of this stuff, right. Are the things that you would find like in a farmer's almanac, right? Like, how do we make it the old way, the way that it was done before? But make sure that everybody can  have access to it. 

So the consumer centric piece has really changed from, like you said, Hey, I've got friends and family who are trying this to now, you know, we have the benefit of scale and the ability to ask people and whether it's through, from, from a research standpoint, whether it's the panels we have, like you mentioned that we have the, something in, in Pleasanton, California called the consumer learning center, we call it the CLC and it is just a tremendous asset, frankly, from like a market point of view. 

And so we could do all our own first party work. We have our panels out there where we have people coming in. We can screen for, you know, everything that we need to know about a particular person, and then they can help us identify what's next.

Is it, you know, we got all kinds of research on fragrances that are next. We have an expert in the building who her entire job is understanding how fragrance works. How does that drive mood? What are the next fragrances? 

But like when you think about if you're trying to get into research and you're like, I wonder how that works. 

It's sort of all of the stuff behind the scenes that drives.Something silly. Like, are we going to make a caramel lip balm for Halloween? Right. Are we going to make dragon fruit lemon? Like where does dragon fruit lemon come from? 

Dragon fruit lemon is the thing that happens because yeah, we've got the big research over here that says it's trending, but you also have a small group of really passionate people who are like, Hey, we should still make this.

So there is that still that personal connection that is like, we're doing it at the bench.Part of being a natural company too, is that our, like our lab is in our headquarters. And so it's not off in some fragrance firm in New Jersey. It's literally a building. And so when you go in, everybody can have a try.

It's like, what do you think about this? Should we try this? What should we do about this? And since you've hired your customers on some level and everybody lives by the same ethos, it all starts in that place where is this good enough and if it's good enough for us, okay, let's see how it flies with everybody else.

Ryan: Yeah, it's like the founder market fit dynamic that a lot of businesses have. And by the way, folks, it's like an amazing thing Ivan of like, Hey, we're purpose driven. We're building products that we believe in. And there's a tension inherent in that, which is okay, this is we're building for our best customer.

And by the way, this is very similar to my life. We just happen to sell survey software and analytics software. Um, but then, like, does it work for everybody? Or is everybody willing to be on this journey? And the discipline required to say that's okay, we stand for what we stand for, um, and having the sort of space to do that is really cool.

And I think, obviously, it helps being bought by a parent business that is innately customer centric, right? Like, it's Um, you know, I've gotten to know the Clorox company over the years. It's certainly, uh, much more customer centric than a lot of other big CPG businesses, by a lot. Um, and so, so let's talk a little bit about you then.

Before you worked at Butterball, you worked at IRI for a while. And obviously, IRI is now called Cercana. Yeah. Shout out to Circona, uh, we have a partnership with them. Um, but you, you, you started there, you're working with a lot of different brands.

And, and one of the things that I always find fascinating is Corporate Insights people who worked on the vendor side tend to operate a little differently than corporate insights people who didn't and there's some, there's some truths to that. Um, whether that's being more hands on, whether that's juggling more balls, whatever, and nothing but love for all you who didn't, but there is a difference. 

Guess just like reflect for a minute, like what are some of the things that you learned when you were at IRM that you took with you? Into your corporate career, but perhaps what are some of the things that you had to stop doing? Um, and and I always ask people that question because like in my job I have to learn new muscles all the time and then forget behaviors all the time and so it's like this constant juggling act and so I love to I love to talk to other other folks on how they navigate that change 

Ivan: So, right.It does feel like a million years ago. Um, I started, so I was my first job out of undergrad. Um, shout out to Mike. It's my first two bosses. And so those guys were critical, frankly, to who I became. I remember I had to write my first customer report, maybe like a week in and I turned it into Hank. And he came to find me and he was just like, Okay, Ivan, this is great. Here's the deal. I didn't ask for a term paper.

And so I, you know, I thought I crafted this elegant memo and it was like, this is not, what our customers are looking for. You need to fix this. And, uh, so he was a mixture of tough love and love, love.

Ryan: Um, really what you need young in your career, right? You need that friendship. Yeah, 

Ivan: I think so. Part of, uh, I was fortunate enough, right? To start at a time where, like we got real training, right? I mean, like I RI at the time was sending us to Chicago for what they called boot camp. And they put us through a process of like, this is how you do the work.

These are the questions you ask. And then the training didn't just end there, right? I mean, I moved through sales. I was in account management and every step of the way there was some type of like mentorship, um, or training or a combination of both to help me be a better critical thinker, um, to help me be more empathetic.

To be more anticipatory and, and patient, frankly. And then, so those are all the good lessons, right? I, I remember right after I became the first time I was an account lead, I'd moved and I met this guy who was the VP of marketing for one of my customers. And I shook his hand and he was probably my age that I am now.

And I was half my age. 

Ryan: Ivan's 30, by the way, everybody. He just turned 30 yesterday. 

Ivan: Not quite. A little older than that. And he looked at me and he was like, Great, what's your name? And I said, I'm Arrington. And he was like, What have you ever done in your career? And I was like, Wow! Okay, so this is where we're going.

This is the place we're starting from. And I mean, that was just kind of the way it was. So like, so when you're like, Hey, how did you learn to forget stuff? So I don't ever forget that moment. Right. That I'm never going to have that moment with anybody. Um, I don't care who the person is that I work with, whether they're brand new, if it's one of your folks and they're a new hire and we're doing an account transition, like I will never.

Ever tell anybody that, right? Cause I mean, they showed up. There's a reason why you put them in that spot. Do I expect them to know everything that I know? Absolutely not. Right. So like when you talk about the things that you do remember, there is that sense of you can't forget, what you didn't know and who helped you along the way.

And so your job now on the other side, from a client perspective, there's two big lessons, honestly, that I take with me. 

The first is that when everybody. I want to be your insights partner. We need to have a partnership. I try to be cognizant of that's the, I have a new toy and I need to sell it to you because I have a book of business that I have to support.

And, and I'm like, okay, you know what? I'm I listen, right? Because I understand that for you to be successful, you have to have this conversation and frankly, some of the times. Right. I find those and I'm like, Oh my God, I didn't know about that. If I just shut this conversation down every time, then I'm not doing my job either.

And I had, I had a customer actually that, that taught me that lesson. Frankly, he had a filing cabinet. He had a brochure for all of our services and he would pull out when we would be talking, he'd be like, Oh, I know what that is. I have this brochure. I read through this. 

And he was an incredibly knowledgeable, like, customer. He knew everything that we offered. And, and made me a better salesperson and a better account director because of it. But he also gave me the room to breathe as a person to say, like, what do you think about that? Um, versus just, you know, me coming in and doing the pitch.

There were times when I would have, uh, you know, uh, one of the companies that would be, that I was representing come to me, and they would be in, like, a full blown panic, right? They'd just be like, I don't know. I got asked this question this morning. And I have to have an answer tomorrow.

And I don't know what to do. And so, I need you to find an answer for me. And so, you're like, okay, well, we do this one thing really, really well. And it sounds like what you need is, you need information from lots of different places in order to be able to answer that. So, how do I become as knowledgeable as you as quickly as possible?

Sometimes it's possible and sometimes it's not, but when it is possible it's because They've done a good job of educating me on what's really going on. And so, and when people say partnership, it truly is like, okay, look, you want to be in the boat with me. Here is everything that I can share with you that is non proprietary.

And I'm not going to, like, box you out. You're going to see everything that we've signed a non disclosure agreement. That really truly means that you can be an expert in my business. And so, so now I hold the vendor to a higher standard. And ultimately, I think that's kind of the, that's the, that's when you go from the vendor to the partner, right? The cliche again. 

I don't expect the people who come to me and truly say like, look, I want to be your partner. I'm like, great. Here's everything that I know. Find out what I don't know in this and come back to me. I don't know the questions. I know, I know the questions I'm working on every day and I have a plan to solve them, right?

They call that learning plan at Clorox, but what have I not discovered that is like super meaningful within this binder of whatever that is going to be the thing that is going to change everything. It's just that I haven't seen it or I, I, you know, whatever. I was blind to it. I had some preconceived notions about how the thing worked or how people work.

And if you have a special gift that's going to allow me to find that, I want you to do that. 

So some of that is the unlearning, right? Like when you cross over, there's a certain level of confidence that you have when you're a partner, right? It's like, I can answer every one of those questions.

And you still have to say, I don't know, right? Again. But at the same time, your job is to keep looking, keep looking, keep looking, keep looking. And so when you work on the other side of the desk, you truly have to realize everyone is on the same team and you have to give them the freedom to go find the answers for you.

And then you go back to the good lessons, right? It's like, you want to share the credit for that through your organization, right? Because when you're a partner you know how much work you did there and you know who your good partners are who say, Hey, I wouldn't have known this had we not worked on this project together.

And then the other people who are. Who'd never mention it, right? And sometimes that credit is all your partner's looking for. They, they don't need a bigger contract and they don't, they just need to be acknowledged that, like, we do good work over here and we're being a helpful business partner.

So now we have trust and that mutual trust is what I constantly try to foster in my relationships on this side of the desk. And that is just, it's just an immense, um, advantage, right? Because I also know that we're looking out for each other. And so I want to have that sort of personal relationship with all of my key partners.

I think because when I was on that side, those were the ones that I always found the most valuable. And that's kind of corny, but, you know, it really was what made this work and the work that I do now enjoyable and valuable and more than just a, like a P and L sense.

So I was not supposed to be a market researcher.

This was not my, my goal in life. Um, I went to school to be a journalist and halfway along the way, it became obvious that that was not the path I needed to go down. So I pivoted and research is essentially journalism for business. Like. If you back up far enough, it's the same thing right where we're amassing a series of facts.

You need to tell it in a inverted pyramid, which is like how journalism works, right? All the important stuff at the front, all the details at the bottom. Um, you have to ask hard questions. Occasionally you have to ask questions and make people uncomfortable. Um, but ultimately the value of your work is only as good as the impact.

And so right as a journalist, I think many people, especially teenagers like me who want to do that. Your objective is to change the world, right? You want to right the wrongs. You want to bring stuff to the light. Like, your whole goal is to leave the place a better place where you started. And so I can't say the capitalism is exactly the same.

But at the same time, working in business, your objective is to like, make it more meaningful, make it more profitable, make it more efficient, right? Make people's lives better because of what you do, make it more enjoyable. And so there is still some of that earnestness that journalism has that is in market research.

And that's another thing that like, as you change sides of the desk, you go from a place where As a market research insights person and a vendor partner, you're like hoping that it gets used. You're like, Hey, here's this thing we know when you're on the other side, you actually have the power to make a difference, right?

Like you have the ability to change. And so at Butterball, I became a real marketer. That's, I left insights, ran the department, but became the director of innovation there. And so that was like, when that's the true crossing of the line, frankly. Right. It's really like, now they're asking you all, but like, what are we going to do?

Right. And you, and so, so that position, then when I went back into insights, when I joined Burt's having had that experience, that was more transformative. I think about what kind of insights person I want to be on the client side, than having been an insights person from like a partner perspective, because now I had, I'd been a true customer and it makes me a better researcher now, because now I can say, okay.

This is when the hard call is going to get made, and I need to be able to, in that moment, have the piece of information that person needs, so they feel comfortable making that decision. 

Having felt that stress, personally, right, I think gives you a different level of empathy than you do when you're just like, Oh my god, I'm glad I don't have to be the one that makes that decision, which might be like the overriding emotion you're having.

Ryan: Right. Wow this is, this is gold, man. I mean, so I'm going to say a couple of things and I want to just get back to talking to Ivan because who the hell wants to listen to me talk? I want to say one thing first. I've been, uh, my company's been doing business with Ivan for a long time.

100 percent of the people that work with him would run through brick walls to help him be more successful. And I mean that factually. 

100 percent of the people at Zappi that have worked with you, love you, and now I, now I know why. Because what you learned on the vendor side was if I treat people with respect, if I bring them under my tent, they will A, be more intrinsically motivated, particularly if I just take a second to say thank you, and B, be able to connect more dots.

And then the context and empathy you picked up of having to be the one who said, okay, now we're going right, helps you elevate the way you are as an insights person. So you're in an environment that is values and customer led, you're badass, dude. And so now I have another question, because I oftentimes talk about people, process, and technology being the things that will or won't enable insights transformation.

You were using software to do your job before it was cool. And the reason I say before it was cool is now there's toys and technology everywhere. 

And I remember vividly. You adopting Zappi in like 2017, 2016 and no corporate insights person without being kicked and screamed at that in that moment was using software, but it strikes me in one of the tensions Ivan that I think a lot of folks have that are not yet digital in the way they gather information is, well, if I do that, then I can't be strategic and I know without asking you that that has done nothing but enable you to be more strategic.

But talk to us a little bit about that. Like, how are you able to connect all the context, be a good partner internally and externally, and still use some DIY tools, some external tools, and like, how do you bring that all together? Because I know, like, I mean, I was with the the insights lead of all the Clorox this week, and she could have gone on for another 30 minutes about how great Ivan is, and it's so clear why, but like, how do you navigate that?

Because I think a lot of your peers are sitting there wondering, well, if I do that, then I can't be a strategic business partner. And I think you're, you're dispelling that myth. So I guess educate us for a few minutes. 

Ivan: Sure. All right. Well, let's acknowledge first and foremost, there are a lot of really, really smart folks on the phone right now.

So, this is not going to be, maybe not revolutionary. Um, a little of this is back to like, where did I even come from? So I'm working for IRI. Like that's how long ago this was. IRI is ultimately a tech company, right? That's where they want to be. And you've got your hands on everything that's coming in.

Everything's been revolutionized by the fact that there's scanner data and so forth. I read this book when I was an undergrad called The Naked Consumer by Erik Larson. And, like, it just rev so this is super old, right? And this that'll give you a sense of, like, my time. And my, uh, Marketing 101 professor gave it to us, right?

And so, I was just like, oh my god. And it was all about how there's all this data out there about people, and it's gonna revolutionize how we think about marketing. And it was also sort of an alarmist, but frankly, right. Cause that's what was like, Oh, that's big brother. And I read lots of science fiction. So I understood kind of where that was coming from.

Um, and, and it's sort of like single most important thing, marketing thing that had happened to me at that point is like, you know, a teenager. Is the day I turned 18, a Gillette sensor razor showed up in my mailbox and it said happy birthday, Ivan. Now you can shave like a real man or something of that effect, right?

Now, I grew up in Idaho, tiny little town called Twin Falls. How in the hell does Gillette know who I am and get a razor to my mailbox on my birthday? I like, literally remember going out because I was like, I wonder if I got any cards today. Because like, I'm old enough where you got cards, right?

And I open the mailbox and there's this black box and I'm just like, This is fascinating. Like I, I, you know, I use a razor for like 20 years. So well done. Great ROI. And, um, so I go to school and then we get this Eric Larson book, which I'm just like, ah, this is how this happened, and then I'm fortunate enough to go work for a company whose entire purpose and reason essentially is to analyze information, to be able to tell stories and make these connections.

So I've been there three years or whatever. And, uh, everybody normally leaves. They go to the client side at that point. That's sort of like, like, are you going to be an IRI lifer? Or are you going to go work for Nobita? Right? Or Pepsi or whatever. And, um, and I didn't do either. Um, I did leave. I was a boomerang.

I ended up going back because everybody boomerangs back to IRI. Because again, great culture, great learning. But I went to go work for uh, a web agency. It was Web 1. 0. And so I like deep dived into the internet, right? Into like How does the internet work, right? What are we using this for? It's revolutionizing communication and it's revolutionizing commerce.

What does that mean? And so suddenly, I met all of these people. Who also had a moment in their life where they're like, I've been doing it the old way and I want to do it the new way. So they weren't the homegrown talent as running the show now, but they were the pivoting talent. So like I met these human factors engineers who had come from Detroit, they've been working for the auto industry and they were trying to build the perfect websites and how do people use them and what's the data.

We built a lab with people who could like serve, like all this stuff again, taken for granted back then, revolutionary, right? I was in Atlanta, all these people from Coke came over, just some of the smartest people you've ever met. And I'm you know, early twenties, Ivan, and I'm just sort of sucking it all in.

Like, what does this do? And every bit of this is data driven. So like when I go back to IRI, now I've come from a world where I've got all this secondary training about how there's a whole different world of data out there that, that people are using to make decisions. And if only we could just get it faster and then in the right people's hands.

It's like my whole mission in life at that point was like, we're not going fast enough. And so when I left, so IRI automates, they build a bunch of great software. It starts getting better. Then when I leave and go to Butterball. Now, again, we're back to like, okay, I'm in charge. Like it's my money. How are we going to do this?

And this is the first time where I get to personally say like, we're going to move to DIY tools. And I, so I experienced it firsthand. Like, what does it look like using them? And it's, you know, it's early days, right? It's like. 2014. Uh, 

Ryan: It's like confirming Qualtrics kind of tools only, right? 

Ivan: Exactly. And they, but we start doing, um, agile concepting work for innovation, right?

Cause it's like, I have a small budget, small budgets are real drivers of innovation, right? Cause we've got to make a lot of bets in a lot of places. And they, we started thinking differently about how are we going to use this information? How do I get the best ROI? My time at IRI was super instructive in that because I worked mostly on mid sized businesses who had to compete with people with huge budgets. 

And so you couldn't be afraid to try the next great thing and get in it early when everybody else wants to be your partner. Because it's like you, it's like the first years of your business, right? You're like, Hey, we will work, we'll work with anybody who is willing to try this because we need to succeed and they need to succeed.

I was fortunate at the time, um, Mariah Eckhart, who's our GM, she came to me like on my first day and she said, I have, and I have a challenge for you. She said, um, every piece of innovation we do says that we're going to hit a home run, every one of them. So we, we move forward with that level of confidence and we do not have a hundred percent hit rate.

We need to figure out why and how to solve that. And so. The only way to do that is with new tools that are available and they enable a completely different way of thinking. And so we're much better now, right? Frankly, this is like, this is where I was like, Zappi is our partner who enables us to test our own stuff, have more confidence and make better decisions.

And we can't do that with the, I mean, frankly, with the people that were hiring me when I was little. Like they're, they're playing catch up to you guys now. And so we want to be on the cutting edge. That's still something that is critical to us, right? My, my boss, when I was at Butterball, we used to talk about having a multi year head start.

And it was like, if we learn something this year that our competitors decided not to try, then when they decide to try it next year, because we work in annual cycles instead of like a D to C business, we're now a year ahead. Well, if they, if they are still afraid in year two, we're now two years ahead and two years ahead.

It's not just a doubling. It's exponential. Right. And so what ends up happening is that. You have to just keep pushing, and soon that lead becomes almost insurmountable, right? Because there's no way to play catch up anymore. Because you wasted your time, worried about whether or not it was going to work for you.

And so you just have to overcome that fear. And recognize that just because you're trying the new thing doesn't mean you're completely leaving all the old stuff behind, right? You can hedge these bets. It's pretty easy, actually. But you have to keep trying, and you've got to transition faster, and you've got to be thinking faster in order to do that.

And you also have to realize that, like, that head start, you can't coast on the head start. You're constantly looking for the next thing. You're constantly talking about, Hey, we've got to, now I've got to train everybody to use these. I've got to make, Everyone has, it can't just be your insights people that have the mindset.

You've got to get your marketers, your salespeople, your R& D people, everyone has to have this mindset. I'm fortunate enough to work for a place where, um, this is whether we have this great culture, right? About the fact that we care deeply about being sustainable and responsible, but there's also just this love and an appreciation for what we do.

So like my R& D partners are constantly coming to me saying like, Hey, I've, have you tried this thing? This looks like this thing will move us faster. And so now we're back to, again, One of those changes you have to make when you flip from one side of the desk to the other, like, you get committed to your tools.

When you're a vendor partner, it's almost like a college rivalry, right? So like, I'm an IRI person, which meant, and I went to the university of North Carolina, I'm a Tar Heel. Nuke is, is, or Nielsen is Duke to me. Right. And it's just like, like we had this, I had to sell against them for a decade and a half, right?

Right. Not anymore. Right now. Now they may have the best tool to do the greatest thing. Like they do work for me. They have incredibly intelligent people over there. And so like, you just have to forget the old rivalries and see who is going to do the best work to make you go faster. And so that's kind of how those two parts come together.

Right. Is, um, and once you have success, that just generates more success, right? Because now everybody wants to know, how did you do the thing? Um, and if you have. If you have equity within the organization because of the success, and you're not a complete jerk, right, people will come to you and, and ask, like, how did you do that?

And then your job, and this is probably the most important part of my job today, is You have to, you can't be the expert in the room anymore. Like that was a critical part when you would be on the vendor partner side. It's like when you would go to a summit and it was you and five other vendor partners in the room and then the marketers and like you're in some level of competition with those other people.

Right. Cause there's only so many funds. You have to decide, like, you need to have the insight that it's going to be world changing in that room, and if somebody else shows up with it and it's not you, that's not a good day for you, which is unfortunate because the whole point is supposed to be we're making the customer more successful.

Well, that's a completely different pivot now on my side, right? I need to be able to say, first and foremost, none of you should feel bad if you showed us this insight was more important because I expect you're going to have a better one next time we meet. It's great. They just happened to have the day today, but you also have to be willing to say, Well, I, I may have a predisposition against this particular company over here, and I just need to put that away for now and understand what they bring to the table.

Um, ultimately though, the answer to your question is like, how do you incorporate all this stuff? It's just about being eager to try what's next, not being afraid of what's next. And recognizing that you do have agency in this, um, decision making power. 

So I had a boss, we, um, we had a little offsite meeting. I will say that I I'd worked at this company for maybe a year and a half. I was feeling a little down. I didn't think that we were making enough changes. A lot of recommendations had been sort of ignored. And, um, and I was just having a really, just a really difficult time with any sort of influence. Like it was just not working.

And so my boss took me aside and she's like, all right, let's just get it out. So I, you know, complaining about this, complaining about, I don't know what to do about this or whatever. She's like, all right, it sounds like you, uh, kind of lost your mojo. We need to find your mojo again. I'm appreciative of this, right?

And she says, she said, I want, I'm going to flip this around on you, Ivan. So what you just told me is that nobody cares. Okay. So what I'm going to tell you back is. In a world where nobody cares, doesn't that mean you have complete freedom to do whatever you want?

Because no one's gonna judge you for it, and maybe when you use that complete freedom to find something new, that's gonna be the thing we care about. frankly, I sat there kind of stunned, right? I was just like, is she serious about this? Like, is she, does she mean this? I think she means this.

And so I went home and I thought about it, you know, it was one of those like moment of clarity that you have at work and I was like, okay, she just gave me the go ahead to think completely differently about this job and sort of like, what you think is the right thing to do should be what you go do now.

And everything was different from like that day forward. And so, you know, When I've had people work for me subsequent to that, or I've been in businesses where I'm counseling, you know, peers or teammates who have a similar concern like this, it always comes back to me, right? It's like, look, if you really don't think that they're paying attention, that means that there's no limitations on trying new stuff.

So go do it. Um, and it worked for me, frankly. I mean, I got promoted. We like, my profile was raised considerably. I suddenly had a lot more influence. People started thinking about me as like a forward thinker who cared about new ways to do things and was interested in what was going on in a different way I was before.

And it really was, I mean, again, it sounds kind of corny, but it made all of the difference. And so, so I try to live in my work life every day after that, in a way where I have the freedom to go out and do what is right and people will trust me to get it done. And when you do that. People trust you and you do the right thing and you get it done. It's sort of self fulfilling in some way. Um, and so that has made my life as a market research person just eminently more satisfying.

Um, you talked about what it's like to be on the, the worker bee front end. We have a lot of people at Clorox who are like me that rose to a position where they had decision making authority or they ran a department and then they took a step back. Part of that is like, sometimes it's because you come to Clorox because we have such a senior organization here, right?

That if you want to join the team, you have to be willing to have some, you know, you gotta be humble, right? Some level of like. Wow, these people have been in this organization for 20 years. They have incredible qualifications. You are going to be working amongst some people who are just really intelligent, great critical thinkers, super empathetic from a consumer standpoint, have all these tools at their fingertips, understand the culture.

And your job is not to fit in per se. It's to find the way that you can be the best you there. 

Ryan: Yeah. 

Ivan: But sometimes that means you just get it. It's going to take a couple of years. And so that's a hard thing to do, right? That's like, you have to kind of decide what you want from a work standpoint, right? Is your job to be at the podium all the time and be in charge?

Or is your desire to be part of an incredible culture where every day you come to work, you know why you're there and you're excited to be there, even if you're not the decision maker. And so ultimately for me, the second path has been far more rewarding than the first path. Um, I had a boss ask me one time, he was like, don't you want to be a big frog in a little pond?

Right. The typical, this thing. Versus like being a little pond and a big frog. And I told him it kind of depended on what the pond was. Right. And so for me, right. I, when I, I went, when I left Butterball, I was a big frog and a little pond. There were only three of us on the insights team. And now there's significantly more than that at Clorox.

Um, but I take great pleasure in the fact where like, there are days where I don't know something and I have like five experts on speed dial. Who are so incredibly excited to share with me what they're doing to solve the problem that I don't know how to solve. And that is just, it's just incredible. That asset is part of what makes this so much more interesting.

I mean, research in itself. As a community activity with other people who also have hard questions to ask you who fill in the gaps in your skill set, who think differently than you do, um, and yet trust you to tell you when they think that you're not doing the right thing is incredibly wonderful. I mean, it's, it is a career that I, like I said, was not the thing that I thought I was meant to go do with my life.

Um, but has been just a wonderful, wonderful one. Um, do I still get the thrill of being the guy in the room who stands up in front of everybody and says, this is what I think we should do. And I'm a hundred percent confident, you bet. Right. I mean, like that's enough that, that you don't get that in a lot of jobs.

Right. Um, but, are there days where I'm just like, Oh man, I wish I could make that decision. Sure. Okay. If, if I said no, I wouldn't be a human being, . This would be just be lying about that. 

But when, when you're working with people and like, you're able to get them to think differently and it's based on fact and truth and more than just belief, right, that's, that's just a wonderful, wonderful thing. 

At Clorox it's a big enough organization where every year I have a new crop of people who come in there, we call them AMMs, like associate marketing managers. So they're straight out of MBA school. And my job. Is to teach them how to ask the hard questions, right? And these folks are all like half my age now. And, um, I love it.

But I also recognize that my impact with those folks is far more profound than if I just was the person again, on the other side of the desk or one of five different vendor partners.

And I was really smart in that moment with an idea that I don't know if that germinates and turns into something else or not. Instead, what I've got is, you know, I've been fortunate enough to work here, uh, for five years. So in the five years we're talking about somewhere between. 20 and 25 people that I've worked with closely who have gone on the leadership positions, both inside and outside of Clorox.

And so I will be part of their DNA and decision making forever. And that is just wonderful. I mean, it's. It's the best part about being this kind of role. I again, love the discovery, love finding the new thing, those moments where pattern recognition clicks with data and you're just like, Oh my God, how did we not do this before?

This is going to be whatever world changing paradigm shifting, like whatever those things are, those, those aha moments are also. They're not legacy leaving like the fact where like you can work with an incredible group of really smart people and know that you contributed to what they're going to do.

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. Wow. Um, Patricia and I are going to have a real fun time recapping this conversation because my man you have dropped some knowledge today. There's just so many wonderful things that that I like that. I just wish we had another two hours to unpack. I mean, there's one thing hidden in what Ivan said of if no one's interested, then you can define it.

How many of you are trying to change behavior and are waiting for marketing to change? Take Ivan's insight here and just go teach them something, inspire them. And then you'll see a different poll. Ivan, I can't thank you enough for sharing the story with us today. Um, at the time of recording, it's Friday afternoon, and I got to tell you, I'm like, I'm fired up right now.

Um, it's, this has just been, uh, just a wonderful conversation, so thank you so much, um, to everybody listening. Um, I hope you got as much value out of this conversation as I, I got by being part of it. Um, but Ivan, thank you so much, and And just keep,  just keep doing what you're doing. I mean, everybody you touch is better off for it.

So thank you for being you, my man. 

Ivan: It's my pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity to chat. 

Ryan: Absolutely. Thank you.

[Music transition to takeaways]


Ryan: That's why I didn't talk much, because I thought Ivan was amazing, quite frankly. 

So, I'm really excited to see what Patricia does with the summary because as the conversation was going, I was A, realizing I was going to be 20 minutes late for my next meeting, which was definitely worth it. And B, there was like 20 minutes. 15 times at least during that conversation where I wanted to double click and go down a tangent with Ivan, but he, he was just had so much to offer that I didn't want to, I didn't want to slow him down. 

So Patricia, other than wishing we had another two hours with Ivan, what did you take away from the conversation?

Patricia: Oh my God. So before we started to hit record, I was talking to Kelsey about number one, we should all be like Ivan. Number two, we should all work with Ivan at Burt's Bees. Right. That's, that's the number one takeaway, but being more serious, there are like large buckets of things. 

And I think that Ivan deserves his own series. Maybe we could have just a season of Ivan?

But the first thing I want to start with is what does consumer centric mean at Burt's Bees? And I love how they call it drinking the honey, because it's like drinking a positive spin on drinking the Kool Aid, which is something that has a negative spin, but they talk, what I really loved about is they bring to life walk the talk.

They are walk the talk. They don't only market and produce products for their best customer. They also hire their best customer and they are their best customer. And so for them, recycling is important. So they live recycling, they are recycling.

And when they interview, it's almost like a college interview. It's not just about what they know. It's about who they are as people. And that's what makes it so real. That's what makes it so true, so authentic, so believable because it's true. They actually hire people who are their end consumers. So it's really easy for them to think about what they're producing.

And they talk about the trash cans and they talk about brand promises from the top down. They talk about, yes, maybe we got bought by Clorox, but, but Bert and Roxanne, they're still first and foremost in everything everybody does. And that's. Really amazing that all this time later, they're able to do that.

They're able to still drink the honey and love it, right? Because that makes everything two things, either 10 times easier because they're focused and they know exactly who's who and what's what. And it makes it 10 times harder because they know exactly who's who and what's what. And they were not willing to compromise at all.

And they talk about hiring the consumer building to their consumer and And if they make their core consumer happy, right. Um, the way Bert and Roxanne wanted them to, then everybody else gets the benefit of it. 

And how the customer gets represented, they talked about two, two attributes that are really important to them is a brand for people like me as something most of us understand, but it's a brand I want to tell other people I use. 

Now in my consulting days, I did a lot of work for for some very high end cosmetic firms. And this was what they wanted. This is exactly what they wanted. They wanted other people to be proud of pulling out their lipstick or their or their compact or their mirror and show that they were using a certain brand.

And Burt's Bees is so unpretentious about it. They're just like, yeah, we'd love it if people wanted to use our brand as a proxy or as a as a badge. So In order for us to do that, we have to live up to it, not just in the packaging, but in everything, what's inside and out. 

So that was the first element that I thought was so amazing and how I completely see how any company, especially one like Burt's Bees would want to always keep Ivan because he's, he's so authentic that way. 

The second bucket that I really enjoyed the conversation was when you asked him about toggling between agency, the agency side and the client side and what he took away and what he stopped because I mean, I've been on both sides. You've been, I think on both sides as well.

And it's, it's, you haven't, you've, you've been once?

Ryan: No, I've only ever worked for a supplier. Um, and I think that will always be the case. I'm not sure I would have to be sold. I would have to be sold that this is as customer centric as this, but I'm also at a stage in my career where like I might be too used to having autonomy to go work for somebody else.

I don't know. We'll see how it goes. 

Patricia: I used to say that and I ended it with Zappi. I thought I ended it and then I was in dependability. So, so it's kind of cool. 

But anyway, so you asked him about that and he was really clear. He said, there are some things that are from that I learned on the client side. Everybody's on the same team. You got to give people room to breathe, right?

Um, you have to care deeply about your own stuff when you're the client so that other people care deeply about your stuff. Um, you have to ask hard questions and occasionally make people uncomfortable and you have to understand that you have the ability to implement change. That's what he learned on the client side.

On the insight side, it's all about your job is like to keep looking. You know how Dory keeps swimming. Let's just swim and swim while he's about. Let's keep looking, looking, looking . So that he can find the answers. He has to tell the story in the reverse fashion. He has to put all the important stuff up front the details of the bat, like a headline, he talked a lot about journalism and how similar it was. And he's like in insights you're hoping you're not knowing you're hoping things will get used. So you're always trying to be on your best so that you can actually have the power to make a difference because you don't have the control of all that.

And so when he's on the insights side, he was thinking about what he wanted to be if he were on the client side and vice versa. So I thought that was really important. 

And on both sides, what does he do on both sides? What does he keep for both sides? 

Treating everybody with respect, bringing everybody under the same tent, being motivated and making others motivated so there's more, there's more dot connecting. Understanding that the partnership has to come from both sides. And that is all based on trust, mutual trust. If you trust others, they're going to trust you easier, right? They're going to spend more time with you. They're going to value your work and they're going to help you make impact on either side of the fence.

And he's like having the stress on both sides makes you feel empathy for the other side. And so context and empathy is what he most, what I understood, that he most valued from being on both sides. So I really liked that. I mean, and I've worked on both sides, but he just, he phrased it so beautifully.

And I'm going to end. You asked him a question, which is what is it like to be on the worker be front end and then it was a great pun. I'm sure you intended it, but more than 

Ryan: You know, I did it, but it wasn't good. I got to give myself credit. Shout out to step Janice my very funny colleague.

I'm not that funny, but I tried. 

Patricia: But she's she's rubbing off on you. That was a good one. You know, he answered the question with some just, you know, there's drop the mic phrases. Well, he just, he just took and he gave us like a half a dozen. So , when he got asked in his career, what do you want to be? Do you want to be the big frog in the little pond ? And he says, depends on the pond. 

I thought...My God. I mean, it was like, Wow. He's like, find the way you can be the best you wherever it is, whatever pond you're in.

All right, then he says, there are days when I wish, and I put pieces together so this is not ever been so Ivan, please give me some creative liberty here, but a lot of things that you said, you said there are days where you wish you could, you thought, I wish I could make that decision, or I'm glad I didn't have to make that decision.

Some days you think that, and then there are other days when you say, Oh, I'm so glad this is my money, or Oh God, I wish I didn't have to make this decision alone. So either side of the fence, either side of the pond, it doesn't matter. There's going to be some easy days, some really great days, some hard days, but he goes back to find the way that you can be the best.

He talked about teaching and helping others. And this is the, one of those phrases, are you ready? 

Being part of their DNA and decision making forever is wonderful. I never thought of that. I love teaching others. I love helping others grow. But I never thought about the fact that this makes the person teaching part of their DNA forever.

And he, he left us with one really, really important thing that you, that you picked up right away. You said at the end, you want to change people's behavior and you're waiting for waiting for others to change? Take Ivan's insight and just go teach them something, inspire them.

Then you'll see a different answer. I loved it. It was all amazing. 

Ryan: Ivan, thank you. I'm so glad that our paths crossed. Uh, keep driving. Everybody, let's see what we can all do to be a little bit more like Ivan tomorrow. 

Our next episode, I get to channel my inner geek. Those of you who don't know this about me, uh, you might not know this, but I spent a long time in the data collection arena before coming to Zappi.

Um, I used to actually do the work before I became a suit, even though I wear wrinkly t shirts to work. Um, and so sample is a, is a really, Important topic. There's all the rise of synthetic data, which means we're going to leverage what we already know. Um, but that that only works if the foundation of what we know is based off of quality, um, getting access to real people so we can ask them why they think and do what they do is only a good idea when all the privacy restrictions are happening.

And there's so much we can do to learn new things from people, but it only works if the respondents that we engage with are real people that represent the populations that they're in. And that they're engaged in giving us thoughtful feedback. And so our next episode is going to be with two colleagues of mine, Jack Millership, who's our head of research and Tassia Henkes, who is an incredibly smart woman on his team.

And we're going to be discussing the industry's quality problem. What we see, what we think we need to do about it and what you can do about it. And we will try to make this as sexy for you as we can because I know a lot of you don't want to talk about data quality because you want your vendors to figure it out.

But if you're listening to this, you're all complicit. So join us next episode so we can teach you a couple things and help you get better data to inform the decisions you make within your business. Thank you, ladies. Good to see y'all. 

Patricia: Thank you. Bye, guys. 

Ryan: Bye, everybody. Thanks for listening.