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Connecting Insight to Action | Kathy Risch

Connecting Insight to Action | Kathy Risch

Turning data into insights to better understand consumers.

An interview with Kathy Risch about using data to understand the needs of buyers, and exploring different modalities to reach your audience.

Why do people buy?

Does it come down to price and features, or are our purchasing habits driven by deeper needs?

To better understand consumers, and how to successfully influence their purchasings, I’ve invited Kathy Risch to join me on our podcast. Kathy is the Senior Vice President, Shopper Insights & Thought Leadership at Acosta, where they provide sales, marketing, and commercial solutions to help lift businesses to success.

We begin by examining the similarities and differences between purchasing physical things versus buying intangible ideas. Kathy explains that while data is black and white, people are not. Purchasing habits are based on emotions and needs; therefore, selling a product is easier when you speak to the problems that the product solves for the buyer.

Selling ideas can take many formsspeaking on stage, running webinars for hundreds, or working oneonone. Regardless of medium, Kathy says, you must always set the tone, remaining clear, organized, and straightforward when sharing your insights and ideas. In addition, you need to provide value in exchange for a client’s time, delivering fresh and interesting solutions with actionable steps.

If you are struggling to connect your ideas to your audience, this episode will provide valuable tips to help you get buyin and make the sale.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • You need to connect your product’s brand and vision with the emotional needs of the buyer
  • Always be willing to explore new modalities, even if it goes outside your comfort zone. You need to meet your audience where they already get their information.
  • Fresh insights tend to rise above the noise – always provide interesting and actionable discoveries, to show your value right away.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.



Bill Sherman Why does someone buy? It’s a question that researchers and customer insight experts have asked for many years on the retail side of the house. But what happens when you’re asking an audience to buy into an idea? To explore that question, I invited Kathy Risch. She’s the SVP of Shopper Insights and Thought Leadership at Acosta, and she’s practiced thought leadership in the consumer space for many years. In today’s conversation, we’re going to explore the connection between insight and action. We’ll look at the importance of passion and how success gets measured differently when you’re broadcasting ideas versus delivering them 1 to 1.

Bill Sherman I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Kathy.

Kathy Risch Hi, Bill. It’s great to be here today with you. Excited to have a conversation.

Bill Sherman So. So am I. Actually, one of the places that I want to begin in exploration is, you’ve spent a lot of time looking at why people buy and how people buy. In fact, your title being Shopper Insights is very much related to that tied with thought leadership. And I was thinking about the relationship between why people buy things in retail versus how they buy an idea. So let’s start with the first question, which is why do people buy in the world of retail?

Kathy Risch Yeah, what’s interesting, I’ve been working in the field of consumer insights my whole career, and the reason I got into it actually is I was really good in math and science and was even going to go into engineering if I went half my dad had wanted me to, but I had more. I learned more about kind of psychology, consumer behavior and the field of marketing and started to think about how data is so black and white, but people are not and how they think and behave. And that’s kind of it led me to this whole career understanding how people think and how it impacts what they buy. And it really is not about the very obvious reason for a product and what it is in their face. It’s all the emotions and needs behind that. And understanding that takes a lot of hard work, honestly, to really understand how people feel, what they need in their life, how a product revolves around everything in their life. And so that’s really the field of shopper insights and consumer insights. For me, that goes beyond the things they’re buying, the services they’re buying, but more the why.

Bill Sherman And so that process of digging deeper into the why. I think makes a fantastic transition into the world of thought leadership. Individuals and organizations can have ideas, but why should anyone pay attention? You know, you can’t just put the idea out there and hope everybody will go, Oh, this is brilliant. Right.

Kathy Risch It’s interesting because when you actually discover an insight, it’s all very automatic and natural. For instance, if you’re selling a product and you’re trying to talk about the features or the benefits, the reality is if you actually just speak to an underlying need or challenge or frustration the consumer is having, it becomes automatic that it belongs in their life and fits into their life. So it doesn’t even become a selling process. And that’s the part of thought leadership that surrounds the field of consumer insights and just consumer research in general is it just happens naturally, bringing the underlying whys and thoughts that are thought leadership.

Bill Sherman And getting them to the right individuals. Right. So you’re working on behalf of manufacturers and they want to know, okay, if we launch this product or we have this product in the market, what our consumer behaviors, what our customers thinking and what’s important. Right. And so they’re trying to close that gap between the idea that started the product and how people are using it.

Kathy Risch Yes. And it’s funny because. I’d never even thought of all of that. We’re talking about really identifying consumer insights and providing you leveraging those insights in the process of marketing and selling products like the field of thought leadership. I’ve been doing thought leadership my entire career without ever labeling it thought leadership. And so having this dialog today around it is so interesting that this area has been passionate in my whole career, truly is thought leadership because it’s connecting the dots. As a matter of fact, one of my favorite books that I have has been my favorite for decades, I just realized, is sitting here under my laptop as we talk. It’s called hitting the sweet spot. And it goes back to a very simple principle of when you understand the consumer, particularly the target consumer, and you’re trying to connect your product or your service with the consumer hitting their sweet spot, if you truly think of the center of a target or the sweet spot of a tennis racket or a baseball bat, that when you truly connect to your brand and product inside with the consumers inside, that’s hitting the sweet spot. And that’s as simple as it is very hard to do. But the concept is very simple. And I feel like the thought leadership that we’re doing throughout the whole industry of consumer insights is about making those connections and connecting the dots to a higher level, a higher order of things.

Bill Sherman So you talk about the sweet spot, and I think that’s a metaphor we can carry into thought leadership as well in that. Good thought. Leadership looks almost effortless, right? And that’s not true because there’s a lot of planning, research, focusing, choosing a modality that you’re going to get the idea out, and then someone looks at it. And if you’ve done your work well in thought leadership, someone looks at that and says, Oh yeah, I agree. That makes total sense. Thank you. And they don’t see the sweat and the tears, whether it’s the athlete like the tennis player, you know, who’s doing a fantastic serve or the ice skater who lands an amazing jump. You don’t see all of the training hours that go into that to hit the sweet spot. It just is. You see the result?

Kathy Risch Well, then I can take a long time, to your point. It can take years. If you think about, I mean, I even think back to some of my previous days, whether I was in the beauty care business or some of my clients in the food and beverage business today, it can be years that an idea is brewing. And when you truly hit that sweet spot, it becomes so obvious when when the solution or the product comes out. Thinking, Why was this here before? It may seem obvious, but it can take years. Sometimes you have to argue it internally and stand behind the idea if you truly believe there’s a big opportunity. We’ve all been I’ve certainly been shut down many times with my ideas, and sometimes I do shy away from them. But if I truly believe that we’re on to something, I’ll stick with it. It just does. It takes a lot of time and courage to stay with it. If you think you’ve really found that sort of sweet spot of opportunity.

Bill Sherman And you bring a point out that is worth underlining in that ideas sometimes have a time or a season to them, and you may be ahead when you first see that insight of when the time in the season that others would be ready to accept it. Right. And so I’ve worked with individuals who have said, yeah, I’ve spent a good chunk of time, years or even sometimes a large part of their career arguing for one big idea that they knew had power. But it wasn’t time yet. Right.

Kathy Risch Absolutely. Yeah. And you do. You just have to. You know, one thing is, is to be repetitive, and that’s okay to continue to say it over again and never be afraid that you’re repeating. I mean, some people some people will receive it differently on a different day, or maybe just saying it in a different way might actually be received better or you might have a slightly different audience on a particular day. So it does take courage and confidence. I look back at earlier in my career where I did let other people convince me I was I was wrong. So I walk away from an idea and then later see someone else do it really well. And you just kind of learn over time, too, to stick with it. And it’s okay to be wrong too. That’s important.

Bill Sherman Absolutely thought leadership does not have to be 100% accuracy. And if we hold ourselves to that standard, it is very likely that the good ideas will never get traction and miss that window that we were talking about of when they were needed. Right.

Kathy Risch Yeah. And something else in the topic of kind of confidence and presenting it is just if you believe in it, make sure people. Sense that, you know, if you have passion, don’t be afraid to show passion in business.

Bill Sherman Let’s talk about showing passion, because I often say that in thought leadership, your audience is never going to be more passionate about your idea than you are. My question to you is how do you signal that passion whether to an internal team, to a client, to consumers? How do you do it? Where have you seen it work? Well.

Kathy Risch Great question. I think the number one thing in my mind is that passion is contagious and there’s a sort of passes from one person to another. Now, of course, if you’re in person, it’s most relatable. And today we’re so much on Zoom or teams calls, it becomes even harder when you’re not three dimensional to have other skill, your passion for an idea, if you’re only heard in that scene, even less so. But I think that if you truly believe in something, you can exude honesty, transparency and passion. And passion comes through when you believe in an idea. People will sense that your idea, you’re skeptical about your idea if you don’t show true, true passion, if you’re just sort of speaking off of the script or interpreting data, you don’t necessarily have passion. It’s kind of distinguished. A distinction of thought leadership is if you’re truly connecting dots at multiple points and you have an idea you believe in, you will show more passion and it’s often in the delivery. So that’s number one. Then to your point, does your audience need to have passion or what? How why would they have passion? So just because you’re passionate about it. And that’s where it’s How do you figure out, first of all, is it even relevant to your audience? Because maybe it’s not and you just move on and realize that your message was given to someone where it’s irrelevant, but how do you identify what part of your idea or how to communicate your idea so it’s relevant to who you’re speaking to? Much easier to do one on one, but is really understanding why is this relevant? Why is my idea relevant? And how can I help that person understand why it’s it can benefit them and be relevant for them in whether it’s solving their problem or helping them be smarter and ultimately lead to better knowledge and action, whether it’s growth for their business or convincing their own senior management of something. It’s really I needed to give them something. It’s not just the sake of sharing my idea, it’s I’m trying to give them something.

Bill Sherman So you’ve put a lot of ideas on the table. I’m going to unpack them and try and get to several in this conversation. One of them is you mentioned the one on one conversations in the in person, and you also talked about presenting. So let’s talk about how those two different modalities, if you will, you know, whether you’re on the stage or you’re on the big zoom call versus trying to communicate an idea. You do use bulk presenting and one on ones in your work, right?

Kathy Risch Yes.

Bill Sherman So give it a little bit of an example on how those two play out and how do you approach them. Is it the same? Is it different? What do you bring to the table when you’re expressing ideas on stage or on the zoom versus the one on one?

Kathy Risch Well, the number one thing, whether I’m presenting to a very large audience of thousands, which I’ve done that a few times, and then or presenting one on one in person or on a call, they’re both equally important to me in terms of my message being relevant and meaningful. And I invest as much into each and that’s important. And I, of course, get more nervous when I’m speaking to a lot of people, but I actually prep the same amount because it’s a different mental state. And I whoever they are, they’re investing their time in listening to me and I value that. So if it’s a large group, it’s important to set the tone, first of all, and actually this is true for both. The number one that’s relevant for both is what’s my credibility? Why am I even there? Why are they listening to me if I’m presenting to a large audience, I don’t know how many people are going to be, what percent are going to hear about what I say. And so I try to be as passionate, direct, straightforward, simple, organized, because I will lose my audience if I don’t. And I want to make sure I’m reaching those that it will be relevant to the one on one. It’s a little bit easier to have more dialog and know that you’re if especially you’re looking at the person that they’re engaged and you can move the conversation in the right direction that’s relevant to them. Much harder to do that with a large audience. So pretty big difference in terms of that way to continue the conversation.

Bill Sherman So in those conversations. You’re paying attention to your audience, how they’re responding, and certainly it’s easiest in a one on one. You can read their nonverbals, but how are you? Regardless of the format at this point. How are you measuring success? How do you know if the idea is being heard, accepted, getting traction? How do you approach that question? Because it’s a tough one.

Kathy Risch It’s a very tough one. As a matter of fact, this week I’m having a look back across this year. And what how do I measure success in thought leadership throughout the year? And so I’m sitting here thinking this through myself. And when I think of the webinars where I had hundreds of people hear my ideas and my thoughts and present my team shopper insights and translate those insights into recommended actions for them. How do I measure that? Do I? Do I measure the impressions? I have the number of attendees? Do I even know who turned on their computer but actually even listened to me? Who took notes, who actually acted? I don’t know the action taken, but I know I had a great number of impressions. Then you take a one on one conversation where I do have the actual evidence that I had a very engaging conversation like two weeks ago. I had such an engaging conversation with one client that there was a Q&A at the end. He then scheduled a follow up meeting with his team, his across the country to hear those ideas and spread. And then there was a follow up question yesterday from that that led to another kind of thought leadership idea. So do I measure that one as more successful? Yes, because I felt like it led to extreme impact and a stronger relationship might have been one impression, but did I help their business yet? So I actually prefer that measurable impact, even though it’s end of one versus the broader.

Bill Sherman If you’re enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about our podcast, please leave a five star review at rate this podcast dot com forward slash LTL and share it with your friends. We’re available on Apple Podcasts and on all major listing apps as well as

Bill Sherman Well, and the like you said, the number of views or downloads on a webinar can be incredibly deceptive. Who were they? Did they pay attention? Was it running while they were doing something else? And they really didn’t give attention? Versus when a senior leader looks and goes, This is great. Can we schedule it for my team? You know, the second presentation is everybody’s coming and paying attention because the leader has said this is important and impacts what we do. Right. And so I sort of put three buckets, four measures. There are things where you put an idea out, you broadcast it to the world and you hope the right people find it. In a wide sense, it’s like advertising in the airport or a Super Bowl ad Good luck. You know, it’s out there and hopefully you right got the right people. But feedback is low. Then there’s narrowcasting where, you know, you’ve got the right audience, but you’re not one on one with them. And then finally, that point, casting, like you said, that one on one were, you know, you can read in their eyes, are they engaged? Are they asking those follow up questions? You know, how impact is happening? And it’s easy to measure in point casting, you know, what they did afterwards or will do or working on.

Kathy Risch Well, and I love your way of looking at the three different I mean, broadcasting, narrowcasting and casting, honestly are all important to my current role. And I am really hard on myself to do all three. Well, how I measure all three well is it can be challenging. So I think it’s the right balance. It’s looking back, I think you definitely need both. If you’re only doing the one on one and then you’re going to miss some people that can benefit from your insights and your ideas that really need them. So it’s really striking the right balance, honestly, of the three are talking about.

Bill Sherman Well, and let’s go back and in fact reiterate or repeat something that you said about repetition. Repetition plays out differently across those categories, right? So if you’re broadcasting, you’re repeating to try and reach the people for the first time or get them to think, whereas repetition in that point. Casting example that you talked about with your client. It’s can you repeat this for my team? Right. Those are two different types of repetition, but we often lump them into this broad category of, Oh, yeah, I’m just repeating.

Kathy Risch And again, the repetition. It’s interesting that you really you really it’s repetition at your point in time when you’re actually you’re onto your idea, but it could be over time. So it’s engaging sometimes. When we talked about earlier, the idea isn’t right today, but it might be later. So I love resurfacing old ideas. I think about a couple decades ago where there were some brilliant insights and ideas around natural and organic that were just before their time. And then I think about today how much more relevant those are in the marketplace. So it is interesting that repetition isn’t just about reaching the audience today, but sometimes it’s repeating what’s old is new. And so that’s definitely an interesting concept.

Bill Sherman So let’s talk about reaching audiences and getting out of your comfort zone. And I think that’s a piece that it’s easy to default to the methods that we’re comfortable with. But putting a sort of yourself out and say, okay, let me try something new. How are you exploring with new modalities and new ways of reaching audiences? What experiments have you done or are doing?

Kathy Risch We’re doing it right now. So for me, this is my first podcast ever, so I’m openly admitting that to this audience. Whoever might ever listen to this. This is the first podcast of my life. And I it is not a modality I was or was comfortable with. And so I just had the courage to give it a try. I’m trying to be more open to all ways of getting my message heard or enjoyed or appreciated by those who need it or who desire it. And there’s the sky’s the limit. I think there are new, new formats popping up all the time. I do take an interest. It’s interesting because I think the whatever mode of communication can depend on the topic or that particular insight or idea. So even within my role, I will discuss with my team what is the right method of communication for this particular study or this particular idea. And it’s very it can be very different each time. And so it just takes some creativity and sometimes you realize maybe that wasn’t the right mode of communication for that one. But, but I look forward to doing more of these. But yeah, this, this is a good example I think the world of. Webinars and Zoom calls was very new. I actually didn’t do my first broad based webinar to hundreds of people on video and Zoom until this year 2022. I’ve spoken personally, stood up in front of audiences of hundreds, even thousands, and very comfortable. So why was I so nervous the first time I was presenting to hundreds of people who could see my face, but I couldn’t see theirs, the terrified. But I had to get over that hurdle, and I’m very comfortable with it now. And so I imagine in 2023, there will be more things I’ll have to try.

Bill Sherman And that’s the other part, that it’s a moving target, right? Meeting your audience where they want to be or where they are in terms of formats rather than what’s comfortable to us. So congratulations on jumping into the world of podcasting. I’ve got a couple of practical questions for you. First off, do you see yourself as a researcher or a marketer? You mentioned the marketing book that’s sitting under your laptop, but how do you sort of perceive what you do?

Kathy Risch It’s funny because I don’t even like either of those terms. I’ll say yes to both.

Bill Sherman Okay. What do you.

Kathy Risch How.

Bill Sherman Do you perceive yourself? Yeah. So what?

Kathy Risch And I just I feel like I over the years, just what I do is. Term data into insights in understand people understand consumers and really people like even. It’s just it’s become almost as much as I’m not a consumer behaviorist that wasn’t the job. I’m not a psychologist. It really is what I’m passionate about. It’s the part of. So, yes, I’m a researcher who has been turning like leveraging market research my whole career, leveraging data, quantitative and qualitative data, very much my area of strength and expertise and experience. But honestly, the area of consumer insights and understanding consumers is what I’m passionate about and the not to the point in terms, but the part I’ve loved my whole career is that strategic thought leadership. And when I look back at old documents were input what my experience was on a resume way before the field of thought leadership, quote unquote came into being. I was actually describing what I do as providing strategic thought leadership to my companies, my businesses, my business partners, the brands I worked on. And so that’s the this really is my area of passion.

Bill Sherman So I think that’s true for a number of us. We either stumble into this role before we know it has the name that it does. And yeah, we practice thought leadership before we have it in a title in some ways. But I hear what you say and it’s definitely thought leadership. So you mentioned your team. How are you helping your team then understand what is thought leadership and how that works?

Kathy Risch Well, they are fantastic. One of the things I value is their experience, their engagements, and we are putting out so many really interesting insights, shopper studies, and it kind of comes natural because I have such a passionate team that what I’ve been teaching them and sort of encouraging them all along is how to think about each individual project or study to keep it unique and fresh. So that’s sort of our mantra is every single time we’re doing a shopper study is how can this be beyond the mundane? How can we make sure we understand not just the what, but the why? And some of that’s in the questions that we ask our consumers in the survey How can we make sure that the topics and the insights that we’re bringing out are unique, fresh and relevant versus what else is out there in the industry? And so that just takes a lot of really good dialog and brainstorming where we together kind of put our heads together and make sure that it goes beyond the topic. And there’s unique and fresh insights at the back end that get at the whys behind the words, if you will.

Bill Sherman So how do you judge freshness?

Kathy Risch Rush kind of goes back to what I define as an insight, which is new, interesting discovery about the consumer. So how do you get it? New, interesting discovers discoveries where you’re able to surface from a study, something fresh, fresh is new and interesting. So not just new or mundane, but fresh. If you think about the word fresh, it has a very pleasant welcoming. Characteristic to it. And when someone says those were really fresh insights, that’s new, relevant and actionable. So the actionability is really critical that when we’re whether we’re putting out insights to the broader retail industry or it’s our specific clients or retailer partners or internal teams, that it’s fresh and relevant, meaning something kind of new, something that is going to drive them to better understand, either educate them or better understand their business because they’re understanding the consumer better.

Bill Sherman I think that’s a really nice way of explaining it. So as we begin to wrap up here, Kathy, I want to ask you a question. You mentioned how as you look back on your resumé, you were practicing strategic thought leadership even before it entered your title, right? There are many people now who are entering the world of thought leadership. What advice would you give them based on your experience? Another way to think of that is what do you wish you knew then that you know now?

Kathy Risch Well, I, I guess I go back to what is interesting to me is how much relationships are a part of leading to truly. Relevant and meaningful thought leadership. So when I go back and think about how was I delivering on strategic thought leadership way back then, earlier in my career, it was understanding people through building relationships in business and talking and understanding what are they working on that they need help with. And it might have been the nature of the function that I was in, because when you’re in market research or consumer insights as a function, you have to understand your service function in a way. So that begins immediately right out of the gate, right out of school, understanding how I can a understand my internal client, be understand my consumer and see I understand how to turn data into insight and action. And so that’s do asking a lot of questions. I mean, I it’s just my nature. I ask a lot of questions. My kids don’t always like that, but I’m just I ask a lot of questions. And I think that’s what I would encourage people to do, is get to know the people you work with inside your company and outside your company by asking a lot of questions. I know that sounds really simple, but think about that in the next meeting you’re in. How few questions are asked, like people don’t often ask just to get to know. What’s going on in your business today? What? And think of the ten questions that are never asked in that call. We just tend to like get caught up in what we’re presenting or what the goals are. And so ask a lot of questions, build, which helps you build relationships and ultimately leads to more effective thought leadership.

Bill Sherman I think that’s great advice. I am a strong believer on relationships and I think the practical list of build the questions you want to ask before you go into the meeting for curiosity is a great way to learn.

Kathy Risch There’s even a higher order one to layer on to that that’s.

Bill Sherman Go for it.

Kathy Risch And after that, which is listen. Yes, yes. But listen, I actually did a listening training at one of my early on early jobs in my career where I actually led a course on how to listen, which I know that sounds funny. And it’s not just about listening to a consumer from the back room of a focus group, but listening to the people you’re working with and or listen to your clients. So ask the right questions. But it takes a lot of skill to listen well and hear what they’re saying and read between the lines and make sure you’re truly understanding. Why did they say what they said? So listening can actually be even more important and hard to do.

Bill Sherman I would completely agree with that. But it is also absolutely essential because if you’re constantly talking and thought leadership, you’re missing most of the value. I learn far more by listening than by talking. And on that note, I want to thank you, Cathy, for joining us today. You have successfully completed your first podcast recording. Congratulations.

Kathy Risch Thank you for helping me achieve my goal. I really appreciate.

Bill Sherman It. And thank you for being here. If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. and choose, “Join our newsletter.” I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.

Peter Winick has deep expertise in helping those with deep expertise. He is the CEO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Peter on Twitter!

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