You probably know Ray. He is a giant in the market research industry. As the Founder and Chair of NewMR, as well as the Chief Research Officer of Platform One, he has been at the centre of the insight sector for years.
So if anyone knows where the industry is heading and what to watch out for, it’s Ray.
We were, therefore, excited to sit down with him and hear more about his career history.
And what a story it is.
What was your first-ever job?
I started as a computer programmer. I thought about travelling after graduation but ended up sticking around when I got a job for a guy who was importing the first apple computers to the UK. I spent my days writing software for analysing market research information. That’s how I first stumbled across our industry, and I haven’t left since.
Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?
As for people I don’t personally know, I would be incredible to chat with the American politician Stacey Abrahams – the Democratic contender for Georgia. She has turned so much around politically, especially making the case for women and African Americans. That she has done it at the height of a toxic political in a toxic environment is even more impressive. I think there would be a lot to learn from her.
When it comes to the market research world, I would love to have a coffee with Jane Frost, Melanie Courtright and Parves Khan. They’re all amazing at what they do and the industry can learn a lot from them. A coffee break is not nearly enough time to hear their thoughts.
Highlight of your career (so far?)
That would have to be the first time I had a book published. My Handbook of Online and Social Media Research came out in 2010. The fact that you could buy in bookstores and my name was on the cover felt surprisingly nice and validating. I used to think there were two types of publishing: vanity publishing and real publishing. Now I know there is only really the former – to a lesser or greater extent!
Nature or nurture?
The scientist in me says nature. But I see the case for nurture very clearly.
My parents shaped who I am to an amazing extent. I’m from a working-class family in a coal mining district. My grandmother was a cook at a large house, and her preferences shaped the way my mother, her sisters, and her grandchildren spoke. Even within the same family, you can see what a difference upbringing, social context and employment can make to a person.
Best advice you ever heard or received?
It would have to be this: most things don’t matter, and nothing matters too much.
When I think back, there were lots of stands that I took that I simply shouldn’t have bothered with. I think that’s the case for most people. You should only stick to the most important ones – drop the rest.
So stick to your principles but don’t confuse your preferences for principles!
What talent do you yearn for?
I would love to be musical and be able to play instruments. I just don’t have it in me sadly – it just comes out as noise.
What is your favourite brand and why?
I really like Montane, the mountain equipment brand. But it’s a very functional thing – not necessary brand attachment. I like it because they produce a lot of waterproof hiking gear that suits me but if I would find better, I’d shift. So I don’t have much brand loyalty.
The only exceptions would be one or two staple brands like Sarsons malt vinegar. I would never buy a different one – its just so set in my behaviour patterns. It’s a category-defining product to me in that way, and I suppose Heinz tomato ketchup would fit that description too.
When marketing works on you, you don’t realise it. The stuff you sneer at is just not directed at you. I’m like that when I shop at John Lewis. I assume I was just unlucky whenever something is bad. I guess it shows how much I’ve internalised the brand message.
What book do you most recommend to others?
I love ‘Made to stick’. It’s a good read and very useful for people in our industry. It’s nice that every chapter is a new story – it keeps the momentum going throughout.
What last impressed you at work?
I ran a webinar yesterday and I was really impressed with the audience. They were so energetic and engaged – it really lights up a room.
We do webinars now by prerecording the presentations. But I noticed how the speakers and audience were interacting in chat before it ended and the Q&A had even begun. It was great to see, especially since the chat question that fired them up was about survey questions. It seems everyone has a take on whether or not they are boring!
Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?
It took me a long time to realise that my preferences were really different to those I employ. I had tried to set up an environment that I would enjoy as an employee, revolving around a lot of input and being asked for advice by management. Most people just didn’t want to be involved to that degree. I should have applied my research skills more internally to find out what my employees wanted instead of assuming I knew best.
What do you want to do when you retire?
I never thought It would retire, even though I work three days per week now. If I did, I guess I would pivot to becoming a full-time runner instead. I’ve become obsessed with it. I regularly do a half marathon, a race and a social run all in the same weekend. I even completed the ‘Spine race’ this summer. So running appeals to me much more than retirement.