New Member Interview: Cathy Boyd, Kendall Park, NJ
Mike Courtney, firstname.lastname@example.org
I'm guessing you were born young. What is your earliest memory of? Any childhood nicknames we should be aware of?
I was raised in Milford, Connecticut, and my first memory is the smell of sawdust and running around in my father’s lumberyard. I don’t have a nickname, because my real name is a nickname (Cathy). My father loved the book/movie Wuthering Heights, and insisted I be christened Cathy, like the heroine in the story. (I’m quite sure my brother is thrilled he wasn’t named Heathcliff!)
What drew you to qualitative research? Did you stumble into the field or was it your childhood dream to moderate?
I found market research, or more to the point, it found me, in mid-life. I was a theatre major in college (with a concentration in drama criticism), and always thought I was a strictly the right-brain type. In high school, I drew, acted, wrote, made my own clothes, and sold crafts.
In my adult life, I worked as a production assistant at NBC before having my four kids, and as a young mother I had a crazy quilt of jobs such as writing newsletters for Johnson & Johnson; assembling soft sculpture for an artist-friend; providing family day care in my home; serving as communications coordinator for my school district; and being a stage mother for two children who wound up acting professionally in movies and plays.
During those years, for a while I temped as a word processor – to ensure I’d have the flexibility to take my kids into New York for auditions. One of those temp jobs was for a healthcare market research company, Migliara/Kaplan Associates. I remember asking my husband the night before my first day, “Market research: that’s like surveys and stuff, right?” That temp job led to a full time position; I spent a year or so creating documents from hand-written discussion guides, reports, and presentations. Those were the transition years in the '90s, when most managers were not computer-savvy and needed document specialists in order to get their work done.
I found myself immersed in what I was inputting – the questions, the analysis, the implications, the impact on the strategic business decisions. It was so cool to me that you could take the answers to these questions and create stories and make recommendations that would positively impact what came to the market. And I started thinking, “I could do this!”
Not having any experience except the osmosis of working so closely with the researchers and the work they did, it took a while for me to find the nerve to ask the president of the company if I could, maybe, be an analyst. This was in 1998, when FDA had just approved direct-to-consumer advertising and all the pharma companies were gearing up and needing market research to lead the way.
So the president gave me a job in her newly created Consumer Division. And unbelievably, I was a market research analyst!
Being a rookie market researcher in my 40s had its advantages and disadvantages. Having clients assume I had years of experience threw me into “fake it ‘til you make it” mode big-time. Often, they would dismiss the recommendations of my 30-something colleagues who had MBAs and a lot more experience than I, and instead, they’d turn to me and say, “What do you think, Cathy?” And I’d say something like, “Well, I actually think my colleague raises a great point.”
Cathy’s family in Scotland: “One of my first goals when I became a market researcher was to save enough points (and money) to send my whole family to Scotland, where my mother-in-law and husband are from. Mission accomplished in 2007.”
Company and Work
Please tell us about your company. What brought you to this company and to your role within the organization?
I essentially stayed with the company for the next 10 years – while the company, itself, changed. It was taken over and merged with other companies: NFO, IPG, TNS. Over those 10 years, I went from “analyst” to “vice president of research.”
After ten years of being a generalist in primary research, I realized that qualitative research was where my heart was. My skills from my past life in theatre actually served me well: the ability to connect with the other “actor” in the interview room; to improvise when necessary; to stick with the “script” when necessary; to indulge my love of the dialogue and the hidden meaning between the lines … all of these have relevance to market research.
In 2008 I decided to leave TNS and become a full-time qualitative market researcher and the owner of BLiNK.
Is there a story behind your company name?
I named my company BLiNK in homage to the Malcolm Gladwell book of the same name. It was also inspired by Daniel Pink, author of the book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. In that book, Pink talks about the difference between right- and left-brain thinking. One of his points is that the left brain is about text; the right brain, about context:
“The left hemisphere handles what is said; the right hemisphere focuses on how it’s said — the nonverbal, often emotional cues delivered through gaze, facial expression and intonation.”
So important for a qualitative researcher!
He goes on to say about written language:
“Certain written languages depend heavily on context. Languages such as Arabic and Hebrew are often written only in consonants, which means the reader must figure out the vowel based on the surrounding concepts and ideas. In those languages, if you read the equivalent of “stmp n th bg” you’d fill in different vowels depending upon whether the phrase appeared in a pest control manual (“stomp on the bug”) or short story about a trip to the post office (“stamp in the bag”).
So it’s the left brain that interprets the letters, but it’s the right brain that supplies the context. I thought that dichotomy was so fascinating that I designed my logo with left brain/right brain and text/context in mind – because I believe both are equally important in market research. I had my logo designed to reflect just what Pink said, so if you look at my logo, see if you can find the vowel!
Do you remember your first few moderating sessions?
My first shot at moderating was like a scene out of All About Eve. I had been the back-room manager for a few market research studies with a client who loved the moderator we had been using for several projects.
One day, on the first day of research in Philadelphia, heavy snow prevented the moderator from flying, but the clients and I were local and had already arrived at the facility.
The clients looked alarmed and talked about cancelling the day. I meekly offered, “I could try.” They gave me a shot, and I haven’t stopped moderating since!
If we were able to watch a video of that first session, what would we see?
Hmm, I have no idea. I was too focused on that interview and getting it right to even be able to play back that interview in my mind! I guess you’d have to ask the clients!
What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered thus far as a qualitative researcher? How have you managed (or overcome) this challenge?
The biggest challenge is to know when there’s more down there in the well that I should try to draw up. In market research, you ask the questions and the respondent answers, but I want to know what’s unsaid. So I pay a lot of attention to body language and intonation, and I love all the projective techniques – particularly non-verbal ones like AdSAM Emotional Response Measure. In the analysis I try to catch the inconsistencies that cast a different light on the obvious story.
What motivated you to join the QRCA and what do you hope to gain from your membership?
Since I became a qualitative research business in 2008, I’d been meaning to join, but life always seemed to be in the way. In February I got an invitation for a Ken Miller webcast, Insight for Innovation: Better Tools for Concept Exploration and Testing which looked really interesting. When I was getting ready to register, I realized that I may as well register as a member!
What advice would you give others in the research industry who might be thinking about joining QRCA?
It’s more important now than it ever was to network and stay ahead of the wave in terms of learning cutting-edge ways of conducting research, as well as keeping on top of what’s happening in the sectors in which we work. The main thing I miss about corporate life is the collegiality and the expanded opportunities to learn from the experts who are among you all day long. So if you’re solo, or a small company, it’s important to seek out these experts and share information and ideas, because relevance is a moving target – now more than ever. QRCA is a great place to make sure you stay on top of the game and don’t get sidelined. This is why I realized I should not put off joining for one more moment.
Many industries, including qualitative research, have experienced significant changes over these last few years. What do you imagine qualitative research and/or QRCA will look like in the year 2020? Any predictions?
The standard TDIs, IDIs and focus groups will be just a few of many ways we will have to collect qualitative data; we certainly have already seen this coming. I think combining ethnography with technology will increase in popular use. I saw a great talk by cardiologist Eric Topol, who demonstrated how patients will control their health with their smart phone – for instance, being able to do their own EKG and then send it to their doctor. I see market research respondents being empowered in the same way.
We are both in your favorite city with a day in between groups. ;What do we do? Where do you stay? Eat? Etc.
We are in Portland, Oregon, and we go to the Japanese Garden there. It is magnificent. My first visit there was during downtime on a research project. It was a misty March so the garden was not even in bloom, but even in the dreary dregs of winter it was absolutely magical. I don’t get to Portland much for research, but next time I go, I’m definitely building in enough time for a return visit and, hopefully, that will be in the summer!
What do your family and friends think about your career? Do you find yourself moderating the family dinner discussion? What would your family be like in a focus group?
I am definitely the listener – rather than the talker – in the family.; My family of four adult children and husband would be the well-balanced and vocal kind of focus group. There are no shrinking violets here! My family is very proud of my career and jealous of the travel I get to do They know it’s not all glamour by a long shot – but it definitely is the perfect career for someone who likes to keep moving.
A new phone app coming out helps you double your brainpower for seven hours each week. What do you use your super-brain time for?
To learn Portuguese so I can better communicate with my new daughter-in-law’s Brazilian family.
What books are you reading right now? (Real printed paper book or e-books?)
I take my Kindle everywhere. Some books I have on there right now are Tom Butler Bowden’s 50 Success Classics; Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein; Deep Ecology by Bill McKibben; Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance by Nassim Nicholas Taleb; and Mary Oliver’s latest poetry book, Dog Songs.
Your approach to technology would best be described as…
…a grateful explorer
Which means you are a master at…adding apps
And still trying to completely figure out…how to use them!
Mac or PC? iPhone or Android?
Mac, of course. And iPhone.
Cathy visits daughter Britt in Paris while traveling on business in Europe.
Cathy hiking in Camelback with her son:
“Totally relieved that I made it without breaking a bone.”
The Final Question:
A client tells you they'll triple your project fee if you can beat them fair and square in a game. You get to choose the game. What game do you play and how likely are you to win?
Charades - because of my theatre improv background and my love of words. And, from a strategic standpoint, often people who are not shy at all generally are very shy about getting up and acting silly in front of people. Not a problem for me, so I am very likely to win!
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