The Insight250 spotlights and celebrates 250 of the world’s premier leaders and innovators in market research, consumer insights and data-driven marketing. The inaugural list was revealed this April and created renewed excitement across the industry whilst strengthening the connectivity of the market research community.
With so many exceptional professionals named to the Insight250 it seems fitting to tap into their expertise and unique perspectives across an array of topics. This weekly series does just that; inquiring about the expert perspectives of many of these individuals in a series of short topical features.
This edition features the powerhouse and expert in market research and polling, Ben Page. Ben was recently named the Global Chief Executive Officer of IPSOS after having served as Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI UK for over a decade. He has tremendous experience and expertise in the realm of polling and insights, so it was a real treat to sit down with him to get his perspective on a spectrum of topics impacting the industry.
Congratulations on taking on the new global CEO role at IPSOS - what do you see as the biggest challenges for our profession in the year ahead and what are you looking forward to most?
One of our biggest challenges is confidence – what we do is hugely important, and yet as a profession we constantly feel under-valued, compared to, say, consultants. The answer is to think more about the impact we have, what we offer uniquely; accurate data and insights in a world plagued by uncertainty. We need to have more impact in terms of how we package and narrate insights for busy decision makers – that’s been a hugely important part of my career to date.
A British leader running a French company isn’t the norm, do you see any cultural challenges?
Of course there are cultural differences, but English is our company language and the vast majority of our people are outside France – we are an international company, in 90 different countries and my appointment reflects that. The key thing is what unites us across national cultures – a global commitment to high quality research that makes a difference.
What role do you feel different global cultures play in innovation and leadership?
In our work the value of diverse teams is becoming more and more apparent. So you need a deep understanding of national cultures to ensure you aren’t proposing an idea that works in one country but not another – but you also need a diversity of experience and culture and background in teams to be effective in global research – or you will miss the obvious.
You are renowned as an expert on polling and seen as one of the leaders who more often than not calls the outcome of elections correctly. What’s the secret to that success?
First let’s remember that overall globally, election polling has stayed consistently at about an average margin of error of plus or minus two percent per party for 70 years, as Professor Will Jennings’ analysis shows. In 2019 in the UK Ipsos was accurate to 0.3% per party. The secret in my view is to not to try to out-guess the electorate but instead ensure you simply get the best quality sample you can, with minimal interventions.
What is the impact on the profession’s reputation when polls don’t go well and do you think that’s fair?
To be honest, there is no impact! Our business has grown regardless of whether polls do well or badly. Clients who spend millions on research understand things like sampling tolerances etc in a way the media conveniently ignore most of the time. The media likes to talk about a crisis of trust etc – but pollsters remain far more trusted than the media, and as academic analysis shows polls are not becoming less accurate. The belief that they are is simple selection bias and motivated ignorance.
What do you feel our profession should do to enhance its reputation and who do you feel should lead that charge?
We need to demonstrate more how our work makes life better for people. It makes business and governments more efficient and effective, it improves the quality of goods and services. I love that the author Tim Harford has Market Research as one of the “50 things that made the modern world” – along with computers, refrigeration etc – we should spend more time talking less about shiny new tools – and more showing case histories where we helped make things better.
How do we deal with increased staff turnover in some parts of the industry in the “Great Resignation”?
We need to look at how we make the profession more attractive – giving people more flexibility and control in their work, and more opportunities for junior colleagues. One of the reasons I stayed – despite hours that would be unthinkable these days – was because from early in my career I was encouraged to present to ministers and C suite people – it was fascinating. Market research will never pay like investment banking, but it can be far more interesting and the morals are better.
Diversity & Inclusion is something that our profession hasn’t always been brilliant at…what more should we be doing?
We need to focus on where we want to be, and remove barriers and biases based on background, and culture. For example you need to ensure mixed gender shortlists for senior roles. At Ipsos in London we removed the need to have a degree to join the grad scheme – now anyone can apply, whatever their education, and as long as they pass the entrance tests, they are in. It has meant that we are far more diverse than when I joined in 1987, when an Oxbridge degree was used as a shortcut.
Last month you spoke passionately at the MRS Sustainability Summit on the work that IPSOS is doing around sustainability. What are the three biggest changes that you feel our industry should be making and how do we all make that happen?
Start measuring your total carbon contributions – not just directly, but also down your supply chain, in your cloud computing, and in your employees travel etc – and then look at what you need to do to reduce it. My bonus is partly based on the overall carbon contributions of Ipsos – one of my first acts was to reduce our international travel by 40% compared to 2019 – many trips aren’t needed.
HOT TOPIC: Sustainability & Diversity
Sustainability and diversity & inclusion are important topics but do we need to balance these interests with the need to make profit or do they drive profits in their own right?
Well ultimately we are here to make a profit, but to do it in a way that is sustainable – and clients are feeling the pressure they are under on these issues down their supply chain. Secondly, the need to decarbonise the economy means researchers will be vital in understanding how to achieve the behaviour change needed over the next decade, and those who really understand where consumers are on these issues, and the challenges facing producers, government and brands will have plenty of opportunities – and show it in their own behaviour – will find it is a virtuous circle.
Make the conscious decision to be the best – not just good enough.
Thanks Ben a fascinating discussion on several critical topics for our profession. Can I take you this opportunity to wish you the best of luck in your new role and thank you for your huge support of the wider sector through associations and initiatives around D&I and Sustainability.
Don’t forget that nominations for the 2022 Insight250 Awards are now open at www.insight250.com