Painting the Insights Picture: An Interview with Ethan Linder

Welcome to The Research Happy Hour where we chat with qualitative research professionals to learn about their career paths, passions and experiences.

For our latest Research Happy Hour highlight, we had the privilege of speaking with Ethan Linder, a Research Director with a unique perspective on combining creativity and insights. During our discussion, Ethan shared what sparked his initial interest in market research and the importance of seeing insights as more than just a collection of data points. Join us as we delve into Ethan's career journey, hearing the tricks of the trade and the wisdom he's gained along the way.

Finding a Career Where Creativity Meets Insights

Ethan had only taken one course in college related to market research, so he had very little familiarity with the field. However, during his first media buying job, he was exposed to the advertising life cycle and soon realized that the market research field offered a unique opportunity to blend his passion for creativity with research and insights grounded in truth.

Ethan, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Ethan: Absolutely. I'm based in New York City. I've been in the market research industry since 2016 with just about the last six years at Bovitz Inc. Outside of work, I enjoy cooking and trying to play tennis whenever I can. I’ve only lived in the city for 6 years, so I'm still spending a lot of time wandering around and finding new things.

What was the path that led you to a career in qualitative market research?

Ethan: I'd taken an Intro Market Research class in college, but coming out of school I wasn’t all that familiar with the industry as a whole. I hadn't done an internship at a market research company and didn't know a whole lot about it. My first job was actually in media buying but during that job, I got a lot of exposure to the advertising life cycle as a whole. More so the end of it, like placing ads. Pretty soon I realized that I wanted to work on the actual creation and ideation side of things, as opposed to taking the finished products and working on those processes.

So, that led me to a research analyst position at Ipsos. Specifically, I worked on an advertising copy-testing team. Our work centered around testing work-in-progress advertisements, primarily using quantitative research, although I did get to work on some research with our qualitative team there. That time at Ipsos was a great initial experience in the market research industry. I got to work on a good amount of high-profile brands, collaborate and get some face time with executive-level clients, as well as some top advertising agencies. Working in copy testing, I got good at this one thing but I realized how vast the market research world was and how copy testing was just one small sliver of it.

Answering the Essential Question With More Than Just Data Points

As Ethan’s career and experience evolved, so did his perspective on market research. He emphasized how research isn't about gathering data points anymore; it’s about understanding the whys behind human behavior.

Throughout your career journey so far, how has your perspective on market research evolved?

"I try to remind myself every day that we're analyzing people and their thoughts, not just data points and sound bites."

Ethan: In terms of how my perspective has evolved, I try to remind myself every day that we're analyzing people and their thoughts, not just data points and sound bites. This was hard to think about as I didn't think this way until I got to Bovitz Inc. Here I was exposed to the different methodologies, the more custom research approach and the people-first mentality that Bovitz Inc. has.

Before that, a lot of my research experience - specifically in copy testing, was centered around KPIs and check marks. A lot of things were turn-key or fast-paced enough that we often missed uncovering the whys behind these things, the whys behind the check marks and what was driving them. Just being able to understand and keep in mind that this person may be saying something and we may be talking about it, but at the same time, asking ourselves - why? That's been a really big change I'd say in my perspective.

Are there any points of view that have remained the same in your career journey this far?

Ethan: I’d say the same point of view I’ve had throughout my career journey is the fact that there's no replacement for hard work, effort and just putting in the time. To me, this is an industry where if you're not completely on top of the processes you're executing, the problems, the questions and the barriers can stack up pretty quickly.

Can you talk more about these obstacles?

Ethan: During the life cycle of a process you get in the weeds so much. Whether you're handling and executing internal processes, client relationship management, making sure everything is tied back to the broader objectives or your insights are giving you what you need. It's a lot.

How do you stay focused when barriers like this arise?

Ethan: For me, it’s those times where I take a step back, zoom completely out and think about the end goal. What we do at Bovitz is we boil down every study to an essential question. We take the research objectives and boil them down to one pretty concise question. Even just taking a step back and re-reading that essential question helps me. It helps me connect those day-to-day processes and those client questions that come up back to that overall goal. It also gives me a little relief that okay, everything we're doing right now is still on the right path and still getting us to where we need to be.

"To make those insights as actionable as possible we want to paint that whole picture and show the “whys” behind those insights too."

Painting the Insights Picture with Mixed Methodology

As market researchers are well aware, working in this field comes with its fair share of challenges. During our conversation, Ethan shed some light on the intricate process of market research analysis and the art of striking a balance between quantitative metrics and qualitative understanding.

What's one challenging thing about working in research?

Ethan: When you're actually in a study, it’s often hard to find that perfect balance between the check marks and the “whys” behind them. A lot of the time we know there are certain concrete insights or data points that a client team needs. But to make those insights as actionable as possible, we want to paint that whole picture and show the “whys” behind those insights too. Keeping in scope and sticking to an efficient timeline, which I'd say is a challenge sometimes too.

Can you share what you’ve found effective in helping you paint that whole picture?

Ethan: To be honest. I've found the most successful way of solving this upfront is within the actual study setup. I’ve found utilizing both the quantitative phase, as well as the qualitative phase goes a long way. Especially with the wide array of qualitative methodologies these days, it's not just “okay, we need a bunch of money to set up in-person focus groups in three major cities across the US anymore”. I feel like it's a lot more feasible to get that quant plus qual methodology in an efficient scope and efficient timeline. To me, that's a pretty sure-fire way to ensure that you're getting both of those check marks you need, but also painting that whole picture and getting the “why’s” behind what you're analyzing.

Do you find the mixed method approach easy or does it have its challenges?

Ethan Linder: I'd say in terms of setup, it's easy, just because there are so many different qualitative routes these days which is awesome. You can tailor your qualitative approach to fit and round out the picture of your quantitative phase. In terms of analysis, it's challenging but fun because you're trying to find this perfect balance of the two. It's almost like recency bias, where sometimes we'll do a quant phase and then a qual, and all that'll be in my head is the qualitative stuff. It’s about marrying the two and creating a cohesive end product that uses quantitative insights as the foundational knowledge and the qualitative work to paint that full picture. It's challenging but it's fun. I'd say it's one of the most interesting parts of the job in general.

The Rewards of Working in Qualitative Research

As our conversation drew to a close, Ethan paused to reflect on what he considered to be the most fulfilling aspect of his journey in qualitative research so far. He expressed the satisfaction he feels when he reaches the end of a research project, where he gains priceless insights into the real-life experiences of people.

What would you say is your favorite part of working in the qualitative research field?

Ethan Linder: Recruitment for sure - no, just kidding. I would say it's the end right? It's wrapping up a final set of in-person interviews or an online Recollective community and you export all those artifacts. You're looking at a folder on your computer that just has an immense amount of data, but not just data, an immense amount of real people's experiences. That's something not a lot of people get to do, just dive head-first into a new world of knowledge coming firsthand from people. It's challenging, and it's daunting at times, but I'd say that for every key insight that I've written up from qualitative analysis and put into an executive summary of a report deliverable, I've been able to take a key insight and learn something about myself or learn something new or find a new interest. I do feel that just having that sheer array of raw communication and content from people to pour from is probably something I've taken advantage of in the past, especially when there's a quick turnaround and you have to get a deliverable done on time. It’s something that's great about working in qualitative research and it’s taught me stuff about myself.

Are there any personal or professional achievements that you are particularly proud of?

Ethan: I'm just proud of all the client presentations, the client interactions and the in-person sessions that I’ve had the opportunity to lead. I know client communications and presenting in general is something that people can always get better at, myself included. But looking back at where I started and now, I do take pride in how polished and poised I've gotten over time. Not just about the actual instance of sitting in front of a client and talking to them, but everything from how I prepare, how I think about the preparation going into a client presentation, to how I handle the post-presentation follow-ups. Even the facilitation of making sure that we're coming out of a presentation with clear next steps on how to best help the client action the results. I feel like I've just grown a lot and gotten a lot better at it. It all comes down to having the opportunities and consistent constructive feedback that I've received throughout my career - specifically at Bovitz Inc. I just remember the first time I presented to the client vs. now and it's different, as it should be. It's really kind of great to look back and see how much I've grown.

"I've learned and seen that it's imperative to remember that you only get to that analysis and that consulting piece if everything you've done before has been successfully executed and done to the best of its ability."

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in market research?

Ethan Linder: I’d stress to them to take the learning curve head-on and do everything possible up front to internalize and master those more internal processes and tasks. I think it's kind of natural to be more attracted to the analysis and consulting side of the business. But I think I've learned and seen that it's imperative to remember that you only get to that analysis and that consulting piece if everything you've done before has been successfully executed and done to the best of its ability. I think looking back at my career, just putting in the effort and mastering those more detail-oriented processes not only built my confidence and taught me about the whole life cycle of a study, but allowed me to shine when I get to that analysis that consulting piece of things.


In wrapping up our time with Ethan, we're reminded to embrace creativity, delve deeper into our analysis and value the insights we gain along the way. Thank you Ethan for taking the time to chat with us! Stay tuned for more diverse perspectives and conversations in The Research Happy Hours series.

About Bovitz Inc.

Bovitz Inc. is a market research and strategy firm that puts people at the center of design, innovation, and growth. They believe in the value that companies of all shapes and sizes can bring to people’s lives, and it matters to them that they do it. As a company, their mission is to give real people a voice so powerful that their stories change the course of business decisions.

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