360i's Kate Paulin discusses company synergy, research findings and hopes for the future

By Lauren Renz

February 20, 2017
The author (center) with Kate Paulin and 360i chairman Bryan Wiener '92

Kate Paulin, senior vice president of insights and planning at 360i, visited the Newhouse School Feb 13. Paulin spoke to students in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium as a guest of the Eric Mower Advertising Forum. Before her talk, she sat down for a discussion about her beginnings in advertising and her experience in the industry.

Why did you choose to go into advertising and market research?

It’s funny, a lot of people say they’ve sort of stumbled into advertising, but I was the opposite. I knew this was going to be my career from the get-go. When I was a child, I would watch “The Price is Right,” and I would be more excited about the commercials or guessing the product [than] the actual content or games. From a very early age, I was already thinking about why consumers do things and how marketers are thinking and why brands succeed or fail. After I graduated, I got a job at Universal McCann Media and really loved the planning aspect of figuring out how consumers regard your message in general. I loved the magazine and print aspect and that guided me to market research.

What are your tactics for managing four major offices?

It’s a fun challenge to find the right balance between offices with very different personalities. LA is very laid back and scattered in a good way; Atlanta is very kind and polite and diligent; New York is fast-paced and a little on the neurotic side; Chicago is pretty Midwestern, nice and polite. But all offices are super smart and fun to be around. One of the ways that I manage the different personalities and work styles is through [personality test] DiSC, a really cool technique that 360i adopted that allows you to understand the preferences people have when communicating. This allows for a great overall synergy.

There are so many different types of consumers today. What are some of the ways you engage this diverse array of people on a more personal level?

There are a lot of different approaches to understanding consumer behavior. One area we focus on, which we believe is underrepresented in the market, is using the consumer’s own voice. We use social listening and internet and the data they leave behind to follow their path. But that has its strengths and weaknesses. More traditional methods, like typical quantitative surveys and focus groups, are also really important, but they can be biased.

In looking into the psychographics of so many different people, you have probably come in contact with varying shades of bias. Do you see stereotyping in many of your target audiences?

A lot of time as researchers, we have closed minds without even meaning to, since we are trying to get data that we can use and structure. The internet is nice because it opens our eyes a little bit and shows us what’s actually happening versus what marketers think is happening. But it’s very important that when we do analyze the data to make sure that we aren’t jumping to conclusions right away or starting to have generalizations. Anytime we do come across stereotypes, we can use that as tension in the insight itself.

Is there a specific example of an insight shaped from an overlying stereotype?

For Lean Cuisine, we discovered that there was a lot of negativity around people using the product. People would make fun of Lean Cuisine users, saying things like, “I hope I’m never the person eating Lean Cuisine by myself on a Saturday night.” However, the actual users and consumers are incredibly accomplished women who are not losers at all. They’re very successful. So that stereotype enabled us to find this tension between what people were saying and in a way shaming these really accomplished women. Sometimes you can use stereotypes to your advantage versus having it be a liability.

What do you hope to discover in your research 20 years from now about today’s youngest generation, Generation Z?

I hope to find tolerance that we haven’t seen yet in other generations. In terms of just being really more open-minded and exposed than previous generations. I think we’re already starting to see that shift in a lot of brands and the places they choose to spend their money. Most companies are more interested in having a purpose beyond just a profit. They are still selling something but they are also focused on giving back. I think millennials have started that trend and Gen Z is picking up on that pretty clearly. Gen Z is going to be the generation that has the most potential impact on the world since many of them have only seen a black president, and now they’re seeing a reality TV star as president. Things are changing, the rules are changing and nothing is set in stone. I think this will inspire them.

Lauren Renz is a junior advertising major at the Newhouse school.