Company Spotlight

‘Seek Company’ Leverages the Power of Empathy in the Evolution of Market Research

seek company

Photo: Tim Urmston and Jerry Haselmayer, Co-Founders

Ivy Exec spoke with Tim Urmston, Founder and CEO of Seek Company, to learn about its founding and the role of empathy and storytelling in its work.

Seek Company specializes in human understanding and partners with the world’s most visionary brands to help them innovate and grow through a deep connection with the people they serve.

What was the inspiration for you to found Seek Company?

I worked at Procter & Gamble from 1991 – 1997. During my last year with the company, I met a guy named Bob. Bob was 54 ½ years old, and he had been working at P&G since he was 18. Every day, as we would walk to the office together, Bob would tell me how much he hated his job, how much he disliked the people that he worked with, and how many days he had left until he would retire and pursue his passions.

…only 178 days until retirement.
…only 123 days left until retirement.
…only 83 days left until retirement.

One cold day in the middle of January, I pulled in the back of the long, narrow parking lot, and Bob’s car wasn’t there. I walked into the building, down the long fluorescent-lit corridor, and into my lab. On my way, I ran into another co-worker and asked her if she had seen Bob this morning. “Oh, you didn’t hear…Bob passed away last night…I’m so sorry Tim…I know you guys were close,”

Exactly 31 days before Bob’s retirement, he passed away…And I went upstairs and quit my job!

Our Purpose as a company is 3 fold:

  • To Release the full potential in People
  • To Inspire and Cultivate Big Ideas
  • To Do Good in the World.

How are you changing the face of market research?

Our main differentiator is the technology of Empathy. We spend time training our clients on how to empathically connect with the humans they are trying to serve. While other companies talk a lot about empathy, we have scoured the academic landscape to discover the robust science behind empathy, how it works and the implications it can have on the marketplace and the world. We believe that human beings are extraordinary and when a brand can connect with them on an empathic level, those they are trying to serve will not only become loyal but will become advocates.

Where do your company’s best ideas come from?

Our best ideas come from the stories told on behalf of the people our clients are trying to serve. When you see the world from their perspective and through their eyes with their motivations (both conscious and non-conscious), you create ideas from a place of compulsion to solve problems on their behalf. This is a very different way to innovate. This creates meaningful ideas in products, services and messaging.

What kinds of projects do you typically engage in that involve the type of audience we have at Ivy Exec?

At our core, we focus on bringing the consumer story to the marketplace. We believe that consumers are human first. Representing their collective voice is at the heart of everything we do – gathering deep insights, developing new ideas, or repositioning a brand. The quiet and loud, young and old, cautious and daring, interns and executives – there is incredible power in consumer voices. Projects are personal for our clients and empathy is personal for us.

What is one project you can share that exemplifies Seek Company’s capabilities?

A pharma company came to us to understand why young Moms with diabetes don’t take their medicine. We ended up inheriting a data deck that captured a lot of what I would call “traditional” insights. The insight that they were working from was the following…

“I don’t take my insulin in the evening because it is hectic and busy and I forget.”

We trained the client team to pick up on the other 93% of language that is non-verbal. Then we sent them into the field to observe these young Mom’s in the evening during their normal routines. After seeing similar body language and tones from each of the Mom’s we observed, one of our clients noticed that every mom’s shoulders were turned down (indicating shame), their eyes were often rolling up (indicating contempt), and their tone was very sharp with their kids (indicating frustration). Through a series of activities, the deeper, empathic insight came out.

“I don’t take my insulin in the evening because my family is around and every time I put that needle in my arm or take that pill, I am reminded that I am broken, and I don’t want to be broken around people I care about.”

The implications of this insight were enormous because if you pursued the first insight and created ideas to remind her, then you probably spent millions of dollars giving her something that is the exact opposite of what she needs and wants. From this work, we identified several product, service and messaging ideas that outscored anything that they had come up with prior to this work.

Don’t settle for the “traditional” insight – learn empathy and the science behind it. By doing so, you will create ideas and solutions for the people that you are trying to serve that will endear them to your brand and your innovations.

Where do you see the Market Research industry heading in the next 3-5 years?

While most companies are heading toward digital offerings that can produce quick turnaround data and, as a result, quicker ideas to market, we believe that the industry is becoming very fragmented with faster and cheaper solutions. We are placing a big bet on the fact that companies who slow down and understand the people they are trying to serve at a deeper, more human level will actually speed up their innovation in the long run. Not only will their innovations get to market more quickly, but they will be accurate and more powerful as a result of empathically connecting. It is not for the faint of heart, but those with the courage to jump into empathy will grow their brands and their bottom lines while helping the people they serve.

What do you have planned for 2017?

We are expanding our offerings into the companies that we serve by helping them empathically connect with one another within their organization. By doing this first, empathy becomes a way of life and can actually change a corporate culture and transform the individuals within the organization. We have seen this time and time again with those who have had the courage to step into this with us.

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