29. Kathryn Campbell of Ticketmaster

In this episode of Dollars to Donuts I speak with Kathryn Campbell, the Director of Research & Insights at Ticketmaster.

Whenever there is availability of somebody that might normally work on the marketplace side, they might tag team on an account manager project and that helps to inform them about that product. It gives them a little bit more purview. It facilitates internal sharing of learnings because we are a very large, complex organization. So that flexibility is both more satisfying to the researchers, but also benefits the product teams in the long run. – Kathryn Campbell

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Steve Portigal: Welcome to Dollars to Donuts, the podcast where I talk with the people who lead user research in their organization.

Over the past few years I’ve been volunteering with MoveOn a progressive organization. My contribution is to be part of their texting team, where they identify an issue or a cause and a group of us volunteers send text message about that topic to their membership. Last week I was part of a campaign raise awareness of best practices for protection against coronavirus.

We don’t send text messages from our phones, it’s through a browser interface. A texter sees a pre-addressed, and pre-written message which they send, one at a time, usually thousands in total. When people respond, the volunteer can classify that response, which will produce a relevant response that we might customize to ensure it makes the most sense.

MoveOn collects responses and future campaigns (say, for someone to call their representative about an issue, or to get out of the vote) a built based on what they learn from looking at their data.
In this recent experience, we were asking people if they were practicing social distancing and sharing al link with resources and information. The responses that they were expecting were essentially, “yes I am”, “no I can’t (or don’t think I need to)”, “I need medical help” and “thank you.” The first day I participated, I heard from a number of people who were medical professionals. Now even though we are working on a dashboard with pulldowns menus, people are entering text on their phones, and have no idea what our interface is. They wouldn’t necessarily share their responses according to our predetermined categories. MoveOn runs a busy Slack channel where during any campaign you can get help in categorizing a response, or dealing with a situation that may arise.

So the next day when I was texting, I noticed two changes. The “thank you” response had been changed to “you’re welcome” which was a big improvement. Even though the “yes” and “no” responses were labels for what the person told us, if they said “thank you” as their response, your brain isn’t looking for a “thank you” label in order to send the text “you’re welcome” – you start looking for “you’re welcome” because that’s what you’re trying to say. The other change was a new response category for “I’m a medical professional.”
Whether they were looking at the responses in a table, or whether they had one of the volunteers raise this as an issue, I don’t know. I was interested in their ability to pay attention to the data and update their tools. It reminded me of survey research, not something I would say I’m particular expert in or anything. And I know in surveys it’s a best practice to do a pilot study, and maybe that’s where you catch something like this. It just reaffirmed for me that creating categories for people’s behavior and opinions is always a hypothesis, and deciding ahead of time how to categorize responses, before you’ve got a big pile of responses is always going to be flawed. MoveOn is able to make changes on the fly, even during a campaign, and I’m sure it messes up their data collection somewhat, but their priority is on the experience of the campaign, not their data. Survey researchers probably don’t have that opportunity. But it’s powerful to consider, well, what if they did?

Well, here’s another episode! As before, this was assembled quickly, with the budget I have available for production, which is zero. There’s no professional editor, there’s no professional transcript. The audio quality is the best we could get, when people are working at home, without access to all of their gear, using an Internet under strain, and so on.

And just a reminder that you can support this podcast by supporting my business. This is an uncertain time, and many small businesses are feeling the pinch and don’t know what’s coming. I will appreciate you keeping me in mind now and in the future as a collaborator in conducting user research, and as a resource for helping grow and develop your company’s capabilities. Please reach out!

All right, let’s get to my interview with Kathryn Campbell, the Director of Research & Insights at Ticketmaster.

Steve: Kathryn, thanks so much for being on dollars to donuts. I’m looking forward to the chance to speak with you.

Kathryn Campbell: Hi, Steve. Yeah, thank you. I’m looking forward to the conversation as well. I’m a big fan of your podcast.

Steve: And now you’re on the podcast. So

Kathryn: living the dream.

Steve: Yeah, living the dream. Well, we’ll see. We’re starting to live the dream. I would love for you to introduce yourself to begin.

Kathryn: Okay, great. Kathryn Campbell. I am the director of research and insights for Ticketmaster, which is a subsidiary of Live Nation, the world’s largest live entertainment company.

Steve: So in a minute, maybe we can talk about the research that you’re doing. But can you set the context a little bit about Ticketmaster itself?

Kathryn: Absolutely. So most of your listeners are probably familiar with Ticketmaster and if Had some interactions with us over the years. And we’re a 40 year old company, and a long time innovator and leader in the live event ticketing space. So most of us think about Ticketmaster, from the perspective of the fans, and the fans are a critical user group for us very near and dear to our hearts. And the people at Ticketmaster. Mostly come there because we are fans ourselves. But we also have a number of other customer groups that we serve. That includes the artists and their managers and promoters. It includes the venues and the surfaces that work with the venues like parking and refreshments. And we also have direct relationships with most of the major sports leagues in the US and another country. So football, basketball, hockey, all those kinds of things. So as you dig into it, you realize there’s actually a very Complex ecosystem of customers to serve.

Steve: Oh, so you do research with fans, artists, venues, leagues? I think those were the kind of groups you mentioned. What? Yeah, what does it look like? I mean, you know, within what you can describe, I’m wonder if there’s any aspects of some of those types of research that maybe are things we wouldn’t have heard about.

Kathryn: Sure. One of the things that I really enjoy about my job is working. We have a subsidiary called tm music that works directly with the artists and their teams. And it’s trying to get more money into their pockets rather than into brokers or scalpers pockets. So working with them on innovative solutions that allow them to ensure that people that say members Their fan clubs can pre order tickets, or receive priority in the waiting room or queue versus other people that we have not identified and might have reason to believe could be resellers. So that’s one area where we get to work. We also get to work with venues. And of course, we tend to think of the big arenas. But there’s also the relatively small theaters that do a lot of touring productions and helping them be more efficient and have a better relationship with their subscribers as well as one time buyers. And then with the lakes, it’s helping them get to know their customers better. One of the things that takes you a while to realize about ticketing is that in the old world, you only actually knew who about a fifth to a fourth of the people in your stadium or arena were most of them you know, one person might buy four tickets. So football teams might be selling out, but they don’t really know who a lot of the people are that are in that stadium, how far they’re coming from, what the composition of their group is. So there’s lots of interesting dimensions to the research that we do with those different segments.

Steve: Great. So a ticket buyer is not the same as a event goer.

Kathryn: Exactly. Yeah, it’s a different

Steve: two different stages there. Oh, well. What? You know, how do you given the different types of I mean, customers, users, etc, that you’re trying to learn about? Does that impact, you know, how you organize your own group and in order to work with different different parts of your organization and then different customers?

Kathryn: Absolutely. And, you know, this is an ongoing debate, I think, in the research world is whether you have a centralized group, you know, Internal agency, which is what our model is, or if you embed researchers in the lines of business so that they can work more closely with the stakeholders. What I feel is best for both the company and for the team members is kind of a hybrid model. I really like the mutual support and training benefits and the opportunity to stretch and grow of having everyone on a centralized team. But some of these areas are very complex. And so our internal stakeholders would like to have some continuity over time and work with the same person and not have to re educate them about the complexities of their product each time. So what I’m always trying to do is to maintain continuity to the greatest degree possible on the products and stakeholders, but also allow the individual researcher to feel like they are growing and stretching and developing new skills. Being exposed to new kinds of projects. So that is a constant balancing act.

Steve: So this may be a really annoying semantic question, or not even a question, but okay.

I liked the phrase that you use when you talked about embedded, you talked about embedding in lines of business. And sometimes when people talk, right, embedded, they talk about embedding on product teams. And those may be the same thing. But in terms of what they what picture they paint in my head. It I don’t know, is a product team and a line of business when we think for the purposes of embedding, is that a distinction without a difference, right?

Kathryn: So Well, not necessarily. I mean, you’re right within a line of business, there’s going to be multiple product teams and some of our products cross multiple lines of business. So for example, the person product that we use that support season ticket holders is called account manager. And it is basically a white label for the leaks or the theater theaters to manage their subscription customers, right. So that’s within one line of business, which is actually our enterprise, our b2b line of business. However, those people, the individual seasons, subscribers, season ticket holders are still fans, and they also want to buy maybe individual tickets, right? And they want to be able to manage their tickets in a centralized way. And they can easily get confused if there’s a different experience and account manager than there is in their account on ticketmaster.com. So, you’re right that it gets muddy. It’s not the same thing. But in terms of the underlying question about How do you balance that? One thing that we try to do is let’s say, we have one person who is an expert, which we do we actually have two people that are experts on account manager. However, whenever there is availability of somebody that might normally work on our what we call the marketplace side, the b2c side, they might tag team on an account manager project and that helps to inform them about that product. make them more aware of the complexities for a fam that has membership, you know, an accountant both and they can also inform that account manager team about some of the things that we’re doing on the marketplace side, right. So it gives them a little bit more purview. It facilitates internal sharing of learnings because we are as you’re beginning to get a sense we are evolving. Very large, complex organization. And we’re very fast moving. And so that flexibility i think is both more satisfying to the researchers, but also benefits the product teams in the long run.

Steve: It’s an interesting, it’s a, it’s a, I think, a brilliant idea to do sort of knowledge transfer or knowledge distribution, there’s probably a smarter way to say that by moving people, the people contain information, and you move the people around and the information, the knowledge, the expertise gets shared that way. As opposed to, you know, I feel like sometimes we will. There’s a there’s an idea, we should extract the information that’s in people and then centralize that, but you’re kind of, you’re distributing the people. Because the collaboration, you know, lets that expertise come to the surface and have impact in ways that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict.

Kathryn: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true. I remember listening to someone talking about how that was a strength that Google the way that people tended to move between different groups and the informal knowledge sharing and transfer there. I think with large, complex organizations that whether we like it or not that informal knowledge sharing is at least as important, if not more important than the more formal documentation, which is always going to be less rich and behind the times, right. And I also think, you know, at the risk of digressing that this whole issue of really caring for your team and their career is one that I think is too often overlooked. You know, even on the agency side, it’s always easier to satisfy your client, whether it’s an internal or an external client by having them keep seeing the same face. But no, who wants to be that person that only knows about One thing and keeps doing the same thing year after year. And you know whether or not you want to build out your portfolio because you want to eventually leave or maybe you just want to stay interested in engaged and challenged. I think it’s really incumbent on us as leaders to facilitate that growth. And that is a lot easier to do. If you deliberately encourage this kind of movement across different project types and skill sets.

Steve: What else do you do to take care of your team?

Kathryn: Oh, gosh, we do a lot of things. You know, in our weekly meeting, one technique that I developed a few years ago when I was working with a boutique agency primitive spark was to start the weekly team meeting by really sharing on a more personal level. What’s present for you, you know, are things going great and you want to share something? Do you have a sick kid at home And you’re worried about them. We really try to bring in a bit of that humanity to our professional understanding of each other, because it helps you understand where people are coming from. We also really try to encourage thinking as a team in all respects, we actively try to load balance. So you know, with research, you have the best laid plans, right? have everything laid out and then a product gets delayed, or it gets accelerated. And so you might find yourself either with three major projects that you need to do interviews on this week or nothing for three weeks. And so we’re constantly encouraging the team members to chip in and help each other and again that facilitates that ability to knowledge, share and maintain both personal growth and professional efficiency. Time,

Steve: whenever there. I mean, it seems like in some organizations there’s, you know, a lot of measurement of where you spend your time or where you don’t spend your time that may have the it may work against what you’re talking about, right? What How are people incentivized or just incentivizes spend their time? So, I’m wondering, I don’t mean I don’t know sort of how it works at Ticketmaster, you can obviously, say this is the goal. But is there are there measures in place to reward is the wrong word, but to support that kind of operationally?

Kathryn: Yeah, it’s a really good point because we get back what we incentivize and what we measure, right. So I do not keep a tight track of hours per week, or, you know, we don’t have billable hours because we’re an internal agency that that Not what the focus is on so much as a couple things. One is what kind of research we’re doing. I’ve heard you in prior podcasts, ask about focus on generative versus evaluative research. And so that is a focus for us. We want to continuously move upstream where we can have more value in terms of, you know, the quote to build the right it before you worry about building it, right. So we do have quarterly, okay, ours, objectives and key results around what percentage of your work is generative. To that end, we have embarked on a democratizing research program over the last year where we’re training the product designers. In how to do their own UX research, you prototype research, which has a number of benefits for everybody. One is it’s faster for the designer, they can do quicker, smaller studies, if they don’t have to wait for one of us to be available. They get closer to their end customer and get to understand them better. And it also means that we don’t get into the situation that happens with many UX research departments, where we’re just constantly every week or two churning out new studies, but never moving upstream to the bigger product concepts, right? So this way, we can kind of push off some of that more routine, prototype testing work. And we’re now focused on doing concepting focus groups or surveys to size market interest in something or facilitating a design workshop or or those kinds of

Steve: So I wanted to ask them about where projects come from. You’ve made space kind of made bandwidth for your team by empowering others to take on a certain set of projects. And now you listed a bunch of things that, you know, you’re free to go and do. Where do those projects originate?

Kathryn: Right? It’s a great question. And I think that feeling empowered to take some ownership of that process is probably the inflection point in terms of really adding value to an organization with research. So I am extremely fortunate because ticket masters president Amy Howe, and our cmo cat Fredrik out when I joined two years ago, both of them explicitly said to me, I do not want you to be an order taker. I do not want research to Be order takers. And so that said to me, You are empowered to go out there. And so we do a couple things. One is as projects come in, and we have a process by which things come into the queue, and then they’re reviewed and groomed weekly, and that sort of thing we talked about, okay, what here best aligns with a key corporate priority? And Ticketmaster is pretty good about sharing what the key business priorities are that people should be focused on. But then occasionally, we also say, Gosh, I wonder I keep hearing about this new thing, and it seems like a really important thing, and it seems like something we should be doing research on and nobody’s asked us to do a search. So we feel very comfortable pursuing those stakeholders and saying, gosh, you know, wouldn’t, wouldn’t it be a good idea to get some end user validation that this is the right set of requirements before we built this, or to help ensure you know that that we’ve captured all of the requirements here. We can do that we also have built in a model of periodically checking in with the most senior leadership at the company to tell them what we have been working on. And also what’s coming up, and to say, are the projects that we’re planning on doing for the next quarter aligned with where you think the real value for the organization is? And so that can also be a point of alignment. But yeah, increasingly, we find ourselves suggesting things that really should have research done on them. And sometimes, in fact, we just go ahead and do stuff. And I think that as long as you’re not just pursuing, kind of cool vanity projects, but you’re using as your North Star, what the origin This nation says are truly the key business priorities. I don’t see that that whatever turn out badly for you.

Steve: So in the situation where you are, you know, you’ve identified something that a group is working on. And you approach those stakeholders and say, Hey, we we could do this research that would help you at this point. I guess my, the question I’m really after is, you know, that this thing that a lot of researchers Express stress about the, you know, no one listens to me. They don’t take our recommendations, we can’t kind of impact the team, they go ahead and do what they’re going to do anyway. So how did the How does the How does the taking action on the research part play out when you are, you know, not being an order taker when you’re being proactive and kind of coming to them? What do you see happening as a result of the research?

Kathryn: I think that we as researchers need to be willing to be flexible. I don’t like to encourage stakeholders who constantly come in at the last minute when they could have allowed for more planning time. But sometimes things really do emerge at the last minute or become very urgent. And so we need to be willing to say, hey, what can we do to try to make research work within the time constraints and the other needs that this project has. And I think that if you are willing to be an empathetic partner in that respect that that earns you some trust in the relationship and they can see hey, you’re knocking yourself out to make this work. So I should go ahead and use it. And then the other thing is some stakeholders just get it more than others do and one of the best pieces of advice I got from analyst at Forrester Research when we were talking about how to build a culture that respects research, what she said, Hey, you know, work with the people that really value you create fabulous case studies, and then use them as advocates because that will have a lot more impact on the recalcitrant stakeholders then you constantly saying, Hey, why don’t you use research? research is good, right? So, you know, when I have to prioritize who to make room for I definitely prioritize people that historically have acted on our recommendations. Yeah.

Steve: That’s, that’s really good. I just want to highlight the first part of that, and make sure I understood that. You’re saying that if you adapt and you know, are flexible and are sort of demonstrably digging in to support someone, that that sets them up to be more receptive to the results of the work that you’re doing for them.

Kathryn: That’s that’s been my experience, you know, let’s face it 90% of the time. The reason someone does not embrace research is, well, sometimes they say to themselves, well, I won’t learn anything new. But the biggest fear is normally this is going to take too long. I’m already behind. I have to hit this deadline. That’s what I’m going to be measured by. It’s back to what we talked about earlier. people behave based on what they’re measured on. And product owners and certainly project managers tend to be measured on Did you deliver on time, right? So if I go to that stakeholder and I said, Look, I am really worried about the unknowns in this new product and rolling it out too quickly to a large audience without doing some more user testing with the beta product. We’re willing to take our whole team and work in the evening or over the weekend and pull this together because we feel so strongly that that would be a good thing to do. Well, that kind of puts the stakeholder in the position where if they say no, now they’re going to be held accountable if big things show up, right? They’re making a very conscious choice to say no. And the good news is, you know, I won’t say how long I’ve been in research, but it’s been quite quite some time. And in all of that time, there has literally never, ever even one time than a research project where I didn’t learn anything. There’s always a surprise and in our business, sometimes that little surprise can turn out to be something quite significant. So for us, you know, now in the last year a big product innovation for us has been around secure mobile ticketing, which means that your phone is your ticket, right? I don’t know if you’ve had experience now with going to events and everything’s on your phone. Well, if you happen to have, let’s say, an Android device with a heavy cover on it, it turns out that that impedes the scanner working correctly in certain circumstances. So there may only be if we do a quick beta test with 100 people, there might only be two or three people there. But when you scale that up to all of the people that are going to any event in the next year, all of a sudden you’re talking about having a big impact on our call center, for example. So you know, highlighting Oh god, I’m glad we combat. And and you know promulgating that story of how we went to bat and how we found those insights. You know, I think it builds a sense that it is in everyone’s best interest to work with us. Now, the flip side is, I also constantly am tracking down and hounding the Senior Product people to say, what’s coming up this quarter. What’s coming up this half of the year? Have your priorities shifted, let us know as soon as possible because I don’t like living in a state of chaos. I don’t like constantly having to shift all the priorities because of something being coming up at the last minute if in fact, we could have known about it in advance. So now when they see me in the hallway, they immediately go through their mental checklist of, oh, is there anything that I should tell Kathryn and her team about?

Steve: Right, because you want people saying Oh, when they So you’re coming down?

Kathryn: Well, in a good way,

Steve: in a good way, the good kind of Oh, here comes Kathryn you’re painting a picture for us. I mean, the you mentioned that, you know, when you first started talking with the leadership and protect the master about taking on this role, they had a they framed the position as something where you had agency where you were kind of going to do things as you said, not being an order taker. I mean, this, I would imagine, you have to guess here, but what what do you think created the conditions for them, that they understood the power of research and someone like you to, to work in order to work that way? How did they see that light?

Kathryn: You know, my hypothesis about that is both of those women are very smart, very data driven executives. So they We’re not particularly knowledgeable about research, we do have Ticketmaster has an extremely robust analytics group. So we invest a lot in site analytics and marketing analytics and have very in depth reporting and good turnaround times for learnings. So I think that they just wanted to extend that from the behavioral, you know, what are people doing data that we were very rich in into the Why are people doing that side that we were not rich in? So I think that having a data driven organization that only had half of the insights that they needed is probably what created that willingness to or that embrace of the research group.

Steve: And how does the work that your team does? How does that set With the the people or the work of of analytics?

Kathryn: Oh, that’s a great question because it’s kind of an unusual setup and yet I do think it’s the direction that the industry should move over time. So both micro, which is research and insights primary research, we sit next to an equal to the site and marketing analytics group. So that together we form a combined insight center of excellence that reports up through marketing. And Forrester has been promoting this idea of an insight Center of Excellence for some time of bringing together all of those different sources of information about your customers. The site data, marketing data, UX research, survey research, qualitative research into one place And when I hear the stories, the war stories from my colleagues at other companies, it really helps me appreciate how wonderful this construct is. Because just the other day, I was talking with a friend who’s in charge of user research for a global company, and he said, you know, any time our work starts to move in the direction of maybe doing a survey, all of a sudden the marketing research team wants to get involved, but they’re a completely separate group reporting to different people. They’re not as knowledgeable about the background on the study, you know, it becomes a big deal to engage them and yet, they don’t want us to do anything that looks like a survey if they’re not engaged. So you create these territorial issues and obstacles to free, flowing information and you’ve been unmuted. For a long time, you know how it is it’s kind of like unwinding the sweater where you start out in one place, and then you learn something interesting. And so you start to follow that down. And so things keep evolving, you know, the appropriate methodology and keeps evolving. So having everything centralized, the only thing that’s not centralized that I think is a key part of the insight into our customers is fan support and client support. And we work very closely with those groups. We exchange reporting, and we also check in with each other when an issue seems to be arising to see you know, what each other is hearing. But pulling all of that together, I think makes the company just much more insightful and more nimble to act on insights.

Steve: Maybe we can shift a little bit be interesting to hear about, you know, the makeup of your team, whatever, what kinds of backgrounds that people have coming in? Yeah.

Kathryn: So, you can imagine given the wide scope of research that we do, it’s, it’s a mosaic of people with different backgrounds and different skills. There’s a certain core skill set that everyone has to have in terms of You know, basic one on one interviews, usability testing, and straightforward survey research design. But beyond that, we definitely have areas of expertise, we have one person who really loves and embraces research Ops, and that is a godsend to all the rest of us, because it just makes everything much more organized and all the rest of us more efficient. We have a couple people, including my number two person who come from design backgrounds, and so they are especially good at thinking through how to make the information design as impactful as possible. So we’ve really been up leveling the quality of our reporting to make things more aesthetically pleasing and also to help focus the reader on the couple of key numbers or quotes or Whatever that they should really come away remembering. We have we just brought on someone who is expert in advanced analytics. So like I said, What I’m looking for is everybody has a basic, a couple of the same tools in their tool belt. And then across the team as a whole, were able to offer richness of skills in a wide variety of areas.

Steve: And when you talk to prospective hires are the kinds of things maybe beyond you know, the skills necessarily, but I don’t know. How do you think about trying to assess if somebody would be a good addition to your team?

Kathryn: Yeah.

I think that really the personality characteristics are more important in most cases than the hard skills although sometimes you need a particular Hard skill. It’s really important that people be smart and think quickly on their feet, you know,how how intensely you have to focus to shift when an interview shifts or to look at data and think about what it’s really telling you and whether or not there’s alternative explanations for that. So that that kind of skill set a mental nimbleness is very important. It’s very important to me, in particular, that they show initiative. I don’t want to be a micromanager especially, you know, when you’re working remotely and right now a lot of us are working remotely, you need to trust that people are going to pick up things and run with it. I think that the basic people skills likability and very strong verbal and written communication skills are pretty key. Once again, where we’re servicing Senior stakeholders across a wide variety of businesses and sometimes our insights might mean multimillion dollar shifts and investment. So a person has to be credible and take feedback seriously. You know, one of the things that we practice a lot is it helping our clients recognize the actions that are implied in an insight, but not overstating what the research itself told us, right? So it would indicate that this is a good new hypothesis for us to test and explore, maybe through research, maybe through a B testing, you know, but without saying, Oh, yeah, this is what fans want us to do if that was not exactly what the research says. So that kind of discernment is pretty important to maintain credibility as a researcher.

Steve: Among the researchers, today, what kind of relationship do you all have to? I guess live entertainment, right? The business that the ticket master is in, what’s the culture among your team relative to that?

Kathryn: It’s pretty fun. I have to tell you, it really is, um, you know, the hand employee handbook says, you know, in terms of dress code, it says, you know, come to work is your authentic self. And so, you know, people come to work and they’re in band t shirts, or they’re wearing a jersey for their favorite sports team. We have dogs, you know, dog friendly policy. So a lot of people bring dogs to work, when there’s a major sporting event, you know, the World Cup or something like that. We throw it up on the TVs in the office. So we are all fans and we really do empathize with and more To maximize the joy in the live event experience. And the flip side is we work. It’s a very, very, very high velocity environment. Ticketmaster is actually one of the largest e commerce companies in the world. And as we sometimes say, you know, every Tuesday is like, Black Friday, because, you know, when you have one big global music musician after another coming out with their tours, and you have 20 million people trying to get 400,000 seats all at the same time. You know, there’s a lot of stress on systems. So, yeah, it’s an intense environment, but it’s also a fun environment.

Steve: Do people, do people still line up to buy tickets that’s up maybe showing my age or a nice

Kathryn: They do but they line up virtually. they line up in a virtual waiting room. And yeah, and it’s it’s intense out there, you know, they’re stressed out and we have a lot of compassion and empathy for that, you know, somebody is so frustrated because they’re, you know, biggest star is announced a tour and they really want to see them. And the reality is that even if the systems work perfectly and very frequently, the systems don’t work perfectly. There’s just you know, demand outstrips supply. So, in certain circumstances, you know, when BTS goes on tour when Taylor Swift goes on tour, not everybody is going to get tickets, at least not immediately, you know, maybe eventually but it’s not easy. So again, working through fairly sophisticated tools to try Try to root out bots we actually get we turn away more than 1 billion with a B bots a month. You know, resellers and bad actors are constantly hitting our systems trying to scoop up all the tickets so that they can resell them at a much higher margin and we are spending all of our time trying to outwit them and trying to deliver real fans tickets to the events that they’d like to see within their pocketbook if at all possible.

Steve: So demand you know, for successful artists demand is always gonna outstrip supply, but you’re trying to make sure that as much supplies as possible is available for the for the fans.

Kathryn: That’s the goal.

Steve: I’d like to I’m going to shift gears.

Kathryn: you’re the host, you get to do that.

Steve: All right. I would love to hear a bit more about, you know, we’ve talked about, you know, your work most recently, but can you talk a little about your background, how you found research and how you found, you know, the kind of research that you’re doing now? Sure.

Kathryn: It’s an unusual background for UX research, but I think it is the perfect background for what I’m doing now and the direction that I think research is moving. I actually started out working for advertising agencies doing marketing research, doing segmentation studies, message testing, focus groups, you know, various brand measurements and became a brand strategist. I was is actually a partner for Ogilvy and Mather ad agency over brand strategy. And what I realized as the internet changed from being viewed as just a media channel to being really the whole business for some companies, I realized that the biggest problem with some of the brands I was working on was their poor user experience. And so I wanted to learn more about the elements of good user experience and what made a site intuitive as part of understanding how to align that experience with their brand promise. And over time, I just got more and more interested in user experience. And so that became both through self education and reading and taking classes. I never got a degree in HCI But I migrated into UX research. And because I had the prior background, I could also recognize when some questions came up, and I would say, Hey, this is not, this is not the kind of thing that Jakob Nielsen meant when he said you only needed five users. This is actually a survey research question that you’re thinking about here. And this is how we should go about that, or this is a conjoint pricing question. So developed an unusually broad research skill set, which is, as I said, perfect for what I’m doing today. I’ve given a lot of thought to why, what the obstacles are to having more integrated research departments like the one that we’re building at Ticketmaster. And I think the problem is, people come up through different silos. I mean, the research mindset, broadly speaking, is appropriate across all these different techniques, it shouldn’t stop with, you know, at the edge of one tool and now you need a completely different kind of training, researches research at a fundamental level. But I think the fact that some people start like I did in marketing research in the marketing department and some people start in UX research either in it or design or the product group, and they just don’t have much exposure to the other side. I think that that legacy of corporate organization is really what is holding us back more than anything intrinsic that says that we couldn’t work more closely together.

Steve: Hence the insight Center of Excellence.

Kathryn: Exactly.

Steve: Yeah. But then I think about you know, your, your earlier point about, you know, people, people moving themselves between different Different groups is learning for them, but also, they are pollinating or cross pollinating. And so you’re someone that’s moved from the advertising world in the marketing research world to the, as you said, the user experience world right now they are separate worlds. Yeah, I guess my question is just one that reiterates what you said, which was that it was, it was a, it was good for you to be able to do that and set you up. So

Kathryn: I think it’s good for all of us. Really, you know, I think the fact that we tend to transition careers is not just a fact of life, I think that it actually strengthens us. You know, so Dustin connais. At Ticketmaster, he’s Senior Research manager and he actually had started a pod of user researchers in the enterprise Design Group at Ticketmaster. Before I arrived, Dustin was a designer. And he took Hillary beanstalks class over at I think it’s Cal State Fullerton, and got so interested in user research that that became his passion. And he transitioned into becoming UX research and talked the design leader into letting him hire more people in that area. So now he’s part of this larger group. But he’s one of the people I was referring to that really helps elevate all of us. A lot of researchers are good at identifying insights, but we’re not fabulous at the way that we communicate those insights certainly visually. I’m one of those people. And so Dustin has been developing templates and guidelines so that our work isn’t ugly and tedious. To make it through, people are proud to share our decks and the key information jumps off the page at them. And, you know, we wouldn’t have that capability if Dustin hadn’t migrated his career in that way.

Steve: Well, he sounds like you to a certain extent, sort of discovering something that’s adjacent, getting very excited about it, investing in developing it themselves and then bringing, bringing not just the skills that they’ve learned, but that larger perspective, that larger set of skills and mindsets to help because research is a multifaceted thing. I think we keep talking about that. And so the diversity of skills is only enhanced by people kind of coming in from elsewhere and bringing their their previous kind of wardrobe or kits with them.

Kathryn: I agree. 100%. You know, I think that people that go into Research are almost by definition intellectually curious. And, you know, so we all benefit from the other things that are interesting to them, right?

Steve: I mean, one of the things that I’ve reflected on, you know, just given that I’ve been in this profession for a long time, and you know, I was in this profession when no one really knew what it was and including me that now you can’t now there are undergraduate programs or graduate programs, there’s a thing with a name that people can find, and they kind of come into it with a definition of what they what it is and what they’re going to bring to it. Of course, that doesn’t mean so that sort of the shape of the field has evolved because people are choosing it earlier, as opposed to finding it later. And I

Kathryn: yes, I mean, I agree with that. And I am right there with you. I share that that surprised at how Oh, wow. This is now Real Thing and none of us that started out, you know, came to it with that kind of background or at least very few. And yet, you know, if you go to research meetups, like I actually am the organizer for LA UX research meetup. Here in Los Angeles, there are still quite a few people that want to enter the field from adjacent fields, right. People that were designers, people that were content strategists, people that did maybe academic research. And so even with that clearer path and training opportunity, I don’t think it will ever necessarily end that there will be people trying to figure out how to leverage the life experience that they’ve had that does still bring a lot of value of a transition into a new skill set.

Steve: I mean, I feel like life experience is, and I don’t mean the amount of life experience you have, I just mean, the, you know, back to your, you know, your meetings where people talk about what’s going on with with them, you know, a culture you work in where people can bring their authentic selves, you know, that, to me seems so supportive of reach research, because it’s a mean depending on your method, but there’s a large amount of human to human that’s in it. And it is that makes it messy, but also very real. And if you don’t have space to be yourself at work, if you’re not creating an opportunity to kind of connect, you know, backstage in front stage or whatever your metaphor is, then that makes it hard to I think, to do research as well as it possibly can as you possibly can. So, as you said, your life experience whether that’s, you know, anything, I mean anything, any life experience that you have had, as well as sort of discipline and education professional experience to me, feel Kind of feeds the whole beast

Kathryn: 100% 100% you know, we also have another Senior Research manager on my team Brent Lowe. He came from a theater background and you know, so he brings an energy and exuberance to facilitating brainstorming sessions and meetings and helps to coach some of the people that are perhaps a little bit more introverted by nature and how to maintain that high level of energy that, you know, facilitates people contributing lots of ideas, right? So it leveraging whatever background and passion you have and being able to find a way to nurture and express that in your profession to me, that’s that’s a win win for everybody. Right.

Steve: And within your team, people, you know, and you said this before, we were talking more about about maybe methods or projects, I guess, but that also is an opportunity for each other to learn. I mean, work with a theatre person on the same project, you’re going to just you can’t help but be exposed to and inspired by different approaches to anything.

Kathryn: I agree.

Steve: And so you mentioned that you you had when you were working in advertising, you know, you you spent time in the agency world. How do you contrast that a life inside a corporation versus life inside an agency?

Kathryn: Yeah, that’s a good one. It was a big transition for me. I spent a lot of my career in agencies either large or small. And you know, the fun thing about agency life is usually everybody’s very smart, very creative. You’re constantly learning something new because you have Learn about the industry for each of your different clients. And that’s all fun. And I was I was nervous to be completely honest with you when I went to work for a huge corporation, like Ticketmaster Live Nation. And the good news is that ticket master is as I was explaining earlier, so complex, I don’t think I’m gonna get bored there anytime soon. You know, there’s, there’s still lots and lots and lots to learn. And it is kind of fun to rather than just tell somebody what they should do and give them the idea and hand it off to them. It can be it can be frustrating and it can be time consuming, and it can take a lot of perseverance to see that through. But there’s also a real joy in that Being part of something that comes out the other end, then you say, wow, you know, I played apartness, building that product in the first place, or I made a major contribution to how user friendly it is. And so that creative aspect of it is a little bit different. It’s not as much time on the blue sky brainstorming and a little bit more on the Okay, so how do we still pursue this given these technical integration considerations or these other challenges that in the real world, you have to work through, right. But it’s been very fulfilling. It’s been a great experience so far.

Steve: Is there anything that we should try to cover in this conversation that we haven’t got to?

Kathryn: Those were a lot that you hit on a lot of great questions. So it’s been a real joy chatting with you. I’m just kind of curious, you talk with so many people. Are there any trends that you find emerging or find very interesting in user research right now?

Steve: I mean, part of the fun of doing this podcast is talking with people who are I mean, it’s the design intent of the podcast, people who are who are in leadership roles. And you know, at so where the organization has invested to a certain point, because I think if you sort of hang around with researchers as I do, you hear a lot of the same concerns. So it’s interesting to talk with you and hear how either you’ve built around them or the conditions were created differently. So you know, you’re describing a situation where the research team is proactive. But that’s by design. It’s. So you are sort of you were given that opportunity. And I don’t mean to diminish your accomplishment that way, but the culture, the culture, the leadership kind of started off there. And I think a lot of people want to get to that stage. And it just makes me think about you know, like, there’s a lot of there’s a lot of frequently asked questions, I think that and we talked about them, maybe using some different language, but you know, having influence getting time, you know, having buy in isn’t there’s a lot of anxiety about that. I, I hear that from people in so many different environments that I go into. And I feel like more and more, I’m realizing, and maybe everybody else already knows this, but I’m realizing it’s like it’s hard to manage up on those things. It’s hard to, you know, create a culture that isn’t there. It’s hard to sort of change leadership. shifts mind. It’s that the there’s a lot of these are big picture things, how do we get everyone working on the same thing? Or how do we not duplicate research? Well, we have to devote resources to managing that. And I feel like because there’s a lot of scrappy research practices out there. Sort of under resourced, without leadership without guidance, you know, not completely bought into there’s a lot of hope for you know, magic fixes to systemic problems. So, you know, when I hear how people have worked hard to either find or build, you know, cultures, investment supports, that doesn’t have those problems. I don’t mean to say that everything is perfect for you or anybody that that I talked to, but it sort of drives home that you kind of can then there should be some folksy saying about how you you Can’t get the thing that you need without really going without really having what it takes to pull that off. So, if you’re a solo researcher and you work kind of taking, you know, taking orders, you know, for some designers and you’re by yourself, you can’t really change the corporate culture and buy in around research in the belief because that, you know, often needs to be there beforehand. So it’s a it’s a heavy lift for those folks. And I know they want it. So yeah, yeah, I mean, I’m telling you what I learned from you, I guess it how it fits,

Kathryn: right. Well, no, I, I really agree with what you’re saying, you know, there’s that old saw. Pick your parents carefully or pick your parents? Well, you know, the secret to so many things in life is good genes, right. So I think that what you’re highlighting for folks that are looking for work is You know, especially earlier in your career, it’s easy to get caught up in the title and the salary and that kind of thing. But there’s, there’s some of these bigger issues that you’re touching on Steve that are really so much more important. You know, what, what is the attitude toward research? Are people looking forward to you and what you’re providing? Or are they crossing their arms and being defensive about it? Do they view research as being an essential ingredient in success? You know, I sometimes say to people, I know that you’re just focused on getting out the door as quickly as possible, you know, moving fast and breaking things, but I genuinely believe that I am the fastest path to you launching a successfully adopted product in the marketplace and by I mean the research team, right. So you know, looking at Those things asking some questions kind of testing that out. If you are earlier in your career, and you can find a company that will really value and encourage you in that career, then that’s going to be a lot better for you in the long run and a lot more satisfying, personally, than making an extra $5,000 or having a senior in front of your title or or that kind of thing. I mean, that’s my perspective. What What do you think?

Steve: I mean, I would say yes, and some people may like the challenge, some in but you know, I guess go into these things with your eyes open. Yeah, so if this is not a place, go ahead.

Kathryn: Oh, no, no, I was just going to say I do think this is one of the drivers behind the trend in the last couple of years of teaching UX designers and UX researchers to better understand the language of business. I imagine you are familiar with, you know, these workshops and things that are starting to crop up. And there is some truth to that, that if a person in product leadership is focused on, you know, we were talking about before, what are you measured on? Okay, well, you’re measured on, you know, did you hit stay within the budget for this product at launch on time? What was the initial adoption? And the initial adoption is going to be the last thing to be measured? You find that out after the fact, right? So if we only ever talk about user experience as well, we want our fans to have a positive user experience that makes it seem like a nice to have, right? Yes, if time allows, of course, we’d like to do that. So I do think that if you’re in one of those less hospitable, less enlightened environments, that learning how to frame your work in a way that makes it clear that it is directly part of that team’s success and that you are all about I use terms like mitigating risk, enhancing adoption, reducing wasted dev effort, right? Those are the ways that I talk about research because it makes it really clear. And, you know, one thing I left out of my background is along the way, I got an MBA in business, you know. So it makes it a little bit easier for me to think about the way to talk about what I do in the benefit oriented terms that my stakeholders will understand.

Steve: I feel like what pulled research along you know, for many years, when we started having phrases like UX, which we didn’t always have, was was designed was user experience, and that that was kind of the foot in the door for a lot of technology companies. And that it, those people in that work highlighted the need for research and so we’ve kind of been pulled along. And, you know, I think you’re highlighting another what feels like a transition to me that research is part of the organization, whatever part of the organization, all of the parts of the organization, or can impact all of those. And that’s the reframe, you’re talking about, from, hey, research, can we can help create a good user experience too. We can help, right, you know, change the how the business model we can help. Right, reduce inefficiencies in engineering. Those are all that’s not that’s research sort of stepping out of the shadow of its big brother and saying, like, Hey, we’re, we’re a function that does all this stuff. And that’s I feel like that is part of the future that you’re that you’re looking towards and kind of helping to move to feel towards

Kathryn: Yeah, a great, good way to put it.

Steve: All right, well, if we’re almost at wrap up, I want to tell you about my experience working at Ticketmaster.

Kathryn: Okay.

Steve: Because I worked as an undergraduate computer science student I, I worked at a subset was a subsidiary It was a company in in Toronto called bass, which was best available seating service. Bought bikes got bought by Ticketmaster long ago. It was bass ticket master for a while then just became like, part of ticketmaster.ca when I was a night run operator, so there was no there was no internet. So it was it was lining up at the record stores that had terminals, and it

Kathryn: right right.

Steve: And it was the phones. So I was in a little office that had like the phone banks. You know, if you think of like a 70s movie with like a computer room with like the raised floor and the glass walls, you had to like to like badge in into it. I worked well, I worked in like an office outside there. And so at the end of the night, like I would go in and was like a, I don’t know, like a 6pm to like 1am shift. And you basically had to wait for all of the nodes of the network to close like so whenever the club sold its last ticket or the planets ran his last show, all those things would go offline. And then there were all these like men and women who had to run scripts that would then print out I think every record for the day. So you just print out these huge so that was their audit trail, I guess. I mean, I didn’t have any mental model at the time, but you just go print out all these things like 132 character tractor, whatever the metric was the super wide. Super fast printers that were in this room and you have to, you know, tight tape all these reports and take the tractor feeds off them and staple them and put them everybody’s mailbox and then do a disk backup, which was these dishwasher sized appliances you’d open the top and there was a harddrive in there which looked like like a giant kind of cake container. unscrew them physically move, you know, disc a to there was two there was a some kind of backup thing, you’d move one to the other and take one off the shelf and like run this, like 25 minute job to kind of back everything up. And it was I mean, I don’t know if it was archaic at the time, but it’s obviously just like a weird history thing there. But of course even even the tech people were like so into music, so into bands just exactly like what you’re describing there. They had that same culture. And it was fun to be part of that. It wasn’t fun to be moving disc packs around it, like 1am. But

Kathryn: anyway, pretty cold, right?

Steve: Yes, temperature control.

Kathryn: Oh, that is great. That is a great story. Well, you’ll have to, I’d be happy to get your ticket master t shirt. It sounds like you’re an OG

Steve; like old old OG. Yeah.

Steve: Well, this was really fun. Thank you for taking the time and, you know, sharing your perspective on all the things that you’ve accomplished and kind of your your vision for the field. I think

Kathryn: I really enjoyed this. Thanks. Thanks so much. Yes.

Steve: Thanks for listening! Tell your colleagues about Dollars to Donuts, and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. You can find Dollars to Donuts on Apple Podcasts and Spotify and Google Play and all the places where pods are catched. Visit Portigal dot com slash podcast to get all the episodes with show notes and transcripts. And we’re on Twitter at dollarstodonuts, that’s D O L L R S t o D O N U T S. Our theme music is by Bruce Todd.

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