• John Ennis

Stan Knoops - Real Insights


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Stan Knoops is the Global CI Director at IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances). Stan has over 12 years of global experience at the creative interface of R&D, Marketing and consumer behavior. He has degrees in Food Science, Food Marketing, and Economics. At the start of his career, Stan had the opportunity to work closely with some of the most innovative thought leaders in sensory research such as Pieter Punter and Harry Lawless. Currently Stan leads the consumer research program for the fabric category for IFF. Stan is a member of the board for the Dutch Market Research Association (MOA).


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Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)



John: Stan, welcome to the show.


Stan: Thank you very much.


John: Yeah. It's great to have you here. And we're having a nice discussion here before the call. Actually, it's interesting. We have a lot in common in terms of like Pieter and Harry also influencing my career. But something that was interesting in our kind of pre-call discussion was your passion for real insights. And we're talking about, you know, a lot of people use the term insights, but I think you have a very particular view on what is a real insight. So I think it would be good for our listeners to kind of hear your definition of a real insight and to hear your thoughts around that topic.


Stan: Yeah. We spoke about it. I really think it's kind of in the world that's used too many times. So I'm quite specific to make sure whenever I use it, there's real value behind. I call it refrigerator insights. So it kind of means the moment you open the door, the light goes on. We have the proper definition of an insight. We call it the triple A insight. So you need first, A for actual. You need actual data behind it. And then the second part, you need an AHA moment. You need to have a surprise. And then the third A is kind of the action. You need to have an opportunity to do something with that, to implement, to commercialize, to sell it. We call that triple A insights. And the preacher of making sure we have a real in-depth insights t that can make an impact.


John: And what are some of the principles you'd recommend then in kind of the pursuit of these insights? What are the things you think are important? The the skills that we need as researchers or the things we should be thinking about in order to move us towards real insights and, you know, not just spinning our wheels.


Stan: I think then it is important to when I count the success of an insight, is that the impact we make with it. So what are we actually doing differently? Are we building new factories? Are we selling new innovations? So it means that the source of the insights needs to be traceable. You need to be able to kind of get back. Where exactly did you find it? And I also think it's important to really think beyond the normal normal way. So it's all like, 50 percent of the United Kingdom consumers are using a fabric conditioner. That's not kind of you, that's just a fact. You need to build a hurdle. What can we do with it? So it's those kind of fun and I think different types of skills that you need to connect to goals, to think a little bit deeper, to step in the shoes of the consumers, to come to do to, well, refrigerator insights.


John: Yes. Well, let me ask you about something that's kind of been on my mind lately and this direction, which is the question of designing research to investigate particular questions versus allowing data to suggest hypotheses to you, right? So when you're looking for these kinds of insights, is this a situation where you have an idea and then you design a study to go after a particular idea? Or is your approach more that you are, you know, collecting data and then you're looking through the data to try to figure out, like what stands out to you? Do you have a particular perspective that you prefer on that topic? Do you prefer to design a study to investigate a particular question, or do you prefer instead to do a kind of general level research and then allow the data to suggest hypotheses to you?


Stan: There are multiple answers on that, but I think I'd prefer to keep it as short and simple as possible. And that means to have a very clear hypothesis and try to answer that. But I think what is also important there is kind of an iteration that you're not doing that only once, but that you make it very small and simple. But you kind of repeat that multiple times in a slightly different context or throughout the product development cycle.


John: So, yeah, I mean, that really speaks to me for sure, that I think that in sensory sometimes we are too limited in how we think about. We do a study, get a result, and we kind of, I mean to take your refrigerator analogy in every direction. You put the result in the refrigerator that you don't, where instead we need to be building a comprehensive body of knowledge and that, you know, science progresses iteratively, like you said. So I think that's, yeah, definitely.


Stan: I think today's pressure to get things done and the speed at which you deliver need to deliver information is also not helping a lot there. So I think that's probably another skill that the today research need to really ring-fence time to think and to be able to connect the dots between different studies or source of information.


John: Yes, that is really interesting because that definitely brings up a whole other set of skills that I think actually we oftentimes don't have a very high level of in sensory, which is communicate with management and communicate the importance of, like you said, creating some boundaries where we can do real research. So what advice do you have on that front in terms of, you know, successfully defending your ability, you know, your your ability to do science as opposed to simply just, you know, produce answers in a reactive way?


Stan: Well, I think what helps me a lot is to first understand the strategy of IFF where there's another company wants to go to. Because in order to get kind of research designs across, it helps a lot. If I speak the same language as a senior management and so we're on the same page. So we kind of know each other challenges and the issues that are important, that's probably a big thing. So also, there is connecting the dots. It's kind of the research plans that I'm proposing, I make sure that it aligns to the other initiatives that are being done at, well, in my case in my company.


John: Yeah. Right. I definitely see that and that's something I think we can do to do a much better job. And then some of our other guests have said is that you really have to aware what else is going on inside the company, right? And to talk to people in all walks of life in your company to have a sense of the larger culture.


Stan: That's another interesting one, I think but we are not doing sufficiently is, I think, talk with people in other fields or in other outside the company or outside your university. I get lots of inspiration and ideas. If I talk with students, especially students from Design Academy.


John: Right. Yes.


Stan: They really think differently. Well that helps me quite a bit. But it's also the people in the core R&D organizations, the people that actually develop molecules and actually make things. There are so much knowledge there available, but it's more kind of finding the right tone to kind of relieve that information. So it's stepping outside your normal comfort zone maybe to really talk with different people. That helps me a lot to sharpen the consumer insight or sensory strategy.


John: Yeah, I definitely see that a lot. It's interesting, you know, I recently had Thierry Lageat on the show. And he brought up design as well. The design user experience, sensory. These are oftentimes kinds of different sides of the same point. There's a huge overlap between, you know, between UX and sensory and also with design. Right? Very interesting. Okay, so something I kind of want to go back to before we totally go on to a different topic, is kind of the use of automation, data analytics. I know you have a fair amount to say on this topic as well. So you have now been in sensory, when did you begin your career ? Are you about 25 years in sensory now?


Stan: 20 years I think.


John: Okay. So you've seen a lot and I mean, things are definitely changing even just the last five years things have changed a lot. So what do you think of all the changes that are happening with automation and data analytics, how that's impacting sensory? I mean, do you think, like, this is interesting because it's easy now to do lots of irrelevant analysis quickly, right? But what are your thoughts on analytics and automation within sensory? And how that's changed over time?


Stan: Well, yeah, that's a big topic as well. I think especially in the last 10 years or maybe even the last five years, you see lots of tools and analytics being launched. And I always thought, well, that's a very good thing. I assumed it will make my life easier, but I kind of realized that there was some sort of interesting paradox. I think at the same time, I have much more information available. I also need to spend a lot more time to figure out what that really means. So I do think that automation is essential. Artificial intelligence is emerging and brings on many good things. But the key question is what to do with all that information? What does it actually mean? And coming back to my passion for insights, I also think and can relate that to this quite easily. It's really about understanding and stepping in the shoes of the consumer or really getting in the skin about what it means. And the more data you have, the harder you need to work to do that. So I'm a little bit, of course, there are artificial intelligence big data, I use that a lot. But for me, it's a big challenge to get information out of that. My life is not getting easier. My life is maybe getting more complex. But the insights I deliver in the end are better.


John: Interesting. Yeah, I mean, this is something I think about for sure and this is come up in our number podcasts recently, too, is that it's more important to work on the right problem, right? Than it is to you know, with statistics it's easy for me to investigate, you know, because of data science. I can have a data set and I can look at it 5000 different ways and I can run all these analysis, right? But a lot of the time, I think that the ease with which all this analysis can be run, can actually be a negative because it'd be better to spend, you know, when you know that it's going to be a big deal to run analysis, you actually spend more time thinking about whether or not is the right analysis, right? Or whether not it's the right thing to look at. So there is a kind of attention there I think.


Stan: I'm working with new products, new launches of fragrances in new products and the most important thing is that consumers are actually able to pick up a difference. And I don't need advanced statistics to do that. I need a clear signal coming through. So a very simple t-test is often already doing the job for me. If I'm not able to see anything there, it's probably not helping me to do advance analysis. Of course, that all the areas where it makes more sense but the majority of my work is fast moving consumer goods and the fragrances can make a difference for consumers.


John: So on that topic, I actually don't have a fair amount to say about kind of innovation within fragrance. And so I'll be kind of curious as to before we get off the topic of fragrance to hear what you have to say about some recent innovations that you've been a part of within the fragrance category. Are you able to share some of your knowledge about it?


Stan: I think innovation is very important for IFF. So it's good for me, it kind of fits. And although there was one very recent innovation news. So consumers like in their fabric conditioners and detergents, what they are asking for is more freshness. They want to have more moments of experiencing a fragrance when they're wearing the clothing. So we have a fragrance technology that is able to actually deliver that. But then comes the, so the moment we got that and the other question comes back. So how can we measure that with consumers? How can we actually figuring out that they are have more moments to actually experience the fragrance? Because in the normal traditional study is kind of a home use test. You play the product for two weeks and at the end of the two weeks, you go back and you ask the respondent a couple of questions. So you will ask how long did it last and how many times did you experience a freshness? But it is all for memory. And it seems very small, but it took quite a while to actually get there. I briefed an agency, we collaborate with a lot and they are real for innovation, Blue Yonder in England. We brief them to help us to make something to measure this. And so when I came back with is the actual clicker. Because like you have in an airplane where you count people. But then this is kind of an automated device you wear on your watch or your necklace. And the only thing it does is you can click on it. That's it. But it gets very in the moment data of every time they experience fragrance. And to my surprise, because that's why I mentioned it, I think it's so extremely simple, but I have not seen it around maybe exist. I'm very happy to hear it. There are some apps you can open your mobile phone and then click on counting things. But there are still a big process to open your mobile phone and go there. And this, you always have with you, every moment you smell a fragrance, you click on it. And that gives a very new metric for sensory and consumer research. You have kind of the heartbeat of a fragrance throughout the day, which will help us a lot to find weaknesses or find improvements on which ingredients are working better. Is there a specific at the end of the day? Do we need to design a fragrance data? So, yeah, I really think that's well, I'm proud of that.


John: Well, that's great.


Stan: Well, it is a simple insight. And it's actually a new metric as opposed to, let's say, the traditional way asking things from memory or in a very controlled location. Now we have in the moment data just counting things.


John: Yeah. That's is so important right now. I mean, it's interesting how there's so many, this is taking a kind of step back but right now, I think with public policy, it's really important to measure the right things, righ? We're trying to figure out in coronavirus, what should you measure? What matters is that, you know, ICU beds, deaths, cases. What's the actual thing that's relevant. In this case, what you've done, I think, is you are measuring exactly the right thing, right? And you've taken away all the friction from the measurement so that it's easy, right? I mean, I'm passionate about this as well. We have a platform for a smart speaker surveys where, you know, you can just speak out loud. You don't have to put you know, you're feeding your pet and so you can just answer questions you don't have to like, you know what I mean? Like, if you had a phone, it'd be more complicated. But I think in your case, you've got a measurement that's completely fit for purpose. So I think that's excellent. Yeah.


Stan: Yeah. But that's more the whole innovation process. But it seems the simple, but it's unbelievable. All the little hiccups that especially in this case Blue Yonder, but encounters throughout the way to actually develop it and have it in the hands. It basically took two years from the ID until we are able to use it. But it's also probably the fun of coming with new tools or methods or in this case devices.


John: Yeah. That's great. That's really good because you're in an era of like Big Data and 5G and all this is tempting to just measure everything. But more important measure the right things. And I think you're measuring the right thing there. Right? Like in the moment. So that's very excellent. Okay. So I would like to kind of get your advice here. I know that there's yeah, there's a lot of things here to talk about. But in terms of like skills that you think people should be working on right now, what do you see? What advice do you have for your junior colleagues? What are the skills that you think are most important for our sensory scientists to be cultivating right now? Given how much the world is changing? How should we stay relevant in the modern world?


Stan: Yeah. There are a couple of things I think that are important, especially with all the data coming towards us. I think one of them is the well, the ability to work with conflicting information. It's often it's too easy to say, well, I have two results, let's disregard one, because this is more correct. But I think to really try to understand why are they different? There's often a lot to learn. Well, it's kind of similar but embracing outliers. We all have seen data sets where there is one or two points that are not fitting the bubble, it's weird and it's extremely simple to say, okay, let's forget about it. It's kind of strange respondent. But I got lots of value in trying to figure out what's happening. Why is this respondent of this product perceived so different? Another one, that's trusting your gut. But maybe the best do with age, I'm not the youngest researcher around anymore but it is a skill I think we should be proud of. That the good field that we have, if we see something, we believe in it. Well, let's push for it. Sometimes you go wrong. But I do think that passion that you really believe in something is more often than not turning in something positive.


John: Yeah, I definitely a big proponent of that. I mean, we were having a discussion about whether or not you need experience to trust your guts. I mean, I personally see my gut as connection to my subconscious that I'm collecting data like all the time, right? And you know I'm 43 now and so at this point, I've collected a lot of data. And so I have an urge, a feeling that I should do something because probably actually informed that I just couldn't articulate, you know, why it's informed. But I would say that definitely, so what were some examples, so, for example, with this innovation, is that a situation where you're having to trust your gut or what are some examples from your career where you feel like you trust your gut?


Stan: Well, let me give you a very good example. So we do lots of research. And there is one case where we went to, in this case to Vietnam ourselves. And we actually spoke to, we've been to the houses of consumers. And there was, so we were placing products and we were talking to the respondents and watching her behavior. And then she kind of made the connection between the speech that reached a fragrance, reached her nose and the perception of clean. So there are fragrances that travel faster to the air. And I think, there's not a lot of data. But the moment that we kind of hear that we knew there is something powerful there. And you can say, well, but we don't have a sample size and that maybe doesn't work in another country. But kind of feeling insights like, well, there is something here. And we helped just to kind of half and then improve the experience of consumers to really make a difference, because also there is a different way of looking at consumer behavior. So it's one case, we believe in it and push for it.


John: Yes. Right. Yeah. That sounds like you're on your way to a real insight there, right? They maybe just want to get more data to support it.


Stan: Yeah. You have to push it through and do something with it. Yeah. I agree with you, John. It's getting easier the way you're getting a little bit older.


John: I like getting older. You know, I feel like I'm more capable now than ever. Yeah, it's good. So, alright. Well Stan, we actually are almost out of time, but I want to touch briefly if you have any comment because of coronavirus is on everyone's mind. I think it would be good for us to just briefly talk about how you see, especially when you consider that there is the sensory component to coronavirus impacting people's sense of not just of smell, but some of the olfactory. Apparently, it's more complicated than just the smell, even like the perception down the throat of. This is not really my area of expertise, I had Danielle Reed from Monell on AigoraCast a while ago and she explained that, for example, like if you had Scotch whisky, if you were to inhale it, there's a sensory experience that goes down your throat that you actually don't get if you have coronavirus or potentially you lose that or some of that spicy peppers, this kind of thing. Is there anything kind of interesting things our listeners would like to know about coronavirus with fragrance and how those, you know, there is an interacting right now in terms of research that you can share that you've been a part of or kind of things that, you know, sensory researchers should be thinking about right now?


Stan: Well, I do think there is a world before corona and there's a world after corona, and it's a different world I think. Of course, we are spending a lot of time to really understand how it impacts our business. And we made some changes. And by doing that early, now we are able to react on that properly. Something very simple that the increased importance of removal of bacteria. It's something that those products are flying off the shelves at the moment. So with analytic, we see that or we can be react on that and support with a group of fragrance solutions those proposition.


John: Yeah, that's interesting.


Stan: So it does have a big impact.


John: Yeah. I definitely agree. That's an interesting perception of clean, too is of course going to be important. Okay. It is amazing how time flies on these calls. But before we wrap it up, just a couple of things. First off, what advice would you have for a young researcher right now? Someone just finished maybe Masters in food science or coming to the sensory, you know, some person like that who is out there looking to you for advice, what advice would you have for them right now?


Stan: I think, well what helped me a lot is to have some kind of leaders in the field that I could work along with. And they helped me to go in the right direction like the Pieter Punter or Harry Lawless and how at Muskovitz that really are open to advice and I think that make the difference to me. And I think the younger generation should reach out to those experienced people and ask questions. And try to learn from them. I think most people in our field do want to share. They like what we do. Try to find your role model and learn from there.


John: Yes. I definitely agree with that because actually it's interesting, I have a client who kind of younger. She's a recent PhD in food science and she asked me to be on a paper recently, and she was, like, afraid to ask me, like, I would turn it down or something. And it's, you know, there is no one out there like you and me, we've accomplish things. Young people reach out. They want help. I'm going to help them every single time. If someone contacts me and they want to have a meeting to get advice. I'll always say, yes, I'm here to help you the same way. People shouldn't be afraid to ask.


Stan: I think it makes a difference. I think most people expect, in our fields many people are very willing to share their knowledge or expertise.


John: Yeah, definitely. I totally agree with that. Okay, so if someone does want to reach out to you Stan, how should they get in touch with you? What are some of the channels you know, which they can communicate with you?


Stan: I'm very easily accessible on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is my preferred medium to to connect.


John: Okay. And are you on Twitter or anything like that or mainly LinkedIn is your main forum?


Stan: I am on Twitter but professionally it's LinkedIn.


John: I see. Actually, I don't even use Twitter. It's too easy to spend an hour on Twitter, you know. So I just I decided to stay away from that. Okay, well, this has been great, Stan. Thank you so much. I think a lot of good advice here and it's been a pleasure.


Stan: Thank you very much.


John: Okay, great. Bye.


Stan: Bye.


John: Okay. That's it. Hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, please help us grow our audience by telling a friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes. Thanks.



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