Startups Awards Hall of Fame: BrainJuicer

Chief Juicer John Kearon shares the story of his business' growth since triumphing in the Service Business of the Year category 10 years ago

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  • Ian Wallis

In 2004 the Startups Awards judges said of BrainJuicer that they were “particularly impressed with this innovative business and the massive potential for further expansion”.

Today, the company is a highly profitable publicly-listed market research organisation operating throughout the world. In 2013 annual revenues hit £24.4m, with pre-tax profits of £3.5m.

Voted the “most innovative” market research firm by the global GreenBook Research Industry Trends survey it’s fair to say Chief Juicer and CEO John Kearon’s business has come a long way.

We caught up with him to hear exactly what’s happened since winning the inaugural Service Business of the Year title.

What’s happened in the 10 years since you entered the Startups Awards?

BrainJuicer has come a long way since 2004, when we won Service Business of the Year. At the time, we were a genuine start-up, founded five years earlier with ambitious plans to revolutionise the industry and provide true value to marketers.

We knew that traditional market research was fundamentally wrong – rooted in rational measures – despite a generation of breakthroughs in the social sciences that reveal that System 1 (emotional, intuitive, instinctive thinking) is the primary influencer of human decision-making.

Although research was on our side, we knew that it would be no easy feat to convince our peers and clients to join us in the clarion call for new market research techniques that would tap into how consumers really make decisions – but we were up to the challenge.

In 2004, we had put a stake in the ground to make an indelible impact on the industry. Now, 10 years later, we’re proud to say that we’ve achieved our goal and are furthering that mission every single day.

We’ve grown into a large multi-national agency with a global remit, now operating in 14 cities! On the strength of our work and client relationships, we have gained widespread global industry fame.

Several major industry awards attest to the merit of our innovative solutions, as well as to the innovative nature of BrainJuicer, in general.

We currently work with 16 of the top 30 buyers of research in the world, the majority of whom are repeat buyers. This past year, we were hugely gratified to be awarded the AURA for ‘Trusted Advisor’, as voted by the UK association’s membership of 600 client-side research and insights managers, for ‘being a true partner’ and ‘going beyond the call of duty’.

What’s been the single biggest highlight for the business since winning?

In the last 15 years, the industry has changed – for the better. Marketers are now more receptive to behaviour’s psychological roots, and recognising the effectiveness of a more behavioural approach to market research.

We’ve moved from soft metrics to hard behaviour, from claims to context, from hypotheses to experiments, from findings to prototypes, from exploitation to collaboration, and from information to emotion.

In no small part, we believe we’ve helped to move the needle in the right direction. We’ve made it our mission to inform the industry – our peers, competitors, and clients alike – of the need for a new approach underpinned by Behavioural Science, by how we know consumers really make decisions. And, over time, the conversation has changed.

The industry question is no longer ‘is it risky to use this approach’, but rather ‘is it risky to not embrace this belief set’. In this respect, we are no longer the innovative upstart, but the agency that is turning human understanding into business advantage – the ‘trusted advisor’ to our clients and, indeed, the industry.

What are you hoping to achieve in the next year or so?

We have – and will always be – driven by our mission to inspire brave clients to do great 5-Star marketing. We help them do this by translating a generation of breakthroughs in psychology, behavioural economics, and the social sciences into Juicy tools that better understand and predict consumer’s behaviour.

In parallel, we hope to inspire change within organisations, and within the industry. With this as our foundation, we will continue to move forward.

What did winning at the Startups Awards mean to you?

Winning at the Startups Awards further demonstrated to us that we were, indeed, on the right track, with a disruptive innovation that would transform the very conservative, risk-averse nature of the market research industry.

This award helped embolden us to show the industry how it could be better – how marketers and marker researchers alike could benefit with a Behavioural Science approach. We were honoured to be viewed as a company to emulate, and we’ve tried, ever since, to be an agency that demands excellence not just from ourselves, but also from our industry.

Why would you recommend entering awards like this?

We know what it’s like to be a David to a Goliath, and especially the magnitude of that position when you’re just starting out. The vast majority of start-ups fail even after brilliant first products or initial entries into the market.

Starting a business is tremendously difficult, and especially when you’re attempting to revolutionise an entire industry. But the real battle – and the first one – is understanding that your company’s work is and continues to be meaningful.

An awards ceremony is not the arbiter of this, nor necessarily the only indicator of success. But it does give your business credibility among clients, peers, and shareholders, and certainly inspiration to stay the course and continue growing.  

Ian Wallis

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