Boosting Team Momentum & Forward Progress: The Power of an Unbiased Facilitator

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer

Recent changes in marketplace dynamics and consumer behavior are putting businesses at a crossroads: pivot to evolve the brand to stay relevant. Too often the activities of an initiative take over and a team runs the risk of confusing activity for progress. The alignment gained by pausing and reflecting as a team will keep the momentum going in the right direction.

A key step amidst the learning activity is to reflect, assess, and decide on next steps. This may be even more challenging to think about given our virtual meeting spaces.  For this critical step in the journey, an outside, unbiased facilitator can be your most powerful tool.

There is no better time than now to consider these Top 5 benefits of engaging a professional facilitator:

  1. Unbiased Professional: A trained facilitator brings the valuable benefit of being an objective leader who can listen to all points of view, not vested in a particular position or outcome.  This creates the conditions for a more open dialogue and opportunity to see possibilities that otherwise may be missed.
  2. Participate in the Discussion: Ask yourself where you can add the most value.  Should you try to participate and facilitate or focus 100% on participating with your team?  Engaging a trained facilitator does a couple of things.  It sends a message that this work is important.  It also allows you, the owner, to invest your energy into the discussion while allowing an expert facilitator to customize the process and tools around your needs and objectives.
  3. Full Engagement: Critical to success is hearing from everyone in the group.  This can be tricky, particularly if there are strong (or silent) opinions and voices, and now you are not in the same room!   Facilitators are skilled at navigating the group dynamics and engaging all participants into the discussion to ensure each voice is heard.  They also know how to keep the ideas flowing when the group might get stuck.
  4. Stretch Thinking: One of the most valuable benefits of a trained facilitator is the ability to stretch the group’s thinking.  They are experts at quickly capturing ideas, summarizing, asking the right questions to build on ideas, connecting the dots between ideas, and pushing participants to think outside the box.
  5. Drive to Solutions: With a process designed to meet the objective, the facilitator continually uses techniques to ensure a successful outcome with clear next steps, accountability and buy-in from the group.

Through the stages of Immersion, Interaction and Ideation, we help our clients gain empathy and develop the alignment needed to boost momentum and forward progress toward the team’s goal.  Please contact to learn how we can customize an approach with the right professional facilitator to meet your needs.  We have a team of seasoned professionals who are passionate about working with like-minded clients and would love to talk to you!

IRL: The New Shopping Experience

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

IRL is shorthand for “in real life.” Take an experience from the virtual world and transfer it to the here and now, your reality. Recently, one of my bigger IRL moments has revolved around shopping. I have flipped my experience from an 80/20 mix of in-store versus online shopping to 5/95 during sheltering-in-place, and now settled in about 20/80 ratio. Needless to say, my retail shopping world has flipped, and I’m not alone.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “How Coronavirus Changed the Retail Landscape,” COVID accelerated a shift in how we shop with online credit-card transactions increasing dramatically and e-commerce sales in the second quarter rising by 44.5 percent, compared with the same period in 2019. Currently, stores are seeing an uptick in consumer spending, thanks to COVID restrictions lifting, but WSJ is reporting foot traffic is still down year-over-year.

If you weren’t comfortable with giving your credit card information online to complete a transaction, you most certainly are now. This fast-forward move is something I labeled as “accelerating the inevitable” and shared more about accelerated shifts in consumer behavior here.

However, there are some of us who yearn to return back to leisurely walking the aisles of Target, sipping our latte from Starbucks, and discovering new items. That’s right, I’m talking about real-life, search-and-purchase missions right between the bread aisle and the snacks. Those moments when you arrive at the spice section and ask yourself, “When did McCormick’s come out with all these new seasonings?” Or perhaps next to your usual go-to morning bowl of boxed cereal, you see there’s a new brand, and it has less sugar, and you can actually study the box for the list of ingredients. You are thrilled and excited to try these new things – none of which you would have discovered if you did your usual Shipt order.

Path to purchase has changed.  Shopping behavior is markedly different. Brand loyalty has shifted.  Brands and retailers need to effectively pivot to meet these new marketplace dynamics.  Three key areas to understand right now:

  1. How to reach target consumers with relevant messaging
  2. How brands can position products and benefits to breakthrough and be discovered across various shopping experiences, in-store and online
  3. How retailers can elevate loyalty programs so that they are the IRL shopping experience of choice

Contact us at to learn how SIVO Insights can guide your business decisions with customized human intelligence on current consumer behavior.

5 Proven Tips for Conducting Virtual Research in a Human Way

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP, Insights & Engagement

My last blog discussed the client benefits around conducting virtual research.  Check it out here.   Today I am sharing useful tips for successfully executing virtual consumer conversations. They center around being human: acting in a genuine, respectful way and establishing trust.

Tip #1: Recruit with a tech mindset and participant’s needs in mind.

  • Include criteria for having a stable Wi-Fi connection and familiarity with the tech platform being used.  If the platform is new to participants, ensure you build in time for set up and practice before the interview to increase their comfort level. 
  • If your study involves thoughtful writing exercise(s), make sure recruiting criteria has a written articulation component so they are not surprised by the type of communication that is expected of them.  

Tip #2: Set clear expectations so there are no surprises. 

The more participants know ahead of time, the more comfortable they will feel entering the discussion and the more open they tend to be.  In addition to the basics, make sure:

  • Participants know what will happen during the interview. For example, is it a one-on-one conversation, or will others observe?  Will you be sitting stationary in front of the camera or taking a ‘field trip’ to their pantry or garage?  
  • Details are addressed.  What should they wear? (most ask…encourage comfort unless it is part of the research). Should their phone be on silent? (yes). Is it ok to have water or coffee? (yes, you want them to be comfortable), but please no meals unless it is an eating experience! Do they need to make arrangements for kids and pets so they are not distracted? (yes, unless they are part of the conversation). For mobile missions, no driving while participating (yes, this has happened!).
  • Participants test the tech and are advised to log on 5 minutes before the scheduled interview time, so no time is wasted in setting up.
  • People are able to have a quiet place to conduct the interview to avoid potential inside or outside distractions.

Tip #3: Establish credibility and rapport to increase comfort level. 

  • “Introduce” yourself via email and provide a picture so participants know who to expect on the other end of the screen. Communicate how excited you are for the conversation, so they feel their input is valued before you even begin.
  • Log in early so you are there before the participant, smiling and welcoming as they enter the interview.
  • Minimize your own distractions such as only having exactly what you need for the conversation open on your laptop (the worst is hearing the constant email ‘ding’ as you are leading a conversation…trust me). 
  • Have and communicate a back-up plan should tech issues arise (they will) so the interview isn’t a bust.
  • Energy!  The last interview of the day should feel like the first one.  Build in enough mental breaks and move from behind your screen to get some fresh air. Coffee helps too.

Tip #4: Roll with it.

  • Life happens. Allow for tech issues, dogs barking, doorbells ringing and kids interrupting because these things WILL happen. Be forgiving and empathetic.  Explain it happens to the best of us and that you will be patient while they figure it out.
  • If it becomes too much or too long of a distraction, ask if participants need to reschedule for a time that may be better for them. A stressed person is not an open or insightful person. 

Tip #5: Observe as much as listen. 

  • Observing is still just as important as listening in producing those insightful golden nuggets.  I recently led a one-on-one video interview with a man wearing an “Own the Moment” t-shirt.  I thought it was relevant to our topic and used it as a way into the discussion. It led to some really insightful personal truths and informed the learning in a way that might not have if it wasn’t pursued.

Like every research method, there are benefits and trade-offs, but I am really enjoying and finding great success with virtual research, applying familiar principles with a human-inspired tech-twist.  Please contact our CEO Cindy Blackstock at to discuss your research needs and if virtual may be the right approach for your needs! 

Virtual Research: 5 Silver Linings for Clients

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP, Insights & Engagement

There is nothing quite like moderating in-person research: constantly meeting new people, appreciating their experiences and stories, and just sharing physical space with other humans brings me real joy.  I do miss it, but virtual research provides those same benefits – just in a different way.  

The art and science of revealing people’s authentic thoughts, perspectives, and feelings…. those powerful emotions that give clients better understanding and increased empathy can still be uncovered online.  If there was any question about conducting research of any kind right now, people WANT to be heard, and valued and appreciated, and are willing to provide their insight across multiple channels. This is important for brands to know and embrace.

Additionally, there are some differentiating tangible benefits virtual research offers:

·       Cost Effectiveness and Efficiency.  The most obvious is no travel-related costs. But importantly, along with that are no travel-related hassles, exhaustion or wasted time.  This leaves more time for other work to get done and your head space to really be focused ‘in’ the research vs. the rest of your to-do list.  For some clients, it also means access to more dollars to invest IN research.

·       Flexibility and Engagement: If unable to attend ‘live’ interviews, clients have the ability to watch recorded versions at their convenience, in a relaxed environment.  Some have mentioned that this allows them to watch even more interviews, resulting in a firmer grasp of the overall learning, and increased contributions to post-research discussions and decision-making.

·       Expanded Socialization of Insights:  No travel costs and recorded interviews also mean more client team members are able to participate. Critical functions at all levels and external partners are able to internalize consumer stories and feedback first-hand.  This helps to achieve cross-functional buy-in, truly informed decision-making and innovation from all functions that contribute to the customer experience.

·       Compelling Storytelling: Virtual research often allows for an easier and more natural platform for image and video collection. These experiential artifacts serve as authentic and naturally persuasive tools for communicating insights in an organization.  For example, sales teams, agency partners and executives often prefer and are more receptive to a short, compelling video that summarizes the essence of the learning and opportunities.

·       ‘Freer’ Feedback: I’ve noticed that being behind the screen gives people a little extra permission to open up in ways they might not in person.  I am seeing that participants feel ‘freer’ to provide candid feedback or talk about sensitive topics, which results in even more robust learning.

When it comes to designing your next project, virtual may be a great fit.  But, like all methods, it should be assessed for its ability to meet your objectives, timeline, budget, and organization’s needs.  Please contact Cindy Blackstock at to discuss your research objectives and if virtual may be the right approach! 

SIVO Insights SMARTSuite

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

Introducing SIVO Insights SMARTSuite!  A customizable research toolkit with qualitative and quantitative methods to meet your immediate learning needs.  These agile solutions will help you quickly and efficiently gather the insights needed to intelligently inform your business decisions.  Please contact me at so we can help design the right smart solution for you.

Virtual Research: Accelerating the Inevitable

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder & CEO

I just recently heard the phrase “accelerating the inevitable” and it stuck with me so much that I have it written on a Post-It note on my computer.  It struck a chord because it so succinctly defines the marketing research environment we are living in right now. 

At a qualitative research industry conference in January, a colleague told me that “research tech tools” were a big topic of discussion, yet the sentiment around using these tools was lukewarm.  We were not really surprised by this as we were seeing this sentiment play out with some of our clients when we would recommend virtual methods as a part of research plans.  

I get it.  As humans, we are hard-wired to resist change. It can be uncomfortable, unnerving and honestly, a lot of work.  As insights professionals, we have spent years experiencing, harnessing, and perfecting the craft of being human storytellers.  For years, we have done this by being in-person, in-context and sharing physical space with people to make connections and better understand how they think and act.  

Virtual research offers a different way to interact with people so they can share their thoughts, opinions, and stories.  It is not the end-all, be-all but it can be the right solution depending on your learning objectives, budget and timeline needs.  These tools, when used by experienced moderators who know how to replicate the beauty of in-person nuances, meets your customers where they are at.  For the environment we all find ourselves in today, where in-person is more challenging to achieve, virtual research can be the best option.

Virtual research is helping our clients continue their research initiatives, learn what is important to their customers now, in this moment, how their actual behaviors are showing up, and to the extent possible, how they project their behaviors to be in the short term.  It is critical and many of our clients understand that and are embracing these methods in our new now.

We are helping clients understand current behaviors and sentiments around loyalty, shopping, and buying, as well as reactions to new products and packaging and co-creating pipeline innovation ideas.  Almost all that was achieved in-person can be done virtually; the connection is just different, but different does not have to mean ‘less than’. Some virtual methods we are using to help keep that connection strong include:

  • Webcam one-on-one interviews
  • Online Focus Groups
  • Mock In-Store Shelf Set Evaluations
  • IHUT’s (In-Home Use Test)
  • Mobile Diaries
  • Online Innovation

Simply said, these methods are getting clients the human intelligence they need to inform their business decisions.  Now is the time for clients to be on the pulse of their customer’s needs and act ‘consumer-first’. Please so we can support you in “accelerating the inevitable”….using virtual tools to maintain a vital connection with your customers, meeting them where they are at right now. 

SIVO Insights Consumer Impact of COVID-19: Mindset, Financial Impact and Loyalty

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

Last month, SIVO Insights launched a national, quantitative study around attitudes, shopping behaviors and loyalty in response to COVID-19.  As a result, our clients’ curiosities were piqued and questions arose around future spending and messaging.  This study illustrates how people are still uncertain about the future, using this time to strengthen relationships and counting on brands to fulfill their basic needs and do the right thing.  Click here for the full report. – We would love to know your thoughts and what questions YOU have!

Work Life: Human Connection & Empathy Will Help Us Triumph Over Trauma

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP Insights & Engagement

Anyone else getting irritated by the ‘catchy’ and overused pandemic catchphrases?  The “new normal” is one I’d love to never hear again and p.s. – it’s not even accurate.  There is nothing normal going on here. Normal implies “regular” or “routine”, but our daily routines, rhythms and expectations have vanished.  We are living day by day, sometimes hour by hour and I’d do anything for a big ‘ol heaping cup of normal starting oh…yesterday.

I work hard to stay positive and hopeful personally and professionally, and I do have some really good days.  But there are days I am just exhausted. Exhausted in missing what we’ve lost, exhausted in the newness of it all, exhausted in trying to navigate the flood of news and stats and structureless days.  

And at times, I also feel sad and anxious.  Sad and anxious for the physical and mental health of my family.  Sad for my kids, worried about how this is affecting them short and long term, sad for what they’ve lost (even in the midst of what they’ve gained: cleaning toilets is good for the teen soul).  Sad and constantly scared for the health and needs of my elderly parents and generally living with this subtle, underlying wave of angst.  

I constantly question personally and professionally:  What will this look like on the other side? Will we ever get back to “normal”?  Will we be better for it?  

Thankfully, I just listened to this podcast Adapting to Our Changing World that nudged me to “yes”.  Yes, we will be okay, and yes, we will be better for it.

This podcast features Dr. Amelia Franck Meyer, a dear friend and colleague of SIVO Insights. Amelia is the CEO of Alia Innovations.  Alia’s mission is to drive transformative change for the people and systems entrusted with the welfare and care of children.  Amelia and her team have since applied their expertise to organizations for workforce wellbeing, leadership development and coaching.

I promise business leaders at all levels will feel inspired with practical advice to establish a sense of safety for yourselves and your teams. 

For those of us in the human insights profession, I also noticed an important parallel to the work we do: the power of human connections.

As qualitative researchers, it is our job to authentically connect with people to gain insight into their lives, gain texture around the choices they make, their values, what is truly important to them.  Through deep and layered conversations, acute observations, stories and experiences, we help clients see people as more “human” vs. data points. 

To do this successfully, we artfully establish trust and reliability, so people feel safe opening up.  We show vulnerability and a real respect for their points of view.  We are genuinely open-minded and curious about what they have to say. Most importantly, we feel and show empathy as they graciously invite us into their lives.

I now recognize these characteristics in the workplace, in ways like never before because of this universal pandemic.  Our guards are down and our vulnerability is up.  Two months ago, I NEVER would have showed up on a Zoom call without makeup, with my dog on my lap or pausing mid-thought to make sure the house isn’t burning down as my younger daughter makes her own lunch. I see make-shift offices in messy kitchens, cranky babies, laundry hanging in the distance and tons of personal artifacts.  Glimpses into people’s homes and their lives.  We are making the time for real conversations around how we are really doing, exposing a full range of emotions: the good, the bad and the vulnerable.

What was once considered ‘unprofessional’ is now considered profoundly human and real.  The connections we are making are deepened – and this is a very good thing.  

We are in this exhausting, worrisome, devastating trench together and we will crawl out of it together.  This pandemic is the great unifier and it is bringing more humanity to our work life.   

From this, we can choose to NOT go back to what was “normal”.  What if we internalize and embrace this increased level of empathy for who we are as individuals, parents, partners, children and friends and bring those nuanced aspects to work in addition to our skills and expertise?  What if we choose to redefine what is “normal”?  I believe this new level of humility, trust and respect can do wonders for productivity, loyalty, creativity and innovation and we can all be better for it on the other side.  

SIVO Quantitative Study on Customer Behavior Related to COVID-19

By: Cindy Blackstock, Co-Founder and CEO

Our SIVO team rallied quickly to lead a national, quantitative study around attitudes, shopping behaviors and loyalty in response to COVID-19.  I am proud of our team’s fortitude in quickly turning around tangible value for our clients and the insight community at large.  This study illustrates how people are shifting behaviors in everyday life and which are likely to stick during this “new now”.  Click here for access to our full report SIVO Consumer Impact from COVID19 Study  featuring insights and intuition around what opportunities lie ahead for companies to better connect with customers in this critical time. – let us know your thoughts and what questions YOU have!

The Best of Us

By: Ruthie Feinstein, VP Insights & Engagement

Our company retreat in January centered around infusing more joy into our work.  We were asked: What is one thing you would do more of on a personal level that brings you joy?  My answer: I would cook.  Cooking is my creative outlet, it elicits beautiful childhood memories, and most importantly, it is a tangible and real way that I express love for my family.  Problem was I had no time.  Not even on the weekends.  Who knew two months later, I’d have the opportunity due to a global pandemic.

I am one of the lucky ones who gets to work from home right now.  And with this privilege, I am cooking, and baking and it looks very different than how I’ve cooked in a long time. I am not stressing or feeling rushed.  I am cooking with my girls, passing on tips and tricks my mom taught me.  We are digging up familiar recipes and creating new ones, being creative with what we have in the house. We are having longer dinner conversations, and every night is family game or movie night – some sort of activity that ensures we are physically and emotionally ‘together’.  

During this chaos, we wake up every day to new revelations, some contradictions from hours/days/weeks before, and constant fear and anxiety. Stress on so many levels for everyone.  No one will come out of this untouched in some way.  Yet, I am seeing another powerful force at play.  A hopeful, inspirational one that is critical to our emotional health.  Myself and my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community, and the world around us are looking for ways to create and contribute joy and kindness

Inspiration right outside my front door.

In my family, we now have regular video chats with grandparents and extended family, telling jokes and playing games.  We bake and leave treats for friends on their doorsteps, and they ask if we need anything when they run to the grocery store. We brainstorm ways to bring more joy and act kindly. Some ideas:  

  • Give someone a compliment
  • Be a good friend to someone having a hard time
  • Donate food
  • Make a family TikTok
  • Be more patient with my little sister
  • Offer to walk our neighbor’s dog
  • Paint a picture for my best friend’s Grandpa who has Alzheimer’s

Human kindness unites us. Each one of us has the capability to make someone feel good, feel genuinely appreciated, feel like they matter.  In our current state, where so much is not in our control, this is.  When we make someone else feel good, we feel good ourselves. 

Kindness in business

I’m seeing it with businesses too, where kindness drives decision-making and innovation.  More than feel-good emails, forgiving late fees, waiving change fees, or extending return policies.  It is real, purposeful and memorable actions rooted in bringing joy and acting with kindness.  Some examples:

  • Leaders placing employees with family health issues on furlough status so they can maintain insurance benefits even when business is unstable
  • My company, SIVOInsights, offering emotional, intellectual, and professional support to our clients that has nothing to do with our core offering and everything to do with what they mean to us
  • Distilleries across the country converting their operations from making alcohol to making hand sanitizer – and giving it away for free, starting with healthcare workers as a priority
  • KFC partnering with the nonprofit “Blessings in a Backpack” to help provide weekend meals to kids who might otherwise go hungry, donating $400,000 to provide prepackaged meals
  • Starbucks paying all workers for 30 days regardless if they show up to work and catastrophe pay, mental health resources and childcare support to those who opt to keep coming in
  • DollarGeneral, Walgreens and other retailers dedicating early hours to seniors, a key at-risk group, to avoid busy shopping periods
  • TheCoca-ColaCompany immediately diverting millions in brand advertising to support COVID-19 relief efforts globally 

And the list goes on.  These actions tell the story of how these businesses operate and the human beings who lead them. These actions strengthen loyalty, making it almost unbreakable, because they are rooted in deep emotional needs.  People care and notice how they are treated in each of their relationships, including those with brands.  And people will always remember how those brands show up, especially in the worst of times.   

So, as we work hard to protect the physical health of ourselves and each other, could this also be a terrific opportunity?  

What if these actions, rooted in joy and kindness, were simply our ‘modus operandi’, our usual way of doing business and building brands, not just when in crisis mode?  How inspiring and completely transformative could that be?  Think about the authentic loyalty that would really earn.

What if we looked at this as an opportunity to level-set, reprioritize and change habits and behaviors for the better, both personally and professionally?  An opportunity to slow down, strengthen connections and actively demonstrate to people that they matter to us – our families, our friends and in business, our employees, clients and customers.  To show that we really see you, we really value you as human beings.  To show up and bring the best of us

Smart advice


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