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[PODCAST] Winning your audience by being cognizant of their world

Data Stories: Leaders at Work is a weekly podcast brought to you by Audiense. Hosted by Rahul Jerome, founder of, the series captures personal anecdotes and career highlights from some of the most talented and brightest minds in the research and insights industry.

In the fourteenth episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast, we speak to Charlotte May, Group Head of Customer Research at Legal & General.

Charlotte always had an interest in people – what influenced their behavior and why they do what they do. As a result, she attended the University of Bristol and studied sociology. Between her 2nd and 3rd years, she had the opportunity to work an internship in pharmaceuticals. One of the areas she explored was market research. It was an eye-opening experience.

Not only was research interesting, but it tied closely to her degree. Charlotte decided that it was worth pursuing and quickly landed at Millward Brown. As a young worker, she explored how research acted across many different industries, learning best practices and how to deal with a large volume of data.

One of the most important skills Charlotte developed was the ability to think laterally while using a broad range of information and juggling multiple stories. This was especially valuable when she switched from the agency side to the client-side. Instead of dealing with numerous clients, she began to work in different areas.

Charlotte also learned to understand her audience. It is easy to win or lose early on if a pitch doesn’t have the right tone. Context helps you frame the position as much as the message itself.

It’s crucial to evangelize why research matters

While she was initially concerned about moving away from the agency side, Charlotte realized that there was just as much variety as a client, it just manifests differently. Now she weaves together the bigger picture and looks for broader themes and messages. Contact is important, but not as extreme.

To many, research is a leap of faith because most people don’t have the experience to understand its value. That’s why Charlotte believes that it’s crucial to evangelize why research matters. Like in religion, some people are agnostic, while others attend mass regularly. The question is, how do you move people along the continuum to where they need to be?

This transformation was something that Charlotte saw firsthand. After a senior stakeholder mentioned that research was costly and unnecessary, Charlotte took a step back. Was the stakeholder right? How could they elevate what they were doing while maintaining the integrity of the overall program? Charlotte and her team pivoted to add additional cost-effective DIY tools to their portfolio. Months later, the same stakeholder reversed their position.

That proves it’s a myth that research is always expensive and slow. Newer tools have made it faster and more iterative. They have even made it flexible in situations such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

How to be successful in a male-dominated field

Charlotte recognizes that other people have played a role in her success, both personally and professionally. These individuals were very astute and clever despite having different styles of leadership. Qualities such as diplomacy and reading the room really had an impact on Charlotte. An influential female marketing director even showed her how to be successful in a male-dominated field.

One of the ways Charlotte grew was through The Leadership Pipeline, an inspirational book introduced to her by her current manager. It explains how people fail in senior roles due to a gap in their skills. Other resources such as The Chimp Paradox have reinforced Charlotte’s experience. While business isn’t always fair, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings and create the tools to think logically to gain a more effective outcome.

Employees of different backgrounds = greater success

Diversity is also an area where Charlotte is passionate. She feels that the market research industry is surprisingly well-balanced, but advocates for more women in senior roles. There is growing proof that having employees of different backgrounds produces greater success. Companies are starting to respond to this.

To close, Charlotte shares her advice for someone breaking into the industry – learn how to interpret data, ask unbiased questions and take a pragmatic approach. These are all areas where she has had to mature as she has developed confidence in herself. Charlotte encourages passion with distance and believes that the ability to recycle stories using existing data is especially important. Pick your battles and gain as much experience as you can. The karma in the universe is balance.

The full version of the podcast with Charlotte May can be listened here: