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[PODCAST] Being fearless and challenging the status quo

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.

On the inaugural episode of the Data Stories: Leaders at Work podcast, I sat down to chat with Dr. Cristina de Balanzo, Board Director of Walnut Unlimited, about the vast and intriguing world of consumer behavior. Cristina has built her career around understanding brands and brains, stemming from her curiosity early on in adulthood about human beings and their behaviors, particularly when interacting with the marketplace. This curiosity led her to pursue a degree in sociology and a PhD in communications before taking a 6-month consulting job in London to dig into consumer neuroscience on a much deeper level. During this consulting period, Cristina became aware of a void in the market research industry pertaining to consumer neuroscience that she felt passionate about filling in order to better serve both the businesses and the consumers in the market.

When Cristina started her journey about 11 years ago, companies would use market research to draw conclusions about consumer wants and needs and then shape their future products and services around things that were performing well or performing poorly. They never considered or wondered why consumers were or were not purchasing certain items or how the consumers’ deep-seated motivations and beliefs could impact their needs and wants. Cristina knew that if businesses could gain a deeper understanding of their consumers, this brand competency could provide consumers with more of what they want, develop new ideas based on consumer feedback, and build up brand loyalists for life. She saw this working as a three-pronged approach:

  • Through sociology: brands could understand consumers as a group
  • Through communications: brands could get consumers to do something
  • Through neuroscience: brands could understand the deep structures and the impacts on consumers.

Once Cristina found her niche, with the help of the many happy accidents that provided her with a voice and a platform to help clients and consumers, she launched Walnut Unlimited as a boutique neuroscience consultancy. Everything Cristina and the team at Walnut do is intentional, all the way from the name of the business to the multidisciplinary approach to consumer neuroscience. Most everyone has happy memories of eating walnuts with loved ones around the holidays, so Cristina wanted to incorporate this positive association with her belief that businesses have the ability to elicit the same kinds of emotions from their consumers. She also wanted to integrate the connection between the appearance of a human brain and the appearance of a walnut as a sort of visual metaphor.

When it comes to the multidisciplinary approach (sociology, communications, neuroscience), Cristina has been very intentional about using all three to answer her clients’ business challenges. She has found that pairing neuroscience and market research can help companies answer the what, when, and how questions that have eluded them to this point, equipping them to provide more value to their consumers by giving them what they really needed, consciously or subconsciously. A key component in this research-informed discovery process is primatology, the study of the social dynamics of primates, which provides insights into the social dynamics of humans in profound ways. Now that Cristina has found her sweet spot and she is doing what she loves to do, she says that what keeps her motivated is the opportunity to face new challenges and come up with innovative and creative solutions. She loves thinking more than anything else and she believes in creating the right context for things to happen.

When she isn’t working, Cristina is spending time with her children, doing yoga, gardening, or working on her art and drawings. In her retirement, she would love to be an art curator or own her own plant shop. Cristina shared many insights with listeners during this podcast episode, but perhaps the most poignant item was the advice she would give to young and junior practitioners: to listen more, be patient, go slowly, be empathetic, and enjoy the journey. She encourages others to trust the process, be fearless, be curious, and challenge the status quo while remaining patient as well, recognizing that everything comes through hard work and determination.

About Cristina de Balanzo

Dr. Cristina de Balanzo is the founder of Walnut, a consumer neuroscience consultancy. In 2014, Walnut was acquired by Unlimited Group, and Cristina now serves as the Board Director of Walnut Unlimited. In 2000, she was appointed as the Strategic Planner at McCann Erickson, and in 2009, she went on to be the Global Head of Neuroscience at TNS. In 2015, in partnership with WARC, Cristina created Brainy Bar events.

Her research contribution includes many written papers and published articles on consumer neuroscience. Her regular speaking engagements include conferences such as ESOMAR, MRS, WARC, IIEX, and Market Research Summit, to name a few. Cristina currently holds a Degree in Sociology and a PhD in Communication.

The full version of the podcast with Cristina de Balanzo can be listened here:

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About Cristina’s audience

If we had taken the average person in Cristina’s audience, we would have gotten that they are into marketing, digital, research, and that their main sources of influence are Harvard Biz Rev, TED Talks, Ad Age and Mashable. It is when we look at each of this communities in isolation, that we can relate better to Cristina’s background in high definition.

Audiense blog - Cristina de Balanzo's audience segments

Looking at Cristina's audience through the lens of Audiense is fascinating as we can relate to her career and main areas of expertise, with four key personas: 

Audiense blog - Cristina de Balanzo's audience segments

Navigating the sources of influence of each of the communities is a great starting point to continue the audience research. They all know about Barack Obama and Harvard Biz Review, but who are unique sources of influence in the context of that connection.

For instance, we can see how different the “neuromarketing, neuroscience” and the “mrx, market research” segments are; with Carla Nagel and Ray Poynter as key influential people, respectively.

Audiense blog - Cristina de Balanzo audience - influencers

Audiense blog - Cristina de Balanzo audience - influencers

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