Mark Truss, Global Director of Brand Intelligence, J. Walter Thompson
I first knew Mark Truss as my graduate school Research and Intelligence professor at Columbia in New York. I was considering venturing into the industry, and he assuaged my concern that all ad folks were slick and salesy (I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying that was my impression of our kind at the time.) He wasn’t prone to hyperbole and was blessedly down-to-earth. And most of all, he was really, really passionate about research. Or rather, really passionate about understanding people.
As the global research lead at J. Walter Thompson, he spends his life asking questions, so I’m humbled that he was game to answer the HIGH 7.
As a child, what was your dream job?
I wanted to be John Lennon. The idea that people got paid to do what they loved really intrigued me.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
Delivering newspapers, back when they hired kids to do that. I learned a few things: People are very picky about where you leave their paper and news didn’t seem to be equally distributed by day of the week (ads excluded, just looking at the # of news content) – Mondays and Saturdays were light news days, Tuesdays and Wednesdays were heavy news days. Most importantly, reading the newspaper (which I did everyday before delivering it) taught me to just jump into a topic, even if I knew nothing about that topic. Eventually I’d figure out what it was all about.
The thing that made you excited about the industry on day one and still keeps you excited today is:
Why do people do what they do and believe what they believe? I still find it fascinating how what people say about why they do something is often only a vague reality of what really motivates them to do something. Understanding that difference still lights me up.
How would you explain what you do every day to a child?
I ask people questions - a lot of them – and then analyze what they say so we can help companies know which products they like and why.
Describe a key pivot or defining moment in your career that ultimately landed you where you are:
I had a chance conversation with the CEO of a trade organization who asked me to join a committee they were putting together. I had no idea what was entailed, but just said, “Yes.” I knew I had had a bit of a sheltered career to that point working in one very specific segment of the research industry. Saying “yes” to the CEO opened up numerous other parts of the industry to me, opportunities to work with people I’d never met before, and it allowed me to think about and experience things that really changed how I saw the business world.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found yourself doing for work?
OK, so this is weird, and disgusting! We conducted a product test for a feminine protection product where consumers had to use the product as they normally would, then after using them, put them in their freezer, then after a week or so, mail them back to us, where we combined the used products with some data, and then re-shipped them back to the manufacturer for “further analysis.”
Finally, the quality that makes you successful in this business is:
Not being satisfied with knowing “what” is happening, nor satisfied with why people “say” it’s happening, but really wanting to know the true latent underlying motivation of consumer behaviors.