Interview with Alex Hunt and Crispin Beale of Behaviorally

For today’s CEO Series interview, we bring back Alex Hunt, CEO of Behaviorally, in what has become a bit of an annual tradition! I’ve long maintained that Alex’s career journey through the industry, and the lessons he has learned along the way, are instructive and inspirational for everyone. His openness to talk about the highs and lows, and keen insights on the transformation process of the business, is always interesting.

As an example, in today’s interview, Alex also brings along industry veteran Crispin Beale, the newly minted President of Behaviorally, who will be tasked with driving new business globally, a role that Alex also used to fill. One of the key lessons for leaders in any organization is knowing when they need to reallocate their time from working in the business to working on the business, and this is a prime example of that lesson in action.

As always, I think you’ll enjoy listening to the conversation with Alex and Crispin as much as I enjoyed having it; there is much to be gleaned from it for everyone!

This text has been edited for clarity.

Lenny Murphy: Hello, everybody. It’s Lenny Murphy here in another episode of our ongoing CEO Series. And today’s a little special because it’s kind of our annual conversation we’ve been doing this now for a few years unofficially, but now it seems to be official. We’re talking to Alex Hunt, CEO of Behaviorally. Hey, Alex. How are you doing? 

Alex Hunt: Morning, Lenny. How are you? 

Lenny Murphy: Good. Good. Looking forward to this. And we have a special guest today of Crispin Beale. Now, Alex, I don’t want to steal your thunder, so you can explain why Crispin is here as well. 

Alex Hunt: Well, I will. I mean, the headline is that obviously, Crispin has joined the Behaviorally team this week. But it’s probably worth first of all just recapping on how we got here today. As you said, we talk every year, so it’ll be the latest installment. I mean, look. First of all, I mean, what a year for the whole industry. I mean, I think it’s proven how resilient it is to COVID full recovery and then some – and such exciting developments. I mean, I always say to new team members who are joining our business at least, it’s a fascinating career track on one level because – 

Lenny Murphy: It’s one word for it. 


Alex Hunt: Bullish might be another. I don’t know but 


understanding why people make the choices that they do. And that’s really interesting. But more than that, the industry increasingly I think just sits at an intersection of several really fascinating and high growth trends that are just apparent in the world. There’s artificial intelligence. The industry is increasingly reliant on that. Digitization and automation. Again, the industry is increasingly dependent on that. 

Behavioral science is now the accepted currency out there in terms of psychology. And increasingly, that’s just a fundamental building block of the market research and insights industry and the thinking. And I think at an industry level, there’s huge disruption happening, but also the good and all making the industry, and the client-side, buyers, and the agencies in it, much, much, much stronger and a much more active participant in really driving – at least from our perspective – commercial outcomes. So at an industry level, really terrific 2021. 

At the Behaviorally level, we’ve had quite an exciting year as well. I mean, obviously, the early part of the year was relaunching our company and our brand, and really getting that news out there to our clients. I think part two of the year was really about expansion. We’ve gone from at least nominally a presence in one market in January to a presence in five markets today. And we’ve just seen astronomical growth both in Asia and in Europe. 

And our teams out there have done an absolutely incredible job. And all the way through the year just refining our proposition. We’re very, very focused on being the number one in driving shopper growth. We’re very focused on digitizing our core offer, and our core packaging, and physical shelf business. And we’re also very, very focused on the digital shelf. And a lot of the explosive growth we’ve seen, particularly in the US, this year has been focused around our digital shelf solutions. 

So for Behaviorally, I mean, foundational year in that it’s our first year under the new brand, but I think an incredibly successful one. And that really brings me to the announcement of Crispin joining the team to lead all of our commercial operations next year. Terrific addition and I think validation to some degree of our ambition for 2022 and beyond, but also our overall and very, very aggressive growth strategy for Behaviourally which really just reflects the growth we’re seeing across the industry. So I don’t know. I’ll stop speaking and let Crispin 


and then you can fire away. 

Lenny Murphy: Yeah. So, Crispin, yeah it’s interesting – you’re going to get your chance to speak in a second. I promise. 


Between Alex and I, that could be a challenge for anybody. But the – 


Certainly, I think our careers are parallel to an extent. And I think about what it would take for me to join a company. And you have to be pretty damn special to do that. And are you going to function as a consultant? You’re deeply involved in SMAA, MRS, et cetera, et cetera, and it played at this macro level, I think, while engaging with lots of different companies to help them. So congratulations. Welcome aboard. And why did you decide to, well, it’s time to focus all of this experience on one company. Well, tell us that story. 

Crispin Beale: Yeah, sure. And I’m happy to. Well, I guess I’ve had the benefit from day one of being involved as an advisor. So I’ve got to know the company and the team well. And for me, I just love working with really bright people, with people that are really passionate, and the people that put clients at the center. And I just saw that client-focused approach at Behaviorally, and I also saw something else that I love which is tech and the AI solutions – the cutting edge AI solutions that Behaviorally has got. 

It’s something that really captured my imagination because I used to be in retail stores, post offices, and with lots of retail clients. And I think what I could have done if I had had those solutions, those products at that time, it would have helped me grow my businesses far faster and far more effectively. And so that combined with them, seeing – as Alex mentioned – the huge growth already up to five countries, probably in another five countries within the next 10 to 12 months. It’s exciting. 

And I like companies that are number one. Number one in their space. I started my career working with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I love that pride of being at the premiere place with the best people, the best products, so you can deliver the best service and help clients outcompete second competition. But I guess if I had to narrow it down to one thing is, the other thing that is often missing in companies is a clear vision. 

And so often, people are trying to be all things to all people and not really quite sure what they stand for, what the strategy is, or everyone thinks the strategy is slightly different. But I just love the fact that there was this clear strategy and a clear vision that really I guess, as Alex has alluded to, anchored in that sort of driving shop of growth. At what a time of transformational change in retail. 

I mean, retail is changing beyond all recognition with the pandemic having accelerated the growth in e-commerce that we’d already seen. And for me, I just see that as a huge opportunity. And I like to be on a winning team, I like to be on a passionate team, I like to have fun, and I like to help clients make money, and I felt I could do all of those things by joining Behaviorally. So really excited to be on the team. 

Alex Hunt: Nice to have you as well. 

Lenny Murphy: Yeah, I think that, Alex, that bonus checks already in the mail after that glowing endorsement. So yeah. 


Oh, I agree the – I mean, that’s why we have these annual conversations. I think that I’ve always been incredibly impressed with Behaviorally, the leadership that you’ve shown Alex in the story that you just outlined. I mean, that – relaunching a brand is a dicey proposition. As we all know from previous experiences, directly and indirectly, it doesn’t always work out very well. So to springboard that during a pandemic – a global pandemic when the category you serve is turning topsy turvy to begin with. I mean, wow. This could have been massive headwinds. And instead, they’ve turned into massive tailwinds. So hats off. 

Alex Hunt: Yeah. For me on rebranding and there’s a sort of mixed wrap on that across the industry. And the couple of points I would make on it at least from our perspective, are number one; just the importance of teamwork and really engaging the organization. I think that I personally had even underestimated the degree to which our new brand would really energize the business and all of our team members. 

And I think that our clients really felt that, and were consequently very, very supportive. I think the other thing with rebranding is very much that it cannot just be a marketing device. There has to be a really clear foundational strategy beneath it. And I think the Behaviorally, and with the team, and with the help of advisors such as Crispin as well, we really refined that strategy, focused it around driving shopper growth, defining and diagnosing the behaviors that caused that in one way or the other, and really focusing in all digitization, be that in the core physical shelf business or be it in answering digital shopper objectives on the part of clients. 

That’s clear in our business today. I mean, we now answer 25% of our questions broadly against the digital shelf that’s only going to grow. We think it’ll be the majority of our business two years from now as it will be potentially the majority of our client’s business. And I think for any rebrand, really having that concrete strategy beneath it is really what makes it successful, as well as the [AUDIO OUT] team. So hats off really to the folks that they really developed it. 

Lenny Murphy: Yep. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, it is interesting of the confluence. If we look at the market as a whole, obviously yes, the industry is growing. That’s shown in the capital markets and M&A activity. Absolutely unprecedented activity there. I mean, yeah. A lot of FOMO happening right now for a lot of companies on that. 

But it’s been interesting to have maybe somewhat acknowledged that a lot of companies with a focus on behavioral data or behavioral technology, have been driving that. We even saw how emotions go public. We’re seeing – oh, shoot – user testing about filing IPO. So we are seeing significant value generation being created for companies with a focus on behavioral research in lots of different permutations. 

And I think that is also one of the things that 2020 – and that’s my generic code for all this what-the-hell transformation we’ve all been going through is 2020. But it did drive the importance of needing to understand people’s non-conscious behavior. They’re not conscious drivers of behavior because we change. The assumption that humans are static creatures and we always perform exactly the same way. 

Well, we definitely put that to the test, didn’t we, in showing that is not necessarily the case. We do change. So that’s my long-winded way of getting to the point that I think from a positioning standpoint, your strategy is spot on. There is no better time to be focused on understanding behavior particularly at the point where the rubber hits the road, which is at the point of shopper behavior of purchase and package. No wonder that you’re doing great. It’s – you’re part of the right solution at the right time. 

Alex Hunt: Yeah, absolutely. And I think for us – and Crispin, I think it’s certainly talk to where we’re headed next year. But we certainly feel that pressure to use our capital, and we’re very blessed to have a stable and supportive sponsor. But I think more than that, aligning our vision with our clients is important. As much as there is a mass of capital coming into the research industry and it’s really raising the bar competitively, when we look at our clients’ businesses, they are facing the same pressures. [INAUDIBLE] hugely disruptive force in nearly every manufacturer’s business. 

And that’s predominantly who we work with at Behaviorally. And I think aligning our strategy so closely to them so when we are deploying new solutions or when we are investing in new markets, we’re doing so in a way that replicates and helps us solve their challenges. That’s probably the most important thing for us. We’re very focused really on helping our clients. 

I’ve always believed that if we support and deliver great outcomes for our clients, the benefits will flow through our business in time. And I think that velocity is something that’s underpinned our business really since its formation in 1972, and it’s a legacy the previous management left frankly that long should it continue. I think, Crispin, if you want to talk a little bit about where we’re headed next year and – 

Crispin Beale: Yeah, cool 

Alex Hunt:  -great things we have coming up. 

Crispin Beale: Yeah I’m happy to just reiterate from my perspective. Delivering solutions to clients is what, I think, the team is passionate about and what I personally love doing. And for a long time, for most of my career, we’ve talked. And the great – and the good in our industry – Sir Martin Sorrell has regularly sort of said about people who want better, faster, cheaper, and then everyone would always turn around and say, well, you can pick two of those three. 

But in the last 12 months, that dynamic in that world has changed because by using the new AI tools and some of the cutting edge stuff that Behaviorally are doing, you can genuinely have all three. And that’s where things were because in the past, often invaluable research didn’t get done because there just wasn’t time, because everyone had left it too late, and that was the bit that slipped. 

But now because you can do these projects in almost real-time, you can actually make sure you deliver something better and more valuable. And by my heart, I originally trained. Well, after training as a biologist and then trained as a chartered accountant, and qualified in financial services there. So numbers and logic are really important to me. And I’ve always believed that you have to have the best solutions, then demonstrate the return on investment of those solutions. 

Because even if you have the best solutions, which I absolutely believe we’ve got with the AI tools now, if you can’t show clients how it’s giving them a return on investment, how it’s making them money or saving them money, then they’re not going to drive them forward. But when you can now clearly demonstrate that these things are helping improve their business and make sales, they’re happy to do more. And that’s why we see our existing clients growing. 

And I think that will be a key theme of continuing to service and keep those existing clients happy, as well as getting our message out to new people in those new markets as we move into five new markets in the next few months. Making sure people know that if you like the Behaviorally secret, and they can have access to these products as well to help them out-compete their competitors, and make more sales and drive their business forward. 

So it becomes almost a virtuous circle as more people see the tools we are using, trial them, and understand the benefits they get, the competitive advantage they get, we will start to grow further and faster even by default. But I think we’re indisputably number one in the pack space, and we’re globalizing that, and we’re seeing the market share go up very quickly. It’s a very fragmented market and we’re bringing that together. 

And the AI tools. AI is something I’m passionate about. I have long used tech in research to drive things forward. I think it’s now almost like a hygiene factor. You have to have that. You have to be using that if you want your brand to have the advantage. Then, and as I touched on earlier, e-commerce. So I even say e-commerce. E-commerce. E-commerce. You can’t say it enough. The world has changed and accelerated through the pandemic. 

And brands need to be able to work out how to effectively compete in that space as well that used to perhaps what they need to do. Would be they now need to do it far faster on the physical shelf, but they need to be able to work on the e-commerce environment as well and make sure they maintain their brand advantage or gain brand advantage. And some of the fantastic tools that Behaviorally have launched like flash PPP, as a sort of automated technology-based platform, which again, is AI-driven. I think it’s going to be fundamental there and I think that will just be – dare I say – almost flying off the shelf. 


Lenny Murphy: No pun intended. No pun intended. 

Crispin Beale: Yeah, do that. But we need to give these new solutions to the market. And it’s on tap by agencies. People in the research space don’t understand these new technologies as well as other spaces. And but our clients are crying out for them. Clients recognize that they need these new automated AI tools that are permanently on, that are permanently watching what they’re doing, what their competitors are doing. 

And if the relative position of their offer and the strength of their branding on the shelf is changing, they need to have that. The other thing I think you probably see from us that we need to focus on is more AI in the core business as well. Behaviorally has the world’s largest pack database by an IOMIO. And we need to use AI to make sure that we can get the value of that database into the hands of clients faster and more effectively. 

But not disclosing, and I thought a lot about technology, the people, and the expertise, and the knowledge built up over decades is still fundamental because AI will not solve things on its own. It needs the people with the real expertise, with the passion, with the brains to combine that with the AI to deliver solutions that make money for clients. Sorry, you’ve got me on a roll there. 

Lenny Murphy: That’s OK. 

Crispin Beale: [INAUDIBLE] 

Lenny Murphy: It’s all right. And I’m sorry the little boy/puppy, strange combination, despite my best intentions. 


Crispin Beale: No problem. 

Lenny Murphy: Another one of those 2020 things. It’s like 


But I do apologize for that slight disruption. 

Crispin Beale: No worries. 

Lenny Murphy: That is my son Ezekiel, and that was our dog Cobra Kai who we got last year. And I think getting a puppy during COVID, we should have known it was a bad idea across the board. It’s a bad omen. Anyway, no, that’s – I agree with everything, Crispin. That’s incredibly exciting. Yeah, I think that the – you guys continue to just be a wonderful example of success stories through a combination of great planning, great team, as well as a little bit of luck, a little bit of circumstance that just happened, it puts you in a great position. 

Alex, we’ll call it precedence, I think. Maybe you secretly saw all this coming and knew exactly where to position the company beforehand. But I think you’ve done a great job. I want to be conscious of your time and as well as the time of the audience. So is there anything else that you want to share about this exciting new growth trajectory as we head into 2022? Crispin, with you joining, Alex, any other plans? 

Alex Hunt: No, I think what I would add and it really does build a little bit on your comments as well as Crispin’s is that Behaviorally is really a team effort. We have an absolutely terrific team. We’ve continually upgraded that, and I think really proud of this year at the leadership team that we’ve put together. But also right throughout the organization, it’s the passion and the expertise of our people from launching a brand from scratch and building it over 10 months to global expansion which isn’t as easy as it sounds. 

It’s a lot of fun. Right the way through to the really cutting-edge product, and making sure we commercialize those and get them into our clients’ hands. To Crispin’s point, market researchers are very well known for great innovation that doesn’t actually lead the building. 


Our teams have really stepped up. And I think really humbled actually as a leader that the team that we have and the support we’ve seen from our clients. And I think 2022 is going to be a lot more of the same from the Behaviorally team. And I certainly for one, I know Crispin feels the same, can’t wait to get started early next year really, and watch this space for an important announcement probably at the beginning of January as well. 

Lenny Murphy: Oh. All right. All right. So we’ll hit. All right. Crispin, what about you? Anything else to wrap up? 

Crispin Beale: No, I think as Alex says, it’s fun. Working at Behaviorally is great fun and we deliver value to our clients. And long may it continue. So I’m looking forward to it. 

Lenny Murphy: That’s fantastic. Well, guys, it’s probably not too early to say happy holidays. We’re heading into that arena. So we’ll look forward to hearing what you’re talking about in January, Alex, that you got my curiosity up. But if not, I’m sure we’ll talk before then. But we’ll do the same time, next year for what now absolutely is an annual update. And that’s it for now. Alex Hunt: Appreciate it very much, guys. Thanks very much. 

Lenny Murphy: OK. 

Crispin Beale: Thanks very much. 

Lenny Murphy: Yeah. Be well. Bye-bye.

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