NEWS9 December 2021

2021 Young researcher of the Year – Client: Matt Walker

Awards News UK

UK –  At this year’s MRS Awards, the Research Live young researcher of the year – client was won by Matt Walker at Co-op.

Head shot of Matt Walker

Walker (pictured above) started out as a research support assistant at Join the Dots (now InSites Consulting), then worked as a senior research executive at DJS research and has been with Co-op for nearly six years. He was involved in two major projects, the first of which stems back to summer 2020, when people were being instructed to “eat out to help out” and the Co-op insights team decided it needed to come up with a plan to help stakeholders predict future trends in the wake of Covid-19.

Bruce Foresight was a ground-breaking piece of research led by Walker, using a creative, experimental, bespoke methodology. The approach combined behavioural economics with more traditional market research. The output integrated actual sales data into a statistical model, providing a simple behaviour ‘stickiness’ score. Walker worked with an external agency to refine this approach to ensure actionability, giving senior management the confidence that this was a risk worth taking.

He led the company’s findings cascade, making actionable recommendations to varied stakeholders at all levels and steering critical decisions. To bring the insights to life, he used video vignettes alongside modelled behaviour data and commercials.

His cascade workshop with the firm’s executives had a major impact – they used the model to develop various commercial strategies. For instance, the company’s meals strategy was rewritten to meet convenience shopper needs given their new behaviours around scratch cooking and shopping local, something likely to generate significant turnover.

Challenge: championing diversity

The second piece of research revolved around Co-op’s diversity commitments in order to understand more about how it represents everyone. This can make it difficult to achieve a unified strategy, but Walker’s research provided a vital reality check in terms of what the supermarket chain can achieve through convenience stores, where authenticity is difficult.

Initially, the business was focused on larger retailers and increasing diversity through product range alone, however Walker expanded the brief to immerse the chain in the lives of ethnic groups and proved that there were important brand perception barriers to address. To challenge this thinking in an evidence-based way, he selected powerful video clips from the research, which involved customers telling their own stories, something that he describes as “compelling and irrefutable evidence”.

Walker’s research enabled Co-op to work towards its vision, treading the line between commercial and customer benefit. He presented these findings to key decision makers and the executive board, as well as others within the organisation, as a way of broadening horizons around ethnicity. CEO Steve Murrells has since canvassed his opinion on how to ensure the Co-op remains genuine and authentic, supporting Walker’s recommendation of a landmark semiotics piece to drive further action.

“The last 18 months shocked the world and changed life as we know it”, commented Walker. “I’m truly proud of my contribution to helping Co-op understand these changes and develop strategy, leading two landmark research pieces that made impact and challenged thinking.”

Charlotte Lock, data and loyalty director at the Co-op, added: “Matt makes a real impact on senior stakeholders and strategies across the business by landing insights with a thump and driving action on every project. His curiosity and rigour make him trusted and respected and his collaborative approach, openness and generosity mean his insight peers love having him on the team.”

The full list of MRS Awards 2021 winners can be found here.