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My Life as a Moderator: Coleman Hemsath

by Radius

The moderator serves a significant role in a Mixed Methodology research project, connecting with the client from the initial stages of research to understand project objectives, and bringing the voice of the customer to life before, during, and/or after the quantitative phases by getting to the “why” behind the “what”. The unique blend of skills they bring helps the Radius team provide recommendations backed by deep research and understanding of the customer voice. Coleman Hemsath shares about his experience as a moderator.

Tell us about your background and what brought you to your current role as a moderator.

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and went to Ithaca College to study musical theatre in the conservatory program. During the last semester of senior year, Ithaca hosts a showcase in New York City. An agent saw me at the showcase and booked me in an off-Broadway show, so I was working professionally as an actor before I graduated. I did a couple Broadway national tours, including Les Misérables and Elf the Musical and found myself working fairly consistently as an actor.

When the pandemic hit, my main source of income was suddenly unavailable. I had attended a panel hosted by Ithaca about other careers that alumni had success in. A woman on the panel was a qualitative research moderator. That career path appealed to me, and I decided to pursue a job in the field. I felt that my BFA in performance with a minor in communication was basically a degree in human communication, so moderating seemed like a natural fit. I was also lucky enough to have a family member who works in market research that was able to mentor and coach me. I was delighted when Radius hired me, and I’ve been able to work my way up from an hourly employee to a full-time moderator over the last few years.

Tell us about the consumer work you do.

I enjoy in-person sessions that delve into consumer habits, for example, how people make decisions when they shop. One of my personal favorites is research on grocery stores.

This work reflects my enthusiasm for human connection and the human condition. Observing shoppers during a session, I’ll see that Susie might take 10 seconds to shop, where Frank takes a minute and a half. They get the same product, but why is it that they take such different lengths of time? When I interview them after the shopping portion of the study, I might learn that Susie has three kids, and she’s pressed for time, so she grabs what she needs. Frank tells me that he’s retired and likes to take his time browsing the aisle. Small details like this can have a big impact on how a brand moves forward with their promotional campaigns.

These nuances help make me understand why qualitative work is so important. You can’t express everything in numbers. The work we do in immersive sessions is an imperative component in market research.


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What do you like about qualitative work?

Qualitative results help the client step back and take a look at who their consumer is. Successful, iconic brands stay competitive by always having a beat on their consumers — understanding who they are, how they spend, what their preferences are. So, I think it’s very important in today’s world, especially with how quickly this market changes, that companies keep a beat on consumer trends.

Do you ever get surprised by consumer reactions?

Yes, sometimes we walk into research with a fairly good idea of what the results might be, and they’re the opposite. When there’s an unexpected result, it’s interesting to see teams collaborate on what to do next. Often, we can help with the pivot by suggesting a quantitative survey to see if the unexpected opinion holds up, or if the go-to-market plan needs more thinking or action.

What has been the most interesting immersive session you’ve guided?

There was one experience that really touched me during an immersive session. We were working on a project for dish soap, trying to understand how color impacts purchase decisions. I noticed that an older gentleman was one of a very few out of 30 people who selected the green bottle, and as he put in in his cart, I saw he had a little smile on his face. When I asked him why he chose that bottle, and told him I noticed his smile, he said that green was his mother’s favorite color, and that the smell of the dish soap reminded him of his mother who had just recently passed away.

It was a good reminder that sometimes it’s not just the price, maybe it’s not the position on the shelf. It might be something deeper, like nostalgia. I think it’s really interesting to hear stories like this, and I’m surprised by how often they come up organically during immersive sessions.

What impact does the work you do have on project outcomes?

There is a clear value that immersive sessions give a voice to customer behaviors. Our findings bring color and context to each project, and often, this color is what breathes life into the data so that we have a human story that makes the insights more relatable and actionable.

Reach out to find out more about our immersive insights approaches.