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3 parallels between national security analysis & consumer insights

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At Alpha-Diver, we believe that varying backgrounds bring an unparalleled range of experience to our team, so we seek out those individuals who add both depth and expertise. Today, we want to shine the spotlight on Mary Mathes, as she talks about her professional experience, and how it gives her a unique edge as our Director of Data Insights…


Before joining the team at Alpha-Diver, my career path included eschewing a MBA in favor of earning a Masters in International Relations and then spending a little more than 7 years in Washington DC as a foreign affairs analyst for the US government. When I pivoted back to the market research and insights space, many people marveled at why I was making the switch, or wondered how what I’d done in DC would relate to market research analysis on consumer goods. I always knew that it would, and after more than two years with Alpha-Diver, I can describe even more fully three parallels between my “past life” and the life of a successful consumer insights analyst…


The need to read broadly.

My days start with “reading traffic” and sharing highlights with my team when one of our clients or partners is in the news. I subscribe to a number of industry newsletters, daily digests, and company updates, in addition to the print edition of Quirk’s. I’ve also been known to peruse the quarterly earnings calls of publicly traded clients to see what their C-suite is telling Wall Street. Being in the know about what’s going on in our industry as well as in our clients’ worlds enables us to better serve their needs and anticipate their challenges. It also saves us from being caught unaware in calls.


Collaboration is a necessity, not a dirty word.

In DC, there are many agencies and companies focusing on different issues, different parts of the world, gathering different types of information. Each of them have pieces of the puzzle, derived from their unique missions. To get to truly deep, insightful conclusions, it’s often best to take an “all source” approach to analysis, pulling those disparate pieces together to triangulate to the truth.

In market research, we’re often siloed: there are companies out there gathering passive data like customer receipts, digital behavior tracking, social listening, etc., and companies conducting more traditional survey research, asking consumers what they think, etc. Sometimes these capabilities are connected, but just as often they are not; each company has a piece of the puzzle and fiercely protects its data, skeptical of sharing with other research partners. Think of how much richer insights could become if collaborating with suppliers who have another piece of the consumer puzzle was the norm?

At Alpha-Diver, we are always open to ways of doing that: we’re partnering with passive data providers to uncover the WHY behind the WHAT, targeting our studies to people we already know have bought the product of interest thanks to receipt data, doing NLP analysis on video and open-ended responses to uncover deeper insights beyond just “what they said,” and so on. We also never shy away from incorporating research our clients have already done into our approach to deepen our understanding (and theirs). No one company has all the answers.


It’s not good enough to just tell someone what is happening, or even why it’s happening.

You have to continue on to what it means, and / or what they can do about it. (This doesn’t mean telling them what they should do, but providing options and the implications of those options so they can make informed decisions). This seems obvious, but how many research reports have you read with “descriptive” headlines just telling you what some chart says, and not going any further? At Alpha-Diver, our goal is that you’ll only ever see a chart like that in an appendix. In the working sections of our playbooks, we bring forth the data that shows you what it means for your business, and what you can do to activate it. And, we pride ourselves on being “delightfully direct” about it.


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