Human Centricity | Ep. 188

Anita Watkins, the Global Head of Qualitative Research at Kantar, joins Sima today to talk about how she got to where she is and what she does at Qualitative. She also gets into current trends within the industry, offers guidance for coping with uncertainty, and shares some career advice.

Anita’s journey

After leaving college, Anita worked in sales and insurance sales. She worked hard and did well even though it was not her ideal job. Then, the company asked her to do some focus groups with the field sales force. After her first presentation, she realized that working in qualitative research might be a better fit for her personality type.

She applied for a job with a small firm in the research space. She refused to give up when they told her she did not have enough experience, and they eventually gave her the job. The company went through many changes and mergers over the years and finally became Kantar, one of the largest research firms on the planet. Toward the end of 2017, Anita became Kantar’s Global Head of Qualitative Research.

Anita’s career advice

Anita advises listeners never to give up! She encourages everyone to stay open, keep learning, and adopt a growth mindset.

The impact of the pandemic

Just a few weeks before everything shut down in 2020 and travel bans kicked in, Anita managed to sneak in a meeting with 65 global qualitative leaders from various countries. In April 2020, 49 of their 55 countries went into lock-down. At that point, 85% of their work got done in person, so they had to figure out how to pivot, execute their work, and save their projects. They managed to shift to working almost entirely online within about six weeks.

Coping with uncertainty

In times of uncertainty, take the first step, even if you do not have a plan. Just make some phone calls, and get together with those you know you can rely on to brainstorm.


Anita journals a lot because writing helps her to think better and process her thoughts.

Collaborative leadership

Anita has a collaborative style of leading and problem-solving, so she enjoys talking to people with different points of view.

A shift toward a more human-centric approach 

Since the pandemic, there has been a shift towards a more human-centric approach. As a result, there has been a change in the questions to which her clients ask her to find answers. Many want to understand how mindsets and behaviors have shifted and how people are coping with vulnerability.


According to Kantar’s insights, companies that use imagination in the future are most likely to become successful and outperform the companies that fail to do that. Companies that get to the why and find a story in the human part of that data will have a competitive advantage.


Anita has taken her inspiration from Brene Brown for creating much of the empathy training they do at Kantar. She has found that getting people to put their perspective aside momentarily, role play, and adopt the mindset of putting themselves in someone else’s story, helps them develop more empathy.


Promoted to an expanded role in December 2021. In addition to Global Qualitative, now responsible for:

Kantar’s Global Innovation Solutions is designed to help clients drive sustainable brand growth. Kantar’s Innovation offer includes helping clients: identify opportunities, co-create concepts, and provide expert guidance in successful product launch through advertising, media, and product optimization. A key focus for this role will be partnering with technology, operations, and analytics to enhance our current portfolio to work even more effectively with the world’s most successful brands.

Kantar’s Solutions Learning team which is responsible for creating world-class content for learning across all Kantar solutions areas as well as professional development for our colleagues around the globe.

As the Global Head of Qualitative for Kantar, Anita is accountable for all elements of qualitative research across Kantar’s operating brands worldwide. At Kantar, we seek to inspire our clients, our people, and society to create and flourish in an extraordinary world and we do so by drawing on the expertise of our research consultants that sit across 60 countries.

Before being appointed Global Head of Qualitative, with an entrepreneurial spirit, Anita had successfully grown qualitative in North America for KTNS by over 900% and has transformed businesses in Latin America by building effective relationships with external and internal corporate clients.

A seasoned researcher, Anita’s focus is always on providing insight into connecting consumers emotionally to brands to drive growth for Fortune 500 clients. She has extensive experience in new product development, brand strategy, communications, retail, and satisfaction research. Throughout her career, Anita has moderated hundreds of focus groups and one-on-one interviews for many Fortune 100 firms across CPG, Financial Services, Travel/Tourism, B2B, and B2C audiences. Anita is a strategic thinker with a big heart and thrives on uncovering significant opportunities in the small details of everyday life.

Anita has a BS in Marketing, graduating Magna Cum Laude, from the University of Dayton, USA. She recently served on Unilever’s Expert Panel for its highly regarded qualitative accreditation program and is recognized as an Accredited Professional Development Specialist for the Market Research Society in London. She also serves as the Vice Chair on the Advisory Board for Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Marketing Research Program.


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Qualitative Research at Kantar

Anita Watkins on LinkedIn

Books mentioned:

Dare To Lead by Brene Brown