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    sensing new frontiers of consumer insight

    Diana Derval’s e-⁠Residency journey reflects her research agency’s unique approach to understanding human behaviour, and sharing their learning for the greater good.

    Picture courtesy of DervalResearch (from Twitter)

    Diana Derval, CEO and founder of DervalResearch, knows exactly why she became an e-⁠resident of Estonia. But what about when we act in ways which don’t make sense, or that we could not explain even to ourselves? 

    Since the times of the ancient Greek philosophers, wise minds have endeavoured to understand why we do the things that we do. Why we make choices, have preferences, and choose courses of action. This need to understand may come from a thirst for knowledge and insight. Or it might be the key for modern brands and businesses to sell you more stuff.

    Regardless of motive, the black-box decision-making tools inside our heads are hard to describe and analyse. Most of us are poor witnesses even to our own choices and behaviours, never mind those of other people. Furthermore, it’s easy to think of those ‘other people’ as some homogeneous mass, or perhaps a handful of different marketing personas. But that generalisation obscures so much, as Diana’s research has uncovered. 

    Diana and her team research behaviour and preferences through global brands and collaborations. So, e-⁠Residency made so much sense for DervalResearch, as Diana explained:

    “In Estonia everything is transparent by definition, and allows us to have a stable company structure, while working globally. Most of what we do is online or in the field, and I think from the beginning we had an unusual approach to research, and the way we work together within the company.”

    “In Estonia everything is transparent by definition, and allows us to have a stable company structure, while working globally.” 

    Diana Derval, DervalResearch

    From hot drinks to academic journals

    Diana's research and findings at DervalResearch shed light on why we all experience the same world so differently in the first place:

    “What we have discovered over time is that people are rational, they just have a very different perception. If we zoom in on a tongue, some people have 11 taste buds per cm2 and others have 1,100 taste buds, the difference is huge and explains why a strong espresso can be yummy or undrinkable, depending on the taste profile of the person, as well as on their opioid receptors - as some get a kick from caffeine and some less.”

    Derval Research Taste Profile

    If something as simple as choosing a coffee can represent such a different experience for different people, learning about these sensory attributes can lead to a more profound understanding of human functioning on so many levels. Which is why, as well as helping a coffee brand create inclusive and attractive products, DervalResearch is committed to making their broader findings publicly available. 

    “We also detected a link between the sense of taste and the immune system,” Diana explained. “Originally, taste buds are supposed to protect people against poison… What I love about our work is that exploring human physiology can help understand customers, but also people in general, including ourselves.”

    Diana’s vision for deepening human understanding alongside serving the research needs of clients has led to DervalResearch’s recent accreditation as a B-Corp. This is a demanding certification process which examines every aspect of a business’ practice against the demands of the greater good.

    All B-corps must meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.

    “I always had a vision from the start to be a social entrepreneur,” Diana explained, even back when this didn’t have a name and no one understood what it was, and commercial and academic research were very different and siloed disciplines.

    Colourful collaborations for the greater good

    The exciting commercial-academic collaborations this multidisciplinary approach has facilitated have led to outputs like the "Derval Color Test". People register colour differently due to physical variation in our eyes. The test uses a robust colour perception index to capture this huge variance and the way both colour and contrast register differently. We literally see things differently from one another.

    Not only do I now have an explanation for why I have never liked yellow, but this test has helped DervalResearch’s clients too. In fact, it helped one client save on their R+D and packaging costs. Simply by understanding this unique bit of physiology - and what it revealed about their target market.

    “Each time we discover useful findings for our client, we also find something that has an impact on health or wellbeing,” Diana explained. In the case of the coffee project, “we were able to uncover a link between this birth immune system and chronic diseases that lead to new prevention avenues on diabetes and similar types of diseases. So, we publish that.”

    Diana has now written more than 10 books, including Berry-AMA prize finalist "The Right Sensory Mix: Decoding Customers' Behavior and Preferences".

    It’s a global and holistic approach to understanding behaviour and motivation. And it’s reflected at every level of DervalResearch’s vision, from their diverse and distributed team, to their exploration of every biological mechanism contributing to human behaviour. 

    Interested in setting up your own scientific or research enterprise with e-Residency? Read about the benefits of incorporating in Estonia and apply now

    Apply for e-⁠Residency

    Beyond behaviourism and cognitive biases

    “It is never just about the brain”, Diana explained. “We look at sensory perception, we look at hormones, we look at the microbiome. Neuroscience used to be all about the brain, but now neurons have been discovered in the guts, and even in the heart!”

    Clearly Diana’s heart and that of her e-⁠resident business, is driven by a passion to truly understand the complex nuances of human motivation and behaviour. “I think that we don't always choose the most profitable path. This is for sure. But we choose the most exciting. So on the other hand, that's what has kept us going for years.”

    A special client-base, served by a unique business proposition

    Not every client is a fit for the services of Diana’s agency. This is because a willingness to share and publish broader findings for social impact doesn’t suit everybody. Nor do they accept work for brands who behave unethically. 

    People can be intrigued by science and its potential power for all the wrong reasons. “We have turned down clients who want to use these findings to manipulate people… We don’t do this, and also, I think it is not needed. If you understand people, you can design what will fit them, you don’t need to manipulate or force them,” cautions Diana.

    Everything is about finding that fit, from the right clients to the right biophysical mechanisms to explore, to the right team to research it. DervalResearch engages a range of specialists from different disciplines, who collaborate from different locations, and are themselves highly diverse - even neurodiverse.

    New approaches to research fit with new business paradigms

    Once again there is a great alignment here, between Diana’s own multicultural, polyglot roots, growing up between Paris and Munich, and presently based in Berlin, via Shanghai and Amsterdam.

    E-resident Diana Derval

     “People like me, who are equipped with a 7R polymorphism in the dopamine DRD4 receptor need to relocate. Otherwise, they are likely to gamble or overeat,” she explained - referring to her Hormonal Quotient research. 

    “As I have difficulties being bound to a given territory, I loved the idea of building a truly digital company." 

    In fact, DervalResearch has opened their latest ‘office’ in the metaverse, so it doesn’t get much more location-independent than that. “We’re always open to different channels, and helping to make technology more user-friendly and easier for adoption.

    “The Estonian model, combining technology and nature, has always fascinated us, and becoming e-⁠residents was a great idea, for me and my fellow board members.

    We first heard of the program via a friend and serial entrepreneur and took a closer look. E-⁠Residency's clear website, and numerous discussion groups, were very informative and welcoming, so we decided to give it a go. Within a couple of weeks, we could retrieve our e-⁠resident cards at the local Estonian embassy and set up DervalResearch OÜ in no time”

    “The Estonian model, combining technology and nature, has always fascinated us, and becoming e-residents was a great idea, for me and my fellow board members.” 

    Connecting the intimately human to the global greater good is a fascinating application of the digital residency concept. And the simple mission to understand each other better is a social benefit we can all support.

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