Alumni

Compelling Views: Hannibal and Malcolm Brooks (M.S. in Commerce ’18) of Olson Zaltman and Double Talk

Twin brothers Hannibal and Malcolm Brooks talk about their new YouTube channel and how McIntire prepared them for their work at the research-based consulting firm.

Hannibal and Malcolm Brooks

The developing story of Brooks twins Hannibal and Malcolm continues to get more interesting with time.

UVA Today highlighted the brothers back in 2017, discussing their bone marrow donor journey, as well as their appearance on the gameshow “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” Today, the M.S. in Commerce grads, two years out of the Comm School, are making waves in their roles as Insight Associates at research-based consulting firm Olson Zaltman.

Like many people, the duo is working from home these days. But in addition to conducting market research, analyzing consumer insights, and publishing pieces on their findings for their firm, they’ve also been using their time working from their Pittsburgh-area home to launch a channel on YouTube, Double Talk.

Hannibal says that since Olson Zaltman is focused on examining the unconscious mental processes that influence our relationship with brands, he and his brother regularly come across deeply personal stories about those relationships. They decided to share them. Merging those stories with their shared lifelong love of movies and a variety of entertainment has given them the chance to flex a different set of muscles in videos they’re producing, which any viewer can plainly see, looks like a lot of fun to create.

He also says that their McIntire education—particularly the consulting ethos they’ve internalized—gave them the skills to simplify complex topics into digestible bits and provided the confidence for them to get started.

We spoke to the Brooks brothers about their channel, their work at Olson Zaltman, and their McIntire experience.

How have you been deciding on the topics to explore in the clips?
Hannibal: Honestly, it’s a bit free-form. The inspirations range from thought-provoking TV commercials and interesting headlines in the marketing world to sometimes even the random items that make their way into our grocery cart. Curiosity is our North Star, our compass, and our dartboard. Speaking of which, we also have several walls in the apartment pasted with a rotating set of ads to fire up the creativity engines.

What have been the greatest challenges to producing the videos?
Malcolm: Funnily enough, quarantine has actually been an ally in giving us the time and space to film. The tougher piece has been making sure we’re able to create a condensed, yet accurate story. For any individual topic that touches an area of business or psychology, there’s such a huge volume of research; we have to figure out how to craft a narrative that adds a bit of flavor from everything at the buffet without overstuffing. Plus, the technical aspects of video production always have a bit of a learning curve.

How about your coworkers at Olson Zaltman? How have they reacted to the segments? And have you heard from any of your old Comm School classmates?
Malcolm: The wonderful thing about Olson Zaltman’s culture is the atmosphere is incredibly collegial. We chat about movies and pop culture all the time, so everyone feels comfortable sharing their genuine opinions. The verdict so far is we’re minting something exceptional!

Our coworkers can easily nerd out over the analysis (our Slack is buzzing after an episode drops), and by episode two we were okayed to add the company pre-roll to our launches. They are unmatched in providing suggestions to improve our presentation and even our comedic timing; since we don’t pull punches, the praise feels as good as the criticism, since it’s all about making a better product.

Double Talk has also been great for reconnecting with our McIntire peers. Compliments have come in about the utility it has for their work; it’s also inspired some conversations about joint projects in the future.

What are your plans with the channel going forward?
Hannibal: Anyone in the creative arts can tell you it’s always wonderful to create work you’re personally proud of, and that’s certainly true for us. Yet as marketers, we’re constantly experimenting with new formats that can engage and excite new audiences. We’ve dabbled in the musical parody realm for personal entertainment, so we may introduce aspects of that to the show, and we’re also exploring collaborations with professors, and entering the conference circuit as viewership grows. Eventually, we may create a curriculum that intersects with the topics that college students are learning, to add more spice, relevance, and engagement to work they’re already invested in. Don’t bet against a super-nerdy comic-style release either!

Despite the world being upended by COVID-19, what are your day-to-day responsibilities like at Olson Zaltman?
Malcolm: At the core, our job is about exploring the unconscious factors that motivate people to make decisions, and COVID hasn’t eliminated the desire to uncover these variables. As insights specialists, we conduct structured interviews, analyze data (text and numerical), and craft compelling presentations to make our findings actionable for clients. The most dramatic basic day-to-day change has been a transition to remote interviewing from in-person, but it’s also been a huge opportunity for tech innovation. We’re doing a lot more projects that involve our Simile and our AI platform, and we’re figuring out new ways to make the remote experience just as interactive: More and more we’re sending consumers prototypes (devices, snacks, etc.) to experience live, while creating purpose-built imagination exercises with distance in mind.

What do you enjoy most about your work? What do you find most challenging about it?
Malcolm: Since we were little, we’ve often wished for the power of telepathy, and as tiny fans of Sherlock Holmes became obsessed with deconstructing how people think. Now without operating an EEG, we can! Our work involves experiencing people’s stories every day and analyzing them in a uniquely structured way. If you’ve familiar with “Humans of New York,” you know that the people we pass by without a second thought are heroes, survivors, and fascinating oddballs with stories that could move you to tears. We get a taste of that.

Moreover, we get to touch an array of industries and reverse-engineer their public perception. What specific features makes a new car look “sleek” to someone, and why would they want to own something like that on a personal level? What makes pasta an emotional purchase for a given group rather than a cost-based decision? Trust is a huge factor in insurance, but how can a brand achieve that digitally? These are the kinds of questions we have the privilege to explore on a daily basis.

What experiences/lessons/projects from your time at McIntire have stayed with you in your current work?
Malcolm: The McIntire experience has been critical to our careers in a multitude of ways, particularly in client relationship and analysis skills. By the time we graduated, we’d already presented strategy to CEOs and CMOs; we’d drafted the professional emails and memos; we’d worked in cross-disciplinary teams—all the basics you need to be client-ready from day one.

Professor Ira Harris taught us what management teams really value, and Professor Brendan Boler demonstrated how the greatest consultants frame their findings for maximum impact. When you can offer that as a new hire, your managers definitely take notice. We can’t overstate the value that McIntire has had when it comes to analysis either. Professor Amar Cheema’s work on how academic psychology translates into bottom-line impact is particularly relevant for our work, while Professor Rick Netemeyer’s lessons in turning data points into a compelling story are also indispensable in any analyst’s toolkit.

Anything that you wish you knew about your position when you started (that took you time to figure out)?
Hannibal: The element of the job that we may have been least prepared for was the information-gathering side, because in our line of work, much of it comes from intimate personal discussions. We could (mostly) breeze through constructing a deck to tell a meaningful story, analyze qual and quant data, and analyze innovation technologically, thanks to the wonderful lessons from McIntire faculty. We could even sell ourselves and our ideas, thanks to the mock interviewing techniques. But getting someone else to share their story effectively is a totally different ballgame.

Fortunately, the team at OZ helped us perfect the tools of the trade: empathetic listening, thoughtful idea laddering, and specialized metaphorical techniques, all of which borrow from a few different disciplines. I think our advice to anyone heading into a first job is to listen and break down what someone is telling you now, and use it to get the right future answer, no matter what trade you’re in. It’s simple, but it saves tons of time.

What are you most looking forward to—besides the end of the pandemic threat?
Hannibal: As major fans of cinema, it’s been tough watching so many exciting major films postpone their release, even though a few have trickled on to streaming platforms, so we’re looking forward to those coming back. Plus, a whole slew of enticing, creative restaurants that have been shuttered to preserve safety, and we can only get a sliver of the full menu through meal delivery services. We await their return with forks drawn!

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