On a Roll: Cornell Johnson

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Cornell Johnson, 29, is manager of teen and urban insights at HoundDog, a Dallas consumer-research operation owned by Mosaic Relevance Marketing, Toronto. He joined the company a year ago; previously he worked for Field Source Marketing, Dallas, and Blockbuster Music, in various markets.

Mission: To hunt down ideas and trends for marketing purposes, through immersion in youth culture and observation.

Secret weapon: Empathic listening. We get kids to talk about brands without influencing them, which is why our research is so different than most. We absorb every detail, down to the socks kids wear.

What's hot: Word of mouth, underground music, niche magazines about music, art and sports.

Tip: Don't hit kids over the head with advertising. They appreciate subtlety. They're wary about latching onto logos or brands. They're looking for the new thing, but they don't want to be the only person out there with it.

Edge: I'm genuinely fascinated by why people do what they do. I don't feel like a spy because my interest in consumers is genuine.

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