Gary Feldman is Vice President, Consumer Insights for Marcus by Goldman Sachs®. He has experience in multiple industries such as digital media, finance, technology, and entertainment. His specialties include OTT (Over-the-Top) video streaming, developing consumer-centric business strategies, and building, leading and coaching high-performance teams. In this interview, I ask Gary to share some of his expertise on topics such as digital marketing and consumer insights.
Conducting Consumer Research With Focus Groups
Alexa Ross: You have considerable experience with focus groups, interviews, and other consumer research. What are some of the top considerations that go into such methods? Does it come down to identifying the right audience, asking the right questions or other issues?
Gary Feldman: Consumer research and insights comprise a toolkit, inside of which are various tools that help us to understand consumers and the marketplace. Some tools are quantitative (surveys, multivariate techniques), some are qualitative (focus groups), some are a hybrid, and some are new and more experimental. What’s really important is understanding when and how to use the appropriate tool or tools for a specific situation.
There are some basic guiding principles that most researchers and marketers hopefully already know, but one question that is often overlooked is, “can or should research even be used to answer a particular question?” It is important to keep in mind that while research is a powerful tool, it is not appropriate to use it to answer every business question. For example, a situation where a live, in-market or A/B test would give more reliable and projectable results, that should take precedent. It is part of our job as strategic researchers to know when to say “no.”
AR: You list one of your skills as “synthesizing large amounts of disparate data into concise, actionable insights.” In the age of big data, is it getting more challenging to interpret all the data and make sense of it? What are some of your favorite strategies to do this?
GF: I think the term “big data” is very au courant, but the reality is many of us have been working with big data for a long time, especially those of us with experience in direct marketing businesses. In my first job out of business school, I worked at Columbia House (“12 CDs for a penny!”). The company had been an innovator in direct mail and direct marketing thanks to a very robust, transactional database and an excellent BI team that did lots of data mining on that database. Yet even back in the 90s, my team would combine primary research with information
from our database to do more complex analyses which yielded greater insights, especially comparing what consumers “say” (via survey) vs. what they “do” (via transactions).
It is true that the advent of social media and new technology means there are more datasets now available to more companies–not just direct marketers. In addition, technology has increased the speed at which this data becomes available exponentially, which for some companies can be overwhelming. Either way, the same principles and strategies apply. For example, we didn’t always merge survey data with the transactional database, only when we had a specific objective or question we thought would benefit from that additional insight.
I would say that working “backwards” is key. Start by thinking about what you or your clients want to do differently from what they’re doing today. Then identify what questions need to be answered that would impact those decisions and decide what types of data or information can answer them in the most efficient, reliable and least-biased way. You probably don’t need to “boil the ocean” of all the big data that is available.
Listening to the Consumer
AR: You describe yourself as a strong advocate for the voice of the consumer. What are some of the ways that you let consumers be heard? Do you think more businesses need to pay closer attention to customers’ needs and preferences?
GF: As I mentioned earlier, Consumer Insights has many tools in the toolkit to let consumers be heard, and we should not be afraid of using any of them as long as it’s appropriate. At Marcus, we use insights to help improve our products and experience for our customers. The goal is to leverage data to help provide them with what they are looking for from a financial services provider.
There are also other ways besides traditional “research” to engage in customer listening. Everyone—not just researchers–can benefit from visiting a customer call center and not just listening in on actual calls, but also talking to the reps one-on-one; they usually have very valuable insights from their front-line experience with customers.
As I mentioned earlier, social media is a growing tool and there are many ways to monitor it today. It is a very important customer service tool in many industries, but it is important not to confuse social media monitoring with consumer research designed to answer specific questions and conducted with a degree of scientific rigor.
AR: What does it take to build trust in a brand today? What are some of the practices contribute to customer loyalty?
GF: Authenticity is key. The immediacy of information and the impact of social media have made it impossible for a brand to talk one way and act another. In previous roles I’ve seen secondary data on this topic and, especially for younger generations, they place greater importance on brands who are true to what they stand for.
Every touchpoint is a potential moment-of-truth to prove or disprove a brand’s authenticity. The number of touchpoints brands have today forces a level of transparency and authenticity that consumers deserve, which is great.
OTT and Video Streaming
AR: Among your areas of expertise are OTT and video streaming. How can brands best use these platforms to engage with customers?
GF: OTT and streaming are media platforms. So, I think should use them like any other media channel based on the business and marketing objectives. If your audience is more likely to watch Hulu or stream ESPN or YouTube, your media plans need to reflect that.
Of course, there are new opportunities that go beyond ad-supported platforms, but not every brand can or should develop a custom Netflix or Amazon Prime series. It is important to know and understand the limitations of your brand. It may work for certain entertainment and gaming franchises but not every brand is a franchise. That said, there might be ways to partner with an SVOD player on a co-promotion or co-marketing opportunity.
Personalization and Segmentation
AR: How can companies effectively implement personalization and segmentation to better reach the right audience?
GF: It is the same principle as working backwards. Imagine your segmentation is done, what will you do with it now? Can you actually target these segments? Can you design a customized or personalized user experience based on the segment? Will your message, media, product or experience be impacted by it? If the answer to at least some of these questions isn’t yes, then your segmentation will end up being no more than a very expensive PowerPoint.
Gary Discusses Two of His Mentors
AF: Who are some of the leaders or mentors that have had a major impact on your life? These could be well-known leaders or people from your personal life.
GF: I’ve been very lucky to work for some incredible people throughout my career but two stick out in particular, one at the beginning of my career and the other more recently.
My first boss at American Express encouraged me to truly be a consultative partner to my internal clients. She said I should be spending more time on their floor, learning their business and their needs, rather than isolating myself on the research team floor. Not only did that help me learn the business, but I was able to develop relationships and build trust so that I could deliver true added value with the research we did.
At Netflix, I had the privilege to work directly for the CMO at the time, Leslie Kilgore. Her career achievements speak for themselves but reporting to her has been a highlight of my career. She always asked extremely tough questions, including during my first interview! Working for someone like that can be very challenging and even intimidating but it has its benefits. After a few months, during one of our 1 on 1’s where she was asking me one of these big, tough questions, it dawned on me that this was not some kind of “test.” Rather, she really wanted to know what I thought about a very large, strategic question for the company because she valued my point of view.
It’s something I now coach team members on today, including junior ones, that researchers should have a point of view and a way to explain the reason behind it. Beyond that, she made sure that I had a seat at the table for some very high-level discussions that directly affected the future of the business because she wanted to make sure that the voice of the consumer was represented. She understood and instilled in me that one thing is paramount above others: do what’s right for the customer.