What Is The “Data Downside” and How Do You Avoid It? : Interview with Bennett Porter

Interviewer: Today I am very pleased to welcome Bennet Porter, Vice President of Marketing Communications for SurveyMonkey. Bennet manages the brand, consumer marketing and media relations at SurveyMonkey, including partner’s internal and external communications and consumer marketing programs. For those of you who don’t know SurveyMonkey, SurveyMonkey is the world’s largest survey company helping customers collect over two million online survey responses every day. Now that’s a big number. SurveyMonkey has revolutionized the way people give and take feedback making it accessible, easy and affordable for everyone. So, welcome Bennet I’m really pleased to have you here.

Porter: Thanks so much for having me. This is exciting.

Interviewer: You know you and I were talking earlier about data and about how people focus on gathering data. One of the comments you shared with me is it’s not about the data itself, it’s about trying to find the right data that will move the metrics. That’s really the concept of the whole Moneyball for Marketing podcast we’re here to talk about, so share your thoughts with us on that.

Porter: Yeah, I think that especially in today’s world where we are almost inundated with too much data it’s really hard for marketers to figure out what data should I be watching, and what data really moves my business.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: It’s not always obvious, and I think it’s different for every single business.

Interviewer: Um hm.

Porter: It takes a leadership team and marketers a while to figure out what metric that you need to watch like a hawk and then figure out how to monitor it, because there is so much noise today. Is it the data that you get from transactions? Is it what you get out of operations? Is it customer satisfaction or feedback? It’s really; really hard to tell which one of these will actually move the needle, but once you figure it out and then monitor it I think it will make a huge difference to your business. I’ll use SurveyMonkey as an example of this. When we were looking at why do people create accounts, what is it, why are people creating accounts? And why do some people create accounts and then you don’t deploy, because for us we found out that once you deploy a survey that was really a key metric for us. It was the actual use of the account. Once they deploy a survey we have someone that’s going to stay with us for a good, long time.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: So, we were really then focused on deployment and how do we improve deployment of surveys. So, we asked. We, again, looked at the numbers and saw that well then why are these accounts not deploying. Sent them a survey in terms of very simply asked where are your issues with deployment. And it was interesting because it was was it too hard, was it too complicated? That wasn’t it at all. There was no real issues, because we thought that maybe it was a product issue with people do not understand [00:04:07 – Crosstalk]. And it turned out that through the feedback that we gathered it was really about the fact that they actually didn’t know what to ask.

Interviewer: Really?

Porter: They didn’t know what questions to ask, and so it was that blank page problem. It was like how do I write a survey? How do I ask?

Interviewer: Fascinating!

Porter: Yeah, and so we created a product called Question Bank which was we crowd sourced and basic [00:04:34 – Inaudible] methodologically sound way how to ask the most popular questions out there. And then had it there, created more templates and preloaded these and made them easy for people to discover and find, and that made a huge difference in the way that people started to deploy surveys.

Interviewer: Now, I love what you did there. You looked at a particular inflection point in the buying cycle and you just went back to people and asked them what was going on. You had to ask them to know otherwise, you would have been making improvements to the product maybe that weren’t really improvements or weren’t really needed.

Porter: Well, it’s pretty funny. It’s really not that hard. It’s not rocket science in the sense that you just ask. You also engage people when you ask them a question right?

Interviewer: Um hm.

Porter: Just the mere act of asking a question shows people that you care.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Porter: Shows people that you’re interested in their feedback. Now the easiest way to burn a bridge is to ask a question and not take any action on it right?

Interviewer: Of course.

Porter: So that’s the other thing that I would say is as marketers try to find the right data make sure then that you ask about – you ask questions and you query and you gather data on the topics that move your business and that are important to you. And don’t ask one more. If you really can’t change something, or if you can’t make an improvement, or if you can’t listen, if you’re really going to ask somebody about something you’re not willing to change or can’t change people will not understand that and they’ll take it as that you’re ignoring their feedback.

Interviewer: Um hm.

Porter: So, make sure that people can feel like their opinion does really make a difference. So, unless you’re going to change my barista in the morning when I get my cup of coffee don’t ask me about how satisfied I was with the performance of my barista that morning right?

Interviewer: Right, right.

Porter: If I say, like actually it was the wrong order, they got my name wrong or whatever it was and I saw that barista there for weeks after if would make me less confident and less engaged with that company.

Interviewer: That’s interesting. So, there can be a downside if you’re not prepared to take action on what you learn.

Porter: Absolutely, and that goes with customers and also with even internal where people are working on internal communications and employment marketing. That’s a really good way to kind of kill morale is to ask employees questions about benefits for example that you can’t change.

Interviewer: Um hm. You know another thing was talked about earlier was business intelligence and how in the past it’s been left to the market research group to do a good job of gathering information. Tell us more about sort of your view of what that’s going to look like going forward.

Porter: Yeah, well if you kind of look at where we are in the big picture we have people, and this is really kind of driven by technology, we have people that are empowered to do things themselves that it would take teams of companies, marketers to do before, and market research and intelligence is one of them. Before the model was very much – there was a very small but mighty group within the company that kind of doled out intelligence as they crunched it and for certain periods of time right?

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: So, if you had a request of like, I’d like to learn about the behavior of my customers and this new product, this new feature, this ad campaign you would have to go to a department and you would then commission the study and it would take them months and it would be something that would then be kind of presented to you in kind of all packaged and in a nice succinct way.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: The challenge I think that businesses have with that traditional model is that kind of the world does not move that slowly anymore that allows people to have that luxury of time and analysis.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: Nor the expense, that we used to have to incur to get that type of intelligence; and you absolutely need that to function. That market research function is something that we will definitely need to have. The challenge becomes when today’s business is moving so fast you need to make quick pivots and you want to, unless mission critical for example, decisions where you don’t have the time or luxury to go to your market research department. And in that case people are doing it themselves.

Interviewer: Well, tell us some stories about companies that you know have done a good job with this.

Porter: So, a good example of how sort of the big, traditional market research department works with more of this do-it-yourself research is with one of our clients which is a traditional CPG company. What they do is – you can imagine the traditional process was one where the ad agency comes to the table and actually presents a good dozen creative ideas. Traditionally, then you choose how many of these, maybe three to five to actually be kind of developed out and then it actually then goes to you pick two then that actually go to test. And after what comes out one actually is then developed. That’s sort of like the traditional way that you would approach an ad campaign or go to market. What’s been interesting is they use the exact same model. They use the exact same testing in all of those critical periods when you’re testing the final two. All of those stay within their traditional market research testing, but what they’ve done is they’ve taken all of the twelve ideas that come from the agency, as opposed to the marketing team looking at the twelve campaigns and trying to figure out which one resonates, which one seems to be on brand. They actually test all twelve of those because they can use today’s tools and [00:10:32 – Inaudible] is an example of one of those tools where before you had to pay a pretty penny to reach a representative panel of consumers.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: Now you can do it pretty easily and you can get results within 72 hours, at little as 24 sometimes. So, they actually can take all of these, ask a thousand Americans what they think of all of these and have the results back by the end of the week. If they see all 12 ideas by Monday by Wednesday they’re going to have feedback. So, not only are they going to use their best judgment as marketers to decide out of the 12 which are then they develop like 10 as opposed to a half dozen, which one of the 10 they’re going to take down. So, what’s happening is they’re making a lot more agile decisions faster and more informed.

Interviewer: Right, right, well with the right audience participating.

Porter: Right, so it’s super exciting. So, what happens at the end of the day is that the campaigns, once they continue to move down sort of this waterfall, are more developed. You have more insight on how they’re going to perform and what about them is exciting. And so, what you basically have is one will ultimately go to market, as it always does. But, now you have more bench strength. You have three more developed ideas, and you have more information on how you can take these or apply them to different parts of your business, or know that when the business time is correct you can deploy one. So, you basically have that exact same model, but you become much more efficient and agile in that creative process.

Interviewer: I love that and what’s beautiful about that is idea number seven might not have been what the brand marketers would have chosen but shined in the eyes of the potential consumers, so you really have to consider that.

Porter: Right, because before you could only afford to do market testing on two, but now I think that you can do it yourself and then – and also data is never going to kind of replace that I think that singular essence of what makes a brand connect with consumers. But, what it will do is give you the insights and at least the data so you can make an informed decision if you decide to pivot in another direction right.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Porter: So, again, is marketing becoming more science than art, probably. I believe that the data at least can show us when we make those deviations, and I think it allows for the whole process to be more enlightened.

Interviewer: Yeah, and I think you even told me a story about, I hope I got this right, a company that was selling bologna and learned something through this process.

Porter: Yeah! This is an oldie but goodie. This is Oscar Mayer, and it was one of these great stories that I had heard in my work in terms of we are looking at how does an organization and marketers really grapple with the role of this implicit and explicit data, big data, because again, as we started off this conversation it’s really not about data en mass, it’s about the right data.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: So, how do you find the right data? It’s really the way that we think about big data is we break it up into two parts, one is implicit and one is explicit. Implicit data is the data that you get from your credit cards. Implicit data is you know sales trends etcetera. Explicit data is data that is actually, obviously from the name, explicitly asked or gathered from a customer. The challenge is when people think about big data they think mostly about implicit data.

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: You can get that, again, at scale. Explicit data has always been really hard to gather at scale, because surveys have been really, really hard to deploy. You had to do it through pencil and paper. You had to do it face-to-face. Remember when people used to stand at the mall and ask you questions with a clipboard?

Interviewer: I’ve done it myself.

Porter: Uh huh right. So, you can’t do that at scale or it’s not [00:14:48 – Inaudible] right?

Interviewer: Right.

Porter: Now obviously with today’s technologies like SurveyMonkey you can do that at scale. So, what that allows you to do is you have these two data sets and what’s interesting is that you can use one as a check for the other, because what happens is the implicit data tells you what’s going on, what’s happening. Most of the time though it’s a lagging indicator, so that most of the times when sales are already declining you may have missed the opportunity to fix the problem. And it doesn’t tell you why sales are declining.

Interviewer: Exactly.

Porter: And it’s the explicit data that tells you why. So, the great example of this that I thought was just fantastic was Oscar Mayer. The implicit data was saying that bologna sales were declining and it was just hitting the wall and dropping like a stone. So, in just looking at the explicit data and what was going on it was obviously Americans are being more health conscious right. They’re very concerned about their bologna, and ever a concern they are very health conscious. They want to make sure that they’re not eating their dad’s bologna. So, Oscar Mayer, being great marketers of course, did not take this on face value, even though that was the hunch; that was the hypothesis they had. They came in and they did a survey and focus groups that well why. They asked a bunch of moms like why are you not serving bologna, and it was funny because they came back to them and they said, because I don’t have enough time. I don’t have enough time. It had nothing to do with the actual health of what they were giving their children. It was that I don’t have time to make a sandwich. It was literally like I’m so rushed that I can’t do that. So Oscan Mayer took the data, this explicit data back and they developed Lunchables, and that’s how Lunchables have been born, and that’s how they’ve created just a multibillion dollar business and transformed bologna into this brand which moms across the world probably lean on lean on every day. So, I think that that was sort of the explicit insight that gave the team the right data, again, to make that informed decision.

Interviewer: I think that that’s a fantastic example where a lot of marketers have access to that implicit data; collect that implicit data and it’s incredibly insightful, but often don’t know how to answer the why question. This is a mechanism where we can see the why actually is the key. We need to understand why it’s happening so we can make the right kind of changes. That’s a fantastic story. So, as we wrap up tell us little bit about where you see the future of data going.

Porter: The future of data, you know I think it’s interesting – it’s an interesting time that we live in for sure, because if you look at how technology is kind of taking over our lives and you think that yes, there are more things that are tracked and people are talking about shirts that collect data right.

Interviewer: Right, right.

Porter: Little pills that are collecting data, our life is definitely going to be overrun with data collection right? If you believe that you can make better decisions when you are more informed it will be a great time. It will be an age of enlightenment for folks like marketers where they can make better calls because they know more about their consumers. But obviously, with this great power comes great responsibility. So, I think that we as marketers really need to make sure that we are tracking that right data and not abusing the idea of collecting data or using data for our customers. So, I think it’s going to be an interesting time. You can already see this happening as we move towards a more data centric – everybody now as opposed to Monday morning quarterbacking is really kind of thinking about sort of Friday night kind of modeling out what’s going to happen.

Interviewer: Right, right.

Porter: And that’s the shift that’s happening with the average consumer. You can see what’s happening in journalism with 538 and data journalism becoming the du jour of journalism, and being the respected journalism, as opposed to that kind of gut journalism or just the facts right? Now it’s like just the data.

Interviewer: Um hm.

Porter: These are things that are changing and that definitely show us a future where there is going to be data a plenty, and I think it’s just come with a big warning which is make sure that we’re all doing it and using it respectfully and responsibly.

Interviewer: That’s a great tip for all of us and we’ve learned a lot by talking to you about it. Thank you very much for you time.

Porter: Absolutely, thank you.

Interviewer: My pleasure. I look forward to talking to you soon.

Porter: Happy surveying!

Interviewer: Thanks.