Episode 282

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Back in the good old days (pre great recession) agencies used research to make their work smarter and more effective. But it became a luxury we trimmed out as we had to squeeze budgets. As we emerged from the recession, we dismissed research as expensive and didn’t build it into our recommendations as often as we should. But what if we could benefit from the insights research provides without busting the budget?

This week’s guest Matt Seltzer has worked in several agencies in a research capacity. A couple years ago he started a market research firm specifically to partner with ad agencies to create more revenue streams and gather insight for themselves and their clients.

In this episode of Build a Better Agency, Matt and I talk about the many ways agencies of any size can utilize DIY research to build better pitches and client work. We discuss options for reducing bias, increasing response, and minimizing survey fatigue. We also explore ways to approach clients about investing in research, different ways to utilize the insights, and specific areas where agencies get research wrong.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.

DIY research

What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • Effective DIY research options
  • The benefits of simple surveys
  • Why customer personas are helpful
  • The way to increase survey response
  • Ways to reduce bias in DIY research
  • Why clients appreciate research
  • How to avoid survey fatigue
  • How to approach a client about adding research
  • Different ways to use the research insights
  • Misperceptions that keep us from DIY research
  • Ways agencies get research wrong
“Learning is different than validating what you think you know.” @S2Research Click To Tweet “If you want a client’s business, you need to be able to tell them something they don’t know about their own business.” @S2Research Click To Tweet “Surveys are more than report cards. If you only focus on A’s and F’s, you’re missing an opportunity to learn so much more.” @S2Research Click To Tweet “The world is in such flux right now that we can’t afford to assume.” @S2Research Click To Tweet “If you facilitate research in marketing, you create better marketing.” @S2Research Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Matt Seltzer:

Additional Resources:

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Agency Management Institute community, where you’ll learn how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. The Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by White Label IQ is packed with insights on how small to mid-size agencies survive and thrive in today’s market bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency, owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey there everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. I kind of tell you, I am so grateful that you keep listening and that you write and that you connect with me on LinkedIn and that you find these podcasts valuable. I got to tell you it’s fun to do even if you weren’t listening. I have great conversations. I meet amazing people but it’s a lot better when I know that I’m asking questions, not just for myself but for all of you. And I know how busy you are, and I know all of the things that you juggle. And so the fact that you throw us into the mix and you juggle us into your week, makes me super grateful. So thank you very much for listening. So this week’s episode we’re going to talk about something that a lot of agencies used to do, and then with the great recession, it faded off. It’s coming back into favor, but perhaps not as much as it should.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m going to let you ponder that. It’s like a quiz while I remind you that I am hoping that we are connected on the social channels somewhere and that you are seeing the weekly videos that I shoot. So they’re two, three, maybe up to five minutes, a simple tip, something that has caught my attention that week or I’ve been thinking about or maybe I’ve been writing about. And I just want to share with all of you the easiest place to connect with me to get all of that information is in a couple of places. One on LinkedIn, two in the Facebook group for this podcast. So go to Facebook search for Build a Better Agency, answer the questions and we will let you in. Those are the two best places. We also share it on the AMI Facebook page.

Drew McLellan:

But anyway, if you’re not connected to me in any of those places, and you say, “Heck no, I don’t want to be connected to Drew.” Another way you can watch those videos is on the website. So if you go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/video, not videos, video, you will see the library of the videos that we have produced. We’re still uploading all of them but there’s probably a good 20 or 30 of them there now. So I have a year’s worth. And I’ve been doing that for, I don’t know, year and a half, two years. So we’re getting there. We’re getting caught up but you’ll see the most recent ones anyway. And we are backfilling as quickly as we can. So if you’re not connected with me on social and you’re not in the Facebook group for the podcast and you don’t have a desire to do those things, you can also watch the videos every week on the website, agencymanagementinstitute.com/videos. So check that out.

Drew McLellan:

All right. Let me tell you a little bit about our guests. So Matt Seltzer is a research nerd and he owns his own research company. He’s also worked in many agencies in a research capacity, and I’ll let him tell you a little bit more about that. So Matt and I were chatting, I think it was on LinkedIn, maybe in the Facebook group, but anyway, we were talking about research and I was saying that I was concerned that there were a lot of agencies that still weren’t doing research, that prior to the great recession, research was really a common thing that agencies of all sizes did. They partnered with research partners, they did it themselves, whatever it was but they really embraced the idea of having these insights that come with research and that the great recession wiped that out because it was a luxury, not a necessity for getting the work done.

Drew McLellan:

And so as agencies were skinning down budgets to try and get clients to bite on things, during the recession, research was one of the things that often got cut out of the mix. And we haven’t been awesome at folding it back in and you know because of the agency edge research that we do with [Zhou Buyer 00:04:31] and Audience Audit, you know I am a huge proponent of research. We talk about it in the book, Sell with Authority and how that can be one of your cornerstone. So I am a big proponent of research. Anyway, so then Matt and I started talking about different ways agencies could think about DIY research which I thought was really an interesting way to get us back in the door of doing more research.

Drew McLellan:

And so I asked him to come on the show and chat with us about ways that we as agencies can start doing our own research. Granted, it’s not the same as working with a partner but that there are some things, there is a happy medium if I’m not doing it at all and having the budget to pay a good research partner to do the research. There is something in the middle that maybe we’re not thinking about as much. So that’s what we’re going to talk to Matt about today, and I am ready to jump in and do that. So let’s cut right to the chase. All right, Matt, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Matt Seltzer:

Thanks for having me Drew, I appreciate it.

Drew McLellan:

So tell everybody a little bit about the work you do and your background, so they understand why I’m going to ask you the questions that we’re going to talk about today.

Matt Seltzer:

Yeah, absolutely. So actually my career started, I was a bookkeeper when I was in college and I always wanted to work in marketing. I was a marketing major and I had a friend who was working at an ad agency, a big agency out here in Las Vegas at [inaudible 00:05:50] place. And they had an opening in their research team, their market research team. And I got the job because I was the only person who applied who knew 10 people. And that goes back to my book keeping. And I looked at it as great. It’s a foot in the door at an ad agency. I’ll figure out a way to get into another department, go from there. And I ended up falling in love with research. I thought it was the coolest part of what we do as an agency. I was doing everything from surveys to audience focus groups, to just taking all that information and presenting it back to a creative team. And I thought this was the coolest thing ever. And then 2008 came lost my job. That happens in 2008 [crosstalk 00:06:26].

Drew McLellan:

And part of being an agency, it happens.

Matt Seltzer:

That’s a totally normal thing. Exactly. So I said, okay, I’m going to go to another agency and keep doing research. And what I found is the vast majority of small to mid-size agencies, don’t have a research team. So I’ve done a lot of things since then. I’ve worked at a few different agencies doing account management strategy. I’ve worked in-house a few times too. And actually most recently I worked in house doing market research. But the whole reason I say that is I’ve always seen these two worlds of research and marketing, the world seasons are different and whenever possible, I try to bring them back together. So about a year and a half ago now, time flies. I started a company called S2 Research, which is a market research firm specifically designed to partner with ad agencies to give them another revenue stream and honestly, another way to gather insights to make better marketing for their clients.

Drew McLellan:

You’re right. So when I started early in my career, I started at YNR Once I got out of college and we had a whole research department, right? And they would do anything from consumer research or client research to as a copywriter, I’d call them and go, “Tell me 20 interesting things about loons.” And in an hour, I would have what I needed to brainstorm about an ad about loons. So I went from that and then I went into smaller agencies that didn’t have it but you’re right. The recession really, it was one of the nice to haves but not mandatories that agencies began to cut out of budgets as they tried to stay in connection with clients during the great recession. It was like, “Look, we got to skinny this thing down as far as we can, otherwise the client is going to say no.”

Drew McLellan:

And unfortunately I think what happened is coming out of the recession, agencies and clients had gotten used to doing it without research. And so I think it’s a long, slow climb back to getting agency people and clients to think about ways to do research. And so one of the ways, and this is what you and I are going to focus our conversation on today. One of the ways agencies can begin to fold back into their own shop, the idea of doing research. And one of the ways they can ease a client into thinking that they should pay for research is to do some of it on the DIY side and to experiment with it at least to give both the internal team and the client, a taste of what information and insight and data can do to a campaign.

Matt Seltzer:

You nailed everything I think about everyday. That’s exactly right. And it’s a crime.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. For sure. So the first thing I think some listeners are going to think about is, and I’m guessing that you think about it given you own a research company, is DIY research legit? Or do we always have to pay a researcher like you to do the research? So how do we justify that internally and with clients?

Matt Seltzer:

So first of all, I’ll be the first to tell you if you’re doing any marketing, anytime, especially creative campaigns, if you do research beforehand, and I’m just going to [inaudible 00:09:49], it’s going to be better. Your clients are going to notice it, the quality is going to be there. I say that because that’s research in general, you know what you’re talking about what I do, when I partner with agencies, [inaudible 00:10:02]. But if you’ve never even tried research before, even just to hop into the [inaudible 00:10:05] is going to get you way further than you ever thought possible.

Matt Seltzer:

So to answer your question, is DIY research legit? Absolutely. Again, I work in complex surveys and I’m doing data analysis and I say all that because that’s that’s Cadillac. Separately, let’s say you sent your entire account management team and also you’re creative director. And let’s say you’re doing any customer facing client, QSR restaurant, just picking something. If you spent a day sitting in the restaurant, just taking notes, observing, you’re going to learn something. There’s no question in my mind. You’re going to [crosstalk 00:10:40].

Drew McLellan:

No doubt about it. Right.

Matt Seltzer:

Yeah. That’s going to make your marketing better. That observation process is DIY research, right there. It’s the entry level but separately, I mean, how many creative directors don’t even get to see the clients that they’re actually creating an ad for. You take the time to do this and then separately and I’ll just say, let’s say you send three people into a client and you’re there for four hours. Well, that’s 12 billable hours. So there’s pluses on both sides of it that it’s revenue and it’s going to make that final product stronger.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So what are the kinds of research that you see agencies doing on their own that you think are particularly effective and should be in our consideration set?

Matt Seltzer:

Talking to people. That’s number one. We used to call that focus groups and that’s still a term. There’s also a term called in-depth interviews, IDIs.

Drew McLellan:

Or customer intercepts.

Matt Seltzer:

Yeah. Those are the complex terms. But to answer your question, you’re talking to people. I know more and more agencies who were just soliciting customers to come into their creative strategy meeting and they just talk to them. There is no strategy beyond… When I do run a focus group, I’m thinking about the entire psychology behind it. You don’t have to go that deep. Just sitting and talking to your customers and customers are willing to talk these days. You can even do it on Zoom. You’re going to learn more, but I’m seeing more and more agencies doing exactly that and then they take that and that’s what goes into their creative room.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. When I was still on the copywriting side of the business before I started my own shop, one of the things I used to love to do was sit behind the glass in a focus group. And for me, what I was listening for was word choice. When a customer talks about the product or service, what words do they use to describe it? And is there a pattern in the language because then you could mimic that pattern in the ad so that you were using that native speak. And so you’re right. I think there’s a lot that can be learned just by having some conversations.

Matt Seltzer:

Absolutely. And you guys you nailed the language component. I just did a project recently. We did a bunch of focus groups where we… I always produce what I call a messaging memo and it’s, these are the words you’re going to use. I want to make sure these work their way into copy because they resonate, they eviscerate something big in the mind of who you’re trying to reach.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So okay. So we’re recording this at the end of January, it’s still COVID. So some people in today’s world, walking up to somebody at the mall or at a car dealership or something else may not be as welcome as it was. I mean, I’m sure we’ll get back to that. So what are some other ways that you see agencies doing DIY research that yields insights for them?

Matt Seltzer:

So I’m a huge survey guy. I like surveys. And there’s so many simple tools. If you can run any SEO campaign, frankly if you can program anything into a website or just even a design software. I say this because the survey software now is that simple. It’s made to be that simple. SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics. Those are the two that I use a lot. But I know a lot of agencies that are implementing these pretty cost effective tools. Let’s say you’ve never run a survey in your life. These tools also have templates to walk you through a five question survey and my favorite part is they also have a tool to go get survey responses. SurveyMonkey, for instance, has a thing called SurveyMonkey Audience. You can go get 100 responses in two hours. And five question survey. You have five questions about language. You want to give the right word to your copywriting team. You can have that data at two hours.

Matt Seltzer:

So I’m seeing more and more agencies doing that stuff. Incidentally, I’m seeing more and more taking it a step further. And I shouldn’t say more, more, this is probably about a quarter of the industry who are taking advantage of this customer experience. We talked about that being a big piece. I just listened to an interview you had with Judy Walters about customer experience.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. She’s awesome.

Matt Seltzer:

Absolutely. That whole conversation blew me away. And as I was listening to her, I was thinking, well, how many businesses have a customer experience plan in place? Or maybe they’re even just thinking about it. Again, let’s use a QSR code, a QSR example. How many restaurants do you go to where they print out on the receipt? “Hey, take our survey. Here’s the link.” Well, I’m seeing more agencies take that survey in-house. And it’s not super complex. They’re managing a process. They implement it. But on the flip side, there’s two components to that. One is they’re going to spend about probably eight hours a month analyzing that and implementing, well that’s billable hours. And separately, you do that for 12 months. With 12 months, it comes down to planning season. You’ve got 12 months to CX data. So I’m seeing that a lot and it makes a ton of sense.

Drew McLellan:

So I’m curious when a retailer puts the take the survey on the bottom of the receipt, how many people actually take that survey?

Matt Seltzer:

It’s pretty low. We’re just talking numbers. It’s about two and a half to 5% on a good day.

Drew McLellan:

And mostly are they annoyed? Is it mostly the angry customers that do it?

Matt Seltzer:

It’s two components. It’s either the angry customers. They have something to say or you see really high, we’re doing awesome numbers. And it’s because they’re incentivizing employees to tell people to take the survey. And the only people who they’re incentivizing are the ones who they think are going to get good ratings where I’ve seen the most unbiased success. And this goes back to agencies is to actually put a signage in your storefronts. And then you could even think of this as not from a B2B standpoint, put signage out of the equation and just do an email blast. But again, you’re managing that. And the strongest way that I found to get responses is to incentivize with a contest once a month, we’re giving away 100 dollars Starbucks gift card and something about that, you’ve got this illustrious prize. It’s pretty big. I’ve gotten more closer to five to 10% response. And that’s from passing by, like I said, I’m using signage and emails. So it gets there.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about bias. So one of the reasons why agencies often tend to use professionals is because they have a skillset that allows us to have confidence in the data. If we’re doing our own survey, let’s say, how do we as lay people try and eliminate as much bias as we can inside the tool?

Matt Seltzer:

So anything with research, I always preach brainstorms. I like bringing minds together to look at that, to look at any problem that you’re trying to solve. Let’s say you’re writing a survey. Your agency has never done a survey before. Same thing if you’re in a focus group or writing a questionnaire, you write up a draft and then go through it with your team, try to brainstorm how you think people will answer these questions. Not necessarily what you’re trying to learn, but actually how people will answer these questions. I’ve had [inaudible 00:17:30] surveys just to see how they would respond to it. And you start to see those things. The other thing I always tell people with brainstorms, have you ever heard of a pre-mortem?

Drew McLellan:

Yeah.

Matt Seltzer:

That’s one of my favorite concepts. So let’s go into our brainstorm saying, okay, it’s two weeks from now, our survey failed. Why did it fail? And you’re going to strengthen the components there. I will say the most important piece of this. And this goes to any part of research. We’re trying to learn. When you’re an agency, you’re trying to gather insights. That’s different from validating what you think you know. And that goes again, back to your survey where you’re writing a survey that, let’s say you had a product and there’s two questions. One is, how do you think about this product? The other question is, tell me what you love about this product. You can see right there but it’s very easy to write the second one into a survey without thinking. And then again, you go back to your pre-mortem, you get your brainstorm together and you start to solve those problems before they hit the market.

Drew McLellan:

And so let’s say you want to know what they love about the product, is the fix of the bias to simply ask the opposite question as well, which is, “What do you not like? Or would you like to see changed about the product?” Does that then give you both sides of the equation or are both of those bias questions?

Matt Seltzer:

Both of those would be bias questions.

Drew McLellan:

So if I want to know what they love, how do I ask it in a non-biased way?

Matt Seltzer:

Sure. All right. I’m going to take you back a couple steps here. So [crosstalk 00:19:05] buyer personas. That’s a research component. That’s something [inaudible 00:19:10] you produced in recently but I like for some of the things they map out who we’re trying to talk to, what they spell out. But let’s take the framework of buyer persona. And I put that back into how I’m going to design my questions. I don’t want to ask you, what do you love or hate, or even what you to think about this product. I want to ask you, what do you love about products and then funnel the next series of questions into, “Well, how did you find out about products.”

Matt Seltzer:

And what we’re doing here is just like in buyer persona, we’re telling a story, but we’re telling a story by asking a story, letting them fill in the questions for us or fill in the answers for us. So the answer to the bias question is I try to take myself as far back as possible, and instead of trying to match some component of the journey. And I might not even know what questions to ask at that point, because for all I know, they don’t love products like I’m selling. They don’t even think about products like I’m selling. But some way shape or form. I know I can connect them to my product. Wh