February 21, 2012
Carolyn Gilbert essentially built a successful career in radio doing marketing and research; she helped launch Critical Mass Media in 1981. Yet soon after the turn of the century, she realized that the traditional ways of doing research and marketing were rapidly becoming obsolete. After a short, but paradigm-changing stint at the Tribune Company during Randy Michaels' ill-fated tenure, Gilbert basically started all over again by launching NuVoodoo Media with a handful of peers, but while she'll be conducting research and marketing again, she'll be doing it through a digital prism. Here Carolyn explains how she changed her perspective and why.
What led you to launch NuVoodoo Media?
Besides being unemployed? Well, most recently I worked for the Tribune Company and before that, I was at Jacor, Clear Channel and Critical Mass Media for a combined 27 years. I was at the Tribune for two-and-a-half years, which ended in November of 2010 -- and it was quite the adventure, but that's a whole other conversation. All this was a foundation for building something new.
You know how you go through your career saying, "Boy, if I knew then what I know now, this is what I'd do differently..."? Well, we have the opportunity to do that with NuVoodoo ... take everything we know from all that experience and start over again. Essentially, we're creating the same type of toolset that we delivered for 35 years, in terms of research and marketing, except that we're doing it in brand new, relevant and effective ways. By doing things differently, we at NuVoodoo can help traditional media get the answers they need in 2012, using better techniques and delivering our product at prices they saw in 1985 - with no loss in quality. Matter of fact, what we're delivering, in my opinion, is far superior to much of the work being done the old way.
We took the opportunity to take a fresh look at shifts in traditional media and how they do business, and changed the way we do things to accommodate them. We're doing some very exciting marketing and research that can produce good or better results than traditional research and marketing companies - at less cost to the client.
Exactly how do you accomplish that?
One way we can offer a better price is that we have a very low overhead. We have a small staff, and because of our new, proven and research-solid methodology, it costs less for us to generate research. Cost-effective does not mean cheap or slip-shod. No corners are cut. I've always said that we're nothing but our reputation. We do things right, or we won't do them. Some people have already taken a chance on us -- and they're extremely happy.
You mention certain things that people still do because they've always done it that way. Specifically, what kind of things are you referring to?
Listener research, for one. If you're using landline phones to conduct market research, you're missing 80% of the people who might get a meter or a diary. Yet there are companies still doing things via the phone -- and charging tens of thousands of dollars to find fewer people and deliver small and rolling samples. We do callout a different way; we get a bigger sample that's more representative of a station's listenership -- and at lower cost. Not just callout - all listener research.
And how do you do that?
We do it online. I can't share exactly how we get it done because it's proprietary, but we reach people who probably wouldn't participate in telephone research. Our research is outbound, passive, random and delivered from massive sample bases. We don't mean the opt-in databases like some of the "free" or bartered polling software that delivers "research" from station databases. Essentially, if you're using those tools to program your music, you're using a request line on steroid; that's not research. We've read -- and can provide -- many academic papers on the subject.
Research as we conduct it is not only much more cost-effective, but we're delivering sample sizes, turnaround and pricing that radio hasn't seen since 1990. Our techniques have been proven to be more representative, methodologically pure and better than the phone can deliver. While traditional callout providers are working with databases in the hundreds, our universe starts with tens of thousands of potential respondents.
What's the main difference between your database and a traditional one?
The bigger the samples, the more stable the data, which spots the hits that are truly hits. The way companies used to engage sample was by calling them. We create samples without callers, so we don't have to work hard just to meet quotas. We just meet them.
Back in the day, we had call centers; my team ran a great one, but even then we couldn't monitor every phone call. Here we use dispassionate computers to screen our samples now. If you don't qualify, you don't play. Our results are tracking week to week, and our respondents qualify - and aren't the same people used over and over and over again.
We also don't pull the recent trick of delivering half-samples, rolling in data from two weeks ago, and trying to slip that one by. Sure, rolling numbers get VERY stable. Keep using the same results over and over again ... and that happens. And you end up looking at data that's a month old. Seriously?
In perceptuals, because of the way we conduct research, we have 20% more question inventory because we can get to more questions answered in less time. And it takes far less time to field. The verbatim comments are rich, and we know the typos belong to respondents - not minimum-wage workers who didn't actually catch half of what was actually said. The platform lets us test video, art, TV spots, morning show bits and promos as well as music.
We haven't had much resistance from the bigger companies, either. GMs love the pricing. PDs love the sample sizes, the on-time delivery and the consistency. The old methods require six to eight weeks to get perceptual data back. We've actually turned some perceptuals in days. Not just the data gathering - the whole thing.
This is real research. Once people see it, they love it. We deliberately slow-rolled the debut of the company to make sure we were delivering 100% on everything we say we're going to do. We are currently rolling out a brand new callout platform. We've been working with Brad Riegel and Cornerstone; he developed the state-of-the-art reporting software that just about everybody uses. And now our web platform will interact with the Analyst reporting software.
Radio is coming in very late to the online party. Everyone else has been doing research online for a long time. Procter & Gamble probably hasn't used phones for research in a generation. I have some extremely happy clients who agree with that, but many in radio are still slow to adapt, or just don't like change.
So what new data has your research uncovered?
We're generating different and useful data with heat maps, audio testing, playing TV spots, showing billboards and direct-marketing artwork, and all kinds of multimedia. We can better study heat maps for websites, and they show us what's hot and what's not. Everything we've seen has reinforced the common-sense notion that people are doing things when they want to do them. We -- and here I mean radio -- need to learn who's in charge. And it's not us.
That goes for market research, too. Instead of bringing people to a hotel ballroom for a long-form music test, we get better results from meticulously screened, geographically balanced samples who participate in the study at their convenience. They can do it in their pajamas over the course of three days -- and the results we're getting are better than auditorium tests. Remember, in an auditorium music test, the room itself affects the responses. The way we do it, we can rotate songs to eliminate placement bias, and people aren't influenced by anyone else in the room. We have instituted many safeguards to make sure the right people are really listening and taking the test. So far, we're delighted with the results.
When did you first realize that you had to do research and marketing differently than the way it had been done?
I first knew that when I was at Critical Mass Media around 2002-2003. I saw our success rates and completion rates continuing in a downward spiral; I realized we had to do different things in a different way, but when you're married to an infrastructure with 700 employees, it can be really hard to shut down an entire business because we, as human beings, hate change. Plus, you feel you almost have an obligation to continue doing it that way, because people's jobs depended on it, etc.
For me, the job I did at Tribune was a great opportunity. I got to step beyond my core realm of expertise, outside of my own comfort zones and habits. With no research call center to manage, I was able to evaluate a lot of techniques and companies objectively. I got the chance to study how other people were getting things done. I worked with vendors, from Scarborough to Magid to Nielsen and with Kantar Media/TNS. I received proposals from hundreds of companies and worked with many. This gave me the opportunity to learn firsthand how things could be improved. It was wonderful having this enormous opportunity to get to know a broader industry that's beyond radio - which I can now apply to newspaper and TV. Some of our biggest clients these days are from TV.
From what I heard, when Randy Michaels brought you into the Tribune Company, all of your plans on doing business a different way met with considerable resistance from the paper's editors, who were extremely resistant to change. Kind of ironic, wasn't it?
Look, everybody is resistant to change. It's uncomfortable and painful for all of us, so it wasn't just them. The world always has people who say, "You can't. WE do it THIS way." True pioneers are the guys with arrows in their foreheads. So I don't blame people at Tribune, but of course the editors were resistant. Everyone was resistant ... and I'm no better than anybody else. I admit it ... I hate change. We all get comfortable and complacent. If people didn't die, we'd still be drawing pictures on cave walls - if we had even gotten that far! But I've had the opportunity to start with a clean slate, using today's resources and not technology from 50 years ago. Unemployment has its advantages.
I'm also working with a few great people who I've known for a long time. After coming from large -- and by definition, political -- environments, it's wonderful to be with a few people who I trust completely. We're all walking in the same direction and have each others' backs.
Besides callout, perceptual and long-form music research, what else are you doing differently?
Our product is all about direct mail and messaging in ways other companies can't. We're excited to be the exclusive providers of proprietary technology that allows us to do things differently ... again at lower cost. All of our traditional marketing products are being executed in different ways because, once again, we're able to zero base. Everybody would do that if they could.
Digital and online are certainly a part of what we do in terms of marketing to radio listeners and consumers. We replicate much of the Arbitron methodology they started using after they stopped using residential telephone-based sampling. Arbitron and Nielsen are doing lot of address-based work now, but they used phones for far too long ... and other research companies are still stuck there. Now they're using traditional marketing such as direct mail and door-to-door to recruit participants. Because of primary research we've done and will be sharing over the next year, and because of our access to proprietary technology, our marketing "voodoo" can reach people we believe are far more likely to be approached for and to accept meters or diaries.
Has the advent of PPM impacted your research and marketing efforts?
Yes it has. There has to be basic understanding of the type of consumer who participates in the entire PPM process. Clearly, those who will carry that gadget around for a year or two aren't typical or necessarily representative of the population at large. Who do YOU know who would actually play that game? You've got to be able to do segmentation analysis, to find the right people in the marketplace and not just blanket the market with direct mail or any mass marketing.
We have the ability with proprietary technology to create unique pieces for different people, based on who lives in a household. We can even do something called "gang printing" and print many different pieces and concepts that even mail at different times at great prices. And because we are accessing household-level data, we can skip marketing to those who "don't matter" demographically or psychographically. If you're looking for households with a single mother, a family of four and a stay-at-home mom living next to each other and down the street from a single guy whose life is his new sports car, we can send four unique pieces to them in the same mailing for less money than a blanket, single-message direct mailing. Once again, when you're trying to send messages in an era of personal - rather than mass -- media, boilerplate marketing is probably not the best thing to do.
What's the one thing that radio, in general, fails to understand when it comes to reaching listeners in today's environment?
It all comes down to consumers who are making decisions about what they want to hear, when they want to hear it. Some PDs think they're still deciding when listeners should hear this or that song and what songs they're going to expose. But with all the other avenues to find music, that ability is not as powerful as it once was.
Radio is still powerful; it still has opportunity to connect with an audience, but what many have done is fail to understand our product. If we think our product is music, we have a problem because music's product is music. Our challenge is our inability to understand just how we fit into people's lives. It's about them, not us. For too long been we've asking people questions like, "What station are you listening to more? What station are you listening to less? Which morning show is getting better or worse? Let's talk about ME (the radio station)!" Fact is, they neither know nor care. They're busy living their own lives and we're a utility to them. You might as well say, "Are you using your toaster more or less than you were a year ago?" or "Is the spin cycle on the washer faster or slower than it was a year ago?" What radio must do is ask listeners, "How are you living your life - and how do we fit into it? What can we do that will help improve your life?"
Radio is not good at selling benefits, just attributes. Playing "10 in a row" is not a benefit. Why would the listener care? It makes no difference to them; it doesn't make their lives better. They can get 1,000 in a row on their iPods. Why would they use us if we don't relate to them? In a new media world, we must get new answers - and we've got to ask better questions.
You'll be authoring a column in All Access soon. What will it be about?
We did proprietary research where we asked 1,000 consumers in 45 PPM markets about how they use radio. The column will show the results from that study. PPM respondents listen differently than other people, but how? We'll be telling you. We did a very deep dive into consumer behavior, about how people use and think about radio. We hope it will help radio as an industry and to serve our listeners/hearers better. If we understand them better, maybe they'll use us more. We have to remember that we're a choice among many; we're not the only game in town anymore.
We'll also throw in a few observations and opinions, based on trends we see from all the work we're doing. And we'll be looking toward building a 2012 questionnaire to both trend what we've asked and add thoughts and questions we hope will be generated by our readers.
After working for huge companies, you now have your own start-up. Looking ahead, just how big and successful would you like NuVoodoo to be?
I measure success differently now. I started Critical Mass in 1981 with four people. At its peak, there were 700, so I've done the "building a big company" thing. My new definition of professional success is providing my clients with excellent work, helping them serve their audiences and their communities with an excellent product ... and making enough money to take care of the great people I work with and have some left over for me.
You figure out after a certain point just what's important. For me, it's the people in my life, especially my family. So my definition of professional success is doing great work with great people and helping my customers win -- and that's it. I don't need to be biggest; I've already "won" in the conventional business sense and have nothing to prove. I just want to be the best and to help others win using contemporary and effective techniques to literally move the meter.