By Tom Polanski, EVP, eBrand Media and eBrand Interactive
Folks, I’m pleased to be able to spend some time with Carol Fitzgerald, President of BuzzBack, a full service online market research company which has developed several really innovative ways to do research. BuzzBack helps a company to understand the likes, dislikes, passions, interests and attitudes of their customer base for a number of purposes which include, but not are not limited to; optimization of the website for improved end-user stickiness and increased conversion rates, introducing new content, products/services based on what customers/clients want and what they’d find compelling and memorable. There are many ways that BuzzBack’s market research can be used, but the long and short of it is this; the research the company provides helps companies become more efficient, which in turn lowers operating costs and enhances ROI.
Tom Polanski: Hi Carol, how are you today?
Carol Fitzgerald: Great, thanks. I appreciate your having me here.
Tom Polanski: You were an English and French major in college. When did you discover a passion for technology?
Carol Fitzgerald: Dartmouth was a beta site for the Macintosh when it was first introduced. I have one of the original Mac’s and used it in college. When I attended my first MacWorld Expo for work, I fell in love with technology — from there I wanted to work for a software company.
Tom Polanski: Carol, before we discuss BuzzBack in further detail, I think it would be of great service if we could maybe discuss what it’s like to be a woman, a mom, who’s President of a company. You have twins, right?
Carol Fitzgerald: Yes, that’s right. They’re 11 years old now, so it’s a bit easier than the early days. But life is a constant juggle and balance. Finding the balance is tough for any Mom, working or non, as time to yourself becomes non-existent. For me, our exciting growth as a company makes it more stressful, but it’s super-motivating also.
Tom Polanski: Would you mind giving us a sketch of what your typical day is like?
Carol Fitzgerald: I wake up at 5:30, catch up on email from Europe, and then work out. I am obsessive about everything so it’s the same even on weekends. (laughs) When the family wakes up, we have breakfast and prepare for the day. Everyone has busy schedules, with school and lots of activities and sports. It keeps us all going but also is time-consuming.
After I drop the kids at school, I head for the train to the office. A typical day in the office (when I am not visiting clients) consists of phone conferences, meetings to discuss technology/development and helping employees address issues related to our products and services.
Tom Polanski: Wow. How do you manage to keep a work/personal life balance?
Carol Fitzgerald: I am not sure I have one (grin), I was brought up learning to ‘give back’ and to participate in community activities and events. Being rounded is really important for everyone I think, and I look for that in employees. It brings fresh perspective and adds to idea generation, team building and growth contributions. For myself personally, I try to have that, but people would probably tell you I skew to being work-centric. Having children forces balance if you want to participate in their lives.
Tom Polanski: What are a few of the challenges that you’ve faced and had to overcome in business?
Carol Fitzgerald: I am a control freak. It’s what makes me granular about the details. But in business you can’t control all. Stuff happens – you know what I mean? You have to allow for the unplanned, to allocate time in your day to deal with minor or major crises. Having my own business makes me feel greater responsibility in the well-being of my employees – not only are they paid well but are they deriving any enjoyment from what they do? Are they learning? It also makes me obsessive (remember that’s me) about making sure clients are happy and that we’re doing the best we can. It’s really hard to grow fast, most entrepreneurs will tell you it’s a rollercoaster ride, not a stroll in the park.
Tom Polanski: What risks have you taken?
Carol Fitzgerald: In the beginning we were very conservative in hiring, then as we started to grow faster, we had to hire more quickly. Some of the biggest risks have felt like the more senior people – the higher salaries and you don’t know if they will pay off.
Tom Polanski: Good answer. I hadn’t thought of that. Do you have any advice you’d like to share with women who are in business or thinking of going into business?
Carol Fitzgerald: Trust your gut. If you think you have an idea, go for it. There are actually new articles and studies on how gut decisions are often the best ones you can make. I wouldn’t wish failure on anyone, but failure is a learning experience. And so long as it doesn’t set you back in a major financial way or negatively change your life, you should pursue your idea. Better to have tried and failed than never to have tried.
Tom Polanski: I think one of the through-lines I’ve seen in eight years of online marketing, is how little my clients understand about the interests, attitudes and opinions of their client-base and audience. We can agree, I think, on a couple of things; one, it’s more profitable to keep a customer than it is to find new ones and secondly, understanding what makes a shopper tick, click and stick, mitigates lost revenue through testing by enabling companies to deliver products and media messages that are tailored before the fact rather after the fact. In general how does BuzzBack help companies to do this?
Carol Fitzgerald: BuzzBack helps clients, specifically marketers, understand how consumers think. Our whole approach and development of online research solutions is designed to go beneath the surface. Most marketers have purchase data, clicks, etc., but we don’t know how consumers think. Do their actions match their thoughts or even what they say?
Tom Polanski: BuzzBack is a full service online marketing solution, what are the solutions offered specifically, Carol?
Carol Fitzgerald: We design custom research studies to address marketers’ problems. We are all about the WHY. There are lots of numbers but the numbers don’t tell the whole story - here are a few examples: what is the profile of my heavy user? What does he/she do? What motivates him/her? How do I talk to him/her in my messages? Or is this idea a good one? How does my target react to this new idea? Why?
Tom Polanski: For those new to online marketing solutions, what separates BuzzBack from other online marketing companies?
Carol Fitzgerald: First we are focused on solving client problems, in a very specific way that addresses their needs. Second our solutions are different, award-winning, and they uniquely deliver richer insights to help marketers make better decisions. In short, we are focused on going beneath the surface to understand how consumers think.
Tom Polanski: What new tools and technologies does BuzzBack offer?
Carol Fitzgerald: BuzzBack’s has a growing portfolio of research solutions that bring Web-based practices, developments and ideas to online research. eCollage is just one example of our innovative research techniques – and just one of the tools driving our business growth. We also recently introduced Verbatim Viewer, a faster and more effective way to navigate open-ended insights. Both eCollage and Verbatim Viewer were awarded the 2007 MRS/ASC for Technology Effectiveness in Research Techniques, a prestigious industry award. In addition, our vision of where online research is headed was recently published in ADMAP, a leading industry journal on Market Research.
Tom Polanski: eCollage is unique, fun way for end-users to take a survey. Could you describe it?
Carol Fitzgerald: With eCollage, respondents literally build an online collage on a blank canvas. They are asked a question – such as what does this name represent to you? What does this brand represent? How do you feel about this product? What would the experience of drinking this product be like? – They then drag and drop images to the canvas to build a collage. They can even add a background color to personalize their expression.
The images are custom to the question. BuzzBack works with its clients to select 100+ images that are specific to the study and the question itself in order to yield richer, more personal responses. After building their collage, respondents are asked to describe it.
Tom Polanski: If I understand correctly, eCollage is a tool that elicits non-verbal, nonintellectual right-hemispheric responses, and these are translated into left hemispheric, intellectually apprehended data. It seems that there is a chance for meaning, insight and pertinent behavioral data to be lost or confused in the translation. Have you been able to standardize interpretation of the responses, based on accumulated historical data, so that there is a high probability of veracity in the findings?
Carol Fitzgerald: Zaltman and other academics have shown that more than 85% of human expression, and decision making in particular, happens in the subconscious. Consumers think in images, sounds, and use words to express their feelings. As marketers, we typically seek responses and insights using verbal cues – we ask questions to learn about our brand, or our ad. But what if we don’t use the right words? Will we get the same answers?
By using non-verbal cues, such as images in eCollage, we can get beneath the surface – go beyond the rational to the non-rational. The images are catalysts to the words. They lead us to the insights and the words linked to emotions. With eCollage we don’t try to standardize on the interpretation - - instead we lean to the qualitative, more personal experience and insight. We learn more.
Tom Polanski: Please tell us little about Configurator?
Carol Fitzgerald: Configurator allows you to create concepts, explore new product names, and test packaging ideas by engaging consumers in new, idea building ways. We start with the elements of an ad, a website, or some other concept. Respondents build and literally configure their own concepts and describe what they’ve developed.
For clients, Configurator helps you quantify both the individual elements selected as independent variables, as well as combinations and frequencies for other permutations. Follow-up probes give more insight into the “whys” as respondents describe their designs and creations.
Tom Polanski: IDQ sounds like a really exciting tool. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Carol Fitzgerald: Based on the Delphi technique, BuzzBack IDQ™ (Interactive Delphi Query) is a new online technology that enables you to generate ideas and evaluate them simultaneously. Most of the early stages of marketing and ideation are about generating new ideas – the more ideas, the higher the chance for good or better ideas.
With IDQ, we engage consumers to build and develop on-the-fly. Participants dynamically “vote” on each others’ responses, producing a result that is a “real-time” stratified list of the best (and worst) ideas. Simply speaking, IDQ can be thought of as an interactive open end.
Tom Polanski: How is the end-user presented with the survey?
Carol Fitzgerald: An IDQ survey includes several different elements:
1. First respondents view a stimulus (a visual, a concept idea, etc.)
2. Next, they view a question – what is your reaction to this idea? What would you call this product?
3. Below the question, the respondent views a response from a previous participant. They rate that response on 2 measures that are custom to the question. For instance, in a naming study – how much do you like this name? How well does this name fit with the product?
4. After viewing 4-6 responses and rating each, respondents can add their own ideas.
About two out of three respondents will add something to the pool. That means the list grows quickly. Using a proprietary algorithm, the IDQ engine determines which ideas are shown to subsequent respondents based on their overall ratings and the number of exposures each has.
The result is a broadened, stratified list of the best and worst ideas.
Tom Polanski: Are there any new BuzzBack products that you’d like to let us in on?
Carol Fitzgerald: We have a few more interactive question types planned for the third and fourth quarter. These are in line with eCollage, Configurator and IDQ – all of which are projective techniques to get at richer and more personal insights. Our goal is to understand what consumers think, and our tools will be created with a goal of yielding those kinds of responses.
Tom Polanski: In closing is there anything you’d like to say to decision makers that are not utilizing market research in a meaningful way yet?
Carol Fitzgerald: One of the inherent benefits of the Internet is that it offers more efficient ways of doing traditional marketing, and also research. But the Internet has also changed traditional means and forced marketers to think and act in ways that leverage the ways consumers use the Internet. Research is the same. Marketers need to think differently about market research – perhaps change their perceptions of what market research used to be, and what it is today. Instead, we need to think about how every “transaction” on the web is data collection. Data that can be used to learn more about consumers, how they act/behave, and even how they think.
Tom Polanski: Finally, Carol, is there anything you’d like to add that we didn’t cover?
Carol Fitzgerald: This may sound silly, but one of BuzzBack’s core assets is that we’re highly efficient —- we have an orientation toward technology, and our team is very responsive and reliable. You’d be surprised how many marketers were and are “let down” by their research partners or agencies because they don’t deliver on time, and sometimes don’t deliver at all. I am always surprised when I hear “wow, you sent the data when you said you would” – it seems such a no-brainer, but many companies don’t do the basics.
Tom Polanski: Carol thanks for your time today. It was a pleasure.
Carol Fitzgerald: Thank you, Tom. I appreciate you doing your homework and asking great questions.
Tom Polanski: Please feel free to visit the BuzzBack site to learn more. Thank you.