Edwin Wong, SVP of Research and Insights at Buzzfeed: My Highlights and Takeaways

Today I had the privilege of interviewing Edwin Wong from Buzzfeed. We chatted about how his research background at Yahoo and Pinterest informs Buzzfeed. We also discussed what he looks for in suppliers and his advice for recently minted marketing researchers. 

These notes are just my big takeaways and should not be taken as a complete picture. For that, you’ll need to listen to the interview and come to your own conclusions.
 
First off, Edwin’s entry into research came from being part of the first few hires at a then small startup, Hall & Partners, which works with top brands to unlock new opportunities to co-invent the future.

Walk alongside your customer and win

Prior to the interview Edwin and I were laughing about a particularly difficult project which required us to work over Christmas break and into New Years.
“There’s no such thing as vendor, client, whatever; it’s really partnerships.”
I still recall the strain of that project. We had screwed something up in the survey programming and the sample simply wasn’t coming in at the rate promised. The customer had to have the data directly after the holiday break so that the company executives could make a strategic shift. Pressure was mounting daily and peoples’ careers were literally on the line.
No matter how late, no matter how early, weekend, holiday, vacation, at the bar with a few drinks in…we picked up the phone if a customer needed us.

This is something that is hard to quantify in collateral, websites and in sales decks. But each of us, yeah, I mean you and me, has a similar war-chest of stories to pull from. When you are talking to prospective customers try telling them the story of how your team came through for another firm when the odds were stacked against you. I promise, the company you are pitching has plenty of examples when a trusted vender didn’t pickup the phone until Monday.
Take the full view
 
Context is one of the easiest things to loose when doing research. Why? We isolate our data from outside influences such as current events, where the respondents are coming from and their motivations. By incorporating external data such as purchase behavior, macro trends and media consumption we offer a fuller view of what is driving a consumer insight.
Edwin gave us a brilliant quote from Buzzfeed’s founder, Jonah Peretti:
‘We are data full, not data rich.’
 
That is exactly correct. Despite the rise in the volume of data, brands simply don’t know how to apply it to self-reported quantitative and qualitative research data. But it can be very easy to apply it…even if you have no technology. For example, if you are using a customer supplied list get a few other relevant variables besides contact information and combine that into your analysis. This extra step will help inform your findings, add value to the study and make you standout from your peers.

Research logistics just doesn’t matter

 
Today’s technology is making it easier and easier for brands to do research themselves saving time and money without compromising quality. However, pattern recognition continues to be a point of massive value.
 
“Gaining an understanding of what the consumer is doing is actually quite easy. But the why is what’s important.”
 
And
 
“As we start to look at some of these newer platforms, the reason why I think they’re taking off is because they are aligning the digital experience with what’s core to being human. Part of Buzzfeed’s success is being able to dissect what the experience actually means to the consumer.”
 
Seeing the same story play out in other clients and in other industries will help you put together a clear view on market trends so that your research findings uncover the why in the numbers.
Story trumps numbers
 
Long gone are the days where you present a 30 page powerpoint showing charts and tables. Today is the day of the story.
 
“Numbers matter less than the story. Methodology is absolutely critical, [because] the stories we tell each other are the stories that move the business.”
 
It isn’t enough to have a data backed position. You have to craft a story which can be discussed at the water cooler. Our research needs to connect to the organization through its employees so they can affect the change necessary to ensure its long-term success.
 

Advice to young market researchers

 
I see this a lot with eager researchers. They pop down in a chair next to some company subject matter expert of 20 years and start challenging. The reality is that, as a researcher, we are never as up to date on the business as the executives and we are never as close the the customer as sales. So, listen and then apply the insights in the context that they provide.
 
“We are hardly ever the smartest person in the room… be the best listener.”
If you are a good listener, you will see how the dots connect into your insights and be able to tell a story that is supported instead of dismissed.

I recall a sales pitch I gave in Seattle about 5 years ago. It was for a very large piece of business. The pitch started with a slide that was titled, “Objectives & Client State”. Then the 2nd slide had in big bold letters, “What’s Changed?”. When the 2nd slide came on the overhead the client burst out laughing and said, “Thank God you asked…” She proceeded to tell me over the last week they were going through a series of layoffs and had completely different buy motivations. If I hadn’t asked she likely would have likely patiently sat through my presentation and then smiled me to the door. Instead, I walked out with a signed contract.
 

In Conclusion

 
Happy Market Research exists to facilitate a conversation between insights professionals and the brands they serve. I hope you found this useful and that you’ll keep tuning in. Have a great day! 🙂

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