Today, my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry through distributing video content.
Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997 and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since.
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Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted. Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major
market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry. Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997, and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since. Bob, thank you very much being on the Happy Market Research Podcast!
So one of our core questions, and it has been drawn really by the audience interest is how did your parents wind up impacting who you are today and ultimately the success that you have had?
My parents are both European. My mother is a survivor of the holocaust of Auschwitz. And she survived the end of the war. They had her come out of a concentration camp and put her on a death march, which she survived. She weighed 57 pounds when she was freed by the Russians. I think it was somewhere in Poland. She spent some time in Sweden, a year recovering from what had happened to her, and then she had the option of going anywhere in the world and she came to the United States, met my father in 1946. They were married in 1948. And I was born in 1952. And they both had a very, very profound impact on me. You do not really think about it at the time. My father had his own business from the late 1950’s until the early 1980’s when he finally sold it and retired. My mom was always a housewife, very European in that way, but they both affected me because they both stressed to me ethics: doing the right thing personally and professionally. And one of the things that my dad stressed to me was to be an independent thinker, and to not follow the crowd or what everybody else was insisting that should be done. His phrase that I will always recall is: “Don’t become part of the rabble. Don’t just do what everybody else is doing. Think, and critically think, and look at what is really happening. You can make a decision about stuff.” And that has helped me both professionally and personally in my life.
It is really interesting to have the holocaust in your story. And then connecting that to the importance of critical thinking from your father. Of course, that makes perfect sense.
It also makes sense because my mother always said to me: “It can happen here”, which was her way of saying “Yes, Jews can be singled out in the United States just like they have been or were in Germany”. My father had come from Austria after he had left after Germany took over Austria. So he was lucky enough to escape and not have to go through the camps. But my parents emphasized to me the importance of being aware of what is going on around you at all times so that you can protect yourself and your family. And without getting political, in times like this I am indebted to them -they both passed away – for helping me understand to pay attention to all sorts of things going on sociologically and politically and all the ways.
It sounds like in a lot of ways you had to become a student of humankind in order to identify those patterns, perhaps even ahead of time. I am thinking of your father who had… fortunate enough to escape that. I don’t have a point of reference but did that have an impact on you choosing research?
Good question. I don’t think so but I was always inquisitive about why things happened. And that came from my father too. He said: “Think about what is going on and why it is going on.” For simple as everyday tasks, such as things that you do in your career. And he tried to trick me into becoming an actuary, and I was pretty good in math but not quite good enough for that. And I was very good at writing, I always had a skill. Every course in college where I could write papers instead of take tests, so that always came naturally for me. You know, I wanted to be a sports caster when I was a teenager. And I remember in college that I came home in the middle of my junior year, and we all went out to dinner, and I said: “Dad, I know what I want to do.” And he said: “And what do you want to do?” And I said: “I want to be a sports caster.” And he said: “No, seriously, what do you want to with your life?” He then said to me famously, it is a put down, but he said: “You know, you have a face for radio.” Ha! So I have told that to people over the years. But when I started Business Daily Report in 2012, and he died in 2012, I think in some way psychologically it was my way to show my dad that I could be successful in front of the camera and not just in front of a microphone, and I truly enjoy doing that whenever I can.
One of the things that I am looking forward to is come out with my new book: “Beyond Broadway Joe” and have the opportunity of both on radio and television to talk about it with people.
It is funny how our fathers inform our view on ourselves and in a lot of ways, speaking for myself, that has caused me to control some of my outcomes, or rather actions, in order to prove them wrong. So you started doing Skype interviews, right?
Yeah, the idea frankly was that back then, and even today, there weren’t that many podcasts back in 2012 when I started this. There were some but that did not appeal to me. The major news distribution method that we had on those days was we have today, and that was a couple of UK-based email research news delivery service. I was fortunate. My daughter had just gotten married to a guy with great IT skills. We were talking and he said: “I know that you want to do something media wise, and I would like to help you. What can I do to help you?” And I told him: “I would like to explore the idea of doing a regular video news report”. Back then, I was thinking in very grandiose terms and that it might even run 30 minutes a day or something like that. And pretty clearly that became pretty obviously not doable. But we hounded down and said: “Let’s see what we can do for maybe 5 or 10 minutes.” And he helped put together what we have today.
That is awesome! That all happens remotely, right? Or is it a proximity thing? Is he working in your office?
No, no, no. I am in Chicago, and he is in Israel.
Wow! That is so neat.
You can imagine the sense of relief that I had because you probably have the same thing that once you have got the program in the can, as they say, you just turn it over to a very adept technical person and they make you look good or sound good.
How has that ride been for you? Having been there… I am not going to say in the early days because that was 2006 or 2007 but when it starts hitting saturation and then riding it through, have you seen market researchers on YouTube increase, stay the same, decrease?
I will talk about it in terms of our audience. Our audience for the first 4.5 years was pretty consistence, and it was consistent of 150 views of every video we put out. We have always been doing 4 videos a week, Monday through Thursday. Something happened with Google, which owns YouTube, in the middle of our fifth year. They changed the algorithm. And they did so because they were trying to crack down on a lot of YouTube sites that were claiming hundreds of thousands of views a day, probably by putting a lot of very pretty dancing girls on the screen and having somebody sit in front of them and talk about anything. Who cared what they were talking about? But literally they were trying to crack down on that. And they were trying to do away with all kinds of mechanical manipulations of the viewer count because it is very easy –I don’t really understand how, but it is very easy to manipulate it by just having bots keep hitting the viewing button over and over again. So what happened affected us. I noticed that we had something like 82 views. And went out to lunch and came back around 12:30/1:00 pm, the number of views had jumped down from 82 to 58. So a couple of hours after that, it was down in the 40s. Now something obviously was really very wrong so I had my associate contact Google. You cannot get them on the phone but you can get them in a chat room. So we were joined in a chat room by several small video operations like our own, and we all had the same complaint! You are literally knocking down our number of views! What in the world is going on? And they explained to us what I just explained to you. And we said: “Yeah, but you are killing us? Why are you even applying that algorithm to us?” And they said: “We really don’t have any choice.” And in the end it came down to the fact, as they said to us, “You guys are just really small potatoes for us to really worry about in any way, shape or form.” So we were kind of screwed. Because we could never could claim thousands of views on our video but we could claim 150 to 200 a day, and it was valid, and we were getting good quality people. These were not low people on the totem pole in research but were pretty good research executives both on the clients and suppliers side. And we struggled through the end 2016 and into 2017 with exactly what we should do and how we should do it. And this year we have come up with a little bit different formula: we streamline our process. Our videos are much shorter. I have done away from my one-on-one interviews with people, and instead I have been invited people to do two-minute long commentaries about subject matter that I agree with them that was important enough, different enough, innovative enough, that deserved to have the attention of the research audience. And our views have gone up this year. We are probably are at the 100-125 level because the quality of what we are presenting is I think somewhat more in tune with what the people out there are expecting. But even that is a real challenge every day, Jamin, because I tell people that the market research industry is about 3 miles wide and about 1 inch thick. And by that I mean, you have people interested in television research that could not care less about scanner data. The people in scanner data could not care less about television research. People in television research could not care less about online communities. The people in online communities could not care about on and on and on. So it is a real task every day to find a subject matter that attracts a large enough audience to really maintain some credible numbers. But I think that we are making some progress there.
That’s great! I think that part of it… and I agree with your assertion that we are as researchers fundamentally Jacks of all trade, masters of none, in some ways and in another ways right where we get really, really deep and whatever it is our thing that we really care about, whether it’s add testing or whatever, and then forget about the space around us. But when you think about the commonality across the hundreds of interviews that you have done, what stands out for you over the last 6 years, 7 years?
The words that immediately come to mind are: “innovation”, “breakthrough”, truly presenting something that is state of the art, and that is not generally known a great deal about by a lot of people. And my barometer, my thermostat basically is myself. So if I don’t have any idea about what they are telling me that they have now developed, then I assume the audience doesn’t either. Because most people in our industry, which is probably 95% of them, are so busy and so focused on their specific area of responsibility that they don’t really have the time, they probably have the interest, but they do not have the time to really absorb what is going on in another area of research that ultimately may very well impact their research and their careers.
Earlier today I had an interview with Frederic-Charles Petit, who of course you know is the CEO of Toluna. He had mentioned that it is really incumbent upon market researchers in the industry to present ourselves to the next generation so that they choose us as a career.
I am not sure I am answering your question precisely but I would tell you that I could not agree more with what Frederic-Charles told you.
I have been on a very quiet but very stern mission for the last five years with the industry, and frankly they are not listening to me. We are completely missing opportunity after opportunity to attract young super talented, inquisitive research types. In my almost 25 years in the industry, I think I have met 3 or 4 people who actually told me that when they were growing up, they wanted to be in research. Almost all of us, and I am in that grouping, we kind of fell into the research industry. And for many people, it happened because it ended up being their first job and they liked what they were doing. But I maintain that we should be reaching out to people as early as high school because young students are interested in all the basic things that go into research: anthropology and sociology, statistics, online capabilities, and graphics, and all kinds of things that really can lead to a research career. And the last six years, without fail, among the most available jobs to recent college graduates has been Market Research Analyst, paying from what I have seen on average 50,000-60,000 dollars a year. That is a hell of a lot of money for a just graduated college senior! Their eyes probably grow very wide unless they come from a millionaire family. And I proposed to the associations; I have talked to almost all the heads of the associations and mentioned this and said: “Look, there is got to be a program I can set up. I know where we can build a curriculum from and we ought to be introducing it locally through research agencies and even through client research departments. Again, all in a localized basis to the universities and colleges. At the very least, trying to create a Market Research 101, and then shortly thereafter a Market Research minor, and ultimately, a Market Research major.” And I think we would be doing ourselves such tremendous benefit because we would be attracting some of the most talented young people out there who otherwise might not even consider because it is just not on the radar screen.
Love that framing. I completely agree. It is almost like maybe the partnership has to happen with Georgia or Michigan that are becoming a broader networking opportunity or pipelines for those universities with those specialty programs.
Michigan State has basically the curriculum that you need to establish and the books that they use at the graduate level right now. But you need to have the arms and the legs locally. For instance, here in Chicago, you would need somebody to go visit the University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola University and University of Chicago and all of the community colleges, etc. It has to be done at the local basis. And the research agencies and other entities whose lifeblood is research do exist that could do the reach-out and do the encouragement. And they could all, at the same time, and I think this is very key, offer the inducement that the top kids each year would have a guaranteed summer job internship at a research agency or at a client research department and such. And just imagine the impact that we could have across the country where you would have thousands of kids ready to enter market research as a career, and we would have the pickings of the best of them.
Yeah. I am thinking about reaching certain economies such as where I am based, a resident California, which is well above average and has about 8% of unemployment, or Detroit. When you pick these markets where there is lack of opportunity at a high school level, people are already thinking: “Okay, so how do I make money as soon as I graduate?” So you are really talking about a trade school aspect that could be introduced into that curriculum in lieu of PE or whatever, a much more educated or active part of our economy that is centric to this, what I believe is, the rudder of a brand, which is market research.
Agreed. So if you want to join me in trying to push this, I think it would be a great enterprise to be involved with. And I think we could get the industry to follow along if we would just get enough people who would be enthusiast about it.
There is a local entrepreneurship school here in Fresno called Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. It is a high school. It is completely free, open enrollment. The student body is massively diverse so it is not at all what you would normally think of a school like this. I am starting to do the podcast onsite… when is the first one? It has not been scheduled but it is this month, right? It is in September. We are going to start doing it once a month. I am going to be interviewing the students. So what I am going to do, Bob, based on this feedback, is incorporate a set of questions about market research just to gage overall interest. So that will be part of the public domain from a visibility perspective, and I think separately it would be interesting to see if we can plant a flag to help raise awareness in this space.
The idea also frankly came through the annual University Research Award that GFK had instituted five or six years ago, and I believe it is still in effect. What they do is that they have a competition. And any college or university with a research program of some sort is eligible to do a research project. They get some guidance from people at GFK, and at the end of the project, there is a competition and GFK picks a winner. And for four or five years in a row, I have talked to the winners. And the winners all told me that they had no idea what research was about before they did this project. All of them they came with very different interests, such as I laid out a few minutes ago, whether it was statistics or online research or anthropology or that sort of thing, and yet almost without fail, the four or five team members said that they wanted to go into research as a career as a result of their exposure to it. So that is really where I think we can make the greatest point about the potential for this idea.
Speaking of insights, so how do you use data to drive your organization forward?
Honestly, not very much. Ha! We are not data-oriented because we are very small. We don’t have a lot opportunity to look at things… Our data, our metrics are basically looking at our videos, looking at the reaction response we get for the newsletters that we put out. For instance, we put out now for the third or fourth year what we call “RFL global top 50”, which is our listing of top research-related organizations in the world. It was specifically designed to take on the gold top 50, that is an industry staple, and we have made some nice progress in doing that. But we don’t really get too involved in the data, because there really isn’t that much for us to do, and we only have a two or three person operation so we cannot really afford to get too enmeshed in.
We are similar, right? I only actually have one KPI, which is number of daily downloads, and that is the only thing that we care about. We have just started our journey but as we are learning and failing and winning and learning, we are going through these cycles. One of the things that has been interesting is how we utilize social media. At an organic level, not at a paying level, although you could apply this to paid, we just don’t have the budgets yet for the paid. Ha! So…
Neither do we, although I get a phone call every two or three weeks saying that they can improve my viewership. It will only cost me 30,000 dollars a month to move me up from number 5,000 to number maybe 250. And I say: “Really? Do you think that is a wise investment on my part?”
I love that. So are you using other… How have you used other social media platforms to help drive awareness of your YouTube channel?
We have followers on Twitter. We have followers on Facebook. I have over 4,000 connections on LinkedIn. We message out to those people every day. We also use a system called Hootsuite to spread as virally as we can our Facebook and our Twitter messages about what is the content on the video today, or just to send out some messages about. For instance, there is a big news item like the day that the Ipsos-GFK deal came out a few months ago. I actually put a Tweet about the fact that it had occurred because nobody else seemed to be picking it up. We just try to make use of social media that way. And it has its benefits. What we have really learned is that if you put at something out at nine o’clock in the morning and the target will be pretty large, and does not see it until three o’clock in the afternoon, or does not get around to check it at three o’clock in the afternoon, chances are they won’t see it. We do send out the same message a couple of times a day. And that actually irritates people but there is nothing we can do much about that.
Yes, I think the choke point is exactly what you just said. Every single social media platform is inundated whether it is through paid advertising or just your normal channel activity basically. I think I follow, I don’t really know the exact number of people on Twitter, but let’s say it’s between 300 and 600. But that is a lot of tweets! And then on top of it, you add in other stuff. It is highly unlikely, unless you are retweeting your things that I am going to have the opportunity to interact with you so… But then you walk this balance of how much do you choke a channel because there is this tipping point of just becoming obnoxious. We are having that discussion right now in terms of is Instagram a relevant platform for Happy Market Research. Have you played much with, whether it is Instagram or Facebook, on that front to help drive awareness? I know that there is the Market Research Rocks Hell Yeah Facebook group. Has that been effective for you?
Instagram, I don’t think so. Facebook, yes, to some degree. I have actually found it very successful in promoting my book. But we use Facebook every day, we use Twitter every day, and it just depends on how and when you reach the audience. We know there are people out there that are interested in what we have to say but it is a matter of getting them at the right time because I don’t really check my own Twitter or Facebook feed for business all that often during the day because if I do, I will spend half an hour or an hour doing that and that is not an effective use of my time.
Interesting. So let’s dive right in then, to the book “Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl TEAM That Changed Football”. So what was the inspiration for the book?
I grew up in New York City in the 1960’s. I was a New York Met’s fan in 1963, their second year. And I just got interested in baseball. The baseball season ended, and one Saturday night I turned on the radio and low and behold I am hearing a football game, and the announcer is one of the Mets announcers so I started to listen carefully, and knew nothing about football. And I really got into the New York Jets. Joe Namath joined the team, and everybody knows that in 1965. Everybody knows who he is. Namath starts to do some amazing things. The Jets have some skilled players in a number of positions but all we basically heard about, living in New York and reading the papers every day, was what did Joe Namath say, what did Weeb Ewbank say. We did not know or read too much about the other players because there was actually intense interest in Joe Namath.
Over the years I’ve thought many times about writing a book about that team. There had been innumerable number of books written about the Jets and Joe Namath, and how Joe Namath won that game. And there is no doubt about the fact that Joe Namath was the difference maker. He really was a super-star that day but over the years, everybody else on that team –and there were 44 other guys who put on that uniforms that year, and almost without exception every one of those guys faded into anonymity. That did not sit well with me. And about four years ago, I was sitting watching a re-play of Super Bowl 3 with my two teenage sons and one of them asked me: “Who is this guy 81 on defense?” And I told him who he was. And “Who is this 75 on offense?” And I told my other son who that was. And my wife walked down the steps and said: “What are you watching?” We told her. And she said: “You know, you have always talked about writing a book about that team. When are you going to do it?” And I looked at her and I said: “I have never had the right angle on this because I can’t write another book about Joe Namath. There is no market for it.” And she said: “What are you going to do?” And I said: “You know, Charley and Mikey –my two sons, have just given me the idea of how and why I am going to write this book. The book is going to be about everybody else on the team who did not have the name Joe Namath at the back of their uniform.”
That is really cool! And with media stars like Gary Vaynerchuk increasing visibility on the Jets, it seems like there is an opportunity to be able to perhaps create some sort of partnerships to help lever the market into seeing your book and having the opportunity to buy it. I am not a sports guy incidentally, I do not follow any… I don’t even do fantasy… I don’t play sports video games. I do not do anything on the sports side so unfortunately I do not have a lot of connection but I tell you, I have now pre-ordered it, I guess. Congratulations on your book! It is on Amazon for pre-order I believe, is that correct
Yes, it is. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, you can get it on Amazon. It is now on the book stores. They actually released it yesterday but there is another angle to this that I think is very relevant. I had to use a lot of research skills to do this book. And I did not even think about it at the time but I did 70 or 80 IDIs and a number of other skills that I had to really put to use in order to do the interviews and track people down, and all sorts of things. And I am actually going to be talking about the research elements that I had to incorporate in order to use this book at a couple of conferences this fall.
That is such an interesting point that you are making, Bob. And that is the crossover of a skill that you gain as a market researcher. I believe specifically on the qualitative side but it certainly translates into the quant side as well into other things like sales. I will give you a great example: I just had lunch with a customer today, and they were asking me about… they have a very high close rate but they only own a small fraction of a specific market. So I asked: “Who is winning?” So they told me who’s winning, and I asked do they know who their customers are. They were able to access it at a municipality level, so it is public information, and they actually know when one of the competitors closes a new account and who that new account is the day it closes. And I said: It’s really easy, you go pay that person 60 bucks and you ask them about their customer journey to identify where the channels are that you are not currently penetrating, and then you reverse the sales process and start getting in front of that new market. And they were like ”You are so smart!” And I am thinking: “No, I am just 20 years in market research, trying to learn how people think and reverse engineer success.”
I will give you the biggest research attribute that I did not really have to apply but it is the most relevant thing of this book from a research perspective, and it came from my wife, who does not really understand all that much about what I do for a living. She said that she was talking about this out loud a couple of months ago: “Don’t you talk about new product success and failure all the time?” And I said: “Yeah.” She said: “Aren’t the Jets a classic example of a great new product success?” And I said: “Wow, yeah. This was a franchise that was bankrupt. The Jets were worth $6 million before Super Bowl 3 started. The next day, after they won, they were valued at $16 million. The latest estimate that I saw from last year was $2.75 billion.
My guest today has been Bob Lederer, the owner of Research Business Daily Report. Bob, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for allowing me to talk about my book, which as you mentioned is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your local bookstore.