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An Interview with Ben Zeidler

Director of Research and Analytics at Tenthwave Digital

October 23, 2014 Download PDF

Ben Zeidler leads the research and analytics practice at Tenthwave Digital, where he uses panel data, customer listening tools and custom survey capabilities that aim to uncover consumer insights. Zeidler employs a hybrid approach that marries traditional, long-form panel surveys with bespoke customer intelligence. Prior to Tenthwave, Zeidler wrote research and conducted consulting engagements for the eBusiness and Channel Strategy team at Forrester Research. While there, he developed Forrester’s Website Functionality Benchmark methodology and co-authored the widely read “State Of Retailing Online: Marketing & Merchandising” report.

In his spare time, Zeidler enjoys working on data-driven side projects, including FantasyFifty.com (a fantasy football forecasting practice) and sNOw School (an iOS app that predicts the likelihood of a student having off from school as a result of snow).

Can you describe your role at Tenthwave?

Ben Zeidler: I started out on the strategy team; I was always the research-centric strategist, so I would get pulled in on various research projects. Ultimately, Tenthwave and I both saw the need for a standalone research department, and I was tapped to lead it. Of course, eMarketer’s a huge part of the department. We also use Mintel. In fact, we love working with Mintel and pairing that with eMarketer. It’s a really nice match.

About two years ago, we added analytics to the role, which establishes research and analytics as bookends. Not to oversimplify things, but research tells you what to do, you go off and do it, and then analytics tells you if you did a good job or not and how you might have done something differently. I like getting to do both ends, all under the banner of customer intelligence.

How would you characterize Tenthwave?

Zeidler: We’re a full-service digital agency, so we really don’t touch much that isn’t digitally focused. That’s not to say we don’t integrate with other nondigital partners. We work all day long with traditional agencies, but we really have a passion for digital and what digital can do. For some clients, we’re the agency of record; for others, we’re just doing media planning—we’re flexible.

We make sure that we’re up to date with eMarketer, but we’re also doing some really unique fieldwork. For example, for a banking client, our team went without credit cards for a week. We were looking at the underbanked population—people without credit cards or checking accounts. eMarketer will get you many of the answers, but there’s also a need to go further.

What are Tenthwave’s top three business priorities?

Zeidler: Firstly, we’re customer-obsessed. Everything we do is with the customer in mind. Secondly, we’re trying to figure out how to respond to RFPs that combine a management consulting approach with a digital agency view. We’re working with a great company called Acquis to achieve this. Thirdly, we want to develop business across more verticals. We’ve had a lot of success with CPG [consumer packaged goods], retail and travel clients. We’d love to expand into pharma and other categories—eMarketer’s a good tool to help us do that.

Personally, for me within the department, I’m focused on integration. I want to integrate what we do in our department into all the work that happens at the agency. That means making sure that everything we do—no matter how fantastically creative it is—is somehow grounded in intelligence at the start. I want to make sure that everything has a reason to exist.

One of my biggest challenges is the fight between traditional and digital. I’m always fighting to get those digital dollars, and then even within the digital spend, I want to know that a client is spending those dollars wisely—investing in the right things, looking at adoption numbers and making sure that digital is going to give them the return on investment.

People are coming around, but they’re coming around slowly. Some verticals are evolving faster than others. The vertical focus within eMarketer helps me look at this issue in different ways. I can look at it by technology and industry vertical. So when I’m running into these problems, it’s easy for me to quickly get up to speed.

How does eMarketer fit into your analytics reporting role?

Zeidler: I think of our department as sort of like a little research company within an agency. We’re doing a lot of variety of work, and when you’re doing a lot of variety of work, you want consistency. eMarketer brings us that consistency, so it’s always the first thing that we go to. I call it the first shot out of the canon. [eMarketer] tells us where to look; it talks to us about certain consumer behaviors and how consumers are acting in the marketplace. We’ll start there and then go deeper with a 200-page Mintel report on snacks. But we’re starting with a really good understanding from eMarketer on the digital behaviors that are driving individual interactions with products and verticals.

Whether it’s part of the reporting or discovery process that we’re doing for a client, I always like to lead off with eMarketer because it gets everybody on the same page. When you see the black and red chart, it’s, “OK, we all agree this is a thing, right?” And then I can actually talk about an idea.

I have a bookmark that goes to my eMarketer. I have my country set and other selections that I like. To me, it almost reads like a TechCrunch or Mashable. I’ll go to eMarketer because I have 5 minutes in between meetings and read really small snippets. Then when I need to dive in, I’m clicking on topics or going through advanced search. It’s nice because I can kind of snack on eMarketer or I can eat a full meal. I go to eMarketer every single day whether I need to or not.

Can you highlight an example of how eMarketer helped solve a problem or pointed you in the right direction?

Zeidler: One example was a retail company that was looking to make an investment in omnichannel strategies, and we were looking at your US retail forecast, specifically at the growth rate for ecommerce and how mobile is going to play into that. It helped put the whole story into perspective in a way that the client could see not just what their problem was, but what the opportunity was going to be in 2018. I can put numbers and percentages out there and talk until I’m blue in the face, but to see the data from eMarketer drives it home. It also helps that eMarketer is an unbiased third party. The fact that you don’t do consulting engagements adds to the credence of the report and forecast findings.

We also use eMarketer to support new business pitches all the time. We recently pitched a travel company, and we were talking about responsive design and the related growth in mobile, so we looked at mobile adoption numbers—not just in the US, but globally because the company is a global hotel group. We wanted to help them understand where mobile adoption’s going and what the expectations are of consumers on mobile devices. eMarketer had numbers that we could use to show them that this is an investment that they need to make right now. I looked at the UK, France, Italy and the US to get an understanding of where different countries are lagging vs. where different countries are leading.

Why is having access to eMarketer critical for a small company or a startup?

Zeidler: We’re a 100-person company with the tools of a 10,000-person company. For us, eMarketer levels the playing field. [eMarketer] lets us go in with the same data as the bigger agencies, and so it gets us to a place where the best ideas win, and I think that’s where a small agency is going to thrive.

What is your advice for other small businesses and agencies that have a research need—why would they want eMarketer?

Zeidler: It’s a time-saver when you’re a small agency—we have less time than the big agencies do. Also, small agencies have a choice when they’re growing about whether to hire someone, and sometimes that makes sense, but other times, getting eMarketer for half the price or a quarter of the price of the hire makes more sense. I would encourage people to get eMarketer in the door. I don’t care if you can only buy three seats to start like I did. You get it in the door, and you prove the value over and over.

What is the value of enterprise access, of having everyone at your company have access to eMarketer?

Zeidler: This company [Tenthwave] doesn’t work long term if it’s just me and a five-person research department, so to that end, it doesn’t work if it’s just me feeding eMarketer intelligence to everybody. The entire digital IQ of the agency needs to go up. I think somebody else said this in one of your interviews—it’s about putting the best data and options in front of people and giving them the tools that they need to do the job. I want to empower my team and the rest of the organization to be smart about what we’re doing.

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Ben Zeidler

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“For us, eMarketer levels the playing field. [eMarketer] lets us go in with the same data as the bigger agencies, and so it gets us to a place where the best ideas win, and I think that’s where a small agency is going to thrive.”

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