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The Research Solution

Jonathan Sims

VP Research

Comcast Spotlight

The most persuasive audience research in the world won’t make much impact if advertisers never see it. That’s the philosophy Sims has espoused as the champion of a new way of distributing third-party research throughout Comcast Spotlight’s sprawling local ad sales organization, which operates across 70 DMAs and maintains close to 250 offices. The former Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau research specialist says a combination of easy Web access and some unique geographic parsing has helped to spur wider adoption of market research throughout cable’s largest ad-sales organization.

Q. What is the Comcast research platform at large?

A. It’s sort of one place to go to get all of our relevant marketing and sales information describing our sales capabilities, our clients and the intersection of the two.

Q. Can you describe a real-life scenario of how you use it?

A. A classic case is calling on a local auto dealer. We can show where that auto dealer’s cars and new registration counts appear in the Polk database by our different zones. Usually what we find is that the vast majority of their business and their future business is going to be in a few key zones. Another use of it, and this comes under the heading of consultative selling, is that a client will give us their customer list, and with just a couple of keystrokes, we can do a couple of things. We can upload those addresses and cluster profile them, so for the first time a lot of advertisers can get marketing intelligence about who their customers are. Or, we’ll take a client, large small or medium, upload their client file, and show a dot density map of just where their customers are, and overlay our zones onto that.

Q. How does that differ from what used to take place?

A. First, we have 250 user sites, and this type of sophistication at best was confined due to the cost to just a few markets. The other thing is that with [platform provider] SRC’s technology, we have so many different databases residing in the servers. I think that with some of the outputs, there would have been a lot of pain and suffering in the past. The idea of taking data and not only pulling it up in tabular form but thematically mapping that data and overlaying our zones would have been a very painful process.

Q. So the marriage of the two – third-party research but against custom geographies – has been part of the appeal?

A. I think it has, and I think with the SRC tool it’s been an instrument to make this stuff come alive. For example: For many years, people have bought MRI in the cable industry, even locally. But for us at least, it was very difficult to take MRI or Scarborough data and cluster code it and model it into our unique footprints. And not only that, which is pretty sophisticated, but to be able to call it up in a couple of minutes.

Q, The zone component has always been tricky for cable. How does that work?

A. Traditionally if anyone wanted to do thematic mapping or allocation of metrics into cable ad sales geographies, typically it was done on ZIP codes. And while they help to define our unique zones and interconnects, the bottom line is we sell these unique zones. It was critical to have the [National Cable Communications] Cabletrack database integrated and have SRC be able to look at those polygons, those specific zones.

Q. Because they differ from ZIP codes?

A. Yes, they’re multi-sided shapes. And it was important to have those geographies for SRC to understand how they were going to allocate their metrics. It really is the foundation of the databases. But with that said, SRC has also provided us with lots of other geographies, such as Congressional districts and metrics therein. We can overlay a Congressional district in the context of a zone we sell, or in the context of custom polygons.

Q. Why aren’t the traditional TV geographies or ZIP codes sufficient?

A. Because often we’ll go into a client and show them the DMA and counties and ZIP codes and our zones. But they’ll say, ‘You know, my business is south of the river, east of the highway, etcetera, and this is our area. Tell me about that.’ So, one two three, our account executives can draw the actual lines our customers are talking about and save that unique polygon. It’s a very, very powerful engine that allows us not to use the standard geographies.