Conversations with corporate researchers

Mark Bartkiewicz    

Consumer Insights, Macy’s 

How has your experience taking improv classes impacted your role as a researcher?

One skill I have found to be particularly important throughout my career is influence. At Macy’s, I advocate for the customer voice through the development and presentation of insights to drive actionable change in the organization. This entails using persuasive communication skills to help colleagues make research-driven decisions. Improv is great at preparing you for this as it puts one in unpredictable situations. In one scene I might play a student learning the alphabet in a kindergarten classroom and in another I might play a pilot who is learning how to fly. Regardless of the scenario I was put in – and in hindsight, many scenarios were hilariously far-fetched – a common thread in improv was listening, teamwork and pivoting on the fly. Given that much of my time at work is spent infusing the voice of the customer into decision-making across functions, improv has made me a more collaborative and engaged business partner. 

Do you have any tips for researchers looking to improve their approach to virtual qual in 2021?

In 2020 COVID-19 shifted qual research exclusively online. I ran virtual qual projects prior to the pandemic but the bulk of qual research I ran was conducted in-person – focus groups, shop-alongs, in-store intercepts, etc. – all largely in support of optimizing our store experience. Virtual qual comes with some challenges but also a few advantages. My advice for researchers interested in doing virtual qual is to be nimble and be prepared for technical difficulties. If you are running multiple sessions – e.g., multiple online focus groups – my recommendation is to think of your first session as a dry run and avoid inviting observers outside of your core insights team. That way, any technical issues or discussion guide kinks can be ironed out prior to other business partners joining later sessions. While traditional in-person focus group observers have limited contact with the moderator, online focus groups allow the moderator to see desired probes from observers in real-time. This provides for a great opportunity to engage with internal partners and probe on certain topics in real-time. That said, even though virtual qual technology is improving, my hope is that over time virtual qual platforms can become less glitchy as well as more cost-effective – particularly the more innovative solutions like VR. 

What excites you about coming to work each day? 

Prior to joining Macy’s, I spent three years at Ogilvy running market research studies for clients across a wide array of industries. Transitioning from agency to client-side has been very fulfilling in that I am involved in decision-making on strategies from soup to nuts. What excites me about coming to work every day is seeing the impact of insights-driven recommendations come to life – whether it be related to our loyalty program, digital experience, advertising, seasonal campaigns, etc. As a people leader, I am also committed and excited about mentoring the next generation of insights trailblazers by honing their storytelling skills and providing them opportunities for visibility and growth in the organization.