Podcast Series WIRe

WIRe Series – Rebecca Brooks – Alter Agents

Welcome to the WIRe Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from the WIRe MRx Meet & Mingle event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Rebecca Brooks, Founder and CEO of Alter Agents.

Contact Rebecca Online:


Alter Agents


My guest today is Rebecca Brooks, the CEO and founder of Alter Agents, which is a super cool name.  It’s totally like 007’s research, I think in a good way.


Thank you.  


How are you doing?  


I’m good.  How are you?


Good.  Yeah, we’ve known each other for ages in the industry.  It’s been ages since we’ve seen each other at the same time.  


I know.  It’s really good to see you.


So, we’re at the… live at the WIRe events today with…  in Austin with IIeX. I have not been to Austin in literally over 20 years, and the city has completely changed.  How long have you been part of WIRe?


I’ve been part of WIRe…  I mean I feel like since the beginning.  I started going to the first meetings in L.A. about ten years ago, which is when it started.  And I’m really happy to be more fully engaged with the group than ever before. So, I’m the Los Angeles event lead in program.  I’m also a mentor; I’m part of the Executive Group. We’re going to our Summit next month. So it’s become a really integral part of my professional life.  I love it.


We’re going to dive into your business in just a minute, but I want to just focus a little bit on WIRe.  Talk to me little bit about the Mentorship Program. What sort of person are you looking for to fill that seat?  And the other side of it is the mentee. What kind of person is a good fit in that role?


Yeah, I think that anybody with ten plus years of experience in the industry, whether it’s all on the client or all on the supplier side, is a valuable mentor.  And really someone that will help younger women navigate the corporation world. A lot of them are trying to come up in their business. So, they’re looking to get promotions; they’re looking to get raises.  And that’s a difficult thing for anybody to navigate but especially young women, particularly if their organization is very male-dominated. So the WIRe mentors really have invaluable experience in that regard because they’ve all been successful enough to navigate that path, right?  And then, in terms of the mentees, I mean we’re really looking for women that will not only benefit from the program but that will also continue the legacy of WIRe and, in a few years, turn around and mentor themselves and that are really committed to the program.


It’s an important work on both sides of it.  What kind of time commitment is involved?


For me…  Well, I’ve been with my mentee now for two years.  




Yeah, she had the option of leaving and going to somebody else, but she stuck with me, which was nice.  So, we talk every month. We try to do it in person if we can but schedules don’t allow that. We usually have a list of objectives that we’re going through from short-term goals to long-term goals; so, we’re always addressing those, talking about them.  And then I’m available to her if things arise. Yeah, but usually once a month.


So, shift gears a little bit.  Alter Agents, tell me a little bit about what you guys do.  


So, we’re a full-service market research consultancy.  We’re really methodology agnostic, vertical agnostic. We do qualitative and quantitative.  We work with large companies like Hyundai Motor America and Viking River Cruises. We work with smaller brands like Humm Kombucha and Evelyn & Bobbie.  Really what we found is that our niche isn’t in a particular type of research or with a particular type of industry, but really more around those clients that need a more consultative partner.  You know a lot of people can execute a project but those clients that really need somebody to guide them through the study design… We get really in deep with why the research is being done, what questions are going to answered from it.  What are they going to do with that? What decisions are going to be made? And then, we work with them on really evangelizing the findings throughout the organization at the end. We don’t just deliver a report, but we’ll do workshops; we’ll do additional deliverable for the C-suite.  So we really try to be more of a partner in a broader sense. So we tend to work best with companies that have small research departments or are really understaffed in that area or overworked in that area where we can take on a heavier load than the traditional research company.


Have you seen this activation of research as a trend inside of our space?  


Yeah, I think I’ve always gravitated towards it in my career.  It was very challenging for me when I would deliver something to a client and then it would just go into the void.  And I wouldn’t get to see what happened with the data. And I loved having clients come back because then I could see:  What have they done? What decisions were being made? So for me, it was always kind of a personal desire and itch I needed to scratch.  So I tended to gravitate towards those clients that wanted that back and forth communication. But I do feel that the industry, as a whole, is kind of pulling into either DIY (Here’s your technology and your product) or pulling more in the direction that my company is, which is more sort of consultative, white-glove, hands-on kind of servicing.     


So, you’re launching some research on how brand category affects purchase behavior.  Tell me a little bit about that.


Yeah, I’m really excited about that.  We should have our data out in the summer.  But the idea is that we’ve been noticing a lot with our clients that the influence of technology in any industry has been driven towards consumer convenience, the idea that you want to eliminate as many barriers as possible for the consumers they can go to purchase.  And what that’s creating, whether we’re talking about luxury cruising or automotive or a beverage drink… what that’s creating in this environment where, depending on the context of the purchase, the shopper can actually be almost mindless about it. So, if you think about a subscribe-and-save feature on Amazon, where you set it up once and then you never have to think about it.  Your dishwasher detergent is coming every month, right? It’s great for Amazon, and it’s great for the brand that won that subscribancy. But if you’re a brand trying to break into that or if you’re trying to convince people, you have an additional barrier now not only to convince them to try your product but to delete their subscribancy.


Yeah, that’s a big…  That could be a big… I mean the whole reason you set that up is to one-and-done and forget it.


Right.  We’ve been talking for years at Alter Agents in our e-books that we’ve been putting out about how traditional research isn’t addressing the questions that marketers need to answer.  And this, in particular, I think is something that we’ve been seeing affecting more and more of our clients the way that consumer expectation for convenience counteracts traditional marketing efforts.  And so, we need research to be a lot smarter about the context of the purchase, the priorities of the shopper. So, the research that we’ll be doing and distributing this summer is really about demonstrating that there are different questions that we should ask beyond awareness, familiarity, consideration.  We need to really get deeper and talk about it from the consumer’s perspective. So we’re hoping to have some really strong numbers behind that.


Talk to me a little bit about the gap that…  I was talking with Michelle earlier that your point of view is that there’s a gap that’s widening between everyday CPG products in the marketplace and then how it’s engaging at a category level.  Tell me a little bit about your thesis there.


I really think again it comes back to the technology has been working to make those everyday purchases as simple as possible for people, whether it’s a subscribe-and-save or whether it’s the way that grocery retailers have been reorganizing their shelves to put the most desired products upfront and all of the science behind the way people are physically shopping.  All of those things are pushing the consumer to not have to think about it. And that is a very different kind of shopper context than when you’re looking at brands that are pushing more towards the purchase as an experience where the purchase itself is part of what you’re getting from the brand. It’s not just the end product.


It’s almost like the box as Apple can redefine packaging as part of the product experience, but now you’re actually going upstream further it sounds like.   


Yes, yes.  There’s the high-end luxury stuff like BMW flying you over to actually pick up your car in Germany and drive it around the country and then ship it home.  That’s a very high-end extreme. But even things like a Patagonia jacket: you go into that store and you have an experience that is as memorable as the jacket itself.  There’s this real sort of pull into these strong extremes. And this sort of blanket, “This is how people shop” or “This is how we should market to people” just doesn’t work without understanding the context of the category.


This is a super interesting topic.  Google and Amazon have been gobbling up generic brands.  Paper towels, for example, I can’t remember which one won it, but that happened last year.  As opposed to Brawny or Scotts… So now, when you’re acquiring your product if you’re blind from a consumer-journey perspective because you’re ordering in a voice environment, that’s a big problem if you say paper towels versus Brawny.  I have to pick on Brawny. I don’t know why. ‘Cause I grew up with the commercials of the Brawny guy. With your connection to customers, are you thinking about how they’re standing out from generic? Is that part of the conversation?     


Absolutely, it is.  I mean one of the things that technology has really done is pushed brand further away from the decision-making process.  I mean everybody shops on Amazon. You’re filtering by… Well, first of all, you’re searching on the type of product you want:  “I want blow dryer,” “I want markers.” And then you’re filtering on things like Prime or price or whatever. And then brand comes into at the end, if that.  I mean maybe at that point, you’re picking the best reviewed product and not even thinking about the brand. So what does a marketer do in that context? Right.  They need to understand the triggers that are pushing people to those products; brand may not be one of them. Maybe, your marketing strategy isn’t so much about the brand name and the brand feeling as it is about the distribution channels.  So that’s really where we’re trying to push our clients and push our researches sort of what is that space that they’re making that decision in.


Yeah, which we saw with the Berkshire Hathaway announcement about Heinz getting crushed in that context because they weren’t…  They were considering the brand piece of the thesis but not necessarily channel distribution, which as it turns out a big problem.    


Right, if you think about traditionally we’ve grown up on the 50 top global brands and now a lot of them have been CPG and I don’t think that will be the case in ten years.


And it’s really hard for a brand to position themselves as the Kleenex in their category.  I mean that’s very hard to pull off.


And we’re seeing it not just in CPG but we’re seeing it across the board when we work in a lot of different categories.  Even our Viking River Cruises client, their target demographic are people over 60, and they’re expecting a lot of technology and convenience and ease-of-use when they go to their website.  They want a lot of those decisions taken away from them to make an easy purchase. So it’s really across the board.


The consumer is valuing time more than anything else right now.  More barriers there are… It’s a no-brainer kind of point that I’m going to make, and everybody already know what it is:  The more barriers there are, the higher the likelihood of drop-out through that process. But I think we need to pull back more and re-envision.  There’s a lot of sites that I shop where I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, where is the Buy Now?” Like I’ll add stuff to my cart and I can’t figure out how to check out.  I’m like, “What the hell is going on? How is that the hard part of this?”


People experience a really amazing convenience in one category like being able to dial up an Uber on your phone, and then they expect the same convenience somewhere else.  So, why is it so easy for me to get a car to take me from one place to another, but I have to hunt down my broker with smoke signals? So there’s a frustration that’s growing.  I emphasize this a lot: It’s not the younger generations only, either; everyone is getting really used to convenience, and everybody’s expectations are rising. You have these sorts of tensions of brands needing to meet consumer demands for convenience but then in doing so, are losing some of the brand focus.    


Last question:  How do you think market research is going to adapt over the next five years?


It’s hard to be in the prediction business in this industry these days.  You know I started in market research when things were still done on paper, and online was something where there was a lot of skepticism about it.  So I’ve seen the industry go through a lot of changes, but I think that the changes that are coming now are coming at us from all angles. It’s coming at us from machine learning, and AI, and automation of analysis, which is really fascinating and kind of scary at the same time.  There’s no stopping technology, and there’s no stopping how quickly it’s going to advance. And I think it’s going to continue, in really our industry as well, the consumer’s convenience. Our research buyer’s convenience is paramount for them also. So, a lot of these technology tools are pulling in that direction, but then you have companies like mine that are also trying to retain the quality and the depth of analysis.  Honestly, who knows? It’ll be really interesting to see.


It will.  The other point I riff on there is the point of insight consumption is interesting too because tools have democratized access to the consumer.  It used to be the case that it was just the researcher that had that capacity to conduct research, thinking about the old days of pencil and paper and phone.  And now, all of a sudden, anybody and everybody does, in fact, conduct research. From a market research category perspective, we really need to think long and hard about who really is our target customer, and how we’re going to help the organization as a whole adopt insights.     


Well, on a tangent, I really feel like market research is very similar to what’s happened to the news media since the internet has begun where…


That’s a really good analogy, actually.


Yeah, there were a few people in control of the information, and everybody was getting the same information.  We used the same methodologies, the same basic principles, and then the internet came along and democratized information and that’s what’s happening in market research now too.  And I think one of the startling things about it is that we have some quality concerns.


That’s an understatement.  It’s capital concerns, right?  I mean that’s a big problem.


That when people can go out and do it themselves without the background, without the information, what is the quality of that data?  And even though it’s very accessible and easy to get to…


Ton of misinformation.


Accurate, right.  So yeah, I mean I think we’re in that… beginning to see that transition start to happen.  It’ll be interesting to see how our industry reacts.


My guest today has been Rebecca Brooks, CEO, founder of Alter Agents.  Thanks so much for joining me on Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thanks, Jamin.


Let’s enjoy the WIRe event.



Podcast Series WIRe

WIRe Series – Karen Lynch – InsightsNow

Welcome to the WIRe Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from the WIRe MRx Meet & Mingle event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Karen Lynch, Senior Director of Qualitative Insights at InsightsNow.

Contact Karen Online:




I’m here with Karen Lynch.  We are prepping for the WIRe event tethered to IIeX in Austin.  She is the Senior Director, Qualitative Insights at…


Insights Now.


Insights Now.  There you go. This is a little-known fact.  I have participated with WIRe from the very early days when Kristin started it while working with Decipher.  And I actually stopped going to the events because I felt (and this was my Ah ha moment), I felt so uncomfortable being the only man in the room.    


Oh, got ya, got ya.


Which is a really interesting counterpoint to like last night – I went to dinner, and there were three guys and a girl.  And I’m thinking to myself, “It’s so interesting having the shoe on the other foot.” And just not having that perspective until you’re in that environment.


Yeah, yeah, absolutely.  What you just talked about is what it feels like to be a minority in the room, right?  And so, in many industries, women deal with that all the time: they step into a room filled with men.  So that’s why we celebrate with Women In Research, why we celebrate women in these roles because it’s a strive for equality and strive for balance.  And the closer we get, the better it is for all of us. And your support at those sorts of events brings us closer. So, thank you for that.


For me, it is such an interesting head space.  The framework of business… Recently, I was reading a Harvard Business Review article and they were talking about how temperatures set in offices are set to men’s ideal temperature.


Oh, that’s interesting.


Which is like three degrees cooler than women would prefer it to be.


Yeah, most likely.


And I thought, “Gosh, it’s like just set up in that sort of like framework of…  And I’m not trying like us versus them, us being obviously the man. So, I don’t mean it that way.  I just think there’s so much that’s built up in society that we just take for granted as sort of normal.  And then, to your point, being the only “minority” in room, really does change that dynamic. So, my point in bringing all that up is just that WIRe is an inclusive organization and it’s…  Regardless of any sort of demographic profile, you can participate whether being a supporter or even joining different events they’re putting on. It’s a great opportunity to increase your overall exposure.  Important work. So, ah, tell me Perspective Thinking: “Accessing Perspective Thinking and the Impact on Research Product Development.” What in the world is that?


What are we talking about?  So, in market research we’ve been talking a lot about implicit, explicit testing over the years.  We talk a lot about System 1 versus System 2, thinking that there’s only two ways of thinking and two ways of making decisions.  For those of you listening that don’t necessarily know the difference there, it’s as simple as something in System 1 might be a quick, automatic decision like “Hey, I’m going to grab the gallon of milk that has the red cap ‘cause I know that’s whole milk.”  You don’t have to think much about it; it’s pretty automatic. And then there’s System 2, which is like, “Now I need to buy a car.” And you just don’t grab one off the shelf. You sit and you think and you’re deliberate about it. And those two modes of thinking are at play with every consumer decision that’s made, but what they don’t account for is the imagination.  And so say, you wear glasses. So say, you’re in the frame shop and you’re trying on different lenses and you’re letting your imagination go to “Which one of these makes me look the way I want to look when I’m at my most professional?” “Which one of them portrays my creative side?” “Which one of these puts out there that I’m an open, friendly guy?” So, you’re doing this imaginative thinking.  That’s Perspective Thinking: You’re making a decision with something else at play than both System 1 and System 2.


So is that kind of like a System 3?


It is System 3.  So that’s what Perspective Thinking is.  It’s System 3. And it’s at play in a lot of different decisions that we make.  One of the examples that I use for people is “Imagine you were driving somewhere.  Say, you’re driving home from work. And you know the route that you always take; it pretty straightforward.  But then, you know what? Traffic jam. In your mind, you start to wander navigationally. What other ways might I be able to get home from here?  Because of this traffic jam.” That’s System 3 at play. It might be, “Oh, gosh, they just put a new grocery store in my town. I’m going to have to shop there.  I don’t know what that’s like. Where will I park? What will my behavior be upon entering a brand-new store? Will it be laid out the same way I’m used to?” All that kind of thinking, it’s the stuff of our mind wandering.  That’s System 3 or Perspective Thinking.


So, going back to System 1, which is really more habit, engrained in how we just process instantaneously a decision.  System 2 is much more factual. You break or degrade a product into a series of features and then do your comparing and contrasting in that framework.  And then System 3, which moves into a much more complex perspective, which is this creative thinking element, the envisioning, the, as you said, the creative thinking aspects.  How do you employ that from a research perspective? ‘Cause the first two are easy for me to do, right? The third one: that’s an interesting challenge.


Yeah, because it’s all around hopes and fears and thoughts about what’s happening in the future.  And I think most of us in market research understand that if you were to ask a consumer about the future, they shut down.  There’s actually some psychology involved or neuroscience, I should say, involved with how part of your frontal lobe shuts down when you’re asked about the future.  Your brain can’t go there. So a consumer can’t project into the future and have it be credible for research purposes. But we have tools, right? At Insights Now, we use a tool that helps kind of tap into the spirit of imagination.  It’s a play-based method, for instance. And we put people into this playful state of mind where they’re actually able to get to some more imaginative thinking and bring those thoughts to life. So it’s thoughts about their hopes and their fears and their aspirations.  And then brand teams can kind of go to that space of hopes and fears and aspirations and move forward to different stages of their process with them.


That’s really interesting.  Can you give me an example? Is there a set line of questioning?  Is that how you frame the…?


So, sure.  What we do is we set up an environment conducive to play, first of all.  And we have a method called PlayFull Insights where we’re using Lego bricks to kind of put people into that playful state of mind.  And we have a series of skills that we build as we proceed with PlayFull Insights where people are literally developing their skills, not just manual dexterities but skills because we’re building with Lego bricks but their storytelling skills and their ability to think in metaphor and their ability to talk about themselves in that imaginative space.  So they get to a very safe place of sharing and vulnerability and they let us into those subconscious thoughts about what the future might hold for them all through this kind of method and the deliberate process that we go through to bring them there.


Yeah, psychologists have been using play as a mechanism for dealing with trauma for years, and it’s interesting…  you know sandbox kind of therapy. PlayFull Insights. That’s “Play” and then capital “F” ull, right, is the…


Right, deliberately, yeah.


Yeah, of course.  Talk to me a little bit about the name.


Yeah, so the idea again, going back to what you were saying about the benefits of play and why we wanted our research to be full of all of those benefits, the idea is that in a qualitative setting, which what this particular method is, we want people to be at that kind of relaxed state of mind, at that place that they can go to when their walls come down like children on a playground or in a sandbox if you will.  So what we want to do is capture the spirit of play and all of that great release of endorphins that happens as a result that brings people to this place of this vulnerable sharing, as I was saying. So PlayFull Insights, which is all about getting insights… That’s the business that we’re in, of course, and the conference where we’re at, of course. But the full part of it is just how loaded that is it. People often don’t even know what’s there, right?  There’s a model in psychology called Johari’s Window where some people aren’t even aware of what’s hidden below the surface, but with a method like this, we can bring that to the surface, and they can reveal things that they didn’t even know they necessarily had to share, but it comes out. We’ve brought them to a state of mind through the power of play to load us up with good stuff.


Age?  Is there like a cut-off for…?


So, sure.  So, sure. I just did this work actually with adolescents.  We can start as young as adolescents. If it’s too young, it’s like their imaginations…




It’s just normal, but they also, if they’re too young, they literally just want to play.  And they don’t want to be strategic about it, deliberate about it, which is what we are doing.  It’s hard to tell a child, “You’re not just building from your imagination alone; you’re building what we tell you to build.”  So too young is not really great, but adolescence is when it kicks in, through teens. It really works very well all the way up through kind of the senior citizen age where No. 1 there’s an element of cynicism, where they really do just like to talk and not necessarily talk on purpose but, most importantly, there manual dexterity starts to deteriorate a little bit.  It’s a little harder for them to assemble Lego bricks, for instance. I mean we have other play-based methods that we could use with other adults in that kind of demographic, if you will, but this particular one that we’ve just referenced, PlayFull Insights, kind of cuts off at that age.


How did you come up with it?


So, it’s actually my baby, if you will.  Several years ago, the Lego Group actually started and developed the method of Lego Serious Play.  And a few years ago, it came on my radar. They made it open source in 2009. And so, it got on my radar in the early 2010s, and I became a facilitator of the Lego Serious Play method, which is great for team building, strategic planning, creative problem solving, breakthrough methods for internal purposes.  And because I was in the field of qualitative research, I worked with another qualitative researcher, a colleague of mine, and the two of us said there has to be a way to adapt this for research purposes, which is a little different because the consumers don’t necessarily know what we’re doing there or why we’re doing it.  They’re not privy to all of our objectives, and we want to keep it that way so they don’t kind of get in the way of the research process. So we had to adapt the method a little bit, but it was just a natural fit for us because the insights gleaned from metaphorical conversations are really genius. So anyway, this colleague of mine, we just got to work on how to make it happen, right, forcing connections between one method in one field to this method in our field.       


I love the creativity associated with that.  I’m sure you guys we’re playing with some bricks at that point in time


Absolutely.  That’s what it’s all about.  A lot of fun. And it makes everybody happy, right?  There’s a whole lot of fun and smiling energy that comes into a room when we have Lego bricks spread around.  


Do you have a favorite project?  


For that particular method?


This particular methodology.


Well, it’s hard not to talk about one we just came off of.  We just came off of a case study actually where we executed with Kraft Heinz some work exploring fun with adolescent children, in fact.  And some of things that we learned from these, again, pre-teens about who they are and what they aspire to probably will stay with me for a long time.  We got to some great depth of insights with the generation that, typically, doesn’t really talk that much in a focus-group setting.


I know you can’t share any specifics.  I’m dying to ask you.


Well, alright, no, I can tell you.  They talked about themselves (this is not proprietary; we, actually, shared this out at a different event in a case study.)  They talked about who they were when they were at their best, and they talked about exhibiting good sportsmanship and they talked about being kind and non-judgmental and they talked about overcoming obstacles and barriers and had this great kind of emotional intelligence that they showed to us, which I don’t think we give younger generations a lot of credit for all the time.  So it was really nice to see them building models that talked about who they were at their best because they’re really fantastic human beings.


Ah, that’s fantastic.


Yeah, good stuff, really fun.


This is obviously a qualitative structure.  Do you have a specific facility that you do this in?  Or do you travel around?


We travel around.  As long as you’re trained in the method, you can do this at any traditional focus-group facility if the client team wants to be behind the mirror.  We have the supplies that we need. So we bring those with us, and we set up. We’ve also done it on site at corporate offices when we’re doing more of a co-creation where we have client teams, for instance, right in the mix with other adults.  We’re building literally side by side and then comparing and contrasting what team “Company” would build versus what team “Consumer” would build. And we’re talking about the differences and were getting right to the “So, what does all this mean?” right there in the session.  So it’s kind of a great co-creation method, if you will, when we’re on site in an organization as well.


If somebody wants to get in contact with you, how would they do that?


Oh, sure, thank you.  Well, the easiest way would be to shoot me an email:  It’s Karen.Lynch@InsightsNow.com.  Karen, traditionally K-A-R-E-N; Lynch, traditionally



You have to actually specify that, by the way.  That’s good.


I know because some people are like, “Is that Karen with a “C”?  And I’m like, “No, it’s the traditional way.” I had traditionalist parents.


My guest today has been Karen Lynch, Senior Director, Qualitative Insights at Insights Now.  Thank you so much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Pleasure.  I could talk to you all day long.  


Oh, I’d love that, and I am excited about getting…  Actually, back up really quick. Women In Research, how long have you been a participant?


So, just a few years now, probably about three years, I think.


Are you a mentor?


I was a mentor last year.  It was one of the best experiences that I had ever done in my career.  Worked with a young woman who was a minority woman, was an African-American woman, and she often felt that in this industry that is heavy with women – not a lot of African-American representation – and she wants to be able to have a voice in that space.    


Oh, I love that.  Is she here at this event?  


Yeah, she’s fantastic.  She’s not at this event, no, but she did some amazing things over the course of our year.  So I highly recommend anybody who has that kind of time and mindset to be a mentor and also give back just a little bit to this industry that gives us so much.  


Karen, thanks for being on the show today.


Sure thing.  My pleasure.          

Podcast Series WIRe

WIRe Series – John Martin – Measure Protocol

Welcome to the WIRe Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from the WIRe MRx Meet & Mingle event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews John Martin, Founder and CTO of Measure Protocol.

Contact John Online:


Measure Protocol


John Martin, Chief Technology Officer, Measure Protocol.  Thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


My pleasure, my pleasure.


So, we’re at the WIRe event, part of…  connected to the IIeX Austin events. What are your thoughts so far regarding IIeX?  


I mean it’s fantastic.  To be honest, I haven’t been there yet today.  I flew in.


You just got in.


But I was just checking my Bizzabo app trying to pick out all of the…




Yeah, and all of the sessions tomorrow that I’m going to go to.  Looks like there’s a bunch of System 1 stuff, which is super interesting; a bunch of Big Data stuff, which is interesting.  So, yeah, it’s a really good lineup this year.


CTO of Measure Protocol.  Tell me a little bit about Measure Protocol.  What do you guys do?


So, we’re doing sampling on the blockchain.  So, we started life about 18 months ago right, I guess, at the height, of blockchain madness, of ICO madness, and started working on this idea that we just couldn’t run away from.  You know two out of three of us founders had a background in market research, had worked at Comscore and Kantar, and had another startup, which was a market research startup that we’d exited awhile ago.  And the deeper we got into blockchain, the more we just could not run away from how perfect a fit we thought that it was for this one particular use case that we knew so much about, given our history. And so, we’ve been sort of digging away at it for the past 18 months.


Your executive team, Ben?  Is that right?


Owen and Paul.


Owen and Paul.  Sorry about that.  And you guys have had a successful exit, which is really unique, especially in the context of blockchain since the very early stages of that whole technology.  What are you seeing as the central role or, even more specifically, the practical role of blockchain in market research? What is the problem that it’s solving?    


Right.  I think it’s going to end up coming on in two different phases.  When I think about what we’re doing, which is just quite literally putting sampling on the blockchain.  So, instead of a sample provider being in the middle of a researcher and a population of respondents, there’s software on a blockchain, which is not to say that we’re disintermediating all the sample companies, right?  It’s just to say that, from a technical perspective, this stuff is possible to be done in software alone. But, when I think about what we’re doing, there’s sort of three buckets of benefits: privacy, transparency, and economics.  And I think with the current state of the cryptocurrency market, the economics argument is somewhat off the table, right?

There’s this sort of really interesting, idealistic, futuristic business models that are possible when you have a cryptocurrency in the middle of these things where users become, to a certain extent, shareholders of what you are building, which is super interesting and can sort of inspire all of these accelerating positive feedback loops.  But, because of the crypto-markets now, that’s not as easily possible to get off the ground, but it certainly should be possible in the future. What we focus on today is privacy and transparency. So it really forces us to build essentially a sample company that is private by design and is… essentially has a sort of 24/7, 365-day year audit on what we’re doing.  So buyers of data and respondents can all see the providence of offers, can see payments go through, can see the validity or not of data that’s being claimed on the network and so on and so forth.


I would have thought that security would have been part of the stool.


I guess I bucket that under the privacy.  In fact, my talk tomorrow is about the privacy aspect.  And one of the somewhat surprising consequences of trying to build this stuff out on a blockchain protocol is that you have nowhere to put respondent data – not the data that they’re entering in surveys necessarily but when we’re doing sampling, when we’re running research, all day long we’re sort of collecting and curating and digging through demographic profile data, which is incredibly sensitive and it’s not at all the type of data you want to put on a public, immutable database, right?  So, you end up doing away with the respondent database; there’s no respondent database. And what we’ve done in our particular example is push profile data out to the edges of the network. So respondents have all of their profile data on their devices and then the challenge in building this business becomes… If you don’t have a respondent database, how do you run feasibility on a study? How do you know what the composition of the network is? How do you filter somebody into a particular study?  So, we’ve sort of come up with these baskets of cryptographic techniques to try to fish that information out, but in a way where we, as the service provider in the middle, have no access to the actual data itself. So it’s sort of privacy by design. You almost don’t have to worry about security because there’s nothing to secure. You keep all of the sensitive stuff off the blockchain.


The pilot project:  Tell us a little bit about that.  How did that work?


So, I guess starting at the beginning of year we gathered together about a dozen clients and sample providers and research agencies and pulled a whole bunch of projects from them, cobbled together several hundred users on the system, the system which was really fresh out of the oven.  We’d kind of just baked this thing and released it to the world, and we set the thing running. And there was really three things that we were trying to do: The first one was just a technological smoke test. (Does this thing work? Does it do the things that we claim?) The second one was education for our clients, for these agencies and for the brands to try to…  because it’s a difficult thing to explain: this sort of notion of privacy, of not having a respondent database; this notion of transparency. It’s a difficult thing for somebody to just sit down and intuit, based on reading it from a paper or hearing it from somebody like me. So what we were doing was we said, “Look, let’s just run a bunch of studies for you guys and we’ll come in and we’ll show you what you get out of this, right, and we’ll show you all of the new types of data and we’ll sort of illustrate to you what lives on the blockchain, what lives off the blockchain, and why that might be beneficial.  And then, the third part of it was just to do research on research, was to see how users respond to this stuff, which was… I mean it warms my heart; it was bloody good, like the users were very, very engaged. We always think about privacy as being a hygiene factor, rather than a motivating factor. You know it doesn’t get people to show up but it might get them to be more active and to hang around longer than they would have otherwise. And so, it’s hard to say anything definitely just yet. And we’re going to publish our results in the coming weeks, but there was certainly nothing dispositive in what we did.  Really, really encouraging, and we’ve turned that into real customers and real partners right now, which we’re just lining up on the network.


That’s beautiful.  So, two things: one – like how do you guys get paid?  Where do you fit from a dollar perspective? Is it an existing dollar that’s been budgeted by the customer for that particular sample?  Or is it a new dollar?


So, today it’s probably coming out of two existing budgets.  It’s coming out of the sample budget. I mean we’re taking a technology fee today for each…


Sort of analogous with the marketplace fees.


Yeah, yeah.  And then the other bucket that it seems to be coming out of so far is the fraud bucket, right?  We have what I think is a quite rigorous, interesting story about fraud and about validating people’s claimed profile.  And so, I think more and more we’re going to go up against the companies that are sort of taking 50 cents or a dollar off of every complete to run fingerprinting and so on.  I mean that’s not a threat; that’s just my prediction. I think we have a very good story about fraud for several different reasons. And I think there’s just a lot of survey fraud on web surveys, and the companies are spending a lot of money on it.       


There was a presentation that was given a couple weeks ago by Proctor & Gamble, and she said that they had done some root-cause analysis of some research failures, and it boiled down to fraud at the respondent level.  And, when they looked under the hood, it was approximately 30%. Another great example is a friend of mine did a study with… I probably even shouldn’t say too much about it, but anyway it worked out where they asked a red herring question, “What is 1 + 1 + 4?” and as a pick list of six answers choice, of which 48% of the people got it right, which is not great.  But, anyways, you’re always going to get some level of error in data; it just seems like it shouldn’t be over half of the sample. I mean it’s exciting work that you guys are doing. So congratulations on that, and I look forward to your talk tomorrow. If someone wants to get in contact with you, how would they do that?


Ahh, MeasureProtocol.com and I’m on Twitter at JohnM.


Perfect.  You got to join our Twitter Chat.  So, MRX…


I see it, I see it, every other week.


Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally.  So, jump on there. Be a great way for other people to be able to get in contact with you.  And, of course, we’ll include this in the show notes. Thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast, and I hope you enjoy the WIRe event.


Thank you, mate.  You too.



Podcast Series WIRe

WIRe Series – Horst Feldhaeuser – Infotools

Welcome to the WIRe Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from the WIRe MRx Meet & Mingle event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Horst Feldhaeuser, Group Services Director (SVP) at Infotools.

Contact Horst Online:




Horst, the Group Services Director at InfoTools.  It is an honor to have you on this show. I’ve been following you guys for quite a while.  Tell me a little bit about the business.


Well, InfoTools is a company that’s been around for 28 years now, based in New Zealand, but we have offices all around the world.  And we do everything from the data to the delivery to the people: so data analysis, data harmonization, dashboarding, socialization, all that kind of stuff.  


So, the gamut.


The gamut, yes.  Apart from the data collection, we do it.


No kidding.


And we’re good at it.


Yeah, yeah, good.  So, 29 years is a storied brand in our space.  What kind of technologies have you guys built out as InfoTools?  


Yeah, so, we’ve started off with a desktop tool basically to analyze the data as our first step, and then gradually over the years, obviously, we’ve moved into the cloud.  So, our biggest tool is now the cloud-based called InfoTools Harmoni. It’s been used by big companies like Coca-Cola, or Unilever (no, not Unilever, sorry), Orange, Shell, Samsung, and more and more market research companies as well.  So it’s really a tool for DIY or for the services…


Well, we’ll have to get this podcast in front of Unilever so they can be a customer also.


Yeah, exactly, they should be.  


So, you guys have teamed up with the University of Auckland Business School to help give students in market research some hands-on experience.  Tell me a little bit about that.


Yeah, that’s really a great partnership with them, and we’ve been in contact with them for a long time.  They’ve been very close with the market research industry in New Zealand, and they have a market research competition since about 2011, where they have students working on real-life projects and there is literally it’s like a “Market Research Got Talent” thing with a competition, with judges from the market research industry and from the client side.  They’re doing a lot with not-for-profit studies, and this year it’s with a corporation called Housing New Zealand Housing Foundation. We decided with our new cloud-based tool why not give it to them for free and have them use that instead of some of the other tools that we don’t think are quite as funky.


That’s pretty cool.


That’s very cool.  And we just started the project.  We just had a big training session with them with their previous data, and once they get the new data in, they can play around with it.  And we absolutely love it; they love it.


It’s a big upstream opportunity, right?  We had one of the plays that Qualtrics took early on in their career.  I wouldn’t say that it was necessarily strategic. In those days it was just like available, kind of like Facebook.  And it worked out profoundly well for them from a customer-adoption perspective. Is that part of the thinking? I’d imagine it would have to be.


Yeah, I can neither deny nor confirm it, and we thought about that.  But, absolutely, I mean we want to support the students. And it’s great for us working in our background at home in New Zealand first, but we definitely want to go globally with that and approach universities across the world.  So, if they want to get in contact with us, absolutely.


I think there’s Georgia Tech and Michigan State that are here at this particular conference, both of which have market research-centric masters programs.


We’ll be talking to them, absolutely.  And I think it’s great. It gives just different opportunities for people to play with:  they can upload their own data; they can really use it. And I think for us as well, it will give us a different focus and a different view ‘cause they’re going to go into it with a completely different view than you and I would go with all our pre-determined thinking.




Yeah, so I’m excited, very excited.  


You know one of the problems with market research is – in any industry for that matter – is that, after you do something for 15 to 20 years, you become a leader in that space, right, or looked to as…  And then, it can be harder and harder to relate to the new entrants into the… The younger researchers who are just starting their career. And I think about when I started my career in 1996 at the ripe old age of 26 years old, the way that I thought about market research literally…  I mean just to give you a point of reference: I did among one of the first online surveys for commercial purposes in that same year whereas my boss was still doing normal, traditional research. And that was a really tough transition for him to ever make, that online research was actually going to be a thing, right?  So, for me, let’s be really cognizant and aware of that as we’re aging researchers and make sure that we’re not just closed-minded to that next generation.


Yeah, and I think that’s the exciting part really, right?  Well, I think that the great change from, say, what’s happening five, ten years ago is that we now have market research as mainstream in the universities.  They can go in and do a major in market research whereas in the past they haven’t. But they go in with completely different views. We’ve seen that with some of the questions they asked us in the training day.  They already have a completely different mindset, and we need to leverage that ‘cause these are the people in the future who are going to drive the industry. It’s not us, to be honest. We’re here for another 10, 15, 20 years, but then it’s them really taking over


That’s right, absolutely.


And looking at things differently.  And we need to support them with the tools and the thinking.  


How can we as researchers do a better job of engaging with that new generation of researchers?  Is it more social? Is it through different industry events? You know you’ve got a number of…  I think ESOMAR has their under-30 or under-40 category. You know what I mean? Is that…


Yeah, I think so, and I think we need to make it easy for them.  There’s the whole meet-ups and all that kind of stuff that’s coming more and more.  I haven’t seen it that much utilized from our point of view, from the industry point of view.  In New Zealand, we have what’s called RANZ Social, which is a subgroup of the industry association.  It’s driven by the young people, and it’s all through social media. It’s all through Facebook, and then they have their own events.  But I think opening it up and giving them different opportunities but also sending them to conferences like this. I mean getting them out there, having the opportunity to share stuff.   And that’s where the ESOMAR winners is great with a new speaker track that we have at IIeX. I think is absolutely brilliant. I love it.


….Annie Pettit’s… It’s a really important work there.  If there was one question you could ask seasoned market researchers that would impart some wisdom to the next generation (You with me?), what do you think that question would be?  Would it be centric to “What’s the best methodology a young researcher should learn?” Or would it be centric to core values?


I think I would try to focus on them and say “Follow your curiosity” and “Ask the questions that you want answers to, whether it’s qualitative or quantitative.”  I think that whole qualitative/quantitative is obsolete anyway ‘cause it’s all… it’s about getting answers really and how we use that information ‘cause we have tons of information.  We saw it already today in some of the workshops. But how we actually use it and bring it back to the business. Maybe that’s the question we need to learn to answer.


That’s very interesting.  I think I’m going to incorporate…  I might adjust my script a little bit accordingly.  Thanks for that.


No worries.  Do it.


Yeah, good, so my guest today:  Horst, InfoTools. How do people get in contact with you?  


Either through our website:  InfoTools.com. Or check me out; I’m speaking as well on Thursday, on our Coca-Cola case study.  But, yeah, through the website is the easiest.


I think the crowd is getting a little bit crazy right now.  Absolutely a good time for us to go here. Enjoy the WIRe. Thanks so much for being on the show, my friend.


Good time for us to get a beer.  Cheers. Bye, bye.


Bye, bye.

Podcast Series WIRe

Ep. 216 – WIRe Series – Garrett Gil de Rubio – P2Sample

Welcome to the WIRe Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from the WIRe MRx Meet & Mingle event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Garrett Gil de Rubio, Vice President of Business Development/Client Engagement at P2Sample.

Contact Garrett Online:




My guest today is Garrett Gil de Rubio, VP of Business Development at P2Sample.  Thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thanks for having me.


We are at the WIRe event, part of IIeX, Austin.  Have you been on the floor so far?


I have.  It got started just a few hours ago.  It’s been a very busy, pleasant time so far


Yeah, it’s been completely different, structurally different than it was when it was in Atlanta.  What do you think about the differences?


A lot more space.  Some of the exhibitors have a lot more room to grow and move.  Everyone is on the same corridor, which is a plus, but further there’s a lot more ability to go off and have private areas and discussions and client meetings and the like, which is always great.   


You know I think that the current layout is effective (It’s kind of like moving to market mode) is more effective if you do a really good job of pre-recruiting to your booth.  If you’re just reliant in the trade show industry nowadays or events or walk, walk… I mean that’s going to happen; you’re going to get drive-bys. But you’re going to do so much better if you can start getting critical mass there.


Absolutely.  And to have people be able to meet you in a common meeting spot where there’s so many human beings in one place it’s convenient for them as well.


So, look, one hack that I’ve been toying with on that subject is doing events, like whether it’s a demo or bring in a special speaker or something like that.  It’s not like you’re taking the floor of the exhibit hall, but it could be something where you could do a five- or ten-person presentation, right, just to kind of like get that activity level up in those rooms.     


For sure.  It can be a bit challenging just because of space and the dynamics of everyone being on top of each other, but if you have an effective booth area, certainly the capability to do that is there.   


Yeah, for sure, for sure.  Do you guys exhibit at a lot of shows?


We do.  We are not exhibiting at IIeX this year.  We’re nomads, as it were.


OK, got it.  Perfect. Walking the floor?




Cool.  So, you guys have had a hell of a big run.  I see your name everywhere. And I believe you announced your biggest quarter ever in Q1, which is actually rare ‘cause Q1 in our industry is kind of like Q3, those are the quieter quarters, right?  So, coming off a big Q4, a lot of momentum, what was the key to success? Give us the wisdom.


Well, I can’t give it all away, [laughter] but there’s a few factors that play.  Number 1 is we have seen a drive throughout the entirety of industry to move towards automation and programmatic sample.  That has certainly weathered well with us. And jumping onto our programmatic stance has certainly been a big aspect of growth with our client base.


So, really quick, I’m going to interrupt you.  Tell us a little bit about what that stance is.


We believe in being as programmatic as possible with sample, and not just the sense of having everything automated, but having as real time an aspect of engagement with not only the studies and the ability to launch them but also with the engagement with the respondents and the panelists that are involved as well from our side of things.  So to be able to truly work in real time has afforded a number of our clients the ability to get, I would say, a higher quality of data. And they’re coming back for more, which is a fantastic problem to have. We’ve also seen a lot of international growth on our side beyond the U.S., which has traditionally been a strong foundation for us in our business model, but we’re seeing Western Europe, Asia-Pacific, Australia, even Africa and Latin America starting to make strong gains in our business model.


Are you guys playing in the marketplaces, like the Lucids and…?


Absolutely, we work with a number of the marketplaces as both a supplier and, in some cases, as a client/a buyer, depending on the vernacular of the particular marketplace.  And we work well because of that level of automation and integration; we all speak the same language. So, we’re happy to support marketplaces and work with that and then also bring some additional buyers (non-traditional market research buyers) to the table as well.


Yeah, that’s cool.  Unlocking the panelists is really important, obviously.  Are we ever going to stop having to ask gender over and over again in surveys?


We would love to see that.  I know our respondents would love to see that, and that’s one of the things we’ve been emphasizing with our clients, is the ability to call on our established demographics that have been proven over and over again.  No one’s changing (although there’s certainly the possibility) but no one has changed their gender 15,000 times. So, let the demographics and their profiles speak for themselves and get to the heart of the research itself.      


So, you guys launched a marketing campaign #timetolisten, which I think should be tethered to some kind of #Beatles or something.  Tell me a little bit about that.


It goes back to that core of respondent engagement.  To be able to hear what… The respondents are a vital part of market research, and to really hear their opinions about not being asked the same question about gender or age 15,000 times in 15,000 ways…  It’s a waste of their time. And so, to be able to hear their voices in market research… The actual voice of the consumer, more often than not is a vital part of the research itself. It not only helps with respect to that respondent engagement also the quality of data.  If they’re enjoying their survey experience, if they’re positively contributing, the data tends to be better and less propensity for fraud or less propensity for boredom in surveys where they start to straight-line or similar. So we really encourage our clients and the platforms with which we work to make things as streamlined as possible for the respondent because it represents a stronger quality to the data that comes out of the research itself.       


Are you seeing Twitter as a platform to engage customers also?


We haven’t traditionally used Twitter; we are starting to.  It’s not part of our core business model, but I know that our marketing team as well as some of our clients are working with Twitter-based projects and the like.  We haven’t been called upon.


Got it.  So, you’re not really active there you seem.  What marketing channels do you use a lot? LinkedIn, I assume.      


LinkedIn is very popular for us.  We do some Facebook, both recruitment for panelists as well as for clients.  We’ve just started in Instagram as well. But predominantly we are working on a number of different anomaly platforms, but social media and also through various publishers and recruitment sources.  So there’s a number of ways in which we promote ourselves from a marketing perspective, utilizing a lot of those same sources from which we get members.


Looking forward, how are we going to change as an industry?  


I think it kind of goes back to two tenets of what I’ve already spoken about, which is Number 1 – a better respondent engagement.  I think the eye towards who is filling out that survey and what are they interested in and how do I engage them is a key strategy going forward for the industry as a whole because, if you’re not engaging your consumers, your products aren’t going to engage your consumers.  Secondarily, I think there is a drastic move toward globalization. It’s not just a U.S. study or a U.K. study; it’s now a 10- and 20-study exercise or 10- and 20-geography exercise. So I think there is a global expansion that is starting to occur and looking at global audiences as opposed to microscopic views of the world.


So, If I’m hearing you correctly, you’re seeing the respondent experience is being something that we should actually start caring more about as an industry, and that’s going to increase engagement and, hopefully, improve overall quality, which is a big problem right now in our space.  The other part of it that, I think, is really interesting is the programmatic… The benefit of programmatic is you’re able to get to the consumer faster because there’s less physical or whatever work …


…fewer jumps


…fewer jumps, yeah, right exactly.  And so, are you seeing the point of insight change inside of your customer base?  In other words, the constituent, right, traditionally has been the market researcher is the buyer of third-party panel.  But are you seeing it kind of move inside of the organization to other individuals, other job functions?


One thing that we are seeing, which takes many facets of that question into regard, is the notion of, going back to real time engagement, we’re starting to see research and, therefore, respondent engagement happening at a quicker pace; therefore, things can be very similar to Twitter where things can be sampled in real time.  So it doesn’t take days or weeks or months in field: things can be done in hours. And so, the notion of programmatic sampling allows for instantaneous engagement with the client. We’re not waiting a week for someone to get back from an email invite and respond. They’re dealing with that respondent in real time, which allows researchers to truly sample something in smaller pools of sample in a very quick time, using very quick media, very quick automation and, therefore, move on to the next topic and the next topic and, therefore, also extend their research, re-contact those respondents a day or two later and ask similar opinions or next phase.  We see a lot the classic Super Bowl model of “What did you think of the commercials?” And then after you saw it three times later, an hour after half-time at the Super Bowl, “What did you think of it?” And being able to really engage in real time and in smaller pools of sample but larger, broader pools for projects of that nature has really changed the face of research. It’s not months and months of planning to get a sample pool: it’s minutes in some cases.


My guest today has been Garrett Gil de Rubio.  Did I get it right?




A little bit tenuous on that.  How do people get in contact with you?


Our website P2Sample.com.  You can always find me on LinkedIn as well.


Alright, perfect.  And I think that we’re connected on LinkedIn also.  So we’ll be posting this episode specifically for you guys and including all your contact information inside of the show notes.  Thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Excellent.  Thanks for having me.