Welcome to the CRC 2021 Highlights Series. Recorded live in Dallas, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors, speakers and attendees at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Edward Staples, Senior Director of Business Development at Prodege.
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Jamin Brazil: Hey everyone. I’m with Edward Staples, senior director of Client Success at Prodege. Of course, I could probably pitch Prodege as well as anybody, but I’m going to let him do that. Tell us a little bit about the business.
Edward Staples: Thanks, Jamin. I appreciate the opportunity to do so. You could probably do at least as good a job as I could, but I’ll give you what I like to tell to clients and I do it with excitement because I’m a genuine believer in the Prodege brand. I guess if we’re known for anything it’s that we have the largest proprietary panel of consumers in the industry. You’ve got 120 million people within the Prodege ecosystem that are available for survey taking, we also have behavioral data on them. So we’re a great way to connect with the right consumers. More than anything, that’s what we’re known for. And we also do a number of other operational support things for our clients. So we program and hosts surveys, we consult on those. We do translations, we do this all over the globe, delivery of data, delivery of data visualization. So soup to nuts, stem to stern support, but always it starts with those consumers that we can get people in touch with.
Jamin Brazil: And the consumer is really the asset. Fraud rates have never been higher, especially on the open exchanges. 35 to 40% is the current amount, which is creating this environment of oversampling is kind of the new normal. Which, listen I’m- this is- I’m not in a hurry to try and put [INAUDIBLE sounds like: cast aside] – but I’m just saying categorically, this is sort of the issue that we’re dealing with. How are you guys dealing with fraud prevention?
Edward Staples: I love that question. I have a theory that if somebody says great question, it’s because you’re asking the question they wanted you to ask, because it plays to a strength.
Jamin Brazil: I do that. By the way, this is not a sales pitch. I genuinely care about the answer to the question.
Edward Staples: Totally, this wasn’t a setup. But it’s a good question and it’s very important to us because we are a proprietary panel and there’s not a ton of those that are still left. And we feel like this matters a lot to the quality of the respondent and therefore of the data, and therefore of the business recommendation you’re going to make your end client. At the end of the day, I’m not going to design a multimillion dollar Super Bowl commercial based on the answers from a thousand bots that are coming in from some survey farm. And I think Jamin, you’re referring to this year, especially there’s been an influx of these fake respondents, some bots, some actual human beings pretending to be Sally from the Midwest and John from the East coast or what have you. There’s some things we’ve been doing all along that are important to keeping fraud rates down. We have the tools that you would hope a company would have in place, double opt in verification, identity verification, mobile device verification, those kind of things. We work with Imperium. So all the boxes are checked off. One of the important things is our respondents can’t touch a client survey for weeks and I won’t say how many weeks, because that’s sort of the secret sauce, but for weeks, until we’ve gone through a lot of surveys that test their quality, that weed people out.
Jamin Brazil: So you have a vetting in place?
Edward Staples: Yes. Exactly.
Jamin Brazil: Super interesting. Cross referencing. That’s an interesting solution to the problem. That would be hard for a bot to kind of cross reference.
Edward Staples: And it allows us to build up those profiles on people while we’re doing that. So it’s sort of a winning.
Jamin Brazil: More expensive on-boarding right?
Edward Staples: Yes.
Jamin Brazil: Because I assume there’s some little bit incentivization for participants?
Edward Staples: Yes. That’s true. If people are answering surveys, they’re earning points in our panel currency and it’s true, it’s a more expensive way of maintaining things, as well as throughout the tenure of their relationship, we’re testing their qualities. We’re listening to our clients to see how are the open-end quality, what- is anybody straight lining, that sort of thing. On the other hand though, I think one of the things I like about Prodege is there’s so many ways that we engage our members. So they sign up and they can take surveys, but they’re also doing a lot of the things they were organically doing online anyway and engaging with our brand. So for instance, they- I did all my Christmas shopping last year online, me and everybody else, and all of the companies that I bought from were partners to Prodege. So Walmart and Target and eBay and Amazon and Sephora, but I could literally name you 1,000 other brands and I get points back, because I shopped online with those companies. But I could do other things, like if I’ve got a fully charged cell phone, maybe I’m playing a game, maybe I’m watching a video, maybe I’m trying a product, maybe I’m- what have you, these are other ways in which I’m getting points. So we have a very engaged membership. They stay with us for a very long time. We literally have people that have been on our panel for over a decade, which blows my mind.
Jamin Brazil: And that is an interesting unique point, because panel churn is particularly high right now. And that’s largely, I think a function of the botification. They get caught, they get out?
Edward Staples: Right, exactly.
Jamin Brazil: And also poor engagement- or poor incentive. It’s almost like a comp- participants, real humans they actually care about-. There’s only a certain amount of reasons why you participate in surveys and let’s be honest, like TikTok is a million times more fun than any survey you’re going to feed me. There’s way better ways for me to entertain myself. So you either care about the category, which in most managed panels, the participant isn’t exposed to the category, because that would create some initial bias of sampling. And then another reason is you care about the incentive and we’re doing as a general- the CPIs are so low right now, ridiculously low. You can’t imagine very much money is actually going to the individual.
Edward Staples: It’s not a way to make a living for sure. And you’ll get requests from people that want high investible assets, super high income and are they available online, maybe, but are they going to talk to you for 15 minutes for 50 cents, definitely not. That doesn’t get you there.
Jamin Brazil: So this is an interesting point where I think buyers just need to wake up. The- now you don’t need to agree with anything I’m going to say, because it’s maybe controversial, but it’s such that we think-. So a high end motor company, automotive company, they wanted to hire us to do some recruiting for some interviews. And it was like $200 recruit fee, not in the incentive, just the recruit fee. And they’re like, gosh, that seems like a lot of money. I know they said, whatever the IRR is, etc. And I’m like, I got to recruit these people in a digital context and they’re thinking about buying an X- spending a hundred plus thousand dollars on an automobile in the next three months. So for that recruit, I got to compete with all of your competitors and you for their time and attention. And how much are you going to spend on getting in front of them for 30 minutes. And they’re like, we’re going to spend, well, exactly.
Edward Staples: It’s important to understand that. And it’s the sort of- it’s the compliment to what our clients are doing. So I know that my clients are being very careful to keep that consumer hat on. So if my client’s watching an advertisement, they’re looking at it in the same way they would if they didn’t work in the industry. And trying to understand, does this motivate me, do I remember the brand, that sort of thing. So in the panel world, I’m trying to think, why would I take the survey, would I take this survey. Would I- how am I going to feel if I spend 10 minutes and then I get disqualified out of the survey, things like that.
Jamin Brazil: I love that. Super [CROSSTALK] humanization of it.
Edward Staples: Important to quality, but proprietary is important, I think just because I like to use this little analogy. So do you want to talk to somebody who we’ve quality screened and profiled for years and we know a lot about their behavioral data, we’ve got receipts. Or do you want somebody who’s in the middle of an online poker game and they need 50 points to get to the next hand. And would you like to take a survey and which type of medicine do you practice, is the first question they get.
Jamin Brazil: All of them.
Edward Staples: Or a brain surgery. How hard could it be.
Jamin Brazil: Just, everybody you just need to pause for a second and think about what he just said, because it’s the predominant way that recruiting is done and is through paywalls. And paywalls are- this is a really good example of like, there’s an interruption to something that I’m doing right now online and I want to continue to do that thing. I need that pig for my Farmville or whatever and now I’ve got- I’m forced to help that application or platform monetize me. And so surveys are- have become a natural way for that monetization experience to take place. So that is the framework of the participant. Now, what’s interesting about that participant is they might actually go through that thinking right about your poker game example. They might actually go through two or three surveys before they qualify, so they can actually get into the poker game again. So their motivation is not around an incentive or a value. Their motivation is to get to the next hand in poker. And that really- we just have to be honest with the sample sourcing of the industry right now. And there’s hundreds of companies that that is their sole point of origin of participants.
Edward Staples: 100%, I couldn’t agree more. It’s like you’re reading my own marketing materials, so 100%.
Jamin Brazil: That’s a big problem. We’re going to move on. We’re in-person here in Dallas. How’s that going for you?
Edward Staples: I love it. So I’m in a business development role and it’s not just talking the talk, the best part of what I do is get in front of people and meeting them and having face to face conversations. Zoom has been a nice, I don’t know, an appetizer if you will, but it’s not the same. So it’s great, and it’s been interesting to me because, so I went to The Quirks Event in Chicago and that was like masks on from the second you went into the venue, they never came off. You- it was like being at a conference of super villains. Like, I don’t really know your identity, but I can see your eyes.
Jamin Brazil: I would have said heroes, but that’s fine. Either way.
Edward Staples: Maybe I’m revealing a little bit about myself. But here in Texas, it’s masked off, I’d say 95%. So that’s interesting.
Jamin Brazil: It’s mask optional.
Edward Staples: Which in a lot of settings means no masks or very few. I’m fine with however people want to do it. If I feel like I want to wear a mask, I’ll just wear a mask. What’s important, I think is that we’re not just individuals, we’re social creatures. We’re meant to be circulating in groups of people. So I think it’s great. I’m very glad that my industry is so supportive of the idea of trying to get us back together again.
Jamin Brazil: We’re definitely a human industry representing humans to humans, which is a fun place for us to be able to sit. A lot has changed in 2020 and 21. What do you see post pandemic as a trend that’ll carry us into 2022?
Edward Staples: I’ll skip over the soft ball answer being, Zoom and that kind of way of contacting people. Bravo, Zoom, glad I had stock in you before this all started.
Jamin Brazil: Congratulations.
Edward Staples: It’s a rare win for me in that market. But what I see happening in the industry are- is a couple of things that are important. The growth of behavioral data as a method of targeting and it is certainly an area in which Prodege is in investing very heavily. We’ve got an awesome team that’s building up our receipt capture data, our clickstream data, our geo-fencing for geolocation data, plus all of the other things that I mentioned, ways in which we engage our membership, create data points for us. The ability for us to say, hey, I know you’ve got a client in there, whoever, you name it, P&G Johnson & Johnson, whatever. I can find you people who I can validate have purchased a- their product or in their category or their competitor or whatnot. People go bananas for that and clients I’ve heard love that. So it’s exciting to me. That’s one thing. And then the other thing is the evolution of DIY tools. Back in the day, there were a lot of tools and they’d be, here’s your cost for licensing the tool and how many members you have, because we got to charge you for how many people sit there and lah-de-dah, but that’s not acceptable anymore. I think table stakes right now is to have a powerhouse DIY tool and not just here’s your license, good luck. It’s got to have that backend support. And of course I’m playing to our strength too a bit here as well, we have our own DIY tool that allows people the ability to, I just want to get sample, or I want to get sample, I want to program a survey or I want to do those and I want to have data visualization, that kind of thing. I’m here with my colleague Kelly Kitchens, who’s helping drive the development of this product. And one of the things I’m excited about at Prodege is- I’ve been in the industry for, I don’t know, 16 years. And I’ve worked for companies that have had product development attempts and then the following year, you’re like, I’m not selling that anymore, or we’re not supporting that anymore.
Jamin Brazil: Part of the problem is, developing really good product is hard and it’s usually like, software companies are software companies and sample companies are sample companies. It’s like a DNA difference with how they’re- how that happens. It’s rare that you see a company that’s on the sampling slash services side that’s able to actually make that- close that gap and become a software company.
Edward Staples: 100% and vice versa. I’ve seen companies that have said like, we have a panel of X million people, and I’m like, you mean you’ve had X million people download your app. And they’re like, why what’s the difference. And I think an advantage is that our headquarters, our mothership, if you will, is in Los Angeles. So you throw a paper airplane, you’re going to hit a software developer, so that doesn’t hurt. But the team that’s been working on developing that and I think a little bit of the magic is that the tool that we’re offering to our clients is the same tool we’re using in-house.
Jamin Brazil: That helps.
Edward Staples: It gets a lot of attention, as you can imagine. So it sounds like I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but I I’ve been so excited to be here. But you can’t succeed if you don’t believe in it. I can tell that you have that same, that excitement, your eyes light up when you’re talking about what you’re doing. And same here, you can see it in somebody’s eyes if they’re just reading the script. But I’ve been here for a little over three years at Prodege and-.
Jamin Brazil: So you see really software as a- or maybe automation, DIY as a trend, that’ll move through 2022?
Edward Staples: Yeah. My clients are being challenged with the idea of, hey, you’ve got to be scrappy and you can’t spend too much money, but we’re going to give you more work because we can’t backfill an employee. So now what do you do if you’re that researcher.
Jamin Brazil: More DIY.
Edward Staples: Yeah. More DIY and more options and knowing that you have support.
Jamin Brazil: Ed Staples, Prodege, MR thank you for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast.
Edward Staples: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.