Happy MR Podcast Podcast Series

Ep. 214 – Phil Ahad – How Toluna is Elevating Product in Market Research

Founded in 2000, Toluna produces online surveys and manages a consumer community of over 24 million active members in 68 countries.

Prior to joining Toluna, Phil Ahad has lead marketing and product strategy teams across many different industries and has held senior level positions at CoStar, AOL and comScore.

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Website: www.toluna-group.com

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Social Media: @happymrxp


This Episode’s Sponsor:

Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace. Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


On Episode 214, I’m interviewing Phil Ahad, EVP of Toluna, but first a word from our sponsor.


Today’s podcast is sponsored by Schlesinger Quantitative, your trusted provider of global online surveys that drive the best decisions for success in the marketplace.  Schlesinger Quantitative has built an entire division of experts with extensive online research experience and an unparalleled understanding of quality drivers across panel, sample, and data.


Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My guest today is Phil Ahad, EVP – Head of Products and Strategy at Toluna. Founded in 2000, Toluna produces online surveys and manages a consumer community of over 24 million active members in 68 countries.  Prior to joining Toluna, Phil has led marketing and product strategy teams across many different industries and has held senior level positions at CoStar, AOL, and Comscore. Thanks very much for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Yep, thanks for having me.  I’m honored.


So, tell me a little bit about your upbringing:  What you parents did, and how that’s informed your career?


So, my parents are immigrants.  I’m a first generation American, I’d say here.  And it’s funny ‘cause like you always hear about these immigrant stories of them coming to the United States with like $18 in their pocket and then them being like these massive successes.  Actually, my family was quite opposite: My dad and his brothers came with a ton of money, and they just blew it on really bad investments or risks, whatever you want to call it, and they had to start all over.  So my family is very entrepreneurial in nature. They hustle; they grind; they’re very educated. And my upbringing was kind of that. I was working with my dad and my mom at their businesses, going to school. It’s kind of lead me to where I am today here at Toluna and leading products and strategy for the group. And I like it because, although we’re a pretty decent size organization, we’re a corporate culture.  We still have the entrepreneurial mindset in everything we do. And that’s why I’m here, and I’m enjoying the work I’m doing.


The starting-over part is really interesting to me especially because, having exited FocusVision, all of a sudden, I’m kind of in a spot now where I’m quite literally starting over, right?  But my parents had a similar situation where they had invested in a small farm. Then, all of a sudden, the value of the produce dropped by, roughly speaking, three-quarters. And after about three years of that, they had, ultimately, they just couldn’t make the payments anymore.  And so, it was a complete reset from a financial perspective which, for me as a kid, you know they helped protect us but family-owned businesses are… The whole family feels it, right? You’re invested in that business along with your family from a work perspective. What kind of core values or lessons learned did you get when they went through that restart process?


Yeah, I mean I was super young, but my parents have always kind of looked…  I call them gamblers, actually; they’re not risk-adverse. They’re always looking for opportunities to either gain an advantage or gain something out of it.  And what I’ve always learned is there is, obviously, risk involved in trying different things. But, if it’s calculated risk and you’ve done the math and you’ve done the work and you work hard at it, it usually does become successful at some point.  So, while they had struggles early on and while they failed in business at start, the value is they learned from those mistakes and then they applied them into other opportunities, which, as a rule, turned into success. I think that’s what I’ve learned.  I’ve never been afraid of diving in, but I’ve always done the legwork upfront to identify the opportunity and see if there’s value in doing it and to see if it fits what I want to do within what I’m passionate about or within what my vision of success looks like and then making that calculated risk and doing that.      


You know you guys were early to the app store, right, at Toluna and in terms of driving mobile innovation.  Can you think of a specific example of how you’ve applied that in the product development side of things within your company?


Yeah, for sure.  That’s one of the things I like about the group that I’m at and the people that I work with.  We’re again… we’re willing to take bets, especially within the industry and especially within R&D, but they’re calculated bets like we’re constantly pulling in specialty experts into the group to give us insights, to give us recommendations on what works.  We’re in tune with our clients and potential clients in terms of their ongoing needs. And when we see maybe a change in behavior or a change in expertise within the market that requires more development, we’re willing to be first in that space. Our behavioral tracking and insights technology is a great example of that.  We saw an opportunity to acquire a company, which was a Nielsen-incubated company, called Crossense, three people who just had a unique technology built at the time and see the value of integrating that technology not just into our app but into our entire end-to-end insights platform to kind of close that gap from just question-and-answer data to be able to provide behavioral track information.  


What is the biggest challenge that you’ve overcome, either personally or professionally?


Good, tough question.  I don’t have one specific biggest challenge.  I think right now in my professional career, being in a global role and managing people across the world within the specific team is kind of like getting in tune to everyone’s different personalities and working styles and then putting people in a situation that can best succeed by doing that.  A person in Chicago is going to work and be a lot different than someone in our R&D office in Haifa, Israel. And how do we mesh this group together so that we’re all working in an effective way and it’s actually all positive environment for everyone involved from start to finish.


Company culture, that’s what you’re talking about, is really driving that innovation mindset?


Yes, absolutely, it’s interesting ‘cause within Toluna and within our group, we’ve got people in finance, people in panel management, scripting teams programming things.  We’ve got in our innovation group – engineering and strategy and product marketing and product development. These are all very different types of people. And when you’re trying to be an innovative company and when you’re trying to drive innovation through an industry, everyone has to kind of buy into this – not just the R&D or the product team but your scripting team and your programming team and your panel management team because that’s the company culture we’re trying to drive from start to finish.  If we were just innovating on one side of the business and forgetting about our 600+ people in operations, who are working in the traditional sense and not leveraging this technology and these agile thoughts, then we wouldn’t really be an innovative company.


So, it sounds like one of the things you’re doing is you’re – I think the term is- “eating your own dog food,” which is still think is a weird way of framing it.  But sounds like you guys are, in some ways, your biggest users, certainly your early adopters of innovation.


Yeah, I mean, it would be tough to go into a major CPG company or even a Nielsen, for example, and say, “Hey, use this platform.  It’s great, but we don’t use it ourselves.” That would make no sense, right? So, we learn a lot from our internal teams ‘cause we’re doing so much research and project work for our clients from a service base.  We use that data to see what can we automate or what can we empower the clients to use themselves one – to reduce the workflow on our specific teams and to automate our internal teams but also to now empower our clients to do it themselves.


I do think that there’s a lot of companies that…  One of the ways of framing it is this founder-market fit.  So, it’s kind of like you experience the pain as the point of innovation and then you solve that pain point, right?  I think a lot of companies, they don’t start at that spot. Instead of thinking about, “Oh, look this is really fancy.  I’m going to go develop this technology and then figure out the problem, where it’s going to fit in the problem set from the customer’s point of view.  Obviously, I’m 100% behind the founder-market fit mentality, where it’s like, “OK, let’s really focus in on where the customer or us specifically are finding that particular pain point and then iterate around that so that we can get the right product to market.”


It’s interesting.   I think if you asked the scripting team, “What feature would have to have in this specific platform?”  They’re going to give you like a 100 different types of scripting features. And you probably would be developing scripting features for the end of time if you were just listening…, right?   ‘Cause one feature that’s used in 1% of all the projects. They may have just used it or it’s just one thing they’d love using but it’s only used really 1% of the time in actual, real-world work.  Like do we really have to automate that? Is that worth investment? Is that worth development? So I think that feedback is important ‘cause it’s kind of like your baseline, right? But the teams that are doing the work today you kind of need to look outside of the market in terms of what are we trying to innovate and solve for.  Today, we’re trying to solve for the time it takes from data collection to action from the user’s standpoint: like insights on-demand. Your scripting team or even your reporting team, they’re not going to give you those answers to figure that out. It needs to be a combination of those two things, and you need to think outside of the day-to-day work to solve that specific problem.        


The feature management side of it, that’s from a product perspective.  That’s so hard to sometimes figure out where do we prioritize our R&D’s so that we’re getting the best business outcome, creating the best user-experience improvements.  How do you guys figure that out? Do you have like a process or is it gut or…?


You asked about my biggest challenges.  Now that you mention… Prioritizing our road maps is one of my biggest ongoing challenges in the group ‘cause we’ve got a pretty large R&D and budget, but we don’t work with unlimited resources and we own technology that encompasses every single aspect of research and data collection from programming the survey itself to identifying the sample to reporting.  We cover it all. So we definitely don’t have a team as big as we need it to be to do everything in the world. So it’s all about use cases, and it’s all about having an in-tune feedback with your clients, and not just what they specifically want to work on but what they want to solve for in terms of their day-to-day work, in terms of insights collection. And we prioritize probably 9just like anyone else prioritizes based on ROI level.  What feature or what solution that we can develop is going to give us the big bang for our buck in terms of an increase in lift usage and then also, obviously, revenue usage.


When we think about different MR careers, these different milestones…  like I have a couple of them. For me, it was when we created the exporting native charts and graphs into PowerPoint directly from the tool.  That was like my big thing. Do you have a favorite project or tool or customer story that you want to highlight?


I got a favorite project specific to Toluna.  And you’d look at it from a revenue and a usage metric, it’d probably be considered to be a really big failure.  We were kind of deep into quick service at that time and were trying, we’re playing catch-up actually in the stage of quick service from a script to a feature functionality.  We’re just loading up the team to close this gap between QuickSurveys and Qualtrics, which we did very quickly. But at the time, “What else can we do?” because even if you’re going to use a DIY tool whether it be QuickSurveys or SurveyMonkey or Qualtrics, that’s still a big effort for the user to build that study.  And we know from just the type of work that we do, 50% + of the market work out there is related in some way to concept testing. And we thought, “How can we automate this from end-to-end?” so that the technology can do most of the heavy lifting and now the user is going to get the data in real time and be able to act a lot faster and sooner.  The first test project we did, ‘cause we weren’t quite ready for concept testing at this time, (it’s like almost seven years ago now), was we just did it on positioning (positioning and A&U) because it was just an easy questionnaire. And we set it up in the quick service platform where you’re just telling it what you want to test: “I want to do a position test on X, Y, and Z and I want millennials to get the response.”  And then the system from then on will take it, build the survey automatically, and launch it to the appropriate audience in less than 24 hours, give you final dashboards, and insights, not data, but insights on what one NY with statistical significance on a variety of demographics and groups. Like to me, that was super cool and was, actually, one of the coolest things we could demo at the time. We didn’t sell a lot of this specific module ‘cause position testing wasn’t that big within our client set.  We sold a ton of QuickSurveys work off of the back of it, and it led to us being able to eventually launch a full end-to-end concept testing module. For me, that was just like a really cool testing initiative. The kind of bet that we made if we can automate this, would it lead to the foundation of a really good concept-testing platform? And would that be successful in the market? And both of those have been proven true.


Yeah, that’s great.   And QuickSurveys is a separate brand that is underneath the umbrella brand of Toluna, I think.  Is that right?


Yeah, so QuickSurveys is our survey engine platform.  So it integrates the Toluna panel. It’s a survey tool; it’s also a reporting platform.       


Like there’s been a rise…  Research automation – oh my gosh – if I had a nickel every time I heard that, we’d be doing fine, right?  We’ve been doing research automation since the inception of our careers at the end of the day. In a lot of ways, that’s exactly what online research is; it’s a much better way ‘cause you can automate the steps of pencil and paper and mall intercepts.  When you think about the marketplace, it’s become really crowded lately, it seems like lately, with research automation tools and, of course, I’ll pick on Zappi ‘cause they kind of sit right in that sweet spot. Is QuickSurveys, would you view them as a competitor or would you see it more as a SurveyMonkey?  


So, I think within our automated modules like the one I just explained, it’s a direct competitor to what Zappi has.  I don’t consider QuickSurveys as survey tool like a SurveyMonkey because, to be honest, you mentioned this space getting crowded, there is probably two dozen survey tools out there, and really they’re all really good, right?  I mean there’s no shortage of good survey tools out there, right? What I think makes us unique in this space today is the integrated, seamless access to panel. Although with SurveyMonkey, you can access the network of panel, but that still takes time, right?  QuickSurveys allows us the way that the product platform is positioned, the technology was been integrated into it. It allows up to kind of push real-time insights. There are very few products and platforms out there that you can from a DIY standpoint go on there and build and within one hour have a completed project with insights into it.  And that’s really the mission that we’re putting forth into it. And also, it’s a global product. It’s available on 68 different markets from a panel access point of view. So, I don’t really think that SurveyMonkey is direct competition because it plays in kind of a little bit of everything. You can also procure just sample and panel through the platform.  And then you can do either full-service, custom research or pick one of these automated modules.


We’ve seen a lot of transitions, you know, speaking of change, research automation, of course, being the fairly recent buzz.  You had AI, block chain last year was insanely popular and literally maybe there are two or three companies in the space that have persisted in the last 12 months.  But what do you see as the role of insights in a modern brand and how has that changed over the last five years?


In a modern brand, I think it’s changed significantly.  The reliance five years ago was heavy on the market research consulting space.  Now these companies have built out research companies within them, within their consumer insights groups.  You take some of the larger CPG firms out there; they’re employing 200+ researchers in that team. That’s a huge research company right now, right?  So I think it’s moving into these companies as a function and a core function of their corporate strategy. And I think it’s on us as an industry to empower them in multiple ways.  Empower them (1) with the ability to DIY if they want to get access to the platform, to get access to panel, and access to data in the easiest and fastest way possible. But I think it’s really important even if these companies are trying to be as self-sufficient as possible, they’re still going to need some help in some cases.  They’re still going to need some help on research methodology; they’re going send some resource help on programming and analysis. And the companies that can offer both are the companies that are going to survive in the space, and they’re going to grow. Our biggest growth area right now is what we call this ADIY model where it’s a hybrid.  When the client wants the fully DIY, great, they can take the full cost benefit of that and DIY. But when they need help, they can tap into our global operations team, and we can support that business too.


Yeah, that’s actually something…  I was at MRMW in Cincinnati, really good but small trade show or event, and I interviewed an insights professional at Georgia Pacific.  She was talking about how the role of partnership has really been evolving in the last year really. She sees partners… You know it used to be the case that they would just outsource everything, project wholesale, and now they’re pulling more and more of the actual function into a DIY.  But then they’ll still be spending a lot with a partner; it’s just more on the analytics, activation of the insights, that sort of thing. Are you seeing that trend inside of your business?


Yeah, absolutely.  I think if you ask…  Let’s try to frame this in a way…  If you take a large CPG and you ask their C-level team, they’re going to tell you, “We want to take on as much as possible because they see an absolute cost benefit to doing that.” There’s no surprise, right?  But when you start to dig down into the specific groups and the projects they’re specifically working on, in some cases, it actually makes a lot of sense to outsource it. And not just from a cost standpoint too but just from a, “I want to get an external opinion on this,” as opposed to maybe a potentially a biased opinion within my own internal team.  And so, we see a combination of both at work.


That is a really good point.  I think that the utilization of kind of the unbiased point of view is a great reason why you’d want to use a partner to soup-to-nuts the research.  You know the other thing that I’ve seen at a macro-level as we go through these contractions and growth stages at a global economic level… As the growth stage that we’ve largely been in; it might be arguable but we’ve been in a consistent up stage since 2009, you see the brands invest more and more in internal operations and then during the contracting times, it’s unfortunate but that’s when the cost-cutting measures come into play and research, of course, is early in that priority set, in which case now, all of a sudden, a lot more work winds up getting outsourced.  So, with respect to Toluna, are you guys seeing that kind of behavior because you guys have such a… So, 2000, you guys started; so, it’s the same kind of point of view that I have. Are you guys seeing that same kind of economic trend or brand trend inside of inside of the economic climate?


Maybe not exactly.  The trends that we’re seeing is, it’s not like a one model fits all, especially for projects not just for specific companies. Even within a group, one specific model doesn’t necessarily fit all the work that they’re trying to do.  So it’s really tough. We’re seeing good traction from a DIY standpoint, and we’re still seeing really healthy traction from a fully serviced standpoint. But the most attractive offering within our stack is this hybrid approach where the client, if they can DIY, then great, they will.  But when they need to tap into our resources, they do, and we’re more than willing to help. We’re doing the same work on the same platform too. So the deliverables are all the same; it’s all seamless; all your data is in one single source too. So it doesn’t matter if we’re going to do it for you or you’re going to do it yourself. You’re still access the data the same way.  So I think that also helps within the process.


Are the brands investing more these days in data accessibility and visibility?  
Are they putting dollars there from your point of view?  Almost like I’m seeing surgence whether it’s KnowledgeHound or mTAB or whatever.  It feels like there’s more than a couple of companies that have been entering and growing in this space that are really centric to that…  At the corporate level, I want to do, let’s say, a NPS study. Then I can use these tools to access that, see if that’s already being done inside of our ecosystem.  Is that something you guys are seeing as a growth space?


Absolutely.  I think it’s one of the critical things that’s in this space today.  Just think about how much data a company like P & G going to have on soup or packaging of soup, right?  Or anything, right? So the ability not only to just mine through the data and get specific data points that you need in as fast a way as possible, but also you can compile all these specific data sources to tell a story from it too.  Your KnowledgeHound is a great example. We’ve worked with it quite a bit too. Something as simple as a search function for all the data that you run through your simple is a very usable function. To look back in time for trended information or to frame out the next study that you want to push off because of that.  So I think the way we organize our data and we allow people to consume that data in the fastest way possible is going to be a critical function, or is a critical function today just because how much data people have.


You guys have built, obviously, best-in-class technology, but then all at the same time, you’ve also acquired technology to do things.  So how do you make those trade-offs as to “Should we build it?” or “Should we buy it”?


I think it’s pretty simple, honestly.  It depends on, obviously, when you’re going to acquire the company, what stage that company is in.  If it’s a unique asset and if it’s pre-revenue because we are an R&D group ourselves, that’s a very nice acquisition for us ‘cause then we can integrate it into our technology just get it to market, right?  Not a lot of companies can have the ability to have the groups to be able to do that. So for me, it’s a cost model. How much would it cost us to develop and actually how long will it take? Then within the length of time it takes you to develop, you’ve got to add in lost revenue.  So combining that value together versus the acquisition of the asset is just simple math then. The tough part from us, not tough, but the part you really have to dig into is how much of what this company claims they can do is real, especially if it’s pre-market.


Is there a technology stack that you like better than others?  


Not necessarily.  I think in the game today from a research and consumer standpoint, there’s not a lot of end-to-end platforms.  There are a lot of very niche products and solutions that target automation of sampling or target reporting. You mentioned KnowledgeHound, which is a really good one too or Vox Pop from a video standpoint.  I think the space today for us within research is exciting because there is so many new niche players and products out there. But if you really compare consumer insights and market research technology, we’re probably really behind the rest of the world in a lot of different things, which is why you’re seeing this acceleration over the last few years.  I forecast it to significantly increase over the next few years. There’s going to be a lot more entrance in this space, and the acquisition of Qualtrics only makes it more obvious ‘cause now there’s real significant money behind some of these technology companies.


Yeah, it’s so funny.  So the number of companies that are moving to market research is way higher than it was even a year ago.  So, I’m seeing companies in ad and martech spaces saying, “Yeah, that’s fine but we really want to focus on market research”, which is really funny like a year ago ‘cause nobody would have made that transition.


I think though the technology players in this space have done a really good job actually in making research methodology easier for the DIY user to do ‘cause back in time, your IP was your methodology, like how you frame that concept testing was the technology at the time.  And today, anyone can use it because we’ve integrated the methodology into the technology. Now you’re just saying, ‘”I want to do this concept test. Here are my concepts. Tell me what one.” Now that the methodology is not the barrier to entry or making it so expensive to conduct research, there’s going to be a lot more entrance from a technology standpoint.  I think it’s going to accelerate significantly.


That’s going to be really fun to watch.  IIEX definitely had more exhibitors this time than they have in the past.  There was maybe five or ten that I just never heard of before, which a fairly large number.  The qualitative seems like it’s becoming a little bit more visible in the space. Is that something you guys are seeing?   


Yeah, absolutely.  I think if you’re just doing survey work or just pulling quant data, you just getting one picture of either that consumer process or the journey or whatever it is.  Multiple different sources of data – quant, or qual, or behavioral tracking – you need it now to paint a full picture of that consumer journey or that consumer process.  So, again, to me, it’s kind of like a simple story within research. It used to be really, really expensive to do any type of qualitative study or focus group, and now with the leverage of technology and be able to do this stuff online, it’s not, and it’s much easier.  We’ve launched a… we call it like a pop-up community technology within QuickSurvey called QuickCommunities. It literally just allows you to have an online qual chat focus group in real time on the back-end of a survey or to recruit from a survey. And you’re recruiting directly from Toluna.  This is one of our fastest growing products we’ve ever launched. We launched last year, and it’s been great because there’s a real need for some more qualitative research.


Who’s your buyer?  It is on the agency side?  Is it on the brand side? Obviously, you’re doing business in both realms.  And then where do they sit inside of the org chart?


Obviously, market research and agencies are a big part of the work that we do whether we’re selling them sample or services or even licensing technology.  We work direct with the brands, of course, too. Most of those people sit either in the consumer insights group, some in the marketing group, and some in the pod teams.


So, AI was something we’ve talked a lot about and we’ve all been seeing it grow.  We haven’t talked a lot about virtual reality, augmented reality, and voice as a kind of forward tech.  Now 5G, I think, has recently launched, and that has a lot of potential, every potential to impact us from an accessibility to real AI…sorry augmented reality (I’m getting my acronyms now completely screwed up) but anyway.  So, do you see those technologies impacting research? What’s going to be different in our space in five years?


Five years is tough to predict.  It’s no surprise to anyone in this space, but it’s getting harder and harder to get people to take long surveys or answer questions, in general.  So I think as an industry, we need to become really more creative in how we’re going to collect insights from the consumers or from anyone who’s willing to provide them.  But we’ve got to make it more engaging, and it’s got to be less of an effort for that person. And that’s why testing things within smart devices in the home so that you’re able to do question/answer instead of a desktop or a phone device but you’re able to do it verbally through that device.  That’s another option too. Be able to behavioral track a lot of the profiling information so that you’re not asking screener questions or a ton of like… I’ve seen some surveys that got 20 profiling questions just to lead up to the information they want to get. That’s a terrible experience for the panelist; it’s also a waste of time and money for the people conducting the work.  So, I mean, for us in this space, we’re always looking at ways to get people to engage… to get the panelist to engage better with us but also for a longer period of time. And I think finding ways to change that panel engagement behavior is going to be critical to it.


So, you guys are sitting in this interesting spot inside of the industry because you’ve, obviously, been around a long time; you’re one of the top brands in market research from an insights perspective, highly respected; and you have a broad swatch of customers.  What are you seeing as the biggest issue that’s facing market researchers?


I really think that we’re getting to a point where making sense of just the large amount of data we have is becoming more of a challenge. ‘Cause you’re getting it from so many different sources too.  And being able to quickly aggregate that information and making a story out of it is one of our biggest challenges, putting aside just getting people to give you high quality information. But once you do get all of this behavioral track information, quantitative information, qualitative information…  Then you got DMP data, segmentation data, social information. Painting a story and a picture without getting drowned in data is one of our biggest challenges, I feel, and how we can create technologies and tools and solutions to be able to cut through data and give you at least a summary point to start with and then allows you easily through technology to drill down to specific pockets of the data so you can build your business or change your model, or change your marketing program off of that.  


In my interview with Marian, VP of Insights at Microsoft, she was talking about how they used to… in the old days, they would present (I hate saying “old days.”  I always feel so old.), they would present data that was like, “OK, here’s my survey results.” But now it’s like you have to have at least three other data sources to create the context of the insights so that it can be understood against the business problem that they’re trying to address.         


Yeah, I mean researchers today and anyone in the insights profession today, they’re a storyteller.  They’ve got to tell you a “What,” “Why,” and now “What’s going to happen” type of scenario so that that can be digested and acted upon.  I think the days of delivering data is really over, right? You can say data is a commodity. Data is everywhere; there’s no lack of data in the space.  But how you take that data and build actual insights and results out of it is critical.


When you think about the bets that you’re going to play (I don’t know how much you can divulge), where do you see Toluna placing bets over the next couple of years?  Is it on…? And it’s OK if you don’t want to answer the question. Is it on insight aggregation or…?


Right now, I’m so focused on 2019 and if I can recall the things I’m doing right now.  I still think that consumers are just moving so… consumer sentiment just moves so fast today.  You’ll get a notion on how your brand or product is performing through social media faster than anything these days.  So if we’re not able to provide insights as fast as possible, not just from like while the project is in the field and collecting responses from people but like from the idea where the question or issue has come up to insights that’s really what we’re focused on right now is providing insights as fast as possible, faster than the market can move so that our client can react quickly and react effectively.  How that evolves… I mean we’re in the thick of this right now; the whole market is actually in the thick of this right now. How this evolves in the future with all the new data sources that are coming up and all the focus on automation and the evolution of mobile and how you engage with consumers in the future – there’s so much that we’re working on. I’m not really keen to…


So, a subset of our audience is… are people that are moving into the market research space. So, that kind of like gets to one of my questions, standard question.  What do you see as the three characteristics of an All-Star employee?


I mean for us I look for really three things, three specific things.  One is how agile are you to changing, let’s call it, goals or methodology or targets within the space because technology is changing very quickly and, as a result, methodology is changing very quickly.  Just because you’ve done something a certain way over the past x-amount of years, doesn’t make it relevant moving forward. So we’re looking for agile people. I’m always looking for really creative people ‘cause as the market changes, our clients’ needs change.  How you’re creative in getting the work done is going to be critical because, you know… The one answer I really get annoyed with hearing is, especially when we’re trying to automate or innovate, is “because we’ve always done it this way.” That means absolutely nothing to me, and that means absolutely nothing in the future.  And then I think in the world that we live in today, it’s really important to find honest and genuine people. So that’s a critical culture thing for me and the group just to have people that are on the same mindsets in terms of what their goals are, how driven they are in terms of getting there, and what they’re willing to do to get there.


Yeah, I think this honesty thing is…  We’ve all said it for our whole lives, right?  Being honest is really important, but I’ve been seeing just a fundamental ownership around this issue of trust, and how we need, as handlers of data and really the importance of making sure that we’re doing a perfect job.  And you seeing that right now. I mean getting institutionalized with GDRP or whatever. Now California has their own variant of that. Data handling and privacy and that kind of thing. So if you can address that at a core value perspective inside of the organization, it’ll go a long ways in installing best practices throughout the company and in deliverable to the customers.       


In research, inequalities – that’s a consistent thing that’s questioned.  So, I mean I totally agree with you too. Especially in the world we are today, if you can’t trust the data that you’re not just paying for but you’re using to make business decisions on, that’s the first thing of research is how can we make this data (1) more reliable but of the highest quality.  


Yeah, that could be a big problem at that level.  And you guys sit in this interesting spot owning all those assets, kind of the full ecosystem point of view.  And then the bets you’re making on the qualitative side, I think, is actually pretty interesting also. I’m really hung up on qualitative as a growth engine.  I really think there’s going to be a lot more. Does Toluna do a lot in the way of managed communities?


Yeah, that’s where we started.  So, we started with our own panel community.  We’ve built a technology specifically for ourselves.  Then we ended up packaging it to clients. And that’s kind of grew into, you know, you need a survey engine; you need a reporting engine; and then now you need behavioral data into it.  That’s kind of where we started.


Are there technology platforms that you look at and you’re like, “That’s a good…”  You mentioned KnowledgeHound, and you also mentioned Voxpopme. Are there others like that you like say,  “That’s an interesting company that I’d like to partner with”? I guess that’s the question. I have a follow-up.        


Yeah, I mean I’m constantly looking at new and emerging technology and products.  I think those two are pretty well known especially within our space. Kristy and Dave do a good job of getting around too.  But there’s nothing yet that I’ve seen that’s surprising or blowing us away specifically. I think the ones that, especially the ones that are pre-market, are the ones that are most interesting and that’s tough to comment on right now.  


Yeah, I hear you.  Tell me what is your personal motto.


I don’t know.   I don’t think I really have one.  I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  But I’m just like, “Let’s just figure out a way and get it done, right?”


Love it.  My guest today has been Phil, the EVP – Head of Products and Strategy at Toluna.  Thank you, sir, very much for joining me today on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Thank you.  I appreciate it.  


And if somebody wants to get in contact with either Phil or Toluna, that information will be included in the show notes.  

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