Today I’m joined by John Dick, Founder and CEO of Civic Science.
Founded in 2007, Civic Science is a consumer intelligence research platform that polls millions of Americans each week covering thousands of topics. Their proprietary InsightStore analyzes the responses so decision-makers can discover the market and cultural trends.
There are a few things that are very interesting about Civic Science that you may not know.
First, they have a “whos who” set of investors including Jeff Wilkie of Amazon, Thomas Tall, founder of Legendary Entertainment, NPD Group, and Marc Cuban.
Second, you will find them referenced daily in nearly every credible news source from the Wall Street Journal to daily blogs.
Find John Online:
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- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch
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- Website: www.happymr.com
- “Clap Along” by Auditionauti: https://audionautix.com
- “As It Was” by Harry Styles: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5v3kku4y6Q
- Millennials at work by PWC: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/documents/millennials-at-work.pdf
- The Science Behind Social Media’s Hold on Our Mental Health BY BRITTNEY MCNAMARA: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/the-science-behind-social-medias-hold-on-our-mental-health
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Today is May 9th, 2022. Happy Monday!
You’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil, your host.
Support for the Happy Market Research Podcast and the following message comes from Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program & HubUX.
This is episode 552. And, today, according to Spotify, Harry Styles’ “As It Was” is the number one song in the US.
I love how the music review site, pitchfork.com put it, “If Styles’ last record was about having sex and feeling sad, “As It Was” seems to be about having sex, feeling sad, then getting over it.”
Alright, let’s make this a kick ass day!
Today I’m going to cover the topic of managing employees, specifically Gen Z. This is the first of a two part series on the topic.
To start, let me be honest with you…I’m not perfect and am still figuring this out. So, feedback is welcome and appreciated!
Let’s start with a sclesious statement. If you are a Gen Xer, that is 42 to 57 years old, then you recall the disruption to the hiring, training and engaging of Millennials as they entered the workforce.
A whitepaper published in Novermber 2011 by PWC said, “The millennial generation, now entering employment, will reshape the world of work.”
And they did.
The risk management group Thomas McGee said, “As young professionals, they look for processes, documentation, and recruitment language as evidence of a commitment to workplace safety.”
One great example is how UPS adopted VR for driver safety training. The package delivery company has its drivers practicing avoiding road hazards while on simulated city streets. The VR training modules replaced the touchscreen devices UPS had used for years.
The PWC report started out on the right foot by answering the question, “Why Millennials Matter”. It then covered how Millennials are different from their predecessors. Some examples:
- Importance of work and life balance
- Faster advancement
- Importance of corporate responsibilitiy
Let’s follow that framework.
Why Gen Z Matters
As Gen Z joins the workforce, their income is predicted to rise more than fivefold to $33 trillion by 2030 and they are predicted to make up about 27% of the workforce by 2025.
But, even more surprising, their income is expected to exceed that of Millennials by 2031.
So, if you are a band or employer, you have to care.
Gen Z Differences
At HubUX, I launched a survey using our panel asking multiple generations, “Why do they use social media”. Some of the results surprised me.
Gen Z is far more likely to use social media as a way to “entertain themselves when they are board” as well as “make friends” than any other generation.
Meanwhile, Millennials and Gen X are far more likely to use social media to interact with family.
You can find some of the data in the show notes.
According to our participants, Gen Z is spending far longer on social media than other generations. Infact, according to our survey, Gen Z spends about 5 hours a day just on social which is two and a half times longer than older generations.
Why is this important for employers?
According to Brittney McNamara, a blogger at Teen Vogue, there is a lot of science behind how social has a hold on our mental health.
Brittney boldly states, “This is a problem probably as big as climate change.”
Why is it a problem? Brittney goes on to say, social media is basically a slot machine. As you scroll, you look for that thing that’ll get you the dopamine release. And, like all drugs, the more you scroll the harder it is to get that dopanie release.
Additionally, the dopamine release you get from social media is far greater than that of inperson interactions. This enforces spending time on social media over other forms of interaction like in-person.
Please note, social platforms are not addictive by accident, they are addictive by design. It is simple economics. And, unless major social platforms like Meta (which has 97.8% of its revenue coming from ads) changes their terms of trade..then the primary objective of these platforms will continue to increase users’ time on platform.
Obviously, this is a bigger problem than I’m capable or qualified to address. And, is outside of the scope of this episode.
But it is relevant because social media has impacted our expectation for feedback. Feedback on social comes instantly. Users post some content from how they are feeling to an S&L quality sketch. That content is instantly available for over 3 billion people’s feedback and serves as attention and validation.
So, how does this relate to work? Because, the ideal work environment will try and mirror a similar feedback cadence.
Creating a Culture of Faster Feedback
Slack: Emojis + Gifs
Slack is an easy first step. When someone posts an idea or update, it takes only a moment to use an emoji as a way for quick response. You can even go further and codify your emoji usage. For example, a clock might mean “I’ll get back to you in an hour”. Using emoji’s like this can help enforce a unique language for your teams and a better culture.
Gifs are another way to quickly give an engaging response that costs literally nothing in terms of brain power.
OK, next week we’ll talk about how the Gig economy is impacting Gen Z and Employeers. For now, I’m going to turn to my recent interview with John Dick, Founder and CEO of Civic Science.
They have built an up and coming powerhouse in the consumer insights industry. I hope you enjoy our talk.
For Further Consideration
Thank you for listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. I’m Jamin Brazil.
If you’d like to learn more about this show or our sponsors, please check the show notes.
You are always invited to attend the MRxPros’ Virtual Lunch. This is a group of UX, CX, and market researchers that meets every week for 30 minutes to do 3 things: learn one new thing, make one new friend, and have fun.
Happy Researching! 😊
Jamin Brazil: Hey everybody, today is May 9th, 2022, happy Monday. You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast, and I’m Jamin Brazil, your host. Support for the Happy Market Research Podcast and the following message comes from Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program and HubUX. Support for the Happy Market Research Podcast and the following message comes from Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program and HubUX. I’ve done 100s of interviews with today’s top minds in market research, many of them trace their routes to Michigan State’s Marketing Research Program. Are you looking for a higher-paying job to expand your professional network, and to achieve your full potential in the world of market research? Today, the program has tracks for both full-time students and working professionals. They also provide career support assisting students to win today’s most sought-after jobs. In fact, over 80% of Michigan State’s Marketing Research students have accepted job offers six months prior to graduating. If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSMU’s program at broad. msu.edu/marketing. HubUX is a research operations platform for private panel management, qualitative automation including video audition questions and surveys. For a limited time, user seats are free. If you’d like to learn more or create your own account, visit hubux.com. This is episode 552, and today, according to Spotify, Harry Styles’ As It Was is the number one song in the US. I love how the music review site Pitchfork put it, if Styles’ last record was about having sex and feeling sad, As It Was, seems to be about having sex, feeling sad and getting over it. I hope you enjoy the song.
Jamin Brazil: Today I’m going to be covering the topic of managing employees, specifically gen Z. This is the first in a two-part series on this specific topic, to start and let me be completely transparent with you, I am not perfect at managing gen Z, and I’m still figuring it out. In fact, a lot of my hack around this episode is trying to get better at doing exactly this, so feedback from you is much appreciated, and I submit my point of views to you in all humility. Let’s start with a salacious statement. If you are a gen Xer, that is 42 to 57 years old today, then you recall the disruption that happened when millennials entered the workforce. Everything from hiring, training and engaging, quite literally got turned on its head. A white paper that was published in November of 2011 by PwC said that the millennial generation now is entering the employment at such force that they are quite literally reshaping the world of work. And in fact, PwC was absolutely correct, the risk management group Thomas McGee said, as young professionals, they look for process, documentation and recruiting language as evidence of a commitment to workplace safety. One great example is how UPS adopted VR for driver safety training, the package delivery company has its drivers practicing avoiding road hazards while on simulated city streets. The VR headsets, they have this training module that it replaced the touchscreen devices that UPS has used in previous generations. The PwC report that I referenced before, it actually starts out in my opinion on the exact right foot, and that is it answers this question, why millennials matter? The PwC report goes onto cover how millennials are different from their predecessors and there’s four examples that pop up, although there’s many others inside of their published document. You can of course find the link to that in the show notes, the four I want to highlight is loyalty light, importance of work and life balance, faster achievement and importance of corporate responsibility. I’m going to follow the exact same format as the PwC report, I’m going to start out with why gen Z matters, and then we’re going to move into some specific examples of what’s different, and what we need to do in order – or what we can do in order to help facilitate positive exchanges. Gen Z is different, at HubUX, I launched a survey using our panel asking multiple generations this question, why do you use social media? And some of the responses quite literally surprise me, gen Z is far more likely to use social media as a way to entertain themselves when they’re bored and make friends. What I thought was amazing is that I a 51-year-old male, I use social media a lot to entertain myself when I’m line or maybe there’s a commercial on TV or whatever, so I was really surprised that there was such a significant higher amount of gen Zers that say they use social media for that exact purpose. The second thing that stood out to me is that – or stood out in the data is that gen Z is far more likely, significantly more likely to use social media to make friends, whereas millennials and gen Xers like myself, we’re more likely to use social media to interact with family than gen Zers. So you do see generational differences on how and why people are using social media. You can find the exact data tables inside of the show notes if you care, I’m also happy to share the actual raw data with you if you’d like to mess around with it a little bit. According to our participants, gen Z is spending far longer on social media, of course, you’ve already heard the statistic, than any other generation. In fact, according to our survey, gen Z spends about five hours a day just on social media, so they’re spending more time than that on their phones, but five hours a day is being spent on just social media. That is two and a half times longer than our sample pool across every other generation. Why is this important for you as an employer? According to Brittney McNamara, she’s a blogger at Teen Vogue, there is a lot of science behind how social is holding our mental health. Brittney boldly states that this is a problem that is probably as big as climate change. But why is it a problem? Good news, Brittney answers that question, she goes on to say that social media is basically a slot machine, as you scroll, you look for things that create this dopamine release and like all drugs, the more that you scroll, the harder it is to get that dopamine release. Additionally, the dopamine release you get from social media is far greater than that of an in-person interaction, and this just further enforces spending time on social media over other forms of interaction like in person. Now please note that social platforms are addictive by design, not by accident, it is simple economics. And unless major social platforms like Meta, which by the way, it’s – 97.8% of its revenue come from ads, unless they change their terms of trade, then the primary objective of these platforms will continue to be to increase users’ time on platform. Now obviously this is a big problem, we care a lot about it, but it’s a little bit outside of the scope of this particular episode, however, it is very relevant for you as an employer and as a brand, because social media has impact where we are right now and it’s changed the expectations for feedback. Feedback on social, it comes quite literally instantly, and users, they post some content whether it’s some words, or some SNL quality sketch and that content is instantly available for over three billion people’s feedback and it serves as both attention and validation of the users. How does this relate to work? Because the ideal work environment, it will have or try to mirror a similar feedback cadence as what gen Z is experiencing on social. A way that you can do this, a hack that I think is a good way to just kind of experiment with the process is emojis and GIFs inside of Slack. So Slack and of course, all of you use it, it is super easy and all of you know how to use GIFs and emojis, but when somebody posts an idea or an update, it takes only a moment to use an emoji to quickly respond and create validation for that post that someone did, and you can even go further to codify your emoji usage. For example, a clock might mean, I’ll get back to you in an hour, and using emojis like that, they can help enforce a unique language for your teams and that’ll also create a unique culture for your teams. Sort of this insider knowledge or way that you guys are operating. GIFs of course are another way that you give some funny or create some level of engagement at really no cost to brain matter. If you feel that connection to GIFs, then go ahead and use GIFs, but it’s really important that the time of response is as short as possible. And the mechanisms that exist inside of just Slack alone are great to be able to leverage. All right, so next week, we are going to talk about how the gig economy is impacting gen Z and employers. For now, I’m going to turn to a recent interview I did with John Dick, he’s the founder and CEO of CivicScience. They have built an up-and-coming powerhouse in the consumer insights industry and I hope you enjoy our talk. Hey everybody, you are listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’m Jamin Brazil. I am joined today by John Dick, founder and CEO of CivicScience, founded in 2007, CivicScience is a consumer intelligence research platform that pulls millions of Americans every week, covering 1000s of topics. Their proprietary insights store analyzes the responses so decision makers can discover market and cultural trends. They are a few things that are very interesting about CivicScience that you may not know about. First of all, they have a who’s who set of investors, from Jeff Wilke of Amazon, Thomas Tull, founder of Legendary Entertainment, I know all of you have enjoyed his movies – or their moves, APD Group and one of my favorite, Mark Cuban. The second thing is you will find them referenced daily, quite literally daily in nearly every credible news source from the Wall Street Journal to daily blogs. With that, John, it is an honor to have you on the podcast, welcome.
John Dick: Yes, glad to be here, love the podcast, thanks for having me.
Jamin Brazil: Let’s start with some context, tell us a little bit about your parents and how they inform what you do today.
John Dick: Yes my parents, yes, so I grew up in Pittsburgh, a little east of Pittsburgh actually, a little more in the woods, I’m kind of 50% redneck as I like to say, I sort of grew up in the hills of Appalachia, but was super close to my mom and dad, particularly my dad, he was the best man in my wedding. We were very close, he was a – he worked in banking, my mom worked in healthcare, and I wouldn’t say that their careers necessarily informed much, other than I would say my personal relationships with them did, they were incredibly supportive of me taking risks, of me chasing dreams, they weren’t – 20 plus years ago, people of my generation were often steered by their parents toward one word careers, were you a doctor, were you a lawyer, were you a banker? And my parents were incredibly supportive of me doing something different, and just gave me a lot of confidence to know that it was OK to do that and take those risks. When I started up my first company, I was 24 and I did it basically from my parent’s basement, that sort of classic sort of startup story, and yes, they were just – they gave – they were inspiring to me, they also taught me how to treat people, which I think – at least I hope sort of manifests itself in the way that I lead the company, and the team, but yes, they were my inspirations of everything that I do.
Jamin Brazil: Your dad in – coming from a banking background, which is I would put not very entrepreneurial, at least from a broad category, where did you draw inspiration for entrepreneurship?
John Dick: I can’t say that I’m – was – planned to do it my whole life, I wasn’t like the – kids are now like 12, 13 years old want to be entrepreneurs, I was not. I actually was planning at one point pretty much through college to go into law. I wanted to sort of argue in front of the Supreme Court one day, entrepreneurship kind of found me. Shortly after I graduated college, and I was actually working in government at the time just to kind of polish up my resume a bit to get to a better law school, and I had a business idea. And it’s funny because I tried to give the idea away, I went to a few other people I knew that had built successful businesses and said, “Hey, I have this really cool idea, you should do it.” Or “Hey, maybe I’ll come work for you and we’ll build this together.” I had one particular mentor who’s now today one of my dearest friends, said to me, “John, why the hell do you want to go work for someone else?” He said, “You have a great idea, go start a business. I’ll help you do it, if it fails and you need a job, you can always come work here.” And that – I wouldn’t necessarily say that that was inspiration as much as it was sort of a comfort level, I really needed somebody to kind of push me out into the water a bit on it. Again, I would say kind of entrepreneurship sort of found me by way of an idea that I couldn’t shake, as opposed to that it was something that I’d like set out to do my whole life and so I embarked on that. I was, again, super young 24 or so. I didn’t know what I didn’t know and was really lucky. The idea turned out to be actually a good one, in spite of my lack of experience in management, business expertise, but yes, it was – and then once you get the bug for it, once I started to get that feel for what it’s like to build a business and to kind of be your own boss as it were, I can’t ever go back.
Jamin Brazil: You are now unemployable.
John Dick: Correct. Entirely unemployable.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, but there’s a million good ideas out there all the time, in fact, you and I probably have good ideas once a week, maybe even great ideas once a year. What separates really good ideas from successful businesses?
John Dick: It has to actually be a good idea for starters, so I don’t want to gloss over that because I meet people, certainly in the before times, probably once a week I would have coffee with somebody who was, hey, my son’s thinking about starting a company, will you meet with him? Or a student at Carnegie Mellon would reach out and say hey, can I come talk to you about my idea? And quite frankly, half of those coffee meetings, those – they were just terrible ideas, and I’m not the one to tell them that but objectively, I’m like yes, this is a bad idea. There are certain things around product market fit, most importantly is that, is it a real problem that you’re solving? You do not want to be in the business of creating a solution looking for a problem, and there’s just way too much of that out there.
Jamin Brazil: Right.
John Dick: I would say in my first business, I had ample evidence of an opportunity and a need in the market, so let’s just say, let’s get past the sort of initial qualification of, it’s not a terrible idea. Then it’s really – it is – it’s about a combination of execution, of course, right? You have to be able to put the team in place, you have to be able to build the marketing strategy and the product and those things, but also just an enormous amount of courage and fortitude, because it’s never going to go the way that you plan it, and it’s always going to be terrifying at different steps of the process, and it’s always going to feel like the – a house of cards that’s going to fall at different times, and you have to have the courage and the fortitude and the commitment to it to plow through those things, and realize that sometimes a pivot is OK, or sometimes you have to slow down your timelines to weather you way through a really rough patch of the business, which may have actually had more to do with some external thing that happened. We started this company in – I sort of kind of started it I guess in 2007, but we were really starting to raise capital and get the business off the ground in 2008, which was a horrific economic climate. That was right when that sort of Great Recession hit, and of course, I didn’t know that when I’d already made the commitment to start CivicScience, but we realized, hey, it’s going to be tough to raise capital right now, so we’re not – we’re going to raise less, because it would be too expensive to raise too much, and we’re going to have to pace ourselves a little bit differently. There’s definitely some agility I think that’s required to build a good idea, unless you happen to really be in the right place at the right time, certainly for CivicScience, I don’t think we started – our luck was pretty brutally bad to start it when we did.
Jamin Brazil: So most listeners I bet you haven’t heard of CivicScience, give us the business description.
John Dick: You said it in the intro there, we’re a market intelligence company, but we do that by way of survey research, and I wish there was a different thing to call it, surveying or polling, [CROSSTALK] it evokes so much baggage I think with people, because they instantly presume you do things a certain way, and a big part of what CivicScience is about is that we do it a very different way. We came up with a very clever approach to gathering answers to questions from people inside of holes and widgets and apps that they encounter as they’re sort of traversing the web. You might be reading an article on Variety or BuzzFeed and at the end of the article, we ask you a question about the article, and then we ask you a handful of additional questions about some commercial thing going on in the world. And we do that – these aren’t panelists, which is a really important part of our business, these people answer our questions entirely for free, they do it because we’ve gotten really good at A, asking them questions they like to answer, and B, more importantly, showing them results that they find interesting, that sort of tell them about themselves. Turns out we’re all narcissists and voyeurists, and if you’ll sort of tell us things about ourselves we find interesting, we’ll share things about ourselves. We figured out a way to do that through partnerships with 100s of major media companies, as big as Microsoft and NBC and others, who allow us to poll their audiences inside of content, and it allows to achieve a tremendous scale of the amounts of data that we collect. And so what we’ve done with that, which is also I think novel, is the vast majority of the survey work that we do is what’s kind of characterized as ‘syndicated,’ meaning we ask a bunch of questions whether anyone’s buying them from us or not, and so we have so – upwards of 350,000 questions now in our database that we’ve asked over these many years, and our sort of tagline here is that everything affects everything, and everything is constantly changing, so we study everything constantly. And the idea there being, if we can ask anybody we want anything we want at a huge scale basically for free, what would we ask them? And so we ask all of these questions and we’ve built this really cool database that sort of crawls around all of those questions to find patterns and correlations that are somewhat predictive of a future outcome, and that’s really what people buy from us, is a view into the future. And so much survey research is backward looking, or it’s predicated on some human hypothesis which can be very limiting, our approach is kind of turning that on its head. Let’s ask everything we can possibly imagine, and then let technology tell us what matters, and it’s really landed well with the companies who subscribe to our platform.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, I’ve participated in some of those surveys by the way, and they are actually very entertaining, and I like how they step you as a user, as a participant, you can get as deep or say as shallow as you want, right? So you feed back to me straight away, kind of the results of my poll and how it may compare with the rest of the population, and then if I want to go deeper, then I have the opportunity of jumping in and participating in additional research, which is actually I would say fun, and I can’t honestly say that I – market research in general is not classified as fun.
John Dick: Yes, that’s definitely what we aimed for was can we make the experience – so survey panel companies have to pay people to answer surveys, because answering the surveys isn’t fun. We are essentially burdening you with answering these questions, so we’re going to offer you five bucks or points to buy things or whatever, and I think that kind of loses the narrative a little bit. I will add to the sort of user benefit, the fact that we make it very clear what we do with the information that we’re collecting, and some subset of our respondents may know this, but most of them don’t, which is that the answers they’re giving to these questions are influencing the world. We’ve got huge companies who rely on our guidance to make really big decisions, even like a whatever, six weeks or so ago, one of the questions that we launched right after Russia invaded Ukraine was, should businesses stop doing business in Russia because of the war? And people were traversing the web, encountered one of our polls in an article, and that question appeared to them and clicked yes, we think businesses should stop doing business research, and they probably never thought another thing about it after that point, but I can tell you that our data and those results which overwhelmingly said businesses should not continue to do business in Russia, influenced some of those decisions. Not singularly, it wasn’t the only data point by any means, and frankly, most of those businesses I would like to think made that decision because it was the right thing to do, but that data gave them extra confidence to do it knowing what limited blowback there would be, and so there is that definitely sort of idealistic, intrinsic benefit of answering our polls, which they are actually making a difference and I think that matters to a lot of people.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, there’s intrinsic motivators that we all have, but – and it’s a time value question for participants, to your point, if there’s not getting the intrinsic value of knowing that they’re making a difference or enjoying themselves, then you better pay them, otherwise you’re not going to get them. And then of course there’s the other side of that, which is the quality of data. If I’m feeding you information that then instantaneous value to me, as a participant because you’re telling me how I compare to everybody else, then I want to make sure I’m answering the questions correctly, as opposed to a transaction, which is strictly monetary, but anyway, it is –
John Dick: No, I – look man, you should write our marketing materials, that is absolutely one of the biggest points, right? When you’re say –
Jamin Brazil: Yes.
John Dick: There have been polling solutions over the last decade where maybe a poll was a gateway to free content on the internet, right?
Jamin Brazil: Right. [CROSSTALK]
John Dick: So answer this survey and we’ll let you read your article, and there was no incentive in that case for the respondent to answer honestly, on the contrary, they were annoyed, whatever, click, click, click, right? And so I think that was absolutely something we focused very heavily on when we built the experience, right? The other thing is that our polls are only three, four questions or so, and –
Jamin Brazil: Right.
John Dick: When we experiment with making them longer, what happens is we notice A, there’s some erosion in response rate, but as soon as you have erosion in response rate, you start to introduce a bias into your sample, because we like to say that every time you add a question to a survey, you increase the bias in the people who answer it. And that’s true, right? I may have time for a 10 question survey but not a 30 question survey or a 40 question survey or a 100 question survey, and in our case, what we found was, this sort of magical number of four or five questions allowed us to reach the largest possible swath of people without introducing some erosive quality that created bias in the people who answered versus the ones who didn’t, and that’s super important to the quality of your data.
Jamin Brazil: You started – as you stated, you started the business in 2007, which was the – probably one of the worst times to start a business, what was the market need?
John Dick: I think we just touched on it a little bit, it was a little – times were a bit different, so when I – I sold my first company in March of 2007, and I had the sort of idea for CivicScience in my back pocket, it had been brewing for a while, and partly it was because of my first business, which was a completely different company. We worked in – we helped early-stage tech and biotech companies do business with the government, so very different, we were adjacent enough to the world of politics that we were exposed a lot to ‘polling,’ and not just horse race polling like who’s going to win the election, but the role that sort of survey research plays in message development and policy analysis and all of that. And we were watching overnight how the quality of that information was declining, right? And that kind of came to fruition in 2016, when political polling sort of had its darkest moment, but in 2007 even, the majority of survey research was still done by landline telephone, which is hard to believe if you think 15 years ago. And what was happening in the survey industry particularly political was, the people who had landline phones, as landline phone ownership was plummeting, the people who had them didn’t look like the ones who didn’t. Then you had the people who had landline phones and actually answered them when a stranger called, which is an even smaller group of people and they were biased than you started with, and then pollsters said that’s OK, we’ll just call cellphones because everyone has one of those. The fundamental problem with that is that the majority of people don’t answer cellphone calls from numbers they don’t recognize. So everyone said OK, now the new frontier is survey panels online, and that was just beginning to percolate in that sort of timeframe, 2007 and ’08. And we made this exact same observation, which was the people who sit at home who have the inclination to answer surveys for five bucks don’t really look like the rest of the country, or the rest of the world. We know now because we’ve studied this extensively that paid survey takers tend to be more coupon centric, more price sensitive, more brand aware, more likely to eat at fast food menus at – or excuse me, eat at value menus at fast food restaurants, which makes all kinds of sense, right? These are people who are looking for a quick way to make a buck or save a buck, and so we just – we made this not grand observation, but diagnosed I guess as it were that the way survey research was being doesn’t inclusive enough, and that was really the important word we focused on was inclusivity, how do we get as many people as possible in the normal daily travels to participate in sharing their opinions, such that we can truly reflect the will of the population. And that was the problem that we set out to solve. The secondary problem was, in the conventional way that survey research is done which is expensive, because I have to pay somebody to answer, I have to pay somebody to recruit a panelist, so much research is done reactively, ‘custom research,’ so I wait until I have a buyer, then I go out and I acquire the information and I bring it back to the buyer. That’s a slow process, there’s very little discovery that happens in that process, and what we knew is decision makers have to be a lot faster today. They have to be a lot more agile in their decision making, which means two things. Research has to be done fast, and it has to be always on, because you need to be able to see changes before they happen, and our platform and the way we built the business set out to solve that problem and I think we did a really good job of that.
Jamin Brazil: You’re talking about, it’s – really important point, right? You’ve got, businesses have KPIs that often times drive questions, like why are my customers not happy with me right now, or why are sales down or why are sales up, et cetera, et cetera, but you’re framing it differently. You’re saying we’re getting out of the rearview mirror and we’re giving decision makers insights that allow them to be forward looking, and I go back to your example with – in context of should US businesses actually be in Russia, we saw wholesale top brands all move out, including McDonald’s, one of my favorite brands. How are the decision makers getting to that insight?
John Dick: Couple different ways, so our platform is a – it’s a software as a service business, right? So this information is accessible through our insights store, which you mentioned, so there are really two ways this kind of happens. One is there are generally people on the client side who are consumer insights team members, marketing team members who have access to that platform, and they’ll come in and pull information as they need it, sometimes when it’s maybe a bit more of a comprehensive kind of request, they’ll come to their account manager on our team and say, hey, here’s the business question that we need to answer, and then that information sort of flows up through the insights team and into those senior leaders, but a lot of our bigger companies, particularly ones where we’ve worked with now for years, we have a bit more senior visibility, so it’s not uncommon for that C level executive to reach out and say, “Hey, let me know what you’re seeing on this, or please send me any particular insights you’re finding that I haven’t thought of.” And I – and that – the stuff they haven’t thought of is probably where we make the biggest difference, it’s hey, we are seeing something in our information that we’re alerting you to and you probably haven’t thought about this before. And I think if you went down the list of our biggest customers who have probably the biggest wins to attribute to CivicScience, it was a question they never thought to ask us. And that was particularly true during COVID because things were happening so fast, and it was – the overutilized word was unprecedented times, but it really was. There was no historical reference point to use to predict what was going to happen next, we had to be finger on the pulse 24/7, and that’s why the business grew so much during that time.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, and like Alan Watts, the – one of my favorite philosophers says, very well known, has said repeatedly, an eyeball can’t see itself, and I think that’s the case with brands, and often times, the thing that kills you is the thing you can’t see.
John Dick: Right, and I would say that that’s true on two dimensions, I’m going to get dimensions here wrong a bit, but one is sort of looking forward, right? So that’s the seeing through the windshield, like I spend so much time looking at yesterday’s numbers and last week’s numbers and today’s competitive numbers, am I really looking next week and two months from now and six months from now and three years from now, right? So that’s one dimension of kind of visibility, the other dimension is I would say looking to your sides, and what I mean by that is this notion of everything affecting everything, is so many of these companies are so singularly and myopically focused on their category, their brand, right? If they’re in the food industry, they’re studying the food industry, and what we’ve shown these people and what we try to bring to the table is, there are things affected your industry, your brand and your customer that have nothing do with their food choices, but actually affect their food choices, right? So the healthcare issues that I’m dealing with, my media consumption, my personal financial situation, those things all kind of weigh in on where I eat, how I eat, and so we’ve really tried to educate these decision makers on, you’ve got to look outside of your lane to understand, particularly to understand the things that are coming down the road that are going to affect you in the future. So those are, yes, I think the kind of two ways we think about it, and I would say the most compelling sales proposition we have as a company is a fear of missing out, that we tell these companies, look, we have access to information that you don’t, and that information gives us a view, both a 360 degree view of the world but also a forward looking view of the future, and you’re not going to get that without working with us, and that’s pretty compelling sales pitch.
Jamin Brazil: It gets back to the point, right, that companies know that they don’t know all the right answers, and they are seeking for that trusted advisor relationship to help guide their decision making. When you think about the evolution of the business from 2007, you fast forward now whatever it is, 16-ish years, what’s changed?
John Dick: Man, what hasn’t changed? It took us a long time, much longer than certainly I expected, and of course, it didn’t help starting the company when we did, it took us much longer to get our data to enough scale to begin to predict and do all the things we promised we would be able to do when we did, and that was a good, almost until 2016-ish, until we’d really reached that sort of threshold of, aha, finally, and now it’s been compounding ever since. So a lot of things have changed, in early – in the early teens, I remember going to a conference and a woman who was then the head of research from Proctor & Gamble spoke, she was one of the keynotes, and she said at that time, she said before I retire, social media listening is going to replace survey research as the way that we understand what people think. She said it’s this unabridged view behind the curtain of everything people are doing, what they’re saying, the things they like, how their relationships are with their friends, and based on that, we’re going to have a much better view of humanity than we can get by asking people questions. And everyone at that conference believed that hook, line and sinker. So this was the time when Facebook was just really beginning to accelerate, and this notion of ‘social media listening’ was all the rage in research, and everyone believed that. And we yelled and screamed about it because we knew then and now we all know it now, which is we’re not ourselves on social media. Social media’s almost the opposite of what we actually are, because what we are on social media is this idealized version of ourselves that we present to the world to make us look funny or better looking and smarter and better travelers and more successful with more higher achieving kids and all that. So we – there was a – the industry spent a good four or five years chasing the promise of social media listening as a research tool, not to say that there aren’t research merits to those things, but it’s not the same as understanding truly what people think and feel. You need anonymity to actually understand people’s honest views of things, right? And so that had to evolve, we had to play that out, and then in the sort of mid-teens, the – all the rage was ‘big data’ and analytics, and it said, why do I need to ask people questions when I have every single data point about somebody available to me that I can stitch together because there’s all this creepy thing – stuff that happens on the internet that allows me to connect your credit history to your voter file to your purchase behavior and on and on, so why do I need to ask people questions, because they’ll say one thing and do another. It took the industry a while to cycle through that to realize, you know what? There are certain things you can’t learn from people without asking them, there’s also a lot of faulty signal in some of that kind of ‘big data,’ the behaviors that may not be indicative of actual sentiment, so those things had to evolve of course, right? We were – we kind of needed the market to come to us back to where we are now, which is a new emphasis is placed on sort of the consumer, talking to the consumer, understanding the consumer, so that was all a long winding road for us but seems to have landed in the right place right now. And then of course, the other big changes – change was COVID, COVID fundamentally altered and permanently altered the mindset of business decision makers that they realize things can change on a dime. I need information today, not three weeks from now, not two months from now, the way research had been historically done, and that second sort of tenet of our sort of ethos here that everything affects everything and everything’s constantly changing. We have to hammer that into these people’s brains, like yes, I’m showing you data today, this data could be useless tomorrow because we can’t predict what’s going to happen tomorrow, and that has net been very positive for us, because we’re built for that, but it was a major change in mindset that took COVID to come along to really facilitate.
Jamin Brazil: Yes, COVID, it’s such a – it’s been a blessing and a curse, and obviously, I don’t mean to make that light of the difficulties that many families have faced, either financially or through health related –
John Dick: Right.
Jamin Brazil: But it’s been a fast forward on technology adoption like nothing else, additionally so much chaos was introduced in – at a global level, and similar to a world war, that it really galvanized decision makers’ point of view of the need for consumer insights, and also uncovered the lack of opportunity or difficulties around the getting to those insights, just because of the operational consideration with being able to do that. I think that’s one [CROSSTALK] of the things that’s interesting about your business is, you have an always on audience, which is very – measured in the 100s of millions, which is very compelling for subscribers, how much influence do subscribers or customers have over the questions that are asked?
John Dick: Surprisingly little, I think it depends on how you want to look at it, we have some really smart people here who spend all day studying the world, the news, industry information, we launch questions on our based on what we believe we need to know, to best inform our clients. A lot of what factors into that is talking to those clients, what are you worried about, what are you thinking about? And there’s definitely some custom element to that, so if a client has a very specific kind of proprietary question that we’ll deploy for them, but we’re much more on the lookout around what are some trends and patterns and commonalities we’re seeing across all of the companies we work with. What is everybody worried about right now, such that we can deploy a handful of questions that we know are going to benefit a lot of people who use our platform? So it – I would say they influence it a little bit less directly than you might think, they’re not calling us and saying hey, we need you to change all these questions you’re asking, we’re just a lot more proactive trying to gather from them what their business needs are, so that we can kind of construct the right way to answer them.
Jamin Brazil: Got it, OK, my last question, your business has accelerated through the pandemic, which is probably creating a whole host of issues, right? You’ve got issues around talent attraction, and talent retention, how have you maintained your company culture?
John Dick: The short answer honestly is we haven’t, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing. It has been impossible to truly maintain the culture through this last two plus years, and anybody who tells you otherwise is lying to you. It was particularly different for us because we’re creeping up on three times the size of what we were before COVID, and at least twice as – well over – over 50% of the people who work here today did not work here before COVID, and yes, that speaks to the fact that COVID has been an accelerator for our business, and I’m not celebrating that like you said, because there’s so much other hardship, but all of those new people came into this company from, first of all their geographically distributed in a way we never were before, they’re coming from a litany of different industries, including many senior people who’ve come from maybe much more mature companies or companies with significantly different cultures than ours. And we needed them to influe – as we try to scale this company from being sort of a midsized provider to ideally being much larger than that, we need our culture to actually evolve. We can’t be sort of a startup sort of business forever, and so bringing in some of those senior people with experience at the kinds of companies we aspire to grow into being, we need them to help move and push the culture. So it has changed, in some good ways, for sure, but also some really hard ones, because there were tenets of our culture that we had established here prior to COVID that we do want to try to maintain, and that’s a difficult thing to do when people have never met, people are again so distributed, we did a company survey recently looking at – sort of a company satisfaction survey of everyone, one of those consulting firm kind of things. And there was a big demarcation line of happiness about things when you looked at people who worked here before COVID and those who’ve come since, and a lot of that was because we haven’t been able to translate a lot of the positive parts of that culture into this new dynamic that we’re living in. So – but that – we’re not giving up on that at all, we needed that survey frankly to benchmark that for us and realize, we actually have a lot of work to do to instill some of those really core principles that we had when we were all working in the same building together to today. I would say we have kind of two forces happening at once, one is that we actually need to move the culture, and we have to do that in this really multivariate growing world, and we also have to figure out how to really preserve the things about our culture that we never want to change, and that that is something we’re focused on I’m personally focused on every single day. There are meetings happening in this company almost daily on how are we going to do that, and how do you make it more than just lip service that we’re not going to just say these things, but we’re going to integrate them into every sort of touch point we have with our team, and then how are we communicating that to the outside world so that our culture is another selling point? Because people like to work with companies they like, right? And if we can show them, hey, this is a cool place to work, we have really smart people, we’re fun, we don’t take ourselves too seriously but we’re also – we work really hard and we’re fast, right? So those things we have to figure out how to preserve and definitely a work in progress. It is extremely complicated to do in this environment today.
Jamin Brazil: John, I appreciate your candor and lack of propaganda across the whole episode, but especially on that last question, I know that many operators in fact, tomorrow, I’m giving an hour and a half talk on this exact topic to other CEOs on how to maintain a productive work environment and culture in a hybrid work model, many people are saying, gosh, I feel like I’m failing right now in this almost impossible task and in trying to put some legs underneath them to help bolster them, that they’re not alone and it’s something that we’re all walking through together and figuring out I think is really helpful. So [CROSSTALK] thank you very much.
John Dick: Let me just say final thing, nobody’s failing, this is uncharted waters, and we’re not going to know – I’m sure probably within a month or two, we’ll see the first Harvard Business Review or McKinsey study on the best way to build office culture in a pandemic, and I don’t buy it. It’ll be years if not longer, until we can look back and say, who nailed this and who didn’t, and what are the real best practices, everyone’s just trying to figure it out. I would hope nobody is overly discouraged because we’re all in the same boat.
Jamin Brazil: That is a perfect summary for this particular podcast, and that overcriticalness I think is also part of the pandemic, where we’ve operating in a blindness as executives, not knowing exactly what to do because we just haven’t seen anything like this before in our lifetime, and then also the isolation that subsequently came, especially in that first year. It was just kind of like terrible –
John Dick: Right.
Jamin Brazil: For many operators, so yes, thanks for that clarity. John, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast, it’s been an honor.
John Dick: My pleasure.
Jamin Brazil: Everybody else, I hope you found some great value here, I certainly did, and as always, if you take time, screen capture, share this on social media, tag me, I will send you a free t-shirt.