IIeX North America 2019 Podcast Series

IIeX NA 2019 Conference Series – Ray Fischer – Aha! Online Research

Welcome to the 2019 IIEX North America Conference Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Ray Fischer, CEO and Founding Partner of Aha! Online Research.

Contact Ray Online:


Aha! Online Research


Ray Fischer, Aha! Online Research.  First off, he is the best voice in market research.  I wish it was me, but it’s not. For those that don’t know, Aha! Online is a qualitative platform that’s used by many large brands.  They support an asynchronous data collection approach for digital ethnography. Enjoy the episode. You can find his contact information in the show notes.


Ray Fischer, the CEO and founding partner of Aha!, also has been on the show, one of my favorite podcasts.  The best voice in market research. Seriously, 100%, it’s absolutely true. We’re live at IIeX here in Austin.  What do you think about the show so far?


Oh, it’s been great, great.  Great energy, new venue, which is super cool.  I think this is my fifth or sixth one. I’m not sure how many they’ve had, but I’ve been to all of them.  This one is really neat. Love Austin, different energy. Atlanta was great, but this is super, super cool.  


Yeah, it really is.  I agree about the energy point.  I call it the Coke versus Pepsi effect:  some of the executives or people on the floor have been a little bit apprehensive about the structure of it early in Day 1 ‘cause it felt a little bit separated.  But everybody in Day 2 has been excited about the show floor and the interactions that they’re getting and value, value, value.


Some people aren’t open to change.  You know how that goes.


Are we in market research still?


You’ll always find a complainer, but “no,” it’s awesome. You got to make it what it is, but it is an amazing venue.    




Look at the walls behind you.  And it’s just the color popping out.  I mean that’s emblematic of the energy in this place.         


I got in big trouble actually because I had placed my…  I have a large case for the equipment, and so I had placed the Penquin case by the…  Anyway, I got in big trouble for it. “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t realize it was actually art.”  It’s legit art.


It’s definitely.  Don’t scrape yourself on it either; it’s 3D.


So, Aha!, what’s going on, man?


I’ve been busy as heck.  It’s really… Last year I think we talked, somewhere near the end of last year.  We had a great year last year. This year we’re off to a rip-roaring start. We’re thrilled.  We’re launching new activities, new things, kind of spreading the word on online qual. Remarkedly, everyone has not yet tried online qual.  So there’s still a lot of untapped territory out there. We’re working to spread the good word and, obviously, spread our own product word. But a lot of big stuff happening in the whole customer experience world.  The video world has changed quite a bit; I think we might have touched on that before, but. All the connectivity: I’m excited about 4G going to 5G on the mobile scene because this is going to increase uploads speeds from respondents with video and pictures, which are so important to the whole online experience and the online mobile experience.    


There’s a lot you just said.  And I just want to take a step back because probably some of our audience isn’t familiar with exactly what it is that Aha! does.  So, if you could just give me like the high-level overview, not too in the weeds, so that everybody can like level set with where you guys fit in the market research ecosystem.   


We’re an online qualitative platform.  We do what we call asynchronous approach, which means people come in usually on a multi-day to, let’s say, up to a year-long study, where they come in at their convenience on a set schedule.  Most studies usually run four or five days in length. People come in for 30 to 45 minutes and do a set series of activities; some of those are on their computer; some of those can be done on a laptop, tablet, whatever.  And some of that is mobile; so, there may be store missions involved or maybe diary entries where you take it moment in time where, let’s say, if you’re doing a snacking study, every time you have a snack, you might do a little video recording, maybe answer a couple of open-ends, maybe a closed-end about how satisfying that particular event was and make those diary entries.  So it’s a real connected, emotional, and projective-type approach to getting close to how consumers think, act, and feel.


Got it.  So, this is part of my ongoing thesis in market research as I’m 48 years old now, which is not like the pinnacle of knowledge, but I’m smarter than I was when I was 28.


Yes, agreed.  We all get there.    


Thankfully in some ways.  Really what market research is is a conversation at scale.  You know small companies like Mom and Pop retail, you probably don’t need to do market research ‘cause you know the 100 people that are frequenting your establishment in a day, right?  You develop that rapport. But, once you get into two stores and thousands of customers, it’s impossible to actually keep your finger on the pulse of the customer. And now, all of a sudden, in order to facilitate that conversation, market research is employed, which is largely a logistical exercise of facilitating a conversation at scale.  Now, this is what’s really interesting for me is in the 50s when research really started with political polling specifically, surveys became the dominant form for understanding consumer sentiment and then qualitative, of course, had a meaningful role in informing the quant. Now what’s happening is the tools are so sophisticated (AI, machine learning, just getting better at figuring out technology) you can actually conduct qualitative research at scale, like you said, asynchronously and get, not just the A, B test of “This is greater than that,” which comes out of a survey, but you can start digesting that information understand the true “why” and the drivers of the consumer.  So, to that end, are you seeing a lift in qual as just a broader application, not a trump on quant (I’m not trying to say that necessarily) but are you seeing it just kind of gaining overall share in the market research…?


Yeah, that’s a great question.  I think what I’m seeing, Jamin, is you’ve got people out there…  Obviously, quant is always going to be there, but what’s happened with qual that’s giving it gains is you’ve got…  Remember focus groups, of course. We’ve all been in them, done them, watched them, etc. Now, you’ve got the ability to be with everybody out in their real lives through technologies.  You’ve got video and picture capability. Everyone has a smart phone around the world. So we’ve gone from what you might gain in a 90-minute focus group; we’re now able to spend a couple hours with people over, let’s say, four days.  So, let’s say, one moderator can communicate, as you said, at scale and talk to 50 people for 30 to 45 minutes a day, not necessarily talking to them directly but through great lines of questioning, great projective activities, video exercises, store tours, etc.  I think what’s happened is we’ve gone from this eight people in a focus-group room and everybody has to travel to Atlanta to go watch it from behind a mirror. And it’s kind of a stilted environment: people at little bit, you know, they’re on stage. Now, they’re able to do this stuff in the comfort of their own homes, walking through the store by themselves; plus, people have gotten in this era of social media and camera usage; people are real comfortable in front of cameras, taking pictures of themselves.  We’re all kind of trained actors in a way but, obviously, we don’t want anyone acting when they share information with us, but they’re so much more comfortable and natural in these environments to be able to do things like share what kind of underwear they wear and why they buy it or what kind of personal care products they use, what kind of groceries they buy. So it’s just changed the game completely. So it’s a technology-driven evolution.


Exactly.  With respect to your customers, are you guys…  Obviously, a technology platform, are you also adding in the analytics and engagement with the customer post or is it…?    


Yeah, there’s definitely probing that goes on throughout a study.  So that’s usually human-driven although we’re touching into the AI zone of that and I know other competitors are doing the same.  One thing that I don’t want to do at this point in time is that qual is so human that the minute we put a chatbot into a study and they ask a question that isn’t really completely perfect and doesn’t feel like a human, they’ll know it’s a chatbot, and the relationship is over ‘cause it’s really about the human touch.  

Now, we truly try to make moderators connect with respondents, do a video before they launch a study so that when people come in, they actually know who the moderator is.  They watch a little one- or two-minute video about who they are, what their job is and what the respondent’s job is going to be. And I even have moderators who do that every day.  They do a quick one-minute video, saying who they are, here’s what we’re doing today, here’s what I need you to do, and have a great day. So the minute a bot comes in and doesn’t fire an appropriately triggered question, somebody’s going to know it’s a machine and not a person.  So, it will get to the point where I think you almost can’t tell the difference; it’ll probably get there pretty quickly. Right now, we’re treading lightly in that area and doing some basic AI-driven questions.


Better to be over-sensitive to that because to your point, market research is in a lot of ways because it’s being done so much now, it’s an extension of a brand.  And so, if a person has a bad experience in a market research study, that actually reflects negatively on the overall brand that is commissioning that project. So you really got to be cognizant of that and error on the side of creating a great customer experience even in context of research as opposed to it being the other direction it used to be, which was “Screw you.  You’re going to take my 30-minute survey, non-mobile friendly, 1,000 variable, 10-point rating scale…” You really got to start thinking about that as a researcher.


Oh, absolutely.  In “Bet Your AI,” I question about…  Like there are chatbots that are doing some automated probing and things like that.  But the other thing is on the back-end, that’s where the opportunity is with the text analytics stuff.  There’s several players here; some of them I’ve know like OdinAnswers; I’ve known Tom for seven or eight years, I think.  And he’s been doing this stuff in the embryonic days of it.




And now it’s coming into its own at this point in time. And there’s other competitors like to him like, I think it’s Rob Key with Converseon.  Really cool tools he’s got there too. So, there’s players out there that are trying to get to the point where we can break this data down quickly.  That’s always been the toughest part of being a qualitative market researcher. If you do, let’s say a five-day study or a year-long study and you have 100 people or 50 people or whatever it might be  


…analytic scale for qual’s hard.


You got…  You have to break all that data down yourself.  And, Jamin, you come from this space too and you probably had to write reports that were painful to do.  You know I was talking to Jim Bryson today, which was really funny. He said somebody begged him to moderate some focus groups, which he’d done for 25 years.  He did them a couple of weeks ago, and he said the most brutal part of it is writing the report, which I agree with 100%. I haven’t done one in seven years, and I don’t think I can write a report.  It would be so painful.


You have to write that report on the plane flight after every…  You know what I’m saying. Every minute you’re away from the data, the less visceral the connection is to the outcome and you really start losing the power


That is kind of the beauty of the online stuff is it’s always there for you to analyze, but again, if you can break that data down quicker.  One of my partners, Jim White, we always talk about “data wrangling,” and what are the best ways to help manage the data on the qual side. And a lot of times what he uses and he preaches this is to use a trigger quant question that helps him at least sort the data.  “Tell me what would you rate this idea,” or “How did you feel about that experience? 1 to 5 or 1 to 10?” So, he can separate the 1s from the 10s and the 1s from the 5s and really look at the polar opposites.


Totally.  Find some context for the answers.


Exactly, and they get context.  


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


They could get me on email:  RayF@Ahaonlineresearch.com.  That’s a mouthful, but apparently my marketing guy convinced me that was great SCO.  So…


It is pretty good SCO.


So, here we go.  And my phone number is 810-599-9440, website – Ahaonlineresearch.com.


And we’ll include all that information in the show notes.  As always, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d take the time to screenshot this episode, share it on your social media, and whatever platform you’re listening and consuming this content in, please take the time (one minute it will take you) to provide us a rating.  It makes ALL the difference in the world and is really a way for us to help validate content like this and get it into more insights professionals’ hands.

Ray, thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.


Jamin, thanks so much.