Ep. 231 – MrWeb Series – Isaac Rogers of 20|20 Research on Benefits to Investing in ResearchOps Automation

My guest today is Isaac Rogers, CEO of 20|20 Research. Established in 1984, 20|20 believes in the power of giving consumers a voice, and has spent more than 30 years finding ways to simplify connections between brands and consumers, enabling the consumer to share their stories. Prior to joining 20|20 in 2008, 20|20 has developed methods and tools used worldwide for qualitative and hybrid research studies. 

Find Isaac Online:

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/isaacrogers 

Website: www.2020research.com 

Find Jamin Online:

Email: jamin@happymr.com 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jaminbrazil

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jaminbrazil 

Find Us Online: 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/happymrxp 

LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/happymrxp 

Website: www.happymr.com 

This Episode is in Partnership with MrWeb:

Website: www.mrweb.com 

Twitter: www.twitter.com/mrwebnews 

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Hey everybody, this is Jamin, host of the Happy Market Research Podcast. In conjunction with MrWeb, I’ve had the honor of interviewing three of the leading custom panel companies. This is one of those three episodes. If you’re not currently subscribed to MrWeb, I just can’t recommend another resource. He gives you a daily update on happenings, whether it’s HR, M&A, technology releases, companies going out of business, companies starting. I mean there is not a single point of truth that I found to be more consistent and reliable than MrWeb. So check them out. They’re great and I hope you enjoy this episode. 


According to the GRIT report, there has been an increase in the number of qualitative-based tools. This is centric to user experience, customer experience, and market research. However, as with all things, the actual research operations remains to be done and that happens usually outside of those toolsets. HubUx is a solution for that. You plug your tools directly into it; you enter in who it is that you want to talk to, when you want to talk to them, and HubUx literally does the rest for you. If you already have an existing customer list, you can just upload it directly into the tool. If you want to leverage social recruiting, that’s integrated as well. It is the single source for all of your research operations needs HubUx. Check it out. Thanks.


Hi, I’m Jamin, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest today is Isaac Rogers, CEO at 20|20. Established in 1984, 20|20 is a global consumer insights agency that helps companies make better business decisions through deep understanding of people. Prior to joining 20|20 in 2008, Isaac has done a host of things, but really, I think, sir, you really came into this research space strong inside of a well-established business, and it’s an absolute honor to have you on the podcast today.


Oh. thanks, Jamin. And I have been looking forward to this. It’s always a pleasure to get to talk to you. 


So, I like to start out with this contextual question. Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they informed your career. 


Sure, this was a dangerous question to think about.


Yeah, ‘cause you may or may not see them for Christmas. 


Yeah. So I think I will be seeing my parents for Christmas this year. So Mom and Dad, if you’re listening, don’t take offense to this. My parents’ careers, they were both in the health care field. They had wonderful influence on me as a kid, but there is something just outside of my parents and kind of what they did for a living that I think was really instrumental for us. For the last 15 years of my upbringing, we had a cattle ranch.  So, we lived there; we raised about 150 to 200 head of cattle and that was what I did. Starting at about the age of 12 or 13, I had a pretty instrumental role, and then I was running the place by 14 and 15. And, Jamin, and there’s something about being raised on a farm or on a ranch that gives you some very unique characteristics, and I’ve met other senior leaders and executives over the years, and it’s amazing to me the percentage of them that grew up on a ranch or I grew up on a farm somewhere.  But that thing, the fact that we’ve done it our life around this farm that we had was I think one of the more instrumental things in making me who I am as a unique individual. My parents had all sorts of wonderful positive attributes in other ways. But really being raised on a ranch, I think, was a really special thing for making me who I am.


How big was the ranch? 


About 500 acres.  So, a pretty good size. 


Not huge.


Not huge. So it was outside of a little town in Arkansas, Hot Springs, Arkansas, and primarily a place where it was a working cattle ranch. It made money, but it wasn’t like one of these giant operations. So we raised Brahma cattle, which was an interesting thing to do and it was a lot of work. It’s big enough that it was a ton of work, but small enough that our family could manage it and not have to bring in a bunch of people to do it. 


Did you guys go through lean times?  So, 500 acres is a lot of acreage, but cattle require a lot of space, right?  So it’s not like farming. You don’t have the same ROI on 500 acres as you would in farming, for example, right?  It’s a totally different set of economics, meaning that like were you guys susceptible to market shifts in price, that sort of thing. Did you have lean years as a family?


Not overall as a family because my folks had other income streams that helped buttress.  I mean if we were totally dependent on the ranch, there would’ve been some really lean years. Cattle prices on the beef side fluctuated a lot in the late eighties, early nineties and so that would’ve been a challenge. So there’s an extraordinary amount of fluctuation. There were times where we didn’t really have an opportunity to sell any cattle in a given year because the prices were so depressed. You just had to wait. And the cost when we got into raising cattle was fairly low. But, frankly, as fewer and fewer ranches existed and were in operation, things got a lot more expensive. And towards the end of my shift on the farm, which would have been late nineties, I still worked when I went to college, but it wasn’t nearly as intense as in high school.  

We got to a point where in order to find the folks who could keep the equipment running and do those kinds of things, the real specialized stuff, it’s hard to find those people. And so, for looking back…  And now my folks are at a point where they’re contemplating selling the farm, and my son and daughter are a little disappointed about that. But they’ve really gotten to a point where they can’t make it make much sense anymore.  So it’s sad to see those things go because you get so many… Like the life lessons that come at you on a farm are so incredible. Like the idea of being so self-aware of what’s going on, trying to plan for things weeks and months out, you don’t think about those things when you’re in high school in the eighties and nineties growing up.  That’s not something you… Normal kids didn’t have to think about that stuff. And so, having been raised around that, it was really, I think, very formative in me thinking about how important it was to plan and think and then also be able to do almost anything you needed to do yourself. 


Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. It’s the ingenuity aspect is probably my biggest takeaway from being raised in a rural environment, right.  It’s not do or die, but it’s definitely the case: you’ve got to figure stuff out like how to repair a diesel engine or whatever. And this is pre-YouTube.  Thank God for YouTube.


Yeah, and most of the things you end up doing, you’ve never done before. If something breaks and you can’t get somebody there to fix it and it needs to be fixed, you’re going to figure that out. And there wasn’t plan B and there wasn’t Postmates. And so, I think those kind of lessons were extraordinarily influential in who I became. I reached a point in my career where there was some negative sides to them that I had to get rid of. I was the kind of person who would…  One of my worst character traits is I’ll just get in and do it myself. And as you get into a bigger and bigger organization and need to work through the folks in your organization, that’s a really bad trait. And so, I had to kick that off a little bit. Took me a couple of years, but I think I’ve got most of those things in check.


Was there a specific point where you as a leader where you faced…  (And we’re going to shift our conversation just a little bit towards leadership style and advice for aspiring leaders.)  Part of our audience are kind of the early stage startups in the market research space. So they might have groups of 10 or 20 or even 50 employees.  And I think this is probably a really important lesson that you’re hitting on here. And, actually, it’s surprising to me that this hasn’t come up on the show before. Having the capacity to do it all plays really, really well when you’re a 10-person company.  But to your point, it is your ceiling. Like you cannot advance beyond that unless you can give up that sort of… Did you have a pivotal moment where you’re like, I got to just let it go? 


Yeah, I kind of got told to.  So a lot of folks in the industry know Jim Bryson, our founder, my partner.  


And probably one of the best, best human beings of all time.


The best human beings on earth.  So, I was taking more and more of the reins of 20|20 about three or four years ago, and I was having trouble letting go of some things.  I became the bottleneck, and I wanted things to run through me. And I had made some strides myself, but, man, I wasn’t moving fast enough. And so, Jim worked with me:  We brought in a business coach, and he really had one thing that he’d said he wanted to focus on and that is teaching me how give up on certain things and realize working through people was better than trying to do it myself. We started off the coaching process with a really great book—What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  And it’s a book that turned some people off because it’s very focused on sales leadership and sales people transitioning into other roles, but I think the lesson is super important and that is that these qualities that you get really, really good at over the first 15 to 20 years of your career… 

Being willing to say, I’m not going to get to exercise that muscle anymore. Like I’m not going to be able to be the rock star on that thing because I’m going to step aside and let somebody else build that capability or let somebody else handle that in a way that may be slightly different than the way I would. That’s a really, really challenging transition when you make it. I think there’s a point where you have to make it.  There’s a certain point where a founder or early stage company executive, when you’ve got a team of four or five, six folks underneath you, they’re going to have to take some of that load from you or you are going to be your company’s own scaling bottleneck.


That’s right. Yeah, well said, well said.  And I think there’s two things there. One is we’ll link in the show notes to the book that you just referenced. I hadn’t heard of that and I will read it also. Thank you for that. And then the second part that’s really important is…  Well, I actually there’s two parts to it: one is having an outside influence that you respect — So, the mentor that can point these blind spots out — and then having the humility to seek outside professional, paid-for support on addressing or shoring up those weaknesses. 


And then what I’ve learned in the intervening three or four years is that because I’m not doing those things and I’m working through my people, I have a lot of jingoisms or a lot of things that I’d fall back on when I’d think about how I’m supposed to be structuring my day. And so, one of them is when I took the reins of CEO, I said my job is to have the right people, give them the right resources and help them make the right decisions. And I bring a lot of conversation of our organization back to that. So that’s a great tool for me. And when you’re jumping from fire to fire, doing things yourself, you don’t get to develop those rubrics that you’re going to apply to your organization; so, you don’t get the consistency inside your teams. You don’t get to really take a step back and look at how some of your structures and how some of your leadership processes are working. That probably took a year or two before I realized, wow, with all of this extra time, what allows me to do — and it’s a little bit uncomfortable because it doesn’t feel as active — is to say how well are these things working and what do I need to adopt more of and what do I need to let go of? It almost becomes like a snowball, where you’re letting go of more and more and you’re getting really good at two or three really focused things.


Well, hey listen, congratulations on your patent. 20|20 blockchain led Opinion Data Marketplace. I saw that post on LinkedIn a few days ago. 


That one was actually for another one.  So, we also…


Oh, is it really it?


Yeah, that we have been investing in virtual reality and as it’s going to relate to qualitative research in the future.  That’s actually a VR-based patent. But there was a blockchain patent issued as well.


You know what?  You and the patents.  So, I want to talk about that, but not yet. I want to be centric to the blockchain.  And by the way, let’s pivot one more time in the conversation. Your LinkedIn is in the top echelon of LinkedIn profiles and activities. You get a lot of engagement on your posts. Super interesting. Do you have any tips for aspiring LinkedIn people that want to grow their LinkedIn audience and connections?


Yeah, I get asked that a lot, actually. So, I started it because…  I don’t want somebody like you to take this the wrong way or there’s folks out there who do some really great work, but I sat back and I kept going…  It felt like we were losing the voice of the industry in some way. I just wasn’t hearing from some of the folks that I know had some really great ideas; some of the folks that I knew where they needed to know or they knew where the industry needed to go.  And I was talking to Heather, our Head of Marketing, one day and I remember I was just getting frustrated and she said, “Well if you’re so frustrated, why don’t you do it yourself.” And I was like, “Huh, well, maybe she’s got a point.” And so, it started kind of small and modest. And it’s grown out from there.  And I think what we focus on or what I focus on is I want to be real honest with people. I don’t put a lot of polish into the things that I personally put out there much to Heather’s chagrin. I don’t overthink it, but when something comes up (and again it’s ‘cause I have that time as a leader now to watch and look and think) when I see a trend that other people may miss because they’re busy getting the things done here at 20|20, that gives me an idea to write about.  I published something the other day about meetings, and it’s amazing to me how many people have never stopped to think about how much meetings cost, like actual value of the time of the people you’re putting in the room, how to structure a meeting. And so, I take those tidbits, and I usually test them internally with some people and I’ll run the idea by and they’ll be like, “I’ve never thought about that.” And then, I just publish it and I listen for feedback and, if people like it, I take a little mental note that that’s the kind of thing people want to hear about and, if people don’t engage on it, then I write about something that’s a little bit different. But it came from the fact that I think as an industry I don’t…  There are so many amazing people with so many amazing things to say, and I don’t see enough of them out there doing that not in a self-serving way, but as a way to highlight what our industry brings to the table. And so that’s how we got started. And then we’ve tried to be as authentic as we can and keeping it going.


Yeah, that’s a great point on meetings.  It’s a great point on, I think, the white space or the opportunity for marketeers inside of our space as well as CEOs just to add their voice and create value inside of these platforms. The actual ROI in a meeting as…  I would do a calculation and after, as the company scales, you think about, “OK, I’ve got whatever, 410 people that I’m going to do an all-hands meeting. Okay, now I want that meeting to be 10 minutes.”  


Yeah, when you start doing the math, it really starts to add up. So, it’s about having a point of view.  It’s incredible that more people don’t take advantage of this in the insights space because we sit at such an amazing point.  We see so much going on with business and marketing and consumers and how they’re living their lives. And I don’t think we’re sharing enough. And I think if we shared more, it would also highlight the value of insights. So I wish more people would just take a risk and put their thoughts out there and see what people think.


All right, so you got your patent blockchain, specifically this Opinion Data Marketplace. Tell us about the role of blockchain and what that patent means.


Sure. So, the origin story I think on this is pretty interesting, or at least it’s interesting for me. So several years ago I have to do the math. (You know you tell a story enough and you forget.  Has it been four or five or six years?) Somewhere around five years ago, I had a moment on an airplane flying to Chicago. And previous to that moment for several years, around 20|20 and around, frankly, the broader industry, I had had some concerns about some of the ways that we were collecting data, monetizing data, some of the ways that we treat panelists and respondents.  For those that don’t know, we do a lot of qual and some quant and it puts us in an intersection where we see a good amount of quantitative, especially with some of our hybrid projects. And there’s some amazing, great work that happens in quant and there’s also some stuff that I wasn’t terribly proud of as an industry. I felt like we had ways to clean up and we weren’t. I felt like we’re getting to the point where, if we didn’t get in front of some of these things, probably going to begin to harm the relationship we had with our client base.  And I’d been concerned about this for a few years and didn’t really have a good answer. And I’m on a flight to Chicago, and I’m reading about a distributed application — We didn’t even use the word blockchain back then — that was describing a way that they were creating a registry for diamonds and the diamond trade and what that was going to look like. And I’m reading this article on a flight to Chicago; I’m going up there for a conference. And I just had this moment and I went, “We’re in the diamond business.” What they’re trying to do is create a registry that people can trust and rely on that anybody can look in and see where a diamond was mined, where it was going to go, who cut the diamond and know that it wasn’t a blood diamond, know that it wasn’t a diamond that had been resold and re-harvested. I looked at that and I said, “That’s an excellent solution for what we are trying to wrestle with in the market research space about six years ago.  So, I actually got to Chicago, booked another flight, came back to Nashville, spent a couple months with our development teams, talking to intellectual patent attorneys all across the country. Actually, found one here in Nashville who had experience already with some of the stuff that was going on in blockchain as it relates to health care. So we worked for several months on creating the IP, creating some early-stage products around that. About a year and a half later that patent was granted. So, what does it do? It creates a marketplace. When I look at the way that a lot of data collection happens in market research, it’s kind of a mess. There’s a lot of players and a lot of steps and a lot of people and, if you really take a step back, it’s a brand that has a question and they want to get that answer from a human and you think about ALL the machinations we have between what seems like a very elegantly simple desire. This type of marketplace, when it’s successful in our industry, just kind of shortens that gap. And it puts more power in the hands of the respondent because they get more in control of the surveys they take, the feedback they give to survey publishers, the data they share with those survey publishers; they get more of the monetization than they currently do.  I think one of the real travesties in our industry is how little we pay respondents to participate in the work we do. They are, literally, the lifeblood of what we do, and they get an extraordinarily small fraction of the value. By taking out some of that inefficiency, a centralized marketplace hopefully allows this to occur.


There is a couple of things.  One is increased transparency on who the respondent is and gets to historically one of the value prop, I should say, one of the key assets or the key asset of the sample space has been that asset. So, are you saying that the solution will create, allow the brands to subsequently leap-frog the panel company? Or, to your earlier point, there’s lots of hands that mark up a complete.


In many ways, it would.  I would argue that it would also allow agencies to take more control of how they are accessing a population of users who take surveys.  The thing that I like about marketplaces is that, if they’re efficiently designed, they give feedback in both directions. And so, if you read our patent, one of the big things that we lean in on is as a survey respondent taking a survey, I also have the ability to provide feedback and even penalize the reputation of a survey publisher who may throw a “10-minute” survey out there (and I’m using air quotes) and it takes 37 minutes and it’s poorly worded. So there’s a balance to be struck between not only bringing the respondent into more of an empowered role in how we engage them, but I think there’s also a ton of honesty we need to bring to the industry about the data we’re actually collecting, what we’re actually asking them to do and paying them to do ‘cause it’s untruthful.  And you look at a lot of the data scraping we’re doing and we’re not telling them about, when you look at the length of a survey that we give them and we kind of chuckle and say, “It’s a 12-minute survey; you’ll make 25 cents.” And it’s really two or three times that long. All of that gets cleaned up if you have a transparent marketplace, or my hope is that all gets cleaned up.  


No, I feel like if you look at where there’s significant opportunities for disruption, it’s all centered around non-transparent practices, right?  So anytime you can introduce transparency, you’re creating value, regardless of the industry. You’re creating value in that marketplace, and then the by-product of that, of course, is you can’t just exist on a 200% markup anymore, right? You’ve got to think about and create value in different ways than you historically may have been able to do.  So, when I think about the real benefit of blockchain, it’s two-fold: One is improved trust with who the respondent is to the brand. So that’s a big win. And the other one is — and you explicitly stated this and I think it’s on point — the ability for the respondent to have a voice in that tool or platform or that particular survey, to round-trip the feedback, because, according to some sources, there are over 4 million surveys done just in North America alone per day for third party purposes, right?  So that’s not like client-supplied lists; that’s purchased sample. And the velocity is increasing. So now it’s the case that a survey is really an extension of brand.


I strongly believe that.  I think that we are seeing more and more brand partners who are getting wise to that idea that when you put an instrument out there that’s really painful, that is an extension of your brand. And some of them want to hide behind and say, “Well, we’re not going to just say who the sponsor was.”  Does that really feel good to anybody though? Like my litmus test has been I want to get the industry to a point where one day I can turn around to my mom and go, “Hey, Cathy, I would love it if you would take surveys and here’s why. It’ll be a great experience. You’ll get rewarded for your time and brands really listen to what you have to say.”  I can’t tell her that today. I wouldn’t wish the average survey on an enemy. And I want to find a way where we create a real marketplace and say, “Look, this is the value of the insight you’re providing. This is how we’re going to share that with you respondent for the time and effort you’re going to put in and we’re going to be honest with what we’re collecting, what we’re asking you for.” And that transparency, I believe, by definition will lead to a lot of efficiency, and it will also lead to some probably negative unintended consequences.  It’ll lead to a lot of change, but there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is where things are going. It’s only a matter of how quickly we get there.


Do you think that disruption…  Everything you’ve outlined from a practical perspective, how do we realize that?  Has that impacted, now that you have this technology, has it impacted your actual day-to-day or terms of trade or way that customers are interacting with you and/or the sample that you empower through this platform?


In very early stages, yes.  So, we’ve got the platform that we built in early stage. We’re using it internally here for some things as we build it out. So it hasn’t had a wide-scale economic impact on us or the industry yet. It will hopefully very soon. I have some open questions, frankly, and I don’t know brave or dumb enough to share them is an interesting way to look at it. I’m not sure which one it is.  But if we are transparent with respondents and we say, “Look, this is what we need from you. This is the information we’re going to collect.” And we let them set their own prices for how much it would cost for them to participate. Instead of telling them you’ll make 20 points, if we say, “Look, how much, like we’re offering the survey at $1 or $2 or $5. At what point in time do you think it’s worth your time?” I’m a little bit nervous about how that’s going to shift some of the economics in the industry.  Frankly, if we share enough with the respondent’s out of the value, I think it’ll be fine. But there are still some unanswered questions I have. As these technologies move forward, they get outside of an internal testing inside 20|20 and move externally. We’ll get those questions answered. It’s going to be an interesting time to see how those play out.


Yeah, I guess at the heart of the question, you and I are both aligned that there’s going to be disruption to this space, blockchain being the platform that’s going to create the disruption.  Is it the case that there’s going to be a Netflix equivalent that’s going to be introduced into the marketplace that’s going to really upset the apple cart? Or do you feel like, ‘cause you have some major players…   You’ve got Dynata; I don’t know that they’re actually addressing this particular point at this point. I haven’t heard anything about it, if they are. You’ve got Veriglif. I believe that’s an initiative that’s being done by Lenny Murphy.  Again, it’s just early stages. It’s just, I think they’re still in like speccing or whatever phase. There’s nothing out there commercially available. Then you have what you guys are doing. And, outside of those three, those two, excuse me, I haven’t really heard of anybody entering into the market research space legitimately.


Yeah, and I think it’s going to happen in one or two ways. It’s either going to be like boiling a frog and that’s how you see a lot. That’s how you see a lot of disruption happen. right?  So, you turn around and you go, “Oh my gosh, hasn’t this been here the whole time?” And it’s really been a very short amount of time. So, the example I like to give is we all got iPhones in 2007. Like I have tee shirts; I have t-shirts that old. That’s what? 12 years ago?  And it seems like your brain has trouble remembering a time when that didn’t happen. And I think, in about five years, we will look back on our industry, and we’ll be at a point where these kind of marketplaces will be available and effective for a lot of the industrial sampling we do. And we’ll  turn around and go, “Oh my gosh, how did we ever do it the old- fashioned way. But it takes time. The other way it may happen is that someone big from the outside may come in and have a technology that probably comes out of the advertising technology space, realizes that market research and ad technology tracking can overlap with each other ‘cause you can get the behavioral and then you can get the self-reported. Somebody may come in with a platform that’s much, much larger than any of the players in market research and come in and do something in that way. So it’s either going to be slow and internal. slow relatively, or it’s going to be somebody coming from the outside and bringing in a broader solution and, frankly, probably selling it up the value chain to the CMO’s as an integrated advertising and insights platform. So, we’ll have to see. 


Yeah, that’s a great, super interesting point of view. So, switch gears again: qualitative forums. They’ve been around a long time, two decades.  I was an early user, not a developer, but user of a variety of different platforms. You know, 20|20 QualBoards, it’s been around a long time. On January 18 this year, you announced a major upgrade. Tell us about the upgrade as well as what aspects are getting major traction right now. 


Sure. So upgrade is a kind where we actually just rebuilt the whole thing. So,
we’ve had to do that four times. So we sit at a great point in the industry. We touched thousands of digital qualitative projects a year, worked with about a thousand clients around the world every year. And so again, with that time that I’m afforded and other folks in the product development team are afforded, we can listen and watch and see where things are going. This allowed us to be the first company in the world to have a mobile qualitative app in the iTunes store. We started building that a year-and-a-half before people actually needed it. And so, we had to rebuild our platform to support those kind of things. We were one of the first companies to support multimedia for doing online qualitative.  That seems crazy to even think like there was a day when respondents couldn’t upload pictures and videos while they were telling their stories.

And that was only 10 or 11 years ago, but it wasn’t that long ago. And we had to rebuild then. And so we reached a point about two years ago where we realized we had to rebuild for a fourth time. We see these things as evolutionary ages. It was just first doing digital and the second it was about multimedia; then it was mobile. And so the question is, what’s the fourth? What do we believe we’re in? I believe we’re in the age of automation when we look at the thousands of projects that we help run every year. The big, unrealized dream that people had when they started building digital qual platforms and the thing that, frankly, still frustrates a lot of researchers is doing online qualitative isn’t all that much faster, easier. There’s still a lot of data that moves back and forth and little tasks that need to be completed. And there’s a lot of set up. And so, it’s disappointing that you get into one of these studies and you’re like, “Ooh, digital,” especially when you find researchers who’d never done any sort of online discussions or forums before, and they go, “Oh, this is going to be so much easier.”  And we’re like, “It’ll be easier in ways and harder in others.” And so, we realized that what we had to do is we had to automate as much of the heavy lifting or menial tasks as we possibly could. And so, we spent about two, two-and-a-half years building out; really started with a foundation. It was all about data. How are we going to use artificial intelligence, natural language processing, machine learning, and build models that help researchers do the things they do that take up a lot of time, give that time back to them, give them their most valuable resource back?

And so, QualBoard 4.0 in that platform, there’s a lot of new and interesting things, but the real thing, I think, it will be known for three or four years from now is it was the first platform that really on the qualitative side fully bet the farm on how do we automate the little things in research to make a researcher’s life easier and more efficient. Right now, we feel like we can give, depending on the type of project, an hour a day back to researchers up to two or three hours a day depending on how much workload they’re doing. And that’s an enormous amount of time they can put back into insight development, frankly, just better, spending more time with the respondents. Automation we believe is where online qualitative is going.  The quant people, you guys are way smarter than us. You figured this out like five or six years ago, but the qual side of the business really hasn’t been able to.


Well, in all fairness it hasn’t because we take into account time. So as soon as you inject scheduling into any operational structure, it exponentially impacts the amount of time and complexity associated with particular activities. So like the synchronous nature of qualitative has created…  That and it’s not as big of a space. So I think there hasn’t been as much interest as you might have on the quant side. When you frame out like the efficiency gains that are introduced within 20|20’s QualBoard, is there a specific shining example that you have?


Lots of smaller ones.  We do a lot of research, and so I got to talk to some of the world’s leading experts on natural language processing and machine learning. When we started this process and we’d start with the obvious question, which is “How much of this…?  What’s the big silver bullet that we can put together? We can create some great models around and just knock it out of the park.” And they would all look at us and said, “You’re crazy. There is no such thing. There’s no silver bullet. What you can do is you can have these little helper applications that run that free up little pieces of time.”   So I’ll give you an example. We built something called smart reply. And what we did is we said “Look, one of the things that we know drives participation rates up by about 30% is when the moderator engages the respondent.

Just the simple act of like, ‘Hi, Jamin, thanks for being here. Great feedback. Love that photo.’ “  That can increase response rates from that respondent by up to 30%. Guess what percentage? And everybody knows this. Researchers know it’s really important to engage those respondents and keep them interested and let them know there’s a human being listening and all of those positive things we think of in qualitative. What percentage of posts in the 20 years we’ve been doing this, what percentage of them do you think are engaged or something a respondent says the moderator engages on? 


I’m going to say 60%.


Six tenths of 1%, Jamin.


Wait, in fairness, in fairness, my assertion was that they were already in a session.  That was wrong. I think. 


No. So, the overall majority of content that a respondent is providing in an online community never goes engaged on.  The other respondents, other respondents… 


That’s amazing. 


It’s amazing. And so, it starts to feel more like a survey. Their engagement goes down, and the minute that you probe or engage them, that engagement goes back up, but it takes time and it’s hard. You got to read through all this stuff. So we started building our own machine learning and looking over millions of records that we’ve collected over 20 years, millions, like 6 or 7 million records. We said, “Could we create training models to understand when researchers probe what they say and then provide either suggestions or automatically probe respondents in certain situations so that we know that we can increase that engagement level by automating a lot of that?”


So it’s like an AI in augmented conversation.


In a way, yeah. We let the researcher stay in the middle right now for the way that we’ve got it set up now. So they have to choose which smart replies they want to deploy to which respondent, but it saves an extraordinary amount of time, makes it easier, like in Gmail when you start typing out an email.


Yeah, yeah, it makes sense.


Similar to that, but it’s focused completely on qualitative research. So, there’s seven different classifiers that run when a respondent is talking about things that are about an experience. It starts pulling smart replies that are focused on, “Tell me more about that experience. Tell me more about that experience that you had.” It gives them the feedback that there’s somebody listening, except you don’t have to type it all. We have a way to automate that that we are slowly working on. We’re a little nervous people go overuse it. And so, we’re trying to create the right kind of throttles so that it is AI automatically probing those respondents in a lot of cases.  We were able to create models that looked at where researchers left what we call either insight tags or content tags: things that they typically are snapshotting to put in a report. We created a model that’s 72% effective at finding posts based on what is in the post, that we think a researcher needs to pay attention to. And so, there’s a feature in the software that you can turn on and say, “Just show me the things that the software thinks you’re going to actually want to put in a report,” saving time here and there, thirty minutes here, an hour here. Managed, starts to add up.


All right. I mean that seems like I actually really want to see a demo of that. It sounds like much more than a quality of life improvement. It feels like you’re going to get a higher level of engagement among your panelists or participants in addition to the fact that you’re going to be able to get to the richer, deeper insights. 


I think the level of engagement increasing, if that was the only thing we got out of it, it’s been more than worth it.  But you’re right. The ability for research to get more of their time back is also a big plus.


I want to talk about another product that you guys introduced this year in May specifically, and that is the slow-build lean community. From my vantage point, I think this is probably one of the more overdue products in the marketplace. It’s so silly. This should have been like 10 years ago.


Jamin, do you know how many times people tell me that?  I was talking to somebody last Friday and they were like, “Why has nobody done this?” And I think some people have, but maybe product market fit wasn’t right at the time or whatever. So the way it works is pretty straight forward. First of all, you need to know we do a ton of recruiting to our own platforms. About half the studies we do every year we’re recruiting; the other half clients are bringing sample; or we’re using some of our automation tools to recruit for quantitative or other panels. So we’ve got a bunch of different ways that we can bring these respondents in at these communities. And we would talk to clients and we would say, “With QualBoard 4.0 and the ability to build these larger populations, thousands of users and have them participate in all these different events while they’re doing your research, you can really build out a community,” and their eyes would kind of roll and they’d be like, “Yeah, I got one.” Or “Yeah, we did one. We’re never doing that again.”  And we would hear those things and we’d say, “Well, tell me more about that ‘cause for qual.” So we asked the probing question, and they kept telling us some of the same things that, “We’d build up these communities.” And they were mostly thinking large quantitative communities. They’d sign a big. huge check up front. They’d recruit 500, 1000, 1500 people. They bring them in, let’s say in January. We’d start doing research and then by May or June they’d go, “We didn’t actually get the right kind of people we want to talk to. Now we’ve learned a lot about our customer base. We’ve learned a lot about this new product. We need more females than we initially recruited, or we need more lapsed users.” But they felt kind of stuck cause they’d signed a six-figure check for a big community.

 On the traditional way, people think about qual boards is a tactical three- to seven-day online qualitative discussion. And so they’re like, “That’s kind of small,” and what I call disposable, meaning you’ll do a piece of research and it’s typically just focused on a single business decision, but then they get this really big thing that’s this big community and it’s very expensive and there wasn’t a ton of product in the middle. And so, we productize through either our automation, our recruiting capability and the way that we set up even the pricing model of QualBoard to be able to say, “Look, you can build into a community. You could start with five people on day one and do one event with those respondents. And then month two, you bring in a few more and month three and you’re kind of building it like a snowball. And it turns out it scratches an itch a ton of people have. And I think it’s just a different way of thinking about the middle ground between a large-scale quant community and your typical, tactical online research that people do. And we’re having a phenomenal amount of success with it. And it’s not driven by a single piece of technology. There’s some stuff that certainly helps support these things. It’s more the mind shift of build-it-as-you-go-along; lets you be more agile; let’s you save costs when you’re building these things out. And right now it’s giving us some really, really happy clients.


That’s great. So just to iterate what I think I heard:  everybody does ad hoc research, and you’re basically creating a connector into a panel from the ad hoc.


You’re basically building a panel inside of the platform as you go along.


And so, the really interesting thing about that is like underpinnings of blockchain. You actually have this capacity to safely grow respondent record over time so that you’re able to gain insight on not just stated but even other data that they may want to let you in on, which gets really interesting from an overall…  ‘Cause the real asset… This is a transactional business. We’re all trying to move to monthly reoccurring revenue (MRR) because that’s what the market overvalues right now. But you put all bullshit aside, and you just really focus on what we are as an industry. You have an insights need, and we meet that need. We get the customer in the room, right? That’s fundamentally what we do. Rarely is that systematized to the degree that I think we’d like it to be. I wish it was, but it’s not right now. But really what you’re talking about doing is creating that system so that you can build a longitudinal point of view at the respondent level. 


That’s right. Either longitudinal or take advantage of the thing that people think communities have.  From the quantitative side is you can just turn and burn super-fast. That brand manager comes around and says, “Hey, do you know, have we ever asked anybody about this use of our product?”  You can just go into your community and invite five or ten people into a video chat or give them a journal to fill out or get a group discussion going in a matter of minutes. That ability to be super agile is more in demand right now. The longitudinal is a piece of it.  Don’t get me wrong. But we’re seeing drive the lean community adoption. I think is more this idea that you can just be so agile with this community of users that you’ve already got going. 


So, do you think knowledge management…  Does that play into what you’re currently offering? Or is that one of the…  How do you see that? 


I would say in qualitative, it’s a little bit of a challenge just because of, as you mentioned before, the rather transactional way that this industry has been built. But I give a presentation on what I call disposable insights, which is this idea that we run all these focus groups and we do all this, even a lot of quant.  We throw the data away at the end of a project. As a little totem of this, it’s in a drawer back here somewhere. I was on the marketing side of a brand team a long time ago, and we did some focus groups, and I got the final report and I never looked at it. I just threw it on my desk. Well, that was 20 years ago. And I have carried it with me for years and years and years as a little totem to remind me of how easy it is to pay $100,000, spend three days in research, two weeks waiting for the report, and then never really integrate that knowledge in an ongoing basis in product development. So what we did with QualBoard 4.0 is we made it so that all the data you collect from all your different research events over time, they all feed into one place.  You can sort and filter and look at trends you can use. We’ve got our AI that looks at all the images that are collected and runs computer vision on them. You can say, “Look, I’m going to look over the last two years of research. How many times have people put pictures of pets?” And as we’re talking about the product and find those trends and look for those things.

So we’re getting there.  There’s a lot of education, a lot of training on the qual side because it’s historically been so transactional. But more and more the brand teams that are using our platforms, they go, “Oh, I get it. This gives me a way to say, ‘Look, I already have some knowledge maybe to start this next phase of research; I’m not starting with a blank piece of paper.’ ” And so, we’ve designed our system to work in that way and give you what we call an insight work bench. It’s lightly used now ‘cause most people are still in the tactical mode. But I think every day we see more and more people go, “I get it. I see why building a knowledge warehouses is a good thing for qualitative and a good thing for my brand clients.”


Fast forward five years. How are we different?


The dangerous question, the one that I jokingly will tell you that my crystal ball’s in the shop.


Bring it out; dust it off.


And I’m careful with these projections. So I think in five years, the trend I see is that more and more brands are internalizing research as a competitive advantage. I think that that is going to continue to happen. They’re going to see their insights groups not as a way to make research happen for them when they need it, but as an actual business competitive advantage. So I think we’ll see more and more of that. And I see some really smart stuff happening with the way that some of the bigger brands and even some of the more kind of static and traditional brands realize that insights can be a strategic thing and so let’s insource it. Think digital qual right now is probably less than 20% of the marketplace in the U.S.  I think in five years, it’ll be 50% if not more. The shift we’re seeing from traditional insight collection to digital is it’s on the biggest rise I’ve seen in the last 10 or 11 years and so I think in five years, my guess is we’ll probably be close to 50% if not a little bit more. 

I think from the corporate researcher side…  We work with a lot of folks on the corporate side and what I see is the really sharp insight departments moving towards it and starting to pull off.  That, I think, is going to be more and more common ‘cause right now a lot of the insights groups and a lot of the way we do research is reactive. Brand manager comes in, a product manager, R & D person comes in and says, ”Hey, I have a business question; I need an answer.”  And I see more and more, especially with some of our direct-to-consumer brand clients and more kind of disruptive clients, they’re actually the tip of the spear. They’re going out and listening really intently to what’s going on with their customers, trying to listen for we call the ripples of disruption that are going on in their lives, things that are changing, and then they bring those things practically to the brand team to say, “Hey, have you thought about this?  Are you seeing this in other things that you’re doing in your marketplace? How do we get in front of this trend versus being reactionary?” I am hopeful that if we can pull that off, it will turn insights… It’ll give us a renaissance in our industry. I think we are way too reactive right now. And being able to be a proactive force inside of corporate brands, I’ve seen it happen; I’ve seen it be wildly effective. And I think if I can look out five years and say that a third or half of brand teams are organized around doing mostly proactive research, the world would be a better place.


Yeah, I totally agree with that.  You’re seeing, a surgence of UX researchers right now and I think one of the reasons you’re seeing this massive growth is because they physically sit either in a slack channel or where they sit next to the people that are in the production, right? So you’re able to get more of this agile or lean or however you want to frame it, sort of insight — Just-in-time insights. The other thing I think is interesting that you’re hitting on that I haven’t heard a lot of, but I actually have gone on record as saying it.  2018, according to SMR, digital quals about $2 billion; 2023, I think it’s going to be around $6 billion. I think it’s interesting in context of where you’re framing things out. And the hypothesis around that is you’re going to see growth in qual… quant (excuse me) as well, but proportionally not nearly as much. I think it’s an exciting time. And the reason that we’re going to be able to do this is because you’re going to see more and more hybrid methodologies that are going to blend qualitative and quantitative so that you can have a conversation but at a size that you can extrapolate to the larger market. 


That’s right.  One of the favorite products that we have here is a product, the imoderate methodology. It’s a is the hybrid quant/qual product. And it was built about 10 years too early.  And now we’re seeing clients, and they come in and they go, “They say exactly what you, what you’re saying here.” And they go. “We’re doing all this quantitative and we really want to get more voice to the customer. We want to get underneath some of these open-ended’s. And I don’t know if some of these numbers and learn, but we want to do it quickly and narratively.” And so, we’re seeing a growth in the interest in those hybrid methodologies. And I think it plays right to your point that quant is going to grow. But qual is that explanatory power, especially if we can make it fast and easy to do.   I think it’s going to grow like gangbusters. I think another thing in five years… People say it a lot and it’s probably the single greatest challenge we have in our DNA, is that we built our industry based on process and we’re being asked to be consultants now. And I have been a consultant in a previous career and I look around our industry and I see a lot of people that get really good at process, but not enough people who really have a consultant’s mindset and can think about problems and practically look for issues before they become issues. That’s what’s being asked of our industry these days. And I don’t think we had the right talent. So when we started this conversation, we started talking about LinkedIn and how to create more visibility with market research in general.  We have got to bring in some of that really important critical-thinking talent to our base or take some of the folks we have in our space and train them how to think critically and how to problem-solve some of these things with our client. We cannot be a process driven industry anymore. We have to make that evolution or I don’t know if we will make it well.


Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s a really good point.  To that end as we’re looking into the crystal ball still, if it’s me, I’m investing on a marketing basis; now I’m investing a lot more into thought leadership, if for no other reason, just because Google AdWords is getting so expensive.  And you can massively improve your SEO at an organic level if you are driving content that people care about and adding value to the conversation as opposed to what we historically have seen, which is “Look at me, look at me” sort of posts.  I think you are seeing, I know you’re seeing a pivot but in marketing spends, but there’s a ton of white space sitting right there. All right, my last question: what is your personal motto? 


Had it for a long time. I should have Googled it before this ‘cause I was thinking about it almost like he’s going to ask me that question. I’m going to say it, and then I’m going to feel silly ‘cause I didn’t look it up.  And I forgot to. For many years I heard a story and I was given a motto and it has never left me. And I probably, it’s one of the first things I think in the morning and one of the last things I think in night. It drives an enormous percentage of the decisions I make personally and professionally. “Know the story; have a villain; be the hero.” It’s simple; it’s straight forward. And I cannot tell you, for me, how many situations in life, those three simple sentences give me a structure to think about and a way to think about my role and what I need to do. And it’s one of those things that gets me up in the morning. And so the origin story that I’ve been told…  I need to go look this up. As a matter of fact, if one of your listeners finds it, I will be forever in your gratitude. 

I was told that when Steve Jobs died, those three words are written on a small piece of paper, and it was the only thing in his desk. I have not been able to confirm that.  I was told that and I just kind of went with it and it became part of my everyday life that I thought about that not necessarily because the Steve jobs tie, but just that’s where I was told that motto and I can’t find it now. I don’t actually know where it came from.  But that is the thing that for me defines a lot of the ways I make decisions and the way that I look at the world.


Give me your motto one more time.


Know the story; have a villain; be the hero.


My guest today has been Isaac Rogers, CEO at 20|20. Thank you so much, Isaac, for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Always a pleasure, Jamin.


Everyone else, if you please take time, screen capture, share this, distribute it to friends, family, thumbs up, five-star ratings.  It all goes to help increase visibility. I love you. Thank you. Have a great rest of your day.


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