Our guest today is Mark Slobbe, Partner and Co-founder of Lighthouse Consulting.
Find Mark Online:
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- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Company: https://www.lighthouseconsulting.io/
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- “As It Was” by Harry Styles
This Episode is Sponsored by:
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Chueyee Yang: Today is April 11th, 2022. Happy Monday. This is Chueyee Yang, the show’s producer, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. We have a very special guest today, but before we get to that, here is a word from our sponsors.
Jamin Brazil: Support for the Happy Market Research Podcast and the following message, comes from Michigan State’s marketing research program and HubUX. The Michigan State University’s Master of Science in marketing research program, delivers the number one ranked insights and analytics degree in three formats. Full-Time on campus, full-time online and part-time online. New for 2022, if you can’t commit to their full degree program, simply begin with one of their three course certifications, insights design or insights analysis. In addition to the certification, all of the courses you complete will build towards your graduation. If you are looking to achieve your full potential, check out MSU’s program at broad.msu.edu/marketing. Again, 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.
Chueyee Yang: This is episode 518, and according to Spotify, As It Was by Harry Styles is currently the number one track with more than 78 million streams. This song was released earlier this month. And according to Spotify, As It Was was the most streamed song in the US in one single day with 8.3 million streams. Take a listen.
Jamin Brazil: Hey everybody, you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. My guest is Mark Slobbe, partner and co-founder of Lighthouse Consulting. Mark and I have been in the industry for quite a while, but we recently had a conversation, it centered around data quality and I’m like, I have got to get your point of view on the podcast. So that really became the impetus. Mark, welcome to the show.
Mark Slobbe: Thank you very much for having me.
Jamin Brazil: Let’s start with some context. Tell us about your parents and how they inform what you do today.
Mark Slobbe: Sure. So I’m from the Netherlands and my dad worked for Honda in the Netherlands, where he was probably the equivalent of VP running a motorcycles department for Honda in the Netherlands. He’s part of the European management team and my mom was a nurse. And I was very happy that, I think I must have been around 17 or so when he wanted my help, on actually, on a bit of research, and I only realized that after you asked me the question. Because they were about to launch an electric bike, which was way ahead of their time, because these things, especially in the Netherlands are very popular right now, but not so much in the mid ’90s. So there I was with pen and paper, asking people who were interested in the bike and asking them questions. I would not say that at that moment I decided to become a market research professional at all. As many of us, I just rolled into the industry. But my dad’s work had an impact on how I do things today. One thing that I always remember, he had the opportunity to move to Reading and we would’ve moved with the whole family, of course. And I thought that was gonna be a great adventure, but it was in the middle of the school year and he didn’t wanna upset us by moving to a different country and break us away from our known environment. But for me, that was actually a disappointment. So I think by then I really set my mind on moving abroad, which I finally was able to do 17 years later after that decision. And the other thing that was beautiful to see was how my dad, I saw how his team respected him, and I also saw how he managed his team. And I think what I got both from them is that you look after your people, and you care for them, and you show empathy. And empathy is still a very, very, very important part of how I work with people and manage people.
Jamin Brazil: Was it Redding, California?
Mark Slobbe: No, Reading, London. Just outside of London.
Jamin Brazil: Got it.
Mark Slobbe: I didn’t even know there was a Redding, California.
Jamin Brazil: I’m like, no way. It’s actually kind of close to me. That would’ve been hilarious. Let’s talk about data quality. Tell me about, what do you see as some of the core issues around data quality today. And by data quality, I mean, participant sample quality.
Mark Slobbe: Absolutely. I understand. Everybody sees that data quality is an increasing problem, literally in percentages of responses that are being thrown away. I think there is bad quality because there are survey bots and survey farms and what have you. There are a lot of companies, or there are some companies that are trying to prevent from those things, those robots to come in. Don’t really want to talk about that. I think bad quality data has also- Other reasons, and that is mostly about a bad experience, there are always people who just answer surveys to try to get a dollar here or there, but that should be a relatively small percentage. I think the problem is that surveys general are bad. People have a bad experience and their time is- When they started in early 2000, it was a great way for people to earn an additional incentive, and I think people were much more engaged. And there was not a lot of other distractions where people would be spending their time. Right now, there are so many applications, so many things to do on your mobile phone or behind your laptop, it’s not worth their time anymore. And even more so I think the value proposition is bad, and the experience is bad. It really- If you are a serious person really trying to answer a survey truthfully, you’re being sent from one platform to the other, to the other, to the other, answering the same question sometimes three times in a row for the same kind of survey flow, because you’re being sent from A to B to C and then you’re being screened out. If you’re not being screened out, you end up in very long surveys. Surveys are still not mobile friendly and I’m not seeing anything new here, but it’s just surprising and shocking to me a lot of demand for people taking surveys has increased so much and the willingness and the ability for people to take surveys has just gotten worse, and there’s less and less people who want to do this, because it’s simply a bad experience.
Jamin Brazil: So there’s two things, right? Oh gosh, maybe there’s three things that you’re unpacking there. The first of it is actually the survey itself. I was just speaking with one of the directors of insights at Adobe yesterday in San Jose about the way that we write surveys is very 1995 still. So we treat a survey question like it’s this deep dive scientific-.
Mark Slobbe: Exactly.
Jamin Brazil: As opposed to it being more conversational, which is from his point of view and mine as well, much more in line with being able to get a real answer. And one of the things that I think is really interesting on that is people don’t read. The social sphere has trained us, where we spend five plus hours a day, has trained us, if you’re uninterested swipe. If you are interested, then you can do a deep dive and thinking about like the meme frameworks and all those kinds of things. None of them are framed in a 50 word question.
Mark Slobbe: No, that’s exactly- Oh, that’s an interesting dynamic happening in the research industry. I think researchers are very afraid of changing methodologies, changing whatever it is. Changing a question in a tracker, moving providers, and I fully understand all those- That fear, because anything changes and you get a change in the results. What is the reason? At the same time technology and our behavior and how we interact with information, is evolving way faster than the insights industry is evolving. So there’s a weird dynamic going on between the two. There are lots of opportunities, lots of technological solutions to turn surveys into a better experience, and yet they’re not being fully utilized. And we’re still writing surveys with the pen and paper in mind. Very academic. The other thing that I see, brands are trying to get closer to, they use their buyers. It is more open. It is more conversational and we see an increase in people giving their opinions through videos. That is a start, although I think- still think it’s a little bit of a, like a one way. But to gather information, if you must, then we should be welcoming tools that make this more fun, more conversational, more human.
Jamin Brazil: And you are seeing that. You are seeing tools, survey tools that are coming into the market now. Although I would say they’re more niche in nature as opposed to Qualtricses or Survey Monkeys that are gamifying the survey experience. I think about like FastFocus, which is relatively new platform that is kinda like doing a- Well, it is doing a swipe approach, which mirrors more of like a MaxDiff.
Mark Slobbe: Gamification is useful, but I still think that what that makes the experience a little bit better, a little bit more natural to how we are interacting with other things.
Jamin Brazil: Is someone doing it well?
Mark Slobbe: Could be, but I haven’t seen it yet. I think there’s also two other parts. So a lot of questions are self-reported questions, like trying to memorize if you shopped at a grocery store last week and what did you buy? But there’s a lot of questions that we still ask that we kind of know, or that we could know from somebody’s activity on their mobile device, if we have an honest and open value proposition for sharing that data. And that eliminates a lot of the questions that are being repeatedly asked and give you the real truth of what somebody has been doing, rather than asking them to memorize how many cartons of milk they bought last week and what brand. I don’t remember.
Jamin Brazil: Of course, not. And no one does. That’s the reality. And we’re getting worse and worse at guessing, as attention spans are decreasing. And it is very laborious on participants, especially if they’re coming to your survey in a marketplace. Not that I- I’m not trying to shit on the marketplaces, but that experience, if you get termed out as a participant, then you go onto another opportunity. But a lot of times, you’re asked the same questions that you just answered, which probably, really starts impacting the actual LOI of your survey.
Mark Slobbe: And I think one thing that particularly in the marketplace could help improve the experience, if these players get together and agree on a set of questions, I don’t know, limited to whatever, 20, and share that data between them, then it also makes it easier to build APIs because you don’t need to build one API for one partner and one API for a client, but you will have a single API that can connect everybody together. That will be a step towards further democratization of data and of access to people.
Jamin Brazil: That would be a big win.
Mark Slobbe: I would love to see that first before another merger or acquisition.
Jamin Brazil: I think given all the M and A that’s happened inside of this space, that might just be- Get all rolled up into one survey platform anyway. Who knows.
Mark Slobbe: That may happen eventually, but there are lots of people- We’re all people, we’re all humans. We all love to share our opinions, so I think there’s no lack of people still willing to do this, but the experience has just got to improve.
Jamin Brazil: So the way the questions are written, the way that we treat participants if they come through the marketplace, is driving bad actors into the space and good participants out of the space. How are you seeing incentives playing a role, if at all?
Mark Slobbe: That really plays into a value proposition. I think incentives will always play a role. What we really need to figure out is what motivates people to answer questions. And what motivates people to be part of a panel, or what motivates them to not be part of a panel, because those are also people. And I know river sampling is a dirty word, but there is a difference between people on a panel and people who do not want to be on a panel. I actually see or hear more and more companies trying to find people outside of the regular panels to get other people to answer the surveys. And that has been really successful because they control the process a lot better. They control the whole flow from somebody entering a survey and answering the survey.
Jamin Brazil: So we do sourcing on social media for most of our research, and the challenges is costly and time intensive. So you can’t just get- I can place a big Facebook ad, but it takes a while to get that propagated through their network and then et cetera, et cetera. So the end of the day, because research needs insights fast, we do have to deal with private communities that are set up for research. The other way that is very common, in fact, I believe it’s over 80% of samples sourced through paywalls. So thinking about like a free to play app, maybe it’s a card game. You and I are- You take all of my money, so the way that I refill my coffer is by completing a survey. In which case, we really have to think about, in that transaction that’s happening, we really have to think about the motivation of the participant to actually care enough to. They have some level of real incentive as opposed to just click through so they can get back into the game.
Mark Slobbe: And that is one, and I also still strongly believe that if we say, or if panel providers are saying join our panel and you can influence decisions, that’s true, but they never see it.
Jamin Brazil: There’s no round tripping.
Mark Slobbe: Yeah. And I know that’s a difficult thing, because you’re working on the customer, working on specific projects with brands and it’s protected, but to give them something back to show them what impact they are making, that will help with the value proposition. To understand what motivates them, what motivates them in life. Like do they want to plant trees with every survey they take? I actually believe there are a lot more other incentives for people to take surveys than to get their 20 cents, 50 cents, or a dollar for a 20 to 30 minutes of their time.
Jamin Brazil: And so what do you see right now as the- If you had to guess, what do you think the median CPI is?
Mark Slobbe: The cost per complete, I think that should be around $5.
Jamin Brazil: It’s funny, I was just talking with someone today. They were paying 33 cents for a gen pop participant.
Mark Slobbe: There are different price points, and different qualities. I remember Cassie Young, former CEO of SSI said, this defeats all economic lessons that I’ve learned in my life. If demand is high and supply is low, prices should go up. But when it comes down to the cost per complete, it’s actually moving in a different direction. It’s crazy.
Jamin Brazil: It’s so crazy. It’s gonna correct. It has to correct.
Mark Slobbe: And it also makes it more difficult for the regular panel providers to give people a true value for their time in terms of monetization.
Jamin Brazil: What do you think is the root cause of the sample quality issue? I know that survey designs are one thing, but participant fraud or bad actors, or what have you, is another thing entirely. What are you seeing as really the root cause? Is it the economic model?
Mark Slobbe: I don’t know if-. If I’m being asked 20 minutes of my time for 20 minutes survey of questions that I’ve already answered, I’m not taking this very seriously. I’m not giving this my proper attention. And that’s kind of what I said earlier about, why would I care? What’s in it for me?
Jamin Brazil: And especially among one of the- I’ve been doing a lot of research on gen Z, and they have this concept of fair trade reciprocity, where, if they can make a certain amount of money in a gig economy driving for Uber Eats, what sort of compensation are they gonna get if they participate in a survey, or in a focus group. And so there is definitely, especially among, I’m seeing this in the younger generation, a big gap in terms of how much they can actually earn for their time relative to what they could earn in other venues.
Mark Slobbe: I don’t think the economic model does not lend for- Increase incentives to that amount, so therefore it’s got to be a better value proposition and it already gets better automatically if you have shorter surveys, not asking questions that you should already know.
Jamin Brazil: We’ve talked a lot about kind of issues inside of this space. I do wanna frame this out for everybody, that Mark and I are very bullish on market research. It’s our career and we love the space, right?
Mark Slobbe: Yes.
Jamin Brazil: These are just core challenges that are built up, and we’re using this venue as an opportunity to be able to help educate the market, at the end of the day. Hopefully, some effective change. I was talking with Kristin Luck today about CPIs, the falling price of CPIs. And she was telling me, she reminded me, she goes, back in even 2005, we were paying $13 for a complete, and now you’re sub a dollar. That is interesting. And yet the demand side of things is just completely blown up. It’s unbelievable. And the valuations against companies, the sample companies has really expanded as well. She thinks that one of the big problems and Kristin, you’re gonna hate me for calling you out on this, but as private equity and venture capitalists have become very interested in the space and heavily investing in it, they’re looking at improving gross margin and sample is such a material cost for research, that there is a lot of pressure for CEOs to, and operators to really try to maximize their margin there, which really squeezes out the participant incentive.
Mark Slobbe: I think it’s the last place where you should start squeezing because it’s the heart of everything.
Jamin Brazil: There’s our pull quote for the episode.
Mark Slobbe: You don’t have people motivated to participate in surveys, you have no insights industry anymore.
Jamin Brazil: Let’s shift gears. Let’s talk a little bit, from a forward looking perspective, you’re of course involved in the whole research technology or res-tech space, what do you see as a trend in consumer insights moving into 2022 and beyond?
Mark Slobbe: I’d like to change that a little bit, and I’d like to talk about the opportunities. I really hope that some of these technologies that are around are being utilized to improve the experience, to keep the people that are willing to take surveys happy, and actually get more people wanting to take surveys. So look at behavioral data, passive data collection. If and only if you have a very transparent and honest, very proposition and value exchange for the data that you’re collecting, and obviously adhering to all privacy and what have you, I really think- And that technology’s been around for a long, long, long, long time. It is super interesting. It has so many different users and it really reduces the number of questions that you need to ask somebody. And instead, you can automate things if you are looking at somebody’s behavior, what they’re doing on their phone, what they’re looking for, what apps they are using. If you also look at location data, you can look at lapsed users, change users. You can set up automated triggers for short surveys that are being triggered based on behavior in a way that could be somewhat scary. But if you educate the people on what is going to happen, then they may see it as a positive, because it is more relevant to them rather than saying like, no, I haven’t been to Burger King last week. I already told you, or whatever. We know if somebody has visited Burger King or McDonald’s or what have you. So let’s use that and figure out the why and focus on that. And I think many of the research processes, the big ones, would first have a focus group and then some in depth interviews and then a quantitative survey. I actually think that there will be a trend where this is reversed. So you first collect data that you don’t need to ask. You can observe it, you can have it, you create triggers that you find interesting, you fire off a quick survey, which is quant. And then you want to go deep and get a couple of people for an IDI or have them do video interview or whatever it may be. So that is something that I really hope is gonna trend. Another thing is DIY, and I often hear the phrase, democratizing data. I think that’s great, but I think democracy only works with good education. And I think often with the DIY tools out there, education is not always the best. And thinking here about, well, if we wanna expand our user base, we wanna extend our potential buyers, we have to go beyond the primary insight users, and that group needs education. I don’t often see that happen and it could actually damage the reputation of the industry if people are making the wrong decisions, because they’ve executed their research wrong, because they don’t really know what they’re doing. I’m not blaming them for that. So education amongst DIY, I think is important. What you mentioned earlier, having more conversational style interaction engagement between brands, MR, and their users. And another interesting thing is the use of AI, which can be used to predict behavior, but at the same time, I also think it’s a little bit scary. To give you an example, a Dutch sort of late night show host once did a test with YouTube. He bought a brand new laptop, created a brand new account with a brand new email and no association to whatever, what he did. And he started looking- He searched for COVID vaccination, just very, very generic. And then he got to a video where the vaccine is being explained. And then in your list, what’s next? You see something else. And within, I think, within five steps, he was massively deep into conspiracy and the only videos that were suggested to him are conspiracy videos. And it’s all done by the AI. So if you apply that to a user, and if you apply that to where we may be going in the near future, thinking about a metaverse, if we see somebody drinks a lot of Coca-Cola, because we see that they buy like 10 bottles a week, if we then are trying to market or to offer this person products that he’s likely to buy- So imagine walking into his personal supermarket, he will probably only see bad food and he will not see fresh produce or whatever. It’s kind of scary if we apply AI to maximize profit. And I also think it takes away our humanity. And I’m also very curious if then we apply similar algorithms to see somebody’s behavior, then what? The algorithm confirms the algorithm. It’s crazy. I think we should never ever forget the human element of surprise of something that is out of their initial scope. I think if you look at the music streaming services like Spotify and Tidal that create daily mixes for you, which I really enjoy, I discover a lot of new music, which I otherwise would never have found. I think AI can be applied and it can have a lot of benefits, but it’s also quite scary that we should not teach AIs to maximize profit from our poor, from the poor people, from the poor buyers that we sometimes are if we are blinded by only a limited set of choices that we are already likely to buy.
Jamin Brazil: That’s super powerful. It’s a big problem, the whole framework of attention, because as soon as that becomes the gauge for success, then I want to talk about what you want to talk about. Which is not an accurate frame for representing truth. And that’s a trick or the trap, I should say, that we oftentimes fall into. I teach an MBA course and part of the course is on social media. And so, of course, TikTok comes up as the fastest growing a media platform and I have everybody utilize the platform for one day and then write a real short brief on it. And inevitably there’s the subset of participants who are like, everything that- It’s just that it’s basically porn, is how they frame it. They’re unsophisticated, so they don’t understand that if they keep engaging with a certain type of content, then that certain type of content is gonna be the content that you’re going to continually be fed.
Mark Slobbe: And that’s scary.
Jamin Brazil: It is. It is. I really appreciate you taking time with me today. If somebody wants to get in contact with you, Mark, how would they do that?
Mark Slobbe: They can find me on LinkedIn. I think there are two Mark Slobbes, actually. Apparently, there are four in the world. I’ve reached out to them, they do not want anything to do with me. On LinkedIn, it’s the guy with the beard. Or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jamin Brazil: Perfect. And I’ll include your contact information in the show notes. Everybody, I hope you had a great day. Mark, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.
Mark Slobbe: Likewise. Thank you so much for having me. I had a great time.