The State of the Industry

Frédéric Charles Petit, Chief Executive Officer

I recently had the privilege of participating with other industry leaders in a panel at the CASRO Annual Conference 2016.  The panel focused on the state of our industry now and in the near future. I felt that the biggest takeaway from the experience was the certainty that we (data suppliers) as an industry are the standard bearers of change and innovation. We are leading the charge to modernize the way market research is conducted, and we’re bringing along our clients in the process.

Here are some of the issues posed to the panel by the always fun Merrill Dubrow, along with my responses:

The lines seem to be blurring between sampling firms, data collection firms and market research companies. Do you agree or disagree with that statement?

I have to disagree. I believe there are distinct differences between companies. For example, I do not see Toluna as, strictly speaking, a market research firm; we know that our strong suit will never lie in this area. We are expert at finding and engaging with survey takers and at developing new digital survey technologies. On the other hand, market research agencies are expert at helping end clients make better decisions.

Is DIY research good or bad?

I don’t know that anyone on this panel can say that DIY is a bad thing. DIY is empowering market research professionals to save time and money and make more informed decisions. And, thanks to new techniques and technologies, they are no longer sacrificing quality. I believe DIY research can empower MR companies to be more nimble and focus on what they do best—serving their customers.

What competitor worries you the most?  Point to them if they’re on stage.

“You should always look behind you so that you can see the next young company that wants to steal your market share.” – Mark Leslie

I don’t look at companies and get nervous. I think its bad business practice. I look at the way that the world changes and business shifts. For example, the fact that email—once an important vehicle for us—is virtually dead is a more immediate competitive threat than a single competitor we face.

My response to the question was to point toward the ceiling J.

Do you worry about Google? Facebook? Twitter?  

No. I think that we, each of the people on this panel, know how to survey people. The people at Google, Facebook, and Twitter do not. We’ve seen giants try this and fail at conducting market research. Linkedin is a great example of this.

When will mobile become the leading platform for communicating with respondents? Or will that ever happen?

We’ve been talking about mobile for more than six years now. Our initial mistake was to treat mobile as a new methodology vastly different from online. That has not proven to be the case. While we do see differences in the way people take surveys via mobile, they are participating in surveys as they do online. We should do a better job of capitalizing on the benefits of mobile in some cases, and ensure that surveys are accessible no matter when/where/how respondents wish to take them. Then the question of when and if mobile becomes the leading platform is unimportant.

Will the average online survey still be 20 minutes long five years from now?

No. We need to do a better job of inputting data, asking questions only when it is necessary and helping market research professionals streamline surveys, all using up-to-date technology. Our clients are all experiencing shorter and shorter windows of consumer time, so it’s no longer good enough to provide the lengthy surveys that worked in the past. Clients need surveys that will engage readers, fit into their busy lives and produce actionable data quickly.

What is your position regarding automated sampling, API’s and marketplaces? What is your strategy and what percentage of your business do you think will be automated three years from now? Is this trend good for the survey takers?

We at Toluna have a different view on this: The community is the largest social voting community in the industry, and our people do engage with one and other (and us). As a result, we benefit greatly by having readily available real-time respondents as an alternative to APIs. I see this growing as it has. That said, traditional panels are a thing of the past as they are not real-time.

Some clients are terminating good respondents late in surveys and not rewarding them, resulting in souring the pool of survey takers, is this a concern?

Yes, and at Toluna we try to take steps to prevent this from happening. We are very aware that the pool of respondents is not vast enough that we can treat them poorly. And, even if it were limitless, would we want to mistreat this critical asset? You could use the analogy that someone in a chain restaurant may have a poor experience because the proprietor knows that there are more customers and he asserts that he can’t control his food suppliers. It’s ridiculous.

How can your firms protect your most important asset (respondents)?

Toluna is dedicated to protecting our most important asset in a number of ways. We truly invest in our respondent experience. From new apps designed to engage with respondents and empower them to send surveys to peers globally, to unique rewards programs – we dedicate our business to best practices here.

Wearables? Drones? What’s next beyond mobile?

Any device that provides us with data is a good thing. We’re now appending multiple types of data sources to respondent data. It’s giving us the why behind the who/what. I see us doing this more and more.