A recount of my Vegas-inspired epiphany and how TV panel recruitment is giving Innovate the edge.
LOS ANGELES, November 7, 2015 — A few years ago, while I was still running uSamp, I arrived in New Orleans for a sample conference. It was a hot and oppressively muggy day. My colleagues and I were eager to get to the opening event so we piled into the first cab we saw. The cabbie was a friendly man with a strong NOLA accent, “What are ya’ll in town for?” he asked. My business partner Matt replied, “We’re here for a Market Research conference.” I glanced over at Matt expecting him to go into his normal spiel – the part where he explains WHAT Market Research is. Let’s face it, when you work in Market Research, you often need to explain in detail what you do for a living. Otherwise, people will be quick to label you as the dodgy dude in the mall. You know the one: armed with a clipboard and a desperate look. Before Matt could delve into his typical talk track, the cabbie quickly interrupted and said, “Oh… I love Market Research!” We all looked at each other in amazement and gave a collective smirk to the cabbie because this never happens!
“So you love Market Research, huh?” I said. The cabbie retorted jovially, “Yes, I take surveys allllll the time. I belong to more panels than I can remember man – maybe twenty.” The newfound excitement I was feeling for this kindred spirit in the front seat quickly dissipated. “Twenty panels?” I said. “Yes sir, I tell them what they want to hear and they give me all sorts of cash. In fact, I’m waiting on some cash for a survey I took months ago. Maybe you guys can help me out? I answered ‘yes’ to everything, so I deserve my money!”
All I could think was… “Holy s#@!” As a sample veteran who built one of the first online panels of its kind, I was completely horrified by our cabbie’s confession and yet reminded that sample professionals are facing a very real problem. Our pond is small and we are all casting a line into the same pool of motionless water. Needless to say, the cabbie went through a long list of panel names and I was able to put him in touch with the appropriate company.
As I sat in the cab, I was reminded of another conference I attended in Vegas, ‘CASRO Online’ back in 2012. Some of you reading this blog may recall a “Panel of Panelists.” This was a particularly memorable session at the conference. I sat in the audience silently panicking as nearly a dozen REAL panelists from a variety of panels got up on stage to share their reflections of market research. Just like my cabbie friend, these panelists shared some unsavory news. The vast majority of these people belonged to several panels. One respondent in the discussion started condemning SPECIFIC panels. My worst nightmare was becoming a reality – he was attacking panel after panel by NAME, in front of my clients. I feared for the worst, thinking he would throw my panel under the figurative bus. I held my breath. I could feel my palms getting sweaty; I scanned the room. What I saw was a sea of desperate faces, hung-over from last night’s Vegas festivities, all quietly praying to themselves in an imaginary fetal position.
Thankfully, I was spared that day in Vegas; the respondent on stage did not gripe about my panel. Others were not so lucky. Something happened to me in that moment though. I guess you could say I had an epiphany. I had to get back to the office and make some serious changes to our sourcing strategy. Sure, we used digital fingerprinting to mitigate the risk of duplicates just like the next panel company, but I was riddled with worry that my panel would soon lose its edge, that my value proposition to buyers would be diminished by the over-saturation of new panels surfacing every year.
Back in LA a day later, I met with my team and we locked ourselves in the conference room vowing not to come out until we found a solution to this alarming trend. “What if we recruit some of our panel offline?” I asked the group. “We could develop a TV commercial and drive new members to our website. We live down the street from Hollywood!” At the time, my team thought I had lost my marbles. We are sample experts not TV producers. Luckily, I’ve made some incredible contacts in the media and entertainment industries - before long we were developing a clever script for our first TV commercial and we had assembled an amazing team of media experts to help us. The plan was to produce a Spanish language commercial and air this on major networks such as Univision and Telemundo. It was an expensive endeavor; that I can tell you. My team and I made mistakes. We overpaid for TV spots. We misjudged timing and production costs, but I have never regretted my journey into TV recruitment. Why? Uniqueness and panel diversity is a prize that few enjoy in this space. Sure, it was a painful process of trial and error, but the rewards cannot be measured.
So What Are We Doing At Innovate?
Since then, here at Innovate, we’ve developed additional commercials and we recently launched a commercial across several cable networks some examples include: Bravo, Spike, Comedy Central, and BET. These networks, along with others help us to recruit a variety of demos i.e., moms with kids, young males, Hispanics and African-Americans to name a few.
Our team is observing greater uniqueness among our panelists. When polled, over 85% of our panel indicated that they belong to one panel – ours. I was shocked when I saw this data! For professionals in this space, we know the inverse is generally true – 85% typically belong to many panels. This over-usage and overlap has serious implications on data quality (via overzealous behaviors measured in high brand awareness, usage and favorability scores). But what makes TV recruitment different?
Panelists who are recruited offline look and act differently than traditional online sourcing. Many online panels are reliant on un-vetted affiliate networks, many of which can produce poor quality data and frenzied behaviors within surveys. Typical online recruitment sources are over-saturated with women and are generally under-represented for key groups such as global b2b respondents of all varieties, ailment sufferers and Hispanics. Our offline approach allows us to gain a new access channel to these high demand, low supply segments. What is a common weakness for other panels, is our strength and we have TV to thank for it. It’s important to note that I still use several high-quality, online recruitment sources and I use them regularly to help bolster my panel. Let’s be clear though – there are definitely some sources out there that will give you nightmares. Not all online sources are created equal.
Just recently, one of my clients came to me in dire straits. Unfortunately for him, he made the mistake of buying sample from a company who pivoted from ‘online publisher’ to ‘market research sample supplier.’ Here’s a tip folks: if a company adds “MR” to the end of their name, don’t assume they are now sample experts. You should judge your suppliers’ capabilities by their experience in sampling and their pedigree. Sadly, my poor client learned the hard way; he had been awarded a large-scale QSR tracker that was going off the rails. For the last few months, my client’s data was skewing very high on awareness and usage, a common issue when a sample supplier uses too much overly incentivized traffic and doesn’t have expertise in sample blending. Historically, the other supplier was missing key quotas among demos such as Hispanics and African-Americans. Additionally, some of the secondary markets were missed as well. Our TV recruitment methodology was really impactful for my client’s tracker. TV advertising allowed us to conduct geo-specific recruitment in these hard-to-reach markets and build out a supply pipeline for future replicability. And as the saying goes, everyone lived happily ever after! Stories like this always make me thankful for that epiphany I had many moons ago back in Vegas. What started as a very uncomfortable discussion at a conference, ended with a new strategy that has generated a lot of success for my business. I guess what happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
Interested in how commercials are produced? Take a look at the production of Innovate’s panel recruitment commercial and some behind-the-scenes footage!
About the Author:A native of Southern California and graduate of California State University, Gregg Lavin pioneered the modern digital sampling industry, creating the world-class uSamp and goZing panels. Along the way, Gregg has introduced highly disruptive technologies which have advanced the way research agencies fulfill their clients’ needs. Over his 16 year career in Market Research, Gregg has developed over 200 research panels, both public and private. As co-founder of Innovate MR, Gregg relentlessly pursues his mission of providing superlative service and exploring new methodologies to help advance the industry.