Video as the future of market research with Simon Glass

Transform It Forward talks with Simon Glass

Video conferencing for business isn’t new. For years, companies have been using it to collaborate, present, and discuss collecting qualitative consumer research. And when workplaces were forced to move into remote environments last year, video conferencing became the norm for everyday meetings and interactions with our colleagues. But as we continue to evolve with remote working in real life, what comes next?

Simon Glass and Discuss.io

On this episode of Transform It Forward, we spoke with Simon Glass, the CEO of Discuss.io. Simon chatted with us about the next generation of video conferencing. More specifically, how can we use video with virtual teams to drive empathy and customer intimacy?

Simon’s journey to entrepreneurship began in consulting. He worked for some of the largest consulting firms in the world, including PricewaterhouseCoopers, which he used to segue into working for massive companies like Gillette and Procter and Gamble. Finally, in 2010, he took a leap of faith into the start-up world and never looked back.

“I have to say, the last 10 years have been the most fun, working in the entrepreneurial space.”

After working with Discuss.io for a few years, Simon became the CEO in February 2020. Of course, there was something pretty major going on at the same time. The COVID-19 pandemic began, and Discuss.io found itself in the right place at the right time. Since the company was founded to do online market research, they were prepared to take advantage of the massive shift to remote working and digital operations.

“We were in an interesting spot at a tough time and had a really good platform that was ready to step up and step in, so to speak.”

A platform built for qualitative research

When Discuss.io launched in 2014, it was designed to bring face-to-face focus groups online. The founders built the platform from scratch with the mantra that video-based qualitative research would be better, faster, and cheaper. Seven years later, their mantra still stands — with or without a global pandemic that halted in-person market research sessions.

“We’ve proved it right that doing research using video can actually be much better, a heck of a lot faster, and ultimately, it’s a lower total cost of ownership.”

For the many steps along the customer journey, quantitative research is obviously easier to measure. So, how can qualitative research be applied along that same path?

For Simon, the key is that Discuss.io’s platform was built specifically for qualitative research. They did this through two key focuses:

  1. Bringing structure to video meetings.
  2. Generating insights from video meetings.

By enabling conversations at scale with global consumers, the Discuss.io platform takes these two focuses to the next level. Instead of a simple quantitative survey, the platform allows in-depth conversations with people that provide scalable qualitative insights. This can be optimized through the relatively new DIY component of the platform.

“The DIY component] truly enables agencies and big brands who are customers of ours to take the keys, work on our platform, and basically scale this research themselves.”

The power of agile empathy

Over the last year, Simon and his team have seen much more agility in market research. Their customers want to get closer to consumers and focus on empathy and intimacy. This requires more frequent meetings with consumers that provide a higher velocity of insight. In fact, Discuss.io recently released a trend analysis that spoke of this concept of agile empathy.

“What we mean by agile empathy is that brands, especially large brands, need to better understand their customer, need to have more frequent touchstones with their customer, need to have more people in their organizations talk to the customer.”

Direct customer conversations can often become siloed in large corporations. The current market shift toward agile empathy requires these customer relationships to be built into development plans across multiple departments, from marketing to the supply chain. According to Simon, each department should be speaking to customers at least two or three times a quarter for a 12-month period.

What companies then end up with are better insights and better information about customers — what they actually want — rather than the inferences of market research agencies or market research professionals. As the market continues to evolve, Simon says building that relationship with the customer will become more important.

“The traditional way of doing market research is not good enough anymore. It’s too long, and it’s too slow. And it’s certainly not going to work.”

Market research in your living room

But what exactly is it about a video that makes qualitative research more valuable? For Simon, it’s about the comfort that consumers feel when they’re on a video call as opposed to sitting in a sterile room wondering who is watching them behind the two-way mirror.

Plus, since consumers are usually in the comfort of their own living rooms, they feel more open to sharing — to walking around their home with the laptop in hand and letting the researchers interact with their space. And with countless communication methods cut off because of COVID, people are so much more excited to speak up and feel heard.

“Whenever we are running our market research or consumer closeness sessions, people are just exploding. They’re having a grand old time having these conversations and, frankly, just opening up a lot more.”

This level of customer intimacy can surely have a profound impact on the culture of the organization. For Simon, that impact is extremely positive. When more people are talking to customers, they feel more empowered and engaged. This is especially true within large corporations, where market research was previously only seen by a chosen few.

Simon and his team are seeing countless CEOs and C-level executives getting involved with these customer closeness programs. They’re mandating closer connections with their consumers and even moderating the programs themselves.

Change management and the future of video

Throughout our conversations on the Transform It Forward podcast, we’ve discovered that the most successful digital transformations happen when the companies behind them either have a great culture or impeccable change management.

Throughout COVID, Simon has witnessed several of their customers doing change management right. The best examples are those that have embraced aspects that are now necessary, such as increasing communication and promoting a wellness culture. Discuss.io is one of those businesses.

“We’re encouraging our people to take those structured breaks and actually giving our people a financial allowance at the end of each month through the end of each quarter to do something for themselves. And I think those are very powerful components that have come out of the last 12 months.”

So, what does the future of Discuss.io look like? Simon is excited about the possibilities. There are so many applications for video in today’s world, from employee engagement to mobile screen sharing to sales calls. Currently, Simon and his team are gearing up to go after the e-commerce space.

But as they move forward, Discuss.io continues to be grateful that their platform was fully developed and prepared to deliver what businesses truly needed when the pandemic hit.

As always, our last question of each episode is a fun one: What type of music does Simon listen to after a long day on the job?

“I grew up in Ireland in the 70s and 80s and I was in Manchester in the early 90s. There was a whole wave of music hitting Manchester bands such as Oasis and Happy Mondays. But the band that I really like is a band called The Stone Roses.”

Four key takeaways

  1. Discuss.io was founded as a solution to traditional market research problems. And when the pandemic hit, Simon and his team were put in an enviable position to scale that research as brands could not get it anywhere else. Companies like Survey Monkey have successfully scaled quantitative research, but Discuss.io focused on building a platform that structures their video meetings to generate qualitative insights. Now, researchers are much more able to understand their customers.
  2. Qualitative research is often time-consuming, taking anywhere from three to six months to deliver on a project. Discuss.io was able to disrupt that pace, providing qualitative research tools so teams can move faster and meet with customers on a more frequent basis. More importantly, to democratize that access so that consumer insights are available throughout the company — not just to the market research professionals.
  3. In the next few years, we will be discussing consumer intimacy rather than qualitative research. The future of brands is to understand their customers — to build relationships with them and understand what they really value. Right now, there are just not enough people to do the required research. But the Discuss.io platform is disrupting this. Simon has seen a vast increase in the C-suite running these focus groups, getting direct feedback, and, instead of having to rely on third parties or market research professionals, really building relationships with their customers.
  4. Consumers are much more receptive to sharing in the comfort of their own home on video rather than in sterile environments of previous market research facilities. Video creates a much more human approach, which gives consumers an intimate opportunity to share how they’re really feeling.

Listen to the full episode here:

If you missed the prior podcasts, click here.

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EVP - CMO - Paul French has 20+ years of successful experience in direct sales, front-line sales & marketing management, product marketing, and business & product strategy. Success in executive management in sales, marketing and operations in roles at companies that range from angel-funded start-ups, to Global, Public Companies. Entrepreneurial, with experience with Public and Private company strategy and M&A, Innovation, Business model changes, P&L ownership, building and leading teams, and delivering measurable results.

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