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A Sparq of Innovation for Online Research? Vision Critical Does It Again.

Vision Critical has solved a major usability issue for most survey solutions by creating an intuitive, flexible, and most of all useful module for data analysis that goes far in eliminating the need for secondary tabulation packages during the analysis process.


Before we get into today’s post I think we need a disclaimer: No, this is NOT becoming the “Vision Critical blog”! I think that is needed because the company has been on quite a roll recently and has gotten a fair amount of attention from me and others. Sometimes companies just get it right and they deserve to be commended for it, and recently Vision Critical really has been earning all of the good press.

OK, so why am I writing about them today? Well, one of the neat perks of this blogging thing is that sometimes companies reach out to me to get my opinion about their products, services, or strategies. In some cases that is through a formal consulting engagement or via an advisory role (in which cases I rarely write about the firm publicly), but most often it’s just an ad hoc conversation and I’m happy to give them my opinion. My relationship with Vision Critical falls into the latter category: we’ve known each other for a long time, I like them, they like me, and we chat fairly often about what they are doing.  If I think it’s interesting I don’t mind sharing that with others. Recently they offered me a sneak peek at two aspects of their product suite: their new Quick Reports analytical tool and Global Panels offering.  No surprise, I think it’s worth sharing with our readers.

Vision Critical is kind of the Apple of market research. Like Apple it’s not so much that they create whole new disruptive concepts, but rather take existing ideas or products and make them better. The hallmarks of both Apple and Vision Critical products seem to be that they are  easier to use, are better looking, have enhanced functionality, and easily integrate with other products.  This is incremental innovation at it’s finest, and both brands share a gift for leveraging this strategy to drive growth.

This is a lesson that I wish more companies would take to heart: if disruptive innovation isn’t your forte (and it isn’t for most companies) then focus on incremental innovation. Take what you do and make it better than your competitors. Don’t just think of bolt-on capabilities;  focus on integration, usability, and the user experience as well. That is why I showcase companies so regularly; innovation in any industry, especially market research, is such a rare thing that anytime I find it I want to do all I can to help it prosper and spread!

Now, on to the most recent examples from Vision Critical.

First up we have the launch of the Quick Reports module for Sparq. Not familiar with Sparq? Here is how Vision Critical describes it:

Sparq is the world’s most advanced and most widely used online community panel platform, helping companies in every industry from technology to travel connect quickly and easily with their customers and gain the insight needed to make better business decisions. Sparq is flexible allowing for both quantitative and qualitative research from one convenient central location. It is adaptable allowing companies room to run their own projects independently, with some assistance or have Vision Critical run all projects including detailed analyses and recommendations.

I have seen the platform in action and I tend to agree that it is a sweet piece of software; it’s the Vision Critical flagship product and central to their strategy, so they have certainly made it a prime example of their ability to engineer exceedingly functional and easy to use research software. That said, up until now the reporting features were nothing special, and like every other platform out there the ability to do more than basic analysis was missing.  Overall, Sparq struck me as a great research platform, but the reporting simply wasn’t anything extraordinary, and it was obvious that some incremental innovation was still needed to help it really get to where it should be. That’s a challenging task in the world of online research platforms, so I was curious to see how Vision Critical was going to tackle the issue.

Innovation in online survey platforms is almost oxymoronic these days, but leave it to Vision Critical to find a way to make it happen. With Quick Reports being incorporated into their Sparq offering, Vision Critical has solved a major usability issue for most survey solutions by creating an intuitive, flexible, and most of all useful module for data analysis that goes far in eliminating the need for secondary tabulation packages during the analysis process. This is a major step-up in terms of functionality and it has significant implications for gains in efficiencies for platform users. We’re talking being able to shave days off of the data processing cycle in many common use cases, which translates to both cost savings and happier clients. In the world of “cheap faster, better”, Quick Reports just helped bring that vision to life for all Sparq users.

Here are a few screenshots, let’s see if you agree with me about it’s level of intuitiveness:




I’ve used a lot of research platforms in my day and my universal beef with all of them has been the lack of comprehensive and easy to use data processing capabilities. Sure, it’s almost a given that you can run basic descriptive statistics and create charts from them, but none that I know of allow for complete banner production, merging data files from different studies, or changing variable labels or scales on the fly within the analysis module. Those things are usually done in SPSS and then the SPSS file is loaded into a tab package (WinCross is my favorite).  Eliminating the need to do that for even half of the studies conducted on Sparq is a big deal and Vision Critical deserves kudos for finally addressing one of the biggest missing pieces in making the research process efficient.

I mentioned earlier that I was also impressed with how Vision Critical is handling their own panels. Once again, it’s not they’ve changed the game on this front either, but rather continue to innovate incrementally on both the panelist and research sides of the equation.

The first thing to know is that the company primarily built their panel resources for their own use or as a resource for their software licensees. That is a core differentiation: they are not in the commodity game of other sample providers, but have instead focused on building an asset that provides value to all stakeholders. Just as proprietary panels out-perform commercial panels on almost all metrics, so do the Vision Critical panels. That means that the costs of maintaining the panel due to attrition, quality issues, and overhead contribution are reduced, allowing those savings to be converted into higher incentives for the panelists, which ensure higher engagement, greater participation, etc… It’s a nice system!

The second (and I think more interesting)  aspect of Vision Critical’s strategy is the panel integration into Sparq. Sure, uSamp and Cint have some integration with various survey platforms, but none of them are also community panel providers. The innovative concept here is that Sparq users can tap into external sample sources to supplement their studies. Want to compare concept ratings between customers and general pop? You can do it all within Sparq, no muss no fuss. As if that wasn’t enough, since the new Quick Reports module allows you to merge data files (or just questions from data files) the analysis of the responses from the two samples is also easy to do right within the platform.  Maybe I’m a research geek, but I think that is pretty darn cool!

I think you’ll agree that innovations like these deserve some kudos. Hopefully other companies will be inspired by this example and invest in more innovation work themselves. If you do let me know; I’d love to give you credit for your hard work and help you inspire still more companies in the process!

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