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Research Transformation: 3 Companies That Are Getting It Right.

I've had the opportunity to get to know three very interesting companies that are pioneering innovative new models. Let's take a look at how each one is reinventing market research. Meet Join the Dots, Motista, and Decooda.


I’ve had the opportunity to get to know three very interesting companies recently. Each is pioneering innovative new models that are great examples of where market research/strategic business intelligence is moving towards. Let’s take a look at each one and we’ll see if you agree with me. Meet Join the Dots, Motista, and Decooda.

Radical Reinvention: Virtual Surveys becomes Join The Dots


Last week I had the great pleasure to be interviewed by the folks at Virtual Surveys about trends in the industry and the future of market research; look for that interview to be released soon. They reached out to me due to their decision to re-brand and reposition the company in light of the changing MR paradigm; I guess my being a broken record on those themes has it’s perks! Of course I was flattered to be interviewed, but more than anything I was impressed by the decision of the leadership team to embrace the future and position the company for success in the coming years. Virtual Surveys is now Join the Dots.

Virtual Surveys clearly saw that in order to thrive most full service research firms need to become methodologically agnostic and embrace a model that utilizes multiple data streams to derive the maximum level of holistic insight for clients. This process of “joining the dots” certainly informs their strategic vision and I can’t think of a better name for a company that has embraced the idea of meta-analysis as one of their core differentiators!

Here is a bit of background from their press release that explains their rationale in more depth:

Founded in 1998, by leading research expert Pete Comley, Join the Dots pioneered early online research techniques. The independent research specialist has since grown to a 50 strong team working with major UK and international brands including O2, Nectar, British Gas, Homebase, Standard Life, Diageo and Kellogg’s.

For Sales & Marketing Director, Graeme Lawrence, the company’s forward thinking techniques and sheer depth of consumer understanding needed to be better reflected in its brand. Graeme comments: “The work we do and the range of techniques we utilize, from online insight communities and mobile surveys to website usability, means that we have one of the clearest pictures of the modern consumer available today.

“Crucially, we also have the skills and experience needed to distill that information into clear, helpful knowledge, and deliver it to our clients in memorable and engaging formats. Our new brand name needed to demonstrate this fact – Join the Dots is what we do, it fits the bill perfectly.”

Join the Dots’ increasing emphasis on providing clients with added value in the form of broader consumer perspective is also reflected in its newly launched Comley Report.

The bi-annual report, created by Join the Dots’ founder and Chairman Pete Comley, examines macro factors affecting today’s consumer, such as the economy and demographics, and overlays this with the micro context of specific consumer motivations.

Pete believes connecting sources of consumer intelligence in this way is where the company’s key strength lies moving forward. He explains: “By using a number of different research methodologies and connecting findings with valuable information identified from multiple industry sources, we are able to help clients gain a much broader and inspiring consumer perspective on their product and services.

“That’s what we’re all about, making consumer connections that give our clients a competitive edge.”

An excerpt from the first Comley Report is available on Join the Dots’ newly launched website

I believe more and more market research firms will be emulating this move over the next 2-3 years in order to remain competitive. Those firms that have been functioning more as “insight consultancies” vs. “research suppliers” will have a far easier time navigating the transition. The rest will likely be absorbed into larger entities for specific functional capabilities or resources or will find some other model to leverage their core skills within other markets. What is absolutely certain is that Join the Dots is blazing a trail that many other firms will have to follow in order to remain viable.

One other interesting observation. I am not witnessing much of this type of change happening in the U.S., but the U.K. is filled with forward looking firms making big strides in changing the research paradigm. Brainjuicer, Kantar, Alterian, and now Join the Dots are just a few that come to mind. It appears to me that the center of gravity for research transformation may be shifting away from the U.S..

Kudos to Join the Dots for successfully engaging in radical reinvention! I look forward to watching their growth skyrocket going forward.

Data Driven Message Optimization: Motista


The second company that I encountered is Motista, a Silicon Valley-based venture backed firm that is redefining how data and technology can be used to increase marketing effectiveness. Motista considers themselves the first on-demand consumer connection intelligence solution for Fortune 1000 marketers. In March they announced that the company has closed $4.5 million in Series A financing from El Dorado Ventures.

The folks from Motista asked me if I’d take a look at their platform in preparation for their formal launch this week. I went into the meeting not knowing quite what to expect, but I left it being incredibly impressed by what they have accomplished.

Here is a description of their offering in their own words from their launch press release:

Developed with marketers in mind, Motista’s patent-pending methodology combines cultural anthropology and mathematical modeling to determine the connections that most motivate consumers to act on behalf of specific brands within the largest 20 U.S. consumer industries. By continuously collecting high-quality connection data on numerous brands every day and making this intelligence accessible on-demand through an easy-to-use web-based application, Motista accommodates how marketers work, communicate and make decisions. Until now, marketers have lacked access to the intelligence and tools they need as they do their jobs to build smarter and more effective campaigns, achieve competitive differentiation and justify decisions in an era of marketing accountability. Motista enables marketers to access timely and actionable intelligence about what is motivating consumers in a significantly faster and more cost-efficient manner than with traditional custom market research.

I think that is an accurate description. In essence what Motista does is allow marketers to access a rich supply of segmentation data around key drivers of brand engagement to create a real-time message optimization platform. Need to know what messages drive Moms of school age children to connect with toothpaste? Motista can tell you so that you can craft your message to create a compelling campaign targeted for that population. My demo was given by Alan Zorfas, co-founder and chief marketing and product officer of  the company. I asked him what inspired this creative approach to solving one of the biggest challenges of marketers and his response demonstrates a deep understanding of the core issues that face marketers today.

“Marketers today are challenged with operating without the intelligence they need and deserve, yet they are expected to work smarter and faster at the same time. By providing a deeper understanding of how and why consumers really connect with brands, the Motista Consumer Connection Environment gives Fortune 1000 marketers the tools they need to build more personal connections with their customers and prospects, which leads to better business results. With Motista’s connection intelligence, marketers can build more effective campaigns and strategies that motivate consumers to buy, pay more for products and advocate on behalf of their brands and remain loyal.”

That wasn’t just salesmanship; based on what I saw I think that is exactly what Motista delivers, all through an intuitive UI. Here is a screen shot of the “launch pad”:



Here is their description of the features of the platform:

The Motista tools are divided into three distinct categories, allowing marketers to easily get the answers they need and take action:

•  Programs – tools that help marketers apply connection intelligence to specific campaigns, including advertising, direct response, online marketing and social media programs

•  Strategy – tools that help marketers position their companies to “own” connections vs. competitors and to connect their brand to valuable segments

•  Measurement – tools that allow marketers to see how their businesses perform on consumer connection, including competitive and cross-segment comparisons and trends

I saw all of that in the demo, so there is no vaporware here; it works.

This ingenious blending of ongoing data collection, focused analysis, and user-friendly tools to make the information actionable is a huge step forward. Oh, and did I mention that it wasn’t designed by a market research company? Yet again we see true innovation coming from people from outside the market research space that are using research-based approaches to deliver technology solutions that clearly help drive marketing ROI.

Capturing Big Data Through Text Analytics: Decooda


The final company that impressed the hell out of me this week is one that regular readers should be familiar with: Decooda. Now full disclosure: I recently accepted a role on the Board of Advisers with Decooda, so it is certainly possible that my opinion is biased. That said, I accepted the advisory role due to my ongoing appreciation for what they are building; I was fan before a relationship took shape.

Decooda has taken an interesting approach to developing a next generation social media platform. They are building a platform that leverages multiple advanced semantic text analytics solutions to create a marketing monitoring and effectiveness platform. It’s an ambitious plan, but one that they are well on their way to accomplishing. Here is a bit more on their vision from their website:

Decooda is not focused on a narrow sliver of the brand marketers’ challenge, nor are we leveraging pedestrian technology to solve complex solutions. Our focus is simple, we leverage our experience along with industry-leading, patented technology to monitor social media and enterprise communications across all channels in real time. We measure and analyze marketing effectiveness to identify specifically what influencers, messages, tactics, campaigns, or other market-driven events are moving the needle. These measures provide insights into why, when, where, what, and with whom to engage, and how much to spend, in order to get ahead and stay ahead of the competition.

The power of the Decooda platform comes from the robustness of our semantic social media listening solution and our marketing mix analysis solution, it is the combination of these solutions that guarantee Decooda can accelerate the time it takes to help our clients to achieve fact based performance measurements that enable marketers to justify and defend budget positions with facts, dynamically reallocate investments to higher performing tactics and campaigns, ultimately giving executive management the confidence it needs to know that client engagement and marketing promotion mix investments have been optimized.

Because of my relationship I was able to look under the hood and see this platform in action. They are about 60 days from the full UI being built out, but the “engine” is in place; now they just need to add the bells and whistles. Even in this incomplete build it is a powerful solution. I observed a test involving over 54,000 verbatim responses provided by a research supplier. The data was provided in an excel output file, and also contained at least three languages. The responses were collected in response to a question regarding why respondents choose to participate in a specific practice and the answers were wide ranging and fairly complex.

The goal was to see if the Decooda text analytics platform could accurately code these responses. The folks at Decooda loaded them up and less than 2 minutes later there was a complete cluster and category map of the verbatims. I then went in and manually checked a random sample of each and they had nailed it. This platform achieved at least a 98% level of accuracy in successfully clustering, categorizing, and coding this unstructured text data. The only reason that I could see that it wasn’t 100% was simply because the remaining were mostly garbage responses that would be thrown out during manual coding to begin with!

Now, the Decooda platform isn’t designed to be a coding system per se; ideally they will be dealing with terabytes of unstructured data from the social web, CRM systems, client databases, etc… and applying their semantic text analysis to making that data useful for additional analysis that goes far beyond simple sentiment scoring. That is their “Big Data” game plan and I think they will pull it off. However, the implications for market research are fairly profound. This type of technology would enable huge efficiency gains for any type of research that is dealing with text based data (survey verbatims, MROCs, online qual, social media research, etc…). It also allows for the development of systems to merge and analyze multiple data streams for insight mining. I’m not sure the implications can be undersold here. We may still be a little bit away from full utilization, but the work that Decooda (and others) is doing has the potential to have a profound impact on our industry. I’m quite certain Join the Dots and Motista would get the potential right off!

I convinced Decooda that MR firms may be skeptical so they proposed the following deal:

We just finished the analysis and coding of 47,000 customer survey response verbatims with 97% accuracy in 2 minutes.  This is the second analysis that we’ve completed like this, with almost identical results.  However, I understand there are skeptics who don’t believe this is possible.

Up for the challenge? Decooda will take on the first 5 challenges.  We will analyze and code your free-text verbatim responses (including multiple languages).  We will take on as many responses as you are willing to provide, and will plan to respond with our results within hours of receiving the data. All we want in return is the opportunity to ask a few questions and the right to publish the results on our website and on our TV Channel  (

No catch; we just want to demonstrate to the market that machine-based survey response coding can deliver reliable results that can be defended.

We will deliver the results.  Bring on the challenges…

To take them up on the challenge click here.

So, do you agree with me that as the research industry continues to transform that these three companies are getting it right? Each is pioneering new business models that seem well positioned to take advantage of the current trends in, and probable futures of, the market research industry. Watch them; these companies are likely to have a major impact on the market research space over the next few years.


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5 responses to “Research Transformation: 3 Companies That Are Getting It Right.

  1. Hi Leonard,
    I have read your comment, also the article attached to the link. It is impressive how far these three companies have gone and the amount of risk has taken to go in that direction in first place. But at the end all paid off for them weldone and that is the path I believe for evey MR company.

    Thank you very much for this interesting article, it is by all means an eye opner.

    1. Thanks Faris. Obviously I agree these 3 firms, and many other like them that I don’t know personally,deserve major kudos for pushing the boundaries and changing the paradigm. I hope more companies use this as a competitive booster shot and make changes of their own!

  2. Lenny,
    You have truly highlighted three great companies – ones that are innovating in new and interesting ways. It is also interesting that two of the three are new players. How soon will they be snapped up by one of the big players in an acquisition? Seems like there is a real focus on acquiring innovation vs home growing. Or creating a hybrid – an internal team that can link these new methods and technologies with client need and sound methodologies.
    What are your thoughts?

    1. Thanks Beth, I appreciate the kind words. I do find it most interesting that much of the innovation in the MR space is coming from “outside”, and I think that is driven by the difference in how researchers vs. non-researchers view data, business challenges, and the use of technology. I think that trend is only going to speed up and traditional MR is going to have many more competitors to contend with, and in reality probably already does have a large competitive set that only a few recognize as such. I am not clear how much consolidation we’ll see from the MR space with these emerging companies; I think it is more likely for some to be acquired by “big data” players instead. I do agree that it is SOP for larger organizations to acquire innovation vs. develop it internally; in most cases that just makes more business sense. In those scenarios the innovation from the big firm comes from integrating or re-purposing the technology rather than from creating it.

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