The Death of the Focus Group? At Invoke Solutions, Apple Vet Makes Market Research User-Friendly, for the Surveyors and the Surveyed

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created iTunes. They understand how people interact with information. That’s what Engage Analytics is. It’s iTunes for market research, so that people can all understand and have access to it and collaborate to get their work done faster.

If you go to our website, we’ve built 1-minute vignettes where you can see Engage Analytics in action; they’ll show you what the product can do. The bottom line is that we’re solving the same problems that the big research companies are solving. We just do it at a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time. Our guiding principle is that time and expense is not a prerequisite to get great research results.

X: You talk about being able to recruit these very specific groups of survey participants—like 35-to-45-year-olds with specific medical conditions. But how do you find them? Speaking for myself, I detest all the telemarketing calls and survey offers I get.

BC: There is a whole industry out there called sample providers. They are highly specialized to get you the people you need to attend these online surveys. They can get you panels that are very consumer-oriented, others that are B2B, others that relate just to healthcare. Believe it or not, a lot of people in the U.S. are anxious to share their knowledge, and like to be part of something that can have an impact on an industry or a category. Our B2B surveys are quite intellectual and thought-provoking. With other surveys, there’s a 35 percent abandon rate, and every answer becomes a “3” because you just want to get it done. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on those types of surveys. The material needs to be more thought-provoking, more engaging. Hence the name of our product.

X: How is the economic crisis hitting your industry? In times like these, do companies think it’s even more important to do careful market research, or are they cutting back? How does that affect you?

BC: The economic situation is impacting our business, of course. What we’re doing is getting much more targeted about how we’re different from everything else out there. In times like this, you have to be really crisp about what’s different—not just on price but on results. But it’s also clear that with travel budgets being cut, the focus group business is being impacted tremendously, which can only help us.

X: What are the potential exit strategies for a company like Invoke?

BC: You do think about exits, as a CEO, but I want to build a very innovative, profitable company that stands out, so that when the time comes, I have options. Those options are clearly getting acquired, being merged, or buying another company. The option I don’t entertain is going out of business. We have fun. We are not in a rush to do anything but be innovative and try to make our customers happy.

I will tell you that once you have spent so much time at a company like Apple you can’t get that taste out of your mouth. So you want to do things that matter. Especially in this economy, you need to be able to make fast decisions that you are confident in, and have transparent access to data that you can understand.

When you look at who is sitting around the table in the executive suite, you might have your CEO and your chief marketing officer and your chief operating officer, but it’s amazing to me that there is no group represented there you can rely on to tell you whether a product or a service is going to succeed. We are building the products we’re building because that voice needs to be there.

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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