How VoteIT Is Planning To Reshape Decision Making: An Interview With Jim Longo
And the disruption of the traditional market research continues. The latest example? VoteIt, the Louisiana start-up that not only is aiming to shake things up, but is doing it with the guidance of industry stalwart Jim Longo (formerly of iTracks). Jim and I caught up via email so we could delve a bit deeper into what VoteIt is about and what attracted him to it. I think you’ll find this pretty interesting….
LM: Thanks for making the time Jim. So, what can you tell us about VoteIt?
It’s always great to chat with you Lenny. As you are aware it can be difficult for a large group to agree on anything and move on. VoteIt meets this widespread user need with a simple and powerful user interface to organize opinion and facilitate collaboration from any device. VoteIt will improve the way all groups make decisions by bringing direct and organized interaction to action on every group decision.
LM: You’re a legend in MR for your past work with more traditional offerings, most recently with iTracks. VoteIt seems to be a pretty big departure. What drove you to make the shift?
You are very kind for calling me a legend. I have always been involved with incorporating technology into data collection. In the early days I was doing quant with CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviews) in the malls and later online qual with BBFGs (Bulletin Board Focus Groups) in particular.
The founders of VoteIt asked me to take a look at the tool they were building and give them my feedback. My initial comments to the founders were that they were onto something unique; components of a survey or poll combined with a discussion. Clients need to gather answers quickly, and they are looking for other methods to gain insights. I see VoteIt as giving brands an alternative to surveys and online focus groups. A survey is only effective to gather a snapshot opinion (without interaction). Online focus groups don’t scale well, and it becomes difficult to gauge consensus quickly when you get more than 12-15 people in a group. What I always thought was missing was a platform that brought both quant and qual together. VoteIt does just that and I wanted to be part of bringing that tool to market.
The other attraction for me was that VoteIt is based in New Orleans which has an incredible creative vibe. There is a thriving startup scene happening here that is well documented. The city is attracting some of the top technology and marketing talent from cities like New York, Austin and the Bay area. In addition, there are a couple of other MR startups based in the city. Some of your readers may be familiar with Federated Sample, they have been very supportive of VoteIt. It’s great to be a part of the community here. The feeling here is that anything can happen in Nola and usually does.
LM: There has been a lot of “social research” plays happening lately (Wayin,PollBob, etc..); how is VoteIt different and how is it being used?
Social media is evolving. It’s no longer about shouting into a crowded room. In order for current and future social media platforms to grow and be utilized, they need to provide value.
At VoteIt we see all decisions as social. Decision makers are looking for input, and until now it has been difficult to get large groups to decide on anything. VoteIt scales very well and allows everyone to voice their opinion and share their knowledge with each other so that the decision maker can take the right action.
One researcher described VoteIt as a collaborative poll. We find people return an average of six times to read, comment, or attach files to each vote they participate in. What really makes VoteIt unique is that unlike other polls where you choose between ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ we offer a third option of ‘OK.’ ‘OK’ means that even if you aren’t necessarily passionately in favor of a choice, you are willing to accept it and will support it moving forward. The decision maker can then tell what choices will be satisfactory for most of the group and why. Our tool also has an ‘Add a Choice’ feature where participants can add new ideas for others to vote on, which is ideal for brainstorming new features, service or concept development.
We also see clients using VoteIt to decide on logos and brand messaging. Restaurants use us to engage customers in naming new dishes and deciding on theme nights. Professional associations engage membership on everything from prioritizing initiatives to picking speakers and setting meeting agendas. We’re also seeing HR Departments use VoteIt for employee-relations decisions, like choosing a new benefits package. It continues to amaze me the many ways our customers tell us how they have found VoteIt valuable. We are already working on some new features and yes, we use VoteIt ourselves.
LM: I’ve used VoteIt myself and found it useful to reaching consensus in a virtual group setting. I did find myself wishing that it had some collaborative features to make iterative decision making more efficient. Any plans to go down that road? On a similar note, I could see the platform being used to do co-creation and ideation work; has that come up yet?
Our ‘Add a Choice’ feature allows people to introduce new alternatives into a vote, which has proven to be especially useful in votes calling for creative input. For example, when one of our clients wanted to decide on a new company name, employees added-in a number of fresh suggestions. We also recently had a vote where designers submitted revised logos based on voter comments, so we are seeing the tool being used for ideation and co-creation right now. There has been some discussion with our developers around adding the ability to string votes together for follow-up votes or iteration to take place.
LM: OK, let’s play seers for a minute. Looking ahead 5 years, what do you think the MR landscape will look like? Will we see more emerging platforms like VoteIt disrupting the traditional supplier chain? How will clients change as a result of the advent of the tools?
In the past brands and companies were paying for access to people to get their thoughts. We are seeing a variety of ways to access people and gain insights via social media that is much more cost effective. The days of holding a person’s attention for long periods of time to answer a survey are numbered and unnecessary. I think we are going to see more platforms like VoteIt that are used to answer specific questions quickly.
This may not be a popular answer but I think there will be a thinning of the herd, that is less MR agencies. I envision many supplier side researchers going over to work as corporate researchers. I see more people using MR tools to answer everyday business questions, with that they will need someone trained to interpret the data. There is going to be a real need for researchers who understand analytics, and by that I don’t just mean quant jockeys or statisticians, but those who can interpret qualitative data as well. In order for our industry to survive we need to get off this ‘my methodology is better than yours mentality.’
LM: So what’s next for you and for VoteIt?
We are just getting started. Our goal is to change the way all people make decisions. What sets VoteIt apart from anything else on the market is our ability to scale for large groups. Our developers just completed a widget for the integration of VoteIt onto websites as part of our enterprise offering. In addition, we will soon be offering additional organizational features to manage your votes and groups as well as advanced reporting features to better gain insight as to why people chose one choice over another. We envision VoteIt being used for all types of decisions from planning conference speakers and speech content to committees and businesses setting priorities and accomplishing objectives by eliminating unproductive meetings. As for me, I am already thinking about a few other disruptive products for the MR industry, so stay tuned.