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FEATURE14 September 2009

Putting wisdom of crowds to good work

Features News

Four years ago, clientside researcher Ed Martin set about developing a way to fund millions of dollars worth of charitable programmes by tapping into the billions spent on MR each year. The result is Pause to Support a Cause.

Martin, the global head of insights for confectioner Hershey’s, believes he has hit on a win-win scenario. Society benefits through charitable giving while corporations gain access to typically hard-to-reach communities who might be swayed to participate in research if it can help fund causes close to their heart.

But for all the good intentions driving the scheme, there are concerns in the marketplace that the panel would compete head-on with commercial suppliers of research sample. In an interview with Research, Martin and his CMO Council colleague Liz Miller attempt to assuage such fears, stressing that partnership rather than rivalry is key to the campaign’s success.

Research: How did you hit on the idea and why did you want to see this through?

“This initiative really looking at a way to help improve the global quality of panels and bring in constituencies and cohorts that we as a research community have a hard time getting to”

Ed Martin

Ed Martin: It started about four years ago with me trying to get funding for various programmes that I was working with in HIV, but also in malaria and clean water initiatives. One day I decided to look for a different source of funding. I looked at global marketing budgets and I thought, ‘You know, we spend an awful lot of money in global marketing and the way for me to make this work is for me to find a win with my business hat on and a win for the non-profits that I was trying to support.’ The first project that came up was something that we had to do at Ford. The company was looking to get consumer insights in Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya and there really weren’t that many great research suppliers I could think of who could get the information we needed. So I partnered with a group called SIFE – which is the largest student/university/corporate network in the world – and we did a quid pro quo. I traded them funding for their initiatives and their programmes for them to actually go into the marketplace and collect consumer insight for me. It worked out so well. I got better quality at a lower cost and I was able to fund a global education programme. Over the years I tried to play with this model – I had some projects going in China, Russia and Mexico. It was all working well but it wasn’t scalable, and so I ended up getting involved with the CMO Council and asking them whether they were interested in partnering with this initiative, which is really looking at a way to help improve the global quality of panels and bring in constituencies and cohorts that we as a research community have a hard time getting to. Happily, they agreed to partner with us and we’ve been working in concert over the last number of months to try to put this together.

One of the important things to say is this is not a competitor to a lot of the big research companies. This is more of a synergy with what they currently do. They can pull incremental sample if they like from this panel, they can create a Pause to Support a Cause incentive within their own panel if they like. The goal here is to bring in a whole bunch more people and keep them engaged.

Research: It’s interesting that you mention competition because certainly my initial reaction was, ‘Well, the panel companies aren’t going to be particularly happy about this.’

Liz Miller: That’s everyone’s first reaction and it’s something that we struggled with. At the CMO Council we are a huge believer in research and consumer insight. What we didn’t want to do is create an organisation that was either going to lessen the ability of a company to be able to reach that consumer insight, or somehow create tension in the world of research. We want this to be a great partnership. I’ve got a full time job. I run a very large organisation, we represent over 4,500 marketers globally – I don’t want to start a research company. Of course, the reality is if we were to start a competitive research panel, I have the ear of 4,500 senior, global decision-making marketers around the world – that’s panic time [for research companies], I get that. But what we want to do is actually augment… we want to be synergistic with research companies. What we want to do is offer up the opportunity for those research panels and companies to have another alternative to augment their research. I’m not looking to take over that research.

Research: You’ve mentioned reaching typically hard-to-reach groups through this initiative. But why is your offering going to be any more attractive to people who don’t take part in research, especially as many surveys offer the choice of a charitable donation as an incentive?

“This is more about the empowerment of the individual panel constituent than it is about a research company who might be able to provide a lump sum to a specific charity”

Liz Miller

Miller: The difference is I can go into Pause to Support a Cause and select the charity of my choosing, and no matter what the survey is and who is serving it up, if I qualify for the panel that money will go to my charity. This is more about the empowerment of the individual panel constituent than it is about a research company who might be able to provide a lump sum to a specific charity. If you can decide who is the beneficiary of your time, there is a great sense of empowerment and passion that makes you come back to take part again.

Research: The money that goes to the charities – is it all the profit from the research project or just the incentive that gets sent their way?

Miller: We are looking at a model where a minimum of 50% of fees that would typically go into research would then go into a pool of monies that would be managed by Network for Good, and when a consumer completes a survey their time spent on that survey gets translated into a dollar amount that then gets sent to the charity of their choosing.

Research: But if time is what determines the value of the donation, how do you stop someone going in, getting to the second question and then just leaving the browser open for an hour in order to maximise the amount of money going to their charity?

Miller: Each survey is going to be pre-assigned with an allocated time and an explanation of the maximum amount of money your charity is going to get once you compete it.

Research: Ed, you mentioned having other panel companies add a Pause To Support a Cause option to their survey process – how does that work?

“We want to be synergistic with research companies. What we want to do is offer up the opportunity for those research panels and companies to have another alternative to augment their research.”

Liz Miller

Martin: The idea is still being fleshed out but the thought is that if they have a Pause to Support a Cause option they would end up going through the same payment mechanism that we have set up for the big Pause to Support a Cause panel, so there would be a little bit of money for the CMO Council for them to manage that. Also people who choose the Pause to Support a Cause option would maybe not be held in the same database, but in a parallel database that would operate in the same way as it would if the company had pulled the respondent from the big panel.

Miller: We have taken the pain out of the process – working with the charities, getting that all set up, figuring out how to get the payment processed – and the research company now has an extremely beneficial added-value package that they are able to offer to their constituencies. Now, if a large corporation wants to come directly to us I am not going to turn them away. But where we really do see the major benefit here is in being able to add a service and add a level of depth-to-panel of major research corporations.

Research: I wonder how much agencies will see this as an advantage, though, as in some instances you are effectively doubling the cost of incentivising respondents. Not only do they have to pay an incentive, they are having to pay a fee to the CMO Council in order to make that charitable donation.

Miller: We are not looking to double the cost of research. I’m not looking to put huge overhead costs into this. Quite frankly, we’re looking to offer research at a really reasonable price. For the amount that they are going to be looking at versus the amount they are going to be charging for operational costs, I really don’t think that conversation is going to become a deal breaker to be able to access the type of richness of panel that we are going to be able to aggregate. And if you look at most research panels today they are already going out to third parties – this is something they are very used to. We just probably offer a very different model of how they can turn round and openly merchandise – actually brag – about the fact that a significant programme that is supported by hundred of charities is now part of their offering of services.

Research: How much in terms of research spend are you thinking you are going to put through the panel, and how much do you hope to pass on to the charities?

Miller: What we want to be able to do is send millions of dollars to these charities who are losing upwards of 2% of their charitable donations each year, especially in a tough economy. Our goal is that within the next five years we are taking upwards of 10% of the $18bn that is going through this industry and we are pushing that through to some of the most impressive, worthwhile, impactful charities globally. If we achieve that it will make me a very happy person.

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