Larry Jordan: Well, take a step back and for people who don’t know, define what big data is; and exactly how intrusive is it in an individual consumer’s life?
John Feland: That’s a really good question. Big data is the way most people… how do we have terabytes and petabytes of consumer information, about machine information, all the server logs for all your Facebook pictures or your Fitbit data from all those steps that you took and how do you bring all that information together to have one plus one equals seven?
John Feland: We differ and where we play in that space is that we bring in the breadcrumbs that people leave in consumer views, Twitter, Facebook, blog posts, discussion boards, things of that sort, and then use that to weave in an anonymous way who these people are in groups and target segments and what needs are being met are not and what… things of that sort. … actually develop very robust… based on our big data analytics, and it’s not intrusive because all of our stuff is based on passive listing. There are no surveys, there are no video cameras. We do none of that stuff. There are companies doing that who are using, for example, in-store security camera footage as a way to understand where to put, say, advertisement information.
John Feland: There are a lot of very active questions where they’re asking people, for example, in the wearable space, “Here, wear this and we’re going to use your data to figure out what to do for… healthcare plans,” not necessarily with the consumer knowing what’s going on with it. So we try to stay on the good side of big data as a… to consumer behaviors.
Larry Jordan: One of the charts that I saw on your website was the prediction that the Amazon Fire would fail about three days after it first shipped, just based upon customer satisfaction with the device. Are you really trying to help predict the future? Is that what you’re clients are looking at? Or are they looking at a much more understandable interpretation of what’s going on in the market right now? How do we best interpret the charts that we saw on your website?
John Feland: It’s a combination of both. If you think about traditional market research reports that people buy, they get a forecast for the next five years and they tend to get that forecast updated on a quarterly basis and they get a guess as to what last quarter was about 60 to 90 days later and so currently companies are trying to steer their strategic growth and tactical decision making based on forecast information that they know to be at least already three to five months old. It’s like trying to drive… using your rearview mirror.
John Feland: What we’re able to do is to take that timeline down to days rather than months and, in the case of Fire Phone we saw consumers basically thumbs down it pretty rapidly, it was one of the most dramatic falls from grace we’ve ever seen at product launch, within three days after launch and they didn’t let on because it.. the market price, knowing that that was such a bad failure until a month later. We’ve seen that with Samsung, we’ve seen that with Apple, we’ve seen it with a number of cases, both good and bad, where… did you see what just happened then? They said they sold 25 million, but that was just channel stopping and that allows us to validate the methods and tools and metrics that we use actually do reflect what the market’s doing.
John Feland: The trends seem to be somewhat predictive. We first showed it in the PHD research 1,000 years ago but even more recently with a client, we were able to take their retail price data and our demand metrics and predict their sales volume eight weeks into the future. The reason is that there are patterns to success and failure and we’re able to look at those patterns across… over 7,000 products and look at the dynamics and figure out what the thumbprint is of a winner, a loser and a slow burner and there’s a whole class of products that we call ‘Why did you bother launching this?’ but very quickly understanding across consumer electronics, appliances… packaged goods, Smartphone apps.
John Feland: Every category we’ve had a chance to test the methodologies and the theory, it’s shown that we can not only speed up that time to, ‘Oh, this is what just happened’, but also then take that same data and attempt to extrapolate to the future.
Larry Jordan: With this kind of research, it sounds like your typical client has got to be a really huge company. Who are typical clients? And the other side of this is can we as consumers benefit from the research that you’re doing?
John Feland: I like to say we’re a small company with big clients. We’ve helped Fortune 500 retailers figure out what products to put on their shelf, global manufacturers figure out what their roadmap needs to be as to what consumers need tomorrow as well as today and their own weaknesses and where the competitors are weak.
John Feland: We’ve basically worked throughout the entire consumer electronics or goods supply chain – people who make components, people who are logistics chain, people who figure out where the parts need to go based on what the demand is – are they buying more iPhones in Europe than they are in China and how do you react to that? We’ve also helped small companies too, because it turns out, once you’ve estimated the market, the economies of scale allow us to address not only the needs of big companies, but small firms too.
John Feland: There’s no reason a start-up should have to pay a major market research company $120,000 for data that’s six months old, especially when it’s so readily available today with the tools and methods that we have. In terms of addressing consumers, we’ve toyed with that a lot because the most common question I get asked by friends and family is, “What Smartphone should I buy?” “Oh, let me go look at the data,” and they always come back, “Oh, I love it! You picked the right one!” I’m like, “Cool,” and the answer’s not always buy Apple, either. It really depends on their own needs and we’ve toyed with that.
John Feland: We actually did a pilot with Best Buy about how to use our data to inform consumer purchase decisions in store, where they got some… data at the point of purchase to say, “Well, what are your needs? What do you want to use this for?” Well, I want more megapixels.” “No, no, no, you don’t really want more megapixels. Is this for selfies? Is this for family photos? Is this for hockey game films for later? Do you run?” “Well, I’m planning to.” “Well, ok, do you actually run?” “Well, no.” “Ok, then you don’t need the active sport thing because you’re not going to sweat enough to actually affect your phone.”
John Feland: It goes on and on and on and on. We just haven’t found the right path to impact consumers directly other than we do publish a lot of our material that you see on our blog post, where we share a snapshot of what we’re seeing about brands or products or other things that we see doing well or not. Most recently we did a… the wearable space, where we share who’s working and who’s not, who has the longest time…
Larry Jordan: Thinking of that, what trends are you seeing now in consumer technology that you find interesting?
John Feland: A couple of things. After we’ve seen a saturation, we’re seeing this upgrade to… and Smartphones which is slowing people’s adoption. We’re seeing home automation and… stall out a little bit as people realize that these are early devices they’re all playing with, they’re incredibly needy and require an upgrade to their networks and now they have to figure out whether the alarm they got at four o’clock in the morning was the cat or the neighbor.
John Feland: What we’re seeing across the board, especially in the consumer technology market, is… effort to get people to buy more, they’re actually manufacturing less in terms of less quality. We’re not seeing the quality experiences come through because they’re trying so hard to shore up demand that they’re just firing products out. They’re not taking the time to go through and actually offer something that fits into people’s lives with minimal disruption and delivers on the problems that…
John Feland: I’ll give you an example from the wearables market – …, who was bought by Intel a couple of years ago, launched a brand new fitness band last fall and only weeks ago released a silent alarm feature so it can wake you up without going beep and just used a little vibration motor to shake you awake. We’re over nine months since the product was launched, yet all the research showed that one of the favorite features that people love about their Fitbit and the… and everything else out there was, “Hey, the silent alarm knows when to wake me up.”
John Feland: So they launched a brand new product with the features they knew customers needed and wanted and couldn’t live without, but they didn’t do it for nine months. We’ve seen this over and over again where they’re in a rush to get something to market and they’re not taking the time to make sure that it actually fits and addresses the bare minimum functionality – easy to set up, delivers on the promises – and they keep falling in what I call the Swiss Army Knife trap, where they keep adding features and more features and more features and more features and now you end up with a Smartphone with 10,000 blades on it, none of which you actually use or, if you do use them, don’t actually perform their function very well. If you’ve ever tried to open a bottle of wine with the corkscrew on your Swiss Army Knife, you know what I’m talking about.
Larry Jordan: John, I just realized that there’s so much here that we could talk about, this conversation could go on forever. For people who want to learn more about your company and the kind of results you’re getting, where can we go on the web to learn more?
John Feland: Come to our site, argusinsights.com.
Larry Jordan: That website is argusinsights.com; John Feland is the founder and CEO of Argus Insights. John, this has been fun, thanks for joining us today.
John Feland: Thank you, Larry, appreciate the time.
Larry Jordan: It’s time for a Buzz Flashback. Five years ago today…
Jack Lerner (archive): Fair use is a notoriously fuzzy doctrine and famously called the right to hire a lawyer, but is an affirmative right and for documentary filmmakers it’s well established and it’s actually not that complicated. There is no… line rule for starters, so there’s no one second or five second rule, but we have a lot of clarity on this rule.
Larry Jordan: This was a Buzz Flashback.