The pandemic has impacted virtually all aspects of our lives and how we behave as consumers. Some developments changed the way we act in our daily lives, such as social distancing, wearing masks, stopping public transport, restrictions on travel, the many MCOs and so on. What we have seen across most consumers, it that it accelerated the adoption of behaviours such as digitalisation of shopping, banking and more.
Businesses had to adapt, consumers suddenly realised that using video calls was fine and we adapted as a global community. However, are brands adapting to the changes that are still going on. It is one thing to say that digitalisation is happening, it is another to understand how that impacts specific aspects of our lives and purchasing habits.
To better understand what this means and how research into this evolving, we speak to Vase.ai CEO Julie Ng about the evolution of consumer insights. Fresh off a new round of funding, Vase.ai is one of the first consumer insights brands that caters to a new breed of companies that require fast insights to help answer questions, get feedback and build new solutions.
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Vase.ai is an AI-powered consumer research platform that lets businesses get feedback from 2 million consumers across ASEAN in real-time. Budgets start at around USD 1,000, which is a small fraction of what traditional market research can cost. Vase.ai has worked with more than 100 enterprise companies since the inception.
Congrats on the funding. Could you share in more detail how you plan to use the funding?
With our recent funding, we are strongly focused on continually improving the user experience with features that can be implemented quickly and efficiently. We intend to bring in individuals with knowledge of consumer psychology, product management, and tech engineers, as well as those who have an interest in and are familiar with data analysis, data visualisation, and machine learning, to help brands accelerate their growth and enable our vision of a world where brands use innovative thinking to build great products.
Could you explain how traditional market research differs from your form of quick consumer insights?
Traditional research methods typically take 2 months and can cost a minimum of RM30,000. It’s too slow in comparison to how quickly the consumer purchasing decision changes, which will make its insights obsolete by then. In addition to being expensive, traditional research methods typically involve outsourcing the entire process to a research agency. As a result, the company has no control and is forced to purchase unnecessary third-party research. Although traditional methods were designed to get accurate insights, companies end up spending a lot of money on irrelevant information as consumers’ purchasing decisions change rapidly and markets become more reliant on digital channels.
To be agile and relevant in today’s market, brands need a platform that integrates the entire process of consumer research. Vase.ai understands this and has built it to be a growth tool Using artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning, for brands of all sizes, by making research less time-consuming, easier, and less expensive. Our clients get these insights in a fraction of the time and at a lower cost than traditional research methods which allows them to gain the capability of being data-driven in-house rather than outsourcing.
Gone are the days when a decision-maker had to jump between multiple software and apps to complete a research project, from a form-building tool to a data collection tool to an analysis tool to a charting tool. Vase.ai combined the entire consumer research process into a single platform. With the click of a button, our clients can build their brand and make informed decisions. There is no need to switch between programmes, and the singular platform will keep all of its data and insights in one place. The use of results from various techniques, such as in-home surveys, customer personas, and product trials, to bring together a holistic understanding of their customers is a key benefit of this integrated model.
Second, while all brands want to be data-driven, they lack a data analyst and a researcher to handle data analyses that necessitate in-depth insights and calculations. Our platform is built on research best practices, allowing a marketer, a product owner, or a strategist to be data-driven and use consumer research. We also offer researcher assistance to ensure that businesses have access to data at various levels of detail, allowing their company to concentrate on the most important aspects and to ensure that every study conducted on our platform is a complete success.
Third, even when our researchers are unavailable, we make recommendations based on customer insights using a combination of data analysis, machine learning, and real-time reports. Marketers want things now to keep up with consumer trends and stay ahead of the competition. Market research data, no matter how large or small, can be organised in a way that provides marketers with actionable insights. At Vase.ai, we call this “Agile Consumer Research”, which has become a growth tool for marketers and can help brands avoid costly mistakes by acting as a form of decision-making insurance.
Fourth, our technology allows us to deliver our solution in a very flexible manner. This translates to a highly adaptable environment in which we can scale our technology to meet a wide range of future needs while also tailoring it to the needs of our clients. Even if brands only wanted to ask 400 people 10 questions, they could do so for less than RM5000. Because we give marketers the flexibility they need, they can use this growth tool for both big and small decisions. Larger decisions necessitate a higher research investment, whereas smaller decisions may necessitate a lower investment.
How has consumer research evolved over the last few years?
Consumer research and the environment are developed in tandem, with consumers and the environment driving the process. Consumer behaviour has shifted several times in the last two years alone, as the pandemic demonstrated. Some believe that as we transition to the endemic phase, our environment will return to normalcy, but this is far from the case.
Aside from local factors, global factors such as product scarcity and inflation are causing additional uncertainty. All of these uncertainties lead to low consumer confidence and constantly changing consumer needs and preferences, resulting in erratic purchasing patterns. This begs the question of how the company will continue to grow in the face of shifting consumer needs and inconsistent purchasing patterns.
Building a product that the consumer needs and marketing it in a way that resonates with the consumer are fundamental and proven ways to grow. If growth-oriented brands can use real-time, reliable consumer research to make informed marketing, product, and strategy decisions, they will outperform their competitors. Because their research is real-time and reliable, they can be more consistent and predictable than competitors who rely on less structured data.
The main benefit of leveraging fresh consumer insights would be to de-risk their decision making – this means lowering the level of uncertainty associated with a decision. Each business decision usually involves two key elements: a monetary or manpower investment, or, more often, both; and a decision to choose one path and trade-off the other path. Most business decision-makers make decisions based on gut feelings, which frequently result in huge losses, a waste of investment, and suboptimal decisions that do not contribute to the company’s bottom line. Aside from gut instinct, some argue that many business decisions are reversible and could be tested using A/B tests.
One significant disadvantage of relying solely on the A/B test to pivot out of a decision is the significant amount of time and resources required. These issues can be solved by utilising new consumer insights. It also allows our clients to solve pivoting problems in a far more efficient and accurate manner by finding the right data quickly and avoiding costly mistakes. This reduces the risk of making a bad decision by analysing data to find the best option based on consumer needs and preferences. Furthermore, it cuts down on the time and resources needed to arrive at the best decision.
Based on your experience, which industries are most actively sourcing for consumer insights to make business decisions in Southeast Asia?
Fast-moving consumer goods, Telco, Tobacco, Technology Startups in retail and consumer goods. The industries that are most actively leveraging consumer insights, which correlate with how frequently the consumer decides to choose their product.
Consider this: a consumer has 3-5 opportunities per day to choose which food and beverage (F&B) brand to buy from, whereas the same consumer may only buy a car once every 8–10 years. Because a consumer makes a greater number of decisions in a shorter period, the industry spends more on consumer research to capitalise on those choices. Few products are consciously chosen by fast-moving consumer goods companies based on deep consumer insights. In this case, the F&B industry will invest significantly more in consumer research than the automobile industry.
What’s next for Vase.ai?
We currently serve 100 brands and expect this number to continue to rise as our goal is to become the growth engine for millions of ASEAN brands. We believe we are in the midst of a consumer research revolution, in which everyone wants to be data-driven to excel in their business and work, regardless of whether they are brand marketers, small business owners, or anywhere else in between.
The consumer research industry is undergoing a revolution, similar to the advertising industry 15 years ago when only a few brands with enough purchasing power could access appropriate advertising channels like billboards, television, and radio. Today, for as little as RM10, anyone can run a simple yet effective social media advertisement.
There is, however, no consumer research tool designed for someone who is not a researcher or data analyst, which is where Vase.ai hopes to fill in the gap. Market research tools, we believe, should no longer be limited to researchers and data analysts. Our platform was designed with the everyday Joe in mind. We are developing our growth tool so that anyone, regardless of financial situation, can use it to assist them on their data-driven journey.