Insight is delighted to speak to Nader Kobeissi, General Manager MENA at Toluna.
Nader, please tell us about yourself and your role at Toluna.
With pleasure: I am happy to come back to Toluna after seven years of trying to convince them to open an office in the region! I worked for Toluna in Paris and then in New York from 2004 till 2009, so am quite familiar with the company, values, culture, services, etc. The timing is perfect to open shop in the region as the market is ripe and in great need of a professional digital data collection company that can disrupt the market by combining cutting edge technology with high quality mobile and online regional research panels.
Why did you choose to pursue a career in market research? Which aspects of it do you enjoy the most?
I landed in MR by pure coincidence. My background was in online directories for the most part, and sales, but I happened to be in Paris at a time when a small company of 10 employees (Toluna) was looking for an English speaker to grow their business outside of France. The next 12 years of me working in this industry are history!
The aspect that I enjoy the most is keeping up with the very dynamic and rapidly changing behaviors of consumers, and adapting our skill sets and business model to stay competitive and keep our data representative.
Toluna operates in 21 countries and has an online community of over 10 million members across 59 countries. Earlier this year, Toluna expanded its operations to the Middle East and North Africa region by launching its Dubai office. Which services and solutions does Toluna offer to MENA clients? What are the key priorities and goals for Toluna in the region?
What we aspire to in the long run is for market research to be as automated as possible. We are making research more accessible, less costly and of better quality. Our community website, Toluna.com, and app have been rolled out in the region in both Arabic and English as a platform for respondents to interact, share their opinions, test products and get rewarded for their time through a wide array of different incentives that cater to all tastes.
Panel Portal is another one of our products that we brought to the market, through which we build exclusive custom panels for brands and clients that want to interact one on one with their users.
SampleXpress allows our clients to run their own feasibility checks and launch their own samples all the while minimizing emails back and forth, reducing dependency on our team’s availability and giving anyone the flexibility to run a project when they want, how they want, with complete control over the project management aspect of things.
QuickSurveys.com is our DIY tool that allows anyone, be it a senior researcher or a university student, to script their own survey, which they can either share with their friends or choose to refine by gaining access to some of the Toluna respondents who might fit the criteria of the target demographic they are looking to for insight.
Data quality has been a big topic in market research. How to ensure data quality in online research? What is Toluna’s approach to providing clients with the highest quality data?
This is indeed the topic I get the most questions about, which is why we have a whole set of industry standards we abide by, the ESOMAR rules and regulations. We follow those in addition to our own list of quality controls that we apply, which are better detailed in a 20 page quality control deck that I am happy to share with anyone who would like a copy.
What are the biggest changes that you see impacting the market research industry? Where is the industry headed in the next few years?
The most obvious right now is mobile. Consumers are answering using their smartphones, brands are being affected by this, purchasing habits are shifting, and attention spans have never been so short. So not only do we as a market research industry need to adapt to where and how respondents are spending their time, but it is essentially our duty to help all end clients out there to understand how this small handheld device is re-shaping how all industries do business.
That being said, mobile is the big thing today and will continue on being so for at least the next three years, just like the internet was huge 10-15 years ago, but it’s very tough to say what will replace mobile in 10 years as well…
Traditional data collection methods have dominated in the Middle East and North Africa region. What are your views on online research? What advantages does online research offer to clients? Do you expect a faster take-up of online research in the next few years?
Online definitely has some glory years to come but mobile internet is the key here. Some markets like Oman or Bahrain, for instance, will skip the online panel and jump directly from offline to mobile.
In more mature markets, however, like Saudi Arabia or the UAE, online panels still have a big advantage of course, as running surveys on small smartphone screens definitely has its limitations in terms of survey look and feel, type of questions you can ask, number of questions and eventually the amount of insights we can populate and get back to the client with, so online panels do have this going for them. But realistically, we have to assume that everything will become mobile sooner rather than later.
While still at university you founded Thedaleel.com, which became Lebanon’s leading online search engine. What made you successful as an entrepreneur? What is your formula for success?
That was fun indeed. I was very young, had zero experience and made every single mistake imaginable in the book. I was equally successful as I was unsuccessful, I must say though.
I was successful because I was passionate, worked very, very hard, and the idea was good at the time, which all in all tends to be a winning combo.
However success got to me at some point. I started to work less, didn’t ask people around me for advice, didn’t seek any mentors, and thought I knew best which is why I ultimately failed.
I strongly believe, however, that this experience helps me today as I avoid a number of mistakes that some of my peers might be making. It also helps me not to sleep on my successes and to always assume that there is a competitor out there gunning for that piece of the cake as well.
And what advice would you give to those who aspire to have a successful career in market research?
That’s a nice question. I guess constantly challenge the status quo. Keep an eye open, things change VERY quickly in this day and age, so you have to adapt, everyday!
If you want to be successful in market research, do your research, and learn from chess players: Think 5 steps ahead. And if you need help with research, use Toluna. 🙂