TechBytes with Phil Ahad, Head, Products and Strategy, Toluna

Phil Ahad

Phil Ahad
EVP, Head of Products and Strategy, Toluna

We spoke to Phil Ahad, Head, Products and Strategy, Toluna, to understand how their DIY Quick Survey tool works.

Tell us about your role at Toluna and the team you handle?

The Toluna Digital group is tasked with identifying first look technology and trends that innovate the market research industry allowing our clients to do more sophisticated and complex research faster and easier than ever before. Toluna takes a very forward-looking approach to technology and innovation, and as the EVP, Head of Products, it’s my mission to develop a clear strategy for transforming the future of digital consumer insights.

With deep experience in digital product leadership and strategy, I lead Toluna’s product ownership, marketing and support teams focused on building, launching and servicing all aspects of the products life cycle. Our staff is located across the globe and work hand-in-hand with Toluna’s engineering team led by Frank Smadja, EVP of R&D and Engineering, based in Haifa Israel, a bustling hub of tech innovation, to ensure that the vision and strategy come to life through development. The entire group is driven both by this external and our own internal innovation culture. Our goal is to foster an innovative spirit, and instead of strictly looking at our own industry for inspiration, we strive to break the mold.

Toluna was first to bring an end-to-end automated research platform to market. As industry leaders, our approach to product innovation is two-fold. We listen and watch emerging trends to identify the emerging needs of businesses that help us cultivate new product ideas.

Based on our own market research expertise and industry-proven methodologies, we also aim to set the pace when it comes to moving the industry forward.

Our approach to product development has been highly successful. Over the past year and half, we brought 10 major products to market that some of the biggest companies in the world are using to gain real-time insights on consumer intent. We also have some exciting new things in the works for 2018 that you should keep an eye on.

In a highly engaged B2B marketplace, how does a social voting community influence a marketing research and recommendations engine?

Whether B2B or B2C, speed today is essential for all business. Consumers are moving faster than ever, and real-time shopping is changing the way customers interact with products. If your research program moves too slowly, then you’ll fall behind the needs of your consumer. That’s where our social voting community can help and power real-time research, and this real-time element is both a competitive advantage for businesses and what separates our fully automated end-to-end platform from traditional market research and online surveys. In this way, it’s the speed of our platform that heavily influences market research. If you’re waiting days and weeks for your research to come back to you on campaign or product test results, then you most likely missed your opportunity to tap into the need of the consumer. Our platform delivers results in hours, no matter the complexity. We achieve that through leveraging digital automation of standard research practices such as programming, fieldwork, and reporting.

What are the major challenges to adopt a mobile-optimized, automated research process?

Everything must be designed and built with a mobile-first strategy, that’s the world we live in now. At Toluna, we invest in innovation ahead of the curve. Technology and automation are becoming increasingly essential to keep up with consumer insights in our rapidly shifting on-demand economy.

However, there’s a lot of existing dogma regarding how things should be done in market research, and honestly, one of the biggest challenges is that many companies are caught up in the old way of conducting research. Part of that is due to holding on to old norms. But also, a lack of easy to use products has been an obstacle.

Our priority is to provide clients with products where the market research innovation onus isn’t on them. We don’t want to task our clients with having to be experts in market research to use the platform, and we have built products that are turnkey and help companies both save money and streamline their market research processes.

How can first-time customers leverage your DIY solutions offered with the Insight platform?

We have lots of examples of major brands that have been using QuickSurveys – the industry’s first DIY survey tool with on-demand access to a global consumer panel – and it’s been extremely easy for clients to use. Over time, we’ve developed an entire suite of automated insights tools that allow companies to concept test their ideas with targeted sets of consumers in real time. These products allow our clients who have no real research methodology experience to conduct sophisticated and reliable research by leveraging our suite of automated research tools such as PowerAttitudes, PowerConcept, PowerPack, and PowerPosition.

For example, marketers using the Toluna technology platform for the first time can use PowerConcept to test their campaigns without needing an in-depth market research background and gain reliable insights that can be acted on immediately.

PowerPack is one of our more recent products that allows marketers and product packaging designers to test packaging concepts with targeted consumers on demand and in real-time. The automated, DIY nature combined with the sophisticated survey methodology and intuitive reporting make all of these products a great entry point into the Toluna platform.

How do you see the media spending trends evolving with the proliferation of concept testing technologies?

Marketers at companies of all sizes, along with the world’s largest ad agencies are under increased pressure to gauge media effectiveness. They’re also seeking new ways to integrate media spend, data analytics, and creative advertising. The reality today is that there is a lot of media planning and buying going on without any form of concept testing or validation of direction.

This is largely fuelled by the fact that brands today push out campaigns much faster and in greater volume than ever before – especially with online channels like social media. This makes it difficult to test campaigns and content using traditional market research tactics.

A campaign that fails can have serious financial and reputational consequences. The proliferation of concept testing technologies like our PowerConcept enables marketers to keep pace with the speed of digital campaigns and allow for real-time testing of everything from basic banner ads to major TV commercials with multi-million media budgets.

I believe the trend for media buying and the ideation of campaigns will continue to be much more data-driven. Another factor we’re seeing is the emergence not only of technology that allows marketers to test campaigns ahead of time, but also to track performance and see what consumers are doing after they are exposed to an ad or marketing campaign. Insights into actual observed behavior have the potential to be very powerful when it comes to a new way of market research.

How do you manage AI/ML capabilities at Toluna?

AI and machine learning were the shiny new objects in the room for marketers in 2017, and the trend will certainly continue into the future. We view the whole idea of AI and machine learning as a powerful method to gather additional insights that further enhance an insights program to be able to report on the full picture of a consumer life cycle rather than just a drill down view.

New applications are enabling marketers to pull quantitative consumer insights from big data in ways not previously possible for humans to identify at scale. However, we find the most powerful insights come from combining the quantitative “what” with the qualitative “why” when it comes to consumer behavior and intent. Doing so provides a deeper more complete picture of the consumer.

What would automated research platforms look like in 2020, as AI/ML make deeper inroads into the industry?

I believe the entire market research industry is undergoing a seismic shift, but our clients have already made this shift, and their ask is going beyond what the typical research provider can offer. Brands need an entirely new way of obtaining consumer insight and are not just asking for a specific answer to a specific question, they are asking a question and looking further to how that one question impacts the entire consumer journey. This is what we call Insights on Demand, and we believe that its emergence will be the key development for our industry.

Insights on Demand promotes the tight integration between technology and brands to provide real-time insights to organizations – no matter their size, or timeliness of need. Marketers, of course, need to be cognizant of new technology like AI and machine learning, but more than anything, they should be focused on understanding changes in consumer intent and how that affects the entire consumer journey.

What is needed today and tomorrow is ongoing access to real-time, evolving consumer feedback driven by cost-effective technology that automates the delivery of those insights to speed up the decision-making process. This is larger than any survey platform or AI/ML application. In fact, it is bigger than market research as we know it because it’s broader and accessible to all companies.

Thanks for chatting with us, Phil.
Stay tuned for more insights on marketing technologies. To participate in our Tech Bytes program, email us at

Also Read:  3 Reasons Why Data Storytelling Will Be A Top Marketing Trend of 2018

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