Mihajlo Popesku, Deputy CEO and Chief Research Officer at Qudo, says, “data privacy concerns have created a greater need for zero-party data” and that “by collecting anonymous data with the consent of participants, research houses can build precise consumer groups.”

He likens this precision to “a glass of water” for the thirsty, in contrast to the inconvenient “high-pressure hose” of data many are dealing with right now.

Qudo is a platform that combines consumer research, market segmentation and targeting, and which Popesku describes as the “first ever zero-party data powered, channel and domain-agnostic precision activation engine (PAE)”.

We caught up with him to ask about his work as well as the impact of AI on research.

Econsultancy: What does a typical day look like for you?

Mihajlo Popesku: As Deputy CEO and Chief Research Officer, I play a key role in the company’s growth and success by driving innovation and efficiency across all aspects of research and development. My core responsibility is to understand clients’ challenges and to help them find the best research solutions.

My day-to-day activities cover a whole range of areas including business development, working with different teams on building the SaaS platform, engaging with VCs and investors to secure investment and doing public speaking at conferences and university lectures.

No two days are ever the same in my job, which is one of my favourite aspects of it. I’m proud that since co-founding Qudo in 2020, I’ve built and trained a highly skilled team of research directors, fostering their growth into an incredibly talented group of professionals. Because of this, leading this team as it continues to grow is hugely rewarding.

E: What motivates you at work?

MP: Eighty seven percent of marketers believe data is their company’s most underused asset, and 40% of businesses plan to increase their data-driven marketing investments – so, clearly, there is a real need to democratise data-powered marketing. The main goal that motivates me and drives me forward every day is Qudo’s vision: creating a new world in which the entire marketing value chain is streamlined and democratised so that actionable insights and superior marketing results can be achieved by anyone using our platform.

Our mission to achieve this has been to build the first ever zero-party data powered, channel and domain-agnostic precision activation engine (PAE) that turns marketers into superstars by connecting their consumer brands to their target audiences. Now that we’ve achieved the mission, we want more and more marketers to start using the engine to interrogate data and segments using natural language, allowing them to unlock crucial insights.

I have a passion for unravelling the chaos and complexity of consumer behaviour.

I’ve also got a long background in lecturing in academia, but my plan was always to go and challenge myself in industry – I wanted to apply what I was teaching to the world. I’ve always been fascinated by and specialised in consumer research, so I love that a large part of my job is applying marketing science, statistics and quantitative research to the work we do.

I have a passion for unravelling the chaos and complexity of consumer behaviour. This has shaped my professional and academic journey, so what motivates me today is helping marketers extract wisdom from the vast sea of consumer data. Essentially, I want to help them become better at what they do!

E: What are some of the biggest challenges brands face when it comes to proper data management? And what are the key elements of any successful data-driven marketing strategy?

MP: One of the main problems brands face is needing to understand consumer complexity – we know that consumers are complicated, often irrational, and prone to occasional behavioural changes. Chosen at random off the street, someone could be an active investor, a debtor, retired, or own millions in assets. At the end of the day, your marketing strategy is only ever going to be as good as the data that powers it.

We also all know that first- and third-party data help marketers learn more about consumers, but data privacy concerns have created a greater need for zero-party data. By collecting anonymous data with the consent of participants, research houses can build precise consumer groups.

Imagine you’re thirsty – do you want a high-pressure hose, or a glass of water?

Zero-party data is the answer. By asking specific, key questions, it’s untouched by new data privacy regulations and means you can collect much more targeted information. As we often say in our team: Imagine you’re thirsty – do you want a high-pressure hose, or a glass of water? Many marketers will claim to have actionable insights, but really, they give clients a high-pressure hose of information. At Qudo, we hand them a glass of water.

E: How can brands best harness zero-party data? What are some common misconceptions?

MP: A key part of the job for all marketers is to understand how and why consumers act the way they do. They then need to use this knowledge to create compelling campaigns that attract target audiences. The issue, unfortunately, is that too many marketers are not using data and research effectively.

Data quality is one of the major concerns for the market research industry and we have devised a number of approaches to ensure top-quality data is accessible. One is to draw samples from multiple ‘panels’ at once using what are called panel aggregators, but we have a number of mechanisms we can use to prevent sub-optimal responding patterns.

[T]he trap of inappropriate personalisation [is] one of the most common issues I see.

If they want campaigns to be successful and generate revenue, teams need to connect the right data that will facilitate segmentation, targeting and positioning. But it’s still important that they don’t fall into the trap of inappropriate personalisation, which is one of the most common issues I see. Brands have to realise that by using zero-party data, marketing campaigns can focus on targeting pain points and addressing what’s most important to consumer groups.

I see and hear so many people in the industry focusing on the phrase ‘data-driven’ in their conversations about marketing – this is understandable, but data is worth nothing if it’s not providing valuable insight that can be acted upon. Really, they want answers – marketers want to reduce uncertainty, get answers and make informed decisions. So really, they are ‘answer-driven’ as opposed to ‘data-driven’, which is our mantra.

E: What trends or innovations do you predict will come to the forefront of your industry in the next 12 months?

MP: The explosion we’ve seen in the popularity of large language models like ChatGPT and Bard has already made a giant impact on the marketing industry – in my view it offers a huge amount of potential and opportunity in this area. Looking ahead, I predict that the rise of generative AI will continue to be the #1 trend in this space for the near future and am fascinated to see what comes next.

[We] already have a working prototype of what we call ‘chat to data’

For instance, ChatGPT and other large language models have brought about a new paradigm for user experience. What this means is that everyone, including business leaders and marketers, will come to expect to use software and query data using natural language. This means that having to learn software interfaces will become a thing of the past – instead, we will be trained on how to prompt software and we will all be able to conduct data analysis and machine learning by simply typing in what we want to see. At Qudo we’re working on this right now, and already have a working prototype of what we call ‘chat to data’ which does exactly that.

I think the way we work is bound to evolve. As AI equips us to accomplish more, it simultaneously frees up time for critical thinking and creativity. Those who can skilfully weave together disparate elements – be they ideas, data, or even people – will find themselves thriving in this new era.

In an industry evolving so quickly, and where huge amounts of data are available to everyone, marketers need to streamline consumer research. By using sophisticated research techniques and powerful tools such as panel aggregators and zero-party data, they can fast-track the creation of meaningful questionnaires for consumer research to simplify and boost their productivity.

E: What’s next for Qudo?

MP: It’s such an exciting time for Qudo right now – in March, we launched our flagship research and activation platform for marketers, and we’re currently inviting everyone to join our Beta programme. We are also moving from a purely dashboard-based software to a hybrid offering that will allow end users to do so much more than they could before with the platform.

Further down the line, we’re continuing to seek a range of venture capital and angel investors with experience in this space, having already secured $6.7 million to date, and our next round of fundraising is anticipated for early 2024. We’re all so excited to continue developing the platform and expanding our growing community.

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