Dscout – The New Focus Group For Market Research

Dscout – The New Focus Group For Market Research

Chicago-based Dscout calls itself an “in-context video research platform” and has announced a $7.5 million Series B financing round led by Detroit’s Beringea LLC.

This is good news not just for the startup but also for a number of its research respondents, called scouts, who use the Dscout app to record their daily life experiences of apps such as Snapchat and receive money for their feedback.

It is true. And there’s a business model behind it.

Dscout Diary which captures people’s experiences (PC: Dscout)

Youtuber Adam Rayy downloaded Dscout from App Store and started making money by applying for what Dscout calls ‘missions’ or what simply are qualitative research opportunities for companies in need of user opinions.

Rayy, for example, has completed a ‘Snapchat day-by-day’ mission and answered questions that revolved around his usage of the app: “How many snaps did he post today? What is his snapchat score?” among others. He sent screenshots of “the regular stuff” as feedback to the company and claims was paid a $100 for this two-week mission.

“I don’t know about y’all”, he says, “but I am getting paid to use Snapchat.”

Rayy has also participated in other missions where companies wanted to know, for example, “the last smartphone he owned and why” and once again, paid him for his responses.  

Defocusing the focus group?

Businesses know that behind each touch, click, and swipe there’s a human being. But what some would like to know – more than just in numerical data –  is the individual’s opinion or motivation behind the use or refuse of a product.

According to the Global Market Research report (ESOMAR, 2016), market research was a $44.3 bn industry in 2015. Quantitative research methods dominate the industry while qualitative research – through focus groups and personal interviews – being the less-preferred option.


Illustration courtesy: Dscout

While not all are keen on incorporating the discerning customer, clients from the food, beverages and confectionery sectors commission the maximum number of researches. They ask questions through focus group or questionnaire to understand, say, what kind of coffee you like. It has been these focus group discussions that have, according to Malcolm Gladwell, given the U.S. its spaghetti sauce.

Qualitative research assigns importance to human understanding and, unlike quantitative, propagates that each data set tells a story. But as big data monopolizes research, it’s interesting to note that despite more than two decades of digital revolution, digital qualitative method – in the form of video, photo, and text-based surveys or focus groups – have remained niche.

Digital qualitative methods have obvious advantages: They can significantly speed up the collection, analysis and communication of insights. They can use AI to answer deeper and harder questions and present the brand with contextual information and answers to the many whys and hows that are difficult for data to explain.

Data v/s Story

“Data begets curiosity” says Dscout’s founder and CEO Michael Winnick, who launched the mobile research platform in 2011. Winnick is concerned with the intersection of design and digital and has worked with media organizations like Wired. He has also led a consulting firm called Gravitytank. However, after nine years at Gravitytank, he left the company to become a researcher, launch Dscout and start the process of understanding users.   

Dscout currently has over 100,000 scouts who record their opinions using the Dscout    app. They give Dscout’s clients instant, reliable and actionable information about their habits and usage, along with providing feedback of how the product can improve. It’s through them that Dscout manages to quickly commission and complete the lengthy and tiresome qualitative research for its clients that traditional focus groups would take days.   

The Deliverer of Bad News

Recently, Dscout teamed up with Fitbit to explore bad news in the digital environment. As we live our lives digitally, there’s a lot of bad news that apps – and not people – are breaking out to us. They tell us if we’ll manage to get airplane tickets to places that matter most, if there are any matches on Tinder, if credit card bills are due, or also something as small as if Uber has a surge.

Fitbit, for example,  knows that not everyone is going to take the 10,000th step and how, then, must these communicate?  

What seems like an avoidable first-world problem, Dscout discovered, affects more people than imagined, and the company recorded responses of 900 participants through a three-part study to understand the most effective way to communicate bad news.

The research’s finding not only got Fitbit to help participants set realistic goals, to combat disappointment, it reiterated to numerous brands that good messaging is vital. Dscout now has research to prove that when bad news is inevitable, users like it if it is communicated quickly, is well-worded, has an encouraging spin to it, and most importantly, is empathetic.

When Change.org wanted to understand when and how people confront issues they care about, and run an evaluative app beta test for a new app, they came to Dscout. Scouts answered open and closed-ended questions and recorded certain answers with 30-second videos. Change.org’s researcher Aruna Balakrishnan, told Dscout that its platform “simplified the process, eliminating much of the logistical coordination work” she would otherwise have to do.

It was through this qualitative research project that Change.org discovered how important local topics are for its users. Therefore, their new app has a feature of sharing locations to that they can “showcase relevant local petitions”.

Dscout is not the first or only company to turn the focus group on its head. Numerous market research companies offer similar insights. However, Dscout’s intersection of design and digital and its platform of scouts willing to offer immediate and instant feedback is what sets the company apart. The startup also has a philosophy to chase something new, that not many are talking about. It is that initiative that got it to feature ‘Trump Diaries’ hosting accounts of the ‘voters who broke the mould’, like an unemployed African-American woman or a liberal who voted for Trump.


From Dscout’s Trump Diaries (PC: Dscout)

Despite entrants like Dscout, qualitative research remains a small part of market research industry. It battles strong resistance from big data supporters and its own inefficiencies in collection, integration, analysis, and above all, utilization of the ‘human element’ which is always open to interpretation.


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