Chris St. Hilaire is Co-Founder and CEO of MFour Mobile Research, Inc.
A market research pioneer, Chris started MFour in 2011. The company has redefined the research industry by connecting brands to 10 million daily consumer journeys. MFour now hosts the only omnichannel consumer dashboard—for real-time consumer input.
Prior to MFour, Chris served as a director to Presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns. He is the author of ’27 Powers of Persuasion: Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences and Win Allies’. The book provides practical ways to win court cases and political campaigns. Chris was also recognized by the American Business Awards for leading one of the nation’s “most innovative” companies.
In this ViewPoints, we talk with Chris about his career from political research through to building a business around today’s mobile connected consumer.
How did you get into the world of market research?
I actually started my career in politics, working in Sacramento. And, it was my interest in political/campaign messaging which led me into the world of market research.
So, there are two types of politics. There’s policy and there’s politic. You’re either writing and trying to pass laws or you are trying to get people elected. I was much more passionate about the elections than I was the policy underneath (eg. the detail and committee meetings and things like that). I started running political campaigns, and then quickly moved into political consulting at one of the larger firms. At that point, I realised I was most interested in the campaign/political messaging, which required a research component. I started first using qualitative research, with focus groups. Then, I moved into political polling and utilising quantitative and qualitative research together to develop the message.
I did that for a while, but politics can be very demanding on family life, and ultimately I was looking to make a transition to have a better work life balance.
Tell us a little bit about MFour and why you started the business?
In 2011, we saw that market research response rates were declining and felt the way that sample was being collected by some of the big players in the industry wasn’t as effective as it could be. We didn’t feel like the survey responses passed the ‘smell test’ in all instances, and we thought that more market research should really be done on a smartphone, especially given how much time consumers were beginning to spend on their phones. There needed to be a change. So we built an app, Surveys On The Go®, with the goal of just providing sample. It’s really evolved from there because the smartphone can do so many more things in terms of data collection, between picture taking and recording things, to pretty much knowing more than you do about yourself based on usage and behavior. Given all the information that a smartphone has, it was really the perfect device for starting to collect research about consumers.
Today, the Surveys On The Go® app is used by over three million Americans and powers the only omnichannel consumer dashboard—for real-time consumer input.
You just launched a new product called App + Web Surveys, can you tell us more about this?
I think everyone knows that the world was going digital, especially buying behavior. Even when consumers would go into a brick and mortar store, they would look to understand where they should be going and the products, and that required online research, often times on their phone. So the entire economy was shifting to digital, and the pandemic has only exponentially increased the rate at which that was happening both online and in apps.
In terms of our product, App + Web Surveys, essentially when there is a behavior we can witness, either within an app or on the Web, we can survey to understand ‘why?’. RealityMine technology helps us generate the digital behavioral data stream from which we select the events we want to survey off of. Not only do we give you a sense of who’s visiting what sites and using what apps, we also give you a sense of ‘why’, because once an event has happened, we can trigger a survey to find out what occurred and what drove that behavior.
It’s really the best of both worlds. Online behavior has become fundamentally more important to understand generally. Survey data overlayed with behavioral data and informed by behavioral data makes the insights more valid because the behavior has been actually witnessed. You really have something that’s much more insightful from a consumer marketing perspective.
What kind of clients is this best suited to and having the most value for?
You can divide them in a few ways:
- Traditional brick and mortar eg. the Walmarts/Targets of the world, because behavior that was going on in a geographic brick and mortar sense is still going on. It’s just going on digitally because of the pandemic. And so having visibility into that is fundamental to these businesses.
- Online retailers like Amazon.
- The companies that are putting products in both of these places, like Procter and Gamble or Kellogg’s.
- Media companies that stream content like Hulu and Disney.
- And then of course market research firms who support end clients.
All of those companies need insight and would benefit from App + Web Surveys.
What are you most excited about for 2021?
Big picture, I’m excited to see people in person and to get the world moving again. I think most of us would like to forget 2020 ever happened – for the most optimistic, we just frame it as a do-over! So for 2021, I’d like to see some sense of normalcy and decorum. It took 50,000 years for humans to learn to live together, and we’re expected to know how to live apart in 10 months? I just don’t think that’s possible.
From a company perspective, we took all the lemons last year and did our best to make lemonade. We had already planned the move into event based surveys and digital behavior prior to the pandemic, so it just increased our focus in 2020. For 2021, what I’m most excited about is the April launch of our SaaS platform, which will be called Atlas Consumer. Our first iteration will be Atlas Consumer CPG which will be syndicated surveys around CPG behavior and big box retailers. You’ll get a digital view including Amazon, but also brick and mortar behavior, in that combination. And RealityMine is critical in helping us provide this. I’m really excited about the launch of that platform, and I think it has the opportunity to really increase the level of insight available to marketers and in a very fundamental way.
Lastly, if you could be anything, what would your dream job be?
I would have loved to play professional soccer at Chelsea or somewhere in Spain (there are a lot of clubs I like in Spain!). I would love to have played side by side with Messi. The one problem is that the physical talent that exists within my mind, does not exist within my body. I could have been a pretty good soccer player, but I was going to be limited at the highest level. And, so after that I would go for being on the Seniors tour in golf. I guess there is still time, but there’s definitely the physical limitation so I will just try to be the best golfer at my club!