Andrew Patterson finds that Buzz Channel is helping businesses to better understand what customers think of a company's products or services

Andrew Patterson finds that Buzz Channel is helping businesses to better understand what customers think of a company's products or services

By Andrew Patterson

If you could grant most business owners or CEOs one wish they would probably opt for understanding more about their customers; particularly finding out how they could sell them more of their product.

Previously, market research was the domain of large multinationals, with substantial marketing budgets, where money was no object when it came to trying to understand and analyse customer trends.

These days, using technology to gain insights into what customers are thinking about your product or service has now become possible for businesses of all sizes thanks to specialist providers such as Auckland based technology company Buzz Channel.

Business model

In 2004, casting around for a way to commercialise a business opportunity that would allow businesses to better understand their customers, co-founders Nick MacDonald, whose background was in technology and Mary Vance, who had experience in corporate marketing, decided to develop a model in the fledgling online research space.

The idea was to enable data collection to be less expensive and more efficient than traditional research methods by conducting the surveys online in a way that was less intrusive than phone calls or mailing out questionnaire forms and allowed businesses to hear the voice of their customers more directly.

Since its formation, the Buzz Channel has now conducted more than 2,500 surveys for a range of businesses and organisations in the advertising, media, FMCG, telecommunications, financial services and health sectors.

However, Nick MacDonald says just seven years ago, when the company first started, not everyone was convinced about the validity of online research.

“Over the last few years online technology has become an accepted platform for market research, but that’s still a relatively recent phenomenon. I well remember when we started in 2004 we used to spend the first half hour of any pitch we were making justifying the validity of online research. But in the last five years we’ve seen it become almost a given that conducting market research online is probably the most effective way of collecting information.”

Core strategy

But these days Buzz Channel sees itself as less of a market research company and more as a technology company specialising in gaining customer insights online.

“Interestingly, we’ve almost gone full circle in our evolution as a business and we’ve come right back to focusing solely on the customer and the customer experience. So what that means as a CEO or someone working on the front line of customer engagement, is that you can see exactly what it was your customers experienced with your product and more importantly, how they felt about that experience, from the previous day.”

“So there’s no doubt that technology has completely disrupted the industry and there’s very different ways of doing things now when it comes to gathering customer insights.”

“It doesn’t negate some of the great work the market research companies do collecting data using other methods, but in many ways we’re an enabler that allows them to do their job more effectively.”

“What our technology platform also allows us to do really effectively is deal with the immediate insights where you want that information quickly.”

Role of market research

But increasingly, some companies are beginning to shy away from market research believing in today’s fast moving environment customers either don’t know or don’t understand what it is they really want until they try it. It’s a view famously epitomised by Apple founder Steve Jobs who refused to base product development on customer insights.

“Henry Ford also famously said prior to inventing the Model T car, that if he’d asked people what they wanted they’d have said faster horses!”

“Of course businesses like Ford and Apple have a very good understanding of what their customers want but you can’t tell me that they don’t listen very closely to their customers’ needs and wants because it’s very obvious they do.”

“For businesses that perhaps are just beginning to understand the needs and wants of their customers then tools like ours are an absolute eye opener for being able to gain and then understand customer insights across a very wide spectrum of variables.”

“Those insights can then highlight exactly where all the blockages are occurring leading to fewer complaints.”

For businesses that can lead to improved productivity and ultimately a healthier bottom line.

Nick MacDonald says his favourite example of this approach is actually from within the public sector.

“We’ve been working with the Auckland District Health Board on a piece of research dealing with patient experience as they move through the different parts of the system. We’ve been able to determine things like what caused the patients anxiety during their stay in hospital, what aspects of their care they were dissatisfied with and so on.”

“What’s interesting is that so often the causes of these problems are such simple things to change and when you present the results you have people saying ... why didn’t we think of that.”


Market research these days has become increasingly competitive with low barriers to entry and easy access to technology allowing more participants to enter the market.

“We’ve focused on developing our own customer experience platform and in the coming months we’re going to be launching a new version of our product globally.”

“Our business is a good example of how New Zealand’s technology sector has so much potential to grow and it’s really something we should be embracing as a country. The green footprint is fantastic and all you need is the right people.”

“However, I don’t think we’re doing enough to sell that vision to young people because, more often than not, it seems these days we’re hiring people from offshore to fill positions in the technology sector.”

Future plans

So what does the future look like for Buzz Channel?

“We were actually profitable from day one and we’ve funded our growth from cashflow and so as a result we’ve taken a fairly organic and slow approach to growth.”

“Having said that, we’ve developed a range of clients across all different sectors and what we want to do is take all that accumulated knowledge and thought into our new customer experience platform which we’re hoping will spearhead our next phase of growth.”

It seems there’s still plenty of buzz left to go around.


Founded: 2004
Sector: Technology / Marketing services
Staff: 10
Turnover: Not disclosed
Annual growth rate: 100%
Biggest market: NZ
International footprint: Increasing focus on international clients
Profitable: Yes
Recent highlights: Nominated for the Health Excellence Award for work undertaken on behalf of Auckland DHB. Deloitte Top 500 Asia/Pacific entrant in 2008 & 2009.


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And they'll be selling it....when?

Hang on. Online research is not "new", particularly for consumer surveys. All the major agencies are doing it, including with ualitative research platforms. Face-to-face has its place, particularly in B2B research and ethnogrpahic research requires real boservation. I'm sure Buzz Channel is doing some great things but should realize that "online" is no longer cutting edge.

Yes, fair point. Headline since changed.