Interview with Dana Stanley, Vice President of Research, Fashion Playtes

Dana Stanley

Dana Stanley

Akshay Kanyal: Can you briefly describe your professional background?

Dana Stanley: Sure, after studying Psychology and briefly working in politics, I started my research career as an analyst for a political polling firm in Washington, DC. Things really took off when I joined Greenfield Online in 2000. That was back when it was still a full-service custom research company, about a year before Dean Wiltse joined as CEO and changed the company’s business model to online sample provider and data collection specialist. Later, I helped Research Now enter the U.S. market and then ran a consultancy called The Operandi Group. Now, Dean and I are reunited here at FashionPlaytes.

Akshay Kanyal: Tell us something about your company in terms of history, service suite, future plans, etc.

Dana Stanley: FPgirl by FashionPlaytes launched in 2009, allowing tween girls ages 5-13 to design clothes and have them produced to wear. The idea grew out of founder Sarah McIlroy’s own positive experiences designing clothes with her mother, and, in turn, sharing those experiences with her daughters.

Today, FPgirl.com has grown beyond style and fashion into a digital destination for all things girl — an interactive, age-appropriate platform for tween girls who are starting to develop their own social profile and want their voices to be heard. For the first time, girls are in a position to provide valuable market insights and influence brands, as well as product design and development.

We have nearly 1 million members, and we’re continuing to build new features and functionality for this creative, active and opinionated community. And we’re introducing even more innovative ways for our partners to engage with our bright and talented tween community.

Akshay Kanyal: What are your key responsibility areas, the challenges and your approach for the same?

Dana Stanley: My primary responsibility is to work with marketers and researchers to help them understand these young consumers. I help businesses create age-appropriate research interactions with our members that leverage the power of our community.

The response to FPgirl in the research community has been overwhelmingly positive. Once people understand how we approach research differently, we hear words like “creative” and “ingenious.”

Our biggest challenge is that most researchers are used to sending a survey to the parents to find out what children under 13 think. We’re introducing an entirely new model that turns research into a genuine, two-way conversation. In order to communicate directly with tweens, you have to have the parents’ trust and consent. We have both.

Over the years, we’ve created a safe, secure, parent-approved environment where girls share their opinions about all kinds of topics. The girls are excited about participating in interactive quizzes and challenges that put them in the driver’s seat and provide valuable market insights for our partners. They’re motivated because they’ve seen how their opinions have shaped our business, our products and our community. And the parents can see that the experience is fun, engaging, even empowering for the girls. Naturally, we are fully compliant with privacy laws such as the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

Akshay Kanyal: FashionPlaytes is a very unique concept to gather insights – what opportunities and threats you foresee for such an approach?

Dana Stanley: The opportunity is enormous. As consumers are becoming more informed and empowered, the entire commerce and retail landscape is changing. Brands need to tune in and get to know how this next generation of shoppers — the incredibly powerful and already deeply influential, tween audience — is thinking. Being able to have two-way, genuine discussions “in the wild” and on a larger scale is the only way to do that.

Threats? The reality is that FPgirl is in a unique position because it’s an authentic, girl-driven community where tweens truly want to be. They create content, guide our discussions, and shape the entire experience. Sharing their opinions, providing valuable insights, and making their voices heard is what they do naturally as part of the FPgirl community. Over the years, we’ve listened to them — and now we’re in a position to amplify their voice. That’s an experience and a promise no research organization could ever replicate.

Akshay Kanyal: What are your expansion plans for the coming few years? Will FashionPlaytes’ community base be restricted to tweens only, or you intend to include other demographics?

Dana Stanley: Our primary focus right now is to continue building this innovative engagement research model with our core audience, U.S. tween girls between the age of 5 and 13. We are, however, leveraging our relationship with the girls’ parents to simultaneously expand on our ability to provide mom-focused research.

Later this year and into the next, we will be expanding into the teen market as the FPgirl audience ages. Already, we’re seeing that girls outside of our core age group are taking a more active role in our community. We anticipate adding a teen component to our site with more targeted content and activities so that they can share their insights and participate in research opportunities with partners as well.

With international demand already growing, the next natural step will be to expand beyond the United States in the not-too-distant future.

Akshay Kanyal: Can you share some numbers about the strength and reach of FashionPlaytes’ community?

Dana Stanley:  The FPgirl community has 1 million registered users. They typically spend 30 minutes per session on our site, and return twice a week — we see over 600,000 visits a month. In the past 6 months alone, girls have posted over 30,000 comments, and our contests get over 50,000 votes weekly. These are active, engaged and highly influential members of Generation Z.

Akshay Kanyal: Can you elaborate on the methodology you adopt to gather insights from your community?

Dana Stanley: Our members are interacting and influencing our brand on a daily basis. Not only are they contributing content and customizing their own clothing, but they’re informing our product decisions as they direct the selection of trends, colors, and silhouettes we offer each season.

They design graphics and new products for our monthly design contests, and we’ve consistently seen that the girl-driven and girl-designed products are our best sellers.

These young designers keep our product line relevant by crowdsourcing designs, voting and sharing their insights, and in features like “Fashion Q&A’s,” “What’s Cool in your School,” and “Trend Alerts”. The girls help keep our community vibrant, fresh and on point by creating much of our content.

When it comes to projects FPgirl does with partners, the contrast with the traditional panel methodology is dramatic.

Where others businesses offer a stardardized “research panel” approach, we’ve created a more robust and organic research channel. The word “channel” is a better reflection of the two-way interaction that’s happening on FPgirl.

In fact, every research exchange with the girls is kept within the larger context of all of the conversations we have with them. Each opportunity is presented as a fun way for girls to express themselves — it’s essential to our brand promise that we’re empowering girls and amplifying their voices.

In order to keep this promise, we only present research opportunities where considerable thought and care has gone into the girl’s experience.

I expect that the growth of the research side of our business will be fueled by a smaller number of partners who get how unique and special this opportunity is and who want to go deeper with us and collaborate on multiple projects.

Akshay Kanyal: Innovation is the latest buzzword gaining momentum in the research/insights circle – is it really something new or has been existence for long?

Dana Stanley: Innovation is nothing new. It is what has kept the research and insights industry moving forward through the 20th century and into the 21st.

What is new is the pace of innovation. We are seeing new ideas being conceived and tried and iterated rapid-fire, in large part due to the dizzying pace with which the larger technology context is changing.

Back in 2000 at Greenfield Online, we met with a lot of resistance to doing surveys online. That idea seems almost laughable now, but back then, the fears and the inertia were real. It had taken decades previously for telephone surveys to gain full acceptance.

The rapidity with which the online revolution took place sort of whipsawed the industry, and there was a quick differentiation between winners and losers, followed by a slower regression to the mean as the remainder of the industry adopted online methods and commoditization occurred.

What’s different now is not only that the changes are coming even faster, but also that more people are expecting change, trying to anticipate it and take advantage of it. And we are seeing an influx of new participants in our industry who are offering unique approaches quite successfully.

Akshay Kanyal: Respondents are getting harder to reach by the day – what is your take on it?

Dana Stanley: The research industry has not done a good job of serving respondents’ needs. Research subjects are routinely asked to give of themselves, yet they are not generally treated to a compelling and personalized experience.

Most research projects are insipid and shamefully long.

Not nearly enough care is put into designing and managing the experience of research participants. Not surprisingly, then, it is increasingly more difficult to get respondents to take part in research.

Transactionalization and and commoditization of the research experience has been a key culprit. Market research organizations train respondents to collect points or currency in exchange for jumping through hoops.

A better approach is to build a deep relationship with respondents that extends beyond research.

Build a strong level of trust, provide actual value, and respondents will be motivated to share information with you not just for the rewards, but also for the psychic benefits of being helpful to someone with whom you have a relationship.

Akshay Kanyal: The greatest concern with any online community is ‘privacy issues’ – what are your thoughts on it?

Dana Stanley: Privacy is a critical focus for us. FPgirl was designed from the start to be a safe, parent-approved online experience, and we’ve proactively implemented additional checkpoints and safeguards as our audience as grown.

With the most recent updates to Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA) rules and regulations (7/1/13), we’re one of the few already compliant communities, with Verifiable Parental Consent (VPC) policies in place.

Our conversations are fully moderated, the identities of our members are protected, and we are certified by the PRIVO Privacy Assurance Program, which is approved by the Federal Trade Commission as an authorized safe harbor under COPPA.

Akshay Kanyal: What role does social media plays in making your community vibrant?

Dana Stanley: Social media is a great way for us to stay connected with girls’ parents — we use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr to share the fantastic content our community creates, for example.

Of course, each of these sites is age-gated and geared toward users who are 13 and older, so it’s not where we connect with our younger, tween audience. In order to be a COPPA-compliant site, we also cannot allow for the kind of social media sharing you see on other community sites.

This will certainly change when when we begin building out our teen offering. And we’re already seeing great engagement through social media with moms who are interested in providing their feedback and participating in our community.

Akshay Kanyal: To effectively analyze Fashion Playtes’ community do clients require sophisticated and costly tools? If so won’t it put small and medium enterprises at a huge disadvantage?

Dana Stanley: No, we have an incredibly wide range of ways to collect opinions from our girls, so we can serve organizations with both modest and larger budgets. We can serve a short survey to several hundred of our members, or we can design a comprehensive insights generation program, all depending on an organization’s needs and means.

Akshay Kanyal: Are market researchers fully equipped to provide meaningful insights to clients via such online communities? How should a traditional researcher approach this unique concept?

Dana Stanley: It’s not a question of having the right skill set; it’s a matter of making the commitment to working with engaged respondents. The skills that most market researchers possess translate quite nicely to the community context.

The next decision is whether you want to run your own online community. Most researchers are certainly more than capable of learning how to run a community. A lot of the decisions are about relying on common sense and a healthy understanding of human nature. And there are some good technology providers out there who can help out.

If time or budget prevent you from creating and running your own community, look for organizations like FashionPlaytes with an existing, organic community where you can be part of the conversation, add value, and glean insights from its members.

Akshay Kanyal:  How should companies justify the required investments on online communities?

Dana Stanley: Well, of course, each company’s situation is unique, but as a general rule, I would recommend any company take a hard look at the experience of the respondents participating in its research projects. If the primary goal is to fill quotas and complete projects, any old sample source will do. If respondent experience affects data, then the online community approach makes more sense. I think clients will continue to gravitate toward “cage-free” respondents.

Akshay Kanyal: Will online communities complicate things or will simplify it for the insight companies?

Dana Stanley: The trend toward online communities may help simplify things for end-users and complicate things for research consultants.

Even large end-users tend to have a limited number of target audiences. If an end user builds a relationship with one or several communities, or creates such communities on their own, they can wean themselves from the commoditizers who crank out completes at the expense of respondent experience.

Most research consultants work across multiple industries and use a wide variety of methodologies. The appeal of having a one-stop-shop is strong.

Akshay Kanyal: What are your thoughts on the concept of “Research Through Gaming” – does it have a bright future?

Dana Stanley: I do think gamification is an important way to make surveys more interesting. Like many buzzwords, it has gotten a lot of hype and is not widely understood. But when it is done well it is a game changer. :)

As you can imagine, we endeavor to offer our FPgirl members gamified experiences when possible. Children are well attuned to online game-playing, so this is a natural way for them to share their insights. Games have always been and will continue to be an important part of our experience.

Akshay Kanyal: If someone wants to know more about your company, FashionPlaytes, how they can do so?

Dana Stanley: I’d be happy to connect with anyone who’s interested in our company — you can reach me at dstanley@fashionplaytes.com. If your questions is related to another aspect of the business, you can contact our CMO, Jeanne Connon, jconnon@fashionplaytes.com. Of course, you can also learn about us at http://about.fashionplaytes.com.

Akshay Kanyal: Any inspirational message for the youngsters who want to join the insight revolution?

Dana Stanley: I don’t know about inspiration, but as far as advice, I’d say the insights and research industry is an exciting place to make a career in the decades to come. There will be many opportunities for those who work hard and constantly seek to understand people.

Who knows? Maybe some of our FPgirl members will be inspired by their experience with us to become some of the next generation’s most innovative researchers.

Akshay Kanyal: What is your favorite sport and has it made any impact on your professional/personal life?

Dana Stanley: I know you have a very international audience, Akshay, but I’m going to reveal my USA roots here by saying American football. FashionPlaytes is based in the Boston area, and I’m a lifelong fan of the local team, the New England Patriots. I enjoy watching sports with my family and have even learned a fair amount about soccer, as my son plays defense for his school team and has become quite a fan of Chelsea in the English Premier League.

To me, sports are the ultimate reality show, and the competition is about a search for truth. It is that spirit of truth-seeking I aspire to bring to both my personal and professional life.

About FashionPlaytes:

FashionPlaytesFashionPlaytes is the creator of FPgirl, the ultimate fashion, style and social destination for tween girls, home to the online Style Mag and Club Z.

FPgirl.com invites girls to design and wear their own clothes. They can pick out the style and color, and then add their own flair with fun embellishments, including their own brand label!

Style Mag is a safe, interactive environment where girls can crowd-source designs and share their insights about products they love, what’s in and what’s not, and what it’s like to be a girl in today’s world.

Girls can also join Club Z to weigh in on the latest trends, products and all kinds of cool stuff from other brands. It’s a great way for girls to connect with our partners and make their voices heard.

AkshayAkshay Kanyal writes survey research reviews on his popular blog Online MR. He’s an avid blogger, brand consultant and a content marketing expert, helping business owners to craft content that sells.

He provides content marketing advice to start-ups and innovation driven companies. He can be contacted at editor@onlinemr.com

You can also connect with him on LinkedIn ; Facebook ; Twitter