David Coletto CEO of Abacus Data – An Interview with a Market Research Expert

I first stumbled across David Coletto while he was featured on CTV’s PowerPlay at the end of January, 2011. This young CEO used word clouds on television to quickly provide some fun insights on Canadians’ views of the top political parties. It wasn’t long before I found the Abacus data website and began following their blog and David’s Twitter updates on a regular basis.

NOTE: This is my fourth interview with a market research professional and you can expect to see many more interviews with experts from across the globe. If you are a market researcher that wants to get their word out then contact me and I’ll make sure you’re heard!

Today’s interview was conducted over email with David Coletto, CEO at Abacus Data

“Dr. David Coletto leads Abacus Data’s team of research consultants and strategists, delivering strategic advice and research design expertise to some of Canada’s leading corporations, advocacy groups,and political leaders. His team helps clients connect and engage with Canadian millennials (those born after 1980) and develop evidence-based strategies to enhance corporate consciousness and responsibility.” – Abacusdata.ca

An interview with David Coletto …

Responding to the Biggest Changes in Market Research:

“I think how the industry responds to two changes will be particularly important”
“… the slow decline of telephone surveys as a viable research tool”
“The first is what I see as the slow decline of telephone surveys as a viable research tool.  As the millennial generation becomes dominant, it is going to become even more difficult to reach people on telephones.  I can’t think of one friend who has a land line and data suggests this trend is not reversing.” 
“So how do market researchers respond?  Certainly online research has gained some legitimacy over the past few years.  Not only is it more affordable, but it allows you to introduce more complex and interactive forms of research.  But online research isn’t without its flaws.  As an industry, we need to establish quality measures for online surveys, samples, and research communities.”
“I am also fascinated by interactive voice response.  I think it’s a very limited technology and method, but it may be an alternative to CATI surveys when looking to engage with difficult to find populations or populations not conducive to online research.”
“… social media offers market researchers a great opportunity to complement existing methodologies …”

“Second, is the growth of social media. I agree with
Ray Poynter
that social media offers market researchers a great opportunity to complement existing methodologies with listening techniques and data collection from social media.  I still think there is work to do to refine our methodologies, but I’m excited about what new market research will mean to the next generation of market researchers.” – David

The Focus of Abacus Data:

Abacus Data is a full service public opinion and marketing research firm with capabilities to implement all research methodologies.  We are a relatively new firm, in business since July 2010.” 
“Our specialty is online research”

“Our specialty is online research.  We have developed in-house capabilities to design, program, and launch online studies using third-party online samples.  Since I have a PhD in Political Science, and Abacus Data is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a government relations and communications firm, we work mainly in the
public affairs
space but we are developing practices to help our clients engage and understand Canadian millennials (18 to 29 years old) and measure the impact of their social responsibility policies.  I think millennials and social responsibility are intrinsically linked and successful organizations in the future will have to work hard to change their corporate cultures if they want to effectively market to millennials and recruit them to work within their organizations.”
“I think millennials and social responsibility are intrinsically linked …”
“We have also partnered with the Corporate and Community Social Responsibility Conference held annually in Ottawa to conduct a six-part research series on what Canadians think and how they behave within the CSR field.” – David 

The Principals of Abacus Data:

“Abacus Data was started to be a different kind of public opinion and market research firm.  We operate under three core principles.” 
1.       We stick to research fundamentals.  I am first and foremost a researcher.  Although I’m only 29, I have spent my entire adult life either in school (nine long years) learning about research or in the market research industry practicing the craft.  In that time, I’ve learned to respect the fundamentals of good research and apply that respect to the work we do for clients and public consumption.”
2.       We know our clientsI think some of the bigger research firms can loose perspective on what the client really needs and they can get locked into doing things the same way over and over again.  My team works hard to get to know a client, their challenges and their objectives.  Then we move towards developing a research study that gets them the answers they need to make decisions.  Whether it is developing a government relations or communications strategy, or developing a new product offering targeted at millennials, we need to “get” our client before we can really help them.” 
3.       We offer a fresh perspective.  We’re different because we’re young and not bound by institutional thinking.  My team is made up entirely of millennials who I think have a very different perspective on the world, on business, and politics.  This means that when it comes to understanding the millennial generation, what’s better than being in your subject’s shoes.  But it also means that we ask questions in different ways, interpret data differently, and ultimately end up at different conclusions.  For organizations seeking to break out of the pack, I think we offer something very valuable.” 
“I’d like to think I’m not your average pollster, and Abacus Data is not your average polling firm.  Our approach has been noticed in Ottawa and I think we are ruffling a few feathers in the old boys’ network.  If they’re talking about us it means we’re doing something good.”  – David

Proving Yourself as a Young CEO:

“I think being relatively young is both an advantage and a disadvantage.  I also look much younger than I actually am, so that doesn’t help.”
“I’ve gained credibility and have been sought out as a commentator” 
“Ultimately though I think I’ve gained credibility and have been sought out as a commentator because we do good research, ask interesting questions, and offer a different perspective on things.  I been involved in quite a number of things over my short life, lived in multiple regions of the country, and I hope not prejudiced to one way of thinking.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I certainly see the world differently than a 40 or 50 year old researcher.”
“I have been around this industry for seven years now.  I am still learning (we should never stop learning), which is the main reason why I love being a researcher (we’re always finding out new things about a wide range of topics).  New methods emerge, old ones die.  As long as we remain true to the fundamentals, we can still do great work and find meaningful insights for our clients, regardless of my age.”
“It also doesn’t hurt to have a PhD and investors who have a lot of faith in what we’re doing.” – David

Interesting Political Research:

“We’ve only been in business for about seven months, but we’ve done lots of political research.” 
“the most interesting finding I’ve come across is how polarized Canada really is politically”
“I think the most interesting finding I’ve come across is how polarized Canada really is politically.  Generally, Canadians are quite optimistic about the future – most (62%) think Canada as a whole is on the right track.  But politically, there is still quite a bit of unease about the Conservative government as far more Canadians disapprove than approve of the government’s performance.” 
“This polarization doesn’t seem to be changing either.  Despite a lot of talk about Canadians being “uninterested” or “disengaged” from politics, I think most have firm opinions about the political parties and specific politicians.  Unless something fundamentally changes, I see little evidence of a political consensus forming any time soon.”

I hope this interview was an interesting read and that it has sparked your interest in political research.


Sean Copeland is a certified marketing research professional (CMRP) known for his broad knowledge of the research workflow, his disruptive approach to problem solving and for building strong client relationships. In over 5 years Sean has developed, sold, executed, and managed hundreds of consumer research studies using a variety of new and traditional research methodologies.

Contact Sean Copeland:

T: 647-269-5085

E: sean@abacusdata.ca

W: http://www.abacusdata.ca

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