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Vision Critical Business Featured in Leading Newspaper

Vancouver’s Vision Critical Continues Swift Rise to the Top, writes Darah Hansen of The Vancouver Sun.
Andrew Reid enters the room with a breezy hello and handshake, offering water, coffee, even beer to its occupants, before, with a glance at the photographer, apologizing for his casual state of dress — a youthful combination of sneakers, jeans, cotton shirt and sweater.
“I just dressed how I normally do,” he says, taking a seat at the head of an enormous wooden conference table that is shaped like the bow of a ship.
Make that a rocket ship. When you’re talking about Vision Critical, the Vancouver-based marketing firm Reid founded and continues to preside over, that’s a more fitting analogy.
The company has been on a powerful upward trajectory since its start in 2000, moving from modest annual revenues of less than $1 million in the early days to a projected $85 million this year.
And in a global industry worth an estimated $32 billion, says Reid, “we think we’re on the tip of the spear in terms of where this can go.”
This year is promising to be another good one for the company as it prepares to add Hong Kong to the growing list of countries, and continents, where it has established a business presence, including Sydney, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Toronto, London and Paris.
At home, the Vision Critical team is also on the move. In September, the firm’s headquarters will trade its current digs at 858 Beatty St. to take over The Vancouver Sun’s former newsroom, along with the fourth floor, at 200 Granville.
“Think Whistler,” Reid says of his planned $1-million transformation of the 50,000 sq. ft. new space, which will involve plenty of wood panelling and a minigolf course set into the office floor.
The average age of the company’s 510-person workforce is about 28. It’s a generation that values creative space to inspire innovation, says Reid, who’s tipping the top end of the age scale at 35.
It’s unusual for Andrew Reid to speak with the media. That duty usually falls to his father, veteran pollster and Vision Critical CEO Angus Reid, 64.
But Angus is away enjoying the Mexican sunshine, so it’s Andrew’s job to answer questions and provide insight into the company’s origins.
It’s not that he’s publicity shy. Far from it. Reid exudes a friendly vibe throughout the interview, chatting with ease about the company both on camera and off, and, notably, without a public relations handler in the room.
Media, after all, is in his background. Reid, who grew up in North Vancouver, is an early product of the Vancouver Film School, where, as a young man in the mid-1990s, he studied everything from interactive advertising, sound design, sound engineering and video editing to 3D animation and computer programming.
He was 23 when he founded Vision Critical, but says comparisons to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s famously young creator, end there.
“I’m more likely to be compared to Donny Osmond,” he jokes.
The company writes polling and market-research software to allow companies to communicate with an audience that is increasingly hanging up on telephone-based pollsters.
The platform, which has evolved to incorporate the latest social-media trends, gives corporate brands near-immediate access to the thoughts and preferences of their customers so that products can be better priced, positioned and launched through targeted advertising campaigns.
“We live in a world right now that is dominated by understanding what my customer did, when they did it, who did it, and even how they did it. But the big missing piece is understanding why your customer did it,” says Reid. “We are trying to take all these different inputs and give marketing departments more intuition into their customers.”
He had his first whiff of opportunity in 1999 while putting a webpage together for his father’s companies, Angus Reid Consultants and the Angus Reid Group (which were sold to Paris-based Ipsos SA in 2000).
“In a lot of other industries, there was this escalator that technology was putting people on, really advancing communications on a lot of levels,” Reid says. That was not happening in the world of market research, “yet (it’s) this hugely important aspect that big businesses need to make decisions.”
The first client was a running shoe company that wanted to do a threaded online discussion with 300 female runners about what they looked for in running shoes and what improvements they wanted to see.
The firm really took off in 2004 when Angus Reid signed on as chief executive officer, bringing with him a million dollars in cash and a well-established reputation as a polling pioneer.
It’s been the senior Reid’s ability to predict the outcome of federal and provincial elections with accuracy relative to other pollsters that has given the company’s overall research a credibility that would otherwise have been hard to gain.
The science of online polling has garnered no shortage of critics who say self-selected respondents can skew results, that the focus is too much on the wealthy and electronically connected, and doesn’t allow for random selection.
Reid’s heard it all before.
He believes the true test of the methodology is in the growing support of the brands that rely on it. Almost a quarter (23 per cent) of global market research is now conducted online. In Canada, it’s 43 per cent.
With the cost of doing business in the world of marketing and advertising skyrocketing, companies can’t afford to make mistakes, with many investing in parallel research techniques to test the accuracy of the online approach.
Reid admits the industry has not yet returned to “the glory days” when pollsters like Angus Reid were invited into a person’s kitchen to see what’s in the cupboards. But it’s close.
“What we gain is scale in that we can have an intimate conversation with thousands and thousands of customers and we can do that much more efficiently than we ever could before,” he says.
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