Digging in with Digsite

Brilliant ideas galore for social media,...
Digging in with Digsite
Digsite's Monika Wingate and Jane Boutelle

Madison-based Digsite has dual roots in Madison’s innovative marketing and advertising sector and Silicon Valley’s high-tech revolution. While we’ll never match the San Francisco Bay Area in the quantity of brilliant ideas, it’s the quality of creative genius that’s abundant here, and it’s why we are well on our way to our own unique brand of startup city.

Digsite is a consumer-driven software product invented by market research guru Monika Wingate, who sold her first venture, Fountainhead, to Hiebing, which is considered a giant among local marketing and advertising agencies. When I Googled Hiebing, I learned that its founder, Roman Hiebing, died earlier this year. Hiebing cut his teeth at Chicago’s renowned Leo Burnett agency, launched The Hiebing Group in 1981, and in the next few decades would employ talent spilling out of English and journalism departments across the Midwest. Fun fact: former Madison Magazine publisher Jenifer Winiger, who served in that role from 1996 to 2012, was a writer/producer for The Hiebing Group in the early 1980s.

The genesis of Digsite goes back a bit as well. CEO and co-founder Wingate was director of the A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business from 2003 to 2007. She started Fountainhead in 2007, and it was acquired by Hiebing in 2015. After 15 years in the business, “I realized the tools we use for in-depth insights were fundamentally broken,” Wingate writes on her LinkedIn page. “Companies didn’t have time to stop their product or marketing development processes to wait for market research. And marketers needed more in-depth consumer insights to adapt their plans to rapidly changing market conditions.”

Wingate saw social media as a powerful tool to connect with and learn from consumers, and so she set out to find a solution, creating private, online communities of smaller and more intimate focus groups more agile and flexible than your average phone or online survey. The Digsite platform enables companies to gather feedback on demand–you reach out to customers when you need them, for as long as you need them, and you capture more raw data (think photos and video) for product development and marketing campaigns. Madison-based Sub-Zero, a global appliance brand, was a Fountainhead client and the first company to pilot Digsite. They loved it. So she formed Digsite and soon picked up co-founder and chief management officer Jane Boutelle.

Boutelle’s resume is as notable as Wingate’s. Her early career in the Bay Area included stints at Apple, and then QuickBooks as the company’s first product manager. Her husband’s desire to raise their daughters back in the Midwest led her to Madison, where she consulted locally and nationally.

“I was heading up product management for a software company in San Diego when Monika showed me this fairly rough prototype for a platform to get closer to customers,” says Boutelle.
“I looked at it and thought, ‘Oh my god, I could use that!'”

Boutelle says product managers regularly have questions about what really matters to their audience.

“A lot of times you’re just guessing,” she says.

Digsite’s clients are guessing no more, because consumers, she says, are happy with the experience–not to mention the “really cool swag” that sweetens the deal. While incentives don’t hurt, Boutelle says Digsite participants are motivated by such human instincts as the need to belong and plain old goodwill.

Boutelle says Digsite boasts a 90 percent retention rate for participants and credits the software’s “intuitive, engaging and fun” environment as both the product’s strength and marketplace differentiator.

Clearly, the knowledge, passion and hard work are paying off, with a roster of consumer-facing clients including Dannon, Palermo’s Pizza, Fiskars and Organic Valley, as well as education, financial services and health care clients. Their digs are in the startup incubator Main Street Industries, and they recently expanded to eight staffers.

Until Digsite, “QuickBooks was the most fun job I’ve ever had,” says Boutelle. Take that, Silicon Valley!