Recently, I attended the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) 2013 Industry Leader Forum in San Francisco, California, which featured some powerhouse speakers, including Eric Rasmussen, VP Consumer Insights, Groupon; Brad Smallwood, Head of Measurements and Insights, Facebook, Inc.; Joel Benenson, Lead Pollster, President Obama’s Campaign and Founding Partner, President & CEO, Benenson Strategy Group and one of our most esteemed clients, Elayne Spinder, Market Research Director, Charles Schwab.
Attendees were tasked with sharing their experiences and philosophies behind tapping into the voice of their consumers. As the day’s forum, “Leading Insights into the Future: Tools for Transformation,” kicked off, there were major differences among speakers about which “tool” and method were most effective for understanding customers. While there were overtones of the classic quantitative versus qualitative research debate, the bigger issue was whether to focus on harnessing social media to listen to customers or using a community to engage with consumers. There was even disagreement on how to define “community.” Largely, the speakers who utilized social media for their companies took a reactionary approach to connect and learn from their consumers. While those businesses can tailor tweets or Facebook posts to be related to current popular topics, they are limited in integrating the voice of their customer into their business by not working with their consumers as partners.
Definitions of community by other organizations at the event ranged from 10,000-person panels to one-time focus groups on an online platform, where relationships with members can only be described as transactional. Now, think about a community where you consider yourself a member – an organization, school or your workplace, for example. When you interact with people in that community, they begin to understand you as a complex person with wants, needs, hopes, desires and emotions. That’s how we approach communities here at Communispace – by trying to understand our community members as dynamic people who become comfortable and honest with us and share some of the most intimate details of their personal lives. Our client from Charles Schwab explained how members in her community have discussed personal financial information and stories about their family, including some details that you would share with only your closest friends.
As the day wound down, we were all charged with coming up with ways that, as researchers, we can collaborate together to elevate our industry. While some shared the need to divulge all of our best practices to move forward, I think we have to take a step back first. We need to understand each other and agree to be proactive in engaging with customers; we need to understand customers as people and consider the definition of “community” in the traditional sense before we can make any progress. Let’s go back to basics.