Solving the agility paradox

It’s important to stay true to your core customer base. But sometimes you need to expand your horizons in order to expand your market share. How do you extend your reach without also extending your budget?

Communities may be cost-effective, but what happens when you want to engage someone new?


Our core market is Western Europe, but there is potential for our products in Brazil, Eastern Europe and Africa. We want to stay close to our core. But we also want to be able to dip in and out of the other markets to see whether audiences there see opportunities the way we do.

Insight managerSocial media brand

We have lots of audiences. We might have a brief on mothers one week and a brief on Millennials the next. And we have tons of ‘data.’ It has been hard to find an effective way to deep dive into different audiences over the year. There needs to be innovation here.

Insight manager, Consumer Goods Brand


Staying agile, going deep

How can we build both agility and depth into our online communities?


One of the perceived advantages of online communities that interviewees talked about was speed. If you’ve already got a group of screened, recruited and engaged members in the community, it’s far faster to engage them than it is to recruit and meet equivalent people in focus groups.

Cumulatively this also becomes more cost-effective over time. However, that speed benefit only applies when your community has those kinds of people in it already. What if there’s a more niche audience or different market you want to rapidly tap into, and still get qualitative depth?

This brings us back to the panel/community and breadth/depth debate. How can you get genuine breadth, genuine depth, fast – without a huge price tag?

The issue with a traditional panel dynamic is that its emphasis on surveys and points/payment per contribution creates quite a transactional relationship. It’s difficult to then engage those people in far more depth than they’re used to.

There are exceptions. Where we’ve seen potential is with brands that by their nature engender a deeper relationship (not necessarily always a happy one) with consumers, regardless of the platform they’re engaging with.

There are over 4,000 members and virtually all their contributions are via one-way surveys. Qualitative interaction is limited. However, even within that format they are willing to spend a lot of time on the site, contribute lengthy answers to open-ended questions and volunteer spontaneous suggestions to the fan or match-day experience.

It’s simply down to them caring about football, their club and their match-day experience. Incentives are limited and participation is open. Taking part is not just a transaction. The club in question is currently limited by their tech platform, which isn’t designed for qualitative work. But they’re actively exploring how they can capitalize on this unusually large, but engaged group, through shorter term communities.

Achieving breadth, depth and speed without an exorbitant price tag is tough. The inherent “pull factor” of a football-related brand isn’t something everyone can emulate.

Entertainment is a prime example. One of the football clubs we spoke to has a community, but it really has more in common with a panel.


Case study: Spotify

Spotify’s global community of music fans has evolved into a participative, 2 – way, generous conversation between customer and brand.

a global conversation on music

Spotify has achieved a more agile way of reaching users – however, they’ve done so by coming at the problem from a very different angle. The Spotify community started as a way to connect users around customer service and technical issues, but over time has become far more.

It’s become a combination of a brand extension, crowdsourced support and advice, a forum for insight into users’ lives, habits and frustrations, and a platform for developing new ideas and features.

The community is not owned by “customer insight” – it sits between multiple departments with different agendas. It’s a nice reflection of how different interaction with modern brands can now be: participative, two-way, generous and open.

However, even though there is a huge user base in there, allowing you to deep dive into a niche audience at will, this still doesn’t solve the agility paradox completely as it only captures existing users, not non-customers.

Overcoming this challenge – reaching new audiences, fast but in-depth, digitally – might require a change in the public’s perception of “research” or interaction with a brand. The transactional nature of “research for cash incentive” isn’t enough to get us to a place where we can authentically engage with people in disparate locations.

Overcoming this challenge – reaching new audiences, fast but in-depth, digitally – might require a change in the public’s perception of ‘research’ or interaction with a brand.