The insight industry is playing a more influential, strategic and diverse role in business growth.
How do people feel about communities?
On the whole, our interviewees were very positive about them. Of the 100 professionals we spoke to, 75 had used communities on several occasions. And almost 90% of that group said that communities had met their expectations. Almost a third said communities exceeded their expectations.
And expectations are high. Many insight professionals are investing significant amounts of time and money in communities and plan to continue to do so. They had real success stories under their belt.
Keeping the customer “in sight”
While everyone interviewed was essentially using communities to keep close to the customer, actual application varied dramatically. Interviewees referred to their communities as spaces for:
Exploration of new markets or audiences
Classical qualitative insight
Early warning and trend spotting
An aid to FAST decision-making
Advice from the customer
Labs for product and service development
An ongoing window into customers’ lives
A “Trojan horse for the insight department”
The unexpected benefit for some practitioners was that they could use their online community to help achieve their departmental objectives and raise the profile of insight over time. Many insight professionals grapple with the challenge of elevating the influence and impact of insight within their organisation. Most are familiar with the notion of evolving the role of the insight department from reactive supply function to a source of strategic, consultative value creation.
However, while a community can be seen as purely another way of doing research, some practitioners were taking advantage of the ongoing, people-focused nature of a community to achieve this aim. Consistent and timely access to real customers can create a movement that grows over time.
Seen as a permanent hub for engaging customers, a community can become a platform for spreading the message of the insight department, and the voice of the customer. This is harder for a series of unconnected ad hoc projects to accomplish.
Where we see our online community unexpectedly add value is as a Trojan horse to market insight in the organization. This has helped us move ourselves from reactive unit to a source of strategic value.
Insight Manager, Hospitality
While our stakeholders are pretty engaged with research and insight, most people are here because they love cars. That’s why they work here. But everyone is interested in people – whether it’s what their neighbors are up to, what’s on their Facebook newsfeed or the draw of reality TV.
Consumer Insight Manager, Automotive
An audience, and the community as a way to drip feed real people and their thoughts, stories and provocations to that audience.
Consumer Insight Manager, Automotive.
The need for online communities was widely accepted among interviewees. However, they were also keen to call out the key ways in which their community had added value.
COST-EFFECTIVE GLOBAL COLLABORATION
“Our online community has helped to champion global collaboration across markets and business divisions, and provided cost savings over offline qualitative methods”. – Senior Insight Manager, Pharmaceutial
AGILE 24/7 ACCESS TO CUSTOMERS
“The primary benefit of using an online community is having ongoing access to an agency who can get in touch with our consumer base 24/7”. – Senior Consumer Planning Manager, Consumer Packaged Goods
“Expectations can and will change; our community is essential to maintaining direct dialogue with our guests and customers to help our growth”. – Guest Experience Intelligence, Travel
“Speed for us has been a particular benefit. We’ve estimated that our community has enabled us to go up to 80% quicker, which in a remendously fast moving business like ours is critical”. – Insight Manager, Technology
DEEP, QUALITATIVE INSIGHT
“Our community allows us to have a two-way dialogue with consumers and get a deeper understanding that takes time to develop. We’ve changed how we ask ‘rational’ quantitative questions to allow for this reflection”. – Senior Strategic Insight Manager, Financial Services
CUSTOMER CENTRIC PRODUCTS AND SERVICES
“We’ve made a shift from obsessing about what our competitors are doing to deeply understanding our customer. In a world that changes so rapidly, staying centred on our customers needs, wants and unarticulated desires guides us as we innovate. We’re bringing new technologies, design, and service experiences that delight our guests and differentiate our brands. – VP of Insight, Strategy and Innovation, Travel
One of the most powerful things we do is show people working on our vehicles who our customers are and how they live their lives.
Joanne Pearson, Director of Global Customer Insights, Jaguar Land Rover
The (un)expected challenges
For those who are entering the online community marketplace for the first time, there’s a whole range of different complex challenges to navigate. Many of our experienced interviewees shared the challenges they had planned for at briefing stage – and some of the things that surprised them first time around too…
You under-resource the community internally (agree)
You don’t "sell or market" the community effectively to the business (agree)
You try to run the community yourself internally (agree)
You don’t plan projects in advance (agree)
You promote them purely on their ability to reduce research costs (agree)
You try to achieve something in-between a panel and a community (agree)
You under-resource the community internally … it’s a struggle to get the most out of the community and the agency you are working with. This takes dedicated time and broad experience of insight work.
You don’t “sell or market” the community effectively to the business …projects start to dry up and stakeholders are not engaged.
You try to run the community yourself internally …although this may initially seem cost-effective, it can result in being a huge drain on your time and effectiveness.
You don’t plan projects in advance …the community can end up becoming a reactive tool.
You promote them purely on their ability to reduce research costs, rather than their ability to add business value and insight …you may reduce internal confidence in the work, limiting impact.
You try to achieve something in-between a panel and a community …you risk ending up with the worst of both worlds. Not very insightful qual. not very robust quant.
If you’re not focused on making the customer experience better, I don’t know what you’re doing. That should be the sole focus of every innovation.
Jamie Perry, Former VP of Marketing, JetBlue Airways
Making customers the key ingredient at Ella’s Kitchen
Ella’s work with C Space was awarded an MRS Award for Business Impact in 2017.
Ella’s Kitchen is a great example of a brand that has used an online community to move from a start-up to a multi-national business.
Contributions in the Community
Organic baby and toddler food company, Ella’s Kitchen, is growing fast. Since founder Paul Lindley launched the brand in 2006, Ella’s has become the UK’s number one baby food, and operations have expanded globally into more than 40 countries. But all that growth presents new challenges. Ella’s needed to rethink the way it engaged with global customers and retailers while building on the brand’s founding philosophy of “kids first”.
Ella’s Kitchen and C Space engaged with parents and their little ones in an online community of 300 people called ‘Parent Pulse’. These highly engaged moms and dads were always ready and willing to let us into their lives, have a chat or help out with a business challenge. This insight into customers’ lives and ideas has totally transformed the fast-growing Ella’s Kitchen.
The 300 moms and dads have made more than 61,000 contributions in the community on 18 different projects. Across business departments – including Ella’s Executive Board – employees regularly consult with the members of Parent Pulse to test assumptions, get feedback and ideas and make better business decisions.
Conversations revealed a gap in the toddler snack food market. “Project Little Fingers” helped Ella’s Kitchen understand parents’ changing needs around healthy snacks. Their insights led to a new product called Melty Sticks, a healthy breadstick alternative. Today, Melty Sticks are one of Ella’s best-selling SKUs. And it was the community that informed every stage of product development – from first identifying the opportunity, to consulting on flavors, packaging, product positioning and even listing support.
The Parent Pulse community is the heart of the business. It’s an always-on, real-time, keep-it-real place for insight, ideas and inspiration. Best of all, parents build relationships with each other; starting their own conversation threads on everything from feeding schedules to on-the-go eating tips is common.
And because of the community’s strong connection to Ella’s Kitchen, members revealed that they feel a sense of responsibility to the business. It is their duty to give tough and honest feedback, to help develop the best products possible.
Working with C Space has given us to tools we need grow our business and continue put our customers at the heart of everything we do. We’ve been on such an incredible journey together, we are always trying new things and pushing ourselves to be a better, more customer centric brand; we look forward to continuing to grow as partners in the future.
Mark Cuddigan, Head of Ella’s