Customer Inside

A practitioners guide to online insight communities

Customer centricity must be built into the fabric of the organisation.

Len Schlesinger, Harvard Business School

About this guide

Three pieces of original research informed this report:


Expert Interviews

Twenty interviews with insight, marketing and innovation professionals from a broad range of sectors including, FMCG, Financial Services, Telecoms, Technology, Healthcare, Entertainment and Media.



A co-creative workshop with a further 15 practitioners, members of the Market Research Society (MRS), a journalist from ‘Marketing Week’, as well as strategists, designers and technologists from C Space.



An online survey of 100 professionals, distributed and promoted by MRS.

About MRS

The MRS is the world’s leading research association for those who need, use, generate or interpret evidence essential to making good decisions for commercial and public policy.

The quality, suitability and sustainability of the evidence is also essential to decision makers.

MRS is dedicated to the support, promotion and enrichment of the research and business worlds.

With members in more than 60 countries, MRS is the world’s largest research association. It serves those with professional equity in provision or use of market, social and opinion research, and in business intelligence, market analysis, customer insight and consultancy.


Jane Frost, Chief Executive Officer, MRS

As the world’s leading research association, MRS is committed to promoting excellence across all research methodologies that help clients deliver value back to their organizations and businesses. We like to support work that extends thinking or has practical applications; our think tank, the MRS Delphi Group, is set up to this end.

Online communities provide brands with a channel direct to customers and stakeholders. And building relationships (in the context of this report) over the long-term requires a special skillset from researchers.

Our members adhere to the MRS Code of Conduct, which ensures that interactions – both with customers and stakeholders, and clients – are ethical and legal. These standards are a critical step in winning the trust of participants, especially when dealing with their personal data.

I am happy to support a report that provides practical guidance for researchers, businesses and organizations who wish – through the application of insight – to become truly customer centric.


Bill Alberti, Chief Client Officer, C Space

Welcome to Customer Inside, a practitioners guide to online insight communities – from the people who invented them.

Twenty years ago, when we were pioneering online communities the landscape was unrecognisable from today. Back then insight was simply a way for a business to validate its own ideas and hypotheses.

Today it’s hard to find a C-suite perspective that doesn’t point to the need for customer centricity; to hardwire the customer into the heart of business decision making. The most progressive and innovative business leaders seem to agree that the future of brands exists in co-creating incredible experiences – involving customers as equals and partners rather than just observing them as subjects or targets.

Yet despite this consensus on the customer, many businesses are still struggling to stay relevant. It’s becoming more difficult to combine an intelligent use of data with an in-depth emotional understanding of customers and translate that into timely action, at scale.

The businesses that are getting this right are hardwiring customers in. They are tapping into customers’ creativity and resourcefulness, working in collaboration to shape their thinking.

Working in this way, they’re able to adapt faster, connect deeper and perform better – they are more inspired; more empathetic; and more relevant to the people they serve.

This kind of customer empathy is enabled by a whole suite of dynamic tools, methodologies, data and analytics techniques that are used in different moments.

As the role of the customer in business has evolved so have the tools to stay close. Since launching our first online insight community 20 years ago C Space has developed more and more ways to work – but online communities remain at the core of what we do for our clients, day in, day out.

We’re proud to have partnered with the MRS, the world’s leading research association – and over 130 industry professionals working across insight, marketing and innovation functions in a broad range of categories and sectors, to produce this report.

We believe companies should see online communities not just as a tool or a new way of doing existing types of research – but as an opportunity to change the ways they engage; to create something more authentic, more useful and more impactful. An opportunity to bring the customer, and customer insight, inside a business in an unprecedented way.