Customer Inside 3.0

MROCs: How to leverage the tool that defined a category

According to the 2021 GRIT Report, 71% of the world’s biggest brands use communities – but a community is only as powerful as the action it inspires. In this excerpt of Customer Inside, we cover how communities are used to achieve extraordinary business results.

A quick Google search for “online community” returns over 4 billion results. They’re part and parcel of the modern internet. The broadest and simplest way to think about them is as digital spaces where people interact over time. Places where people come together for a purpose and create a network, enabled by a technological platform. As such, the term can refer to a vast array of different things.

Any term so open to interpretation is likely to lead to confusion. How do you manage the expectations of stakeholders when one person is using the term “community” to refer to a group of 5000 customers giving quantitative feedback on new product features, while another is referring to their open innovation network of 150 customers, students and experts to source new ideas (as Lego has famously done for over two decades)? Both versions are valuable, but very, very different.

For a brand that is only looking at transactional data and what is happening, it’s quite easy to be replaceable. If you really want to go deeper and have real, authentic relationships, and have solutions and products that truly are relevant, you need to get into the why.”

Viktor Olivemark, Global Insights Manager, IKEA

MROCs: The focus of this report

In Customer Inside, we focus on communities built by brands (or their agency partners) to better understand their customers, users, or consumers and create more relevant and enduring products, services or experiences. Typically, these are known as Market Research Online Communities, or MROC.

Not CRM, which connects a company to its existing customer base, often for the purpose of communications. CRM can be leveraged for one-dimensional customer analytics and people are treated as targets for marketing or sales.

Not Panel, in which a company serves questions to large groups of people for quantitative work, in which people are treated as respondents.

Not Open Innovation, an open platform to collect user generated ideas, in which people are treated as experts.

Not Social Media, in which large groups of people gather organically around shared interests. Can be analyzed to provide unstructured datasets which are best overlayed onto structured datasets.

What kind of community will deliver against a typical insight buyer’s buying criteria?

Well, this is where even the MROC landscape can look quite different — and buyers will need to make decisions about the kind of access, model (e.g., self-serve), size, positioning and purpose they require to meet their needs, many of which we will address through the following pages.

However, further analysis of our interviews suggests a critical and often overlooked criterion in delivering the best outcomes through online communities: relationships.

The power of human relationships works in two distinct ways to create best-in-class projects and maximize impact:


Relationships with customers:

At their best, our interviewees told us, reciprocal relationships with customers unlock the most strategic insights. They spoke of the idea that communities are not a mirror, but a space for open conversation where moderators and participants get to know each other and build trust, and where community members understand the brand’s challenges and ambitions and receive regular feedback on their contributions directly from stakeholders. It’s refreshed regularly to avoid loyalty biases, but transparency, openness and trust are the cornerstones of meaningful relationships and ultimately conversations that help brands see past the obvious.


Relationships with agency partners:

Interviewees also spoke at length about their agency partners — a team of external consultants who know you, your stakeholders and your business to challenge your thinking, optimize briefs, maximize the research, provide relevant recommendations grounded in an outside-in POV, and drive impact.

Ultimately, successful communities are rooted in strong, ongoing relationships with customers and agency partners. This delivers greater value, more timely and relevant insights and recommendations, and more actionable outcomes.

At C Space, we believe that relationships truly are the source of results, and through our Customer Experience Code (CXC), we’ve proven that the companies with stronger, more loyal customer relationships outperform their competitors on key business metrics such as revenue growth and Net Promoter Score. What we know through our research and over 20 years of building private customer communities: relationships require understanding, empathy and reciprocity. These types of relationships can be executed at scale, but only if you’re clear on whom you’re serving and you co-create those relationship behaviors on a personal level first.

Revised and Updated for 2022

Customer Inside

A buyer’s guide to online insight communities and how to make the most of them

The online community category is still young and its constantly disrupting itself. Unprecedented growth leads to an explosion of new terminology and technologies – innovative tools and emerging methodologies appear almost every day. Whether you’re an experienced user, or a newcomer, navigating the current context can prove challenging. What technology? What method? What audience? What types of research? 

With this in mind, we’ve updated Customer Inside, our practitioners guide to online communities.

This report was informed by three separate pieces of original research:

  1. 85x interviews with senior insight leaders from different sectors, around the world – conducted over the course of five years.
  2. 2x global surveys, collecting the views and perspectives of more than 200x insight practitioners and their experiences of using online communities, every day.
  3. Regular Client Connection co-creation workshops, with over 75x client practitioners.