Tag Archives: market research

Online communities help marketers stay in touch and build advocacy

Econsultancy examples of online research communities

Follow this link to a good blog post from Econsultancy on how Mercedes has set up two online communities to get closer to existing and prospective owners.  An increasing number of companies are doing this, recognizing that engaging with consumers in an informal, social online setting encourages spontaneous and open discussion,  yielding a truer picture of people’s thoughts, feelings, opinions and ideas than more “lab-like” techniques like focus groups and surveys.

You can find other examples of marketer-created communities in Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s outstanding book Groundswell, Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies and in Bob Gilbreath’s book, Marketing with Meaning.  I like how Bob describes them, which I think is at the heart of why they allow for richer insights than more traditional research …

“… these communities are inhabited by anywhere from a few dozen to a few thousand members; the topics are free-flowing and the discussions self-generated, allowing members to feel as if they own and run the community.”

The result is that you obtain perspectives and insights based on what consumers feel is important rather than merely what the marketer is trying to find out.  Community members also feel recognized and appreciate the fact that the company is really listening, which helps to drive brand advocacy.

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Should the wisdom of crowds replace standard consumer research?

I usually have a pile of books on my night table waiting for me to finally get around to reading them.  But the ones that, by intention or accident, end up at the bottom of the pile can sit there for weeks or months before I finally get around to cracking them open.

In many cases I wish I hadn’t waited.  And one of these cases is The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.  I just started reading it and although I’m only a quarter of the way through, it’s already got me thinking about a lot of stuff.

The crowd is wise

The crowd is wise

With a fascinating array of current and historical cases from politics, business, economics and other fields, Surowiecki argues that large, diverse groups of people are better at predicting results and outcomes than traditional analysis, research, surveys or even the most knowledgeable panel of experts.  It’s not even important that the group include a sizable portion of experts.  In fact the evidence shows that the group makes a more accurate prediction when it includes many people with little or no knowledge of the topic.

A key factor leading to an accurate outcome is not to do what most market research does.  Most market research asks people to say how they think they will behave individually when faced with a particular decision or choice, for example the choice to purchase a new product or not.  In Surowiecki’s examples, the question isn’t what you would do, but what you think everyone would do.  So the question might be, do you think this product will be a success, or become the biggest selling brand?  Or what percentage of the movie going public do you think will go to see this film in the first week?

Obviously, if the wisdom of the crowd is more effective in making predictions like this, it raises questions about how companies have traditionally conducted market research.  When launching a new product, a company will typically conduct a quantitative survey, putting a product concept, the actual product, or both, into the hands of a statistically valid number of consumers and asking them how likely they would be to purchase.  Much money and time is spent determining and recruiting a specific target audience that would come into question for the product.

Based on the wisdom of crowds thinking, the survey sample would require only a large and diverse number of people, not a circumscribed target.  And the research wouldn’t ask them to predict their own purchase behavior, but to judge as best they can the behavior of everyone.  Conceivably, a marketer might not even need to go to the expense of asking consumers.  If he had a large and diverse enough employee base, he might just ask the company’s employees to say how successful the new product would be, and still get a more accurate prediction than conventional consumer research.

If anyone knows of marketers that have applied Surowiecki’s thinking to their marketing, I’d love to hear about it.

But perhaps I’ll come upon some good cases as I make my way through the rest of this fascinating book.  I’ll keep you posted if I do.

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