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marketingnews 09.30.09




                                 By Josh Bernoff



                                 research in a peTri Dish:
                                 learning From communiTies
                                 The problem wiTh market research                 help buyers affected by a recession. “Should     want more detail on this, see Forrester’s
                                 is that, while it can generate some pretty       we let you return the car if you lose your       document on the topic, “Use Online
                                 actionable insights, it’s expensive. If you do   job?” they asked. “Actually,” the community      Communities For Strategic Insight,” by
                                 surveys, it’s always a struggle to get enough    replied, “if we lose our jobs, we’re going to    Lisa Bradner and Cynthia Pflaum.)
                                 people to generate a large enough sample         need the car to find a new one.” Result: the        First, decide if you want to focus on
                                 without breaking the bank. And when the          Hyundai Assurance Plus program, which            traditional research or innovation.
                                 survey’s done, pray you don’t find out that      actually makes up to three car payments if       Communities for traditional research
                                 there was some question you forgot to ask.       you lose your job.                               should match your target group and
                                 For qualitative feedback, there’s always the         Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG)          complement your other research. Innova-
                                 trusty focus group, but to make sure those       has three research communities managed           tion communities should be stocked
                                 insights are on target you’d better do eight     by Watertown, Mass.-based Communis-              with more vocal types.
                                 of them all around the country, and there        pace, and they’re a key part of the compa-           Second, decide if the community
                                 goes the budget again.                           ny’s market research—and marketing. The          should be private or public. Private
                                     There must be some way to do research        frequent travelers in the group contributed      communities, like the ones Communispace
                                 with a group of your customers that want to      real-life photos, which not only helped IHG      runs, aren’t visible on the open Internet,
                                 stay in touch, are on call whenever you want     save on stock photo fees, but the collateral     which keeps those conversations invisible
                                 them and respond well to follow-up questions.    it made generated a 24% lift in room             to competitors. But public communities
                                                                                  revenue associated with those promotions.        can attract a much larger audience and
                                                                                  IHG also learned that community members          grow organically.
                                                                                  had no interest in Twitter messages from            Third, figure out exactly who is going to
                                                                                  the company, so the hotel chain scrapped         be in your community. A community of
                                                                                  plans to use Twitter to communicate with         customers can help you with issues of
                                                                                  current loyalty members.                         loyalty and usability, while a demographic
                                                                                      Companies are even using communities         community (say, moms) can help you see
                                                                                  for product design. Charles Schwab used a        what marketing will work best with prospects.
                                                                                  Communispace community to decide that               And if you worry about whether these
                                                                                  its checking account should include fee-free     collections of consumers function like real
                                                                                  ATM use. Del Monte Pet Products used a           communities on the Internet, you
                                                                                  MarketTools community to design the shape        shouldn’t. One of the most amazing stories
                                                                                  and ingredients of a doggie snack, Snausages     we’ve heard was from the research
                                                                                  Breakfast Bites. TurboTax’s popular book-        community of cancer patients run by
                                                                                  marks feature came from member-initiated         Communispace for the Fort Washington,
                                                                                  suggestions in the company’s “TurboTax           Pa.-based National Comprehensive Cancer
                                                                                  Inner Circle” community.                         Network (NCCN), a group of cancer
                                     In fact, there is. It’s called community         Naturally, research communities are not      centers including Memorial Sloan-Ketter-
                                 research. Here’s how it works. You recruit       a panacea. With only a few hundred               ing. Having learned enough from a group
                                 300 people, or 1,000 people, into an online      members, they’re not as representative as        of early-stage cancer patients, the cancer
                                 space. Like a focus group, they know they’re     demographically balanced surveys. You’re         centers started a second community of
                                 there because they fit your description and      hearing from the loudest members of your         more advanced patients and asked
                                 they’ll help you make decisions. But unlike      audience; shy people will be poorly              Communispace to shut down the original.
                                 the focus group, it’s an ongoing relationship.   represented. And some of the emotional           But the members of the original commu-
                                 So you can ask them for help continuously.       elements you can get from a focus group          nity objected—they didn’t want to leave
                                     If this sounds like a lot of work, it is.    may not come through as clearly if you’re        their friends behind. To them the commu-
                                 While you can do it yourself, it’s a whole lot   not a pane of glass away.                        nity wasn’t a research project, it was a
                                 easier to work with a vendor that runs these         But research communities can do things       support group. (Communispace and
                                 research communities, like Communispace          no other form of research can do. You can ask    NCCN left it running, of course.)
                                 or Passenger. They’ll recruit the people,        follow-up questions to get clarification or         Do your other research tools generate
                                 moderate the community and, in some              more detail. You can look at the profiles of     passion like that? Not likely. m
                                 cases, help you generate the insights.           members to put their comments in context.
                                 Depending on the features you want, the          And most interestingly, you can see what they            Josh Bernoff is a vice president
                                 bill can run into six figures. But what are      want to talk about. Although there are plenty            at Forrester Research, a leading
                                 you spending now for surveys and focus           of moderator-initiated questions in a research           global technology and marketing
                                 groups? Read on, and then figure out if this     community, most of the chatter is member-                firm based in Cambridge, Mass. His
                                 is a better, possibly cheaper substitute.        generated, and much of the most interesting      book, Groundswell: Winning in a World
                                     Here are some real-life cases of compa-      learning comes from those discussions.           Transformed by Social Technologies, was
                                 nies that have used research like this.              If you’re going to go forward with a         published by Harvard Business Press. He can
                                     Hyundai convened a community of car          research community, there are a few              be contacted at joshbernoff@forrester.com
                                 owners and asked them about programs to          questions you should ask yourself. (If you       or news@ama.org.
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