How beneficial something will be to you all depends on how well you set yourself up to derive those benefits. Market research is no different. There are multiple advantages associated with taking your studies to the internet. Although the advantages to adding online communities to your company’s market research repertoire are numerous, here are four that are considered essential.

  1. Proactive beats reactive every time

Reaching out to your customers early on and throughout the product development process demonstrates that your company is proactive. However, not all market research online communities approach customer engagement this way. Instead, most are reactive and take action or change course once they have received feedback..

In contrast, our co-creation platform using our proprietary CrowdWeaving® service enables a proactive approach to customer engagement. These collaborative interactions will commonly spur development of something appealing that your company had not previously considered. We witness this phenomenon regularly by working jointly with our clients, their stakeholders and customers.

Deliberate outreach has a positive ripple effect. Customers are made to feel like you made the effort, that their opinions are valued and that they matter as people. This is critical that they’ve been seen as individuals and not just as buyers of your product.

Another perk is that you can repeatedly pop in and out to conduct quick check-ins. For example, did you just launch something new? Ask your audience how they like it. Better still, tell them that something new is coming to queue up their anticipation for the launch. In this way, you will be assured of continuous loop feedback.

  1. Stronger relationships with customers

One way to build trust is through active listening. The “active” descriptor denotes accountability whereby brands are expected to actively listen then do as they heard. Brands that collect insights then fail to act on them harm themselves more than if they had not done the research at all. We live in an era of essential transparency and brands must adhere to the same rules.

To reinforce trustworthiness as a hallmark of your brand, consider personalized messages. Here, the key benefit of online communities for market research is that regular and sustained digital connection creates strong alignment between the customer and the brand. Additional efforts to further strengthen that trusted relationship can be achieved through early access to special programs and VIP priority treatment.

  1. An engaged audience in perpetual “go” mode

Which modality you use to engage your audience is important. Having an engaged audience in perpetual “go” mode is a valuable asset that needs to be nurtured. Some customers will prefer to engage in one market research modality versus others. In fact, some may choose to disengage if they regard a particular approach with some disdain. Lengthy surveys are infamous in this regard. Whether you choose surveys, bulletin boards or CrowdWeaving®, the benefit is that you have an online community just waiting to be asked a question. They want to be part of the solution and if you approach them with the right tools, they will be eager to respond.

How quickly customers will respond to your request is directly correlated with how you treat them. Incentivizing them is key. Rewards through cash back, gift cards, promotions and other transactions are not the only way to spur engagement. Incentives can also come in the form of early access perks and priority treatment. Finally, one incentive that is often overlooked but highly valued is access to information. Share what you learned reinforce that their feedback is valuable and useful, then your audience will come back time after time. And quickly!

Jones’ Soda did this masterfully. They engaged consumers for feedback and developed soda flavors accordingly. Next, they solicited user-generated content and gave those who submitted feedback an added perk: their photos would potentially be displayed on the label.

By giving your audience something that they want, they will look forward to receiving communications from you. In contrast, if they sense that your relationship is one-sided and all that you do is ask, ask, ask and given nothing in return, they will quickly disengage. Even worse, you can expect your messages to be relegated to the SPAM box.

  1. Substantial cost-savings plus speed to market

Long gone are the days when you must recruit and engage one demographic audience at a time. Today, you can reach multiple segments in parallel. Doing so not only affords economies of scale but it also accelerates the timelines. Significantly, in fact. Plus, online communities allow for granularity in the questions where analysis can reveal patterns and trends in the data between segments. So there is no need to delay product development efforts as questions can often be raised and addressed on the same day.

Cost-savings are substantial as a result of parallel efforts. By conducting multiple studies in tandem, you can quickly tap the source and get answers. Ultimately, online communities for market research provide a double benefit of cost-savings plus speed. However, what is important to note is that your customers expect the same rapid response time from you.

Additionally, given the level of internal and external coordination required for product development, companies can no longer afford to wait months for a reasonable answer to a feature question. Getting a definitive answer isn’t an available option either. It’s true that the larger sample sizes yield more meaningful results, yet customers are fickle. Their opinions can be swayed by a singular event so sampling often is required to assess if your brand is on track.

Technology has forever altered how we go to market. It has enabled us to establish, engage and re-engage online communities to accelerate market research. Given the ubiquity of mobile phones (over 5.1 billion active worldwide) and the amount of time we spend on them (the average is more than 4 hours per day), it’s not surprising that technology has sped up our collective ability to get answers to market research. As a field, market research dates back one century to the Golden Age of Radio when marketers analyzed demographics of listeners to better target ads. A byproduct of this is the current expectation that online community research is one within 4-6 weeks or so versus the 3-6 months customary for in-person research.

Being proactive, building stronger relationships, having an engaged audience on speed-dial, and cost-savings are the most highly coveted benefits of digital research. Although only four benefits of online communities for market research were highlighted here, there are several others including brand championing, customer loyalty and so many more. The bottom line is that there are way more ‘pros’ to conducting your market research online than they are ‘cons.’

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