MROCs have had a good run. For more than a decade, MROCs have been the go-to resource for brands to get closer to their customers. That need hasn’t gone away, but traditional MROCs soon will. MROCs are dying.

For those who don’t know, some quick background: MROCs are Marketing Research Online Communities. The term refers to a small group of participants gathered online who are always available to respond to questions and provide feedback on new ideas and concepts. This is a way to inject the voice of the customer and provide brand and product teams with fast results.

Repurposed-Skaetboard-Swing-300x200However, according the latest GRIT report, current and planned usage of MROCs has plateaued for the first time after years of steady growth. Industry guru Lenny Murphy wrote in October, “Communities are certainly mainstream and with the entrant of low-cost/high-quality self-service platforms … into the market I would argue that the sector is now mature.” Of course, we all know what happens after periods of growth and maturity: decline and, eventually, death.

While that bodes well for me, as I’ve actively avoided maturing throughout my adult life, this pattern does not bode well for MROCs. Now I hear what you’re saying, “Why is this happening?” and “What else can we do instead?” Well, I’m glad you asked!

“It’s getting cheaper and cheaper for users to innovate on their own. This is not traditional market research—asking customers what they want. This is identifying what your … users are already doing and understanding what their innovations mean for the future of your business.” – Eric von Hippel, Professor at MIT

Von Hippel, a noted economist and thought leader on open innovation, touches on the key challenge we have run into with MROCs. The trouble is in how we use them. We use them as a sounding board, a listening post, a resource for fast turnaround to tactical questions. However, as he points out, we can’t simply ask people questions and expect to be inspired. Customers are already innovating with your products. We don’t need to ask questions, but engage with and understand that customer behavior. This is a gap in most traditional MROCs—they’re built to provide answers to questions, but what if you don’t know what to ask?

This gap is what has led to a recent rise in customer co-creation. With Co-creation Communities, we allow customers to address business challenges with us, at the same time. Rather than ask them for feedback on our solutions, we ask them to create new solutions. This allows us to tap into the true creativity and diversity of our customers. Their ideas may not always be fully formed, but they can inspire you to look beyond your internal ideas and address a customer need.

Innovation is not creating new products and services, innovation is solving a customer need. To do that, we need to trust and empower the customer to be a proactive participant in that process. Suddenly, your MROC isn’t an expensive sounding board, it’s a source for inspiration and innovation that creates revenue. What a concept! Research as revenue, not an expense! That is why it’s so important for us to let MROCs die and embrace the next generation of Co-creation Communities!