The Role of an Online Community in New Product Development

With the right tools, nearly anyone can develop a product. However, not everyone can develop a product that is successful. How many Shark Tank episodes do we need to watch to see this theory put into action? The success doesn’t lie in how you pitch your product, but rather the actual need(s) your product solves. Unfortunately, finding this need doesn’t always come naturally. It may require some digging and listening to customers to truly understand how you can meet their needs, better than a competitor.

Listening to your customers can sometimes be easier said than done when it comes to developing a new product. For on-the-fly idea generation, you can post a quick Instagram poll or read some Tweets to get a slice of insight into what customers want. But what if you want to go deeper? You can outsource a team of consultants to perform a lengthy, not to mention expensive, research study that may take several months. If only there was a better way to pick your customers’ brains…

This leads us to online market research communities, also known as MROC’s. A market research online community can be extremely beneficial during this process as it allows your customers to play an active role throughout the product development process, by employing qualitative research techniques to have non-linear discussions with them. First, as gleaned from the name, on MROC, or insights community, can be conducted exclusively online. There is no need for lengthy in-person research studies, which are currently not a viable option due to the pandemic, and even pre-pandemic would be costly and require much logistic planning. Second, but by no means any less important, you can get results in real time, from real customers, throughout the entire product development lifecycle. Do you want to know your customers’ preferred name choice of a new product? Need to decide if your package should be black or red? With an online community, you can have results in less than 24 hours. Your customers will let you know, and they will do it fast!


Maybe you are in the beginning stages of development and have hit a “creative wall.” You have a few ideas but none of them seem complete or spark inspiration. You’ve picked the brains of all your team members, and still nothing. You think to yourself, where do we go from here in the design process?

An insight community provides a vehicle for your customers to actively collaborate. Community members can provide general impressions of product design, potential improvements, or even generate their own ideas for new products. Your customers will not only collaborate with you and your team, but also with other customers who most likely have similar needs. Together they can create something entirely new or refine current ideas to make them more applicable to their needs/wants. By simply having an open conversation about what’s working and what’s not, you will be able to listen and learn about your customers’ pain points. The insights that are revealed during a collaboration session may be the ideal jumping off point that your company needs to develop the next big thing.


During the middle stages of product development, an online community can be just as insightful. Maybe your team is expanding an existing product line and wants to know which product will be a seamless addition. Half of the team likes new Product A but the other feels Product B fits better in your brand’s portfolio. How do you determine whose opinion will be more profitable? Simple, listen to your customers.

In an online insight community, you can quickly run current concepts by your customers prior to a full market launch. Your customers can assess each concept and provide open and honest feedback on all areas. You may just then realize that both of your opinions are awful and do not solve any of your current needs. Or maybe they are a good start but can be taken to the next level. A simple conversation can potentially save your company from launching the wrong product, which could be invaluable in the long run.


Online communities can even be beneficial in the later and post-development stages. Maybe a certain project had a rushed deadline that did not allow for customer collaboration and isn’t performing relatively well in the market. This is a great opportunity to sit down with your customers and see what’s not working. You may uncover a simple text change, swap of an image, or new background music can be what your product needs in order to appeal to your customers.

Or you’ve noticed your previous top performing product has encountered a period of stagnant growth after being in the market for years. Before you decide to give up on it and reinvent the wheel, talk with your customers. Maybe they like the product but the advertisements and marketing efforts are lacking, unlike your competitors. Your product is no longer top of mind like it once was. This “ah-ha” moment may be the gut-check you didn’t know you needed.

Online communities can play an integral role during all stages of product development. This community will allow your business to better connect with your customers and identify real pain points. In turn, you will be able to create more customer-centric products that not only solve a need but also surpass competitors.