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COMMUNITIES FEATURE: Getting Closer to Your Consumers

June 10 2021

In the second article from our forthcoming special issue, Toluna's Director, Digital Solutions Jack Lee sets out why communities are an ideal way for a brand to get closer to its consumers; and how to make the most of what they can offer.

Jack Lee
Insight communities are ideal for getting closer to consumers and keeping pace with fast-changing trends, more important than ever during these unprecedented, unpredictable times.


So why is it important to stay close to your consumers now?

Amidst the Covid-19 crisis that has engulfed our world, consumer needs and behaviours have been changing rapidly and unpredictably. Despite the rollout of vaccination programmes, the pandemic is likely to impact the consumer landscape for some time to come. Due to this continued uncertainty, being aware of what consumers are thinking and how they are behaving in-the-moment will help you understand how to stay relevant with them, and pivot your business successfully for the year ahead and beyond.


How can an insight community help with consumer closeness?

Insight communities provide brands with a digital environment to speak quickly with their consumers and strengthen relationships with them. This goes beyond the typical one-way conversation that's possible in ad hoc research, where you are asking your consumers for feedback. With communities, you also provide feedback to your consumers on how their opinions have been helping shape the decisions you've been making. This two-way dialogue is far more effective at relationship building.

Communities can also facilitate a wide range of conversations, for example through discussions, live chats, depth interviews, polls or surveys, and this variety helps keep things interesting for the community members. Furthermore, this means more ways to understand your consumers. Here are some examples of how some of our clients have been using such consumer insights gathered from engaged community respondents:

  • A leading telecoms provider has been using its community with us to optimise their website and app; fine-tuning the marketing mix of new offers & services and validating customer journeys
  • For a global publisher, community research has had direct impacts on books in stores: helping publications teams to make decisions on cover art and blurb, and marketing teams to best position their titles.
  • A leading betting specialist has redesigned its websites and developed a new subscription service from community insights.
  • A major airline, was looking to refine the 'at airport' and 'in-flight' experience, particularly in the context of a very competitive and experience-led sector. As well as being able to assess the requirements from different profiles of flyer (business classes, flight length, aircraft, height/weight) the community also enabled the client to make recommendations on future design and service packages, identify main pain points and wow-effects and focus on key drivers of comfort and well-being.
  • A food manufacturer in the UK has been using its community of meat consumers to reduce time to insight and to generate huge cost savings vs using panel providers. This improvement in speed and resource has allowed it to keep up with the pace of the fast-changing consumer landscape, as well as developing stronger retailer relationships.
  • As you can see, the agility and engagement a community brings can lead to proactive, informed actions that help build a more positive consumer experience.

How can I get maximum ROI out of a community?

Whilst there is initial investment required in setting up and recruiting for your own community, with sufficient research volumes, the initial investment is offset by research cost savings. We frequently see clients executing 2-3 times more research in a year: there is no need to pay for sample costs each time, as relevant audiences are already pre-recruited on your community. This readily available pool also means greater agility - you'll be able to speak to your customers much faster than having to find them through panel providers, or having to wait for lists pulled from your CRM team.

We are seeing a lot more clients in recent months wanting to take on the smaller DIY projects to get answers back more quickly, but still wanting full-service support to ensure credible and actionable results for those more complex key projects. We've been helping them cater to these variable support requirements with a flexible service model that caters to DIY, full service and anything in between, where clients can purchase a bundle of credits up front, and use them for research / community support as and when they need it. Furthermore, our recently launched SaaS platform Toluna Start provides far more than just communities. Many of our community clients have been using it for agile access to wider audiences beyond their own, through our global influencers panel of 36 million integrated into the same platform. Alongside this and quant & qual tools, this platform also provides them with automated survey solutions for brand health tracking and comms, concept and pack testing. This, combined with the extensive, flexible community and research expertise available on-tap, have been giving our clients a truly scalable, end-to-end solution to meet their evolving needs.


I already have a community. Do you have any advice on how I can get closer to the people in it?

There are number of elements to look at when maximising community engagement. It is important to have a clearly defined engagement plan and schedule; one that balances the optimal frequency and variety of relevant activities for the members alongside meeting your research needs. You should ensure you're building and maintaining a positive two-way relationship with members, giving them regular feedback into actions you've taken as a result of their feedback, and setting crystal clear expectations from them on what to expect from the community and its activities. Be sensitive to the current climate - little tweaks to your comms such as adding 'stay safe' to the end of emails helps address this.

Having a rewards system that encourages contributions is another key aspect of engagement - monthly prize draws for gift vouchers are the most common form of rewards on a community, although there are many ways you can reward members without spending a penny. You could select and recognise a 'member of the month' who has provided particularly valuable contributions, or create 'VIP' members who can access sneak peek content on the community before anyone else. We have worked on communities before where the client would invite these 'super-engaged' members to come into the client's offices to be part of a co-creation session, as well as recording a video about their experiences of products, to treat them as an extension of the brand team and help bring the insights to life for stakeholders.

Ultimately, an engaged community is one where the members are enthusiastic and interested to participate in its activities. Addressing the points above helps achieve this, although every community and its membership is different, and you may have your own unique considerations and challenges around engaging your audiences. We've barely touched the surface; please do get in touch for a more in-depth consultation.

Stay safe!


As the Head of Online Communities and Digital Solutions Director at Toluna, Jack brings 12 years of operational and commercial community panel experience - he has worked with some of the most recognisable brands spanning a wide range of sectors, including technology, telecommunications, CPG, finance services and charities. Jack's expertise spans the community lifecycle; with specialist knowledge of community setup, recruitment, member engagement/retention, stakeholder engagement and community platform technology.

All articles 2006-21 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas unless otherwise stated.

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