The strategic employment of private online communities to engage customers directly and continuously in the planning and development of company products, services, or marketing has spread rapidly among consumer and business-to-business brand companies over the past 5-10 years. A company gest instantaneous feedback on its current products, uncovers new ideas, and customer connection is deepened through real-time participation with the company's products, services, and marketing campaigns.
With the proliferation of social media and associated horizontal dialogue on the web, the impulse to engage in direct connection has emerged as both an irrevocable impulse and a genuine opportunity for consumer brands.
We teamed with Sector Intelligence to identify the impact the use of private online communities is having on the consumer brand sector.
What was learned
From our research, 96 percent of respondents report that their marketing department is deriving value from their private online community, while 71 percent report the same for market research. Sixty-seven percent report a positive impact on product development.
In a global view, 54 percent of respondents indicate that the company's experience with private online communities has "changed the way we think about collaboration in general," and 46 percent felt that it changed how they think about customers. Eighty-six percent report they have experienced "deeper/richer insight into customer needs" while 82 percent say they have gained the "ability to listen/uncover new questions." On the more tangible front, 33 percent reported that their community changed a product design, and another 33 percent said that it changed the company's marketing strategy.
Another interesting finding suggests that employment of private communities is having a positive cost savings impact on the company's investment in and use of traditional research modalities. Forty-three percent of survey participants report they use fewer focus groups as a direct result of engaging in collaboration via the private online community, while 36 percent report conducting fewer surveys.
Conclusions: building loyalty through conversation
Ultimately, the study surfaced something that goes beyond the most visible benefits and challenges of private online communities: the "conversation" component that brands engage in to form a connection between brand and customer.
Specifically, the conversations generated in private online communities appear to constitute a "lifeline" -- or a perpetual empathetic link -- between the company and its marketplace, and, in some cases, across departments within the company. Speed of access, candid feedback, and the sense that the community can be employed for honest input leads to a sense of security and perpetual access. It suggests that as the world moves ever closer to ubiquitous connection, the lifeline between company and customer will become an essential tool for companies to stay connected with their consumer base. This relationship appears to be continually deepened because it tends to engender honesty and trust -- strengthening brand loyalty.
This "continual conversation" is present in no other form of research or interaction the company has with its marketplace. Further, this perpetual feeling of connection can gird the company's sense of relevance in the market.
Here are some real-life examples of community in action.
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