Using short-term research communities to understand shoppers

At Marketing Sciences someone in the office often decides to be particularly curious about a certain group of consumers, or a market research technique, and find a way to combine the two together so we can learn about both at the same time!

Earlier this year, we decided to find out more about a niche group of consumers which we defined as The Savvy Shopper. We invested in our own self-funded study using an online research community – inviting this group of consumers to participate and engage in research with us.

What did we do? 

We partnered with Respondi to set up an online community for 300 Savvy Shoppers to join, over a 3 week period. During that time, we engaged with our community through forums, videos, challenges, tasks, white boards and live chats to find out all about their world, and how they are particularly SAVVY in ways to save money.

In a way, both online qualitative research and online communities use very much the same principles and tools to allow engagement with and between respondents which is essential for exploratory research.

But a key difference about using an online community to explore consumer habits is the BALANCE OF CONTROL between the researcher and the consumer, and that is where it can get really exciting – consumers talking to each other about things you never even thought to ask, uncovering lots of new topic areas and insights that you never knew about!

So what can we tell you about using online communities for research? 

The key to success is choosing  a group of consumers with a SHARED PURPOSE or presence to come together online. They don’t have to be the same demographically, but if they are not, they need to have something in common (for example, our Savvy Shoppers were wildly diverse in age , class and gender, but all shared the love of getting a bargain!)

A community online can be SHORT TERM or LONG TERM – but there are key differences if you are going for one over the other.

You can choose whether to have a BRANDED COMMUNITY (so, consumers are signing up partly to engage with your brand as well as for research), or an UNBRANDED COMMUNITY (for example our Savvy Shopper Community contained no client branding, it was simply for research according to our community members)

You should think about the SIZE of your online community – do you want it to be very focused on co-creation and generating ideas (i.e smaller in size to focus on engagement) or are you are looking for a general view of how consumers think and feel (i.e. larger and more robust). There will always be a certain amount of drop-out on any community, particularly for longer communities. It’s a bit of an art selecting the ‘perfect’ number of participants; for our Savvy Shopper Community we recruited 300 Savvy Shoppers for a 3 week period. It seemed a lot at first (a very enthusiastic community!), but over time as some dropped out  it felt like we had got it about right.

Give your community plenty of things to do – every day if possible! We selected a VARIETY OF TASKS from whiteboards, quick polls, forum topics, challenges and photo uploads to keep our community engaged and involved in what we were asking them to do. And the great thing is we ended up with a rich source of data, insight, photos, anecdotes, and trends to learn from!

Get FEEDBACK from your community as you go along though! Don’t leave it all until the end to find out what they thought about the experience, otherwise it’s easy to miss some simple tweaks you could have made along the way. Our community of Savvy Shoppers were so keen to tell us how much they’d enjoyed the community experience, but also had some great ideas for what we could have done throughout the 3 weeks to make it even better. It’s those nuggets that you have to listen for!

It’s clear there is a lot to say about using online communities for research. Having the technology to design and run a community is just one small part of a successful community. The real skill comes from using our research knowledge to ensure our communities are a success for our clients, and that respondents remain engaged by the research.

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Amy Nichols
01962 842211
Article date - 18/09/2013
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