Market researchers are continually on the quest to understand how consumers react to varied stimuli (e.g., new ideas or concepts, new products, communications or advertising) and how those reactions might reflect in-market behaviors. This, of course, is the reason why custom survey data have played such a critical role in driving marketing strategies historically. And while techniques have evolved to better capture and analyze survey data, there are very important changes happening around us that suggest a need to move beyond survey data. Our research methods must evolve to better reflect today’s consumer and the marketplace in which brands and products need to be successful. We can see this evolution with the greater focus on behavioral sciences, the role of neuro, mobile and passive data capture.
I personally dedicate much of my work to the development and testing of new or reformulated products for a variety of Fortune 500 clients. There are unique implications of this evolution to the world of product testing. As the world’s largest product testing advisor, Ipsos has historically adhered to a product development framework that guides all aspects of our consult and design all the way from early stage exploration to guidance and validation testing to post-launch reformulation and benchmarking. This framework or similar frameworks exist in many organizations and R&D and Insights functions are tasked with obtaining consumer input throughout the process.
But now more than ever we are recognizing that product development & testing cannot happen in a bubble. The future success of any new product launch – or even more importantly, changes to existing offers – will depend on how consumers interact not only with the product, technology or service, but it will also depend on several external factors that might be completely independent of the product performance itself.
These external factors can vary and continue to evolve – it might be communication on a social media platform and the subsequent organic discussions that result. It might be communication that a manufacturer or brand initiates or that consumers initiate. Or what about communication from a key influencer like a celebrity or politician? There might also be external social or industry trends within which a product or offer must succeed and which are impacting consumer opinion.
These social interactions and reactions are now a critical part of the marketing mix that should be incorporated into product development and testing. In other words, we want to make product development and testing a “living and breathing” process that mimics the ways in which consumers engage with products and with each other. It is no longer enough to have two-way communication between the manufacturer/brand and a consumer via a point-in-time survey. The communication among consumers and impacts from other external sources plays a critical role in how consumers perceive products or services, their satisfaction with them, their likelihood to continue to use or re-purchase and ultimately what they too might say to act as influencers.
Of course, much of my time in market research is spent thinking about how to design research such that we can isolate performance on key variables that ultimately act as predictors of in-market success. How do we take a process which typically includes some level of control (e.g., protocols, testing designs, scripted surveys) and make it more dynamic and fluid (let’s call it “messy”), opening it up to an environment where consumers can interact with each other and external influences might change over time?
With the role of such varied external factors impacting product success and a greater need for experiential research, Ipsos is often turning to online communities to leverage an effective engagement platform for our client’s product development efforts. While online communities are not new and Ipsos has been leveraging them for several years to address a variety of research questions, changes in the marketplace remind us that now more than ever, researchers need to move beyond survey data as the primary input to product development. Our end goal is to strike a balance between quantification and consumer engagement that together will yield a holistic understanding of product performance, the consumers who use your products and the interaction among consumers which also increasingly plays a key role in product success.
At Ipsos, when we refer to online communities we are talking about a dedicated group of people, recruited and screened into a private, online platform, enabling engagement in varied activities across qual and quant methodologies, in a fast and efficient manner. Our engagement platform has also evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of researchers and can incorporate other forward-thinking approaches such as IRT (implicit reaction time), mobile data capture and video upload to bring us closer to “show me don’t tell me” research.
But at its core, our engagement platform allows people to not only react to stimuli including products but also interact and engage with each other. Online communities strike the balance of “control” that we often desire in research with a healthy dose of organic discussion and member-to-member interaction. This fluidity drives iterative learning, whether about the development of a single or multiple products.
As a result, communities deliver important benefits to the product development process. Communities naturally have a social element, allowing several factors (social, political, cultural) to organically impact consumer reactions. They also allow deeply experiential learning, as we can tap into consumers’ authentic lives via video, discussions and other tasks. And we also find that community members are deeply engaged in the process whereby they become connected not only to each other but oftentimes the overarching research initiative as well. In summary, we can execute research that better looks like the world in which your products and service need to succeed.