Today’s marketers are awash in data and metrics telling them what their consumers prefer and how they act. But what this information often can’t reveal is the “whys” driving consumer behavior, the underlying insights that cause consumers to act the way they do.
This is where Communispace comes in. The 13-year-old agency, now a part of Omnicom’s Diversified Agency Services Group, runs online consumer insights communities for leading brands such as Charles Schwab, Unilever, Godiva Chocolatier, Citibank, GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft Foods and others. Companies use the insights garnered from these communities to get a more authentic kind of consumer feedback than they can get from analysis of so-called “big data” or from traditional surveys or focus groups, says Bill Alberti, VP of business strategy at Communispace.
“Companies struggle with the data they have on their consumers,” says Alberti. “A lot of what our clients ask us to do is, ‘Can you help me make sense of all this data? What does all this say?’ It’s not just what consumers are doing, but why and where it fits within their lives.”
Communispace’s online communities are private, invitation-only groups made up of 300 to 500 consumers and hosted by Communispace on behalf of the sponsoring companies. In general, they are branded and theircomposition is customized to fit the client’s target market or strategic business needs.
These are active communities; members are given questions to answer, tasks to accomplish and other activities such as surveys and brainstorms. The members come in for an average of 30 minutes or so per week.
Essentially, these are highly focused social networks, places where companies can go to get realtime access to the thoughts and feelings of their key consumers. Where it differs from existing communities is in its research focus—Communispace members are active participants as opposed to watchers. And that’s what gives them their value. “We give consumers the opportunity to open up and share their lives,” says Alberti. “We create an environment as valuable to the members as to the client. It gives consumers the confidence to share things about themselves, building a window into their worlds.”
For example, Communispace has been operating a private, online community for publisher Meredith for a little more than five years. During that time, the “Real Women Talking” community has been used to create a dialogue with consumers that can reveal more than traditional media surveys—e.g., 65 percent of women prefer concept A over concept B. Meredith has been using the group’s insights both to hone its marketing and positioning and also to help it shape the focus of its content.
Britta Ware, VP of research solutions at Meredith, notes that the Communispace community provides the kinds of iterative insights that help the publisher really understand what its audience needs. For instance, the editor-in-chief of Ladies’ Home Journal used the community during a recent relaunch that shifted the publication’s content model so she could get feedback on ideas. “We can take action because we can hear from our consumers in her voice how she feels,” says Ware. Ladies’ Home Journal was able to leverage the relationship it had built with these women—its core audience—over several years to help it totally redesign the iconic magazine and ensure success at launch.
There’s also a greater immediacy to the feedback. “We recently asked a question of the members on a Friday afternoon and had 90 responses by Saturday at 11 a.m.,” Ware says. “You can’t get that kind of quality feedback so quickly any way else.”
While social media has given consumers a chance to build direct relationships with brands, the kinds of exchanges that take place over Communispace are different. Communispace’s communities are actively facilitated to maximize engagement and to create a culture of transparency, authenticity, openness and trust. Companies are encouraged to engage with consumers so that community members can see the impact they are having on products and promotions. Members are encouraged to co-own the conversation agenda, as well; it is typical for members to initiate nearly half of all activities fielded in their communities, Communispace has found.
In fact, says Alberti, consumers now often go above and beyond what they’re being asked to do. “I’m amazed at the extent consumers will do stuff for us,” he says. “We’ll ask them to fill out a diary of media touchpoints and they’ll start adding in pictures and videos and log-in every day. It really helps us paint a picture of the consumer’s life.”