Insight Communities need to be more about building communities. Not creating a new pool of lab rats

Insight Communities need to be more about building communities. Not creating a new pool of lab rats

“I ain’t lookin’ for prayers or pity
I ain’t comin’ ‘round searchin’ for a crutch
I just want someone to talk to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch” -Bruce Springsteen

Social media is great in enabling us to converse with people, stay in touch with folks that we may have otherwise lost touch over time or those who were no longer in the same neighborhood, workplace, town, or country. With all these possibilities, we are connected, and yet there is a feeling of disconnectedness.

A feeling of impersonality and a search for the more human connections that is prevalent in small towns and neighborhoods.

The Internet revolutionized market research and in most developed nations a significant proportion of quantitative research is done online. The availability of social platforms was expected to do the same. But the response is mixed.

If you do a Google search for ‘Market Research Online Communities’ or MROCs as they are called and you will find a smattering of market research software companies who claim to be able to set up online communities that will enable brands to do research online, faster, cheaper and better.

And it sounds right. You have a customized private, by invitation online community that is brought together by promising that these customers, fans will get exclusive access to how their brand’s custodians make decisions, be able to influence them, and then in turn can see the results of such influence.

Very few brands have actually done it successfully. One prominent MROC leader once said that 80% of all such communities fail. It is not because the brand teams did not see the proposed cost savings or that the tool was cumbersome. The initial enthusiasm just wore out.

And the key reason has to do a lot more with the way brand managers and brand custodians have made business decisions over the years. With customer research very often used to justify what clients were planning to do anyway, the value of the research itself has eroded.

The research industry has educated and convinced themselves and their clients that eliminating bias is most critical. So respondents are often screened for experts and people from allied industries are eliminated from the sample. Respondents are rarely told who is conducting the research, to what purpose it will be used. And clients are always worried about the confidentiality of exposing their work in progress.

But here’s what we found when we do research from a human-centric approach. The so-called experts we eliminate very often can give answers which if analyzed well, can give you great insight. Because they are people too and will react as people first. This is why when we run our concepts by our own internal people we do get good information. Why should experts be any different? Hiding the true sponsor or the intent of the research usually puts respondents into a guessing mode and they often do not open up easily. And customers if recruited to ‘help’ brands become better not only can criticize it sharply but also keep the privileges intact.

People can sense when they are being listened to. Even in social media. Because that human act is increasingly becoming rare. We have all the technical tools for communication in our lives today. But actual communication includes deep listening, feeling what others feel, and reacting as human beings. Being candid, admitting our own weaknesses, and offering help are all human actions that happen in the good communities in the real world. Far too often these MROCs replicate the clinical antiseptic world of traditional market research. Where the researcher maintains an aloof distance from the subject of research. Which is counterproductive to the spirit of community building.

Marketers need to adopt a new paradigm of not looking at respondents as lab rats. They are people who are giving us the privilege of their time to help us out. We need to have the humility and decency to just hear them out. And not focus on being smug and game them.

Navin Narayanan is a partner at Centre of Gravity. He leads HumanWorks, the school of Centre of Gravity where we teach the philosophy and method of Human-Centered Thinking and its allied skills.

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