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    Communities: Win/Win Propositions for Both Brands and Consumers

    Why build a brand community of your valuable customers?

    On the surface, it appears the answer to that question is pretty simple and straightforward: you want to create a space to get some important brand questions answered with your target market. But the benefits of today’s communities are far more substantial.

    A branded community provides, fluid access to a group of the consumers that marketers, and insights professionals need to best understand. Essentially, branded communities give brands the opportunity to truly listen to the voice of the customer, and by doing this in a contemporary way, via a social-media inspired interactive web-based community create a committed group of brand ambassadors. Communities can be used to inform marketing strategies, test concepts, new product designs, or creating products that are a true reflection of their most important consumers.

    Here’s how this mutually beneficial model plays out in a few industry verticals.

    The types of questions that can be answered, and applications for branded communities are virtually limitless, and can apply to a vast number of industries. 

    In Healthcare and Education: Elevating the Voice of the Consumer

    Healthcare communities have gained popularity within the space, and with good reason. Branded communities have helped elevate the voice of consumers regarding an issue of supreme importance: their health. This has proven especially true for patients with rare and serious conditions who, by joining forces, have made their voices heard where they matter most—with the companies providing the products and services they need to thrive.

    And healthcare community members are passionate, willing to share their insights into specific issues, products, applications and messaging.  In many cases, members forge relationships with one another, sharing information and resources, essentially creating a hub, and adding participant value in the process. That makes them communities in the truest sense of the word. This is all accomplished in a safe, anonymous setting, so members can share information without worrying about privacy issues.

    These uniquely engaged consumers then pass on to brand researchers the deep and detailed insights they need to develop the right products at the right time for the right groups of healthcare consumers. The reservoir of trust that develops on both sides creates a long-lasting relationship that positively impacts a brand’s future decisions as well.

    As in healthcare, communities around educational institutions and issues also become hubs where members can share information and news, while providing researchers a direct line to the effectiveness of programming

    In Retail: Creating Brand Devotees

    In the retail space, there are myriad examples of brand communities that have used the unique insights gathered to turn loyal customers into brand ambassadors. One good example is a popular beauty brand that maintains an extensive and ongoing forum, which members use to share information, seek advice about beauty issues from experts and share their voice about products. Members can also post pictures of themselves using the products, and share feedback, all of which is provided by members directly. Interestingly, on-site feedback can be used in conjunction with profile data, and survey research to paint a deeper picture of the respondent offering brand marketers a treasure trove of information about product popularity and pain points.

    Online retail communities like the one above offer almost unlimited potential for ongoing, two-way communication between brands and their most important customers, helping brands bring the customer into the heart of the decision-making process in a way never before possible. And community members have a unique opportunity to gain information and enrich their lives.

    Sports Fans Make Committed Community Members

    No one is more brand-loyal than sports fans, making them perfect members of brand communities. For example, one sports league planning a line of jerseys for babies was able to turn to its community about whether or not to make the shirts gender-neutral. The group’s advice proved invaluable, helping the league save time and money in planning its product release.

    In Entertainment, Media and Publishing: Real-time Answers to Questions

    Consumers access media in a number of ways, and their preferences continue to change.  It’s crucial that media agencies develop content that’s relevant for their target audience.  Think about this. Through a community, a media company can now gain deep and powerful insights of a pilot program during its airing, impacting its decision about airing succeeding episodes of the program—obviously saving the company time, trouble and negative impact on advertisers.

    At Toluna, we’ve helped customers use communities to test magazine content before launch, to ensure relevance with subscribers to ensure readership.  The feedback received paints a deeper picture than ever possible using survey data.   In the final analysis, new, brand communities that provide researchers with deep, detailed and real-time answers to important questions are also becoming a valuable way of life for brand consumers. And that’s the definition of a Win/Win.

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