Our market research company will define insights communities, benefits, recruitment, engagement, choices on how to build it, how it can be used, and the ROI.
It is a comprehensive and ultimate guide to the insights community topic.
- What is an insights community?
- Benefits of an insights community for brands
- Building an insights community
- Participants role in insights communties
- Choosing an insights community company vs. DIY
- ROI of an insights community for a brand
An insight community is a group of people agreeing to participate in continual market research tasks and activities sponsored by a business, company, organization, or brand. The insights community participants are typically labeled as members or panelists.
Insight communities come in many shapes and sizes, and brands can often operate several different communities or create separate sub-communities within a larger group.
These mini-communities often represent the target audience the brand wants to learn about and understand more thoroughly.
Some examples of insight community profiles might include:
- Brand loyalists
- New customers
- Competitor loyalists
An insights community in market research can mean various approaches. It might be limited to a single form or take many forms, including techniques like online panels, forums, bulletin boards, social media groups, etc.
Listening and learning from your customers is vital.
Setting aside any preconceptions or thinking you know who your customers are and why they choose your brand is essential to creating a better marketing strategy.
Market research can provide you with data points and insights directly from your customer base that are objective and honest. It allows your brand to make fact-based and data-driven decisions.
Brands leverage insights communities for those reasons.
From our experience, an insights community's most significant benefits include:
- Ongoing engagement
- Gaining immediate feedback
- Cost-effective solution
- Perfect for idea testing
- Improving brand loyalty
Let's dive further into these and other benefits of building an insights community.
Traditional market research projects are often ad-hoc or one-and-done. Insights communities flip this on its head by creating a continuous cycle of continuing engagement.
Because the insights community is developed, brands can immediately engage with their target audience.
The process from planning/design of the research/tasks to receiving insights is accelerated compared to traditional market research projects, which often take weeks or months to complete.
Whether your goals are to improve your product, develop a new service, get feedback on the buyer journey, explore a unique benefit, or engage the audience on value, an insights community allows a brand to root itself into a close-knit group of members.
One of the concerns of testing a new concept or idea is obtaining too much feedback on a larger scale.
If brands are creating a revolutionary idea, a new sensitive product, or something that will provide a significant competitive advantage, exploring feedback through surveying 2000 respondents nationwide could be a concern.
Meanwhile, with an insights community, it’s a much more trustworthy and limited group of members to leverage. Brands often have panel members sign confidentiality agreements during the onboarding process.
A large part of the cost of traditional market research is starting from scratch again with the target audience.
For example, running a focus group might start from square one with a social media advertisement, hiring a panel, etc., to source participants.
In those cases with fresh participants, a percentage do not show up to the groups, several are not engaged, and not all will offer A+ feedback.
However, the commitment from an insight community is real. 🤝
And if you have poor or less engaged participants, you can replace them as you go to keep the level of your participant base high continually.
Having a pre-recruited pool of members allows you to dip into that base for recruitment quickly and inexpensively.
This is often an unspoken benefit of insight communities.
Although much of the focus goes to market research and gathering feedback for products and services, being part of a community makes the members more loyal to a brand.
Participation in an insights community often makes customers feel part of the brand team driving change and improvements.
It fosters a sense of belonging, which usually translates to long-term loyalty. And it doesn’t hurt to get free products or services, swag, and other trinkets that might be given to members as part of the process.
The members often feel they are advocates for the brand, promoting it elsewhere with friends and family.
To counteract that, insight communities are usually built to ensure that once they source the participant for their research, they can keep them for ongoing studies.
This gives brands an advantage by being able to hook members and leverage insights continually versus trying to find new participants every time they conduct a project.
Although much of the discussion around benefits has been with diving deep into individual behaviors, needs, preferences, etc., a side benefit that cannot be undervalued is the members' interaction in the community.
Whether it is a forum or another group discussion, some of the best insights are often gathered from member-to-member engagement.
This might occur when the moderator encourages participants to comment on others' feedback or help answer other’s questions by adding context.
This level of discussion can drive innovation and new ideas for a brand.
Because insight communities trust the market research firm and/or brand, they are often very open to any methodology.
Whether you are conducting mobile ethnography, asking for video open-ends, or asking them to download a new qualitative app for the project because there is a history, the answer is nearly always yes.
This allows for quick adaptability for the researchers to try new tools and approaches in the industry, stay on top of trends, and stay ahead of competitors.
The strength of your insights community is only as good as your recruitment approach and how you source, qualify, and set expectations for your members.
It takes careful planning and consideration before building the community to ensure everyone is on the same page.
The last thing you want is to put all of the work into designing an insights community and for it to morph into something different, which makes the members feel misled, creates a sense of an unorganized brand, and creates more negative connotations with your organization than existed prior.
Here are some excellent steps and ideas to consider to recruit the right people for your insights community in market research:
Define your target audience
The first step in recruiting for an insights community is to nail your target audience(s).
Who do you want in your community?
Be clear and specific on demographics, characteristics, preferences, mixes, behaviors, attitudes, lifestyles, roles/titles, quotas, etc.
These need to be aligned with the purpose of your community and the tasks and projects you will have them complete. Because insights communities are designed to be continual, think long-term with these traits.
Think beyond just the first project you will be conducting.
Create an appealing value proposition
Although you are very excited about your research and the insights community, it’s critical to outline the key benefits of joining.
After some time, the members will likely develop into brand advocates.
Still, when being pitched the idea of entering from the start, there is likely to be a sense of uneasiness, lack of trust, bait and switch, scam, or feelings that the community will take too much of their time.
These challenges and concerns should be outlined by your team and addressed in your outreach.
From our experience building an insights community for our clients, we also recommend clearly defining the benefits of signing up.
Being a member of the insights community might mean exclusive access to new products, discounts on purchases as part of the studies, and/or other rewards and incentives, etc.
Showcase the community's philanthropic pieces, including messaging around the impact on the brand and how their feedback will drive decisions.
Find the right channel or use multiple channels to source participants
The promotion and recruitment for your insights community can vary.
Some options to consider to build your pool of members include…
- Email newsletters
If you currently engage your customer base through this subscriber list outreach now, this could be an excellent fit for announcing your insights community. Look through your past data through your email platform to understand open and click-through rates (CTRs) to see if this option is worth it or if another channel is a better fit.
- Social media marketing (both to organic followers and paid ads)
Remember that a tiny percentage of your social media followers see your organic posts. So, reach and impressions will be limited posting organically because platforms want you to pay-to-play for users to see your messaging.
That's why we often use social media to find market research participants. Social media ads can offer much more reach and control over who sees your promotions for your insights community. They can be targeted to some limited demographics, interest groups, etc.
Choose wisely, but the ads can redirect the potential member to a landing page with more information, benefits, and FAQs. Or you can redirect them to a recruitment screener link that asks for detailed qualifications to ensure the target audience is recruited.
Here's a look at the step-by-step process our market research company follows when recruiting research participants with social media ads.
- Website landing pages
Optimize these for direct traffic from other sources and potentially for any SEO or PPC you run for search. Ensure this page is user-friendly and mobile-friendly. The mobile-friendly test is often forgotten in the corporate space where we all work and test pages on desktops and laptops.
Remind yourself that 2 in 3 or more will likely be accessing your website on mobile. Provide clear instructions on the next steps, joining, and potentially a form, chat, or phone number with a contact for any questions or concerns.
- In-store advertisements
If your brand acquires a lot of foot traffic in-store, consider leveraging signs or banner advertisements there. Because space is limited and will only attract attention for a few seconds, consider limiting your messaging to core criteria and include a potential QR code to a landing page or sign-up link.
- Event marketing
Event marketing is an excellent option if your brand does any type of sponsorship your target audience attends, such as conferences. There are a few different ways to recruit at these events.
It might include something similar to banners, signs, or sandwich boards with information and QR codes. It could also involve staffing the event with employees and tablets to intercept customers and discuss the insights community. They can sign up on the spot using the tablets or at a booth/kiosk.
From our experience, one of the most significant benefits of this approach is having a human present during the signup process to put the potential member at ease and answer any questions live and directly.
- In-app marketing
Consider this tactic if your brand has a large user base on your app. This can be accomplished through a window pop-up or a prominent announcement/introduction to the insights community at some critical point during the app experience.
- Using a market research firm (and their lists, database, panel, etc.)
Employing an expert is an excellent option if you are not comfortable or experienced enough or simply don’t have the time to invest in setting up and recruiting your target audience for the insights community.
The consultant or partner can often listen to your needs, ask the right questions, and make several recommendations to recruit your target audience using one of the methods, a combination of those methods, or something completely different.
If you feel this could be helpful, contact an insights community company and request some time to chat and develop a proposal.
It is important to consider online and offline sources depending on your target audience. Be where they are and ensure you are tracking the right mix of participants you need for the community.
It may be a case of there not being one silver bullet in a single channel but a combination of those approaches outlined above.
Partnerships and collaborations
Consider partnering with content creators, influencers, bloggers, or other organizations or brands that are an excellent extension of your brand. Ensure their target audience is a fit for your needs. These partnerships could establish more reach and credibility if you are an emerging brand.
Incentives and rewards.
This is addressed in two ways...
1. First, consider doing some type of joining or sign-on bonus if they qualify and are chosen to be part of the insights community.
This initial thank you sets the stage for the relationship and shows the member their time is appreciated (immediately).
It establishes the legitimacy and the realness of how the member can benefit from the gate.
2. Second, you must explain the potential of the long-term and continual rewards and incentives.
Rewarding per project/task is always recommended (e.g., product giveaways, gift cards after participation in each brainstorming session, etc.) vs. offering a raffle or chance to win a reward.
Insights communities that offer raffles and chances to win have far less engagement, less than ideal feedback, and often churn participants at a much higher rate than a well-paid community.
The tactic is something you likely want to wait to offer. Still, after the insights community has been running for several months or a year, it is something to consider.
It is discouraged during or right after launch because the brand still needs to have a strong enough relationship with members to know whether a direct referral is valuable.
For example, suppose John C. misses sessions, does not offer a lot of depth during his ethnographies, and continually pushes for an ASAP turnaround on his incentive payouts.
In that case, he may not be something that you want to source referrals with other people he knows.
After running the community for a while, you can identify the high-performers you want more of.
This is critical regardless of whatever channel or source you use to find and recruit participants for your community. We always encourage our brands to add human interaction and screening to the signup process.
This is two-fold.
It helps build immediate rapport and seriousness early in the community as the brand begins fostering a long-term relationship.
It also allows the brand contact to have a person-to-person community with the potential members to understand fit.
Face it: only some people will be a fit for a 12-month engagement as part of your community for various reasons, and if you can run some gut checks early through some conversations to help you with your vetting process, do it.
Because there may be some level of skepticism and the ask for a long-term commitment, it helps to be as transparent as possible.
Even planning out all of the potential projects and tasks you will ask community members to participate in over the first 6-months of the panel is beneficial.
This can help break down the commitment into a statement like, on average, we anticipate our insights community members to spend approximately 40 hours with us on various concept tests, forums, surveys, activities, etc., with 40-50 other members.
💡The Key Takeaway: Recruitment of a long-term, high-quality, committed insights community is challenging. Consider the sources and strategies outlined to develop a custom approach for your brand. Thorough planning and strategy on the front end will undoubtedly create a better and more engaging experience for your brand and its members.
What is done in an insight community can take many shapes and sizes. No matter the market research methodology, each project intends to engage the community members, which produces valuable results and insights for the brand.
The methodology and approach will change depending on what the brand wants to learn.
The most common types of projects conducted through an insight community in market research include:
- Focus groups
- Product testing
- User experience
Let's explore each methodology further.
Surveys and questionnaires
Let’s start with the most basic and straightforward task. When one thinks of an insights community, they probably don’t jump right to thinking we’re going to use members for surveys.
However, some brands have an incredibly niche audience - even a study among 30-50 community members is extremely valuable.
Although this task may seem boring for members, surveys can produce very structured feedback on topics, products, and services. They are a quick and easy way to collect data.
Discussion forums or bulletin boards
This is more like it when I think of an insights community. A bulletin board is a structured group conversation where a facilitator or moderator poses questions to the community and asks for answers and feedback.
Members often interact with each other as part of the conversation, which can create some golden nuggets of information. It is a great way to collect feedback on experiences and ideas and share opinions in a group setting.
They are best served for brainstorming, exploring topics, problem-solving, and more open-ended discussions.
Product testing and reviews
This might be the type of task that is the most fun for community members. Brands often send new products to members before launching them on the market.
This gives members unique access to use, taste, or try a new product and offers feedback around likes, dislikes, changes, price points, likelihood to purchase, and much more.
These in-home usage (IHUT) projects are some of the best, most insightful, and most engaging projects for community members. If this task is a bit for your brand, please do this regularly.
These qualitative sessions are often a smaller subset of community members in a physical or virtual room to have a more close-knit discussion.
A smaller group of 4-6 participants allows a moderator to cover the topics at hand comprehensively. Focus groups often include specific exercises and fun activities that are engaging to break up the conversation over 1-2 hours.
Traditionally they are done in person, however, online focus groups are growing in popularity.
Part of the insight community’s responsibilities might be to have a place to suggest new ideas to the brand around products, features, or improvements.
Tapping into the minds of these brand advocates can often yield some incredible ideas for new product development.
This could also mean developing some co-creative sessions where specific community members are teamed up with one another over a few days or a week to collaborate on new ideas to pitch back to a facilitator or the other community members.
One of the most famous examples of this is Starbucks.
They allowed customers to suggest new product ideas on their website, where one savvy customer suggested a coffee stopper to prevent his morning coffee from spilling over when walking, getting into the car, etc.
So there you have it. Insights communities work.
Quick polls and voting
To get an even faster read on customer reactions than surveys, brands can use polls/voting.
It provides a real-time snapshot of a topic's sentiment, feelings, or a read. This can prove very useful in a PR crisis/negative news story, something going viral on social media, or an announcement from your competitor with breaking news.
Challenges and contests
Thinking about gamification and creating challenges, contests, races, etc., for your community members can prove beneficial.
This could mean developing different profiles for community members based on engagement levels, number of comments, number of thumbs up they receive from other members, etc.
Dangling carrots like these, where a member can benefit from reaching the next level, has always been baked into Marketing 101 textbooks, and it’s no different here in terms of how you should engage your community.
Hosting live webinars or events
These are more real-time opportunities for members to interact with your research team and brand.
It might involve your team pitching a new concept, product, or idea for 20 minutes on the webinar and then opening up a discussion for Q&A and discussion.
You could also use a webinar or presentation-like event to collect feedback on marketing materials, advertisements, or other stim or creative materials with your community.
Beta testing for user experience (UX) or interface (UI)
Leveraging an insights community to help improve the user experience of a new website or app is an excellent application.
When your app is in beta form, it is not ready to be launched, so testing different functionality and usage paths with a limited audience can offer a wealth of insights and changes.
Use your insights community to identify bugs, errors, or issues accessing different devices.
Should you build an insights community through DIY tactics or a full-service partner?
There is no simple answer to this question, but each option has pros and cons. Ultimately, this will be a decision your brand will need to make to determine which path is better suited to your objectives and goals.
We’ll break these down to help you think through the best approach.
- Costs. Managing the process in-house gives you more control and allocation of resources. You will better grasp constraints and avoid out-of-pocket expenses to a professional firm.
- Brand knowledge. You deeply understand your products/services, which will help make your planning and strategy more authentic and relevant.
- Flexibility. If you manage the process, you have control over flexibility in the design and adaptation of the insights community.
- Direct communication. You would control any communication with insights community members, ensuring all personal connections are sourced through your brand.
- Costs. Managing the process in-house gives you more control and allocation of resources. You will better grasp constraints and avoid out-of-pocket expenses to a professional firm.
- Resource-intensive. Building an insights community is a challenging task. Executing requires expertise, time, personnel, and specific software and technology.
- Expertise gap. If you have never done this before, you’ll lack experience in planning, analysis, preparation, methodologies, etc. It can all have a significant impact on the ROI of the initiative.
- Technology. Consider whether your organization has the infrastructure to recruit and manage a community for the long term, which often requires daily communication and ongoing technical support.
Hiring a Professional Insights Community Market Research Company
- Expertise. Market research firms bring a lot to the table from specialized knowledge, know-how, experience, management, and likely plenty of case studies to learn from.
- Efficiency. Because market research firms have experience, they can often expedite the time to launch a community much more quickly while not taking time away from your team.
- Advanced technology. Professional firms utilize the best-of-the-best software and tools to execute both recruitment and management of panels through various methodologies. Since firms dabble in these tools daily, they will likely use better options.
- Scalability. Outsourcing your insights community to a professional provides better options to shift the structure or scale up the research activities or size of the community.
- Costs. You will have higher out-of-pocket costs when hiring a professional market research firm.
- Less control. Your firm of choice will handle the day-to-day operations of the community.
- Learning curve. It may take several meetings and work sessions to help the third-party expert get up to speed with your brand and objectives for the community. Separately, if you have the market research firm managing all of the tasks, your learning curve may be decelerated vs. learning all of it on your own immediately.
The decision to build and operate your insights panel in-house vs. a third party is complicated. It likely centers around your budget, expertise, long-term and short-term goals, time, and resources available.
Also, if you cannot commit to a lengthy contract with an insights community market research firm, like Drive Research, consider utilizing their expertise to recruit and build your pool of members before passing the baton over to your brand to operate the day-to-day, week-to-week, and month-to-month activities.
Measuring the return on investment of an insights community can be a complex formula.
Because multiple levels of benefits impact all areas of an organization, it can become complicated to track and attribute returns. The ROI of an insights community includes both tangible and intangible benefits.
Here are some items to consider when determining the ROI of an insights community.
- Cost Savings. When you have a fully functioning insights community, you will very likely save on budget in two areas that will contribute to cost savings in the long run:
- (1) Reduced research costs, meaning the community is a much more cost-effective way to collect regular insights and feedback than ad-hoc traditional market research
- (2) Minimized product development costs, meaning the insights from members will highlight critical features, fix problem areas, and make changes to your products and services before the full launch.
- Productivity and efficiency. When your brand can lean on the insights community for real-time and continual feedback, your organization can be more agile, make quicker and more educated decisions, and create a faster time-to-market for products or other strategies.
- Customer loyalty and satisfaction. Your brand will realize increased loyalty among members/customers in the panel and more universally with your customer base as insights are extracted and leveraged from the smaller group. The learning will undoubtedly impact your net promoter score (NPS) and customer satisfaction scores for your users and customers. The efforts will create a more positive CLV (customer lifetime value).
- Innovation and competitive advantage. Your insights community will generate new ideas and solutions that will give your brand a competitive edge. Simply having an insights community and dipping into it regularly for insights is a competitive advantage that only some brands utilize, as they are stuck in the traditional ad-hoc, linear, and unconnected market research studies.
- Marketing and brand perception. Some of the natural and tangible benefits from insights community members will immediately include user-generated comments online, reviews and testimonials on rating sites, etc., contributing to a more positive brand sentiment. The members will also feel like advocates and promote your brand to their local community, friends, and family.
- Risk mitigation. This is often a core benefit of market research, where the service reduces your risk of making the wrong decision while increasing your chances of success with a new product or service. Through beta-testing and concept testing of new ideas, the insights community will create a feedback loop to help with problem-solving and reduce the risk of missing the mark when launched.
- Data-driven decision-making. A constant stream and cycle of data, analysis, insights, and recommendations will flow to your research team and brand, allowing for fact-based and evidence-based decisions to assist with operations, marketing, and strategy.
- Employee engagement. Nothing can be more fruitful for an employee than running an insights community and talking to members who love your brand daily. Conversations can energize and invigorate employees and breed a positive culture and feelings towards the brand and organization.
- Brand reputation. Although the insights community is often used for internal strategy and decisions behind the scenes, we also encourage brands to tout the fact they have one. It demonstrates the brand is committed to customer satisfaction and enhancing the customer experience (CX).
This can often create demand and interest and a long waiting list to sign up. More qualified sign-ups also allow your brand to scale the community or think about creating sub-communities with specific audiences that share traits (e.g., a Gen Z community or a new moms community).
How to measure the ROI of an insights community
Although measuring the ROI of an insights community is tricky, here are a few items and considerations if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of proving value in your investment.
The steps include…
- Key performance indicators (KPIs). First, you need to define these and ensure they align with your program's goals.
- Track. This includes tracking community engagement metrics you define and/or design over time. You can measure these metrics through the platform statistics or ongoing/quick polls or surveys with your members. Common metrics include participation rates, feedback frequency, member satisfaction or NPS, commitment to re-joining at the next enrollment period.
- Business metrics. Profile critical business metrics before developing and launching the insights community and then do it again. Consider metrics like time-to-launch new products, product adoption rates, customer retention, revenue growth, employee eNPS, NPS among all customers, etc.
While the ROI may not be easily quantifiable in monetary terms, the holistic benefits of a market research insights community contribute to a brand's overall success and sustainability in the long run.
Why Brands Choose Drive Research As An Insights Community Partner
Our clients need information to help them make more educated marketing, operations, and strategy decisions. These problems center around understanding their customers, employees, or potential buyers.
Guessing and suffering from a lack of information and data can be challenging.
We've helped everyone from Amazon to start-ups research critical audiences to provide confidence in data-driven decisions.
We work with clients in 3 phases:
- First, let's create a plan for your research and find out more about your needs.
- Then, we will put together a custom plan for you.
- Finally, if you decide to move forward with Drive Research, we execute that plan.
Keep your competitors from knowing more about your customers, attract and retain better-talented employees, and grow more quickly by stealing your market share.
Leverage our research to drive increased revenue, expand into new markets, retain more customers, keep and attract top-notch employees, and outperform your competition. Market research is the most critical competitive differentiator for top-performing brands.
The data, feedback, and opinions obtained directly from an insights community allow for immediate, real-time, and ongoing data.
It will enable brands to build a deep relationship with members to peel back the onion on the lifestyles, behaviors, attitudes, preferences, and needs of the target audience.
The community insights create a much richer and deeper understanding of individuals than a single survey, focus group, or interview ever could.
Drive Research works with emerging and established brands to build insights communities.
Our full-service insights community company can work with you to strategize, structure, recruit, and execute an insights community that can be leveraged for insights immediately and long term.
A critical piece of building an insights community is finding an expert with a tried-and-true process.
Are you interested in discussing a proposal to build an insights community with our market research company?
Contact Drive Research by filling out the form below or emailing [email protected].
George is the Owner & President of Drive Research. He has consulted for hundreds of regional, national, and global organizations over the past 15 years. He is a CX-certified VoC professional with a focus on innovation and new product management.
Learn more about George, here.