Here's How To Create A Never-Ending Focus Group And Keep Your Customers Happy

happy customers

Photo: Flickr Tasayu Tasnaphun

Traditional market research doesn’t work.Response rates for phone polls and check-box surveys are abysmally low, almost to the point that most of them aren’t statistically significant.

Standard market research sneaks up on consumers: watching from behind two-way mirrors at focus groups, sending blind surveys, and hiring phone banks while brands lurk in the background.

The sacred rule of such research is never tell customers you’re asking about your brand. This secrecy is all in pursuit of a pure, unbiased view of your product in the marketplace.

Unbiased opinions have their place, but to channel Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street,” bias is good. Bias, in this case, is brand loyalty and the foundation of a new approach to market research that’s more agile, responsive, and profitable. It’s a combination of social media, established technologies and a new way of looking at customer relationships that extend and enhance the brand experience.

The future of market research lies in ongoing conversations about your brand. True insights and competitive intelligence come from open conversations with customers who know they’re talking to you about your brands. People who like your product and want it to succeed so much that they’ll tell you exactly what they don’t like about it in unmerciful detail.

If that’s bias, it’s the kind that works for a brand with a long-term view on growth and profitability.

Social media and technology have completely changed what was a stagnant market research dynamic. They’ve tapped into market intelligence that’s instantaneous. They’ve created a new model that is a more precise and refined variation on crowd sourcing, mainly because the “crowd” is carefully selected. Using information from business intelligence and customer relationship management, companies identify a complete set of highly engaged customers who represent their whole market profile.

Once the crowds or “panels” are established, marketers can use them as an on-demand reality check on new ideas. Instead of a massive campaign that takes weeks of planning, marketers can tap into these online panels for input in real time from real customers without sacrificing research validity or missing out an evolving trend or opportunity in today’s instant gratification society.

Instead of a mind-killing parade of check boxes, market researchers can send customers images, full-motion video, and even links to virtual worlds where the respondents “act” their replies. Companies distribute the questions to the panels as email attachments, or through Facebook groups, or by tweeting links to private websites.

Customers might spend more time with these panels than on a conventional survey, but it feels like less time because they’re immersed in a visual experience. More engaging content increases response rates and accuracy while keeping customers from dropping out from boredom or overload.

The goal is to maintain what amounts to a never-ending focus group to help decide whether a price point is too high or if an advertisement resonates with the target audience. Now, the online panel and surveys are brand experiences in themselves and will keep online panel members engaged well beyond the single interactions of yesterday.

Evolving market research tools aren’t new shiny pennies; they’re a necessity for market research to remain relevant. They are about authentic, transparent relationships between customers and the brands they love. Next time you need market insights, pull out a chair and invite your customers to sit at the table and engage in a conversation that you know they’re passionate about. Then, turn their passion into intelligence that makes your brand stronger.

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