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Using Communities to Build Authentic Connections in Times of Uncertainty

Posted On  October 19, 2020

By this point in 2020, you’ve probably mastered some skills that weren’t part of your New Year’s resolutions. Wearing a mask without fogging your glasses. Running a virtual meeting on spotty WiFi. Making a truly comprehensive grocery list, because you’re not running back in for that one thing you forgot. You’ve probably also shifted most, if not all, of your research online, replacing focus groups, in-home ethnographies, and actionability workshops with online alternatives.

There have been many challenges to conducting research in 2020, but one thing has improved: we’ve also seen a resurgence of authenticity – real, true authenticity that goes beyond buzzwords. This provides tremendous opportunities for researchers to get to the heart of what consumers are thinking and feeling. The ability to have authentic conversations with consumers in a timely manner, with flexibility and an eye on the marketing budget, will be critical for marketers as all of us head into an uncertain holiday season and beyond.

Here’s how long-term communities can help you build an authentic connection with your consumers.

Communities allow you to get to know your consumers over time

Because communities can last for days, weeks, months, or even years, you really get to know community members, their personalities, and their circumstances. This gives you context for their responses and allows you to build meaningful empathy for your consumers within your organization.

Most qualitative research gives you a snapshot in time, but communities offer a view of how consumers are evolving over time. The long-term, interpersonal nature of communities makes it a powerful platform for tracking changes in habit and behavior. You can not only observe the changes happening in real time, but also detect whether your consumers are happy with these changes or eager to get back to their old ways. Whether it’s tracking COVID eating habits (and their longevity) for a food brand or following the technological disruption facing small business owners, this in-depth understanding, and the ability to see activity on a daily basis, is incredibly helpful at a time when marketers and consumers alike are increasingly stretched thin.

Communities allow you to adapt your research while it’s happening

There’s a common misconception in the research industry that once you invest in a community, you’ll have to stop doing traditional qualitative research. But that’s not the case at all. Increasingly, our clients are using communities in conjunction with face-to-face research and other quantitative and qualitative methods. Because communities allow you to build long-term relationships with respondents, you can recruit them very quickly into same-day focus groups. And because you know them so well already, you’ll have a better sense of what questions to ask and how to evaluate their responses.

This may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing: communities build community. That makes them a valuable tool for collaboration and co-creation. Because you know the respondents well, and they’re familiar with you, you can quickly and easily bring people together to brainstorm and adapt your study as needed. If a particular line of questioning isn’t as productive as you’d hoped, or if something happens in the world that renders your research irrelevant, you can regroup internally and then return to the members of your community with more questions.

This kind of iterative, fast-paced research can be particularly helpful for particularly sensitive parts of your marketing strategy, like communications or advertising. You can present your messaging to the people in your community, get your respondents’ feedback, put them back in the business, revise them, and so on. Our clients have found this especially valuable in the past few months as they’ve developed and amplified their voices in a variety of fast-moving and vital social issues.

Communities help you stay connected

As we look ahead to 2021, it’s hard to know exactly what’s coming. We can’t anticipate all of the questions we’ll be asking in our surveys or how our consumers’ lives will change. But we do know that we’ll need to maintain meaningful connections with consumers and understand their authentic experience. A long-term online community may very well be the solution to meet all of these needs.

For actionable strategies your brand can take to connect with consumers going into the new year, download our white paper: Redefining Empathy for an Uncertain 2021: A Marketing Toolkit for Changing Consumer Needs.


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