3 ways to drive impact from collaborating with consumers

As published on Research Live on Tuesday October 15, 2013 by Bronwen Morgan. As an IBM study of C-suite executives demonstrates the growing importance of involving consumers in strategic decision-making, I was asked by Research Live to share our thoughts on how to ride the wave of consumer empowerment.
The marketing power of consumers is growing exponentially. We’re all digitally connected as consumers, and we’re embracing new social media at an accelerating pace. This means that through our day-to-day conversations we can have a huge influence on the success of brands – in both a positive or negative way. That’s a huge tsunami coming at brands, and they have to decide whether to surf that wave, or risk being flooded by it. In an attempt to harness the power of this wave of consumer empowerment, we use Consumer Consulting Boards: communities of roughly 150 consumers, all bound by some degree of social glue – such as common interests, age or socio-demographic status – to encourage engagement.

How can consumer collaboration fit into strategic planning?

We believe there are 3 key ways of driving impact from collaboration with consumers: knowledge leverage, internal leverage and external leverage

  • Knowledge leverage represents the traditional role of market research: driving deeper knowledge and insights through collaboration with consumers.
  • Internal leverage refers to the idea that organisations should adapt their culture to make everyone working within it more consumer-centric, ensuring that they carry the consumer in their hearts, minds and actions.
  • External leverage is relatively new, and most closely tied to the digital revolution, one of the main factors of consumers’ new-found power status. It describes the situation in which the act of collaborating closely with consumers can actually cross the boundary from market research into marketing.

Consumers have a unique opportunity to really get close to the brand’s owners – to get to talk directly with them in a dialogue, not a monologue. This drives a lot of enthusiasm for the brand owner; a kind of ambassadorship that naturally evolves over time. What we are doing for a few clients is that we allow community members to share the content that they have co-created with their peers. This equates to a ripple effect in terms of brand enthusiasm.
However there is a key difference between involving consumers as a basis for strategy development and asking them to directly formulate a strategy. Consumers can have a huge impact on strategic decisions if we use them in the right way. Creative techniques, projective techniques, assignments: all of these can be used to craft a strategy. To ask them to directly formulate one is a step too far.
Next to that the process of consumer consultation needs to blend naturally with the workings of the organisation. There’s no technology that you can just drop into an organisation and then magic starts to happen. You need to take into consideration how a company has evolved over time in order to find the right rhythm, the right pace, the right format. The consumer can then become a natural collaborator within the organisation, as they are connected to normal systems and tools of the organisation. It should become habitual to bring the consumer along on your journey.

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