Companies are increasingly using social media as part of their corporate marketing and product development strategies, according to a white paper from Sector Intelligence and online brand community provider Passenger.
The white paper, entitled 'Conversations and lifelines', examines how sixteen Fortune 500 food & beverage, financial services, automotive, retail, and sporting goods brands are involving customers directly in the planning and development of company products, services and marketing initiatives, as well as the corporate social media strategies themselves - all using private online communities.
The study found that this kind of interactive customer community provides deeper insight into customers' needs than traditional market research, and that they have been found to increase customer advocacy and loyalty, and also help to avoid consumer backlash as companies develop their public social media presence.
"Never before has the impulse for consumers to connect with brands been expressed and acted upon on such a large scale, and never before have so many disparate individuals come together to help produce products and services that would in turn be distributed on a mass basis," explained Craig Honick, managing partner for Sector Intelligence. "The gap between customers and brands is getting smaller each day, and the brands we interviewed in this study said that direct conversations through private social networks are improving the climate for innovation in tangible ways."
And, according to Samantha Skey, general manager for Passenger, social media has already changed how many companies interact with their customers, and the idea of strategically engaging with and listening to customers is a growing area of investment for many brands.
The study also noted that marketers and brand managers are changing the way they interact with customers to solicit better feedback through private online communities, and this is resulting in deeper insight into the preferences and lifestyles of consumers. Highlights of the study include:
- 86% of respondents report that private online communities provide richer insight into customer needs;
- 33% report that the community input alone has actually changed product designs and marketing plans;
- 43% report they use fewer focus groups as a direct result of engaging in collaboration via the private online community while 36% report conducting fewer surveys;
- 64% report that the community has improved the context for decision-making within the company;
- 6% report that their marketing department is deriving value from collaboration with customers, 71% report the same for market research; 66% report a positive impact on product development.
Based on its interviews with brand executives, Sector Intelligence also drew several important conclusions:
- Word of mouth is likely to become a more central part of a company's future marketing strategy as they learn to integrate loyal customers into the brand strategy. The intimacy created by ongoing conversations can be a powerful model for connecting with the customer base and learning how to foster loyalty.
- The conversations happening in private online communities are unique from other forms of research such as focus groups. The ongoing, direct communication of this medium provides businesses with a consistent, more affordable way to instantly engage with consumers. As this becomes normative behaviour, these conversations turn into more impactful relationships.
- For some of the more conservative brands surveyed that have shied away from public social networks because of the risks involved, private communities facilitate innovation and direct conversations with consumers in a safer forum, while still organically encouraging customer advocacy.
- Even with budget crunches, companies are investing in tools and services that will help them listen to and learn more from their customer base.
- Private online communities can enhance internal collaboration within larger brands in diverse sectors. By talking to customers directly throughout product development and marketing processes, the lines between internal divisions are blurring, both for economic and productivity reasons.
To request a copy of the white paper, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org quoting your name, job title, and company name.