It Takes a Village: Driving Innovation with Online Communities

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and now that I have a rambunctious one year old of my own, I completely agree. But as a researcher, I could not help but think this is also true of developing an innovation. It takes a helping hand and input from hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals to bring an idea to life. As such, many marketers are building their own innovation villages in the form of online communities to help them through the process of nurturing their innovation from infancy to the marketplace.

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There Are Benefits to Having a Village

The beauty of an online community is the number of ways it can be utilized over the course of the innovation lifecycle:

  • Ideation
  • Directional insights when timing is critical
  • Attitude and behavior exploration
  • Suitable language for a target
  • Logo or packaging design

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And, it also allows marketers to engage with the community in a variety of ways – both qualitative and quantitative in nature – depending on the particular business need.

The combination of these two things means marketers have a medium that allows them to learn quickly and work collaboratively with consumers in an iterative fashion. Such ongoing, real-time consumer inspiration, input, feedback and direction are critical to being (and staying) relevant and creating value for your customers.

Putting Consumers in the Driver’s Seat

Over the past decade NASCAR has given their fans a unique opportunity to voice their thoughts, concerns, and ideas on a regular basis via their online community, the NASCAR Fan Council. NASCAR fans are some of the most passionate in all of sports and have no problem voicing their opinions of the sport and the direction upper management at NASCAR was taking it. Truth be told, not all of the changes made by NASCAR have worked out in the past few years, such as the “Car of Tomorrow” (the name alone should have been a clue this was a bad idea), but input from the Fan Council has led to radical changes in the sport:

  • Aggressive digital and social media support and growth
  • New “Chase for the Championship” format, which is the new playoff system used to crown the champion
  • Rule changes such as double-file restarts and green-white-checked finishes (because after three hours of watching, who really wants the race to finish under caution?)

While it’s still too early to decide whether these latest innovations will put NASCAR back on a path of growth similar to what it experienced in the late-1990s, it is attributing many positive signs of progress to the work being done with the Fan Council – including increased engagement on Facebook and Twitter, as well as increased traffic on NASCAR.com. Nevertheless, the fact that NASCAR has courageously put its faith in the hands of the village by giving fans a voice at the boardroom table signals how strongly it feels about the power of online communities.

Power To The People

We are now in the “Age of the Consumer,” where consumers are hyper-connected and empowered to make their voices heard, and here at Ipsos, we believe it’s important that we market “with” consumers and not “to” them. We have our own unique social space/community site designed to provide a commonplace for researchers and everyday consumers to interact by posting, discussing, critiquing or commending products currently available on the market, as well as discussing opportunities for potential future innovations, which has worked with great success. And, just as any good parent wants to nurture and develop their children into the best people they can be, we want to do the same with every idea that crosses our path.