Top 5 Tips: How to Win with a Long-Term Community in the FMCG sector

Consumer communities have been around for a long time in the research world for FMCG, but what exactly are they?

Broadly speaking, a consumer community is a group of consumers who come together over time and contribute their opinions, feedback and ideas on a set of stimulus which is then shared back with the manufacturer, brand owner or retailer to enable them to make more informed decisions. However, the term can be misused, for example when it refers to a panel, which can lead to confusion and even disappointment.

However, whether to check you’ve got your finger on the pulse or to sense check ideas before progressing, a consumer community offers a valuable and practical way to bring insight at all stages of your innovation journey.
I have been a passionate champion of long-term innovation communities for several years and at KICR Innovation, communities sit at the heart of what we offer. By placing the consumer right where they should be – as an integral part of innovation – you allow business creation, not just evaluation, at every step, for faster, better innovation.

But over the years, I have talked to many a client and insight professional about communities, and it’s fair to say a number of people have had their fingers burnt. With these taking up a sizeable chunk of insight budget, it can be a costly process if all does not go to plan!

Having supported the MMR family community offering for over 6 years, plus setting up and executing a number myself, I thought I would share my top tips to set up a community for success…
1. Plan, Plan and Plan again!
I can’t say it enough, but the success of a long-term community comes down to the planning! This is both the strategic planning in terms of the community purpose – be that a onetime goal of a single innovation, the long-term transformation of your innovation process or tactical day to day content planning to keep consumers fresh and motivated. For all our communities we have an engagement plan, a rolling schedule of which activities will take place and when, all underpinned to add value and fit with the overall aim. For me a community lives or dies by the level of planning. Underestimate the importance of this at your peril!
2. Partnership, Not Transaction
When a consumer signs up to your community they are making a commitment to you. They’re committing to contribute their opinions and offer insight into their lives. It’s only fair that in return they get something back. By this I don’t mean incentives (although important of course), but I mean a transfer beyond this. Sharing back to your community on the contribution of their information is having and how it is changing your decisions as a business, is my next golden rule. Essentially you need to think about your consumers as your partners and to be treated as such, not merely as a transactional exchange of information for a reward.


3. Time, Not Just Money
We all know the phrase ‘Time is Money’ – well the same can be said of a community; you’ll only get a return on your money if time is invested. To build a relationship with your consumers requires time: responding to their comments on your discussion topics, sending out emails to remind them of up and coming activities, responding to their direct communication. Each one of these takes time but plays the essential role of getting to know them better and making them feel valued with a personal response. It’s risky to just assume your members will still be there when you want something if you haven’t spent the time giving back. The key to unlocking this is your Community Manager, the lynch pin of any successful community. I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing community managers over the years, and what every one of them had in common was a passion to go above and beyond in getting to know their members. With a big community, this is a full-time job of course, but money well spent if the success of your community relies on it!
4. Mix it up
We all have pretty short attention spans nowadays and members of a community are no different. The quickest and simplest way to keep your member contributing is to mix up the activities. Ask them to send in videos or send them on missions to a retailer, even better send them some product to try at home! Split up surveys into shorter topics and spread them out with discussions and single questions. Share some early ideas and ask members to tell you what they like. All of these different activities will maintain motivation and avoid boredom from simply answering the same kind of questions all the time.
5. Prepare for the unexpected
Sometimes, and I say sometimes, ad-hoc research is used just to tick a box. You know what you want your consumers to say and you just take the number you need and file it away. A community is different, they are a living and breathing ecosystem and you need to be prepared that they won’t always say what you expect, or like everything you put in front of them. I say embrace this, better to know before it is too late, or you invest in a big launch campaign. By working with a specialist, such as CUBO Innovation we can help you navigate the feedback from consumers, tease out the golden nuggets of insight and probe with consumers to get to the bottom of something that is bothering them, or not working… a much better approach than just pretending not to hear.
At KICR Innovation, communities are at the heart of our offering. We tap into our ‘ unique community of Future Foragers for rapid end-to-end innovation projects. Or we will set up and run a bespoke community to put consumers at the heart of your innovation process. Whichever end of the offer we partner with you on, know that our years of expertise and lessons learnt go in to making your innovation community a success – delivering measurable return on investment with better, faster consumer product innovation.
If you would like to understand more about our Innovation Communities, then let us know today!