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Research & Insights e-Book: Break the Ask/Answer Cycle

If your organization is on a journey to becoming more customer-centric, then it might be time to take the leap toward customer intimacy. Often defined as a means to support marketing, customer intimacy is the practice of getting closer to your customer so you can communicate with them more effectively. But what if we switched the perspective from simply a marketing strategy to a true closeness and ongoing conversation between customers and internal stakeholders?

So much of the customer programs developed today focus on “listening,” but this can fall short of truly transformative thinking when you move beyond listening to engaging with customers. The great news is many organizations already have the resources available to achieve customer intimacy, and just need a shift in perspective on how to empower their teams to take advantage of this possibility.

A Pathway to Customer Intimacy: Online Communities

Online communities provide ready access to people that your teams care about. Many times, however, engagement often resorts to a simple ask/answer process, where your internal team identifies a knowledge gap, and research is conducted among the community to answer these questions. While this is a start, this model of engaging with customers is distanced and doesn’t allow for residual insights or compassionate learning to take shape. When you break down the barriers between internal stakeholders and customers, you enable a new reality to take shape, where stakeholders:

Practical Strategies to Advance Customer Intimacy

Taking a generalized effort where “everyone needs customer intimacy” is likely too big of a leap but uncovering high impact efforts to drive this forward opens the door for impact – in both short- and long-term ways. Consider avenues to create a more focused community initiative, tying customer intimacy directly to team processes and goals.

Three ways this can come to life include:

Brand Strategy: Before engaging an agency to redefine, reposition, or otherwise evolve your brand strategy, consider the opportunity to infuse the customer perspective throughout the process.

Innovation: With the agile and iterative nature of innovation, taking time out to conduct research can be constraining. With a ready sample of customers engaged and ready to be involved, this barrier is removed.

Customer Experience: While traditional listening systems tell us the “what,” pairing with an online community can tell us the “why.”

When shifting towards customer intimacy, consider avenues that let the customer in on what you are trying to accomplish, treating them as a true stakeholder within the organization. This doesn’t replace valuable research opportunities, however, instead the goal is to ensure the customer is integrated into decisions in ways they currently aren’t given timing and resource constraints. The next time you’re engaging with your team, explore how intimately they know their customer, and if it’s time to advance your commitment to customer centricity through customer intimacy.

Learn more about Research Communities

While a research community presents an opportunity to keep your customers at the front of decision making by giving them a proverbial seat at the table, it does require a meaningful investment of time and budget to support. Ensuring your organization has reached the right stage in its journey to introduce a research community is key to achieving true ROI. If you’re considering a community for your team, assess your organization on the following three dimensions to determine if the time is right.

You have a persistent and ongoing need.

One of the first indications that it’s time to consider a research community is a growing influx of demand for the consumers’ perspective from internal teams. Take stock of these inbound requests, determining who you are conducting research with, how you are engaging them, and how often. If you find you’re reaching out to the same sample groups at least once a month, you may have reached the critical threshold for an engaged community. Keep an open mind to how a community could better support your needs to better understand and co-create with consumers—as the traditional year-long endeavor may not be the right fit for your organization.

Considerations for when a consistent need is a strong fit for a research community include:

Not sure if you need a panel or community, check out our post comparing the approaches.

Stakeholders are bought in.

While having a consistent need is often triggered by stakeholders, to truly gain the value of the community, ensuring they are onboard is important. Spend focused time before launching the community in an effort to set expectations on use cases and timing. You’ll also want to build out an initial learning plan connected to both team and broader organizational initiatives. If stakeholders are leery of the commitment, consider defining focused pilots such as smaller-scale sample requirements or short-term and more narrowly focused research goals, building the case for impact through lower investment options.

Having a plan to engage stakeholders pre-launch, as well as throughout the research community’s lifecycle, and a continued focus on bright spots and success stories is also key to generating new use-case ideas among stakeholders.

Your organization has the capacity to act on the insights.

Establishing internal buy-in and a vision for use is an important foundation, however, ensuring that stakeholders have capacity and authority to activate on the insights uncovered is essential to achieving your ROI story. If insights from the research community serve “nice-to-know” objectives or reveal opportunities that the team lacks the ability to implement, recommendations become back-logged and stakeholders can find themselves overwhelmed and frustrated. Determine if inability to implement is temporary or if more substantial resource or process decisions need to be made before investing in a research community.

Once assessing your organizational readiness for a research community, explore our post on considerations for a community partner here. A research community is a large commitment, ensuring both you and your organization are ready for it will help you set expectations and ensure success.

Learn more about Research Communities

Broadening the scope of its marketing research objectives, a major US-based automotive manufacturer decided it was time to go global with their online community initiatives. Expanding beyond the Americas, they aimed to target their research across multiple countries, including the UK, Germany, and Australia.

Partnering with Gongos, they had a vision to extend the community’s cross-organizational impact to gain simultaneous insights from consumers in multiple markets, while at the same time ensuring cost-efficiencies, flexibility, and longevity.

Building upon the success of their existing online environment, we enhanced the platform to accommodate the volume of data from a larger respondent base with consumers from distinct markets. Integrating cultural nuances and customizing the language and discussions for each region, we recruited and engaged 5,000+ consumers to respond to dialogues, flash polls, surveys, news, and current affairs issues on an ongoing basis.

Targeting high response and completion rates—all the while ensuring member retention—we incentivized participation through universal, online reward points that could be redeemed for gift cards. In return, members offered insights on a multitude of automotive-related topics, while taking frequent online surveys that provided voluminous quantitative data.

Given our large sample, we also developed more intimate “spin-off communities” within the overall community that acted as exclusive portals for members to discuss niche topics of interest.

As an additional byproduct of this implementation, the global online community served as a catalyst for cohesion cross-functionally—with departments across the organization benefitting from the quick and efficient findings. Our dedicated team designed and executed research activities and consulted on and delivered high-level statistical analysis, while continually adding to the member experience and enhancing the platform infrastructure.

The CEO of the company at the time also hopped on the community bandwagon himself, requesting feedback from community members regarding a significant public media announcement. Upon this special request, we fielded his query on a Friday evening, enabling the insights team to deliver a full report on Monday morning. Now that’s turnaround!

Overall, the low-risk nature of the community enabled this manufacturer to continually push the envelope with respect to online research methodologies. From car enthusiasts to soccer moms, the members are engaged, aware, active, and have plenty to offer one of the largest car manufacturers in the world. Time and time again, community findings have proven successful in driving future research strategies and processes.