As part of a report I am writing I am updating my notes on various aspects of NewMR, and today I turn my eye on MROCs. Below I set out my views, and I would love to hear your views.
Online research communities have been growing in impact for several years, and were christened MROCs (Market Research Online Communities) by Forrester in 2008 [‘Will Web 2.0 Transform Market Research’, Forrester, 2008] – a recognition that these research communities were already significant. The growth in MROCs was anticipated by Communispace who pioneered the use of private, branded research communities over the last ten years. During the last three years MROCs have become mainstream with a wide range of providers joining the market place, indeed no market research conference seems complete without at least one paper, and usually more, based on MROCs.
MROCs come in two distinct varieties, the short-term and the long-term, as illustrated by the examples shown below, both supplied by another of the early entrants into this field, UK online specialist Virtual Surveys.
The National Union of Students (the NUS) is the overarching body for UK students, a federation of over 600 separate student bodies. In 2008 the NUS decided to redesign their website and wanted to put students at the centre of the process. A short-term research community was created and operated for two weeks, with 57 students contributing. The students were recruited to represent pre-university applicants, undergraduates, and postgraduates, to ensure that a variety of views and needs were covered.
Over the two weeks the moderator set a variety of tasks for the students and led several discussions, with most students accessing the community more than once a day. Towards the end of the two weeks the community were asked to explore ideas and concepts that had been developed by the NUS’s design agency.
Short-term communities typically run from about two weeks through to about three months, with the number of members ranging from about 25 through to about 300. But there are examples that are shorter, longer, smaller, and larger.
One of the reasons that short-term communities have been adopted so readily is that they tend to fit a specific client need and budget, which means they tend to be direct competitors with traditional qualitative and bulletin board groups – albeit with sense of being up-to-date and more in tune with the concept of the ‘voice of the customer’.
Long-term, or ongoing, MROCs fulfil a quite different role from short-term communities. Short-term communities tend to be commissioned to answer a single, specific research question. Long-term communities are a research resource, capable of being used for a wide range of problems, but are not normally tasked to just answer a single research question.
The easyJet community dates back to 2008 and was formed with 2000 easyJet customers. The key to the easyJet’s community usefulness is that it is always in use, the agency and easyJet have a weekly teleconference to review the learnings from the previous week, to fine-tune the current week, and to plan the research for the next few weeks. The easyJet community is used for a wide range of research, from concept screening, to ideation, to customer experience. Speaking in 2009 Sophie Dekkers, the Customer Research Manager at easyJet described the community in the following way ‘We were able to conduct more research, for more areas of the business, in a faster timeframe, but within the same budgetary constraints. It will be the blueprint for easyJet customer interaction and research moving forward.’
Ongoing/long-term MROCs tend to last more than six months and are often assumed to be ongoing. The size of the communities is highly variable, with some providers favouring smaller communities of 100 to 200 members, whilst others prefer larger numbers, sometimes over 2000, blurring the boundaries between MROCs and community panels.
Where MROCs fit in the broader research picture?
One of the key characteristics of MROCs is that they are essentially qualitative in nature. Even when surveys and polls are used with MROCs, the special nature of the recruitment of MROCs and the sensitised nature of the participants’ involvement means that the data should be interpreted in a qualitative way, rather than assuming that it is directly comparable with anything from the wider marketplace.
A number of organisations, such as Colmar Brunton and Virtual Surveys have estimated, and published, that the ROI of a well-run MROC is best expressed in terms of clients finding that they can conduct about three times as much research for the same budget. But, rather than this ROI delivering cost savings it tends to result in more topics and questions being researched. Indeed, many clients comment that because of their MROC they research a wide range of topics that previously would not have been researched, things that might have been determined by their own judgement, or by asking ‘family and friends’ to gather some sort of wider view.
One potential issue for clients, and why some of them prefer short-term MROCs rather than ongoing MROCs, is that MROCs can make much greater demands on clients, compared with traditional research. If the same budget is delivering three times as much research this can easily be three times as much work for the client-side researcher, who is often already over-committed in terms of their workload. An MROC works best when it is being used, ideally weekly, this means that one of three strategies needs to be adopted:
- Somebody at the client is dedicated to running the MROC, and in theory is not given any other significant tasks.
- The ongoing health and utilisation of the MROC is handled by a third-party (often a research agency, but other options are possible) with somebody at the client controlling the flow of work.
- The agency running the MROC is put directly in touch with different units and teams within the client organisation, such as NPD, HR, logistics, marketing, finance etc.
The developing role and use of MROCs
MROCs seem to be growing strongly still, but it is possible that they will be eclipsed by community panels as these develop and become more common. In the near future MROCs may simply be a technique that is applied to sub-groups within a community panel.
When MROCs first came on the scene they were relatively straightforward, combining surveys, polls, and discussions. However, over the last three years there has been a major growth in the use of ethnographically inspired techniques, asking community members to capture slices of their own lives, in particular using webcams and their smartphones to enrich the data that is collated – moving the research into an area often referred to as WE-research, and blurring the boundaries with the sort of smartphone/ethnographic research being championed by companies like Revelation. Other companies, such as BrainJuicer and Insites Consulting, have started to put new spins on communities accessing crowd-sourced innovation, for example BrainJuicer’s JuicyBrains Community.
Well that is my view, what are your thoughts? What would you add? What would you change?