Among these new approaches, we are investing especially in all the “collaborative” techniques which represent a change of position within our profession. The citizen consumer is moving from the status of respondent to that of participant.
Hence, on the occasion of the last SEMO trade show, Emilie Labidoire, in charge of Repères Communautés, and I presented a series of collaborative approaches aimed at the following:
. mobilising consumers and involving them in designing the offer:
- co-designing, namely by using the Second Life platform,
- a concept test under the form of a collaborative blog, with 60 to 80 respondents alternating during a fortnight between collective exchanges and individual questionnaires
- a prototype test via the Home Use Blog, previously mentioned in this blog
. but also at gaining a better understanding of consumers via the creation of Virtual Communities of Interests, making it possible for a company to get a better understanding of its target and to continuously exchange with this target in a real spirit of partnership.
In addition to this new position as a “participant”, clearly in line with that of the consumer-citizen today (Cf. the book, “Génération participation” by Thierry Maillet), the strong point of these approaches is that they are based on new time frames: We are no longer working with 15-minute quantitative questionnaires or 3-hour focus groups, but with a collaborative experience over one or two weeks (collaborative concept test, Home Use Blog) or even several months (Communities), thus providing a definite opportunity for ideas to ripen and for the experience to be integrated. Another important aspect is the advantage of asynchronous communication limiting leading effects (each participant integrates the opinions of the others, but with a "distance" which enables him or her to evaluate these opinions and to preserve his or her individuality) and also makes it possible for the respondent to express himself/herself in a very personal way.
At Repères, we are continuing to develop and experiment with these collaborative methods which hold great promise, naturally for general consumer issues but also in the field of BtoB (for example: the development of a co-design protocol with certain key customers, or the creation and moderation of communities of retailers…)
In short, we are fortunate to be working in a fascinating profession offering a host of new prospects!
With the Danone Research team we had the pleasure of being invited to speak at the prestigious Sensory Science Symposium Pangborn, which was held in Minneapolis in August.
On this occasion, Michel Rogeaux and I had the opportunity of presenting the Home Use Blog to the scientific community involved in the field of sensory studies and consumer tests.
As a reminder, the Home Use Blog is a protocol by which consumers test an innovation and exchange impressions in a community blog during the entire experience. This dual immersion of the product experienced by each respondent and within a community proves to be an extremely rich source of information and insight. At the same time, the possibility for the project team of monitoring the test day by day allows for a great deal of adaptability and is very motivating.
This approach is also highly flexible: Since November 2006, when we presented the methodology for the first time at SEMO with Danone Research, we have had the opportunity of using Home Use Blog (for Danone and for other manufacturers) in a great variety of configurations:
. in different countries, over varying periods of time (with a project in the very short term for a HUB during 3 months).
. by combining the Home Use Blog with other approaches, for example by organising at the end of the blog a Focus Group with the participants face-to-face to work in a more creative manner on the elements of the product mix.
In a nutshell, we are convinced that this method will become firmly established as part of marketing research practises in product development processes. The enthusiastic response on the part of the participants at the Pangborn conference backed us up in our conviction.
You will find here the slides of the Home Use Blog presentation at Pangborn.
In January 2006, during the National Marketing Day organised by Adetem, Romain Moronzier from Danone Research told me about a problem his team was tackling: How to evaluate the relevance of disruptive technology with consumers, namely when it implies new habits or gestures.
The problem of testing disruptive innovation is indeed a recurring problem in market research: confronted with innovation, the consumer can turn out to be a poor evaluator and to give arbitrary answers that say nothing about the future success or failure of the innovation being tested.
The question raised by Danone Research reminds me of a conversation I had a few months earlier with Christophe Rebours, the founder of the management and innovation agency In Process. Christophe mentioned the launch of the talking rabbit Nabaztag and explained to me that with such an atypical product the approach adopted had consisted of not conducting a test with consumers but of launching the product on a small scale to observe whether or not it would find its place within the community of first users.
The best way to find out whether an innovation is going to work, is to make it live. However, our customers can’t afford to repeat launches “just to see”. With Danone Research we looked for an approach which, with a reduced cost and in a short time, would enable us to test innovations by integrating two dimensions which seem essential to the relevance of the innovation test: experience and exchange.
It is a fact that in the absence of concrete experience consumers find it hard to anticipate:
. they find themselves locked up within their perceptive frameworks based on a past experience and one probably not relevant to the innovation being tested,
. in addition when the concept is being tested they tend to call upon rational thoughts, whereas the body, sensations and emotions are insufficiently relied on.
At the same time, the manufacturer also ignores how the innovation will be appropriated or used by the future consumer (concerning this François Laurent was telling me how surprised clients who had commissioned an experiment with television on mobile phones were: the majority of uses were not outside the home, as expected, but in bed)
The dimension of exchange is another component we believe to be essential for testing innovations: the importance of the impact of word-to-mouth between consumers is growing. Today, the asymmetric relation between a communicating brand and the consumer as a simple receiver is no longer accepted. Consumers refer more to their peers, namely via the Blogosphere which provides them with a new realm of expression, exchange, reference and will soon help them in their decisions too.
Our research protocol therefore had to respect these two conditions of experience and exchange:
. a prototype tested in the conditions of actual use,
. with communication between users and namely a dissemination of uses and perceptions.
That is how we came to launch Home Use Blog: a community of consumers who test a product and share their experiences on a Blog. At the same time as the consumer Blog, a discussion forum enables exchanges within the project team (client company, market research institute…).
The Home Use Blog protocol is simple:
. we recruit 10 to 15 consumers,
. each participant is interviewed separately and is instructed on how to use the community Blog. Participants are given a product to test during a given period, 10 days to a fortnight in the studies already conducted,
. during this test period respondents share on a daily basis their experiences on the Blog, via texts, images, emoticons, etc. Thus generating an effect of amplification and acceleration (one use test generates x tests with immediate validation or invalidation) and an effect of regulating and testing the duration of opinions and practises.
The findings gathered are extremely instructive especially thanks to the special aspects of the Blog as a communication tool, it being at the same time private and social. And unlike focus groups where the effects of leading may perturb the reliability of the information, the experiences or the opinions of the other participants are taken onboard and reinterpreted but without altering their individuality.
In the end, the Home Use Blog is a wonderful, adaptable and quick experimental tool, in line with clients’ timing, an impressive tool for exchange (between consumers, between consumers and manufacturers and between the members of the project team) and for getting close to consumers. This protocol is perfectly in synch with the strategy adopted by brands of placing the consumer at the heart of the innovation process.
The use of the Blog as an information gathering tool in innovation tests has a promising future before it. We would like to conduct experiments with larger samples of consumers soon.
This method was the object of a joint Danone Research / Repères presentation at SEMO, the market research exhibition which was held on 7th and 8th November 2006.