By: Dania Rich-Spencer, Vice President
A few weeks ago, I prepared a one-page marketing piece on our Claros Research Communities for our commercial vehicle practice leader to take to the NTEA Work Truck Show. I thought I hit the mark on how a commercial vehicle OEM would benefit from having a dedicated group of purchase decision makers and drivers in their own private research community. To my surprise, the practice leader came back and asked “Is it possible to give me one sentence that defines a community?”
While this was a little disheartening given the “punchy” language I used in the marketing piece, it reminded me of a similar situation with another colleague who asked, “What is it (online research community)?” just a few weeks earlier.
Research communities have been widely used for over a decade, and the term MROC (Market Research Online Community) was coined by Forrester in 2008; however, there is still a fair amount of uncertainty around what an online research community is. Stepping back and thinking about this, I guess this isn’t all that surprising.
Forrester defined MROC as a qualitative market research tool, best leveraged for discovery and exploration for new product development, concept testing, advertising ideation, and brand strategies. Then the tech companies entered the market research space, seemingly out of nowhere, offering DIY platforms to support quantitative research (e.g., surveys) and member database management. This triggered the term “community panel.”
“Community” implied members (no longer referred to as respondents) interact with the sponsoring company/research vendor and with each other for qualitative insight. Panel, a term most were familiar with given the mainstream of commercial access panels, implied a larger dedicated group of members to complete surveys. During the incubation period of online research communities, MROC, community, panel, and community panel were often used interchangeably, causing a lot of confusion.
If that was not enough, there are online brand communities that organizations build to help ensure competitive position, improve customer experience and retention, fuel innovation, and build brand advocacy. This type of community is very different than a research community.
What is surprising is the stickiness of the term MROC; it seems like MROC is to online research community as Kleenex is to tissue. It doesn’t matter if clients are only looking for qualitative research, surveys, or both, they gravitate to the MROC reference. However, the manner in which an online research community is designed, developed, and managed is quite different depending on the objectives. Therefore, it is critical to understand what a MROC is in the client’s mind.
For the record, this is Greenbook’s definition: “A market research online community is a targeted group of people who are recruited into a private online venue to participate in research-related activities over an extended period of time.”
While this is not a very “punchy” definition, is it easy to understand, which is so important given the volume of information we are exposed to these days. How clients choose to leverage their MROC to support business objectives is up to them, which speaks to the beauty of online research communities.