Building the business case for an Insight Community

We’ve drilled down into what an insight community is, and explored how to get the most out of them. We’ve got a bite and you’re on the line. You’re convinced an insight community is the answer to your wildest thoughts, prayers & dreams! So what now? How can you build a business case to get buy-in from internal stakeholders and get your project started…?

Where should I start?

The underlying purpose of an Insight Community is to drive customer-centric growth for your business.

Customer-centric, because the community will give you direct access to customers and their needs. Growth, because it will help you meet those needs better and more efficiently.

While this is a lofty goal, it is a little vague. Every brand wants to get closer to its customers, but how can you identify the impact this will have? Look at your existing business objectives and identify ‘pain points’ where more customer knowledge would help. Think of ways in which you are already incorporating the customer voice and the current costs associated with this.

For example, let’s say that ‘maintaining premium positioning’ was a key objective.

In the past you may have carried out a number of market research activities like:

  • A brand perception study to understand your place in the marketplace.
  • A brand architecture study to understand your product line-up against consumer preferences.
  • A usage and attitudes study to understand the consumer behaviour around your products/brand.
  • From these three separate studies, you would then form insight around today’s picture of your brand and its products/services and recommend changes.
  • You would then need to test new features/package info/branding with customers.

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Where all of these studies may have sat in a silo, and been carried out by separate agencies, now all this information can sit in one place, and you can use a profiled user group for all of the above. The cost of ad-hoc research can highlight potential savings of a community.

Workshop the pain points your brand is experiencing with potential internal users and stakeholders. This will have four benefits:

  • Identifying opportunities you’ve missed.
  • Prioritising opportunities and problems.
  • Introducing key internal players to how an Insight Community might work.
  • Increase buy-in for using a community by including stakeholders at an early stage and addressing any initial concerns

Conducting an internal audit

By this point you will have an idea of the problems you need your Insight Community to solve. The next step is understanding what solutions you’re currently using to address those
problems, and what data is already available to you.

Insight Communities are generally more cost-effective than traditional research methods. They benefit greatly from centralisation – the community is a highly flexible, rapid and responsive way of talking to your customers, and reduces (or removes!) the need for individual tenders or working with multiple suppliers on a project basis.

To get an idea of your organisation’s current research load, we recommend an audit. How many projects in the last 6 or 12 months have required direct communication with customers? How many have used customer data? This will give some idea of the initial scope of the Insight Community, as you’ll be looking to replace some or most of these projects.

At the same time, you should audit research reports and data sources that are relevant to the broad aims of your community. It’s wasteful to do research (within an Insight Community or not) that simply reiterates things your business already knows.

Existing data sources can often be directly integrated into an Insight Community, as modern tools are far more adept at data fusion than previous versions were. As for existing insights, you can use them like a sourdough starter for your community, creating a shared base of knowledge to be built on, rather than beginning again from scratch.

Build out your plan

You’ll now have an idea of the problems you need your Insight Community to solve, and the existing resources it will either build on or replace. It’s time to add detail to your plan as you start to work on specifics.

A useful exercise at this point is to write a brief for what you need the community to achieve. A brief is very useful as it forces you to clarify the goals and start making initial assumptions about the scope of the project

You should be thinking about questions like:

  • What are the strategic goals of the community?
  • What are the initial tactical objectives? What results do you want from the first three months?
  • How large a community do you need and how long do you intend it to run for?
  • Who will have access and make decisions about what the community does?
  • Will it be run in-house or will a partner company manage it?
  • What are your budget expectations?
  • What KPIs will you use and how will you measure your Insight Community’s ROI?

If you don’t know all the answers yet – don’t worry! This exercise is partly about understanding your ‘known unknowns’ – the parameters you aren’t sure of yet.

Setting out the strategic purpose

By this point, you’ll have an idea of how your Insight Community can fit in with the business’ current objectives and plans. That’s the necessary starting point to building a business case. But what happens when those objectives change? Before getting into the details of your community and how it’ll work it’s worth taking a step back to get a broader perspective on how a community aligns with the business’ overall strategy.

The key to turning an Insight Community into a strategic asset is integration across business functions. You’ll be looking to embed it deep enough within the business that it’s seen as a vital resource. Doing this is crucial if you’re considering your community as a long-term asset.

Key decisions for your community

It’s now time to dig into the details of the community you plan to build. There is no set formula when it comes to communities and their set-up will very much depend upon what you’re trying to achieve.

How long should you run an Insight Community for?

Short-term communities last from a few days to a few months. These communities are tactical in nature and are often designed with a specific business problem in mind. Typically used for a higher intensity of tasks from a smaller pool of members. A great way of collecting a high volume of qualitative data quickly. Less likely to be effective as a strategic asset to your organisation.

Long-term can last anything from 12 months to ongoing. They allow you to explore topics in more depth, get to know your members better and can be used for both tactical and strategic decisions. Perfect for exploring a wide range of
objectives within one environment and can house several segments for more detailed discovery. Generally speaking, you save money vs traditional research methods when using a community platform over a longer period of time, but this does mean a bigger investment in terms of recruitment, moderation, running and handling churn.


Should your membership be open or closed?

Closed membership: Most Insight Communities are private, invitation only, and commercially confidential. In a private community you can set expectations upfront, easily control and curate the conversation, get to know the patterns and personalities of your members and control who those people are. The downside of this, is that you will have to attract those members in the first place which has a time and monetary cost associated with it. Another downside is that despite non-disclosure agreements and new technology enabling the blocking of screenshots, information may still leak.

Open membership: Open communities are a great place for the crowdsourcing of ideas. By inviting collaboration and co-creation and product roadmap suggestions, you can assess common themes and unearth hidden gems from your customer base. Having an open community makes it easier to attract respondents but may become unfocused because of this and require more moderation and engagement.

Which membership should your Insight Community have?

Current customers: For these people, the thought of contributing to a brand they love and having their voice heard is a key driver to being part of an Insight Community. As such your current customers may be easier to recruit, may need less incentives and may already have some ideas. Where people are self-described fans you may struggle to get critical feedback and they may also have higher expectations around how often the brand will communicate with them.

Prospective customers: Prospective customers are more impartial and so may offer better insight into your brand and where you might improve. As you might imagine it can be difficult to get engagement from a group of people who potentially don’t use your service and therefore may not care about it.

Mix and match: Ideally your community will include current, prospective and lapsed customers so you can gain a more impartial view and map out complete journeys and touchpoints.

Lapsed customers: A lapsed customer can help shed light on faults with your service/product or customer service discrepancies. Most importantly they are the best people to help you understand the steps needed to win them back. It will be more difficult to recruit lapsed customers and is quite likely that a negative experience will bias research. It may be better in some situations to use an unbranded Insight Community and larger incentives when attracting this type of member.

Employees: Many brands use an Insight Community for employee feedback programmes, including employee satisfaction tracking and moderated forums. It can also be used for training and employee development exercises. You may need to consider if the frequency of feedback will be high enough that you can justify the costs of setting up an Insight Community.

How big should your Insight Community be?

Small communities: A smaller community will lend itself to more qualitative research or intensive innovation work. With a smaller group, moderation will be much easier, and you can get to know your group and what drives them. A smaller group typically means lower costs as well. Smaller communities have a perception of being more tactical than strategic. This is because it can be a lot easier to justify action based on the insight of 5000 people rather than 50.

Large communities: Larger Insight Communities can produce more robust analysis which lead to strategic decisions. More voices can sometimes mean that data is mixed but, there’s no such thing as ‘bad answers’. One community can house several segments and with the ability to have breakout sessions you can dig deeper. The bigger your community, the more resources, moderation, incentives and data analysis you’ll need and yes…that all has a cost associated with it.

Should you brand or not?

Branded community: Your brand can enable easier recruitment and onboarding of participants. Where people know, use and love brands they are more likely to engage in feedback as it gives them an opportunity to shape the brand and have their voice heard. The downside to this is that strong opinions lead to bias.

A branded Insight Community allows for greater transparency. As the participants know which brand they are answering questions about, it means that product names, packaging details etc won’t need to be obscured or changed. This enables you to get actionable feedback on real campaign ideas and concepts.

Unbranded community: You might choose an unbranded Insight Community where you’re looking to obtain feedback from the overall market, or perhaps have a group of companies that many not be linked in the public’s eye. Also useful where you are seeking an impartial viewpoint, or where you are particularly interested in gathering information from prospective or lapsed customers. As we said earlier a branded community may bias participants and skew data.

People will be more sceptical of how their personal data will be used where there isn’t a brand associated. This may make it more difficult to find appropriate respondents, and you may need a larger incentive in order to attract people. You may have to change/hide who the end client is (if for example you were showing a new product design) which can add additional cost.

Who should run your Insight Community?

Is it better to simply buy a platform and have your internal team run the day-to-day or have an external agency handle everything? Here are the pros and cons of both.

Self- service: Your inhouse team will always have a better understanding of your brand history, company values, competitors, and goals. Understanding both the data and the realities of day-to-day business will more easily allow an internal team to create actionable insights that are achievable. It will be a lot quicker for them to identify the internal stakeholders, insight they are likely to need and format they’d prefer.

Sometimes the very fact that an inhouse team understands the practicalities of the business may lead to ideas being overlooked from communities or conclusions being developed despite conflicting research. Time is obviously the biggest challenge for an inhouse team and where there are other priorities, it is not uncommon for a community to lose traction and for churn to increase.

Combined: Friendship is magic. An agency can definitely compliment your own team. They can bring their specialised knowledge around the set-up and running of an Insight Community with your existing team’s knowledge of the brand and its challenges.

Outsourcing: Most of the time, the agency that builds the platform will be the one’s running it. This reduces the amount of time and training needed in terms of running the platform from a technical point of view.

Where an inhouse team may understand the company better, an outsourced agency often offers a greater breadth of research knowledge and will naturally be more objective in their findings.

No matter how closely an outsourced agency works with your brand, they ultimately are not part of your organisation and may have a harder time connecting with stakeholders and gaining visibility. In having a smaller remit, it is easier for outsourced agencies to get side-lined or fail to deliver impactful work.

What are the roles and responsibilities?

Development: A lot of Insight Community platforms come ready to ‘plug and play’ and will only need a little technical support to get going. If you only need the standard setup then this can make things easy, but most of our clients require some level of customisation, bespoke features, links to other platforms, links to APIs etc. As such you should ensure that any platform you choose has its own in-house developers and consider any points of customisation
you might need.

Community management: The bread-and-butter of running an Insight Community. This includes recruitment, retention and churn management, responding to feedback, moderation, and monitoring the overall community activity and health. This is critical for any community and the larger and longer-term it is the greater the need for an experienced team to handle it.

Data collection: This includes survey programming, data processing, tabulation and charting, and overall project management, including handling the task load and flow on the community. These responsibilities can be easily handled by a community supplier but might also be taken on by existing research agencies or in-house teams.

Advanced analytics: Beyond simple data collection are the more complex research functions. Particularly in large-scale communities, advanced analytics can add immense value. Machine learning can unlock deeper insight into member data, analytics can produce new customer segmentations. Your Insight Community can also be used for pricing analysis and predictive modelling. All of this requires specialist resource, which many community platforms lack. If you want to use your community to its full potential, these capabilities should be a requirement.

Insight and consultancy: Data is only half the story – to turn it into insight you need experienced qualitative and quantitative researchers who can take Insight Community outputs and find the most impactful and actionable results for your business. This needs a team with sector or brand knowledge and whether you have someone inhouse or outsourced, they need to be aware of your business goals and problems.

Creative and design: Insights are useless unless they are noticed and acted on by your business. You need to produce eye-catching and memorable assets in the form of videos, infographics, reports, images, posters, memes. These will help socialise the insights among the community’s stakeholders above and beyond a standard dashboard and can be the difference between a high-impact community and one that fails to reach its potential.

Community strategy: The final key role is the most strategic – the community needs an overall owner or leadership team, whose job is to make sure the community is in continual alignment with the wider business strategy and to keep stakeholders engaged. The most vital part of this role is defining and tracking KPIs and measuring the ROI of the community.

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Ensuring ROI

The whole point of having an Insight Community is to make better-informed decisions. The problem is that it can be tricky to put a monetary cost against this.

Here’s 7 ways you can measure ROI:

Stakeholder impact: How has the Insight Community and the projects run through it helped stakeholders? Have its insights been valuable? Has it provided strong findings for negotiations with buyers or suppliers? Has it made senior people’s job easier? Have processes changed because of it? This might be a bit tricky to measure but by looking through the different projects you’ve used your community for, you’ll soon have a good idea on the impact it might have had.

Value creation: Creating value. Saving money. Preventing losses. These are the three broad ways in which insight can help you to support profitability and growth. Value creation is the most eye-catching of these. Has the Insight Community led to decisions which have created new value for the business – for instance product launches, changes in policy, or other customer closeness initiatives?

Cost efficiencies: Has an Insight Community identified efficiencies and saved the business money? In many cases an Insight Community will itself be a long-term cost efficiency compared to the cost of the many research pieces it replaces.

The feedback from the community can also be vital for identifying areas of low priority for customers where money can be saved.

Insight accessibility: A community that makes insight more accessible and more embedded within the business is doing a good job, and this can be measured in multiple ways – views of outputs, internal email open and click rates, qualitative or survey feedback, and requests for user access.

Cross-charging: Some brands run their Insight Community as a chargeable internal resource, with other units/functions paying to conduct projects through it. If this is the case, ROI will be whether the community is paying for itself via internal usage.

Loss prevention: Prevent your brand from making mistakes and bad investments. Whilst Insight Communities can help with this, it’s the hardest to prove the value of, since it’s tricky to measure predicted losses. In some cases, though, the advice of an Insight Community will have been critical preventing such errors.

Volume & value of insight: One major reason for running an Insight Community is to replace and expand on existing research work while saving money in the long term. Run more projects and deliver more results, while reducing the cost.

These are some of the measures you can monitor as a way of demonstrating ROI. But in themselves they don’t prove that the Insight Community has been a business success. This is where you need to connect your measures to business issues and provide evidence that the community has had a beneficial impact.

This article is an excerpt from our series of 3 ebooks around insight communities. Download now to receive:

  1. Why every brand needs an Insight Community

  2. 10 steps to creating and running the very best insight community

  3. Turning your Insight Community into a strategic asset

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