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Making the consumer connection that Steve Jobs might have approved of


Making the consumer connection that Steve Jobs might have approved of


I’m often bemused at – and getting increasingly tired of – the inward-looking discussions in the research industry about why market research and market research professionals are not valued more by business.

After all, there is no better way to grow a business than to invest in frequently understanding your customer. Or is there?

In my role, the majority of my time is spent talking to marketing and market research professionals about their business, and trying to work out how we can help.

One of the more challenging responses I hear is that Steve Jobs didn’t use market research to grow his business. Well, perhaps not in the traditional sense. Jobs was famously quoted as saying, ‘Customers don’t know what they want until we show them,’ and I think this is true. What was so admirable about Jobs was how much he understood, very early on, that people who were interested in using computers were frustrated by their complexity. He would have discovered this by understanding their lives in detail, walking the proverbial mile in their shoes.

One of the problems business faces these days has been that really understanding your customers lives requires frequent contact, which has always been expensive and time consuming.

Luckily, technology has finally caught up with market research and the best use of technology in research is in the space of online insight communities. In my experience, the creation and management of online insight communities can move market research from being an expensive, slow and complicated back-room application to being front and centre, creating and then managing a direct line of communication between a business and its customers in real time. Knowledge is built collaboratively and iteratively which results in fresher insights generation, accelerated innovation and improved brand advocacy.

I said something similar to this in at a global research conference in 2009 in China, and, more than three years on, I have had the opportunity to work with over 40 leading brands throughout Asia Pacific and Europe in the establishment of their online insight communities.

Every brand has a different use and reason for building an insight community, however, the results I have witnessed have been staggering and include:

  • An FMCG company in Australia conducted more than 50 research studies through their insight community, with a conservative estimated value of $1m. This cost them less than $250,000,
  • a large Australian company uses its customer community to recruit face-to-face qualitative research and face-to-face meetings with its CEO (for closer customer connection),
  • brands can now use their community to conduct in-home product tests with customers at a tenth of the cost of traditional recruitment. They use the community to understand their customers’ lives and then when they have potential solutions, they use it again to test their hypothesis and improve their products,
  • online forums can replace sense-check focus groups in half the time and with five times the geographic coverage, and
  • companies can access their customer community to quickly answer the queries that always come out of quarterly tracking presentations – at no additional cost.


I think the most impressive change I have witnessed is how an insight community allows clients to connect with customers more often which means more issues and more new products can now receive some form of consumer lens prior to decisions being made.

I see this as the digitisation of customer connection.

The bottom line is there’s no excuse for anyone to assert that asking customers what they think is a waste of time. Anyone who thinks this simply has not discovered the power of a well-managed, branded, insight community. The ability to connect more frequently to understand your customers life is a form of market research that Steve Jobs might well have approved of – and enjoyed!


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Peter Harris

Peter is one of Australia’s leading consumer and insight community experts with 25 years of experience in marketing, research and strategy planning across multiple sectors globally. As managing director of Vision Critical Asia Pacific, he is responsible for a growing team of technology-enabled researchers and community managers, ensuring the quality output of all research and key client relationships within the region.

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