Katrina Lerman is the associate director of research at C Space and author of the new study Get Creative to Get Inspired by Your Customers.
The traditional way of doing business says that consumer research must be conducted with a large, representative sample in order to be taken seriously. Only with big numbers gathered from strict quotas can researchers present their data as hard science and can executives feel confident making high-stakes decisions based on that data.
But think about “representativeness” in a broader sense. It isn’t just about sample size, demographic quotas, and statistical significance. Individual consumers are unique—with different preferred modes of expression and creative strengths —and they do not all engage or communicate in the same ways. Recruiting lots of people and then giving them only long, tedious surveys may not capture the perspective of a full range of consumers. As online survey response rates continue to decline, increasingly the general survey-taking population—especially those who have opted into long-term panels—is itself not necessarily a representative group.
The best innovation comes from a diversity of perspectives. That’s the idea behind crowdsourcing, but many brands don’t take this notion far enough. They again make the mistake of thinking it’s all about volume: lots of people, brainstorming lots of (quickly repetitive) ideas. These methodologies may be great for coming up with a new name or flavor combination, but they don’t really push consumers to be active collaborators. And they ignore the myriad ways companies can partner with their customers up and down the product lifecycle, from need identification to concept development to refinement and iteration.
At C Space, we know from first-hand observation that anyone can be a creative and productive contributor, given the right setting, structure, and assignment, but we also know that many standard methodologies don’t go deep enough to harness participants’ unique creative strengths. If you really want creative, out-of-the-box thinking, you need to think seriously about not just how many respondents to sample, but how to actively engage the hearts and minds of a diversity of people.
In our new study, Get Creative to Get Inspired by Your Customers, we look at some of our current communities to understand how member engagement is related to the structure and purpose of activities. We review the results of an analysis exploring the relationship between the number and types of activities used to engage consumers in online communities and the volume and frequency of their participation. Then we share some examples of how our clients have successfully leveraged a diversity of tools and techniques to stoke consumer creativity and encourage the personal reflection and thoughtful conversation that drives deep insight and breakthrough innovation.