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NPD evaluation with a customer forum – hints and tips for a more successful outcome

As a brand owner you may have an existing customer forum in place. Naturally this is a resource for feedback from customers that is flexible, quick and cheap to mine. So what is its value to the business for checking out new product ideas? Here’s five tough questions to ask if you are thinking of using a forum to do so.

1. Are you missing out on new audiences for the product?

Who is on the forum? Brand advocates? Social media engaged? What about people who are less engaged with the brand – the new product may be an opportunity to engage with them in a different and previously unimagined way.

2. Are community members the new groupies?

How long have they been members? Setting a time limit for participation contradicts the ethos of the community, particularly if it is self-formed,  yet if not there’s a real risk of wear out or becoming too close to the subject matter. Groupies were long the black sheep of focus groups but we need to guard against replicating this online. The same goes for frequency of ‘ask’ – how often does the community have to respond to questions you ask of them?

3. Are they all yaysayers?

In a community forum it is hard to tell the influence of the so-called majority effect. Are we mature enough yet as social media users to articulate contrary views in a social media space? It’s takes a lot more courage to do so rather than follow the herd. Without the natural prompts of body language it is impossible to see who is holding back. Yes non-responders can be invited to submit an answer but is it the real one?

4. What lies behind their response?

Classical research contextualises responses. With a context you can understand more the reasons behind a positive or negative evaluation of an idea. And importantly figure if a yes really does mean ‘yes I’d be interested’ or ‘yes but I’d never buy it because’….so make sure the community forum gives space to establish the individual context.

5. What do they really mean?

In the same vein keep asking yourself why participants say or write what they do. Again classical research typically teaches you to ask ‘why do they say that’ at least twice! In doing so you get to the real heart of the matter rather than taking responses at face value.

At best a community forum is valuable for establishing initial levels of interest in new product ideas, fine tuning propositions or sifting through ideas generated at an ideation session. But it should not replace a more formal research review if the product proposition is to be optimised for best ROI.

Have a question about your customer forum?  Get in touch for some new perspectives lindsey@freespiritconsulting.com