Editor's note: Isabel Aneyba is president and chief insight generator of COMARKA, an Austin, Texas, research firm. Marie Lemerise is president of the Tapestry Group, a Brooklyn, N.Y., research firm.
While focus groups have long been a part of the innovation process, many clients have voiced their frustration about the limitations of traditional focus groups. One of our clients explained what marketers want:
Inject some fun into the research: They say focus groups are boring. They want research designs that are fun and real, with memorable experiences, like a reality TV show. When the research process has an element of fun, clients are often more engaged.
Improve the quality of insights: They say two-hour focus groups generate top-of-mind responses and reactions to concepts. Instead, they want a deeper understanding of the target and their unmet needs, especially when the target is of a different generation than the clients, like Millennials, or a different ethnic group, like Latinos.
Give us a speedier outcome: When the research project requires concept generation and evaluation, clients want an efficient design, preferably one study to meet their objectives and timeline. They want to learn who the target market is, what kind of product/brand concepts they should create and then be able to evaluate those concepts.
To respond to these and other client needs, we created a methodology called consumer co-creation camp. The consumer co-creation camp is designed to expedite the research process while making it fun and provide a more direct connection between clients and consumers.
After all, fun sparks creative thinking. When clients and consumers have fun together, they create ideas that are more likely to succeed in the marketplace. And when consumers and clients feel empathy for each other, they can create promising products and brand concepts.
Create concepts from scratch
Typically, when it comes to new product research, clients create whiteboard concepts and ask consumers to react to them. Clients look to consumers to refine ideas rather than invent them. What is different about this method is that consumers are invited to create concepts from scratch.
While this approach can be employed with teenagers, moms, etc., it was initially conducted with Latino Millennials and when starting any new product development project it is essential to understand the external forces that influence trial.
Millennials generally have been dubbed digital natives because they were born in the Internet age. They continuously sample and adopt new digital platforms and new channels to communicate with one another and their brands. Recently, Nielsen reported, “Technology is essentially baked into every Millennial’s DNA. An astounding 83 percent say that they sleep with their smartphones.”
According to the Pew Research Center, they also place themselves at the center of self-created networks. For instance, 55 percent have posted a selfie on a social media site.
Latino Millennials are even more digitally connected than other Millennials. They are nearly 66 percent more likely to connect via mobile than non-Hispanic whites.
Millennials have begun to combine their confident and self-expressive personalities with their digital skills to transform society. We can expect them to take the lead in adopting exponential technological advances like 3D printing and wearables. This is projected to transform life, business and, ultimately, the global economy.
“Millennials know their voice has power and they are wielding it,” said Jamie Gailewicz, brand consultant, on thenextweb.com. He also noted, “Millennials are very aware of disingenuous marketing-speak and they prefer a conversation over one-way communications.”
So, against these societal changes, when undertaking the development of new product or services, how can we researchers help clients understand and connect with strategic targets, like Millennials or Latino Millennials? By involving everyone in a co-creation approach.
In our view, three successive stages lead to compelling consumer-ready ideas and the camp concept includes these three stages: get to know the target; test the product and generate marketing ideas; and communicate and evaluate the concepts. Following is a description of each stage.
Stage 1: Storytelling turns participants into friends. Clients feel closer to them. We know that Millennials love to have a large circle of friends. They enjoy meeting others and starting new relationships. The cornerstone of the co-creation camp is to enable participants to bond. This is accomplished through storytelling sessions where each person shares an “all about me” collage. Participants quickly find common ground, become comfortable with one another and build trust.
During Stage 1, clients are behind the mirror. They observe how Millennials make friends. This experience gives clients ideas about how to integrate relationship bonding with the brand. The storytelling gives clients an authentic and natural portrait of their prospects. These sessions are very revealing. The Gen X clients can quickly gain an understanding of important Millennial traits and aspirations, such as humor, dream life and secret desires.
After this stage, we do not have a group of participants; we have a group of Millennial friends. The client team feels more in tune with Millennials.
Stage 2: Concept-generation exercises produce meaningful product and brand ideas. The camp includes separate but simultaneous groups generating ideas. First, Millennials examine beta products. They offer spontaneous, candid thoughts about what is appealing and how they may use the products. Then, they work in teams using visualization techniques to create product and brand concepts. Together they build on one another’s ideas to get to a set of robust concepts and consensus about what they want. Agreement on specific ideas enables the client to spot compelling concepts.
Exploring ideas and working in teams is very satisfying and motivating for this segment. Millennials are great collaborators and this is especially true of Latino Millennials, as collaborative decision-making is common among Hispanics. During one early co-creation session, when one of the teams had to decide which members would present the concept during Stage 3, we thought that they would select the best communicators in the team. Instead, they had all members present one at a time and trained the ones they thought were not as skilled as communicators. All members did wonderful work in the presentations and they found immense satisfaction from completing a difficult task as a team.
During this stage, clients are able to distinguish the consumers’ emotions through the concepts they create. They see how the brand concepts can match Latinos’ needs and personal styles.
A debrief after the sessions identifies common themes for product candidates and direction for brand vision.
Stage 3: An open forum motivates clients to truly listen to consumers’ ideas. Immersion builds affinity. Stage 3 is the stage that motivates the clients the most. Millennials present their ideas directly to the clients, in the same room. The client team and Millennial teams have a vigorous conversation. Clients are highly engaged in this stage by their firsthand interaction with Millennials. There is one voice in the room. Consumers and clients work in tandem, focused on the unifying goal, with no barriers, mirrors or attitudes. Clients watch and listen as the conversation becomes more and more dynamic.
To foster the immersion that is an important component of the camps, clients and participants share meals to build connections and trust and to break down social and cultural barriers.
Three different kinds of value
The goal is for three different kinds of value to be generated from a consumer co-creation camp:
Product management value. The client team learns a different way to create value – how to adapt a new product for Latino Millennials, for instance, with their input. They get feedback about the required product changes. Even if the product is not ready to launch, the diverse client team has a common understanding of the changes required and how to make them, which will drive a successful product launch.
Brand management value. The client team and its advertising agency are able to create and communicate the value of the brand in a new brand vision. For example, the Latino consumers can envision how the brand will appeal to them by sharing topics such as: What role does this brand play in my life? How does this brand most strongly resonate with me? What does it look like? What does it feel like? Each concept board gives an idea of what kind of brand personality the participants are attracted to.
Engagement value. The clients learn how to keep these consumers engaged and understand how the brand should interact with them. During the restaurant visits, for example, as the groups dined together, clients learned what Millennials talk about and what is important to them. This provided ideas for content that connects with Latino Millennials. The ad agency walked away with ideas for media campaigns, promotions and grassroots efforts.
Part of the process
These days, clients want to be closer to consumers. Consumers, in turn, want to be part of the innovation process for brands they like. There is an opportunity for fun co-creation methods, like the one we used, to foster fruitful collaborations. When empowered and enabled by the research process, our experience has shown that Millennials and other groups of consumers are happy to embrace the challenge of creating new products and services.