Nearly 90% of consumers expect brands to accommodate their preferences. One of the ways marketers understand consumer preferences is through consumer insights. Qualitative research has been a long-standing pillar in forming a holistic picture of what a brand’s differentiators are and where the brand can improve to better serve consumers. 

While QUANTITATIVE research helps you answer questions, QUALITATIVE research helps you know what questions you should even be asking

Unfortunately, qualitative research is often viewed as a complicated project of organizing people, conducting interviews, and filtering through a lot of commentaries to delineate actionable insights. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming and with the endless amounts of rich behavioral data at a marketer’s fingertips, many marketers say “all set” on the data front and put qualitative research on the back burner. 

Brands invest millions of dollars in data technology and analytics to better predict how consumers will behave. However, marketers still need to understand WHY consumers feel or behave a certain way. We humans make a majority of our decisions from a web of complex feelings and the only way you can understand them is…to talk about it. 

Without these intangible insights, there will always be a missing piece to your brand puzzle. The good news is that modern marketers like you have innovative channels and tools to make qualitative research more accessible, accurate, faster, and less expensive. Using these insights, you can make quick adjustments, gut-check market decisions, and optimize overall strategy. Enter Market Research Online Communities (MROC).  

What is an MROC (Market Research Online Community)? 

MROC is a term used to describe a coordinated research effort to mobilize consumers who share a common interest with the purpose of conducting always-on qualitative research and harvesting ongoing insights.  

In the past, focus groups were typically conducted ad hoc as a one-off project, while a MROC is a cultivated group of people you can tap into at varying times or for extended periods of time. MROCs also incorporate other data gathering methods in addition to its intensive virtual focus group atmosphere. 

Put simply, MROCs help solve a critical business challenge: the need for agile methodologies to improve the speed, efficiency, and effectiveness of marketing. 

Why Use an Online Brand Community as a MROC? 

Online brand communities can be used by many business functions. They can help:  

  • Digital teams amplify online marketing initiatives
  • Ecommerce teams get more customer reviews
  • Customer relationship teams foster emotional loyalty 
  • Experiential and shopper teams drive trial and retail sell-through

The consumer insights team can absolutely utilize an online brand community as a continuous source for research. 

One of the biggest challenges marketers face when launching an MROC is finding respondents and keeping them engaged and participating. An online brand community attracts consumers organically because they are fans of the brand and with a platform like Vesta, the dozens of engagement activities available keep these consumers “warm” and prime them to answer your market research questions whenever they arise. 

How to Use an Online Brand Community as a MROC: Clean Beauty Industry Study 

To help illustrate how a brand can use a MROC through an online brand community, we created one for the clean beauty industry. Let’s see how it worked…

As consumers become more conscientious about personal health and overall environmental impact, the clean beauty market is set to dominate the beauty and skincare industry, reaching an estimated $22 billion by 2024. 

We surveyed more than 1,200 beauty product consumers from our online community of 1.2MM consumers and found that 63% have incorporated some clean/natural beauty products into their daily routine and 1 in 3 beauty product consumers started using clean beauty products within the last 12 months. 

To understand more, we invited a targeted group who identified as clean beauty purchasers to join a MROC (Market Research Online Community) and engaged them in a 7-week series of activities and discussions to dive deeper and understand the challenges and opportunities these brands face. 

Like any research study, each MROC should start with study objectives and what you are looking to learn more about. In this example, our goal was to help marketers understand the consumer perception challenges clean beauty brands face when compared to traditional beauty products and how to stand out in this burgeoning market. 

Participants were prompted to discuss questions such as: Which beauty products do you use every day? What makes them special? How does your beauty routine fit into your schedule? What are the essential components or attributes of a clean beauty product? What was the moment they discovered clean beauty brands? How and why did they switch? How does it make you feel? What does the future of clean beauty look like to you? 

To answer these questions, the small group of 60 participants did various activities including creating a photo collage, writing a poem, sharing their habits, and more. The MROC allowed consumers to express creativity and the closed group forum allowed for a more intimate and personal feel. This is important so consumers feel like they can speak freely and express themselves, speak their opinions without censoring themselves.

Through this MROC, we gathered over 100 actionable insights for brands to use in their marketing strategies. These insights included how to overcome the perception of clean beauty brands being more expensive and less effective than traditional beauty brands, messaging points of increasing household penetration, how to use peer recommendations and community mission to drive trust and education, and much more. 

If you’d like to learn more about the full results of this study, check out our infographic detailing key takeaways. 

Getting Started 

Among the data deluge you may be accustomed to, it is still critical to bring your consumers’ stories “to life” and to make sure your messaging creates connection, and relatability and is empathy-driven. Using a MROC is the modern way to take advantage of qualitative research methods and to give you actionable recommendations that go beyond data sets from your CRM or data management platforms. 

Vesta’s all-in-one online community software for brands is a ready-to-go platform to enhance consumer relationships and helps you nurture and mobilize consumers to drive advocacy, loyalty, and insights. We help you create a pipeline of consumer respondents to tackle your biggest marketing and CX challenges, securing audience insights, first-party data, and lasting emotional loyalty in addition to delivering ratings & reviews, authentic UGC, eCommerce, and retail sell-through. 

Want more tips on ways to up your insights game? Check out our post on what you need to know about consumer insights or our 2022 guide to consumer market research.