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The iconic one liner from Colonel Jessep (Jack Nicholson) to Junior Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) in the 1992 film, A Few Good Men when Cruise's character asks for the truth and Nicholson bellows back, "you can't handle the truth" is one of the most powerful film monologues of all time. The bully Nicolson refuses to consider that the young upstart (Cruise) has any idea of what is required in "his world" and refuses to acknowledge a new world that changing, where old ways are no longer acceptable. I was reminded of this last week when we hosted 100 clients, partners and staff the at the 2012 Vision Critical Australian Community Panel Summit. Check out the event pic's, Agenda and many of the presentation materials here:

Far from a court room military drama, the event was at the beautiful Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House and there was a terrific vibe in the room. As clients spoke about how they were using community panels to change how they are doing things within their business and the importance of being dedicated to feedback and engagement, I started to wonder about the rest of the business and marketing world (outside of the Opera House on that beautiful Thursday afternoon). Can they handle the truth? The truth about the future of research and customer connection that is now becoming more clear with every new story, every piece of client evidence, every community panel that has had time to settle in and find its niche within large complicated organizations.

A range of Vision Critical clients, including Diageo, Gartner, Australia Post, Schweppes, Mars Foods, News Limited and Echo Entertainment exchanged stories, the best and worst things about having a community panel, how they sold it into their businesses, the challenges faced and what they did to overcome these, how they keep their businesses engaged with the community and what would they do over if they had their time again. Overwhelmingly, the focus on engagement tips and good panel management process and resources became apparent. There was excitement in the room and high hopes I think that we have collectively made a breakthrough in being able to deliver more for less, in greater frequency and enabled research to be part of the decision more often.

Scott Miller, President & COO, International Businesses for Vision Critical set out a challenge to the audience to understand why only 1% of total global research spend is done using community panels. Once we had heard inspiring cases of big brands reinventing market intelligence with community panels the question seemed even more pertinent. I am hoping it's about getting these stories told more often. (In fact, I think our future Panel Summit's should be even more about our client's stories and less about us.) It requires exhaustive communication about where and how community panels are having enormous impact. It also requires sharing of information with others who we might even regard as competitors. The truth is, well run, engaged, customer community panels need to be a 30-40% of total global research and will be over the next 3-5 years.

2012 VC Austrailian Community Panel Summit
If you were in the room at the Sydney Opera House last week or are working with Community Panels heavily, you've already got it. Like many of us however, you may spend a lot of time fighting uphill battles to prove how community panels will make a difference in your organization, or in that of your clients. I think our clients, partner agencies and staff that are using community panels and technology to cost effectively do more research, faster for business can handle the truth but many others are either simply choosing to ignore the future or do not understand it. It is up to those of us (on the bus/in the room, on the same page already), that get it, to convince the rest of the profession through more great stories and evidence. I think even Colonel Jessep (big Jack) would have a hard time arguing this point with the growing mountain of evidence right now.

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