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When people talk about online communities, they usually refer to consumer communities. For business-to-consumer (B2C) brands, talking to consumers directly can help their leaders make decisions that are based on customer preferences instead of gut feeling.

More and more brands, however, are starting to realize the value of engaging a smaller but very important group of individuals: business professionals. Many CMOs and CEOs recognize that engaging other business leaders can provide unique insights that they may not get from a typical consumer community.

In fact, while a business-to-business (B2B) community can primarily help B2B businesses, most brands can benefit from this type of community. Even B2C companies can get tremendous value from a B2B market panel. Here are 4 market insights that all brands - including B2C companies - can gain from engaging a B2B market panel:

  1. What early adopters are thinking about

Many members of a B2B market panel identify themselves as early adopters, or people who like to get their hands on new technologies before everyone else. Early adopters are influential. Their opinions can determine the success or failure of disruptive products and services.

Engaging this group has a few advantages. First, early adopters can provide feedback about your product in the early stages, allowing you to refine marketing messages and improve product design if necessary. Secondly, early adopters can help identify gaps in the market. With the right questions, they can tell you unavailable products or services that they'd like to see. By talking to early adopters, brands can help improve the success of their new products and determine how they can provide more value in the future.

  1. Purchasing intention of the affluent

Reaching households with an annual income of over $100,000 is the Holy Grail for luxury brands. While it is possible to engage affluent people on social media or in an insight community, doing so can be time-consuming and resource-intensive as they make up a small portion of the population.

Because of the study topics done in a B2B community, this type of market panel tends to attract more affluent consumers than a typical B2C community. Whether you're selling high-end cars or designer jeans, keeping your pulse on what makes the affluent tick helps ensure that your products and the strategies you use to market them align with their taste, attitudes and expectations.

  1. What business leaders are thinking about

A B2B market panel allows brands to talk to entrepreneurs, CEOs and other members of the C-suite. That means you can do studies to examine what worries business leaders and what they expect in the future. Having this information can add tremendous value: it's like having decision makers in your boardroom to help you make data-driven decisions on everything from new product opportunities to sales strategies.

  1. Trends in specific industries

Many brands, both B2B and B2C, need information pertaining to specific business functions, including HR, marketing and IT. For example, if you're a B2C tech company, developments such as the emerging Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend can impact your bottom line today and in the future. The need to track industry-specific trends is why more brands are engaging business professionals directly. By talking to business professionals who are in the front lines, you can get insights on where they plan to invest in the future and take advantage of trends in and outside your industry where your offerings can provide value.

These are just four ways a B2B market panel can help your brand. To make it easier for companies to talk to business leaders, Vision Critical recently partnered with Aeroplan to create Canada's largest B2B community. Joining Springboard UK, Springboard America and the Angus Reid Forum, Aeroplan Advisors helps brands engage the largest group of affluent Canadians and business executives - something that has been previously unattainable. As the leader of the market panel practice at Vision Critical, I'm thrilled that Aeroplan has taken its community to market with Vision Critical.

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