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A key source of competitive advantage for brands is the ability to reach non-customers. If you want to expand your marketing perspective, identify and remove business blind spots, and gain a more complete understanding of the market, engaging people who aren't customers yet is key.

But how do you gain insights from non-customers? Engaging a "blind" community - instead of a "branded" one - may be an effective way of engaging this important segment of the market.

Key differences between branded and blind communities

Having an understanding of the key differences between a branded and a blind community can help you make a better decision on which community is right for you.

With a branded community, the organization running the community chooses to be transparent about who they are. The creative design for the branded community will reflect the corporate or product branding. Also, during recruitment, the messaging in the invitations can make a direct connection between participation in the community and the organization benefiting from the data being collected. Most of the client stories we showcase on our website are branded communities.

It's possible to reach non-customers in an insight community even if it is branded. However, to more effectively reach non-customers, organizations sometimes establish a blind community, an insight community that is not overtly associated with the business or organization running it.

One thing that marketers and researchers need to know about blind communities is that they are usually more expensive to recruit and can be challenging to keep engaged over time. Instead of having a group of members recruited into a blind community, organizations can often save more money by accessing an insight community and purchasing a sample for each project at a preferred rate. Please contact the Vision Critical team if you'd like to learn more about this approach.

The following are reasons why some organizations have chosen a blind community instead of a branded one:

  1. Their primary target are non-customers.

For a myriad of reasons, some organizations want to recruit and research their wider market, including customers of their competitors. This may be impossible to do if they reveal their identity, as their target audience isn't loyal to their brand. Establishing a community based on shared interests might be a more appropriate approach.

  1. They wish to avoid influencing the recruitment process.

The type of community you have will often dictate who joins and who participates in the community. With a blind community, organizations can attract consumers they wouldn't otherwise be able to engage with. More importantly, organizations can often avoid swaying the views of people in the community by not disclosing their identity.

  1. The insight community will be used by multiple brands or end clients.

If the community doesn't have a primary owner or sponsor, it doesn't make sense for it to adopt the branding of a single organization. If multiple clients are engaging with people in a community, keeping the community blind is less confusing for people.

Typically, blind communities develop their own brand, including a community name and creative look and feel. This brand may revolve around the category or topic area that the community will be researching, or simply around the concept of opinion-sharing, as is the case with multi-client access communities.

When designing a new insight community, deciding between a branded or a blind community is crucial. Many of the steps in planning the community - from its look and feel, to recruitment options, to incentives and retention strategy - are influenced by it. Having a clear idea of the people you want to engage with - whether you want to engage customers or non-customers - is a good starting point when deciding which community makes the most sense for your organization.

We'd love to hear your thoughts and questions about running blind versus branded communities.

The enterprise guide to online communities

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Ellie Hutton

Ellie is passionate about our customers' experience, shining a spotlight on the success of our customers, and bringing the voice of the customer to our business. She’s been with Vision Critical since 2006, in research, marketing, sales enablement, customer success and CX teams. Ellie has over 20 years of experience in research and marketing, partnering with companies across many verticals to build brands, develop products, retain customers, evaluate communications, develop strategy, and facilitate change.
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