Vision Critical has a multitude of Fortune 1000 clients, and more than a third of the 2012 Interbrand 100 are working with us. That's great, but there is a misconception in the broader market that proprietary insight communities are only accessible to the world's largest organizations.
It's Not Just For the Big Boys
It's true that insight communities have helped Fortune 1000 organizations achieve depth, speed, fluidity, and centralization in terms of their customer insights, where historically, a dark cloud of divisional disassociation coupled with self-serving and tired research practices may have existed. It's also true that countless small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are realizing their proprietary insight communities are an amazing entry point into meaningful customer insights. These companies have no shortage of rapid growth and consumer loyalty, and in many cases, are still enjoying the honeymoon phase of being outside of the "mass consumption" brands. This can be a key period for these companies because they have the potential to generate fierce customer loyalty based on consumers having the feeling of "discovered" the brand .
Of course I "Like" You! What's Your Name Again?
The act of injecting the "Voice of Customer" has, in a very short period of time, gained a seriously loose definition in this age of digital uber-connectivity. For one company, it might mean a highly "liked" Facebook page, or a wildly successful viral campaign which accumulated more "mentions" than a pig roast at a vegan convention. SME's are notorious for leaning heavily on these for market intelligence, due to the speed to market and the relatively miniscule investment required. My question (albeit, not a new one) is does any of this social media information actually lead to tangible business results?
We've all seen a ton of metrics out there that tell us that Facebook "likes" mean next to nothing in terms of revenue conversion, and that social media "mentions" are precisely that - mentions. Does any of this actually convert to something that resembles sales, loyalty, or advocacy, or is it all merely a corporate beauty pageant where appearance reigns supreme?
Cutting through the noise to engage customers in a continuous dialog has never been more important, especially for a company that's taking its first turns on the catwalk. For an SME, enabling customer insights may not always be at the top of their priority list. The pitfall here is establishing and enabling a culture where gut level decision making rules the day, where that once fiercely loyal customer eventually starts to look to "discover" a new brand, and there is no mechanism in place to understand what led them to turn away. The science of identifying what's taken place is relatively simple, but to understand why something is happening as it happens is magic.
Hesitation Feeds Fear
At the end of the day, there exists a multitude of companies from big to small that continue to take the "we're not quite ready" stance to a meaningful and continuous engagement with the audiences that drive their businesses. The fact is that this same audience won't hesitate for a moment when it comes to sharing their attitudes, opinions, and considerations regarding the brands that they interact with, either via their real-world or digital circles. And what of the opinions of all of those who prefer to be social media voyeurs as opposed to contributors, or who've yet to or won't ever get connected?
Why not engage people from across the spectrum in a dialog where these sentiments can be captured and used to refine and guide decisions, instead of them simply being conveyed as the result of their experience with product X, service Y, or promotion Z?
"How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it" - Paulo Coelho
As irrelevant as company size is when assessing the importance of integrating a continuous and accessible means of influencing day-to-day decisions with the customer voice, small to mid-sized businesses have a particularly unique opportunity in this respect, given the game-changing and accessible technologies that exist today. To be an organization of such a size and at a point in time where it's still possible to foster a corporate culture that embraces the customer's voice should not be overlooked or feared, but embraced to its fullest. Designed for the next wave of enterprises, insight communities for the SME enables companies to engage in meaningful dialogs with the people who matter most: the customers that will ultimately build their business to its full potential.