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Last week, more than 300 marketing, market research and innovation professionals gathered in Chicago for the 2015 Vision Critical Summit. The action-packed two-day event featured keynotes from the brightest minds in customer intelligence, four fun parties and lots of learnings from Vision Critical customers.

Here’s a sampling of the best lessons and insights shared during the Summit.

  1. Think beyond big data, social media analytics and ad-hoc surveys.

In his keynote on Day 1 of the Summit, Scott Miller, CEO of Vision Critical, shared how the “internet of people” can help companies navigate today’s disruptive business landscape. Tech-savvy upstarts are stealing away market share from established players because they are more nimble, according to Miller. To remain relevant, companies must treat customers as people and engage them in ongoing conversations.

Customer Revolution - Vision Critical Summit

No Spam Surveys - Vision Critical Summit recap

  1. Keep your insight community healthy.

Recruitment and retention are two sides of the same coin when it comes to keeping a healthy and engaged insight community. A Day 1 session featuring Monet Moore, senior manager of global networks research at Sony Pictures Television, Jason Solarino, director of consumer insights at AMC Theatres, Terence Murray, senior manager marketing insights at Northstar NJ Lottery, and Cory Segin, manager of the Office of Public Engagement at City of Edmonton, explored the various sources companies could use to attract highly engaged people in their insight communities. The speakers said post-recruitment retention should be part of your community strategy.

  1. Leverage technology to truly get to know your customers.

In the session Transforming Your Insight Community into a True Insights Tool, Denise Jasienczyk, executive vice president of customer success at Vision Critical, and Catherine Rogers, senior vice president of customer success at Vision Critical, said there are many ways companies can use their insight communities to gain a deeper understanding of today’s empowered customers.

Progressive profiling, for instance, allows companies to build a dynamic profile of their customers over time. This technique involves bringing together insights from different studies a person has participated in to create a clearer picture of that customer. Another example is persona builders, which involves activities that take the pulse of members on various topics. This approach builds customer knowledge, but it also drives engagement since the topics covered are interesting and relevant to the member.

  1. Collaborate with your colleagues to maximize ROI from your insight community.

Jasienczyk and Rogers also shared some ideas on how to use insight communities as a collaboration platform. According to them, insight communities can be used to collaborate with customers in ideation. In addition, customer intelligence programs can be used as a catalyst for internal collaboration. From brainstorming new ideas to providing access to the insight community to various departments, there are many ways other departments can get involved in customer engagement.

  1. Incorporate other customer inputs.

Alka Tandan, vice president of customer success at Vision Critical, lead a workshop on how to use insight communities with other customer inputs. Market researchers need a 360-degree view of the customer, according to Tandan, reiterating that companies must use various sources of customer intelligence to really understand their market.

  1. Be fast.

EMEA Insight Community of the Year winner EenVandaag was at the Chicago Summit to share how 50,000 viewers help shape the national conversation in the Netherlands. In his presentation, TV personality Gijs Rademaker said the broadcaster’s insight community has been instrumental in quickly getting the public’s opinion. To get input on breaking news, and to develop news stories, EenVandaag gathers opinions through EenVandaag Opiniepanel and gets thousands of opinions within hours instead of days.

EenVandaag presentation - Vision Critical Summit 2015

  1. Become a storyteller.

In his presentation The Smarter Researcher, Ray Poynter, director of Vision Critical University, said market researchers today need to embrace storytelling in order to remain relevant in the organization. To do that, researchers must understand what their organizations are trying to achieve and provide insight that helps achieve those goals.

  1. Embrace innovation.

Poynter also reiterated the importance of innovation. “The rate of change this year is the slowest you will ever experience,” he proclaimed in his presentation.

  1. Focus on what really matters.

In our product keynote, we announced new products and solutions that will help customer intelligence professionals focus less on administrative work and focus more on things that will provide more value to the business. Kobi Ofir, chief technology officer at Vision Critical, and Bruce Warren, senior vice president of product marketing at Vision Critical, unveiled Activity Creation and Activity Library—tools that make it easier than ever to deploy surveys and discussions in insight communities. Community Metrics will help marketers and market researchers ensure the health of their insight community so they can continue to get high-value feedback from their customers. And with tools like Stories and Search, you can can gather and share historical insight faster than ever, allowing you to focus on business strategy instead of handling administrative tasks. (Read more about our product keynote here.)

The next generation of Sparq

  1. Mirror human relationships.

In the age of big data, people matter more than ever. That’s according to Andrew Reid, founder and president of corporate innovation at Vision Critical, who spoke about modern customer engagement at the Summit. Instead of worshipping big data, businesses need to acknowledge the value and importance of customer relationships, said Andrew.

  1. Avoid “present shock.”

In his keynote, best-selling author Douglas Rushkoff tackled how companies can humanize technology in the age of big data. He said data is most useful when intuition is integrated into the decision-making process. To avoid “present shock,” a phenomenon where people and companies are constantly reacting to what’s happening now, brands need to rethink how they collect data and take a more human approach to marketing and customer engagement.

  1. Pay attention to the sharing economy—now.

Tech writer and researcher Alexandra Samuel shared findings from The New Rules of the Collaborative Economy, a report on the growth and dominance of peer-to-peer, on-demand transactions. Samuel said more than 110 million North Americans now participate in the collaborative economy. To compete with the likes of Uber, Airbnb and InstaCart, companies must collaborate with customers and re-examine their business strategy now.

Alexandra Samuel - presentation at the 2015 Vision Critical Summit

  1. Satisfy needs instead of simply creating products.

Innovators from Hartz, DEWALT and Hyundai shared how they develop products faster. Companies need to focus on meeting customer needs, according to the session’s speakers, which included Nicholas Panayotou, consumer and category insights from Hartz, Shannon Chenoweth, market research manager from Stanley Black & Decker (DEWALT), and Elijah Kim, senior market research manager of corporate planning department at Hyundai Motor America.

Vision Critical Summit - Develop Better Products Faster

  1. Test all your activities on mobile.

Andrew Grenville, chief research officer at Vision Critical, and Ray Poynter, director of Vision Critical University, lead an informative workshop on mobile research. According to them, being “mobile-friendly” is about the design of your surveys and discussions and it’s less about the software that you’re using. They said marketers and market researchers should test all their activities on mobile—no exceptions.

  1. Leverage mobile tech to do in-the-moment research.

Grenville and Poynter encouraged market researchers in their workshop to consider in-the-moment research—by pushing activities while or just after people have done the activity you want to explore. This results in better insight because people don’t have to spend a lot of time recalling their experience. When conducting in-the-moment research, make sure the tasks aren’t onerous for your customers. Also, if you’re asking for images, videos and other types of rich media, make sure that you’re only asking for a limited amount and that the process is easy for the members of your insight community.

Vision Critical Summit - mobile research session

  1. Be true to your brand persona.

A session explored best practices when engaging with millennials and Gen Z—two increasingly powerful generations of customers today. Rebecca Rahmanian, sales and marketing manager at Tumblr, shared how the Yahoo-owned social media network ensures that the look and feel of its insight community is consistent with its brand. Rahmanian said members of its community expect to see the same playful tone and voice that they’ve come to expect from Tumblr.

  1. Don’t assume younger customers don’t want to engage.

In the same session about Gen Z and millennials, Chrystal Day, senior manager of global brand and communications insights at HP, and Marie Policastro, director of brand partnerships and market research at Barnes & Noble College, both agreed that young customers are eager to share their views. According to Day, young customers are more willing to participate in insight communities compared to traditional forms of market research (for example, focus groups), because this platform is digital and offers the same feel as the social networks they use every day. Policastro shared that young customers especially like open-ended questions, where they can express themselves when giving feedback.

  1. Engage in two-way conversations to drive customer satisfaction.

Joelle Cann, senior associate from Nordstrom Corporate Strategy, and Anne-Marie Davidson, senior marketing research analyst from REI, shared some of the tactics they use to keep their customers happy. Connecting in a continuous conversation, with the right people at the right time, is essential to understanding the stories and lives of their target audience. Two-way engagement with customers improves customer experience and builds competitive advantage in the long term, according to Cann and Davidson.

  1. Engage your employees for insight.

Amy Feeman, market research professional from Westfield Group, joined Ellie Hutton, senior director of customer marketing at Vision Critical, for a session on employee insight communities. Feeman and Hutton said employee engagement helps drive proactive decision-making in the enterprise. Employee insight communities build competitive advantage by helping the company harness new product development ideas from employees.

  1. Innovate with purpose.

Craig Dubitsky, founder and CEO of Hello Products, revealed his secrets on building high-growth brands. Dubitsky said there’s an opportunity in every category, and companies should look for ways of improving the design of many products. The key is to look “one big simple idea” and execute effectively. He challenged companies in the room to become a “questioner brand.”

  1. Put the spotlight on customer reviews.

Consumer research manager Cedric Painvin shared how Canadian Tire, an iconic retailer in Canada, uses its insight community to elevate customer perceptions about its brand. It’s Tested for Life in Canada insight community has over 15,000 active people across Canada—customers who help the retailer test a wide range of products. When products get the thumbs-up from the company’s insight community, they get a “tested” badge that is displayed in-store and online and used in various marketing materials. The badge provides social proof for the products, giving customers confidence in what they’re buying. Reviews from the community are also posted to a microsite, where Canadian Tire customers can access reviews and online videos and participate in surveys, photo challenges and other marketing campaigns run by the retailer.

  1. Think of ways of generating revenue from your insight community.

Engaging with your customers in an insight community can help inform better business decisions, but you can also use it to generate income for the company. Painvin said companies should think of creative ways of monetizing their community. For instance, you could give access to your community to select partners and allow them to gain valuable customer insight from your engaged community of customers.

  1. Consider cultural differences when engaging with customers.

Hispanic-centric companies shared interesting tips on how to gain an understanding of the the Spanish-speaking audience—a cohort that is now nearly 40 million strong in the U.S. Representatives from Discovery Networks Latin America and U.S. Hispanic, ThinkNow Research and Univision said companies need to be cognizant of cultural differences when engaging with Hispanics, particularly when recruiting people in an insight community.

  1. Stay ahead of change.

In Winning the Tech Race, professionals from the tech industry shared how they use their insight communities to keep an eye on market disruption. Lori Iventosch-James, group research manager of marketing insights and operations at Adobe, Mark Wilkinson, program manager of partner marketing digital strategy at Intel, and Jeff Resnick, senior director of consumer insights and analytics at Yahoo, said it’s important for companies to increase their responsiveness to rapid change. Using customer engagement to launch products that are truly customer-focused is key, according to the speakers.

  1. Anticipate market dynamics across all aspects of your business.

Lea Paradowski, digital and channel research at MarriottDIGITAL, Crystal Pena, senior research analyst at ESPN, and Mariel Estrada, vice president of strategic insights at A+E, participated in a lively conversation about the challenges and opportunities in the marketing practice today. According to them, marketers can’t afford to simply broadcast—they have to be ready to listen to customers as well. Together with platform metrics and traditional media measurement, an open dialogue can help you anticipate and respond to trends shaping your industry.

  1. Make smarter investments with the help of your customers.

Healthcare provider Aurora Health Care shared how it uses patient feedback when making business decisions. Anne Martino, vice president of consumer insights and innovation at Aurora Health Care, said customer insight is particularly useful when deciding about investments. Through the intelligence it gets from its community, Aurora Health Care is able to make smarter media purchases, select the appropriate marketing channels to focus on and create content that speaks the language of its patients.

  1. Delight people in your insight community.

Eleonora Jonusiene, director of international consumer insights and research at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, was at the Summit to share best practices from Warner Brother’s A-List Community, it’s insight community of 25,000 members. One of the many tips Jonusiene shared is the way the community delights its members. For example, during the holiday season last year, the company created a video montage featuring Stephen Amell, William Forsythe, Allison Janney, Amber Tamblyn and Treat Williams wishing members a happy holiday season. Members also get access to behind-the-scenes content and exclusive tours of its studios.

  1. Socialize your insight community.

In a workshop lead by Ellie Hutton, senior director of customer marketing at Vision Critical, and Sean Karl, sales director at Vision Critical, attendees learned about the benefits of building the profile of your insight community in the company. Socializing your customer intelligence efforts is more than just about showcasing what you do—it also helps activate and mobilize key stakeholders in the company. Hutton and Karl said internal newsletters, poster sessions, infographics and blogs are some common ways companies increase the profile of their insight communities within the enterprise.

Brian Solis @ the 2015 Vision Critical Summit

  1. Think like a customer; act like a startup.

In his keynote, digital analyst and best-selling author Brian Solis explored the role of empathy and technology in shaping customer experience, branding and marketing. Experience, according to Solis, comes alive at the four-way intersection of technology, brand, aspiration and achievement. Solis said companies must design for humans and connect with customers on an emotional level to be able to drive innovation.


Our thanks to all the marketers, market researchers, innovation pros and business executives who joined our Summit. If you liked these tips and insights, please sign up for updates for the 2016 Vision Critical Summit.

How to Use an Insight Community to Improve Customer Experience

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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