We talk a lot about customer closeness - it’s the number one reason our clients build online communities and should be top of any brand’s to do list in 2023.

It’s hard to dispute that a good understanding of people is pretty fundamental to commercial success. But it’s getting harder for us to feel close to people who aren’t like us. Increasingly, we are living in social bubbles. becoming progressively less able to appreciate others’ viewpoints.

And it’s just as acute a problem in business. Businesses should be better at understanding people because they have customer insights, backed up by vast quantities of data. Yet more and more there’s a nagging sense that business is lacking empathy.

This challenge is made all the more difficult by an unstable economic climate - high inflation, low growth YET low unemployment - the likes of which we have rarely, if ever, seen.

So, when you’re having conversations about what to spend your insight budget on this year, here’s the argument for customer immersion and why communities should be your principal way of doing it.

Customer Immersion

Customer immersion is the term used to describe a variety of techniques through which businesses connect directly with customers and prospects through conversations or experiences, helping them see things differently. This can range from one-off, ad-hoc events for a handful of stakeholders through to ongoing programmes involving an entire business.

While traditionally conducted face-to-face, advances in research technology coupled with the big retreat from 9-5 office-based working and the need to understand experiences in a more authentic way have led to an increased use of remote and hybrid approaches to connect businesses with customers.

Why Verve Communities?

Verve communities give you direct access to deeply profiled sets of people who are ready and waiting to meet you via a range of intuitive and engaging approaches. This means we can quickly and easily create activities that are tailored to the audience, experience, or stakeholder’s need.

The activities themselves are more accessible and convenient for everyone involved, whilst casting a wider geographical net - with less reliance on London or other cities. A community approach also provides stakeholders with more direct exposure to customers’ reality, such as using mobile ethnography to see real moments of product consumption, as they happen. Technology can also provide a platform for stakeholders to easily capture and collate their thoughts and ideas as the immersion is happening.

We think of immersion in four different ways, each of which sees people through a slightly different lens.

The default lens through which businesses tend to see customers and prospects is their own brand or product, so a large proportion of customer immersion activity starts here. It’s typically very goal-oriented, getting marketing or product teams together with their target audience to develop or refine a concept or solve a problem. Done well, with creatively minded participants, it generally leads to ideas or solutions that stand a better chance of working in the real world.

Digital or face-to-face co-creation groups are great for collaborative problem-solving or idea-building, while hothouse workshops or online communities are a great way to progressively refine some rough ideas.

When it comes to problem-solving, targeted clinics can work well in tandem with existing research, such as a customer satisfaction tracker – pinpointing specific areas where things aren’t working as they should and recruiting customers who have experienced that issue – to help make it better.

Why Co-Create through Verve communities:

  • Quickly recruit the exact profiles needed based on attitude, behaviour or profile
  • Be more iterative, reshaping, and optimising problem solving via online and offline moments
  • Extend the reach of your programmes to include more customers and stakeholders

Moving one step away from the day-to-day business, there’s value in widening the lens to look at the category in which a brand operates. It’s easy to believe that you know your category inside-out: the market dynamics, the shopper behaviours and the quantifiable drivers of choice.

But it can look very different when you experience it through the eyes of real people living real lives. This form of immersion is all about giving stakeholders hands-on experiences of people’s day-to-day product decisions, moments of consumption or category problems.

Teams may take part in home visits, shop-alongs, drink-alongs or other accompanied activities that let them see what happens in the moment. Mobile ethnography tools are increasingly being used to allow stakeholders to peer into these specific moments in people’s lives.

Sometimes it provides an important reality-check – seeing that people don’t read all the details on the pack in the way they said they did in research, or noticing how difficult it is using your product with two small kids and a very limited time.

Sometimes it’s an important way to focus on unmet needs or Jobs-To-Be-Done that could be resolved or enhanced through new ideas. Either way, it’s fantastic stimulus for innovation or brand strategy.

Why Immerse through Verve communities?

  • Add a Cultural Intelligence lens with trends or social intelligence
  • Mix methods combining offline and online for a more rounded view
  • Access your global audiences without breaking the bank via digital methodologies

Widening the lens a little further, some of the most powerful customer immersion activities simply set out to connect businesses with the people and lives behind their data. Asking questions, learning about people’s passions and hopes; their problems and fears. This can lead to real road-to-Damascus moments as preconceptions and prejudices fall away.

Speed-dating or structured Q&As can make a big impact as events in their own right, while ongoing community panels can give stakeholders an opportunity to have conversations and experience different lives throughout the year.

Why Meet through Verve communities?

  • Make it easy to book sessions via integrated calendars
  • Record and then amplify experiences to a broader group
  • Build a library of empathy moments over time

While talking directly to customers can lead to real epiphanies, ordinary people can’t (or won’t) always tell you why they think what they think or want what they want or live like they live.

To uncover great insights, we often need to look beyond the things that people say and collect clues about what’s happening behind and around them: their neighbourhood, their influences, their social and cultural norms and challenges.

Enabling staff to immerse in this consumer context can lead to bigger and bolder ideas. In practice this can mean asking people to show you around their area or introduce them to key figures in their community. This may be coupled with expert or influencer interviews to help make sense of it all.

Activities can also be designed to give stakeholders hands-on experience of the cultural trends that are shaping the lives and preferences of their target. Again, these activities can take place physically or remotely.

Why Get the Context through Verve communities?

  • Understand macro issues affecting your customers via our Cultural Intelligence offer
  • Find experts and influencers via our Ignite Collective
  • Bring experiences to life in a more authentic way via digital ethnography

Done well, customer immersion can be inspiring -
game changing, even.

In our next blog we’ll share how communities can help create an ecosystem of joined-up insights. In the meantime, we’d love to talk about how Verve could help you get closer to your customers in the context of your business needs.

Click here to get in touch.