Interview with Communispace VP of Marketing Diane Tarr-Smith

As marketers we know that the need to listen to, understand and engage customers more intently is intensified during difficult market conditions. I recently interviewed Diane Tarr-Smith, VP of Marketing at Communispace to find out how private online communities can help.

How can a company use a community as part of a larger marketing and social media strategy?

Think of it this way — imagine you sell soft drinks and you’re constantly looking for an edge over your major competitors. Now, imagine if every morning — while you’re drinking your first cup of coffee —you could chat directly with 500 of your best customers and hear their reactions to the new ad campaign, get the unvarnished truth about your new fruit-flavored water and hear some breakthrough ideas for a new diet iced tea. You’d hear free-flowing honest feedback from people who are invested in your brand. Well, that’s what a private online community is. The community can be used for pre-ad campaign testing, in-campaign tweaking for online initiatives, landing page effectiveness and even search engine optimization.

How do marketers turn the insights from customers into meaningful change for the company?

Let me give you a specific example. When our AXE community gives feedback on an ad, saying it won’t fly with AXE’s core demographic, the value is immediate — phew, glad we caught that one early. When campaigns can cost hundreds of thousands, it’s easy to track the ROI of the community and understand its meaningful impact. In the longer-run, what better way to ensure future marketing success than to build consumer insights directly into the ideation process

What are some practical tricks for companies looking to get started with online communities?

There are many public and private ways to use communities. Some tips to consider:

  • Smaller is better — the key to success — and greater insights — is having the right people in a private, intimate setting. Participation rates skyrocket, engagement explodes and insights emerge.
  • Recruit wisely — recruiting is paramount to success. Communispace has experts who do nothing but refine techniques for finding the best community members who create a special community dynamic.
  • Don’t dominate — community facilitation isn’t easy. Don’t overtax or over-direct members. These are your advisors, so treat them with care and respect.

Where do you think market research is heading in 2009?

Take a look at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) report, which mentions that in some cases customers are actually driving product strategy and development. In fact, the report states that "in 2013 customers will represent by far the leading source of new product and service ideas." Moving forward we’ll likely see more companies following in the footsteps of GlaxoSmithKline, Kraft, Welch’s and others who already understand the need to listen to, understand and engage their customers more intently.

Who should I interview next for the Compete Blog?

Charlene Li. She recently left Forrester to start Altimeter Group and she has a unique understanding of what marketers must do to better engage today’s consumer.

About Diane Tarr-Smith
Diane has almost 20 years marketing for leading brands including Yahoo!, Fidelity Investments, Avid Technology, and Engage Technology. Most recently, Diane was VP of Corporate Marketing for Perseus/WebSurveyor, the only online research technology that ties market research directly with business results. Diane lives in Boston with her husband Jim and their Pomeranian, Maggie.

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