Building a Brand One Community Panel at a Time
Sometimes your most engaged customers can tell you the most about what to do next. And, as Burt’s Bees has found, building a community panel of those loyal fans can pay major benefits. At the recent Shopper Insights conference presented by IIR USA, Joy Steinberg of Burt’s Bees and Ellie Hutton of Vision Critical discussed their efforts.
Burt’s Bees, started in 1984 and acquired by Clorox in 2007, is best known for its natural skin care line and products such as lip balm. The community panel is called Burt’s Buzz and consists of 1400 recruits from the company’s newsletter subscribers. The panel is unpaid, although there is a monthly drawing for prizes and members are considered "special advisors" to the company. Panelists participate in up to four studies per month, which enable Burt’s Bees to build an in-depth relationship with these high-value consumers, respond quickly to hot issues and use a diverse set of tools in working with panelists. The panel was initially recruited via a special survey and those who were chosen for the group also receive behind the scenes access to goings-on at Burt’s Bees.
Other activities participated in by the group include discussions, visual surveys, photo sharing, collage and digital journals. Insights gained from these activities and surveys are used for reference purposes in Burt’s leadership meetings and to bring the voice of the consumer to the business.
Specific examples of panel use include qualitative studies to see how core consumers view the brand’s corporate responsibility strategy; learning about consumer segments via photo uploads, journals, and storytelling; claims positioning surveys; ad testing surveys; brand perception studies that are both visual and written; path-to-purchase studies that evaluate consumers’ attitudes and experiences in pre-shop and in-store environments. (Burt’s Bees learned here that variety and in-stock issues are critical).
For Burt’s Bees, the community panel has allowed the business to be much more engaged with core shoppers than one-off studies or focus groups. It has also added a step on the back end, which involves following up with brand managers and other execs to see if they are using the information they were provided, how they are using it, and if they’re not using it, why not.
Community panels also have practical application as part of the company’s focus on building close and collaborative relationships with retailers. Findings are incorporated into the brand’s overall strategies and activation plans and shared as a part of the normal partnership process.
Discussion Questions: Can community panels provide a unique way of engaging with consumers? How do the benefits compare with other forms of research? Can community panels work for retailers, as well?