The Golden Age of Co-creation

Engage and empower the consumer for deeper levels of engagement

According to figures released in October 2013 by China’s central state news organization, Xinhuanet, Chinese tourists are set to make 100 million overseas journeys in 2014, a rise in excess of 10% on this year, with Shao Qiwei, Head of China\’s National Tourism Administration, claiming that China is now the single biggest contributor to global tourism revenue.

That translates into a considerable amount of flight and hotel bookings and, with a buoyant tourism scene comes more choices for the consumer: should I fly with Air China, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines? Which carrier flies direct to New York? Which has the most comfortable seats? Being vegetarian, who offers the best meat-free meals in economy class?

In the not too distant future it will be commonplace to obtain all the answers from a live platform of ‘trusted shoppers’ accessed through our smartphones and tablets – at home or on the go. Using research data harvested from millions of flight and travel bookings around the world, consumers will be able to break down each purchase at the touch of a button by ticket price, best value offers, geographical demographics, safety records or any other criteria they like, in order to make better, more informed buying decisions.

Imagine this scenario when choosing an airline: the travel panel might reveal that 43% of Chinese passengers flew Air China in 2011 and of those, two in three said they would do so again. Inflight food was rated 7.5 out of 10, with decent vegetarian options, the movie selection was given a resounding thumbs-up, and there was also a video to show how comfortable the standard class seats are. Furthermore, in a unique brand interaction, if a booking is made today and the consumer is happy to share their personal shopping preferences, the airline will reduce the ticket price by 15% in return for the data.

The consumer emerges from the experience happy, more knowledgeable, satisfied with having received a good deal and comfortable at the level of control they have over their own data – an issue of increasing importance. Satisfied customers are much more likely to leave positive feedback after their purchase and share it with their peers online, meaning more quality insights for the brand, improved engagement and a potential new recruit for the new model of democratic research.

The benefits for the consumer are clear as the likelihood of wasting money on a rash purchase is now radically reduced. They feel valued by the brand for their interaction and delighted with the added bonus of the reward, in whatever form this may take. Consumer-generated behavioural research is now beginning to merge with existing purchase data to uncover new and exciting market insights.

From the brand research perspective we all know the value of a happy customer in the social age: more chat, more sharing, more bankable data. The uptake in online interactions such as Facebook ‘likes’, blogs, tweets, online reviews, community platforms and participation in consumer polls demonstrates that consumers are already willing to play their part, creating opportunities for deeper, more meaningful engagement on which brands would find it hard to place a value.

This exciting evolution of research is right around the corner if marketers are prepared to embrace the technology and perhaps loosen their grip on formulaic, inflexible Q&A surveys. So long as developers ensure that interfaces are user-friendly, engaging, accessible and work effectively to incentivise the consumer, then there is no reason why marketers can’t maximise this platform to collect and record opinions and purchasing data – within the realms of privacy laws – from which to design better products and build successful campaigns in the future, affording themselves a distinct competitive advantage.

In mapping out the new tool set it is important to include the building of robust online communities. Brands need to harness social media to drive the current and next generation of panels – not just one-way marketing message boards or membership schemes but responsive, interactive hubs. For the research democracy to work consumers need to be encouraged to co-create.

Deeper levels of engagement only come when people are given freedom and space to express their opinions and initiate discussion threads. Consumers want to take part, be heard and exert influence, and will tire easily of quickfire, irrelevant questions. For brands this means copying the conversational style of social media and investing time into formulating meaningful relationships with their users.

At Toluna, this is how we anticipate the market will evolve. As technology advances, the ability to survey a wide variety of people and instantly recall the data in real time will become a reality and the data that is provided will become increasingly personalised, enabling brands to extract deeper and more actionable insights.

As a research solution provider, Toluna is incredibly excited by this democratisation of the information exchange between marketer and consumer. If we can relax our grip on those rigid one-dimensional survey mechanics of the past and adopt these emerging technologies we can learn to truly co-create, achieving unprecedented multiple-channel interactions that will only benefit both parties in the future.

By James Rogers, Managing Director, APAC, Toluna