Communispace: How a Market Leader Innovates

It’s been fifteen years since Boston-based Communispace created a new market by building private online communities of consumers with whom brands could engage in unique and creative ways. The company’s success attracted competitors, naturally: some modeled new businesses from the Communispace mold, while others added this type of service offering to their existing market research offerings. The category of Market Research Online Communities (MROCs) was born.

As the market creator, Communispace found success, built great client relationships, and delivered value. It could seemingly do no wrong. It could have stayed the course. Instead, the company did what a market leader that wants to remain the market leader should do: it innovated.

Define your market instead of being defined by your market

You see, Communispace didn’t want to be pegged as an MROC, which is an odd thing considering that the company was very nearly synonymous with the term for a decade. As Bill Alberti, SVP of Strategy, explained to me in a recent interview, the MROC moniker is too limiting – and has been, in their view, for several years. Communispace viewed itself as a consumer collaboration agency, but in order to deliver on that vision, the executive team realized that it needed to change some important parts of the business.

Communispace elected to innovate in two ways. First, it recognized the need to become a more strategic partner to its clients. That’s when the vision of being a consumer collaboration engine emerged. The private online community model has always been a good engagement tool for co-creation, because it enables creative and imaginative interactions with the community. Yet in 2012, Communispace acquired Promise, a leading co-creation consultancy with strong offline service offerings. By doubling-down on the co-creation opportunity, Communispace became that strategic partner by expanding the foundation of its communities and increasing its capabilities at gathering, interpreting, synthesizing, and transforming consumer insights into impactful business outputs.

The Consumer Collaboration Manifesto from Vimeo.

Challenge the status quo, even if it’s working

Second, Communispace realized that it needed to revamp its internal teams to be able to identify and communicate the business impacts from the community to the client. Today, these teams consist of individuals with category or industry experience and core skills who work together to identify the impacts from the consumer collaboration. Client community teams now consist of:

  • Business consultants, who know the client and the client’s customers;
  • Engagement architects, who define the exercises for the community;
  • Engagement specialists, who build and sustain the community, and who can relate to the community in some way;
  • Storytellers, who can knit the insights together and convey them to the client; and
  • Strategic relationship managers, a.k.a. salespeople, who maintain direct relationships with the client.

These individuals work together as teams should: as equals striving toward a common goal, with the ability to draw on both their “major” and “minor” skill sets to deliver success to the client. The deeper knowledge of the industry and team-wide connection to the client allows for the development of impacts throughout the consumer collaboration process.

What it means

The Communispace example is a good reminder that innovation is important for all businesses, not just the followers or the start-ups in a market. Successful companies must resist the urge to coast based on their historic success. Market leaders that innovate will be rewarded with stronger client relationships, new revenue opportunities, and more engaged employees.

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Announcing IX Research: Research for Innovation PractitionersDoug Williams, Chief Research Officer and Principal Analyst, leads the development of IX Research. Doug is the primary author of IX Research‘s syndicated research reports, and is responsible for the development of the IX Research Panel and IX Custom Research lines of business. A former analyst at Forrester Research and JupiterResearch, he launched and led Forrester’s innovation and co-creation practice for product strategy professionals. He authored 36 highly rated Forrester Research reports on innovation, open innovation, and co-creation, and was the primary author and developer of Forrester’s Open Innovation playbook. Doug tweets from @DougWilliamsMHD.

Doug Williams




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