Consumer Insights from ‘Community Panels’
Propel Burt’s Bees
By Dale Buss
Burt’s Bees communicates with consumers via social media like nearly every other CPG brand these days. But the Clorox-owned beauty-and-health brand takes a big step beyond traditional social-media marketing by nurturing a “community panel” as well. The panel is a private, 2,000-member, “deeply profiled” group of online fans and brand ambassadors.
Members of the “Burt’s Buzz” panel, recruited from among newsletter subscribers, help Burt’s Bees communicate and advance its brand and product through a variety of methods, including participating in group discussions, filling out surveys, sharing photos, making brand collages, keeping digital journals and responding on an ad hoc basis to pressing research needs conceived by the brand. It launched the panel in August, 2011, and conducts about four projects a month with the entire panel or parts of it.
Burt’s Bees chose to forge a community panel because it provides flexibility in research and brand communications through the diversity of tools it employs, both quantitative and qualitative; comprises a fast, resource-efficient access to help ground the brand’s decision-making in input from core customers; creates an ongoing and iterative dialogue with consumers; provides the means to build relationships with customers; and helps Burt’s Bees connect with consumer advocates and its target audience.
“It’s our unique approach to get first-hand insights and images and descriptions from consumer,” Joy Steinberg, global manager of consumer-care insights for Burt’s Bees, told CPGmatters. “In no way is it intended to replace other research approaches. It’s an addition to other methodologies. It can supplement our learning and provide options for iterative testing. But compared with traditional research, the panel does a large and fast-paced amount of work.”
In particular, Steinberg said, Burt’s Buzz has been helpful for parts of the business that don’t get a lot of support from corporate consumer insights. For example, while lip care is Burt’s Bees’ original and key product category, with heavy support from corporate consumer insights, “we have more than 100 products in multiple categories that aren’t as well-resourced.”
So, for instance, the community panel has been helpful in gleaning feedback on Burt’s hair-care and men’s-care products, she said. Managers in these categories rely on the community panel for studies that “support those categories of business with research that they otherwise might not have access to,” Steinberg explained.
Burt’s Bees recruited panel members through an opt-in database and invited them to join the group based on target criteria for consumers for the brand. And further, depending on what Burt’s is trying to learn, it will invite only subsets of the overall panel to participate: for instance, only women who are mothers or who are expectant for a study of baby-care products.
The Burt’s Buzz panel was put together by Vision Critical, a firm that specializes in helping brands participate in this increasingly popular form of consumer engagement. Steinberg said the panel succeeds in a number of ways, Steinberg said. The pure volume of insights provided to brand managers, marketing-communications and public-relations departments, and others throughout the company each month helps infuse leadership meetings with a strong voice of the Burt’s customer.
The company’s managers and executives also have found that they can turn to Burt’s Buzz for insights on both strategic as well as tactical matters. For example, Burt’s turned to the panel to gauge their attitudes toward its hair-care line and to help identify “white-space” opportunities and line extensions for new products under both the Burt’s Bees and Gud brands.
Burt’s also relied on the panel to respond to the brand’s current position on social responsibility and to get their input for reframing that strategy. “We were able to understand in rich detail how our corporate social responsibility is perceived, what consumers expect and know about us and what they’d like to see from us, and how that compares with other brands,” Steinberg said.
At the same time, Burt’s turns to the panel for insights about more granular, tactical matters such as providing feedback on three concepts for possible new lip balms. It garners feedback from panel members on advertising concepts and, then, refinements of those ideas before launch.
In one project, Burt’s asked panel member what they thought about Burt’s brands and products. How would they describe them? What did they consider the brands’ personality to be? What three words came to mind in that? Panel members also were asked to upload photos that illustrated their impressions of the brands. At the same time, Burt’s conducted a parallel study with a group of “outsiders” from the general U.S. population. “This produced a great tool for the marketing-communications team,” Steinberg explained.
So what’s in it for members of Burt’s Buzz? “They must already be very strong, passionate consumers who love sharing their point of view about our brand,” Steinberg said. In return, these “special advisors,” as Burt’s calls them, get inside looks at concepts that may or may not become new Burt’s products. Panel members also get incentives, such as the monthly giveaways of gift baskets and gift cards in drawings, though Burt’s doesn’t provide outright financial incentives.
Panel members also now have the ability to communicate with one another via conversation threads as part of a new blog for them, a recently added benefit. “It hasn’t been a focus for us because of bandwidth concerns; it takes a lot of real-time moderation and monitoring,” Steinberg said. “In order for us to do this aspect of communications the right way, we’ve got to have a high level of involvement” by the brand, she said.
Might Burt’s Bees at some point try to gather all of the real people who are members of the community panel for an in-person rally at the company’s Durham, N.C. headquarters – similar to how General Motors’ now-defunct Saturn brand used to have “homecoming” parties for brand fans at the plant in Tennessee?
“That isn’t on the horizon right now,” Steinberg said, though last year Burt’s invited a couple of panel members to headquarters to participate personally in some research. “We’re trying to do everything we can to bring those personal elements together – but virtually.”