The Evolution of the MROC

Tamara Barber [Posted by Tamara Barber]

As a prelude to our Wave on full service MROC vendors, we recently released results  from a survey on market researchers’ use of communities. The findings highlight the fact that this is still a nascent methodology but one that researchers are no doubt interested in. Based on my view of the current vendor landscape, here is where my head’s at after mulling over the survey results:

  • Service: Most client-side market researchers right now want to work with a vendor that offers some form of service in community set up and management. This methodology is new enough that a lot of researchers aren’t comfortable taking the reins on day-to-day management of these communities, which includes tasks such sample management, moderation, reporting, and research planning. Not to mention the fact that running a community completely in-house would in many cases require at least one full-time person dedicated to all things MROC. Vendors need to develop flexible service options that allow clients to scale services up or down depending on their needs and budget.
  • Cost: For large companies who already spend a significant amount on qualitative research, MROCs can provide impressive cost savings by taking this research from in-person, point-in-time insights, to virtual, continuous interactions. But, for smaller companies, the price tag (usually at least 150K for one year) that comes along with using a full service MROC vendor can be steep. Enter the shared community: which in its simplest terms is a panel that’s drawn-on for short-term online qualitative projects. For those who don’t want to commit to a long term custom community, this solution can still provide quick qualitative insights over a number of days, weeks, and even months. This shared model will grow in popularity as online community research becomes a more accepted practice.
  • Insights integration: It’s easy to see online communities’ appeal based on their speed and relative cost savings. But once the initial shine wears off of this methodology, clients are going to push their vendors to get better with their insights. Expect to see vendors differentiate themselves based on how well they can integrate other insights and data along with what comes out of the community. This will include things like a single platform that easily migrates community insights directly into a new survey or concept test, or using customer data to segment community members as they analyze qualitative results, or incorporating relevant feeds from blogs or social networking sites to help inform or give context to conversations happening in the community. The acquisition of HiveLive by CRM platform RightNow is an example of the kinds of new partnerships and solutions we will see moving forward.

How do you see this market evolving?  I welcome your thoughts on the conclusions above, as well as any key development opportunities I might not have mentioned here.


re: The Evolution of the MROC

I often see focus groups contrasted with proprietary MROCs, but now that I think about your discussion of shared communities, those seem much more analogous to focus groups. Accessing shared communities is something that can be done on a project by project basis, just like deciding to host focus groups.Proprietary MROCs, on the other hand, represent a significant ongoing commitment: the equivalent of adding a focus group facility to your office building. Long term, proprietary MROCs managed inhouse are a tremendous value, but in the short term shared communities can be a good way for organizations to get their feet wet without worrying about drowning in the workload.

re: The Evolution of the MROC

To me, the difference between a shared community and an online focus group is that even in a shared community the insights can be iterative. One could use a sub-sample of the shared community over a short period of time (i.e. days or weeks) to revisit or dig deeper into certain topics. Whereas online focus groups still tend to be point-in-time interactions. I agree that there is definitely a continuum here, and the shared communities are a way to get those quick insights when you don’t have an appetite for a long-term investment – as valuable as that investment tends to be.