WORD OF MOUTH
Consumer advisory panels
The next big thing in word-of-mouth marketing?
By PAUL MARSDEN
There’s nothing new about OW DO YOU unlock sales consumer advisory panel, you can turn
revenue by harnessing word of fickle consumers in loyal customers
consumer panels as a market
mouth? Forget the usual sus- only too willing to recommend.
research tool. But the internet pects – buzz, viral and stealth market-
has magnified the potential for ing – they are PR stunts on steroids
that create awareness by getting your A scalable solution to word-
engaging vast numbers of of-mouth marketing
marketing (but often not your prod-
consumers to create loyalty and uct) talked about, but rarely have any Consumer advisory panels are not
advocacy. Paul Marsden describes significant impact on sales. Instead, new, and have long been used to help
how consumer advisory panels take the lead from consumer goods marketers make smart decisions in line
giant Procter & Gamble, and set up with market demands. What is new
are used by P&G and others to
your own online consumer advisory about these panels is that they are
involve their consumers in all panel. moving online and becoming bigger,
aspects of brand development, Consumer advisory panels harness much bigger. Procter & Gamble, who
thereby strengthening loyalty ‘involvement’ to create loyalty and are leading the field, has upwards of
advocacy among panel members – 750,000 members in its two online US
consumers who buy more and recom- consumer advisory panels ‘Tremor’
mend more (two variables unequivo- (for teens) and ‘Vocalpoint’ (for
cally linked to sales growth: ‘moms’). Panel participants, recruited
Reichheld 2003; Marsden 2005). by banner ads and word of mouth are
The idea behind consumer advisory regularly invited to participate in
panels is simple. Instead of marketing online VIP votes on P&G and ‘part-
at consumers, market with them by ner’ brands, allowing them to call the
involving them in what you do, and shots on anything from pack design,
giving them a say in how you do it. By logos, new flavours, strap-lines, ads
connecting, collaborating and co-cre- or promotional material (see the box
ating with your market through a on the next page). This ‘1-click
Dr Paul Marsden is a social psychologist and involvement’ is simple, smart and
freelance market researcher. scalable – and creates a loyalty effect
2 Market Leader Summer 2006
WORD OF MOUTH
and advocacy effect that, in controlled nothing to do with what was being
tests, has been found to boost sales by researched, and everything to do with In focus groups, the
10–30%. involving people in the name of
research. They called this effect the Hawthorne Effect can
Hawthorne Effect: the effect of engag-
Why consumer advisory ing people in marketing research on be extremely strong –
panels drive sales: the
creating loyalty and advocacy. What
was happening was that the partici-
after 90 minutes of
But why should setting up an online pants felt flattered and privileged to be involvement in a new
consumer advisory panel boost sales? involved in research on a new initiative
The answer is because it is a scalable – and this biased their view towards product concept,
solution to harnessing a very powerful
psychological phenomenon, known as
whatever it was they were testing.
For nearly a century, the Hawthorne
participants often leave
the Hawthorne Effect, in large num- Effect has been something of a bane to the group passionate
bers of consumers. market researchers; it systematically
The Hawthorne Effect is named occurs and biases market research advocates of what they
after the Hawthorne production plant
of Western Electric, just outside
findings towards whatever is being
tested. In focus groups, the
have been asked their
Chicago, where it was first discovered, Hawthorne Effect can be extremely advice on
quite by accident back in the 1920s. strong – after 90 minutes of involve-
Researchers from MIT and Harvard ment in a new product concept, par-
found that by inviting employees to ticipants often leave the group pas-
give their views on new working con- sionate advocates of what they have
ditions in the factory, before they were been asked their advice on.
rolled out, employees would systemat- But for marketers the Hawthorne
ically be favourable to them. What’s Effect represents a real opportunity;
more, when they trialled these new engage target consumers in research
working conditions their productivity and by listening to what they have to say
increased. you create an instant market of loyal
For example, when employees were advocates hungry to buy your product.
engaged in research testing brighter Do this online, through simple online
lighting in the factory, feedback was voting, and you can reach tens of
positive, and productivity increased
when they trialled working with the
brighter lighting. However, when
other employees were involved in test-
P&G’s Tremor & Vocalpoint
ing subtler lighting conditions, they Creating loyal advocates through consumer advisory panels
liked that too – and productivity
increased. Confused, the investigators I Helping develop Vanilla Coke’s ‘Nothing Else Like It’ billboard campaign
re-ran the research, progressively and come up with intriguing messages to appear on promotional
dimming the lighting, but participants heat-sensitive cans
remained loyal to whatever it was they I Voting on launching Snoop Dogg’s new line of shoes
were asked about, and productivity I Advising on the trailer for the movie Biker Boyz
kept increasing until the light was no
I Choosing which Herbal Essences commercial to air for promoting Fruit
brighter than moonlight!
Fusions Tropical Showers range
A second series of tests at the
Hawthorne plant confirmed the pecu- I Recommending which fashion model to use in a Pantene commercial
liar phenomenon – engaging employ- I Selecting backing music for a Pringles advertisement
ees in research to test shorter working I Picking models for a body-spray calendar
hours produced advocacy and I Helping design the new Crest Spinbrush
increased productivity. But then so did I Voting on a T-shirt design for Vans ‘Warped Tour’ concert
research involving employees in I Naming the DreamWorks SKG movie Eurotrip
research testing longer working hours. I Choosing the logo for the teen movie Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
The researchers finally realised that
what was happening had absolutely
Market Leader Summer 2006 3
WORD OF MOUTH
Using consumer advisory panels to drive sales
I Converse, Cadillac, Mercedes and Sixt Car Rentals all use research to
create word-of-mouth advocates by giving target buyers and brand fans
a say in their advertising campaigns.
I BMW, Audi and Boeing create loyal word-of-mouth advocates through
their virtual innovation labs, which give car enthusiasts and aviation fans a
say in new product development.
I Crayola drives demand with VIP Votes that let consumers decide on the
names of new crayon colours (the four crayon shades on the right were
named by consumers for Crayola’s 100th birthday).
I Google, Microsoft, Napster and Macromedia all use research to create
loyal advocates through beta-testing research programmes.
I The Tate Gallery in London builds loyalty and advocacy by inviting
visitors to call the shots on how exhibits are labelled.
I New Line Cinema stimulates box office sales with word of mouth by
giving fans a say in movie production decisions (e.g. The Lord of the
I Brewtopia, the Australian beer company, and Kaiser beer in Brazil drive
sales by inviting consumers to vote on product packaging and marketing.
I Staples, the office supplies retailer, and home furnishings giant IKEA drive
demand by engaging customers with research on innovation ideas.
I Sears department stores create word-of-mouth advocates for their
Portrait Photo Studios by inviting opinion-leading mothers to shape their
thousands of consumers, instantly cre- Conclusion: the future as model of marketing, and embrace
ating a sizable market that is ready to co-creation? the new ‘connect and collaborate’
buy and recommend. This is precisely Online consumer advisory panels are a zeitgeist, where marketing is done
what P&G’s consumer advisory pan- new way of selling to consumers that with consumers rather than at them.
els, Tremor and Vocalpoint, do: create use the Hawthorne Effect to create By connecting, collaborating and
ready-made markets that not only buy loyalty (purchase frequency) and co-creating with markets through
the products, but act as a volunteer advocacy (referral value) among pan- consumer advisory boards, market-
salesforce. ellists. But they represent a win–win ing is learning to respect the very
for both business and consumers. By people it depends upon for its sur-
allowing consumers to call the shots vival: consumers. k
A new way of selling to on marketing and innovation, con-
consumers sumers are empowered and get what firstname.lastname@example.org
P&G is not alone in using the they want – not what the business www.viralculture.com
Hawthorne Effect with consumer thinks they want. And by treating con-
advisory panels designed to drive sales sumers as partners rather than targets,
by creating loyalty and advocacy. and engaging markets in dialogue References
Other brands investing in this new rather than interruptive monologue, Marsden, P. (2005) ‘Connected mar-
way of selling to consumers include consumer advisory panels walk the keting’, in Kirby, J. & Marsden, P.
Converse, Cadillac, Mercedes, Sixt marketing talk – putting the con- (eds) Connected Marketing: the Viral,
Car Rentals, BMW, Boeing, Crayola, sumer, not the marketer, at the heart Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution.
Google, Napster, Macromedia, of marketing. London: Butterworth.
Microsoft, Audi, Nike, New Line Indeed, consumer advisory boards Reichheld, F. (2003) ‘The one number
Cinemas, MTV and Sears (see the box represent a radical departure from you need to grow’, Harvard Business
above). the old ‘command and control’ Review, December, pp. 1–11.
4 Market Leader Summer 2006