Unilever is planning to create bespoke social networks across its brands to involve consumers in its product development process.

The FMCG giant, which spent £148m in 2009 on advertising for brands including Lynx, Magnum and Pot Noodle, is to integrate social media into product development and insight following a trial with men’s fragrance Lynx Twist in the UK and the US.

Unilever’s move highlights a trend among advertisers to create invite-only online communities to gain greater understanding of consumer opinions.

The company launched Lynx Twist in December after using a bespoke online community to involve customers from the start of the product development process. It will now apply this approach across other sectors, such as savoury foods and haircare.

David Cousino, consumer marketing insights global category director at Unilever, said brands should be looking to online communities for innovation as well as for gaining consumer insight. “If you look at what’s happening online, not just on the social networks, the consumer has a voice as never before and brands need to listen more. Even if a brand doesn’t want to engage with consumers on that level, it will be forced to,” he said.

Cousino said other categories at Unilever that have passionate customer groups, including savoury foods, ice cream and haircare, were already using communities as a way to source creativity. “There are two ways of doing it. You could wait for something to go wrong and then use the community to fix it, but why not leverage the creative ability in the community that’s already out there?”

Unilever used co-creation agency Face’s online youth community HeadBox to source a small team from around the world who created the idea for the two-part Twist fragrance.

It used the online community to carry out market research and discussions with a large number of young people before selecting the final 16 to spend two weeks in New York developing the best ideas.

Unilever has previously tested Face’s female ’mind bubble’ community for brands such as Surf and Comfort. In future it will develop communities tailored to brands.

UK retailer New Look launched its own customer community site, MyLook, in July 2008. It uses this community to gain opinions on decisions across the business including product development and advertising. Recent examples include choosing which celebrities should front clothing ranges, seen with the recent range promoted by Girls Aloud star Kimberley Walsh, and what designs should be on its store card.

Oliver Lucas, head of brand planning and customer insight at New Look, said there’s a massive opportunity for brands to take advantage of co-creation, but some companies are put off by confusion about the level of investment.

“There’s confusion about where it fits, what it’s for and who runs it,” he said. “It does require a lot of resource because it’ll only work if the community is constantly refreshed with content so that customers are given a reason to come back.”

This week five UK agencies are partnering to launch the Co-Creation Hub, a collective for implementing the take-up of community into all stages of marketing planning.

The hub will include Face, ad agency Farm, media agency Opticomm, social media agency Thrudigital, and brand design agency Touch of Mojo.
Andrew Needham, founding partner of Face and group managing partner of Tangible Group London, said brands need to incorporate consumers in marketing planning.

“The Co-Creation Hub recognises that social media isn’t simply another channel but has fundamentally changed the way consumers interact with brands,” he said. “We need a more collaborative, adaptive and continuous model of marketing, one based on the principle of doing things with people not at them.”
The agencies will work together by integrating their specialities on work for clients as and when required. Thrudigital created a website for ASOS in November that collated online comment about the brand in real time (nma 19 November 2009) and will now work with the other agencies in the Hub to integrate insights gained through social media monitoring services into other marketing disciplines.

Charles Dalton-Moore, founder of Thrudigital, said, “Co-creation is about putting users at the heart of the development process by including them at the earliest possible stage.”

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Published 25 February, 2010 by NMA Staff

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