Insight communities are ‘agile,’ and ‘agile’ is just another way of saying ‘fast.’ Right? Wrong.

Sure, we’ll pull all the stops out to turn around a piece of work with a drop-dead deadline that’s sooner than everyone would like it to be. But when we talk about insight communities offering agility, we’re actually talking about insight that genuinely flexes to meet needs and circumstances, that enables proper iteration, and that doesn’t only happen during the account team’s working hours. Agile has always been, and continues to be, at the heart of online research communities.

Our partnership with M&S Food began last year. Their team had decided to enhance the business’s insight capabilities by maximising regular contact with customers, and specifically by learning from them in an agile, responsive, cost-effective way. The objective was for an insight community to keep them close to the evolving customer mindset and attitudes, complementing the rich behavioural analysis M&S Food already conducted. Ultimately, they set out to raise the profile of the customer, and of insight as a whole, within the business.

In fact, the M&S Food team were clear from the start that success would be measured by their ability to deliver timely, customer-centric recommendations with a clear, immediate business impact. Crucial to achieving that, and to our ways of working with the community, is the hybrid model we use here: either the M&S Food or the Verve team can pick up and run with any insight need. M&S Food design, run and report many of their own studies, with Verve stepping in to pick up projects that hit when capacity is tighter, or when a specialist approach is required.

Our clients – M&S Food included – love online communities for their agility. They enable jumping on trends while they’re still emerging, rapid response to customer needs, and getting to market more quickly with something that they can be confident will land well. M&S Food’s online community really shines when our clients need to gather customer input at a key moment in a process, such as between iterations of packaging designs. Their team also run a number of ongoing trackers, which provide a weekly pulse-take of the things M&S customers think and feel each week, in comparison to the wider population. In January 2023, for instance, M&S Food’s trading focus was guided by insights from the community into categories that customers said they were cutting back on, and those that they were not.

The community also delivers financial agility: it enables M&S Food to carry out more projects for their budget than they would if commissioning ad hoc studies alone. Consequently, they support a broader range of stakeholders with more depth of insight than they would get without the community. Sometimes that ability to launch a simple discussion, poll, or 5 question survey, yields game-changing evidence for a client-side partner to focus only on the right ideas, and not waste time on things that don’t work.

In the throes of a cost of living crisis, it’s tempting to assume that retailers are adopting protectionist strategies: slowing down their innovation, and saving their money rather than investing it. For M&S Food that’s never been up for debate: it’s earned much of the tremendous brand loyalty it enjoys today through innovation – from fresh new twists on timeless classics, to show-stopping new products and concepts. And while M&S Food has long focused on understanding and optimising the customer experience, it can now do that with agile input from a community of 40,000 responsive customers.

Get in touch to discuss how agile communities can help your brand excel