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Case Study  - A Community Approach to Drone Research

Drones have become a hot and controversial topic in recent years, with businesses such as Amazon testing package delivery via drones through their Amazon Prime options and Domino's testing pizza delivery in select markets, to local law enforcement using drones to track suspects and monitor emergency situations. To the casual observer of this recent phenomenon, it seems like drones would only be practical in recreational settings. But, as the above examples demonstrate, drones are becoming more prevalent in business as companies look for quicker and cheaper ways to obtain competitive advantages over their competition.

Recently Data Decisions Group had the opportunity to conduct research for a national company considering offering drones and integrated software as part of their solution for their customers. Rather than follow the traditional approach (gather the client's objectives, write a survey, launch a survey, analyze the results), we first wanted to gain an understanding of the customer's marketplace and their current feelings on drone use. Are they already using this technology, or intending to use it? What do they like/not like about it? What are the barriers to adoption, and what are the latest trends in drone use? Because this is relatively new territory for both the client and their customers, we decided to start with an MROC (market research online community) that would allow us to dig into some of these details and get the information we needed to most efficiently design the quantitative study that would follow.

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 Our client agreed with our suggested approach, and a one-week MROC was then conducted with a random sample of the client's customer list. One of the main benefits of an MROC is the ability to allow respondents to communicate with each other, and with the moderator, asynchrononously. This enables conversations to take place at the convenience of the respondent and makes the community more active and engaged.  While the methodology does allow the moderator to limit or even prevent communication between participants, letting them talk to each other sometimes uncovers opportunities that the client hadn't been enough aware of to ask about. This discovery process is particularly useful in a scenario like this, where the MROC is being used to evaluate options for the design of a quantitative study. The moderator can jump in when they see a new discussion developing, to help drive it towards something actionable for the client, or redirect particiants if they are spending too much time on a tangent. And of course, the client may monitor these conversations in real time, and even participate in the discussions. It's a very collaborative process.

Conducting the MROC first allowed us to explore the customer base's perspectives from across the country (not possible in a traditional focus group). Our client gained a better understanding of the reasons their customers are using drones, the barriers to adoption for those customers who don't, and how well the drones are perceived to be meeting expecations in their industries.  The information we gathered also allowed the marketing science team to better configure the quantitative survey instrument to meet the client's business objectives for the research.

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 A few best practices for engaging respondents in online communities:

  1. Make sure you screen the right people prior to the community. Keep it small - no more than 50-75 respondents. For our drone community we recruited 50 people and 37 of them actively  participated. When your sample sizes get too large on these short-term, concentrated community sessions, the amount of data to sift through quickly becomes unwieldy and time-consuming to sift through.  Additionally, the conversations become less focused, diluting the results.
  2. Don't overthink how to phrase your questions. This is discovery, not quantitative research.  For this study we asked very direct questions - "why do you like this?", "what features are nice to have but not necessary?".  Respondents are giving you information in their own words, so this part of the conversation can be very unstructured, with good back and forth between the respondents and the moderator to get any needed details.
  3. Monitor carefully, and pay attention. It's not uncommon in a community activity to find that respondents are largely ignoring the initial question in favor of an issue or problem that they were triggered to think about by the question itself.  This tells you something important, which is good, but it doesn't give you that original answer you were looking for. It's important to have a trained moderator monitoring community activity throughout the session to make sure they can direct respondents back on topic and get more information about any new lines of inquiry that are uncovered by side discussions.
  4. Don't overload!  It's tempting to throw the kitchen sink at an MROC because you have a longer period of time to collect data and there are so many options for presenting your questions. Be very mindful of limiting the number of activities to what a respondent can reasonably handle in the time allowed, remembering that in addition to this community session they also have jobs, spouses, children, and other demands on their time.  When you overload you will find that responses become less detailed as new activities get added, or that participation drops off entirely and that you get insufficient response to those questions you ask later in the session window.
  5. Make it interesting, fun, and worth their while. Offer a variety of activity types (discussion boards, video uploads, quantitative poll questions, image markups, etc). Engage with respondents by asking follow-up questions.  Offer an incentive, along with additional incentives for increased levels of participation, such as uploading video or sharing pictures.

 In conclusion, we found that conducting an MROC on the front end allowed us to head into the quantitative phase of this research with a much better understanding of the customer, which improved our study design and allowed us to deliver better insights to our customer.