Social Network Generates Market Research for Mercedes-Benz

In mid-2009, my company, $130 billion luxury car maker Daimler AG, asked me, as head of Mercedes-Benz Communication Insights in Germany, to examine how new media could be used in market research. Upon investigation it was clear to me that Web 2.0 was a thriving market that offered the right tools and services for our project: creating the first online market research community in the German auto industry.
With this information, my team and I went to work to build out and test the capabilities of the so-called “participatory Web” for market research. With this project, we entered uncharted territory, but knew from our U.S. colleagues’ pilot “Gen Benz” community Website that we needed the help of a partner to provide us with an online platform that could handle moderation, analysis, reporting, recruitment of community members and professional support.  We sought a development partner that had this community experience to ensure smooth operation and quality standards in market research, and we identified TNS (Taylor Nelson Sofres), a global market research and consulting company in London.
Our social community Website originally ran on a Pringo platform. But after a year of repeated problems with stability and scalability, TNS and our team decided to migrate to Acquia Commons, an open-source, enterprise-scale social business software platform from Acquia, a company that enables enterprises to use the open-source Web content management/social publishing system Drupal. The collaborative environment includes blogs, wikis, calendars and other capabilities that enable social networking.
Acquia Commons allowed TNS to quickly build our complex Website while adhering to our strict brand guidelines, a tight timeline and budget constraints, as well as maintaining the flexibility needed to support strategic requirements. The platform provided many community features implemented out of the box (such as relationships, user points, badges) and made it easy to add features, such as member discussions enhanced with a rating and reward system. We also chose to host the site on the Acquia Managed Cloud. Commons helped get Stars Insight, our social community Website, off the ground quickly and easily, and provided us with a whole tool box of quantitative market research.
In May 2010, we were ready for the launch of Stars Insight, designed to gain valuable insights into the needs and desires of one of our most important customer-target groups: 20- to 45-year-old compact car drivers. These individuals are interested in cars, are Internet savvy, networks with each other and express their opinions. Social media activities have a high priority with this group.
How do we manage to keep site visitors interested and motivate them to actively participate? The keyword is “surveytainment”: If our community is fun and members remain active and curious, interesting insights emerge for us. We always offer participants something new.
On the community’s home page, visitors can get an overview of what’s happening in the community, who else is online, what discussions are “hot,” what ad/marketing campaigns are being assessed, when a community chat is scheduled to run, what Quick Polls are running and what poll results are available. Participants can access survey results and enter into discussions with other users.
With Stars Insight’s questionnaires, hosted chats, interactive moderated discussions and forums,  ideation and creativity contests, media gallery, ratings and comment areas, we are now able to pilot-test marketing materials, commercials and advertisements. We also can solicit key customers for desired features, support and services, while the rest of the community provides feedback through votes on what they like. This allows us to react to the needs of our market in a timelier manner than ever before.
Stars Insight conducts 250 polls a year among the community members. The discussion forums have so far generated more than 7,000 comments on 300 topics. We have gained specific guidance by allowing users to score their advertising campaigns, resulting in more than 2,000 user ratings. These activities provide us with an easy and cost-effective way to recognize new trends and get a long-term understanding of this target group for Mercedes-Benz premium compact cars.
With Stars Insight, we’ve not only created the first German online market research community in the automotive industry, but our Website was also chosen as winner of the “Best Study 2011” award by the Federal Association of German Market and Social Researchers. The Best Study 2011 award goes to the most innovative and creative study, with special attention on projects with measurable results.
The continuity of the Stars Insight online community and the interactive integration of its members provide numerous benefits for us: We can get to know a broad section of this target market; we are completely flexible in the content; we can combine various methods; and we can validate our results directly with the community.
With so much feedback, I am convinced Stars Insight is a complete success, providing us with a perfect complement to conventional market research. We look forward to Stars Insight’s continued expansion.
Christian Bauer is head of Mercedes-Benz Communication Insights in Germany.