MROC stands for Marketing Research Online Community. Forrester Research coined the term in their 2008 report titled, “Will Web 2.0 Transform Market Research?”. Forrester defines an MROC as a “captive interactive group of people online joined together by a common interest, which are systematically harvested for qualitative market research purposes.” However, things have changed in the past decade, and today an MROC is a group of respondents recruited specifically to participate in a series of surveys, exercises, or discussion about a topic. They can be drawn from your customers or recruited from another source (usually, panels). The MROC can last from days to months but may not be a permanent part of your research toolkit.
There is some debate about whether MROCs are qualitative or quantitative research. Because MROC participants are usually recruited for a specific task (e.g., product development) completed over time, they will become atypical over time: they simply know more about you, the product you are developing, and their likes and dislikes. In this sense, they sort of become biased, super-consumers and they are not always going to respond as your run-of-the-mill research respondent. However, that can absolutely work to your advantage. Additionally, because respondents “buy-into” the research for longer than the length of one survey or discussion, they become committed to the process, making them a great resource for qualitative tasks, and open-ended questions within structured surveys. So, while we can and do conduct short polls or surveys in the MROC environment, the research is not quantitative in the sense of being representative of a more general population.
MROCs are currently being used extensively in marketing research for a myriad of different purposes. Here are some interesting examples:
- Brand Repositioning. A brand was in the process of repositioning itself. In doing that, there were many marketing research questions that needed to be answered. They recruited an MROC of category users, including brand users and rejectors, to guide the repositioning. They test marketed messages, logos, taglines, packaging, and pricing. Moreover, what is more important was that the MROC was able to view each of the research efforts cohesively, rather than as one-offs.
- New Product Development. A snack food manufacturer wanted to create a line of snacks specifically for on-the-go snacking. Recruiting an MROC focused on people who snack outside of their homes gave them a unique source of information on the types of snacks preferred, snack size, packaging size and design, price point, and even whether the snacks should be calorie-limited, gluten-free, etc. The MROC helped the company design a line of snack foods that has become one of their most successful new products.
- Web Design. In the process of designing or redesigning a website, there are many decision points where it would be useful to get some consumer input. The MROC is a very cost-effective approach for this type of research because you recruit respondents only once, and the respondents learn as you go, making your research much more effective than if you are starting with a new sample each time you want feedback.
- Process Improvement. Two airlines worked together on an MROC to redesign the passenger experience in transferring flights between their two airlines. They recruited frequent flyers on both airlines who showed a history of transferring between the two carriers. Using a combination of qualitative techniques and short surveys, they explored the problems and concerns of transferring passengers and developed test concepts to address those concerns. Combining their operational policies and procedures to create a better transfer experience for all passengers resulted from the insight gained from the MROC.
Whether your MROC consists of devoted customers or more generic category users, be sure to pay attention to the last letter of the acronym. C stands for community, and your MROC will run more efficiently (and cost less) if you build a community among the participants. Fun, entertaining exercises, rewards that stimulate participation, and interaction with other community members should all be carefully managed to bring higher-quality responses and insights.