Is crowdsourcing a feasible way to test new food products? The other day, as I was exiting the Harvard Red Line station, I was offered a new nutritional bar to try. I had the typical Boston response: put my head down and pretend not to see anything. But afterward I kept thinking about this experience. The small group that I exited the t-stop with also refused to take the new bar with them.
My own immediate response—to refuse the food—was actually strange to me. I am interested in pursuing a career in the food industry, and am particularly interested in products like Luna Bars, Balance Bars, and other healthy energy products. That made me think: if I, a person who actually is interested in creating my own food product, turns down a free sample in the product category that I want to be in, how many samples did they actually get out that day? And of the people who actually took the product, how many spent the time to actually fill-out online feedback forms that told the testers what they liked/didn’t like about the product?
As we have been particularly focused on crowdsourcing, it made me wonder: can you digitally crowdsource food market research?
Think about it: you follow a company like Clif Bar on Twitter. They tweet that they are testing out a new product, like a harvest-flavored Luna Bar in preparation for fall, and to direct message the company with an address if you would like to be a tester of the new flavor. Immediately you are creating a more efficient system of market testing then standing at the entrance to a T handing out free samples. Instead of creating test groups from scratch (expensive and time consuming), you are having people volunteer themselves as market testers.
As market testers will have digitally self-volunteered, I am hypothesizing a number of positive implications. There will be a higher percentage of people will give feedback—Twitter volunteers have already identified themselves as people who like to try new products. Rather then a random individual being given a product on the street, and the company hoping that they both actually try the food and give feedback on the taste, these people are already interested in being guinea pigs.
It will be easier to gather data—both on the product and the market testers themselves. Think about it: the company can track the package that contains the product sample, and once it arrives, send a link to an online feedback form to their Twitter direct message. You can have a daily reminder message that is sent if they don’t immediately fill out the form.
Also, you would be able to gather data on the sample market testers from their Twitter accounts. The implications for this are immense: you could start creating your target market based on the segmentation that you see within the market testers. For instance, say that you see, based on Twitter profiles, that the majority of the people testing your product are from the New England area, and follow a large amount of health food and exercise profiles. You can begin segmenting based on that few information alone, but could potentially get much more specific. Maybe you notice a significant number of your testers are bikers, as they are following specific professional bikers, companies, etc. This gives you insight into potential advertising avenues that would be the most effective (i.e. jerseys at the Tour de France, or specific websites).
You could potentially bring this much further: if Twitter was shown to be an effective mode of market testing, you could create a hashtag that was for product feedback (say for Clif Bar they could use #testingtheClif). Not only would this be another area for people to give feedback (for example “ready for fall: loved the new harvest flavor!! #testingtheClif”), Twitter users would be exposed to potential publicity, the new product could build up hype, the company would get free exposure (as other users who were following the company could see the hashtags), and you create an online community of dedicated consumers.
There are a lot of available avenues when it comes to the food industry and technology. Some companies in the restaurant industry understand the power that social media can have on their brand. Having restaurant fans upload pictures of their experiences, or replying via Yelp reviews for good (or bad) feedback. These are “market research” for restaurants: that were done for free. People like commenting, posting, taking pictures, talking, really sharing anything about food. Why can’t this be done in a concentrated fashion for food products as well?