Leveraging Member Hubs to improve customer relationships: A Q&A with Marci Needham of Ventura Foods

One of the best ways to build deeper customer relationships in your insight community is to regularly share back what you’ve learned with your members. Doing so demonstrates that your customers’ participation is having an impact in your decision-making. It drives deeper engagement and makes customers feel more connected to your brand and the work that you do.

The need to share with members is why we recently introduced Member Hubs-a full set of tools on the Vision Critical customer intelligence platform that makes it easy to create and distribute content.

One of the early adopters of Members Hubs is Ventura Foods, a leading manufacturer of custom and branded dressings, sauces, mayos, oils, shortenings, margarines, bases and pan coatings. Engagement in the company’s new Member Hub outperformed their website and social media, plus they learned more about the attitudes and emotions of their end consumers.

I recently chatted with Marci Needham, Ventura Foods VP of Insights and Category Management, to learn about their experience with Member Hubs and to hear how they are using their insight community to deliver agile insight.

Leveraging Member Hubs to improve customer relationships: A Q&A with Marci Needham of Ventura Foods

What’s the vision for your Member Hub?

It’s about closing the feedback loop and encouraging more dialogue. Having a hub creates a great vehicle for us to share info that we have and for members to give feedback to us. Members build on each other’s ideas so they feel like they are an active part of a community that is making a difference. They can share the ideas they create in their own kitchens and continue to be creative.

Any surprises and lessons learned about engaging people in the hub?

1. Find content sources so you don’t have to write everything from scratch. This is a living and dynamic organism that needs to be nurtured frequently. Finding sources of content is critical to success so you don’t have to create everything yourself. After showcasing the hub to our product team and brand manager for one of our subsidiaries, they were blown away by the traffic and member engagement. They offered to share content pieces on a regular basis.

2. Engagement is higher than our website and social media pages. Compared to Ventura Foods’ website and social media pages, the Hub has seen much more traffic and engagement, particularly between members. This is further justification internally to showcase company-related content to promote products and maintain and “exclusive” feel. After our first newsletter, we were thrilled with the level of engagement and traffic after only a couple of days: 52% open rate, 694 views over 12 posts, 145 member comments, and 98 likes.

Leveraging Member Hubs to improve customer relationships: A Q&A with Marci Needham of Ventura Foods

3. Share content that makes members feel special. Whatever you can do to give people behind the scenes access and sneak peeks is magic. We ask ourselves, “What can we give back so members feel special?” For example, our chefs share kitchen secrets, and we highlight limited time offers to make it more of an exclusive place for members to go.

4. Create thought leadership content to position your brand as an industry expert. We promote brands and recipes related to those brands, but we also want to be seen as a knowledge center and industry expert. So some of our chefs on the product team plan to do an “Ask the Expert” and “Tips and Tricks.”

5. Drive engagement by posing questions. At the end of each post, we asked members a question to encourage member contribution. There were more member contributions if we asked a question at the end of the post.

6. Get qualitative insight from comments on posts.The natural conversations and comments on posts are providing lots of insight into what customers are interested in (and what they’re not). The EMOTION really comes through in people’s comments. The qualitative insights are such a surprising benefit because it helps me get to know the consumer on a different level, and engage them at the same time. This makes the extra work of sourcing engaging content very worthwhile.

Leveraging Member Hubs to improve customer relationships: A Q&A with Marci Needham of Ventura Foods

7. Ask members what they want to see. On our welcome post where we introduced the hub, we detailed what the hub was all about and asked members what types of content they wanted to see. This helped us know which content we should focus on first and keeps the conversation flowing both ways.

What feedback have you heard from stakeholders?

The openness of the marketing department and other brand managers has been really strong because they see something we didn’t have the time or money to do before and this allows the luxury to test things with consumers prior to launch.

We received buy-in from some stakeholders right away but not from others. We plan to use the community and hub advocates to socialize and help influence others.

Given the age of the community, we’re still building out awareness but doing a formal company presentation on it soon. For now, we were able to get chefs to sign up so they can have sight-lines into the community and help them better visualize what the community is.

Let’s take a step back now, can you give some context about why you have a community and what your community goals are?

We launched a community in 2017 to better deliver on our company vision, and provide sales with relevant products and consumer insight solutions. We are a very consumer-centric organization. By understanding our consumer’s lives better than anything else, we can quickly adapt and create strategies to solve needs in their lives.

We use our community for concept testing, ideation, understanding end-consumer behaviors, in-home usage tests, and video diaries to show path to purchase and shopping behaviors for in-store purchases. Having the community as part of our insight toolbox supports our team’s mission to contribute to Ventura’s growth objectives by establishing an insights discipline to build deeper partnerships with customers by providing superior intelligence of our categories, customers, channels, consumers and competitors.

“By understanding our consumer’s lives better than anything else, we can quickly adapt and create strategies to solve needs in their lives.”

Our community members are residents of the United States who love food. The only requirements to join the community are that members grocery shop and dine at quick service and fast casual restaurants. These are our end-consumers (our customer’s customer).

We want to:
– shorten the product life cycle, while involving customers throughout each stage
– understand end consumers on a deeper level and provide data-driven recommendations to customers –  we need to be the expert
– implement iterative learning which we were unable to do before

You’ve had your community since May 2017. What are some early wins?

Having a community has affected the way our brand managers think how long research takes. Ad hoc work has typically taken 6-8 weeks but after socializing the community it has increased the expectation that we can get insights faster. I’ve been able to take more agile insights to different areas of the business. I have gained support from head of our R&D team to help socialize and gain acceptance of new ways of research and insight gathering that areas of the business have not accepted to date.

Thank you for sharing your experience Marci.

We wish you all the best with your insight community.

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