Applying Netnography and the Netnography08 Conference: Part 2

Last posting, I began to tell you about some of the presentations at Netnography08 that really brought to light how netnography is being adapted and used by companies in their innovation processes. I started with a netnography from the Burda Community Network concerning the world of media, and consumers’ media habits. Then I overviewed a great innovation netnography for Adidas that resulted in a new product and package.

Next, Michael Bartl from Hyve AG discussed another example, a netnography for a water treatment company about water purity. After searching for water treatment groups on the Internet, they found extremely active groups centered around aquarium ownership, and the issues faced by those who were keeping exotic fish in their homes. That’s kind of interesting—an example of the unexpected way that netnography can help find unconventional links between topics that can spark creativity and illuminate connections. It also illuminates the relation to the search for “lead users” (see Eric von Hippel’s work in this area for details), suggesting how netnography can help accelerate the process of finding “experts” in related domains.

From these postings and insights, Hyve and their client developed a metaphor that demonstrated how the important elements of all water treatment concerns mapped onto the concerns that aquarium owners faced and extensively discussed online. From here, they looked for a range of ideas and opportunities, finally deciding that water treatment and quality were a major mass market opportunity.

The opportunity lay in the needs of travelers going to places where they didn’t trust the water (as a Mexican tourist, I know I’ve been in that boat more than once!—for details, see the new Sex in the City movie).

Drawing on the techniques and technologies used by aquarium owners, they decided to develop a sort of embedded “test strip” that would tell consumers whether the water being tested was safe to drink and use. The next step was to decide where to embed it, since a test strip by itself was unwieldy and difficult. Their decision? To put the test strip, with a simple “do not drink” red circle and bar across it that would become visible if the water was no good, on the tip of a toothbrush handle. Pretty clever. They are pitching the resulting product as the “WaterCheck” toothbrush.

Stephan Ruppert of NiveaThe third presentation I’ll tell you about was by Stephan Ruppert, a brand manager of Nivea skin and sun care products for Beiersdorf. Beiersdorf was managing and investigating the use of their self-tanning products and undertook a netnography with Hyve in order to unearth new ideas for subsequent ideation and innovation. They found a lot of information about people using and recommending various self-tanning products.

One of the useful findings of the study was the sheer degree of online conversations about tanning products online. Consumers made very strong recommendations, and offered up even stronger critiques of the various self-tanning options. Some products were seen as too strong, some too weak, applicators were carefully described and reviewed, and the color, authenticity, and evenness or blotchiness of the resulting tan described and assessed. This was clearly a product with considerable involvement. Across sites devoted to sunless tanning, tanning, and wellness sites.

One of the things that the netnography turned up that Nivea had not considered before was the importance of removing the tan, especially from consumers’ hands. Consumer shared all sorts of secrets and tips about how to get the tanning solution out of their skin. These ranged from drastic methods like sandpaper, alcohol based solvents, and detergents to more organic alternatives like loofah sponges and lemon juice. But consumers still seemed unhappy with these alternatives.

Dr. Ruppert said that it was only logical to think about removing tans but, until the netnography revealed the category in all of its stark, voice-of-the-consumer reality and detail, they had never done so.

The category they were looking at was now named “de-tanning”: how to get the tan out. With their knowledge and expertise they took these netnographic findings, ideated within the de-tanning category and launched a strong and successful product offering to meet these consumers’ unmet needs.

These were just a few of the very insightful sessions at Netnography08. Other speakers included Michael Trauttman of Kempertrautmann talking about a wide variety of community oriented advertising and marketing options, and Michael Frank of PlanNet presenting on the topic of user-generated advertising. There was also a set of very interesting workshops (including one that detailed “Twitter as a Netnographic Field,” and a panel devoted to discussing the ins and outs of netnographic research.

In my next post, I’ll provide some details about the keynote address that I gave to open up the conference.

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