Michelle Adams, director of the consumer strategy and insights group for the Plano, Texas-based snack-food maker, outlined the market research approach in a panel at yesterday's ad:tech conference focusing on corporate use of social computing.
Social computing provides the fifth "P" of marketing--participation, said Diane Hessan, president and CEO of Communispace, which organized the two 300-member groups for Frito-Lay--one consisting of moms with at least two children, and the other of 40-plus Boomers who have no kids.
Frito-Lay uses its "Moms Connect" private Web platform to get honest feedback from a key audience. For the first time since bringing the participants together 18 months ago, Frito-Lay plans to hold "speed dating" sessions, visiting the women in their homes, and introducing them to the company's brand marketers for face-to-face interaction.
"Moms Connect" participants are so engaged, says Adams, that they've just published their fifth member newsletter with news of birthdays, recipes and other information reflective of people whose lives extend beyond the consumption of snack food.
"There's a lot going on in their lives," said Adams. "Your brand is part of something bigger."
Adams said the participants were screened extensively, and must sign non-disclosure agreements, as would any real world research panel. They receive a very small stipend for their participation, but are really motivated by the recognition and knowledge that they have insider information. They're also the first to get their hands on new products.
"We treat them very well," said Adams, with select care packages that "empower" them with their neighbors.
Frito-Lay also uses the online community panels to get reactions to competitive products and even sends consumers to supermarkets inviting them to evaluate what they are seeing in the aisle. Campaigns targeted to teens are also run past the moms to see what sort of parental reaction they elicit.
The panels also serve the useful purpose of allowing marketers who may be young and male to get inside the head of a mom who has multiple children. Watching how the participants interact day-in and day-out offers terrific insight through a virtual form of ethnography, Adams said.