Collaborative Planning: Building Brands & Communications WITH people

By Véronique Langlois and Xavier Charpentier, CoFounders at FreeThinking, part of MSLGROUP France. This article was first published in the People’s Insights magazine The Future of Employee (Re)Engagement, and is re-published below.

Veronica and Xavier

When we launched FreeThinking in 2007 as a pure player of 2.0 consumer research and collaborative planning, we didn’t imagine that one day, people would thank us – especially these people, and this way.

These people: Not clients – even if they do sometimes thank us, fortunately – but participants, employers and consumers, who we work with to make brands and companies move forward. Today, those that we used to politely thank at the end of a focus group are the ones that express their gratefulness at the end of an online conversation.  

This way:

“Thank you for your time and consideration. Please let me know if you have any further questions.

Regards, Julia.”

Or this way:

“It was very exciting to discuss with our colleagues over the country. I believe this method makes our motivation be higher. If possible, I want you to keep such kind of opportunity regularly in the future. Many thanks for all of you.”

Why these reactions?

Because collaborative research and planning turn people into real partners – concretely and emotionally. Collaboration empowers them, values their words and gives them the opportunity to talk to each other, rather than to us, boring and inquisitive research people and planners. Collaborative research and planning, as FreeThinking practices it, is building digital brain trusts (a group of advisers to a decision maker) with people that are not used to be part of any brain trust – but love it.


By trusting the collective, collaborative intelligence of people we gather on our platforms in communities. FreeThinking relies entirely on managing group intelligence. We have one aim and one working method: turn group intelligence into co-operative intelligence.

  • This means, first, a community meeting place: the FreeThinking invitation-only platform, our investigative tool stimulating participants’ conversations (their place, their time).
  • This means, more importantly, a community management approach designed to get people talking freely and stimulate them to think about things as partners. 50 to 120 people, during 10 to 15 days, free to upload images and links on the platform, and to vote on and arrange priorities.
  • This means, then, a conversation decoding process designed to bring out the ideas around which the discussion is structured; not necessarily a consensus, but committed ideas which foster brand commitment.
Home-page of one of the FreeThinking communities


We have worked with several clients since 2007, and have created and managed more than 250 communities in 16 markets including China, Russia, Brazil, Malaysia, Turkey, Poland, and of course the US, Italy, Germany, and the UK.

  • Norbert Dentressangle, one of the major European Logistics company, to listen to employees, all over Europe, about their perception of their brands and its values – and more importantly the way they implement them in their daily professional life.
  • BNP Paribas, to explore what “rising”, could mean both professionally and socially in 5 markets, both European and Asian, in cultures as different as Chinese and Turkish.
  • Nestlé, to better define with them the Brand Properties of some of their major global brands, and to understand what they should be in a multicultural context, in Asia, Europe, LatAm – which means to understand what is the ideal kitchen and the perfect cooking-time for people in different places.
  • Renault, to better understand what was left of the fantastic relationship they used to have with the customers in France, after years of a bumpy journey towards success.
Real conversations taking place on FreeThinking

What is common in all these examples?

The fact that each time we put people – be they employees, or consumers, customers and fans – in a collaborative approach, they respond beyond our expectations.

Each time we explain to them that we count on their input, sensitivity and common sense, they do their best and give us more – more insights, more ideas.

And each time we put our clients in a different perspective, they are enthusiastic to work in a new way – truly participating in the research and the strategic planning, rather than waiting for results and being exposed to ideas.

Interested in learning more about collaborative planning and research? You can call us. Feel free.

To start a conversation on collaborative planning and research, email and

MSLGROUP People's Lab

People’s Lab is MSLGROUP’s proprietary crowdsourcing platform & approach that helps organizations tap into people’s insight for innovation & change.

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