Companies without blogs miss valuable customer insights

The Australian enterprise is slowly waking up to the potential of branded blogs as a source for product research and development.

A number of companies are assessing whether a branded blog would boost product discussion among their customers and give them more realistic feedback than a research and development laboratory.

But IT managers voice concerns that such a site could be the first point of call for a competitor to skew information and that such a blog could fail to glean relevant information on consumer buying trends.

Andres Liepinieks, IT manager for Aussie clothing company Driza-Bone, is concerned about the level of resources required for a blog, because staff would need to analyse the data.

"We use guarantee or warranty cards for customer feedback; the nature of blogs makes them a little bloated for effective customer feedback," Liepinieks said.

"Directed questions of customer product ratings on these cards give feedback as part of a marketing strategy, but a blog allows people to give all opinions - like whether or not they like the colour. It can be cumbersome, because then you need the resources to analyze the data and in my opinion that is just too much.

"Our quality control testing is done by our design department and this process involves feedback from consumers as well as our wholesale customers; in respect to blogs, the amount of opinion they would gather would be useful for a much bigger company, but in a company our size that data would be detrimental."

Louis Datoy, Australian IT manager for sunglasses maker Bolle, said the IT department has been pitching the benefits of a customer-oriented blog to other business units for the past three years.

"But I recognize there is both a need and a risk in offering such a feedback platform," he said.

"We don't know all the applications of our product so a blog could give us real-life examples of the environments in which our sunglasses are used, which is ideal for research and development.

"It would be a very useful tool as we can then quantify that users out there have tested the products, sometimes more than we have."

Datoy said consumers are extremely candid online, but the company does have in place processes for customer feedback.

"I would like to see something like a "digital warranty card" that provides the demographics of users and the applications they use the products for, but this information would only be used internally," he said.

"There is the risk of a competitor using the blog to sabotage the product, but it is something you, as an IT manager, would have to be pragmatic about."

With no fewer than 80,000 new weblogs being launched every day, Tim Macdermid, the managing director of predictive analytics provider SPSS, said businesses are missing out on valuable customer insights if they doon't incorporate blogs into their market research activity.

Macdermid said blogs can provide companies with information not only on current behaviour and opinion regarding their products and services, but also on future trends.

"It can be used to drive future product development and blogs could provide intelligence that wouldn't be uncovered in traditional market research methods," he said.

"Organizations spend millions of dollars a year on market research, but could get more value from monitoring blogs and online communities.

"Currently those that already analyze online content use it purely to track corporate references or prevent rumour spreading."

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