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Should Corporate Bloggers Listen More and Talk Less?

Corporate America's interest in blogging has focused primarily on its use as a marketing tool. But I wonder if, in the future, we'll look back and see that marketing turned out to be among the least of blogging's benefits to business.

Consider, for example, how firms might benefit if instead of only using blogs to tell their customers what to buy, they also used blogs to ask their customers what the company should build?

It's not like corporate America couldn't use the advice, after all. Over 40 percent of all newly-launched products fail in the marketplace -- in some high-tech industries, the failure rate is close to 90 percent! And whenever executives are polled as to the reasons for this extraordinarily-high failure rate -- as the consulting firm Booz Allen did in a 2004 survey of CEOs, chief technology officers, and vice presidents of engineering and product development -- they consistently pin the blame on one thing: an inadequate understanding of consumer wants and needs.

As an article in the journal Strategy+Business recently conceded: "Few companies are good at ... capturing and integrating customer insights into product design."

Many people would be shocked, in fact, to learn just often firms undertake multi-million dollar product development efforts without ever speaking to a single current, former or prospective customer. Truth be told, this failure to integrate the "voice of the customer" into new product development is the dirty little secret of corporate R&D.;

To be fair, new technology and improvements in supply chain dynamics have radically shortened product development cycles, and market research budgets are under assault everywhere. But even under the best of circumstances, the tools and techniques traditionally used by market researchers are rather blunt instruments for understanding customer wants and needs.

For example, even when traditional market research manages to pinpoint what customers want, it usually doesn't tell you why they want it. And it is here, in trying to understand the deeper motivations and emotional drivers behind people's buying decisions, that the greatest opportunities for building winning products and successful brands are generally found.

That's why I think some businesses will systematically use blogs -- Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li calls them "the exhaust streams of consumer attention" -- to pierce the sometimes hermetically-sealed labs of new product R&D; with fresh new insights into customer wants and needs.

Instead of asking 20 people in a focus group, for example, to pick between various "baskets" of product attributes -- a clumsy research technique hardly improved by the scientific-sounding name "conjoint analysis" -- why not ask them to tell you directly, in their own often-rambling but always revealing words, exactly what they would like your new product to look like and why?

So here's a question for readers: Which companies are already experimenting with "product definition" blogging? What are the results so far, and how are these firms dealing with the potential confidentiality and competitiveness issues that R&D; blogging entails?

Please send me any leads you have in this regard, which will help me enormously in a new book on blogging and business that I'm doing for Random House's Crown Business imprint (more on this later).


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I can't answer your question, but two (non-tech) companies that I think are using their corporate blogs in meaningful ways are (where I admit, I contributed a piece for the launch of their baby/kids line) and Sure there's marketing in there, but it seems a little less slimey.

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