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Can Bloggers Design Products?

You bet.

For some time now I've been arguing that business blogs should not simply be marketing vehicles but also product development tools. In other words, instead of just telling your customers what to buy, why not let them tell you what new products and services to build?

Powerful support for the notion of blogging and other forms of online customer contact as tools in product development now comes from an article in the new issue of Business Week entitled "Shoot the Focus Group." Here's an excerpt:

"My research department doesn't know it, but I'm killing all our focus groups." So spoke Cammie Dunaway, chief marketing officer at Yahoo! Inc.

Yahoo has been getting little useful information from such groups, says Dunaway. She prefers "immersion groups" -- four or five people with whom Yahoo's product developers talk informally, without a professional moderator typical of focus groups. That leads to work sessions in which a few select consumers work together with Yahoo staffers to actually design a new product.

"The outcome is richer if they feel included in our process, not just observed," says Dunaway. One recent result: Yahoo is testing a new online community for car buffs who want more member-to-member opportunities to chat.

It's not only focus groups that are coming under increasing corporate scrutiny. Conjoint analysis -- asking consumers to pick between two "baskets" of product attributes -- and other traditional market research techniques are also increasingly seen as rather blunt instruments for determining customer wants and needs. That's because even when traditional market research tells you what customers want -- and it often doesn't -- it usually doesn't tell you why they want it. And it is here, in understanding 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.

As I said in Tough Love for Business, the day is not far off when trusted customer representatives will be brought into marketing and sales and R&D; meetings -- and even onto the company's board. After all, smart companies are realizing that their customers are, one way or the other, ultimately the key decision-makers in the enterprise.


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