Last fall, a leading paint maker discovered the power of the blogosphere. The company, which asked not to be identified, makes a popular brand of paint primers but had recently launched a summerlong campaign to introduce a full line of paints. It was an aggressive new initiative into a competitive market. The company wanted to know if its message was hitting home.
Focus groups didn't provide a full picture of customer awareness, so the paint maker turned to the blogosphere—the 30 million-strong army of online diarists—for guidance.
Hughes, a St. Louis-based channel-marketing agency, sniffed out about 20 active home decorating bloggers. And for three months, it listened. More than 1,000 blog entries referenced the paint maker during that time. The research revealed that many people didn’t understand the difference between primer and paint. They knew the brand, but they didn’t know the company was in the paint business.
“If we had done a focus group, we’d never have been able to recreate that kind of value,” said Sarah Goodman, a Hughes brand manager. Her client is now finalizing its 2006 media plan with an eye toward education. And it’s considering launching a blog.
Business marketers should heed this lesson. The blogosphere is a massive untapped source of market research for those who want to listen. Bloggers are enthusiasts who care passionately about their subject matter. They also tend to be younger, wealthier and more tech-savvy than the general population.
If you're spending thousands of dollars a year on focus group and quantitative research, consider rolling some of that money into blog-based research. You can start for free. Search the Web to find out who's blogging about your company or products. Subscribe to their journals with software that supports Really Simple Syndication (RSS) information feeds. You can get it online for free or a nominal fee.
Go to a Web site like Technorati.com or Pubsub.com and set up a subscription so that new blog entries about your company go directly to your RSS reader or in-box. If you want a more comprehensive package, you can buy customized monitoring and reporting services from Intelliseek, Cymfony, Biz360 or several other sources.
Then consider starting a blog of your own. Pick a topic you're passionate about and know very well. Solicit questions and offer advice. Contact other bloggers and tell them you're here to help. Link to their writings and tell them about yours. You'll be part of the global conversation faster than you expect.
Don't tap the blogosphere unless you have a thick skin. The community is known for its blunt language and brutal honesty. You won't always like what you hear, but what you hear will be very real. That's why you're doing market research in the first place.