They've also quietly turned to heretofore low-profile application service provider Recipio to actively involve consumers in their planning. The company uses real-time consumer feedback sessions built into their clients' Web sites to build relationships and turn consumers into ad hoc product developers.
After compiling a high-powered client list mainly through personal contacts and years of research and validation work -collecting six- to seven-figure payments from clients in the process-Recipio this week begins launching to the broader market.
The idea is what Chairman-CEO Tom Kehler called the neglected area of "inbound marketing." Recipio sessions allow Web-site visitors to offer ideas and comment on those of others, then return later to see how all the ideas fared. The sessions can resemble the brutal honesty of an online chat room, said Gerry Chiarro, exec-VP marketing of Recipio, though Recipio filters abusive or profane language.
"Tons of money has been spent on outbound marketing," Mr. Kehler said, explaining that marketers generally get feedback that might be four to six months old and from people who might not be customers. "We saw a huge opportunity ... to take customers' comments in their own words about things they care about and be able to analyze it in real time so that it's statistically significant and can be used for prediction about what's going on in the market."
While no products have been developed from the sessions, some TV show scripts have been affected. NBC used Recipio, which opened its doors in 1998, to analyze viewer feedback regarding its Summer Olympics coverage and now routinely uses sessions for such shows as "The West Wing." It also used Recipio this month to get feedback on its broadcasts of the first-ever XFL games. Such feedback is already helping shape scripts and plot lines, Mr. Chiarro said.
"Most market research is polished," Mr. Kehler said. "It goes through several editorial processes, so management does not really get a feeling for the emotion behind [it] and what's really going on with the customer. There's a huge appetite for that."