Companies that lose touch of their customers stumble. And conversely, if you look at the success of WalMart a lot can be attributed to the fact that they are closer to the customer than their suppliers. They are eating these manufacturers for lunch and are rapidly introducing their own store brands with the first-hand knowledge they’ve gained of the market. (If you like this "innovation and be closer to your customer" theme, read also these three posts.)
Apple is firmly connected to the creative graphics community, Nike has a support system of athletes, and Patagonia is connected with outdoor adventurers. With whom are you connected? Are you networked intimately enough to your group of trend translators that you can call or e-mail at any time to explore a couple of new ideas? Do you know them well enough that, if they don’t know where to find the inspiration you’re seeking, they will turn you onto their network? Not only are Apple, Nike, and Patagonia connected, but they each become a vital part of their network’s community, allowing them to find inspiration for both products and marketing consistently and much faster than their competitors. – Beyond the Brand, by John Winsor
Never mind blogs - there are yes! (gasp) non-blog ways to do all the above - ok, if you're curious, here's how blogs could fit in the picture.
CEOs don’t give a rat’s ass about vague concept of conversations, but they do care about the growing the top line. Coming from a product management point of view of marketing, there is absolute value in a dialogue with customers that helps you to truly understand your customer and step inside their shoes. And thus build and create and tweak and refine the product or service itself to ensure sales downstream because you have perfectly met those oft unstated needs and wants. Too many product managers have built products or selected features for the next model in a vacuum (a focus group is a close second to a vacuum). Virtually no one speaks of this value of blogs to help discover, create and deliver the right product, but I do see product managers from companies like Microsoft starting to do just this.
As I wrote the comment, I was thinking about the time when I showed a VP of Marketing I was working the post where the Product Manager for Microsoft OneNote threw out a question to users and I saw his eyes light up. Yeah, he comes from product management too. It was the first time he really started to warm up to blogs.
So then after that comment later in the day I see that Robert Scoble writes:
Apple, Firefox, and Google have, this year, proven to be the best at getting people to talk about them. How? I believe they've been the best at listening to what customers want and giving it to them.
So, what's the challenge for Microsoft and Sun over the next year? Ship great products. Over and over and over. Hints on how to do that are here on the blogs.
This is where blogs will really prove their worth. I'm already seeing it. Teams are now planning on how they'll take feedback on their blogs to improve their products quickly.
I interviewed a team who'll announce a product later this week. They already have a plan so that users can talk back and tell them what needs to be improved. And they have a plan for how they'll take that feedback and put it into action...
That's really where blogs will turn into a competitive weapon over the next 18 months. It's the companies (and groups) who can react to customers that'll really succeed (and be profitable). [Bingo!]
Heh, I'm thinking that even if Marqui isn't counting on it, which I'm pretty sure they're not, (I mean take a look at their The Challenge statement "ensuring consistency in your messaging and protecting brand integrity") they're going to get plenty o' valuable feedback on their product via their bloggers program. By jumping into the fray they'll discover the value of the blogosphere is much much more than an efficient means to pitch (er, evangelize) your product. As one of the blogger program participants, Jonabad.com, writes:
Will I have an impact on the development of the products that I blog?
If the folks over at Marqui are as smart as I think they are… Yes.