Media Perspective: How blogs can bring progressive brands closer to customers

The scary management consultants Bain recently added blogs to their survey of management tools, describing some of their uses like this:

"Blogs can create product communities that increase customer loyalty ... Feedback from customers about new products and services can help companies develop a rapid response to problems ... CEO bloggers provide customers with direct access to top management."

As with so much that management consultants do, they've captured the essence of the idea, while simultaneously kicking all the life out of it. But if you want to see a live example of a blog being used just like this, and really well, look at innocentdrinks.co.uk, and the conversation that's going on about their current trial with McDonald's. It's a case study in the optimal deployment of a leading-edge customer-relationship methodology (as management consultants might say).

The first great thing about it: the channel actually exists. There's a direct, live channel right there on the Innocent website that can host the conversation, unmediated by anyone else. Just looking at the Innocent/McDonald's debate unfold in the mainstream media, you can see how brands are hostages to the whims of journalistic shortcuts. Most people reading newspaper coverage of this stuff will just see the words Innocent and McDonald's in the same headline and jump to immediate and erroneous conclusions. At least on their own blog, Innocent can put their case exactly as they want to - they don't have to hope the contents of a press release will squeeze through the media. And their openness and honesty will probably win them fans, even with people who don't like their final decision.

Second, while conventional market research can be incredibly distancing and abstract, there's something visceral and clarifying about the way people comment on your blog. They write exactly what they want to say and you confront it with no filter. It's the difference between hearing what people say in a focus group and having them come round your house to say it. I therefore suspect that, rightly or wrongly, the views of the few hundred people who might end up commenting on the blog will heavily outweigh the market research Innocent did. Someone expressing themselves forcefully, in their own words, under their own name, gives you more to think about than knowing that "X" per cent of people somewhat approve or disapprove of something.

Social media tools such as blogs are new for most of us, and some of us will never get past the fact that blogger sounds a bit like bugger, but the likes of Innocent are demonstrating its power, not just as effective communications tools, but as ways of putting some humanity back into the way we talk with our customers. It's worth having a look.

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