US: Automakers using Internet to gauge interest, opinions on upcoming autos
Web Watching: Automakers using Internet to gauge interest, opinions on upcoming autos
RALPH KISIEL | Automotive News
Forget that the 2006 Ford Explorer doesn't hit dealerships until the fall. And never mind that most people don't have a clue what the redesigned SUV looks like, even though spy photos have appeared on some Web sites.
Ford Motor Co. isn't relying solely on focus groups and clinics to find out what people have to say about the vehicle. The automaker is using the Internet to get an early read on consumers' likes and dislikes.
Ford has hired Intelliseek Inc., a Cincinnati technology company, to comb through online discussion forums, blogs and chat rooms for comments on the Explorer. Ford plans to use the information to hone its marketing messages.
Intelliseek specializes in "business intelligence." That's a fancy way of saying that it has software to pinpoint and organize feedback from millions of Internet sources. The software searches for key words and phrases, such as "Ford Explorer," then summarizes what it finds.
Considering the amount of information on the Internet - for example, Intelliseek monitors 3.5 million blogs (short for Web logs) daily - that's a task no human could handle easily.
Ford's reward is early intelligence from a select group of enthusiasts who care about cars.
Ford isn't the only automaker using the Web to gauge reaction to its products. And Intelliseek isn't the only company with the software to search for such detailed information. Brandimensions Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, and BuzzMetrics of New York provide similar services.
While the car companies are reluctant to discuss specifics, they are quick to extol the benefits of unsolicited feedback.
"There's not any preconceived plan by the people who are engaging in these chat rooms and forums to say anything different than what they feel," says Julie Roehm, director of marketing communications for Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.
Roehm says the Chrysler group still uses traditional focus groups. While the Internet research probably wouldn't derail a marketing campaign, she says, it might "move it four degrees to the right or four degrees to the left."
Observing, not interacting
Ford likens its monitoring of the Web to "an observational type of research where you are watching and observing rather than interacting with the customers," says Michael Harper, quality tracking manager in Ford marketing, sales and service.
Ford also understands the benefit of knowing what consumers think of the current Explorer, says Bill Stephenson, director of automotive business development at Intelliseek.
"What is the sentiment around that vehicle, not only from owners but also from shoppers and competitive owners?" he asks. "Ford wants to understand what that perception today is, and how is that likely to affect how people perceive the new Explorer."
Those who run the Web sites being monitored don't mind the eavesdropping.
"On a public message board, I don't feel like it's an invasion of privacy as long as they aren't taking the data and publishing it publicly," says Jamie Vondruska, a partner in Vortex Media Group. The group operates eight enthusiast sites, including VWvortex.com.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....