Google CPG blog - News and Notes from Google"s CPG Vertical

Brand Managers Need to Practice Consumer Collaboration

Monday, September 28, 2009

Posted by Guest Blogger: Dave Knox, Procter & Gamble Brand Manager

Brand Managers have historically been reliant on Consumer Research such as focus groups and surveys to be “in-touch” with consumers. But in this day of 24/7 access to consumer opinions from blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, Brand Managers need a new approach for understanding why people buy their brands. One of the most powerful ways to do so is through Consumer Collaboration. In its most simplistic form, Consumer Collaboration is about monitoring and participating in the conversations around our brands, listening to changing opinions in real-time. It is about tapping into what Google calls the “Database of Consumer Intentions” to gain a new sense of what our consumers are thinking each and every day. In fact, Google is a company making it easy for marketers to be in touch with the “database of intentions” every day through tools like Wonder Wheel, Insights for Search, Blog Search, and YouTube Insights for Video.

But true Consumer Collaboration is about going beyond that, giving marketers a chance to tap into the passion of consumers and collaborate with brand advocates. The world of digital gives CPG Marketers the chance to harness the energy of consumers to build remarkable brands.

In that regard, the need for moving towards a mindset of Consumer Collaboration is driven by three facts:
  1. Consumers are sharing their opinions about the brand, with, or without, a Brand Manager's blessing.
  2. Consumers will be heard whether or not companies give them an outlet.
  3. The amount of information about our brands (and access to that information) has never been greater.
Today’s Brand Managers must recognize a new approach to move beyond research and instead focus on collaborating with our consumers and your most passionate fans. This means we should invite consumers to collaborate with us to improve our brand. Scott Cook, founder of Intuit and Board Member of P&G, eBay and Amazon calls these “User Contribution Systems.” As Cook pointed out in the Harvard Business Review:

"Every day, millions of people make all kinds of voluntary contributions to companies -- from informed opinions to computing resources -- that create tremendous value for this firm's customers and, consequently, for their shareholders,"

This fact has not been lost on CPG Brand Marketers. Whether it is Tide using the services of Get Satisfaction, or Hugo Boss Fragrance tapping into consumer creativity with, brands are starting to see the true value of Consumer Collaboration.

However, one of the best examples actually comes from a non-CPG company: Starbucks with their program, Launched in March 2008, the site arrived one year after Howard Schultz famously wrote an internal memo that said “[we] desperately need to look into the mirror and realize it's time to get back to the core and make the changes necessary to evoke the heritage, the tradition, and the passion that we all have for the true Starbucks experience.” MyStarbucksIdea was a way to regain that heritage and passion by inviting Starbucks loyalists to collaborative on reinvigorating the brand. As Starbucks describes the site:

What would make your Starbucks experience perfect? We know you've got ideas - big ideas, little ideas, maybe even totally revolutionary ideas - and we want to hear them all. That's why we created My Starbucks Idea. So you can share the ideas that matter to you and you can find out how we're putting those ideas to work. Together, we will shape the future of Starbucks.

When the site first launched, the critics classified it as nothing more than a “glorified comment card.” But over the past year, Starbucks has shown that they are truly committed to making the site much more than that. In the spirit of Consumer Collaboration, Starbucks enrolls people throughout the lifetime of an idea. At the heart of the process is a team of Idea Partners - Starbucks employees who are experts in their respective field. These Idea partners read all ideas and comments on the site, but also guide ideas through the Starbucks organization. And just as important, they keep consumers up to date via the Ideas in action blog where Starbucks writes about the ideas that are recommended for implementation and details where they are in the process (Under Review, Reviewed, Coming Soon or Launched).

This is consumer collaboration at its finest. Starbucks isn’t inviting consumers to a two hour focus group where they give ideas and never talk to the company again. Instead they are inviting people to give their opinions and providing an outlet to do so. The result is that consumers are acting like part-owners of the company because their ideas are being heard. More brands need to follow the lead of Starbucks in this area, leveraging the power of digital to practice true Consumer Collaboration.

This guest post is written by Procter & Gamble Brand Manager, Dave Knox. Dave serves as P&G’s Corporate Marketing Brand Manager for Digital Business Strategy, responsible for driving digital innovation and capability across P&G's 300+ brands worldwide. The Digital Business Strategy team makes the strategic choices on which digital brand building skills and innovations will be areas of focus for P&G's brands. Author of the branding blog,, Dave was named by AdAge as “1 of 25 Media People You Should Follow on Twitter.