Automakers Watching Consumers Online

http://www.internetweek.com/story/showArticle.jhtml?articleID 0503494
Automakers Watching Consumers Online
By Michael Cohn InternetWeek
Consumers posting their criticisms online about the cars and trucks they
drive may not realize their views are being closely monitored by the automotive industry. Most of the major automobile companies employ marketing firms to keep close tabs on customer sentiment and how it's being reflected on blogs, discussion groups, listservs, and enthusiast sites.
There is no way to opt out. Like it or not, people who write their opinions online are making their voices heard loud and clear with the big automakers. Meanwhile, Detroit is doing its best to make sure negative perceptions from dissatisfied customers don't sink the reputations of its latest models or its carefully crafted, expensive ad campaigns.
While some Internet users welcome the opportunity to have their views heard by the companies that put them behind the wheel, others are surprised to find their concerns monitored and answered online.
Ken Payne, president of Ford Truck Enthusiasts, noted that Ford posts "sometimes covertly and sometimes overtly" on his site.
"When Ford is a little more open they're received a little better," he said. "We also draw a line on our site between using the site to gather a little information and using it for official market research."
Payne believes the majority of the site's users are aware that Ford is listening. "You always have your occasional guy who's a little paranoid about that stuff," he said. "But most of them like the fact that they have an ear with Ford."
The site's users, according to Payne, influenced the design of Ford's 2004 F150 truck.
Car enthusiasts are invaluable to the auto industry, since some of them seem to guide other users' purchasing decisions.
"In every discussion forum, 10 percent are influencers," Bill Stephenson, director of automotive business development at Intelliseek, said. "Those consumers are resident experts who spend a lot of time in their forum, who others know and trust."
Intelliseek's customers include Ford, BMW, Lexus, and Toyota. The company, which gathers marketing data from the web, monitors 9 million blogs, along with 60,000 discussion forums, Usenet newsgroups, travel sites, and auto sites.
RSS feeds can create particularly pesky problems for automakers, since a negative comment on one blog can quickly spread to a multitude of blogs. Carmakers have responded by creating blogs of their own to influence web users. One recent attempt by Mazda to launch a blog to tout a new product backfired, however, when bloggers realized it was a fake.
"It looked like it was created by a regular consumer, but the bloggers smelled a rat and found it was created by an agency," Stephenson said. "That's a big no-no in the blogosphere. You don't try to pull one over on the bloggers. They are subject matter experts."
To be fair, automakers can't be blamed when they encounter misperceptions and misinformation on the web and feel they need to take steps to counteract the damage.
"A number of enthusiasts and owners were complaining about one technical issue that they felt hadn't been addressed by the company despite them complaining about it for months and months," Jerry Needel, vice president of client services at BuzzMetrics, said. "The enthusiasts were literally taking it to the level of telling people not to purchase the vehicle if they were coming to the forum. The engineers were very surprised because they had fixed it months ago, but it had never been communicated. The enthusiasts felt like they were being ignored. It never made its way to the street." BuzzMetrics has worked with a number of automotive companies, including OEMs, parts companies, and service providers. The firm tries to take the perspective of a consumer researching a car by looking at corporate sites and third-party sites, and trying out Google searches to see what's creating interest in a product, whether positive or negative.
"Clients want to start monitoring buzz before a launch happens," Needel said. "It helps marketers uncover expectations around a vehicle prior to launch. If there are incorrect expectations, they can adjust them."
When there's a product recall, BuzzMetrics tracks the consumer reactions and signs of litigation. BuzzMetrics's biggest client is GM. Its technology uses a spidering engine to find relevant conversations and converts them into a single data format for analysis. The company then has analysts sift through the information using business intelligence tools and compiles the information into market-research reports.
Competitor Brandimensions, on the other hand, runs algorithms to derive a "sentiment score" that describes the emotional connection of the consumer to the brand, and then tracks any change in the sentiment and volume over time. The data comes back to a product manager who writes the final report. Brandimensions finds that on average between 80 to 90 percent of consumers research a vehicle on the Internet before they head to the dealer.
Brandimensions monitors blogs and discussion forums to find where people are talking extensively about a vehicle. When they are asking a lot of questions or spreading a false rumor that could be damaging, they are assigned an alert, which is sent to a contact center that helps the company decide how to engage consumers in that venue.
"We train clients to do it in an ethical and upfront environment," Bradley Silver, Brandimensions's chief operating officer, said. "They establish a relationship with the forum moderator and ask permission to address their requirements."
The effect of this type of outreach can be profound on customers.
"They feel like they're getting superior customer service and being given a voice," Silver said. "You're not there to snoop, but to provide them with a service. Then it translates into something very positive."
Whether it's perceived as positive or negative, the major automakers are keeping close tabs on the Internet to see exactly which direction their vehicles are heading.
---JRE---
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I doubt seriously if GM is here listening, other wise they wouldnt have built an ugly GTO based on an Australian car. They would have known it wouldnt sell if they had been here.

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I feel sure you're totally wrong. GM is the 4 largest company on earth (I may be off by one, I don't recall). They have many, many, many people working for them. It would only take a few people, 3 or 4, to monitor online chat groups to glean useful information.
One of the problems with making a product is you become delusional about it, and surround yourself with people on your payroll. They have no real diversity at that point. They can really use honest feedback.
Now I know that several people will reply and say GM is stupid, and they're all total idiots, and don't listen, and blah blah blah. But remember - 4th largest company on earth. Many thousands of employees, several of whom aren't idiots. They are bureaucratic, and that's different from being stupid.

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Lil Rascal said he doubted if GM was "listening"...not doubted that GM was "monitoring". A BIG...HUGE difference!
IF they had been "listening" then Lil Rascal is right! GM wouldn't have launched the GTO in the form that they did. There were plenty of posts from plenty of people here in this NG (and other places) that accurately foretold the inevitable fate of the new GTO! Did GM monitor this NG (and the other places)? Probably did! Did they "listen" to what people posted? Well we know the answer to that...NOT! Am I surprised? Not at all...speaking as a former customer. Have I tried to provide helpful insight (letters to Bob Lutz for example)? Yes! Did he return any of them? No..not even a "thanks for writing" form letter). Any company that depends on customers for survival cannot act that way! One would think that elementary fact would be intuitively obvious. Guess not!

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Rememeber, Lutz said in an interview that its GM's job to TELL consumers what they want!
LOL!
Yep, I want bland boring corporate "badge engineered" cars with the same engine, styling, interior, and ride but a different brand name ....
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Dennis Smith
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Yes, I remember. He has things backwards! He wasn't like that when he was at Chrysler. What the heck happened to him?

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On Sat, 16 Apr 2005 22:19:06 -0400, "James C. Reeves"

He has been assimilated.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Retired Shop Rat: 14,647 days in a GM plant. Now I can do what I enjoy: Large Format Photography - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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Bullseye! Give the man a lollipop.
I retired from GM in Feb.. I worked at what was once called Buick. When I started in 1965, there were 20,000 employed at the site. Today, there's about 2400. There are 4 plants left operating, making 3800 V6's, pistons for the new 6 cyl., torque converters, and other transmission parts. Each plant has a superintendent over the plant. The site has an operations manager, an engineering manager, and a site manager, along with staff, overseeing the entire site. These folks visit each plant once a month for a walk-through tour. This means they know the plant's operation inside out, right? The plant I was in (torque converters & pistons) generally runs 5 days per week on 2 shifts. The only time available for major equipment repairs is Saturday. The maintenance teams in the plant submit lists of what needs to be done. These lists are refined in a maintenance manager's meeting, then a single list for the weekend work goes upstairs. First, the plant superintendent reviews it, and will cut some items he/she deems not urgent. Then, the list goes to the folks that come in only once a month for their approvel. Usually, 90% of the list is killed here. The 10% gets done and those machines run fine again. The 90% taken off the list stumble along for a while, then fall apart. At that point, the big staff folks start screaming at the employees because the machines fell apart.
Government bureaucrats have nothing on GM.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Retired Shop Rat: 14,647 days in a GM plant. Now I can do what I enjoy: Large Format Photography - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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Amen to that David. You have me beat as I only had 11,454 days in a GM plant. Worked in Skilled Trades for most of that time and learned quickly that the GM way is certainly screwed up. If it will limp along, don't fix it. BUT, if it fails during a production run shift all hell breaks loose.
Retired from Bay City Powertrain in '02. Now in Sunny Central Florida doing what I enjoy. Drawing my pension.
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On Sun, 17 Apr 2005 10:04:45 GMT, "noyk"

Was Valorie Horton still there when you worked there? She was our maintenance superintendent for a few years.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Retired Shop Rat: 14,647 days in a GM plant. Now I can do what I enjoy: Large Format Photography - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
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wrote:

She must have moved to Bay City after I left. I worked days for years and would have met her if she was in maintenance. One thing for sure, GM makes changes slowly amd usually after the fact but when the change is made it is usually for the good of the company. Deleting Olds was a good move but combining the other divisions could muddy the waters. Buick, Chevrolet and Cadillac all have unique models and prices.
I think this new Pontiac two seater is a start, reminds me of the two seater of the 80's.
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David Starr wrote:

And, here is how things worked at my company:
In the beginning, there was the Plan. And then came the Assumptions.
And the Assumptions were without form, And the Plan was without substance.
And darkness was upon the face of the Workers and they spoke among themselves saying, "It's a crock of shit, and it stinks."
And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, "It is a pail of dung, and we can't live with the smell."
And the Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, "It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."
And the Managers went unto their Directors saying, "It is a vessel of fertilizer, and none may abide it's strength."
And the Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another, "It contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."
And the Directors went to the Vice Presidents saying unto them, "It promotes growth, and it is very powerful."
And the Vice Presidents went to the President saying unto him, "This new plan will actively promote growth, and vigor of the company with very powerful effects."
And the President looked upon the Plan, and said that it was good,
And the Plan became Policy.
And this is how shit happens.
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....and that is about the best explanation I've ever heard!

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<snip>

I would bet A LOT of money that this is not what one would find going on inside a Toyota or Honda factory!
John
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If it costs nothing and makes a profit than it might be done. If it costs money and promises a profit there is a slight chance of it being done. But if it isn't their idea it won't get done no matter how much profit.
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Since that was a Bob Lutz Pet Project ... nothing could stop it :(.
The magic Sir Lutz was supposed to bring to GM has not happened.
John
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When one becomes out of touch with the customer...bad things happen. His own words over the past few years speak volumes to that topic.
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