Private Sites Tapped as Marketing Tool

Clients who use their own password-protected Web sites to glean insights about their brands find them most useful when developing marketing concepts, according to a new survey that will be released this week.

The sites, which have been used by marketers as diverse as Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Staples, Hallmark, Kraft and Chrysler, use questionnaires, polls and live chats to get real-time feedback and advice from consumers on everything from new product designs to the look and tone of advertising. The consumers are handpicked and rewarded with insider perks, such as a chance to participate in a carmaker’s driving event.

When asked which client departments benefit most from the sites, survey respondents ranked marketing at the top of the list (96 percent), followed by market research (71 percent), product development (67 percent), public relations (29 percent), sales (21 percent) and human resources (8 percent).

Respondents also see the sites as catalysts for change. Fifty-four percent said using them  “changed how we think about collaboration,” 46 percent that they “changed how we think about customers” and 33 percent said they both “changed a product design” and “changed our marketing strategy.”

Sector Intelligence, based in Seattle, conducted the survey for Passenger, a Los Angeles shop that creates private Web sites for clients. Sector polled 25 executives at 16 brands in late 2008 and early 2009 to gain a sharper, more detailed understanding of how they use the sites.

Some clients see sites as an alternative to traditional focus group research and ad-hoc surveys. Forty-three percent said that using this method of consumer feedback reduced the number of focus groups they conducted in the past year and 36 percent said the practice cut down on the number of surveys they needed.

Those figures jibe with the experience of Mercedes-Benz USA, which last year launched a site geared toward Generation Y consumers, the majority of whom did not own Mercedes cars. Back then, vp of marketing Steve Cannon found his site,, so efficient that he envisioned it replacing certain types of focus groups, particularly those that delve into broader issues, such as “greenwashing.”