Roadblock: The Product Line Manager

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2003-03-01 Print this article Print

Research is vital to the blend of artistry, social expression and marketing required for a successful greeting card. But is the product line manager going to sign off on the results?

Research is vital to the blend of artistry, social expression and marketing required for success by major greeting-card manufacturers American Greetings and Hallmark. But new research mechanisms in the information age—specifically using demographically designed "Internet Communities" to gather data on consumers' product opinions, attitudes, likes and dislikes—can be resisted, even by companies that want to reach a new generation of Web-savvy consumers. Paramount to the concern has been a fear about sharing information with outsiders, such as floating new card concepts past consumers over online bulletin boards. At both American Greetings and Hallmark, product managers worry that competitors, not just consumers, will see new card ideas. But there are ways to overcome this resistance.

Focus on the benefit When a division is struggling with a problem, let it consult with customers on the Internet. "There have been a number of cases where consumers have come up with the answer," recounted Tom Brailsford, a research manager of Hallmark, at a recent conference. For instance, if card-store traffic is slowing, online consumer research can quickly gather data on promotions that will lead to increased store visits.

Ensure security, confidentiality Build a highly secure, password-controlled site. Then require participants to sign agreements not to share or redistribute concepts.

Go to the top Get high-ranking executives involved. The marketers at Hallmark went directly to Chief Executive Officer Donald Hall and explained the benefits of interactive research. Now Hall frequently gets on the bulletin board himself to ask questions of the nearly 800 individuals who regularly participate in the online discussions.

Pay attention to information overload Make sure you pass on insights to those high-ranking executives and affected managers. Don't just send data. Make the research clear; explain how it will affect the introduction or withdrawal of a product line, for instance.


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