Petco, P&G and Shaw use digital to open doors

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COLUMBUS, OH - There was a lot of theorizing about how consumers, empowered by technology like the Internet and iPods, are rewriting the rules of mass media at Resource Interactive's iCitizen client symposium last week.

In a late afternoon panel on Oct. 27, three companies on the frontlines offered a sneak preview of what it means for marketers. One of them, Bazaarvoice, Austin, TX, was founded by Brett Hurt to give functionality to Web 2.0 for brands like Sears and Home Depot.

"Ratings and reviews is the place to start," said Mr. Hurt, who also founded Coremetrics.

He said enabling customers to create product ratings and reviews online not only engages the consumer, but can become a digital asset that can be leveraged with analytics and by merchandising.

Ratings and reviews "give people a more tactile experience online and allow people to touch and feel product online through other people," Mr. Hurt said.

Bazaarvoice client and pet products retailer Petco recently surveyed its customers about what most influenced their purchasing decisions. "Ratings and reviews" was the No. 1 answer.

Petco also uses the reviews in its e-mail communications with customers while another Bazaarvoice customer, Overstock, is experimenting with using ratings in its banner ads.

Still, another way Bazaarvoice is turning reviews into digital assets is by syndicating them into shopping portals.

However, selling the concept of ratings and reviews to management can be a challenge. While the understanding is there at the CEO level, it isn't always at the middle management level, Mr. Hurt said.

"Resistance comes form the merchandising group, which doesn't want a score card," he said.

Ratings and reviews enable merchants to capture important information about products and understand why they might have a 40 percent return rate, for example.

Selling the concept of more open communication with consumers via the Internet is a challenge at Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., which has relied heavily on TV advertising for decades, said Andy Shih, who is responsible for P&G's hair care interactive marketing.

It's important to employ similar analytics that you would when talking about traditional media, like reach and ROI, if you're trying to convince management about the power of interactive, Mr. Shih said.

While consumers use Shaw Industries Inc. flooring, the company hadn't traditionally done any consumer marketing. Then, it experimented with opening its own retail stores. It soon started losing money, and the company quickly pulled back from this strategy.

For the past year, Shaw has been trying to connect with consumers through the digital world.

"There are new ways of building brands that might be better than the traditional way doing it," said Steve Abernathy, director of marketing technology for Shaw, Dalton, GA .

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