Table: Taking a Gander

With permission from shoppers, consumer-products companies are using the Web to peek into the homes of the people who buy their goods. Here's why:

Hallmark Cards

Research: The company hosts an online bulletin board for 200 consumers who chat about everything from holiday decorating ideas to prayers for ill loved ones. Hallmark breaks in to steer the conversation or conduct surveys.

Payoff: New ideas for cards such as less sentimental ones for mothers-in-law or sympathy cards for the anniversary of a death, and an entire new product line that Hallmark has yet to disclose.


Research: Coke created an online panel of 100 teenagers and asked how to remake its flagging Powerade sports drink. Coke wanted to move fast, and by going deep with the same panelists, it could count on quality results.

Payoff: Powerade relaunched in June with B vitamins, thanks to input from the panel. Coke cut the time and cost of product-development research by 50%.

Stonyfield Farm

Research: Stonyfield's higher-priced yogurt appeals to a niche audience that can't easily be found in phone surveys or mall interviews. So it went online to ask 105 yogurt eaters for feedback on new products.

Payoff: The survey was done in two days, down from a month, for 20% less cost than a phone survey. The company ditched the name YoFemme after consumers panned it, in favor of YoSelf.

Kraft Foods

Research: The company surveyed 160 panelists about frozen vegetables, then chose 24 to do a taste-test for a new product. Consumers sent responses via e-mail that were more detailed than traditional surveys.

Payoff: Research was 30% faster and 25% cheaper than a typical focus group. And Kraft reached consumers nationwide rather than in just a few major cities.

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