If your company or client manufacturers a product or provides a service, you can safely bet someone somewhere in the world has a blog about it.


While I can’t seem to find enough time to visit with my grandkids, take my wife to dinner, keep ahead of the paperwork and mow the yard, there are people out there who are so passionate about everything from furniture to films that they slice time from their busy schedules to share their thoughts with the world. There are well over 115 million blogs on offer right now and that number continues to climb each and every day.


Some companies and organizations have embraced the new communication channel as a means of re-enforcing marketing messages fielded in more traditional tactics; but, the vast majority of the blogs in the world are simply average people expressing their thoughts and opinions on a wide range of topics – including products and services currently available in the marketplace.


These informal musings as well as the resulting commentary from readers can provide insight into a target audience at a fraction of the cost associated with traditional marketing research. Grant it – profile data for the source of the information are not as complete, the results can’t be quantified or generalized to a larger population and the marketing pro has little control as to what information is shared. Nevertheless, the resulting conversations can be used to augment traditional research methods and shape future marketing messages.


The trick is knowing what to look for and maintaining an open mind. Far too often marketers and company execs dismiss bloggers as fringe elements whose opinions do not reflect the more moderate mainstream. There is a measure of fanaticism in these blogs — anyone who takes time out of their day to praise or rail a product/service clearly has well-developed passions, yet that doesn’t mitigate the value of the information culled from the blogs and resulting commentary.


There are 3primary elements to the unofficial blog:


1. Negative Nellies

A sizable number of the unofficial product and service-related blogs are initiated as means to voice displeasure with a brand, company, product or service. While the bulk of the information and commentary fielded at what I’ll term a complaint blog is of little use to the company, some posts and reader responses can be used to improve consumer interaction [hearing and responding to repeated complaints of unresponsiveness], change message themes [readdressing marketing campaigns whose primary messages are being misinterpreted by some audience members] and retargeting messages [finding appeal or lack of appeal in a segment previously thought to be interested or uninterested in the product or service].


2. On the Bandwagon

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many product or brand loyal consumers have also established blogs. Again, the majority of the information espoused on the site is likely already known to the marketing professional or simply too nondescript to factor into future campaign construction. There is little that can be done when a blog post describes a particular product benefit and the response from readers includes comments like … “I love that” or “that is soooo cool.”  The discriminating marketer would want to know why the consumer appreciates the benefit or how the benefit improves the consumer’s life.


Despite their limits, bandwagon blogs can provide some useful information, including the identification of brand or product loyal segment congregation sites [social networking, chat rooms or even offline conventions and events], previously unleveraged product benefits that have marked appeal as well as clues to how real consumers are integrating the product into their daily lives.


3. Psychographics

Scanning unofficial blogs is an excellent means of gathering informal data on the lifestyles of your most loyal consumers. That information can easily be translated into new sales promotions, public relations outreach and the creation of more appealing traditional marketing messages. In short, keeping an eye on new media can help foster a more complete traditional media package.


The final bark

Don’t be afraid of those unofficial blogs; monitor them and suck every last possible ounce of data from them. You may just stumble on to a new segment to address, a means of improving consumer interaction or a new product benefit to leverage.