Consumer Feedback at the Speed of Light

These days companies of all sizes are enjoying (or suffering, depending on how you look at it) consumer feedback at a pace never seen before. Consumers have become empowered with tools that allow them to offer compliments, complaints and concerns in a matter of seconds. And smart companies are keeping close watch on these ongoing conversations. Even smarter companies are taking action, by giving consumers a place to voice their opinions, and responding promptly.

Take the recent case of Pepsi Co.'s Tropicana brand and their misguided packaging redesign of orange juice. The New York Times published an article detailing how consumers reacted to the new packaging, calling it "ugly," "stupid" and resembling "a generic bargain brand." Looking at the new carton, it's impossible to disagree. So, Tropicana listened and is now reverting to the classic, familiar packaging. And while this misstep surely cost plenty of money, time and resources, at least the company listened, and responded quickly before the damage got out of control.

Companies will always receive negative, even inflammatory feedback. The key is control. By setting up places for consumers to vent, the brand can keep the conversation quarantined, before it has a chance to spread to undesirable places. A Facebook profile or group is one way, a Twitter account is another. Both offer ways to keep tabs on your brand without the need to reach out constantly, blindly. If you give consumers a place to connect, they will. Of course, quick responses are essential.

Setting up these portals is also an excellent way to test your audience without actually implementing costly initiatives. Had Tropicana asked their consumers what they thought of the new packaging before actually releasing the product, they may have saved a lot of cash and trouble. Of course, you will not always want to reveal your plans to the public, but consumers will jump at the chance to help shape their favorite brands. And when they are positively reinforced, they will tell their friends - both real and virtual.

Using social media as a communication tool is not just for Web 2.0-style companies, but for every company, because if you don't acknowledge your consumers in this way, they will do it themselves. At that point, you lose control. It's much more difficult to track down consumers and address their concerns across the Web, than it is to provide a home base. Then, you can receive and respond to feedback instantly. And in this day and age, instant gratification is what drives consumers to act.