Net chat vital to modern trend spotting

Major food companies are tuning into Internet blogs to help them develop long-term strategies and stay abreast of market developments. Take ConAgra Foods. The food giant got an early warning after blog scanning that the low-carb craze was set to crash, and so launched an alternative menu and avoided millions of dollars in losses incurred by many food companies that had to extinguish low-carb lines.

"By utilising online message boards, you pick up nuances in the marketplace — customer statements, thoughts — that enable us to distinguish whether something is a trend that has long-term impact or a fad that will be short-lived," said Nick Mysore, director for strategy and insights at Nebraska-based ConAgra.

For companies such as Con-Agra, blogs, bulletin boards and other web chats are increasingly valuable sources of market information that have the potential to influence product development and marketing strategies.

Companies are turning to sophisticated new technologies that track what is said on Internet social networks, blogs, message boards — wherever people congregate publicly online. "Internet word of mouth is extremely important," said Steve Rubel, senior vice president at Edelman public relations. "You see what the most vocal consumers have to say about you and about your competitors — and they're saying it without necessarily knowing you're watching them."

"What kind of thought processes are consumers going through?" Mysore said. "As an organisation, we are able to leverage that information to strategically create marketing programmes to address that issue."

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