But theres a big piece of bad news, too. The flood of information at the command of customers is both good and bad, and many customers—especially consumers—rarely can tell the difference.
Consider a consumer who wants to purchase a new toaster oven.
A visit to, for example, Amazon.com, supplies lots of brands and models to choose from. But those options are accompanied by unofficial comments—pro and con—ostensibly from other consumers.
Those comments can be helpful, when consumers describe what the products can and cant do and whether or not they are happy. This would, at first glance, seem to be a good thing.
But are the identities of those making the comments verified in any way?
How do know we that the person who said the GE product was "excellent except that it got a little too hot on the outside" was not in reality a clever GE salesperson who knew that a dash of criticism would make the praise far more credible?
Its somewhat of an academic discussion, because the reality is that consumers and other customers now have access to this type of information, and thats not likely to change any time soon. Traditional advertising still lives, but viral marketing is gaining strength.
I bring this up because CIO Insight recently did a survey of CIOs and found that Web impressions represented the overwhelming majority of contacts with customers, representing some 84 percent of companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue, 86 percent of those with revenues between $100 million and $999 million, and a staggering 92 percent for companies with less than $100 million in revenue, which is where the bulk of U.S. companies sit.
Even if we limit those Web contacts to the CIOs own site—which this survey did—more and more sites are providing external links, search engines that go beyond the site and areas for site visitors to make public comments.
So its not as though any company is fully control of the content on its own sites, let alone any site in cyberspace that feels like commenting on the companys products or services.
(By the way, does anyone use Usenet Newsgroups for purchase research anymore? Thats not rhetorical. If anyone still does, Id love to hear from you at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com.)
But even more alarming was this scary statistic: Most of the CIOs surveyed (57 percent) said they did nothave regular contact with top customers.