Information technology has gained a wide range of uses in marketing which has aimed at improving operations as well as quality of products being developed. Various types of software are available to marketers enabling them interact with customers and producers. Groupware is one of such kinds of software where group members interact effectively with each other and exchange innovative ideas about various products. The process of developing new products has particularly benefited from groupware where discussions that lead to development of new products are conducted online. The role of discussion groups in development of new products is also characterized by several strengths and weaknesses which are realized during its operations.
According to (Clifton, 1994), the marketing industry has currently increased its operation online where marketing of different products is carried out through the internet. A discussion group is one of the methods that have gained popularity and is being applied by marketers and producers to develop new products. There are various kinds of discussion groups that one can get into depending on the individual’s purpose and objectives. Discussion groups conducted online can be used to either contact customers or to learn and consequently use that information for professional development. There are also other more efficient ones that provide both services by allowing the marketer to learn and contribute at the same time.
IT in Business Operations and Marketing
IT has been influencing business operations and has therefore become a necessity for marketers who wish to be competitive in their particular market operations. However, effectiveness of IT only occurs if applied in conjunction with good systems of marketing such as, marketing strategies, sales force and quality of products. Among the provisions of information technology is groupware which is the software that allows groups to perform marketing operations together. For example, IT parlance comprises of people who have common goals and work together to accomplish them. Workgroup computing makes use of systems of IT to help in the processes that are conducted in workgroup operations. WANs have also been used to bring about communication between business partners as well as their customers otherwise known as work grouping. (Curtis, 1995)
According to (King, 1994), groupware has a number of advantages in marketing which includes the ability to operate over wide areas thereby connecting as many group members as possible in distant locations. Groupware has the ability to operate at all times and at any place making it independent of the two factors, that is, location and time. This consequently allows it to coordinate activities of group members’ hence improving the work that is being performed. Time used in communications and interactions between group members is limited as well as time used in the process of making market related decisions. There are various activities of workgroups that can be supported by groupware which include; collaboration in the development of innovative ideas, document preparations and sharing of information about the market. Groupware is therefore very essential in the development of new products where discussion groups are conducted online to support the process.
Potential Role of Discussion Groups Conducted Online in the Development of New Products
Although groupware can be used by business partners who produce similar items to develop new products, the process works better when conducted between marketers and customers of particular products. Interested individuals are selected and then integrated in various stages of developing new products. Interactions between marketers and the selected group of customers take place online through group discussions. Discussion groups are part of the communities that discuss issues concerning various products online so that awareness about the products can be created. They have a very essential role in instances where producers would like to develop new products using the advanced technology in order to improve customers’ satisfaction. Discussion groups enable companies to produce what is best for consumers since through discussions, one gets an idea of the kind of products they prefer. Studies have shown that, discussion groups have the potential to provide very useful innovative ideas which can be used in development of new products. This method has also been recognized as a very efficient way of communicating with a wide range of consumers as it takes place through the internet which has become so popular with consumers. Due to these and more advantages of discussion groups conducted online, companies have come up with a method known as innovation that is community based. Here, producers of various products benefit from innovative information provided by consumers who participate in online discussions which are then integrated in development processes of various products. (Mathiassen, Lars and Soresen, Carsten, 1999)
The role of group discussions in the development of new products can be divided into different sections as per the stages of development processes. To start with, they assist in the identification of needs and generation of ideas where through group discussions, innovative consumers are reached to give a variety of ideas. Most of the ideas acquired through group discussions are originally developed by consumers which make them very effective during product development. On receiving the ideas, producers engage themselves in evaluation processes where they involve other consumers through online discussions. This helps them to get the most applicable and efficient idea to use in the development of their new products.
The next stage where group discussions are used is during designing. Members of discussion groups evaluate various concepts that have been developed during their discussions as well as concepts from other sources provided to them by the marketer. They give their suggestions concerning those concepts which are then used to upgrade and improve the concepts. After group members have given their views to help upgrade the chosen concepts, the best upgraded concept is then picked to be used in designing of products. Group discussions conducted online are also useful in the stage of testing the efficiency of new products. Here, group members are provided with samples of what has been the outcome of their ideas and are asked to give their views concerning the effectiveness of the product. It therefore occur that, group members of online discussions act as co-producers of products, sources of innovative information, testers of new products as well as buyers of the same. The main objective of these discussions is to deliver information concerning the expectations of the group members, their preferences as well as upcoming trends to improve production. Online discussions enable marketers to access consumers who are interested in particular products since the development of a new product can be very effective when carried out with people who are conversant with those particular products. (Andreasen, 2002)
(Schmitt, 2003), argues that, discussion groups provide marketers with potential customers because; during online discussions, individuals who persist to stay in discussion groups are picked as the ideal customers and consumers of particular products being discussed. Discussion groups also provide information about consumers’ beliefs and norms that should be tackled during development of new products under discussion. Trust of the product is also cultivated during online discussions. This is because members of discussion groups, who are also assumed to be consumers, take part in the development of that particular product and are therefore certain of its efficiency as their needs are satisfied by the product. Commitment to products is also cultivated during online discussions as group members are likely to be committed to the new product by using it and not it’s supplement. This is because they are closely connected with the product from the start and so they take it as their duty to follow the patterns of its usage as well as its effectiveness. Also, members of online discussions identify themselves with those products that they participate in their development which eventually attract more consumers to the new products. Group discussions allow consumer’s questions to be responded to quickly by the marketers so that they can get answers at the right time. This is due to the speed and reliability of internet services, which is the means through which these group discussions are carried out.
Strengths of discussion groups conducted online
(Kotler, 2002), argues that, when members of discussion groups who are believed to be the potential buyers for that particular product are involved in developing new products, they assure producers of a certain percentage of the products’ success. This is because; they are expected to be royal consumers of the product which they are co-developers. Therefore, they are expected to start using it immediately after it gets ready so as to test its effectiveness. The producer does not have to start marketing the product by promoting it alone because; even group members’ pass information to other people who form part consumers of the product. Secondly, online discussions cuts on the costs incurred during the process of developing new products. This occurs where the whole process takes place through the internet which is considerably cheap, compared to what would have been incurred if the producer was to travel to reach all the members of his discussion group. Physical contacts would cost the project so much and it would not even be as effective as the discussions conducted online. Low effectiveness of physical contacts would be caused by the physical distance between the group members and marketers who are also the potential producers of new products. Questions asked would take quite a long time before being answered while some would go unanswered altogether. Other costs of the process of developing new products are also reduced such as, expenses incurred in research for markets of the products to be developed. Such expenses are reduced as these particular markets are realized in the course of online discussions. Those involved are expected to be part of the market as well as other people who get information about the product through group members. Since internet services are accessible to so many people, group members can come from different areas which would consequently result to a very diverse market.
Thirdly, online discussions helps to speed up the process of developing new products as internet services are very fast making the discussions to take a considerably short time than it would have taken if group members were to make trips to attend discussions. Areas that need clarification as well as questions are answered within a short period of time. The potential of the product that is innovated through online discussions also increases as group members are expected to follow its operations both in the market and its efficiency in usage. Fourthly, producers are able to establish good relationship between them and their potential customers through online discussions. The group members who feed producers with information of what they expect from the new product tend to have a close relationship with producers thereby making communication easier. Producers also see members of online discussions as potential customers and therefore try to keep their relationship as good and close as possible. These relationships consequently result to a better understanding of the behavior of consumers by marketers who are the potential producers. A deeper understanding enables producers to develop products that meet most of the consumers’ needs that can be possibly met by that particular product. This is because the producer gets to know the likes and dislikes of potential consumers. (Siess, 2003)
According to (Hayslett, 2004), online discussions also tend to give the company involved in developing new products an innovative image. This is because; ideas used are contributed by group members to come up with new products which are unique and satisfy customers needs. The company involved is also given an image that is customer oriented. This comes as a result of being closely involved with customers during online discussions and developing products that meet the needs of customers. Online discussions also enable producers to identify future changes by observing the current behavior of new products in the market. Also, the relationship established between producers and customers enables producers to study their behavior which gives them an idea of the trends that customers are likely to follow in the future. Interest in new products is also created through online discussions as customers are eager to see the outcome of their ideas and contributions. Market base is also created since the first customers of the new product are the group members who are most likely to remain committed to “their” product.
Weaknesses of group discussions conducted online
According to (Andreasen, 2002), online discussions are very essential in the development of new products but at the same time has some weaknesses. These weaknesses include lack of technical knowledge in online discussions since most group members are just normal consumers who have ideas but lack the technicality to apply it in the development of products. Skills also lack among the group members who would like to assist in development of new products. This may affect the application of ideas contributed since producers may not be in a position to apply them in the exact manner that consumers would want. Consequently, this may reduce the expected quality which would have been achieved if customers had skills to enable them assist in the development process. Another weakness is that, the contributions provided by members of online discussions may not be in a position to benefit producers in development of the new products as they may not coincide with the target market. Also, in most cases, information exchanged between online group members and producers is not confidential and may be accessed by competitors who may use the same ideas to produce a product similar to that being discussed. The initial producer may end up employing so much effort in online discussions for the benefit of other producers who had not gone on their way to research for that particular information.
It is therefore important for marketers to make use of information technology in their marketing operations so as to improve the quality of their products. Groupware, a function that is provided by information technology, has been of great use in marketing where a number of groups exchange information on the market of the products’ simultaneously. This is mostly applied in cases where discussion groups are used in the development of new products. Therefore, with these provisions of information technology, marketers should have no excuse of producing products that are not at per with the expectations of consumers. (Clifton, 1994)
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