Companies seeking information about their customers have access to ever more sophisticated consumer tracking technologies, but more data isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, some companies try to understand how people are using and consuming their products by tracking consumers with radio devices and installing video cameras in their homes. These strategies yield plenty of output, but turning miles of tape or gigabytes of data into useful marketing knowledge can be an overwhelming challenge. Often, a more useful approach is to pursue data qualitatively rather than quantitatively.

Harley Davidson executives, for example, regularly gather with customers to ride their hogs at company-sponsored events. These events build loyalty in the Harley customer community, and give execs the kind of intimate knowledge of customer likes, dislikes, needs and wants that no marketing survey could provide. Pharmaceutical companies reap similar rewards by creating Web-based communities of interest. By giving patients a place to share stories and trade information, the company gains a ringside seat to the real story—not just the surface version patients are likely to provide in a formal setting.

Knowledge@Wharton 21 Apr 2004