Chrysler Brings Consumers Into Advisory Boardroom

Chrysler this week is launching a new program that aims to bring consumers--some 2,000 of them--into the boardroom, virtually. The industry's first online Customer Advisory Board (CAB) will have consumers offering their takes on product features, designs and technology.

The closed, online forum will be managed by Palo Alto, Calif.-based tech firm Passenger, a technology company that makes products for customer collaboration, and which created the platform for Chrysler's CAB forum.

Chrysler spokesperson Carrie McElwee says the initial target is to have about 2,000 people on the board. "We have a number of people that have already said yes, and we will be reaching to owners next week as well."

She says the effort launched initially with a new consumer-input site,, promoted via a corporate ad push. The site is also the application point for consumers interested in being on the advisory board. "Those are the people this week we will contact, followed by owners," she says.



The only parameters are that one cannot be an employee of an automaker or dealer, but you should be an owner or Chrysler prospect. "We are looking for long-term members of the board, an ongoing relationship," she says, adding that discussion topics could be "products, features, design, and fuel efficiency. The thing that makes this different from a focus group is that we will be able to talk to these people in an ongoing way, versus one time."

Justin Cooper, co-founder, chief marketing and innovation officer at Passenger, says the company fills a need. "At a time when consumers are actively avoiding marketing, brands are trying to figure out how to engage these people. While it contradicts traditional marketing, it offers a mutual value proposition."

Namely, customers have direct access to a company they are interested in, and they get to feel like they are part of the process, and companies get ongoing insight. Cooper says that, unlike other such efforts, there are no cash or coupon incentives to join. "They are here because they want to be. So brands gain insight in a timely fashion, via ongoing--not episodic--conversation."

Cooper says Passenger will provide collaborative technology that allows for synchronized events in which CAB members can view rich media (perhaps new TV spots Chrysler is testing, or shots of new vehicles), social networking between CAB members, and analytics.

"We scale up to 5,000 consumers per community," says Cooper. Clients include Coca-Cola--which, per Cooper, uses a consumer advisory board to tweak its user interface and strategic partners for its customer loyalty program, My Coke Rewards; ABC Studios and Entertainment to test rough cuts for programming decisions; and JCPenney.

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