• June 1, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Required Reading: Let's Hear It for the Customers!

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Customers are forging their own place in the online world and businesses had better start tracking them down. From blogs to Facebook, consumers are talking to the world and the world is listening, creating a community of information that has an impact far greater than any siloed marketing campaign. Forrester Research analysts Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li help businesses understand how to get in with those consumers in their new book, Groundswell. Marketers need to finally put away any notion of mass shouting because all it really takes is a whisper -- provided it's the right whisper in the right ear. The book, Bernoff says, helps you navigate "the groundswell" -- the rise in social interaction -- and, more important, shows you how to ensure a return on investment. CRM's Jessica Tsai had the opportunity to speak with Bernoff:

CRM magazine: It seems like there's been a hostile takeover. When will we see peace and harmony between consumers and businesses? 

Josh Bernoff: I think people are intrigued by these new social technologies: They're interested in things like Facebook and MySpace; they're intrigued by things like blogs. But they're also terrified--because they know that these technologies are out of control. They're not regulated. As a company, you must become involved with these technologies. You have to immerse yourself in [them] and understand how they work.

CRM magazine: Do you see a point where the consumer will actually dictate?

Bernoff: The magnification [of consumer power] comes from the connections [between] people joining together to take their own view on what a company is doing. The problem, I think, is that marketing in particular has become very much about efficiency--and efficiency means, in marketing, that you want to reach the largest number of people at the lowest possible cost. But that form of mass shouting is becoming less and less effective.

Companies don't see [that] there's any efficiency in connecting with consumers one-on-one.... [But] if you can energize your best customer, if you create messages they can spread around, if you can do research using people's participation with these technologies to learn more about your customers, you actually can get some of the same efficiencies you get with traditional marketing--plus a whole lot more effectiveness.

CRM magazine: The book itself feels really personal: Nearly every chapter begins with the experience of a real person. What was the motivation there?

Bernoff: Well, the fact is that books that are written about real people are a lot more interesting than books about trends. In this case, it's very much [what] you should be thinking about--individual people. It's really fascinating. Marketing is about touching people. It's about motivating them. And yet we've gotten away from that and are now talking about CPM and efficiency and gross ratings points. In the end, you really need to move people.

CRM magazine: Does it require a complete change in mentality?

Bernoff: The new way of thinking involves understanding [that] you are not in control. Now, people who are not in control of the situation can accomplish an awful lot, but it takes a certain kind of humility to recognize that in this new world.

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