take control of marketing
October 1, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
are your Google results,” says author Jackie Huba.
Huba’s point, despite all of the controlled media we marketers
place--from television and print ads, to direct mail drops and
cleverly concocted publicity stories--they can all come to naught
if we fail to recognize the impact of citizen marketers and consumer-generated
She cites a recent situation facing Round Rock, Texas-based Dell
Inc. where former Entertainment Weekly Editor, Jeff Jarvis,
grew disappointed with his computer and after-sales service and
Says Huba, “Jarvis has a widely read blog called BuzzMachine.
He had a terrible experience with a Dell laptop. He paid extra
money for a better product and better service. The computer didn’t
work and Dell couldn’t fix it.”
“Jarvis wrote on his blog that ‘Dell sucks,’
that ‘Dell is scamming us.’ He continued for several
days even writing an open letter to Dell management on how they
are duping consumers. The story got picked up around the blogosphere
and by news outlets all over the world,” Huba says.
“He coined the term ‘Dellhell,’ ” Huba
adds. “If you look online, you are going to find thousands
“Dell had to respond and commit to invest in customer service,”
says Huba’s co-author, Ben McConnell. “They launched
a blog, and they signaled to early adopters and buzz spreaders
that Dell is listening.”
Adds McConnell, “The people creating content online are
contributing to a word-of-mouth jet stream. It shows there is
true power that can be created by one person online.”
Marketers need to recognize the balance of power is shifting.
In the 1960s, Procter & Gamble 30-second TV ads enabled product
managers in Cincinnati to completely control the messages consumers
heard about their products and brands. No longer.
With the rise of citizen marketers and consumer-generated media,
product managers need to keep abreast of what customers are saying
about their products and brands and respond nimbly to quell disturbances
and capitalize on opportunities.
What is consumer-generated media? According to Huba and McConnell,
“CGM is anything created by an amateur; a blogpost, a podcast,
an animation, a video that is posted on the Web and spread by
and McConnell set out to explore this terrain in their new book
due out in January titled Citizen Marketers: When People Are
the Message. It’s a must-read for corporate executives
who care about the way the newest forms of media will affect their
co-authors chronicle how Dell, Paramount, Logitech and others
succeed or flounder at the hands of citizen marketers. They also
set out to guide corporate marketers on how to handle this new
reality. They even define four categories of citizen marketers
they label the “four F’s.”
They point to Fremont, Calif.-based Web cam manufacturer Logitech
Inc., which capitalized on the efforts of a 17-year-old girl named
Melody, who goes by the screen name Bowiechick (because she likes
David Bowie) and posts videos on YouTube.
“She’d talk about the features of her Logitech QuickCam
in the videos,” says Huba. Logitech noticed that sales of
Web cams spiked when Melody’s videos appeared. They quickly
formed a partnership with YouTube to capitalize.
“She wasn’t a plant and she wasn’t a shill.
She was what we call a firecracker. She just exploded into YouTube
culture and it cascaded,” says Huba.
Los Angeles-based Paramount Pictures Corp. wasn’t as savvy
as Logitech. A fan was excited about the upcoming appearance of
a new movie about the Transformers. According to McConnell and
Huba, “The fan runs a well-read movie blog. He got a few
postings with clips from the upcoming film. He was a big advocate
and evangelist. Paramount got nervous and sent him a cease and
desist letter. They went to his Web host and shut him down.”
When he got his Web site turned back on, the fan was angry and
started blogging about Paramount’s action. According to
Huba and McConnell, it picked up steam. Paramount recognized the
mistake and tried to mend fences, but the damage was done.
McConnell’s advice, “Control is gone. Anyone who thinks
about suing or sending threatening legal letters is wrong. Threatening
is like pouring gas onto a forest fire.”
To understand this new world of consumer-generated media, McConnell
divides citizen marketers into four categories: filters, fanatics,
facilitators and firecrackers.
Filters are people who set up aggregated news sites about
a brand, a product or a company. There are filters sites set up
for Starbucks, Netflix and Disney.
“Filters are constantly searching for stories out on the
Web that interest them and their readers. Readers are participating
with the filters and sending them links to blog posts and traditional
“They are almost amateur analysts. They aggregate every
story that comes out about the company and its products.”
Fanatics are people who live and breathe a brand. They
get into what the brand is doing really well and not so well.
McConnell describes them as “like a parent. They try to
guide the child brand in the right direction--to do right by the
He points to bloggers for Barq’s root beer and Target stores.
“There’s a woman who blogs about Target because she
loves the brand,” McConnell says.
to blogger fanatics who saved HBO’s Deadwood series
from an early grave. “They raised money and put ads in Variety
and got the show to finish the fourth season,” Huba says.
Facilitators use online forums and bulletin boards to build a
community around a product or brand.
can become the de facto customer service site for your product,”
McConnell says. He points to TreoCentral.com, which supports users
of the Palm Treo and to ilounge.com, which supports users of Apple
iPod products. Both are independent sites.
“The TiVo community has more than 120,000 members,”
McConnell says. “It’s an amateur creative site.”
of these sites is facilitated by a person or a small set of people
who are like the mayor of a small town. They deal with the issues
you deal with as the mayor of a small town. Sometimes you have
to ban people from the town,” McConnell adds.
they are filled with excited people who want to come to a central
place and discuss everything there is to discuss about a product.”
Firecrackers are unpredictable one-hit wonders like Jeff
Jarvis and Bowiechick. Huba and McConnell call them firecrackers
because their work explodes in buzz and then dies out pretty quickly.
“There was a Web video of the Comcast service representative
who fell asleep on the couch. It made over 151 media outlets around
saw the AOL cancellation tape (where the service AOL representative
refused to let the customer cancel). It was featured on the Today
show and Nightline. Those occurred because the firecrackers
had technology at their fingertips. They were able to capture
a customer experience and post it to an online distribution site
that had worldwide reach.”
At a time
when Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert promotes
his show by asking viewers to post videos to the Web and Wal-Mart
explores the power and impact of blogs, Huba’s and McConnell’s
stories of citizen marketer are timely.
my Web cam?
Krauss is a president of Market Strategy Group based in Chicago,
and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com