Saturday, December 16, 2006

Citizen Marketers

I just finished reading the new book Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. (You can also check out their blog, Church of the Customer.)

McConnell and Huba take a look at the fast-growing phenomenon of consumer-generated marketing content, and the best thing about the book is that you get a sense of just how common this has become. The examples are plentiful and richly detailed, including responses from the companies whose products are the subjects of this "citizen marketing" - in some cases, a healthy respect for it, and in others an uncomfortable confusion. There were a number of cases discussed that I wasn't aware of, and they're quite interesting.

The question that doesn't get answered - probably because no one is sure how - is how to encourage this. There's good advice on what to do if you're fortunate enough to have a customer so in love with you that singing your praises becomes a hobby; or, even better, if an entire community forms around what you sell.

But marketers are marketers, and want to make this happen. The result, I expect, will often be clueless fakes - "community" sites that are actually created by marketers and lack the authenticity to work.

My other quibble with the book was that not much was said about the dangers of consumer content. What do you do when a community of passionate customers forms around hating you? Worse yet, what if you unintentionally give them a platform for it, as GM did with their ill-fated "create a Chevy Tahoe ad" program?

These are quibbles, though; McConnell and Huba are charting new territory here, and I don't think anything resembling best practices exists yet. If you're looking for some good examples of how well this can work - for example, to convince your legal department to stop worrying about trademark violations when the violators are doing you a favor - this is a good read.

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