The Customer Is Always Talking

In my book, there’s no one more qualified to write a book about consumer-generated media (CGM) than the guy who actually coined the now-ubiquitous term.

And if the title of long-time ClickZ columnist Pete Blackshaw‘s new book’s doesn’t capture your attention and pique your interest, well, maybe you shouldn’t be in marketing.

Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000” may not be the only title on the market to deal with CGM, word-of-mouth marketing, and the effect Web-enabled consumer empowerment is having on products, brands, and companies, but it’s certainly among the most knowledgeable and authoritative. Blackshaw has deep, deep roots in this stuff, going back to his founding of, the first online initiative dedicated to listening to consumers.

He was among the first to recognize that rather than remaining passive observers, consumers “are actually defining and shaping the business landscape and the marketplace of tomorrow…And overwhelmingly, they’re doing it online. In fact, they’re doing it because of the powers the Internet confers on them. Moreover, they’re not going to stop.”

Theory is one thing, practice is another. One of “Satisfied Customers'” many strengths is backing up such pronouncements with detailed, and often hair-raising, case studies and true stories of CGM gone very, very right (and often the other way) for a wide range of major companies: Toyota, Dell, Nike, Sony, General Motors, Hershey, Unilever, Nestlé, Lexus, and Bank of America are just for starters.

In fact, if I have a quibble with the book, it’s this laser-focused concentration on big-brand superpowers. While the aforementioned corporations bring a lot of credence in the C-suite, plenty of smaller and online-only companies, craigslist for example, would have been worthy of mention while underscoring the book’s arguments about listening and stellar customer service.

None of this detracts from Blackshaw’s central argument: credibility plus authenticity plus transparency equal success, and that listening to and promptly responding to consumers are an absolutely essential element of doing business, particularly as the world becomes increasingly wired. This is good news and creates new opportunities. “Use it to your advantage, or ignore it at your peril,” he warns. “Credibility may not be on your balance sheet, but it’s the best asset you’ve got.”

Of course, much of this has become accepted wisdom, particularly for marketers and advertisers active in digital media. But even they will find value in the wealth of practical advice and how-tos outlined in “Satisfied Customers.”

The book outlines the many different types of consumers generating all that media, groups he dubs Techno Teens, the Power Mom (or Dad), the Gadget Guy, and the Radical Flamethrower. Each wields a unique brand of feedback and inhabits a distinct sphere of influence.

Obviously, it isn’t enough to know consumers are out there and talking about you. That’s why the book provides practical lessons in measuring and monitoring CGM, listing numerous free Web-based tools as well as the commercial applications. It describes how to look for feedback and, more important, how to measure, analyze, and respond to it.

Particularly impressive is a section on how to funnel customer feedback back into the organization at virtual all levels of operations, including sales, product development, research, HR, legal, even packaging and design.

So maybe it will be awhile before your organization gets as far with this as Toyota, which has a dedicated CGM manager who spends a third of his day surfing the Web finding and responding to conversations about the company’s products on message boards. But that’s no excuse to ignore the conversation.

Particular when it turns negative, even nasty. The critical section of the book to read now (and not later), is the one on dealing with negative feedback and (may this never happen to you) online crisis management.

It’s not just the case studies that are valuable (Blackshaw looks at crisis measures taken by such companies as JetBlue, Coca-Cola, AOL, and Lenovo, it’s the solid advice provided for getting your ducks in a row, both strategically and tactically, before Something Bad happens.

The market research model has inverted on both sides of the equation. Consumers research marketers just as avidly as marketers research their consumers. So isn’t knowing your customer is posting feedback — where and what kind of message — more important than knowing the traditional data points, such as age, income, and Zip Code?

This book will convince you it is — and equip you to deal with the opportunities provided by this new reality.

Network with ClickZ! Join Rebecca for A Night Out With ClickZ, June 24 at the Seaport Hotel in Boston. The drinks are on us from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.!

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