Your Brand Is What Your Customers Say It Is

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According to Ricardo Guimarães of Thymus Branding, brands belong to customers, not companies (Li & Bernoff, 2011). He further states, “The value of a brand belongs to the market, and not to the company. The company in this sense is a tool to create value for the brand… Brand in this sense—it lives outside the company, not in the company. When I say that the management is not prepared for dealing with the brand, it is because in their mind-set they are managing a closed structure that is the company. The brand is an open structure—they don’t know how to manage an open structure” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 79). So if your brand is what your customers say it is, then how do you find out what your customers are saying? The answer: you have to listen.

The Power of Listening

The subject of Groundswell’s fifth chapter is about just that – the power of listening. Thanks to the groundswell, consumers “are leaving clues about their opinions of brands, positive and negative, on a daily or hourly basis “(Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 81). In pursuit of consumer insight, brands are using the groundswell to observe their customers in their natural online habitats. In order to break down this chatter into actionable information, technologies and strategies have become available that make listening to the groundswell more manageable.

Listening Strategies

The first listening strategy is to set up your own private community. A private community is somewhat like a focus group; however, it is continuously running, huge, and allows participants to engage naturally about your brand while you listen in (Li & Bernoff, 2011). The second listening strategy is brand monitoring. Brand monitoring involves hiring a company to listen to the Internet on your behalf (Li & Bernoff, 2011). Lastly, if the above options are out of your budget, there are many simple and free tools available that can enable your brand to listen to the groundswell on its own.

Six Reasons to Partake

In the era of the groundswell, listening has become easy but despite this, many brands have neglected to partake. If your brand has yet to listen to the groundswell, here are six reasons why you should:

  • Find out what your brand stands for. This refers to what the groundswell is saying about your brand (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Understand how buzz is shifting. Listening to the groundswell can help your brand develop a baseline of understanding. By continuing to listen, your brand can start to understand change (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Save research money; increase research responsiveness. Once you’ve established a listening strategy like a private community, you can produce results regarding your brand more quickly than a custom survey (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Find the sources of influence in your market. Listening can help a brand discover who its influencers are (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Manage PR crises. You can catch PR crises early when you’re listening, which can allow your brand to respond before things get out of hand (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Generate new marketing and product ideas. Your customers have a lot of intelligent ideas regarding your products and services and by listening, you have access to these ideas for free (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

How to Be Successful

Once you’ve decided to start listening, it can be a bit confusing to know where to begin. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, authors of Groundswell, provide a few suggestions regarding how to be successful with listening. These include:

  • Check the Social Technographics Profile of your customers (Li & Bernoff, 2011). If you don’t know what the Social Technographics Profile is, check out my last blog post here.
  • Start small, think big. Start with one brand and monitor that. Private communities also work best with one brand or customer segment. Stay focused to avoid biting off more than you can chew (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Make sure your listening vendor has dedicated an experienced team to your effort. You want an experienced team to help you manage the incoming information and to interpret the results (Li & Bernoff, 2011).
  • Choose a senior partner to interpret the information and integrate it with other sources. Dedicate a staff member to integrate these listening insights with other forms of research in order to create a complete market picture (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

Overall, by listening to the groundswell, your organization will never be the same. The power structure of your organization will likely change. The results of your listening will soon become a part of your corporate decision making. And finally, with so much customer feedback, silly policies and procedures will start to evaporate. By listening to the groundswell, your brand will begin to reveal consumer insights that will change your marketing strategy for the better.


Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.


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