Keep the Customer at the Center of Your Organization

Time for change
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Is your organization customer-centric? In chapter 11 of Groundswell, authors Li and Bernoff discuss this question and speak to how a company can effectively harness the groundswell to engage customers and transform its approach to marketing. They present two significant case studies – Unilever and Dell – as models for how successful efforts follow predictable and incremental steps to engage their customer base, relax control over their messaging and marketing, and eventually be embraced by the groundswell.

The chapter emphasizes that it is critical to take things step by step (Li & Bernoff, 2011). In order to gain internal buy-in for a cultural shift, there is the need for “a mental shift [which] takes time and practice and requires building a repertoire of shared success” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 217). The idea here is that change is incremental and builds upon the foundation of previous successes.

Similarly, processes of change rely on what came before them to ensure the support of future efforts (Li & Bernoff, 2011). This is why for a successful cultural shift within a company to embrace the groundswell, executive buy-in and cover is essential to allow the process to weather the challenges that may arise in its pursuit. This is emphasized when discussing the case study of Dell, where “executive push and cover made the difference necessary” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 229) to reach CEO Michael Dell’s goals.

It may be that the value of emerging technologies may not have been fully realized by leadership, in which case, it is crucial to effectively educate executives on both the relevancy and potency of these new avenues to communicate with customers and take advantage of what technologies like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook offer (Li & Bernoff, 2011). This shouldn’t be a purely theoretical exercise – educate through examples by showing how competitors or even leaders in other markets have seen success through creative strategies that encourage customer participation and interaction to elevate their brand and reach new markets.

The next important step is to ensure that whoever is leading the implementation of the strategy – whether it is an individual or a team – not only has the competencies but the passion behind the strategy to ensure its success (Li & Bernoff, 2011). Somebody who has shown strength in your business but either doesn’t understand the strategy or believe it will work will be be a poor champion.

Just as important as the in-house champion is a company’s marketing agency. Unfortunately, marketing agencies used to the traditional dynamic may not be prepared or qualified to implement a groundswell-focused initiative. Working closely with the agency to ensure it understands exactly how and why a new initiative will engage the groundswell is critical; still, it is important to remember that not all firms will be prepared for this and it might require looking to other, new, dynamic firms to pick up the mantle (Li & Bernoff, 2011).

An example of an organization championing a customer-centric approach is Destination British Columbia (DBC). DBC is a government organization that works collaboratively with tourism stakeholders across British Columbia to coordinate tourism marketing at the international, provincial, regional and local levels. Initially, the benefits of the groundswell were not a major priority for DBC’s executives so to prove its effectiveness, DBC’s social media team began slow and decided to focus on what was most important – “having conversations and putting social media at the core of their marketing” (“Case Study,” 2016)

DBC’s first attempt was a blogger campaign driven by their Facebook fans, which initiated its Facebook community and set the groundwork for its conversation-focused approach. This led to a hashtag campaign titled, #exploreBC, which encouraged residents and visitors of BC to share their vacation experiences using the hashtag. The campaign’s main focus was to connect with people through one-to-one conversations in all the places they were already talking. “As a result, the campaign encouraged 21,000+ people to talk about the destination 111,051 times, reaching more than 30 million others” (“Case Study,” 2016). Due to the success of the campaign, the rest of the Destination BC organization started to get onboard with groundswell thinking.

In conclusion, by championing a social strategy and groundswell thinking, an organization can align itself with its customers’ wants and needs, which in turn, will help to create a customer-centric culture.


Case study: How Destination British Columbia encouraged visitors to share their #exploreBC experiences through one-to-one conversations. (2016, April 13). DestinationThink!. Retrieved from

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


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