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Citizen Marketers and other reading June 8, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Citizen Marketers.

I’m back from a month-long hiatus!

After starting this blog for my Introduction to the Digital Age class at Johns Hopkins University with Nicco Mele, I am now reviving it for my Public Relations in an Age of Digital Influence course with John Bell.

I have already written about one of the assigned readings on this blog, so today, I will be focusing on a book that I have not yet had the opportunity to review — Citizen Marketers by Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba.

There are three key points in the opening three chapters:

  1. Empowered customers absorb brands into their personal identities and become part of the brand experience as filters, fanatics, facilitators or firecrackers.
  2. A small — yet powerful group of people (about one percent of customers) take action to share their connection to a brand with others. These people are instrumental in passing along word of mouth about a product.
  3. The advancement of technology allows for the democratization of market forces that impact brands.

McConnell and Huba are right on with all of these points. Web 2.0 has fundamentally changed the way that people and products are related. The collection of tools broadly referred to as social media allow every person to share with others his or her opinion about a product or idea. No longer are the media and the companies themselves the only ones who are able to communicate about a product with others on a broad level. Blogs, message boards and social networks are connecting people across space and time.

Despite all of this, I am not sure I agree with the author’s assertion that we live in an age where the “people are the message.”

There are four parts essential to communication — a sender, a message, a mode of communication and a receiver. Without any one of these, communication cannot exist. It seems that on every occasion where McConnell and Huba argue that the people are the message, they are still saying that people are the sender. Consider the examples they give in chapter one:

People are the message when people say “word of mouth” is the most influential form of media on their decision making. […]

People are the message when the excessive number of advertising messages creates demand for products to block them. […]

People are the message when their intent is authentic. […]

People are the message when they have roots of credibility.

In each of these cases, people are not a message. They are either senders or receivers or both. The content of the word of mouth that they pass along or receive is the message.

Maybe the point isn’t that people are the message, but that corporations no longer control the message.



1. Jeni - June 9, 2007

I agree that the authors need to clarify what they mean by “the people are the message.” That is a very loaded statement, and you are right—so far it they seem to be saying that more and more people are becoming senders and receivers of messages. Maybe what they really mean is that the average citizen is changing the communication model, as we are now often senders and receivers at the same time, and in that sense we are changing the very message. Whether or not people are the actual message is a good question to ask, as you did. Perhaps the traditional communication model as a whole needs to be reconsidered in a social media context—with creators of content, facilitators, consumers, etc.

2. erinc - June 9, 2007

Nice review. The way you summarized the main points of this book was helpful and I agree with your agrument that McConnell and Hubas’ premise that “people are the message” is misleading. I don’t see how people can embody a message, unless they’re trying to spread an ecologically conscious message by wearing a hemp suit (ew!).

I think the point is that control of the message, or information, is now in the hands of the people. Marketing and public relations has become democratic; corporations are now more accountable to their publics. Like in the Dell Hell case study, an individual now has the power to make or break a carefully crafted brand/reputation. No longer can the guy in the c-suite say, “let them eat cake.”

3. ang2007 - June 9, 2007

Great job, Steve. I also agree with you and Jeni that the authors did not suceed in explaining well what they mean by people being the message. I believe that the point they attempt to make is that digital communication is creating a phenomenon where people and communitites have the power to change and transform businesses, organizations and social behavior.

I can not resist the fact to mention that after I found several typos and grammar mistakes in the book; that was quite disappointing…

4. Why citizen marketing (and social media) works « Digital Musing - June 10, 2007

[…] Message” – are playing an increasing role in shaping how brands are portrayed by the public. Steve makes a great point in his blog post: corporations are not in control of the message anymore, and are being held […]

5. John Bell - June 10, 2007

Great of you to key in on their rather “flashy” statement that people are the message. Clearly they are building on the McLuhan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshall_McLuhan) statement, “the medium is the message”. Doesn’t make it valid but I do see their point that messages coming through indiviuduals is more important today due to the erosion of trust in institutions and the power of digital communications.

Great Post.

6. People aren’t messages « Field Foolery - June 16, 2007

[…] June 16, 2007 Posted by Steve Field in Citizen Marketers. trackback Last week, I took exception to Jackie Huba and Mitch McConnell’s assertion that in an age of citizen marketers, […]

7. free brand design logos - September 8, 2012

Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve visited your blog before but after looking at some of the posts I realized it’s
new to me. Anyhow, I’m certainly pleased I came across it and I’ll be
bookmarking it and checking back often!

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