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People aren’t messages June 16, 2007

Posted by Steve Field in Citizen Marketers.

Last week, I took exception to Jackie Huba and Mitch McConnell’s assertion that in an age of citizen marketers, “the people are the message,” as they articulate in their latest book Citizen Marketers.

After reading the rest of the book, I renew my criticism.

They keep revisiting the statement that people are the message (which, while rhetorically pleasant, is never actually proven by Huba and McConnell). In chapter five, they cite a man name Winter (yes, he has apparently changed his name legally to Winter. I even checked out his Web site to see for myself.) Winter is so passionate about Starbucks that he has made it his personal mission to visit every Starbucks on the planet and write about it.

After telling his story, Huba and McConnell say that (surprise!) Winter is the message.

Except he isn’t. He is a person who is sharing his experience of a brand with others. What he is saying about Starbucks, and perhaps the fact that he is so passionate about the coffee that he has embarked on this quest to visit every Starbucks in existence, are messages. Words and actions can be messages. The man himself is not.

Perhaps a better way to articulate what I think McConnell and Huba are saying is that in an age of citizen marketers, the people control your message. I don’t think the important point is that people are messages. I think it is quite important that citizen marketers are out there and that these influential consumer/evangelists have an increasing impact on brand perception when compared to traditional forms of brand marketing, such as advertising.

This point about the citizen marketer having increased influence is echoed by this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer. Each year, Edelman (my employer) publishes a survey indicating different levels of trust among social institutions. For a second year, the most trusted spokesperson, as indicated by the survey, is “a person like me.” Businesses with powerful brands can no longer ignore that people are talking to one another about those brands and influencing how those brands are perceived.

People are not messages — but they sure are shaping brand messages in a way never before seen.



1. Ben McConnell - June 17, 2007

Thanks for the review.

In the people-driven, word of mouth universe, it is the total sum of a person’s authenticity, emotional clarity and trustworthiness that contributes to how their message will be received and perceived.

The perception of how that message is received is shaped by the delivery medium. If people are the delivery medium, then they themselves are just as much the message just as they are a messenger.

If the people who deliver packages to your office continually arrive unshaven, drunk and several days late, their demeanor may well influence your perception of their company. They are the message about the company just as they are the messengers.

2. John Bell - June 18, 2007

Steve – you make a good argument that people are people and messages are messages. Ben has gone on to support his own point behind the assertion that people are messages.

My take is that with word of mouth, the credibility and trustworthiness of whatever the message is becomes inextricably tied up in the messenger. There used to be a synonym for cgm – “personal media” – which tried to capture the very personal nature of communications in cgm.

Great post.

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