The Community Organizer

The Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa wrote, “If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” Nowhere is this truer than in the field of marketing, where we have probably seen more change in the past five years than the previous 50.

The increasing sophistication of consumers, new behavior-altering technologies, channel growth, media fragmentation, and the speed of transactions and innovations, among other factors, have all combined to challenge marketers regardless of industry, size or geography. We all face the same challenge: How do we engage consumers to become brand loyalists and advocates?

One recommendation I continue to advocate strongly is the introduction of the chief community officer (CCO). We’re moving away from “herd marketing,” and transitioning from monologue to dialogue and engagement. Successful brands will be built through brand communities. This broader view of marketing needs to resonate from the top of an agency downward.

I like to frame the marketing process around the three Cs: conviction, collaboration and creativity. In this world, a CCO oversees the relationship between brands and their communities not just in the narrow confines of how a consumer interacts with a product at point of purchase, but also in how consumers interact with each other. These consumer-to-consumer interactions take place on the Web and on the street, and serve as a powerful influence in shaping our views and preferences.

The CCO plays four key roles in the overseeing of these relationships. The first involves recalibrating the way we think about brand building:

• Instead of developing products and services by “listening” to the market, a CCO makes sure consumers have a real voice in the process.

• Instead of just creating brand advertising, a CCO works to build a community around a brand, using multiple channels.

• Instead of focusing on pre-sale activities and seeing areas like service and support as “someone else’s job,” a CCO is interested in what consumers are telling the company and each other.

• Instead of just disseminating a brand message, a CCO ensures you’re living the message.

• Instead of advocating for the consumer, the CCO views the entire community as the new consumer.

The second role is to understand and manage points of leverage. A CCO should be someone who understands all patterns of influence on- and offline, in much the same way a media planner understands patterns of media consumption. This means knowing the touch points of your brand community, studying their wants, needs and lifestyles, and using these insights to inform your marketing efforts.

For instance, a traditional CMO often looks for influencers to create buzz. Buzz is great, but it’s only one part of the equation. To truly leverage influence, buzz must be joined by conviction and credibility.

And today, influence is everywhere. A CCO should ideally be a student of how these patterns of influence emerge and dissipate. What happens when a hot new product erupts online, or a public relations fiasco draws thousands of comments to the blogosphere? And how should you respond to these stimuli?

The third role is to monitor and respond to the community. For fun, try doing what your consumers do: Go online and search for your product or service by name to see how people rate it and what they’re saying on discussion boards. Then go visit some of the online discussion forums devoted to consumer problems, like consumerist.com.

Now, try and see how companies respond to complaints. Once in a while, some of them will actually post a reply explaining their side of the story or apologize and make things right. More often than not, you’ll see no response at all.

In my view, a CCO should be aware of what the swarm is saying and responsible for developing strategy to engage it appropriately.

The last role of the CCO is to serve as a community agent — to help move from delivering brand messages to engaging brand communities. Traditional marketers advocate being the “voice of the customer.” What I’m proposing is that a CCO learn where these consumers live and move there, at least figuratively.

The CCO is responsible for developing strategies that build brand influence and open opportunities for brands to engage more deeply within social networks. These networks have enormous influence over purchase intent and should be considered a key ingredient in the ability to generate sustainable relationships with consumer communities.

Chuck Brymer is president and CEO, DDB Worldwide, and author of The Nature of Marketing. He can be reached at chuck.brymer@ddb.com.