Thursday, November 4, 2010

Marketing and the Social Media Space - the netnographer's environment

A revolution in both marketing thought and practice is at hand; the new social world is online.

Internet penetration rates continue to rise, whilst the 'net isn't ubiquitous yet, within industrially developed and developing nations it is almost so. Reasonably, we can say that well over a billion people now participate in various forms of social media. Indeed  to the point that even non-capitalist socities are embraced its power; the Communist Party of China now offer training in social media to its members so strong has been the growth of social media within China.

It is no exaggeration to say that we are in the midst of a technology-led communal revolution.The need to understand this, to apply a PESTLE approach to marketing per se, continues to grow.  The implications for marketers, marketing researchers, and managers of all stripes are vast. Consumers are sharing all sorts of emotions and information with each other about an incredible panoply of products, retailers, and brands. Consumers are not just being 'positioned' by our marketing they are co-producing value in terms of the brands and their values; Burberry and its problems with 'Chavs' is a case in point.

The online environment offers us nearly unlimited access to consumer-to-consumer communications that are:
  • relevant and detailed
  • from a naturally-occurring context
  • unelicited
  • obtained in an unobtrusive way, and
  • obtainable in a timely, effective, and efficient manner
This data is raw, authentic, spontaneous, indigenous, unforced, unadorne, unfiltered, powerful, highly involved and often spectacularly creative.It has the pontential to be a Marketer's dream source; valid, realiable, accessible and cheap!

Marketers are beginning to build social media into their marketing plans, their advertising and promotional campaigns. But in terms of consumer insight, marketing is dominated by the same old methods; Focus groups, Surveys, Data models.Whilst these are tried and trusted, reliance on them when we have also have social media sources is myopic, to paraphrase Ted Levitt.

The move to build rich understanding with the cornucopia of online consumer data is just beginning, it provides us with a  range of overlapping opportunities. Applied to business andmarketing needs, netnography builds deep consumer insights that provide:
  • All-embracing descriptions of the marketplace—segments, product groupings, attribute sets
  • Realistic comprehension of online communication—categories, trends, symbols, images
  • Social understandings of consumer choice—influencers, adopters, WOM properties
  • Natural views of brand meaning—decoding authentic consumer language and terms, as well as visual
  • and audiovisual analysis
  • Embedded discoveries of consumer innovation—based in lead user, inno-tribe, and prosumer creativity
 Compare netnography to the focus group or survey data dominating the world of consumer insight research.
  • Focus groups offer detailed and relevant data. But they are elicited, obtrusive and completely artificial.
  • The one-time group dynamics are synthetic and strange.
  • Surveys are artificial, obtrusive, and elicited. We often have no way of knowing if our survey questions are relevant to the consumers’ world.
  • Both focus groups and surveys can be expensive. Consider that a national set of focus groups can easily run in the hundreds of thousands.
Recognizing the implications of the development of the internet as a socialising media, Lusch and Vargo (2006) argue that cocreation will increasingly induce firms to collaborate with customers to cocreate the entire marketing programme, indeed many are now running 'fan' sites for their products and brands. Such deevlopments are also consistent with open-source innovation and 'crowd-sourcing' (Etgar 2008; Von Hippel 2005) and with emerging corporate practices that tap into brand communities. Good examples of this are LEGO, which explicitly sought and harnessed consumer innovation to refine the successful LEGO robotic kit Mindstorms (Koerner 2006), and skinnyCorp’s Threadless, which manufacturers consumer-designed and critiqued T-shirts.

This means marketing needs an edge - a tool to help understand how and what is being said in what context about brands, products, etc - that's where netnography comes in; as a Masrketer's secret weapon to customer understanding.


  1. Hi Andrew,
    Netnography is a great term and thank you for taking the time to explain it. When you say marketers need a tool do you mean a tool like which is a complete platform to listen, measure and engage with your customers across the entire social web OR do you mean a framework to help us understand what is going on?


  2. Really thought provoking and I'm still getting my head around the idea of what netnography is. I find it interesting though that you see the social space as one aspect of where to gain customer insights from, and yet you seem to focus your world view of the customer in terms of marketing. In my humble opinion, customers are present in many different spaces and our understanding of them is influenced more broadly than just from a marketing perspective. I come at it from the use of social media within customer service, and the fragmentation brought about by social media within the customer service space, has many implications on customer engagement and business change more broadly. Marketing is just one aspect of how we understand customers or people.

    From a customer service perspective, there is absolutely an opportunity for co-creation in designing more efficient, more effective and more fulfilling customer experiences. Marketing, sales, PR, compliance, however, all have a role to play, particularly now as the possibility of real-time interaction seeks to condense and heighten each and every touchpoint.

  3. Netnography as a term originated with Robert Kozinets, whom I studied with over the Summer in Bergen. The term is intended as a methodological approach or framework, akin to Ethanography, with a various of tools and techniques to achieve it. Radian 6 and Netbase's ConsumerBase software would be tools with which to accomplish the methodological approach.

    I don't see Marketing and Customer service as being seperate, indeed Marketing at the highest of its three levels is a philosophy of business with the customer being considered as the central pivot around which all organisation and activities are centred - literally.

    For me Marketing isn't just about selling and communications when its done properly, its about ALL activities than contribute to a deep understanding of customer's current needs and an anticipating of their future ones. That's where I see the relevance of netnography - its the examination of attitudes, beliefs and cultural nuance in a social space in which customers are relaxed and free to express themselves.

  4. Oh I forgot to mention - I'll likely have a piece to cover co-creation in a while. I've undertaken a live Netnograhpy with a colleague Carol Kelleher of Cranfield University which we are aiming to publishing shortly. Once its finished I'll share some of our findings.

  5. Hi Andrew,

    As I read your post, I'm thinking that you are on the edge of some significant theory building and mapping out an empirical line of research. Like you, I don't separate marketing from customer service; in fact, I subscribe to a broader view of service science, where IT, organizational design, customer centricity, marketing and operations all converge to give life to customer strategy in action.

    One way to think about Netnography is to take a page from the book of studies on organizational life cycle. There was a lot of good work in the 1980's and 1990's on this (eg, KImberly and Miles), some looking at it from vantage point of competing values that change in prominence over time (Quinn). Your post has me wondering how similar patterns may be predictable or at least observable. Co-creation for example, may be more of a stage of leveraging web resources for customer interaction rather than an end state.

    Keen to continue a dialogue on this if it appeals to you or others. Just as good cartographers need to be able to envision the terrain from different elevations, I suppose that if we are to collectively be netnographers, we need to be able to observe social media use in the marketing space from different elevations of perspective.

  6. I think my point about marketing, was less about marketing and more about trying to say that we should look at the customer in an agnostic way, not clouded by the lens of marketing, sales, customer service etc. Whether that is behavioural or something else, something that cuts across all the artifices that we create to understand what it is we are trying to understand. I'm not being particularly lucid here, but hopefully you can make sense of it.

  7. I like the reference to Burberry and Chavs - did you read the associated piece in the New Yorker?

    It was about a year ago - here's a link:

  8. Yeah,

    Social is powerful stuff. But nothing by definition is 'it'. IMHO

    In terms of understanding customers, all sources are valuable because the truth lies somewhere in the middle. the 90.9.1 formula shows that the more vocal social customer is not the most representative. VoCs are more powerful when they can draw from diverse sources

  9. The term is intended as a methodological approach or framework, akin to Ethanography, with a various of tools and techniques to achieve it.

    Media Monitoring


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