Talking with the Groundswell

An organization’s marketing department is responsible for speaking to their customers; two of the most popular, and expensive, methods are advertising and public relations (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 101). However, research has indicated most of the money spent on advertising is spent on TV commercials. Why is this an issue? Well, TV advertisements are repetitive and the audience is forced to watch them between programs. This is shouting to their customers, not talking. Advertising is about reaching the largest amount of people as many times as possible.

The Issue with Shouting

The biggest issue identified with traditional marketing theory is that there is a disconnect between it and the marketing funnel (as pictured below).



Fig 1.1 Marketing Funnel

The marketing funnel within the groundswell consists of 5 stages that describe how consumers go from awareness to purchasing to developing brand loyalty (Li & Bernoff, 2011, p. 102). The 5 stages are:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Preference
  4. Action
  5. Loyalty

Advertising (shouting) “herds them in the big end. Activities in the middle try to pull them down to that purchase, and if you’re lucky, they come out the other end as customers” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 102). Shouting at customers use to work but there are now so many brands/products shouting at the consumers at once, it has become increasingly difficult to get their attention. A 2007 Forrester Research report concluded, “marketers no longer dictate the path people take, nor do they lead the dialogue” (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 102) because consumers are learning from each other due to the advancements in social technologies. Word of mouth advertising has quickly diluted the value of traditional marketing as a 2010 online survey discovered over 50% said they trusted online reviews from strangers than ads put forth by companies. Customers who are in the middle of the funnel often actively engage in conversation within the groundswell through blogs, forums, and social media (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 102), so companies should not only actively post content on those channels but also respond to comments.

How to Talk With The Groundswell

Li and Bernoff identified four of the most common and effective ways companies can talk with the groundswell. They are as follows:

1. Post a viral video: Post a video online, and let people share it.
2. Engage in social networks and user-generated content sites: Creating a personality within social networking sites like MySpace is one of the simplest ways to extend your brand reach.
3. Join the blogosphere: Empower your executives or staff to write blogs. Integral to this strategy is listening to and responding to other blogs in the blogosphere.
4. Create a community: Communities are a powerful way to engage with your customers and deliver value to them. They are also effective at delivering marketing messages, as long as you listen, and not just shout.

ELLE Magazine: Example


ELLE Magazine talks to their audience through a private community. As mentioned in a previous blog entry,  ELLE connects with their readers through  ELLE Inner Circle.This private community allows loyal ELLE readers “to share their opinions on everything from new brand initiatives, to what they think about our advertiser’s ad campaigns before they launch” (ELLE Cast Study, 2015). In return, members are given access to exclusive content. ELLE’s senior director of brand development, Lauren Meuhlthaler, believes having a private community allows for a relationship between the brand and their audience that “results in a very active and ongoing dialogue” (ELLE Case Study, 2015).

Talking with the Groundswell: What it means to You

Which communication method of four mentioned above works best? That would depend on what is your company’s communication problem. Viral videos are best for those with awareness problems, social networks are good for those experiencing word of mouth issues, blogs are great for firms who have multiple customer segments or offer complex products or services that require longer consideration, and online communities are ideal for those who have customers who just would rather receive information from a fellow customer than the brand itself so it would be ideal to create an environment for customers to come together and talk to one another (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg 124-125). All these methods require organizations to tap into work of mouth by talking with the groundswell;  conversations are very important to the groundswell as it can be used to generate sales (Li & Bernoff, 2011, pg. 127).


ELLE Case Study. (2015). Retrieved February 11, 2017, from

Existing business functions and their groundswell alternatives [Picture]. Retrieved from

Li, C. & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: winning in a world transformed by social technologies.  Boston, USA: Forrester Research Inc.

Screenshot of ELLE Inner Circle [Picture]. Retrieved from


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