jhI recently got in touch with Jackie Huba of the Church of the Customer blog following a comment I made on the blog about her already infamous Apple Vlog. Jackie is an influential business speaker, trainer and writer. She recently co-wrote Creating Customer Evangelists (buy at Amazon.com) with Ben McConnell and received rave reviews from both the New York Times and Harvard Business School. Together, they pen regular columns for MarketingProfs.com and speak frequently at industry, association and company conferences. They also facilitate the creation of customer evangelism plans inside organizations.
In the course of our conversation I asked if she’d be willing to grant a short interview on her subject of expertise. She graciously accepted, and you can read it here:

MS: How is the role of the customer changing in context of the new economy?
JH: An interesting trend we have been tracking is the emergence of the “citizen marketer.” This is a customer who feels so passionate about a product/service/company that they create content (mostly on the web) about it. The content is part of the “media” about that product/service/company that anyone can find via Google. See examples of citizen marketing here.
Customers now have their own printing presses (blogs), radio shows (podcasts), TV shows (vidoecasts), and a worldwide audience on the Internet. They can praise a product or deride it for the world to see. The word of mouth from this consumer-generated media can spread virally across the web.
mcdA example of this that we recently discovered is the McChronicles blogger who is “chronicling the McDonald’s brand experience from the customers’ point of view.”
MS: Should companies see the rapid emergence of social software and consumer-generated media as a threat or an opportunity?
JH: Both. It’s a threat because these customers can quickly surface problems with a company’s products to a wide audience. Witness the Kryptonite locks
story: a blogger outs the fact that the bike locks can be opened with a Bic pen. The story spreads in the blogosphere and in less than two weeks, the NY Times has the story. The costs of replacing all of the locks costs the company $10 million.
It’s an opportunity because these same customers can be a huge help in developing and marketing products. Monitoring the online word of mouth on these blogs, community sites, and podcasts can yield real-time feedback on a company’s products. It’s like a huge free focus group!
It’s also an opportunity because now companies can connect with their most passionate customers by having their own blogs and online communities. The passionate customer evangelists who participate are more likely to recruit new customers–more customers mean more revenue and more profits.

MS: Are blogs, wikis, RSS or podcasting really saving companies money?

JH: For new, entrepreneurial companies, social software is definitely saving money. They can launch their companies without paying for a PR firm or spending a lot of marketing money by connecting with like-minded bloggers.
They also can collaborate with customers on new products using blogs and wikis saving research and development dollars.

It is no surprise that Jackie doesn’t mention cool hacks or technological gizzmo’s or fancy gadgetry. She talks about people. How social software is helping people connect better. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Thanks to Jackie for her generosity.

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