Small Business Owner? Here’s why “Marketing in the Groundswell” is a Must-Read.



First we saw Brexit. Then we got stumped with Trump. 2016 was a year full of shocks that rocked the world. Global media wagged its finger saying this is how hard you could be hit if you turned a deaf ear to the masses.

Now imagine if that happened to your small business? How hard would it be to lose your life savings in strategies that don’t connect with your audience? How much harder would it be if you were just starting out?

Small Business Owner

With the surge of social media, marketing strategies are  changing as rapidly as the world. Companies cannot be smug about their knowing their audiences intimately. You need to delve deeper.

Nothing gives greater insights than a good read. Marketing in the Groundswell was written nearly a decade back by Forrester researchers Charlene Li and Josh Bernhoff to help small businesses find their footing. But after a weekend read, I would recommend it to any marketer, big or small, looking to find a place in today’s complex world.


Book Summary: Stop Shouting, Start Listening!

The sudden surge of social media jolted traditional marketers out of a smug misconception. Advertisers are not steering brands. Consumers are.  People are chattering among themselves, influencing each other to make buying decisions.

Marketers cannot afford to remain disconnected with strategies that yell about selling. They need to “listen in as consumers talk to each other and learn how they think.” They need to connect with the audience on a deeper emotional level. This is because brands are more than just products. They are an emotional experience.

With this view, Marketing in the Groundswell opens on a series of corporate case studies that takes candid consumer views on social media into account. The companies revised their brand strategies with the new insights that were in sharp contrast to their own assumptions. The new decisions based on novel insights rewarded them with impressive success.

The book is a condensed edition of the 2008 best-seller Groundswell: winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies. It plays with the groundswell metaphor, grouping the audience as an organic entity that businesses need to be more mindful of.

The book is divided into 3 core chapters that teach what your parents always told you :

  • Listen carefully
  • Talk courteously
  • Act generously (Energise)

Chap 1: Listening to the Groundswell

Listening is perhaps the most essential neglected skill in the business,” say the authors. It’s not enough to rely on syndicated market research and focus groups alone. Marketers need to be where the consumers are. They need to tap into the honest, unfiltered insights right from the groundswell. They need to be active on social media for any business success.

Social media is where the consumer action is now. This is where conversations are born, nurtured and circulate. This is where consumers leave their feedback, bloggers weigh brands, buyers rave about their decisions and the disgruntled  freely voice their opinion. The volume of comments in the social space is a vast source of information. But passive listening is not enough.

Companies must respond to the groundswell to build relationships.

Chap 2: Talking with the Groundswell

The way companies talk to their consumers defines their brand voice and consequently, consumer perception.“Shouting to get people’s attention” does not pay anymore. Conversations do, the book says. Word-of-mouth dynamics and honest reviews carry far more weight than loud advertising. Responding to reviews courteously and addressing dissatisfied customers instantly does wonders for brand loyalty.

Chap 3: Energizing the Groundswell

Small business owner building muscles

The third and final part of the book talks of ways to energise the groundswell through incentives. Customers are the greatest resource for improving products and services. A grumpy consumer can switch overnight into a loyal fan if handled with care. Rewarding loyal fans is the best way to earn brand influencers. Customer-referrals cost nothing but are priceless for business growth. For a small business with low budgets, can anything beat that?

Book Tone & Style

Narrative: Although Forrester researchers Li and Bernoff provide impressive insights that come from a pool of research and data, the overall tone of the book is rather patronizing.

It begins on a dramatic, emotional note “Lynn Perry has cancer” but the emotions give way to finger-wagging advice. (Page 1)

The narrative seems more like an instructions manual citing disjointed case-studies, pulling up erring marketers for practicing age-old tactics on new age audiences.

It may have  worked better if it had pulled in readers with a more unified storyline about the evolution of marketing, born from an evolving world.

Take for instance the lines below taken from the section on page 3: “Your Brands say what your customers say it is” where the tone is rather didactic and admonishing, even though they may be based on reason and research.

“Marketers tell us they define and manage brands…..We bought this brand, they say. We spent on it. We own it. Bull. Your brand is whatever your customers say it is. And in the groundswell where they communicate with each other, they decide”.

Book Audience


Groundswell seems to work better for corporations with bigger budgets rather than the audience it was intended for – small businesses. This is because the authors repeatedly suggest that for the best results, social strategies need to be professionally monitored by established vendors. That calls for big budgets that small business are not equipped with.

Apart from Blendtech, each case study mentioned in the book involves corporate heavyweights (M.D. Anderson Hospital, BMW Mini Cooper, Proctor & Gamble, HP, Ernst and Young, Lego) who invested thousands of dollars in industry vendors to change their marketing approach through intensive analytics. While the results are impressive, this level of investment is out of reach for small companies with limited finances and resources.

That defeats the very purpose that the book started out with: to encourage small businesses to set out on the online social path with the least investment.

However, small business can gain well from other cost-effective social tools listed in the book such as listening, responding and energizing the groundswell and coming up with strategies creatively.The book is also valuable for marketers and social media neophytes, seeking to grow through audience insights.

social media monitoring

Today, nearly a decade since this book was first published, a host of new social technologies have spawned to facilitate listening, talking and energizing.

Live streaming, videos, story-telling, Smartphone chat apps, user-friendly blogsites and a wide range of free analytic tools have opened up a spectrum of new avenues to engage the groundswell at lower budgets.

The key for all marketers, big and small, is to acknowledge that the audience is central to determining ongoing business objectives and indulge in two-way communication on the right social channels for their brands.

The book was written way back in 2008. Even then, it seem remains a definitive guide for not just marketers looking to build their brands but anyone who wishes to take groundswell into account – business, political, social or economic.

Small business success

Below is a brief video of my key points to sum it all up: 

About the Reviewer: 
Jayeeta Dutta Ray (better known as Joyeeta Ray) is a Senior Writer, Editor and Advertising Executive who has lived and worked in six countries. From Diwali in India to Dragon Dance in Hong Kong, Songkran in Thailand to Ramadan in Malaysia and Indonesia, she has seen and celebrated it all. In 2013, she migrated to Canada with her family where she continues to celebrate a multitude of festivals without a flight ticket in the world’s most multicultural city – Toronto.
This book report was conducted for George Brown College as part of her Social Media Marketing certificate program where she is currently enrolled to strengthen her skills. Follow her blog “Oh Canada” where she offers insightful views of the country she now calls home. Feel free to share your views and stories too.




1 thought on “Small Business Owner? Here’s why “Marketing in the Groundswell” is a Must-Read.

  1. Great read Joyeeta – very much nsihhtful! Pull vs. Push strategy is the name of the game. Peer to peer, referral, word of mouth are among the most important tools for small businesses.


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