Listening to the groundswell: A review

Li and Bernoff (2011) tell us that “your brand is what your customers say it is”.  McDonalds is seen by consumers as unhealthy.  Some consider it responsible for obesity is the United States.  They have made an effort to change this image by introducing healthy ingredients such as Kale to their menu and advertising their breakfast sandwich as a healthy, 290 calorie breakfast choice.  Even take a look at the image below with leafy greens and fresh tomatoes in place of greasy, salty fries.



McDonalds efforts were not effective at branding itself as a healthy fast food option.  Their brand is what customers say it is: high fat, high calorie, high sodium, traditional fast food.  What Li and Bernoff (2011) recommend is to listen to their customers by either setting up their own private community or begin brand monitoring.  The authors also add that listening is not valuable unless you do something with it.  They use an example of Charles Schwab to reinforce that there is real power is listening.  They write about a 32 perfect increase in investors from the prior years after implementing changes discovered when listening with a private community.

Li and Bernoff (2011) provide six pieces of advice for listening:

  1. Find out what your brand stands for
  2. Understand how buzz is shifting
  3. Save research money; increase research responsiveness
  4. Find the sources of influence in your market
  5. Manage PR crises
  6. Generate new product and marketing ideas

They say that “in the era of groundswell, listening is easy” and not listening “is criminal”.

This is important to me to understand as you can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising, or if you advertised on the Superbowl 50 upwards of 5 million on a single commercial, and still not have control over your brands image.  Don’t be frightened by that though, Li and Bernoff (2011) have a listening plan for you:

  •  Check the Social Technographic Profile of your customers
  • Start small, think big
  • Make sure your listening has dedicated an experienced team to your effort
  • Chose a senior person to interpret the information and integrate it with other sources

The authors pledge that listening will change your organization.  So, take it from these experts, lend an ear to the groundswell.




Li, C., & Bernoff, J. (2011). Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies (expanded and revised edition ed.). Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.

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