What types of actors intercept and re-interpret marketing communications in your brand engagement theater?


Social media networks have emerged as an important if not disruptive element in brand engagement.

The figure below depicts marketing intermediaries that intercept, filter, reinterpret, and frame the brand and its narratives in a marketspace.

Family and friends comprise intermediaries who share warmth and affinity for your branded offering, but may have little or no commitment to wider brand use. When asked by neighbors or colleagues, this type of intermediary will say positive things. However, in many social situations, they will not offer a strong defense of your brand when others advocate an alternative or attack your brand.

Partners comprise intermediaries who share both affinity and alignment with your branded offering. Partners advocate broader brand use. Platform partners tie their success to your success. Referral services get compensated when they bring customers to you. Partners communicate, collaborate, and provide consultative feedback to you—critical in transforming buyers into loyal customers and long-term stakeholders.

Adversaries comprise intermediaries who share similar goals and interests—a satisfied end-use customer—but have little or no affinity with your brand. Clearly competitive offerings and substitutes fall into the camp of adversaries. Other adversaries include aftermarkets and auction sites that facilitate the resale of a product or service barters.

The broadly accepted social norms of argumentation state that in the face of an accusation, silence constitutes a voice of affirmation. This norm suggests that as firms compete in markets, firms must develop new listening skills and the ability to respond within minutes or hours of being accused by adversaries and enemies.


Brand engagement managers must develop listening tools and maintain operational capabilities for tracking the conversations among various intermediaries.

Voice-of-the-customer systems use text-mining tools to semantically tag transcripts of thousands of inbound call center interactions, inbound emails from customers and resellers, and outbound customer interviews. Semantic tagging enables the summarization of concepts expressed in the myriad transcripts, as well as levels of emotional intensity. Over time, this type of summarization can track growing or diminishing awareness of a concept, as well as shifts in positive or negative moods.

Social media monitoring systems provide a foundation for voice of the customer, using validated keywords and phrases used by customers to search millions of social network pages, blogs, and forums, summarizing the activated conversations and sentiments related to the brand, its category, and its narrative of consumption.

Solution portals include microsites, blogs, and topical social networks (using Ning or other platforms) that create communities of expertise—who often drive their own agendas, conversations, and narratives.

Enemies comprise intermediaries that may include direct, combative competitors; however, in the socially networked age of engagement, this style of hardball selling will likely produce diminishing returns. Why? Because buyers want solutions and satisfactions, not the chaff and noise of hardball competitors shouting. Enemies also include individuals or small groups that enjoy being mischievous, using the attention to drive Website traffic or ad revenues.

Interpreting Marketing Messages

Effective customer engagement entails addressing the needs and points of collaboration with adversaries, demonstrating that you have listened, understood, and cared about their concerns.

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