Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

June 25, 2008

Cracking 200 Cites: Academic Publishing Advice, and “E-tribalized Marketing” in the European Management Journal


Well, for the big names in academia, 200 citations for an article might not seem like a lot, but to the little guys like me, working in areas that are pretty marginal and way off the beaten track, 200 citations seems like a pretty big deal. So it is with great pride and a smidgen of hullabaloo that today marks the day that my very first article, E-tribalized Marketing?: The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption, from the European Management Journal in 1999, received 200 citations on Google Scholar.

To commemorate this event, I’d like to share the article with you. I am posting the entire article in pdf for in its entirety (here: E-tribalized Marketing, EMJ 1999). Almost all major journals allow their authors to post their articles on their web-sites in pdf format with the proper accreditation (properly so, I think), and so I am following in this practice now.

Here is the full citation:

Kozinets, Robert V. (1999), “E-Tribalized Marketing? The Strategic Implications of Virtual Communities of Consumption,” European Management Journal, 17 (3), 252-264.

And here is the full article:

E-tribalized Marketing, EMJ 1999

This is still my most cited work. The reason it seems to have gathered interest and these citations is probably because:

  1. It is one of the first academic articles published to draw the connection between online communities (or “virtual communities of consumption” as I somewhat anachronistically call them in the article) and marketing research
  2. It is one of the first academic articles published to draw the connection between online communities and consumer or customer relationships
  3. It is one of the first academic articles published to draw the connection between online communities and word-of-mouth and other online marketing techniques
  4. It is the original citation for the widely-adopted and used model of online community participation that splits online community participation styles into tourist, minglers, insiders, and devotees

At some point, I’d really like to revisit that article, update, annotate and look at it in retrospect. I’m thinking next year, on its ten-year anniversary. I think it is important to look at the article in the light of its times.

So here is a little bit of “behind the scenes” on its “origin story.” The article followed from a 1997 article I wrote for a Financial Post series on contemporary business, a newspaper article called “How Online Communities Are Growing in Power.” That article was later republished in a book series. Here’s the citation for the book and chapter:

Kozinets, Robert V. (1999), “How Online Communities are Growing in Power,” in ed. Tom Dickson, Mastering Marketing: Complete MBA Companion in Marketing, London: Pearson Education, 291-297.

A little more back story on the article. The editor of EMJ, Professor Paul Stonham of the European School of Management at Oxford, had read my article in the Financial Times (I think in the book series) and liked it so much he contacted me in 1998 and asked me to expand it and write something on the topic for the European Management Journal. As a new author and a very junior academic (I had just started my job at Kellogg/Northwestern in September of 1997), I was flattered by the interest, and happy to get some of my ideas in print. Paul was really taking a chance on a complete unknown by doing this.

I thought for a second about the fact that this was not an officially “Top-tier” journal, not on the A-list of big impact journals, and that it “might not count” in my tenure decision. But then I thought–“but getting ideas out there, and real soon in this case, is what being a writer and thinker is all about.”

Thankfully, my organic intellectual instincts prevailed. And boy I’m glad they did. Writing this article was super easy. After years of studying it, I had tons to say about the topic, and the writing just flowed in no time at all. Sending it out was a joy. Paul accepted the article almost exactly as I sent it, with just a few small, helpful suggestions. What a difference from my JCR experiences, which were (with one exception) about as joyous an experience as being slowly hammered to death during a weeklong bout of marathon gum surgery.

Here is a brief taste of the article here, to whet your appetite to read it (and to keep on citing it, thank you, thank you!!!). This is the introduction section, in its entirety, with a few notes (italicized) added today by me:

Over three decades ago, Marshall McLuhan expounded that “cool” and inclusive “electric media” would “retribalize” human society into clusters of affiliation (see, e.g., McLuhan 1970). With the advent of “cyberspace,” networked computers and the proliferation of computer-mediated communications, McLuhan’s predictions seem to be coming true. Well, jeepers, nothing like an All-Canaidan prophetic opening. McLuhjan said it first, and he deserve the most credit for that!

Networked computers and the communications they enable are driving enormous social changes. People are retribalizing in cyberspace: they are E-tribalizing. Networked computers empower people around the world as never before to disregard the limitations of geography and time, find another and gather together in groups based on a wide range of cultural and subcultural interests and social affiliations. Because many of these affiliations are based upon consumption activities, these E-tribalized groups are of substantial import to marketing and business strategists. Marketers who rigorously understand them and the opportunities they present will be able to position themselves to benefit from fundamental changes that are occurring in the ways people decide on which products and services to consume, and how they actually consume them. Now, what’s important to remember was, back in 1997, 1998, and 1999, there was no Web 2.0. There was no terminology for this. And the trend was very far from obvious….I was definitely going out on a limb here.

By the year 2000, it is estimated that over 40 million people worldwide will participate in “virtual communities” of one type or another. Research has revealed that new users’ online activities tend to revolve around vapid surfing activities and e-mail. Yikes, that sounds like a value judgment. “Vapid”? OMG! Who am I to judge?

However, the longer an Internet user spends online, the more likely it is that they will gravitate to an online group of one sort or another. Once a consumer connects and interacts with others online, it is likely that they will become a recurrent member of one or more of these gatherings, and increasingly turn to them as a source of information and social interaction.

These gatherings have been variously termed “online,” “virtual,” or “computer-mediated” communities. The term “virtual community,” was coined by Internet pioneer Howard Rheingold (1993), who defined them as “social aggregations that emerge from the net when enough people carry on. . . public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.” McKinsey and Company consultants Arthur Armstrong and John Hagel (Armstrong and Hagel 1996) have termed groups of consumers united by a common interest “communities of interest.” Again, acknowledging two giants who pioneered thinking and writing about these issues. Rheingold in the social sphere. Armstrong and Hagel applying them to business. The contributions of these pioneers can not be overstated.

In spite of the prevalence of the term community to describe these groups, there has been considerable debate regarding its appropriateness. Online groups often never physically meet. Many participants maintain their anonymity. Many interactions are fleeting and ostensibly functional. Nevertheless, research into the diverse and full social interactions of online consumers has revealed that the online environment can indeed be used as a medium of meaningful social exchange (e.g., Clerc 1996, Rheingold 1993, Turkle 1995). That was the big debate back then. Notice how no one mentions this much anymore? Are virtual communities “Real” communities? Huh? What the heck does that mean?

The term virtual communities have usefully referred to online groups of people who either share norms of behavior or certain defining practices, who actively enforce certain moral standards, who intentionally attempt to found a community, or who simply coexist in close proximity to one another (Komito 1998). While sharing computer-oriented cyberculture and consumption-oriented cultures of consumption, a number of these groupings demonstrate more than the mere transmission of information, but “the sacred ceremony that draws persons together in fellowship and commonality” (Carey 1989, p. 18). Given this, the term community appears appropriate if used in its most fundamental sense as a group of people who share social interaction, social ties, and a common “space” (albeit a computer-mediated or virtual “cyberspace” in this case).

Whatever one chooses to call them, at least one thing seems assured. With fifty-one percent of Internet users using the Web daily (whoa! what else is there to do on the Net now?), and exponential global growth rates for new users, prodigious growth in the quantity, interests, and influence of virtual communities is guaranteed. That was a bolder claim then than it sounds like now!

Unlikely to replace physical encounters, or information from traditional media, online interactions are becoming an important supplement to social and consumption behavior. Consumers are adding online information gathering and social activities into an extended repertoire that also includes their face-to-face interactions. Now, that was pretty prescient. I never saw or wrote about these as separate domains, but always intermingled and intermingling….Ahnd I nevesaw online media replacing traditional media, but always as an “important supplement”…never either/or, always both/and….

Online interactions and alignments increasingly affect their behavior as citizens, as community members and as consumers. The prospect of advancing marketing thought and practice may come from an enhanced understanding of these groups of consumers.

And here’s the gist of the article…..A detailed account of the strategic implications of virtual communities will be provided herein, informed by four years of empirical and conceptual research on the online interactions of groups of consumers (Yep, I started taking my notes and doing my research in 1995). New developments in consumer behavior research and marketing will be conceptualized, focusing on the revolutionary changes wrought by online interactions. First, terms will be defined, and several different aspects of these groups will be theorized. Next, these concepts will inform a comparative analysis between the ways in which traditional “relationship marketing” theory has been implemented online, and the difference suggested by a newer framework based on the existence and utility of “retribalized” virtual communities of consumption. Strategic options will be explored and discussed. The final section overviews the practical implications of these changes for a revised online marketing strategy and suggests appropriate cyberspace locations through which to pursue it.

I hope you enjoy the article, which, if you missed it above, is available for you here: Etribalized Marketing, EMJ 1999

And the fun thing is, I’m still working on this stuff today, building and growing, changing and refining and commenting and critiquing, and so are lots of great students and academics. There are some lessons for fellow academic here, too:

  1. Don’t be afraid to publish outside the A-list, even as a junior. Getting your work out there, and keeping your voice intact, are more important than anything. B-list, C-list, book chapters. Don’t ignore the A-pubs, by any means, but build a portfolio. When I wrote this article, I had 2 JCRs under submission. One was published in 2001. The other was published in 2008. If I had waited that long to publish these ideas, they probably wouldn’t have made it into print at all. And they would have come far too late to have had impact.
  2. Don’t be afraid to publish in international journals. They can be great outlets. And guess what? It’s a big, wide world out there, outside of America.
  3. Recency counts. If you can get your ideas into print in a decent format quickly, that may be better than waiting forever, and publishing when your findings and thoughts are already old news. People will cite you for being first.
  4. Just publish it. Gather your thoughts, theorize, think big, and then publish it. B and C journals will let you think big, speculate, stretch yourself, in a way that A’s just will not. Get it out there. Our field has become so careful and micro that most of our articles say a lot about very small and specialized corners of the world. We need to practice big thinking again. We need to Go Large. Sizable Ideas Matter. Think ’em and Get ’em Out There.

Don’t agree? Good. Then post it and let’s talk about it. I’ve got tons more to say, but who knows if this is relevant to anyone….And…..

Speaking of Sizable ideas and thinking big thoughts, we had some great ones last week at Suffolk University. I’ll have more to tell you about the Consumer Culture Theory Conference in Boston last week in an upcoming post.

June 18, 2008

Applying Netnography and the Netnography08 Conference: Part 3

Now I want to talk a little bit about the keynote address that I was honored and delighted to give at Netnography08 in Munich, Germany last week. My presentation sought to provide a fairly broad overview of the method of netnography and to look at it from a big picture point of view. How has it been developed? How has it been used? What patterns are there in the way that it has been applied by scholars and other researchers?

I began by reminiscing a little bit about the origins of the technique in my thesis year, and gave some details on that. Then, I went straight to the definition and carefully looked at the origins of netnography in ethnography, and the ethnographic stance of participant- observation. I re-examined the goals of netnography as similar to the desired insights we get from ethnography.

Then, I turned to my assessment, and here was where things got a little bit interesting. I overviewed some of my early work, and detailed how well it did, or didn’t fit with my intended stance, and with the participative ethnographic imperative. After this I started looking at the published works that had used netnography as a method since then. What I detected was a movement, a pretty dramatic one, towards a purely observational stance, and away from a participative one. Some of my own work could definitely be included as participating and even contributing to this trend.

When I looked at the major marketing research firms that were using information in online forums, discussion groups, and the blogosphere, I could detect very similar patterns emerging, a movement towards larger datasets, a classification-and-sorting approach that necessarily decontextualized the communal and cultural elements and characteristics of the data.

After detailing this, I went back to the classics and quoted some of the most important sociologists and scholars, The Masters and Giants upon whose Shoulders we stand. I drew on their wisdom to inform the topics that related directly to online communities and the major ways we were seeing them behave.

I bumped that knowledge against the ethnographic goal of participation again to argue that different types of knowledge and insight are generated through participation. Not better knowledge and insight, necessarily, but different. The different stance and perspective afforded by participation added real value-that was why ethnography was so often held up as the gold standard of innovation-seeking marketing research (in books such as Cagan and Vogel’s classic Creating Breakthrough Products, for example).

In the next part of the presentation, I outlined my own analysis of why this movement away from participation and towards more observational and quantified stances was occurring. My conclusion was that marketing research is still related to models of marketing that are quickly becoming outdated.

Just as marketing was oftentimes still about talking instead of listening, marketing research was still about taking rather than giving. In the margins, I briefly outlined a vision, A New Hope for what marketing and marketing research could one day become. I believe that the participative options opened up by managers doing netnography could play an important role in this ongoing transformation not only of business and marketing, but even of society (yes, lofty big and maybe impractical “vision thing” thoughts for the keynote….).

I enjoyed the talk very much and plan to write it up for one forum or another, maybe develop it into the book I’m planning on writing about online communities and their range of implications.

Before I close this topic of the Netnography08 conference in Munich, I also want to mention that I had a chance to meet some very interesting colleagues there. Prof. Dr. Frank-Martin Belz from the TUM Business School in Munich. He holds the—wait for this (and it’s worth waiting for) “Chair of Brewery and Food Industry Management.” I asked him if it includes samples of beer. He smiled slowly, and nodded. Now that is a dream-job. Seriously though, we found out that we have lots in common with his work on sustainability and communities.

Nice also to see Prof. Dr. Anton Meyer again, to catch up with McKinsey’s Florian Jodl, and to see Fabian Göbel, and to meet Rita.

And here’s a major callout to Maria Horn, the Insights Strategist from the ad agency G2 in Hamburg, who is a regular reader of this blog. It was great to meet you, Rita, Maria, Fred, and all the rest of you.

Finally, a great big thank you to Hyve for their invitation and major Bavarian hospitality. Thanks to Julia J. for her limo services (don’t quit your day job), to Hans G. for soccer commentary, and to Steffen H. for his kind and able tour guiding. Mega-thanks also to Johann for the thoughtful talks and insights. As before, I had a very memorable and enjoyable time in Munich.

I came away from this conference with a renewed sense that German companies like Hyve, Beiersdorf, Adidas, BMW, and Burda are global innovators and early adopters. These are companies that are recognizing, developing, and spreading the use of netnography for marketing and innovation.

June 16, 2008

Applying Netnography and the Netnography08 Conference: Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — Robert Kozinets @ 9:58 am

Last posting, I began to tell you about some of the presentations at Netnography08 that really brought to light how netnography is being adapted and used by companies in their innovation processes. I started with a netnography from the Burda Community Network concerning the world of media, and consumers’ media habits. Then I overviewed a great innovation netnography for Adidas that resulted in a new product and package.

Next, Michael Bartl from Hyve AG discussed another example, a netnography for a water treatment company about water purity. After searching for water treatment groups on the Internet, they found extremely active groups centered around aquarium ownership, and the issues faced by those who were keeping exotic fish in their homes. That’s kind of interesting—an example of the unexpected way that netnography can help find unconventional links between topics that can spark creativity and illuminate connections. It also illuminates the relation to the search for “lead users” (see Eric von Hippel’s work in this area for details), suggesting how netnography can help accelerate the process of finding “experts” in related domains.

From these postings and insights, Hyve and their client developed a metaphor that demonstrated how the important elements of all water treatment concerns mapped onto the concerns that aquarium owners faced and extensively discussed online. From here, they looked for a range of ideas and opportunities, finally deciding that water treatment and quality were a major mass market opportunity.

The opportunity lay in the needs of travelers going to places where they didn’t trust the water (as a Mexican tourist, I know I’ve been in that boat more than once!—for details, see the new Sex in the City movie).

Drawing on the techniques and technologies used by aquarium owners, they decided to develop a sort of embedded “test strip” that would tell consumers whether the water being tested was safe to drink and use. The next step was to decide where to embed it, since a test strip by itself was unwieldy and difficult. Their decision? To put the test strip, with a simple “do not drink” red circle and bar across it that would become visible if the water was no good, on the tip of a toothbrush handle. Pretty clever. They are pitching the resulting product as the “WaterCheck” toothbrush.

Stephan Ruppert of NiveaThe third presentation I’ll tell you about was by Stephan Ruppert, a brand manager of Nivea skin and sun care products for Beiersdorf. Beiersdorf was managing and investigating the use of their self-tanning products and undertook a netnography with Hyve in order to unearth new ideas for subsequent ideation and innovation. They found a lot of information about people using and recommending various self-tanning products.

One of the useful findings of the study was the sheer degree of online conversations about tanning products online. Consumers made very strong recommendations, and offered up even stronger critiques of the various self-tanning options. Some products were seen as too strong, some too weak, applicators were carefully described and reviewed, and the color, authenticity, and evenness or blotchiness of the resulting tan described and assessed. This was clearly a product with considerable involvement. Across sites devoted to sunless tanning, tanning, and wellness sites.

One of the things that the netnography turned up that Nivea had not considered before was the importance of removing the tan, especially from consumers’ hands. Consumer shared all sorts of secrets and tips about how to get the tanning solution out of their skin. These ranged from drastic methods like sandpaper, alcohol based solvents, and detergents to more organic alternatives like loofah sponges and lemon juice. But consumers still seemed unhappy with these alternatives.

Dr. Ruppert said that it was only logical to think about removing tans but, until the netnography revealed the category in all of its stark, voice-of-the-consumer reality and detail, they had never done so.

The category they were looking at was now named “de-tanning”: how to get the tan out. With their knowledge and expertise they took these netnographic findings, ideated within the de-tanning category and launched a strong and successful product offering to meet these consumers’ unmet needs.

These were just a few of the very insightful sessions at Netnography08. Other speakers included Michael Trauttman of Kempertrautmann talking about a wide variety of community oriented advertising and marketing options, and Michael Frank of PlanNet presenting on the topic of user-generated advertising. There was also a set of very interesting workshops (including one that detailed “Twitter as a Netnographic Field,” and a panel devoted to discussing the ins and outs of netnographic research.

In my next post, I’ll provide some details about the keynote address that I gave to open up the conference.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress