Friday, June 4, 2010

Is Conversational Marketing Worth Talking About?

In light of the challenges brands face in the digital landscape, conversational marketing has become a popular strategy employed by social marketers. But it also depends on who you talk to. As most would acknowledge, conversational marketing evolved from The Cluetrain Manifesto's assertion that markets are nothing more than conversations, and that marketers need to reconsider conventional one-way communication with consumers. At least, that's what I got out of it – and I don't disagree, in theory. But how do you have conversations with people with the intent of promoting a product or service? Not an exact science, is it? And then there's the whole internet thing and its transformation of the marketplace. The whole dynamic keeps changing.

When it comes to social media, I am certainly no expert. No one is. But I'm always looking at the big picture. For those who didn't see it coming, social media is like the big gorilla in the room that no one invited but you also can't ignore.

Sure recent studies suggest that social media has no significant impact on direct sales, but it does on brand equity. Perception is everything when it comes to branding, and to ignore that fact, would be short sighted to say the least. The brand that endures is the brand that wins. To some degree, social media activity is imperative, but itself is no magic bullet, as some would hype.

For instance, not all companies are convinced that tweeting is a necessity, even ones that believe in social media. Quantitative executives focused on ROI are still trying to figure out it's value. As a channel for one-on-one customer conversations, I believe Twitter is a great way to find out what people want from you as a brand.

Conversational marketing is gaining traction in the blogosphere but it's not a new concept. Despite what some may think, social media is not all that different from traditional marketing as long as your philosophy is the same. Stop talking at consumers and focus more on building relationships and starting conversations; even if that conversation begins first in someone's head. That much you can control, at least subliminally. Plant a seed and watch it grow.

Sure, the internet has changed the way people connect, but the rules have not changed. Conversational marketing should be a fundamental shift in thinking and approach; not just a term to describe the notion of connecting directly to the marketplace online. It's more than viral or word-of-mouth, but rather an effective and rather inexpensive research tool driven by social media and its various communication channels.

Unparalleled in potential and unlimited in scope, cyberspace has a taken on a life of its own and social media offers many ways to interact and participate. So stay relevant and stay in the conversation but don't try to control the conversation. That will just backfire. The more you let consumers in and make them a part of the process, the more they will connect with your brand emotionally and give you a leg up on the competition.