Following the phone conversation with David Weinberger last week, during which he expressed doubts about whether marketing can be conversational, I ran across this piece on conversational marketing by Joe Marchese on MediaPost’s Online Spin blog.
Talking about best practices in conversational marketing he says:
“The best practice is to imagine your brand’s message as a circle and a community’s conversation as another circle; what you are looking for is the area where the circles overlap. Once you find this overlap, you can begin to look for ways to participate in the conversation and achieve your marketing goals at the same time. Three things to remember: First, speak frankly and understand that each individual you are communicating with is a peer, not a demo. Second, as my friend Rishad Tobaccowala pointed out so succinctly, if your product sucks, don’t bother trying to create conversations. Third, remember, conversation without permission is just interrogation.”
Further in the article, he suggests that:
“as a marketer, (you) should be prepared to finish the conversations you start.”
I think David was right…marketers will screw it up. For those marketers who even get what Joe is trying to say, I can just see them expanding their “brand message circle” to where it totally overlaps with the “community circle”. I bet you some brand message “areas” will be turned into ellipses, squares and other fancy shapes just to make the overlap happen.
The very clever ones will claim that the shape of the “community circle” is not really what it appears to be. Surely some marketers will agree that the “community circle” of the “Empower Patients” group on Facebook overlaps with the “brand message circle” of heart burn medicine; or that the 104,633 people who belong to the “Foundation for the protection of Swedish underwear models” cause on Facebook might be interested in engaging in conversations with cruise organizers.
As for the other recommendations – I am not sure that I agree with any of them. For starters, not everyone you are communicating with is a peer. I know they are not a demo, as they are hopefully human. But what if the community consists of a bunch of doctors, and you engage with them because you have the expertise to help them in an area where they don’t – say accounting. They are not your peers. Now this is more than bickering about terminology – being peers implies certain acceptable behaviors in conversations which are not appropriate if you are not peers.
And saying that if your product sucks you should not start a conversation is a potentially a misleading recommendation. For the longest time Google docs may have looked like a product that sucks for high end professional services companies that spend a lot of effort in creating sophisticated proposals, and who would not blink a eye at the money required to get a really high-end collaborative environment. For many of us freelancers on the other hand, it was a product sent from heaven – even if the app would crash periodically. The whole “innovator’s dilemma” landscape is littered with products that suck but displaced very successful incumbents.
And can we really not end a conversation? Sigh…
OK – so let’s try to summarize this:
- Markets = conversations
- You either have a legitimate reason to engage in the conversation – or not
- In some communities it is ok to talk about “crappy” products – in others it isn’t
- Sometimes you have to have permission to speak, and sometimes you don’t
- Communities are not always made up of peers
- => Marketing can be conversational if you can handle it; but most often it can’t – either because of you or in spite of you…
See – easy to understand and no Venn diagram required!
I cannot wait until the conversation marketing experts talk to us like humans and not like demos 🙂