When People Talk, People Listen, Marketing Gets Better
“I’m a very understanding person, Albert. I understand that you are going through a selfish phase. And, I’m sure that you will understand that I am going through a destructive phase.” – Mollie, Look Who’s Talking (1989), TriStar
Companies and their marketing efforts go through phases just like parents and kids. It used to be the companies talked at you, like your parents. Now, all of a sudden, a few of them are talking to you as a person instead of a target. You know, honest, friendly, reasonable, helpful two-way communications. O.K., not all of them; but some like Best Buy, Sears, Samsung, Ford, Dell and hundreds more are struggling to evolve their marketing activities and build relationships with partners/customers. Occasionally, they muck it up; but you have to give those who are trying to be conversational a little slack. It’s untested territory! Remember, parents didn’t come with user manuals so you tolerated their “mistakes.” Now it’s your turn and you hear Mikey’s words, “Hey, man, you’re on your own.” Manufacturers, channel partners and customers have the same challenge today.
Fire Hose Approach
In the Mad Men days, there was a team of folks composed of marketing, sales, service, design, advertising, PR and support people. They’d put their stuff together, spray it out, go to lunch and pray it didn’t cause too much of a mess. Hey, some of it even stuck.
Tagging – Marketing used to be refined, coordinated with each department/individual having his/her own task. Strategies were refined, tactics were developed (often with little/no coordination) and people gave it their best shot. If it worked, it was called creative art. If it didn’t, it was graffiti. The plan – in a neat 3-ring binder – was followed with little or no concern about how you reacted. They’d do a new plan later. As a customer, if you had a problem or issue with the marketing activity Albert — the knowledgeable marketing expert — said, “Here go play some video games” or “I admit the timing is bad.” Sure, some companies and retailers still work that way but…
Now, folks understand there are different influence touch points.
Weighted Influence – When people consider a purchase, make a decision to buy, there are influences that help with the final decision. At each phase, the weighted value varies. Today, it’s more difficult for a firm’s marketing department to control/manage the influences. Source – McKinsey
Marketers sorta’, kinda’ knew it before; but now it matters. Whether you liked or didn’t like the product/service determined how you influenced your small circle of friends and family. Voiced Influence – In every group, there are individuals who have explored the technical subject in greater depth than normal people and they freely discuss the product, service, idea. In many instances, they will influence the average user’s opinion or decision. With all of the new social media, they have more outlets for their influence. Source – ICOM
Some companies still operate that way. But when the Web came along with new technologies and new channels including social media, mobile and avatars, more things changed. Happy and irritated people suddenly had global platforms.
New Channels – The depth and breadth of social media resources and outlets have given people new opportunities to express their opinions regarding a company/product both positively, negatively. Social media makes it virtually impossible for a marketing team to “manage” results. Source – Nielsen
Depending upon how far along everyone is — company, channel partner, customer — in the relationship engagement cycle, it is a major catalyst/opportunity or an inhibitor/stumbling block. The new conversational activity can be frustrating, especially when people trip over their own words/activities and are trying so hard. If you’re on the company side, you’re certain that the customer is thinking exactly what Mollie said, “If we ever got back together I’m afraid I would have to torture you for the rest of your life.” Customers wonder why it’s so difficult to have a conversation, which is why Mollie said, “No, he’s thinking real hard!”
Conversational marketing is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Business marketing technology is being refined on-the- fly. It’s too easy to hang them out to dry with your social media “power” when they stumble; but remember, some don’t have a clue, aren’t even trying. There are still marketing folks who find direct interaction with customers to be an unnecessary disruption to their work. Company/channel marketing has gone through a number of changes in recent years. Mad Men may be a helluva’ TV show, but it really was the “good old days.” You have to wonder how consumers tolerated the abuse. Since then, business/retail has gone from the single-channel approach to the multichannel approach and later integrated cross-channel marketing. Conversational marketing means everyone has to not only talk to customers – and each other -, step outside their career silo and work across all business channels, work for common goals.
Interrelated Activities – Marketing departments are working diligently to determine how, when, where they participate in the new conversational relationship; and exactly who in the organization is not just involved, but is monitoring/measuring the activity. They often find that the one-way pitch doesn’t fit in the new environment. Source – FedEx
That’s not easy! A few organizations, like those mentioned earlier, understand that they need to have unified inbound/outbound communications strategies. Of course, you realize that “might” mean someone in sales, advertising, marcom, design, publicity, service, support, ops may lose part of their status. Sure, it may be based on the customer; but some see what’s going on and agree with Mikey, “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. And, I don’t like it.”
Social media “experts” like to point out that:
- There are more than 750 million people on Facebook
- There are more than 300 million tweets a day
- They have 10,000 people who “Like” them, 5,000 Twitter followers
That’s you … not the consumer. Conversational marketing means interacting with people in the cloud, through social media, on mobile devices, on social networking sites. It’s connecting in an interactive, personalized manner that enriches both parties.
New Benefits – Social media and conversational marketing can yield a totally new and mutually beneficial relationship between everyone in the product/service chain – manufacturer, channel partner, consumer. Refining the marketing department’s role is still a work in progress. Source – MENG (Marketing Executives Networking Group)
Companies no longer hold sway over today’s customer. The sexy ads, merchandising endcaps, shelf hangers, deep discounts, publicity noise just don’t seem to work like they used to. Suddenly, consumers make their decisions after doing online research, studying reviews, analyzing ratings, weighing online experiences/discussions with others, including folks from your organization. The people who do it right earn a greater share of the customer’s mind, wallet. Folks who don’t provide a seamless experience between the business/consumer probably can’t even figure out why people are simply clicking away. They see what’s going on and agree with Rona, “That’s all I need. A baby telling me what an IDIOT I am.” The businesses mentioned at the outset are challenging and testing every “proven” and new conversational marketing idea. They want the new customer to stick around for years…maybe his/her total life.
Circle of Life – The goal of an organization’s conversational marketing effort is to work with, assist, share information/ideas with consumers so the company can more effectively meet their wants/needs. In a broader view the goal is to keep that customer for life. Source – McKinsey
They know the outbound channels – direct mail, email, messaging, ads, publicity, reactive service/support – are only a sliver of the communications effort.
Today’s consumer expects; no, demands, a deeper level of personalization and service from his/her channel/supplier partner. Mastering lifetime conversations is tough – almost as tough as raising parents. Marketing has to tune the right message/offer to the right tool/channel to the customer at just the right time. The more they know, the more refined they get, the more precise the information they have the better and mutually rewarding the one-to-one personalized dialogue. Just remember, in any conversational relationship there are going to be times when – no matter which side of the discussion you’re on – you will agree with Mikey, “Put me back in! Put me back in!” But if both sides work at it who knows, it could be a beautiful relationship. It worked with your folks/kids. O.K., bad example.