Sep 16, 2007

Whose Conversation Is It Anyway

FATC, a frequent commentor (commentator?) here sent me this link to an article on ZDNet about the "Conversational Marketing Summit" written by Elinor Mills. Ms. Mills questions the whole idea of "conversation" calling it (correctly, in my book) pure BS, since the consumer rarely asks for any sort of conversation. And if only one person is talking, it's not really much of a conversation, is it?

If you're too lazy to read the article, here's a great quote:

The emergence of user-generated content has given average citizens a forum for recommending and denouncing products in a way they never had before. "I call it the 'relationship economy.' You value and feel empowered to control your time," [blogger Deborah] Schultz said. "Do you really want to have a conversation and relationship with every product you buy? No."
That last sentence is the relevant one. While people do occasionally want to interact with brands, it's folly to assume that everyone out there is interested in talking to you. And that they share your level of enthusiasm about your product. (Those of us in advertising know this is a common client error: assuming that other people are as interested in the minutiae of your product as you are.)

What's also interesting about this article is it's an example of consumer pushback to the whole idea of conversations and brand-as-friend-you-want-to-hear-from. And, as FATC notes, it appears on a technology website, not a marketing or advertising one.

Word is spreading.


Anonymous said...

Do you remember when we had our podcast with Jaffe? Unfortunately it was the lost 2nd half but Jaffe and I were debating whom should "lead" these convos.

When it comes to marketers/advertisers participating, it should be when they're invited or it's a "natural" fit. For example, Nikon was not natural. But Sci-Fi Channel was natural (that gave 30 SciFi bloggers--who already blogged about their shows/stars--a week on set at the studio). Why was it a natural fit? Because those bloggers already were discussing those brands and had an investment in them. Plus, the bloggers then got to give their readers what they wanted: more juice on the shows and stars.

The book club that I host--while it makes zero money and is for the community only "invites" authors (i.e. brands) to participate but the members lead. It just gives an online forum to discuss books we're already reading and have questions about. Many times readers will debate with the authors, many times they'll agree. But it's a natural fit because we already have an investment in learning marketing stuff. It's not forced upon us nor does any author "lead" it.

Net/net: brands should focus on being rich and relevant enough to either be a natural fit to complement a community (e.g. Sci-Fi) or be invited to one (e.g. Book Club). If a brand provides enough value, then it will qualify on one of those counts. Otherwise brands are just not our friends.

Btw, sometimes the brand's advertising can qualify to be convo-worthy (e.g. clearasil ads or Axe ads).

Anonymous said...

i had a brand "convo" with someone from comcast the other week. there were lots of swear words on my part. i was six days late on a $40 phone bill and they sold the debt to a repo man (a policy they admitted on the phone, i am not exaggerating) who called to hassle me on a saturday morning like i was a kid who was behind on his camaro payment. phone thug tactics. oh, and his number was blocked. but still he expected me to settle with him there and then. identity theft! hello. mind-blowing stupidity on comcast's part.

the truth is most products/brands are mediocre and simply not worth talking about. and never will be. hence the brand promotion industry aka advertising. comcast advertising is clearly the most thoughtful part of the whole company.

Alan Wolk said...

@TSR: WTF is up with that???

I had a pretty much identical experience with Terminex (a bug extermination chain) last month. We have a monthly contract with them and after years of prompt payments we accidentally missed a month.

I also got a call from a collection agent on a Saturday who was quite nasty and aggressive. Same thought process: I assumed that he was a con artist trying to get my credit card info (I had no reason to think we'd actually missed the payment.)

I called Terminex afterwards. They apologized for the intrusion, but given that there are numerous other exterminator options, I was hoping for something more than an "yeah, we're sorry the guy was rude but your bill is past due."

The logic is baffling: I can't but imagine most people have the same reaction I did, which was to drop Terminex immediately.

Shocking that Comcast would do the same thing, given that they too face pretty steep competition and that harassing loyal customers over small bills seems like the perfect way to ensure disloyalty.

Anonymous said...

mind-boggling is what it is.

it's the same thing that leads to all mediocrity. not thinking and not having a shred of empathy for your customers. richard branson has made billions by simply NOT doing what most organizations do. ie, being mediocre and annoying.

comcast doesn't want to have a "conversation" with me. they just want my money. similarly i don't want to have a brand "conversation" with them. just use of their pipes and basic good manners. harassing me (and that's exactly what it was) with strongarm bubba bill collectors on a saturday morning over forty bucks was fatal on their part. but par for the course for corporate america.

Unknown said...

Glad you liked the quote and it helped me find your great blog.

For the record --I am passionate about recreating the way company and customer communicate (note I did not use the word marketing --too freakin loaded on BOTH coasts these days). I just want it to be done right -- the consumer/customer has more power than ever[in part thanks to some of these great new technologies we call web 2.0], But let's not take the easy route and think that creative advertising that uses new distribution channels [be they youtube or facebook or acme 2.0] are any more authentic and real than old school advertising. The difference comes in a shift in attitude and service and trust - this takes time not technology.

[rant over]