Not long after Cluetrain came out, Jakob Nielsen floored me by pointing out something that should have been obvious but proved easy to miss: that the authors “defected” from marketing and took sides with markets against it. When we wrote we are not seat s or eyeballs or end users or consumers, and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it … the first person we was individuals seeking to escape marketing’s grasp. The second person we were addressing was marketing itself. I think this is a very big reason why Cluetrain still resonates today. Marketing is hardly any less graspy and barely more conversational, except in a few places. Such as, presumably, the Conversational Marketing Summit.
In the weeks leading up to the Summit my friend Peter Hirshberg urged me to provide helpful input for a white paper he was writing with others, including Steve Hayden of Ogilvy, a legendary copywriter (Apple’s “1984”, among countless others). The white paper was to frame its thinking around Cluetrain, eight years after marketing began not to get its points.
Here’s what I sent him, which now runs at the front of the White Paper (warning: it’s a .pdf)…
The framing for conversational marketing should be conversation, not marketing. Think about what you want in a conversation, and let that lead your marketing.
- The purpose of conversation is to create and improve understanding, not for one party to “deliver messages” to the other. That would be rude.
- There is no “audience” in a conversation. If we must label others in conversation, let’s call them partners.
- People in productive conversation don’t repeat what they’re saying over and over. They learn from each other and move topics forward.
- Conversations are about talking, not announcing. They’re about listening, not surveying. They’re about paying attention, not getting attention. They’re about talking, not announcing.
- “Driving” is for cars and cattle, not conversation.
- Conversation is live. Its constantly moving and changing, flowing where the interests and ideas of the participants take it. Even when conversations take the form of email, what makes them live is current interest on both sides.
What this means for conversational marketing is that brands must be living things too. Not just emblems. Those that succeed will be as liveas open to the flow and diversion of ideasas the market conversations they participate in.
Live brands participate in market conversations in a manner that is:
- Real. Conversational marketing is carried out by human beings, writing and speaking in their own voices, for themselvesnot just for their employers.
- Constant. Conversational marketings heartbeat is the human one, not some media schedule. Brands need to work incessantly to be understood within the context of the market conversation and to earn and keep the respect of their conversational partners.
- Genuinely interested. Intellectual engagement cant be fakedat least for long. Current interest is what keeps conversations going, and its the key to sustained brand presence.
- Intent on learning. Every participant who stays with the conversation learns. Humans are distinguished by their unlimited capacity to learn. This should be no less true of brands than it is of individuals.
- Humble. The term “branding” was born in the cattle industry and borrowed by advertising and mass media at the height of the Industrial Age. In those days the power to inform was concentrated in the hands of a few giant companies. Now it’s in everybody’s hands.
- Attentive. In the old days, brands wanted everybody else to pay attention to them. Now brands need to pay attention to everybody else.
- Personal. No individual outsources their conversation or their education. This is no less true of brands than of people. Because brands today are people. Smart brands reward individual employees for engaging in market converstions.
Can marketing be all those things? I have my doubts. So does this blog (not sure who the writer is), which offers a paragraph that makes me wince:
‘There is no audience in a conversation.’ I agree with this, however there is an audience for a blog. Labeling people in a conversation a ‘partner’ suggests equality. But as this applies to marketing it is the wrong suggestion. A partner doesn’t try to get you to buy stuff you don’t need/want. The implication that the blogosphere is a conversation; that we are all partners; therefore people marketing to us in this ‘conversation’ are our partners is creepy. Another point to note is that there is a backchannel in the blogosphere. Many of us get emails requesting this that or the other get some exposure. Conversations are transparent to all participants.
I remember struggling with a term that wasn’t “audience” and was truly conversational. “Partner” was the best I could come up with at the time. What else do you call someone you’re in conversation with? Maybe one of you can come up with a better answer. In any case, point taken. In fact, it’s a point I’d make as well. The jury is out on whether marketing can be truly conversational. Peter and Steve believe it can. I’d like to help them try, which is what I’m doing here. If anybody can do it, they’re the ones. But the jury is still out. That’s the rest of us.