The Art of Conversation

In a recent post about the evolving agency model (The future of advertising isn’t advertising), Robin Grant discussed how agencies will  transform themselves to support consumer conversations. We can expect that brand marketing organizations will also evolve to reflect the new way the consumers interact with brands. If the brand is the sum of all the conversations about the brand, an important part of the brand marketer’s role is to move beyond the delivery of a message, and find ways to influence and participate in the “ongoing conversation with different audiences in multiple different places”. 

As Robin notes, the important thing to remember is that the ” nodes you see in networked media models … are people and the connections between them are conversations.”   Real conversation can’t be fully planned. Sure, the brand will still operate from an editorial calendar, but in a conversation, the brand has to be ready to respond to a question that wasn’t expected,  or a comment that isn’t in the agreed-upon talking points. The brand conversation take places in all sorts of places: on a Facebook page, through an e-mail exchange initiated by the brand or by the consumer, when a consumer tries the product at an event or a promotion, in reviews and product rankings on a website, with a mention on in a show or article, and through advertisements that tell a brand story and invite consumers to respond. Sometimes the brand isn’t even a party to the conversation, but there are many digital tools at our disposal to allow us to listen in, so that the conversations we initiate can be informed by what is relevant to our listeners.

E-mail marketing that has been used for years to communicate with consumers can now be augmented with tools that allow consumers to share that information with their network and add value to the brand’s communication. Rather than replacing e-mail, social networks can augment, introducing consumers to a brand in a casual way, and making it possible to build a deeper relationship over time. Indeed, a recent Nielsen study showed that social media use causes people to consume e-mail even more.

So, how do brands become better at having conversations? Milton Wright wrote The Art of Conversation in 1936; much of what he had to say is particularly appropriate for brand seeking to have genuine conversations with consumers: 
1 . Don’t talk too long before waiting for a reaction.

2. The main purpose of general conversation is to entertain.

3. Attempting to steer the conversation round to your pet subjects will engender resentment in your listeners.

4. (Since I work for a beverage alcohol company, I particularly like this one:) alcoholic refreshment has historically been considered important to general conversation.

Brands can build trust and loyalty with their consumers by listening more than we talk, by using a tone of voice that sounds like a real person, by giving the consumer the chance to talk about themselves and what is important to them, by giving them a chance to respond to things that we say  … in short, by practicing the art of conversation.

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