No, no. Not that “C” word.
In the old days, (you know, as far back as the 1990’s,) marketing was largely a one-sided enterprise. Brands created campaigns that were directed outward to the consumers (large blocks of them) and then waited for the cash registers to ring. When that didn’t work, they just re-tooled the campaign, and tried it again. There was never any inclination to change the model. Just a tweak in the creative, or a new account manager, or a line extension, and let’s tee it up again. Those days are over, for many reasons – but mostly because the “campaign-as-the-thing” approach stopped working.
The new word of the day in marketing has to be CONVERSATIONS. Because, more than ever, brands need to listen and respond in near-real-time in order to stay relevant. Consumers are in control of the messages they receive, when they receive them, and (Jeez, Louise!) on what devices they will be receiving them!
Is it the Internet’s fault? Yeah, probably. But the Internet just streamlined a distribution system for brands that brands always desperately wanted. Note to industry: be careful what you wish for. The system begets bugs. The system creates a new set and style of preferences.
And let’s be mindful that this is not a tipping of the scales – it’s actually a market correction. It’s only natural for the consumer to be in control when the basic DNA of marketing is choice. Because there’s competition – multiple entities vying for attention and striving to achieve the perception of superiority – the consumer is naturally in the driver’s seat…weighing benefits and making choices based on any number of criteria. (Whether they’re sound or not, mind you. With choice comes caprice.)
So, if you’re a brand, how do you have conversations?
As with any conversation, listening is the best way to engage. You’ll learn, you’ll understand, and you’ll be able to exchange ideas with context. For brands, this new paradigm is an information gold mine. No more expensive focus groups, no more really expensive segmentations, no more super expensive risks. Today, you can publish content, and consumers will tell you in about 4 and a half minutes whether or not it’s crap. The brands that listen – and pay attention – seem to be the brands that excel. Listening is why we have conversations – you already know what you are and what you know. The goal, of course, is to hear other perspectives.
Inspire your audience to try something new/other.
Even if your audience is already buying your stuff on a regular basis, it’s worth deepening the relationship. Ask them to try something new. Drive a new route. Try a new approach. Write an essay. Post a photo. Ask them to do ANYTHING but “buy our shit.” When you do that, you cheapen the opportunity to continue the conversation, and you make just about everything that follows suspect.
I’m not suggesting that marketers use diversionary tactics to engage audiences. I’m rather insisting that you find something ELSE to talk about than yourself.
Seed new conversations.
One of the “things” marketers can do is to seed new conversations. Sure, they can be contextual. They can even be categorically obvious. But let them be true, two-sided exchanges between parties where both parties participate, both parties are heard, and both parties have the opportunity to come out having learned something. (Here’s the dirty little secret: brands can do this over and over with zillions of people, and really really learn some things.)
Want to know what your next flavor should be? Want to know where to build your next location? Want to know what kind of features you should put into your next expensive piece of technology? Want to know whether you should wear those dopey throwback uniforms? Start a conversation, and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you find, especially if you’re in a position to act on that information.