Conversational Marketing Versus Market Conversations

The much discussed and highly revered Cluetrain Manifesto is proving to be more relevant than ever. As Social Media becomes more pervasive in marketing, it’s imperative that we become gatekeepers to prevent opportunistic marketers from bankrupting the conversation economy.

As someone noted, aren’t all marketers opportunistic?

Yes and no.

It’s the difference between leveraging an opportunity because you can bring value to the discussion vs. selling an opportunity simply because you can capitalize on it.

Jakob Nielsen added a unique perspective to ClueTrain when he surmised that the authors “defected” from marketing and took sides with markets against it.

The markets on the other side of the proverbial “other side of the fence” however, should be warned that the very marketers that forced the defection have figured out that there’s fortune and bountiful opportunities in jumping ship and blending into the new world of Social marketing.

As Stowe Boyd says, the edge dissolves the center. We are the edglings and we’re experimenting with new forms of media, not to gain fame or fortune, but to change marketing from a business of bullying, bullshit, and deception, to a genuine form of respectable and valued sense of service and personalization.

If it’s one thing that we can learn about Social media is that people and the markets they represent have rallied against marketing and slick marketers and have demanded personalization, transparency, and sincerity.

Social Media is about breaking down barriers to engage in conversations.

They don’t want to be told what to buy, what to think, or have their views and opinions disregarded simply because they are not classically trained in the art of service, design or marketing.

Gone are the days of talking “to” people and controlling the message from company to influencer to audience. Now companies are forced to let go as “audiences” have given way to the very people we chose to leapfrog for the greater good of mass marketing.

Brands have become democratized. Audiences have evolved into factions of people linked together by common interests. Messages have deteriorated into a lost language that no one cares to revive, not even Mel Gibson.

Control is lost and now is now firmly placed among, and cultivated by, the people.

There is no audience in conversations. Nor is there an audience for any other form of Social Media. Each venue comprises of groups of people and they each come to the table with a different recipe of experiences, preferences, dislikes, and prejudices all wrapped in a blanket of skepticism and hope.

People have voices and thanks to the fact that Social Media “goes to 11,” their opinions and views have more volume and influence than ever before – more so than many care to acknowledge. But whether companies agree or not, the fact is that conversations are taking place with or without them, no matter how many ads they run, key words they buy, or press releases they push out over the wires.

Conversational marketing isn’t a bandwagon or a golden ticket. It is a call for reform, evolution, and humility.

We’re witnessing the shift from B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer) to P2P (peer to peer) marketing – or better described as conversations between people, not companies doing their best impression of adults in the Peanuts cartoons as they talk to audiences in a monotone, robotic, insincere voice, “wah wah wah wah wahhhhhh.”

Participation is marketing and it is wreaking havoc among traditional marketers in PR, advertising, direct marketing, and every discipline all the way down the line. And, it concurrently represents a winning lotto tickets for those marketers who find a new point of differentiation to cash in by jumping into the new conversations.

The mistake that most Social Media practitioners or conversational marketers make however, is that they assume they’re all invited to the conversation, whether they host it or they jump into to existing discussions. The reality is however, that they’re not welcome at all.

Markets are conversations, but that doesn’t mean all conversations are marketing opportunities.

Like Social Media, suddenly everyone is an expert in conversational marketing, when in fact, there are truly only a handful that truly leverage their experience as a new media savvy consumer before they tap their inner marketer.

What many miss though, is that conversations and Social Media are influenced by sociology, not technology or action. Relationships are the new metric for ROI.

With all of the hype, it’s critical that we analyze and understand the difference between conversational marketing and conversations.

The recent Conversational Marketing Summit organized by Federated Media brought the category in the spotlight recently, simply stating that brands are conversations.

Indeed brands are conversations…as much as companies, products, and the people behind them are also conversations. In this regard, one could argue that conversational marketing is still a form of marketing, although one step removed, that seeks to engage groups of people through strategic initiatives that still attempt to push messages, shape impressions, or align with markets through new social channels.

On the other hand, markets are conversations as well. The difference is that the focus is on people and the meaningful discussions and topics that compel them to speak up or speak out in the forums where their peers congregate to share insight and wisdom. The focus on relationships ultimately impact and benefit brand resonance and loyalty, and therefore, fuel the philosophy that markets are also conversations.

Chris Heuer recently wrote a passionate post entitled, “Stop the Insanity! Don’t Call It Conversational Marketing” where he states, “…despite a lot of people whom I respect using the phrase “Conversational Marketing” to describe the new way companies are relating to customers, it devalues the underlying shift which is, in Doc Searl’s words, of “greater significance”. While the word marketing is intended to get the attention of those corporate folks who are somewhat attached to their titles and have budget, the language devalues the importance and ends up missing the point.”

David Weinberger, Cluetrain co-aurthor, commented on Heuer’s post, “Just because markets are conversations doesn’t mean that marketing is.”

Doc Searls recently asked, Can Markets be Conversational, and answered, “The framing for conversational marketing should be conversation, not marketing. Think about what you want in a conversation, and let that lead your marketing…[conversations are] about paying attention, not getting attention.”

I admire Doc.

Searls also pondered labels, since marketers love to categorize things, “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. If we must label others in conversation, let’s call them partners.”

He went on to invite other suggestions.

To me, partners isn’t terribly conversational, in fact it’s a bit too formal. Conversations are usually between people. And, the more significant discussion are held between people who share respect between each other, thus evolving into peers.

So whether we’re talking about partners, people or peers, the critical element that most marketers have and will continue to miss is that intruding into conversations is not conversational marketing at all. We forget that as marketers, we’re not welcome. We have to earn the right to participate. Listening is the price of admission and adding value eventually earns us a spot at the table. Respect and support keep us there.

Instead of jumping directly to the assertion that brands are conversations, we should first inject a step that acknowledges that brands are evolving from catchy slogans and artistic logos to living, breathing personalities that are defined by the people, principles, and community-focused activities behind them.

You simply can’t engage in conversational marketing if you aren’t first listening to the conversations and studying the culture of the communities in which they take place.

The most effective campaigns will place people in front of brands, be sincere and honest with their intentions, and humanize the story in a way that matters to the people they’re trying to engage.

So from this regard, conversations can’t be outsourced to traditional marketers. A new regime of people with an genuine sense of community are required to engage in participatory marketing.

And by listening to people and studying the culture and sociology of their communities, conversational marketing and conversations can become one in the same. At the end of the day, you get out of it what you invest into it. Without sincerity, empathy, humility, or value, then it simply resorts to traditional marketing.

Additional reading:

Peter Hirshberg of Technorati on conversational marketing

A “Manifesto on Monday Morning” by Technorati and Ogilvy

Redefining Conversation at Data Mining

Finding conversational marketing’s heartbeat by Dan Farber

Bloggers
Drive Conversational Marketing

Markets are conversations – but not all conversations are marketing – Web Jungle

The Social Media Manifesto

Connect on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce or Facebook.

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  • Julian

    Saw your tweet and stopped by for a read. Wow Brian. Did you ever just nail it!

    I’ve been entrenched in sales, marketing and technology for 20+ years but I evangelize social media now.

    I use social media in every aspect of my personal and professional life and yet I find myself just starting to grasp its potential. I say this even though my consulting practice is based largely on advising companies on social media and web technologies. :) I get it intuitively, but my rational, reasoning side is still busy trying to figure out if the world ends in a cliff or continues on over a horizon. I think that makes me pretty similar to most folks – we’re all just starting to get a clue as to how to use it.

    I keep harping on the theme that all this technology we’re using is for people to better relate to each other, to better understand more about our differences and accomplish more through more informed action. More in richer relationships, more in marketing, more in business, more in learning, more in life, more to help other people. The applications are endless if we keep the focus on using the tools to better ourselves and others.

    I haven’t written half as good a post as you have here but you can follow some of my own musings on my biz blog exceler8ion.

    My dad and I are having a conversation right now on social media through the lens of web 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 as it relates to new technology, media and human traits. Starts on my Dad’s blog YankeeWombat and moves to EXCELER8ion.

    Cheers

    Julian

  • Geoff_Livingston

    F’ing fantastic post, Brian. Right on. I love it (going to tweet it).

    There’s a self centered ethos to cos that they can just jump in and do what they want. But only by getting out of themselves and into the community can they become part of the conversation. Perhaps all social media marketers should read Dale Carnegie before even starting to read out here.

    Cheers,

    GL

  • Hansdek

    Great rational rant – wonderful post. There are no experts in this field. Whilst innovation is travelling fast – you do not become an expert in one day. There is a lot of hype in this space and through all this hype and noise it more then often becomes difficult to understand what it means to people and business.
    Whilst there are no experts in this space, there are “Good Innovators” who have common sense hard-wired through their thinking and doing. They are good at cutting hype and distilling value out of this plethoric ocean of concepts available to all of us.

    At the end of the day – if you deliver value – word of mouth will carry that value on its shoulders through the network. If you do not provide value – it just won’t work. If you then try to force the non-perceived value through unclever ways, masking your corporate or marketing intentions behind some “branded social persona”, you will fail miserably.

    You cannot polish a turd.

    Wonderful application of your brain – you’re an interesting character to follow.

    Cheers from Sydney, Australia

  • Connie Bensen

    I caught Geoff’s tweet on this. And I totally agree that one can’t go assuming you have a right to be marketing your products in a social space. You need to earn it by being transparent & participating in an organic & grassroots manner.

  • Francois Gossieaux

    Hi Peter,

    Great post!

    While markets are conversations, marketing does not need to be conversational at all times. Also and in some cases marketing cannot be conversational because of a company culture.

    I would not go so far to say that marketers are not welcome at all in conversations. I think that in some cases they are welcome…I would also not go so far as to reject the notion of “audiences”…sometimes there is an audience – think of a conference, a class room, a political rally. The same is true for companies…sometimes they still have an “audience” for a message that they have to convey – good or bad.

    I interviewed David Weinberger on this and other topics related to the future of marketing. I put the recording in the marketing 2.0 group in facebook (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=4485718989). I also wrote about some recent developments in conversational marketing on my blog – http://www.emergencemarketing.com.
    Cheers
    Francois

  • AmandaGravel

    “There is no audience in conversations. Nor is there an audience for any other form of Social Media. Each venue comprises of groups of people and they each come to the table with a different recipe of experiences, preferences, dislikes, and prejudices all wrapped in a blanket of skepticism and hope.”

    This is the most genius thing I’ve encountered all day.

  • Richard Stacy

    I don’t think brands are conversations (although they should be conversational). Brands are stories – and they need to recognise this and work-out what their stories are. Only when they have done this will they be able work out what sort of conversations they can have (to Doc Searls’ point).

  • Brian Solis

    Julian, thanks! Interesting transition into social media…I’ll take a look at your posts rightaway. Thanks again for stopping by and for your support!

    Geoff, excellent point and thank you for throwing it out on Twitter!

    Hansdek, I love it, “You can’t polish a turd.” Very true…although many try, which is part of the problem :) Truly there aren’t any experts here, but just a group of people with good intent. And right now, “intention” is everything.

    Connie, well said.

    Thanks Amanda, that was very nice of you to say! :)

    Richard, exactly! Brands are personalities, they are stories, they are actively discussed and reviewed with or without company spokespersons.

  • Sam Freedom

    Holy Verbosity, Batman!

    So naturally, you hit on a few good points. Not to say they were well developed but that’s not yours or anyone’s fault. It’s just that there’s no audience for a Moses-style presentation on how to part the Red Sea of mind-control marketing madness.

    In so many ways, we are like the Iraqi who are just beginning to taste freedom after 1,400 years of brutal repression.

    Except we have been hostage to corporate entitites who profited from our inability to communicate with them, or each other, effectively.

    I want to address one of your quotes:

    “The markets on the other side of the proverbial “other side of the fence” however, should be warned that the very marketers that forced the defection have figured out that there’s fortune and bountiful opportunities in jumping ship and blending into the new world of Social marketing.”

    Where your article was Sphunn on Sphinn.com

    I commented, explaining that you will not EVER transform the “opportunistic marketer” phenomenon if you deal with it like the U.S. deals with the use of marijuana.

    Instead of going to war with it, you need to make room for a certain segment of the more responsible opportunistic marketers and then THEY, who are much better suited for it, will police themselves.

    That is, if you want to keep it in check. If you just want to have conversations about it, then declare war on it and you’ll be talking about it forever.

    As far as the rest of this “social media hype” goes, most of it’s just utter nonsense because not only is it so new that most people can’t fathom what kind of a creature it really is BUT ALSO very few have ever been schooled in HOW to determine what kind of a creature it is.

    I can speak from experience on this because I have an unusual kind of training. You won’t find it being mentioned so casually and even I, at the risk of being misunderstood, must leave some of it to mystery.

    But aside from talking ABOUT my training, there can be some “proof in the pudding” if one wishes to present questions to me privately… or even publicly is fine as long as they remain sincere.

    In the while, I’ll just go back to playing my role. Stop by… see if, after the initial, more obvious, impressions, you can spot some deeper, more interesting patterns.

    Best wishes, I applaud you for taking this on,
    Sam

    Pingback: Cluetrain Day 1: Markets are conversations | The MarketingSavant Group

ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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