THE BLOG
09/15/2011 04:43 pm ET | Updated Nov 15, 2011

Marketing Is A Conversation? Oh Yeah ... About What?

There is an adage which is regularly used by 'progressive' marketers today. That is, marketing is no longer about broadcast messaging as it was before the web. Rather, marketing is now about engaging with customers via online tools where customers have the right of reply. Consequently, marketing becomes less about broadcast messaging and more about a conversation. That is the move from 'one way communication' to 'two way communication.'

While I do not disagree with this sentiment, the problem is that these mantras are often repeated until they become meaningless. So, I agree that marketing is a conversation as opposed to a broadcast message. But what does that really mean? A conversation about what?

Do we really think that the average consumer just can't wait to start engaging with us about the finer aspects of our accountancy services, the new and improved recipe for our new flavour of crisp, with even less salt, or the advantages of our new loyalty card scheme?

In other words, suggesting that marketing is a conversation is all very well, but in itself is completely unhelpful.

Social Media has not suddenly altered the behaviour of human beings. We have not suddenly become purely altruistic, concerned only with sharing and helping our fellow brothers and sisters. No, on the contrary, social media is all about 'me.'

We share items that 'we' find interesting, or because we know we will get the credit for drawing something to someone else's attention, or for making them laugh. I am not suggesting that nothing is ever posted for the benefit of someone else. However, sharing useful information or engaging in conversation also makes us feel better about ourselves.

So, if companies want to 'engage' with consumers and have a conversation, it has to start with the customer and not them. Companies have to ask themselves -- what is in it for the customer? Why would they want to engage with a particular item or share it with others?

Too many companies' Tweets, Facebook pages and blogs are all about them and provide no value for the customer whatsoever.

In order to engage with your client base, it often means creating value around your core product or service, rather than just focusing on the actual solution that you sell. For example, a beer manufacturer may find it hard to engage an audience over the finer aspects of their beer. However, encouraging people to recount 'their best beer night ever,' with room for pictures and video may have some appeal.

This also works in Business to Business. So, an employment law firm will not be able to engage anyone around the benefits of their service. However, a live forum where people can comment on the employment issues they currently face, and where others can recount their own experiences and solutions, may well be something which provides value to HR Managers.

Marketing today is NOT simply a conversation. Marketing, rather, is about providing people with VALUE. If companies can produce marketing that provides value and encourages people to participate, then it is very likely a conversation will ensue, which is a desirable outcome. However, what companies need to focus on is the value they can deliver for consumers, rather than trying to artificially create conversations. If they provide real, tangible VALUE everything else, including conversations, will follow.