''Involvement Branding'' Is About Conversations

Last week, Jim touched on two things in his column about the flow experience that I'd like to discuss in further detail. He mentioned Scott Donaton's editorial in Advertising Age and made a reference to Larry Light's speech at the ANA conference.

Earlier in the column, he said: "The notion that the traditional means of marketing is no longer adequate has not only garnered cache, but is fast becoming cliché. All the nobles of the marketing world are bandying the buzzwords and phrases, like 'consumer control, accountability, and engagement' like they were their very own."

These buzzwords and phrases are not becoming cliché, Jim. They're being misused. And that's because many of the leaders in today's marketing business understand only half the equation.

They do understand that there's something wrong with mass marketing. That much is easy to understand, and they're only the first wave of highly influential marketing folks to understand it. The writing is clearly on the wall - we simply can't reach mass markets like we all used to.



People's interests and diversity of choices don't allow for sustainable "shared experiences" across the entire population like when we all watched the popular primetime television program of the day and knew we were sharing that experience with just about every television household across the country.

We understand that addressing what Jim often calls "an embarrassment of niches" is key to developing brands going forward.

But that's only half the equation.

The other half has to do with not only engaging niches, but also listening to them. Someone out there in the blogosphere said this last week better than I could hope to at this point, so I'll point you to the post. Doc Searls is one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto and I'd like you to see his post entitled Five Years Later, The Train Pulls Into Madison Avenue.

Did you click through and read it? If not, stop what you're doing, click the link and come back to this column when you're done. To me, Doc's post sums up how I feel about the current state of marketing with these words:

"Feel that 'absolute power?' Or like you're yelling at the pyramids?"

The frustration Doc is trying to convey stems from the fact that while many major marketing players might be prepared to move away from mass marketing, there's little evidence to suggest that they're moving away from the broadcast model at all.

Are any marketers you know that have historically operated on the broadcast model and who spend significant money on advertising changing their corporate structures and their marketing staff to accommodate customer feedback? In short, the messages may be headed toward the right segments, but is anyone listening?

That's the second half of the equation - the willingness to listen and to allow the market to become a conversation.

This is why, Jim, you think all the talk about consumer empowerment seems hackneyed. Too many marketing influencers are concentrating on the niche marketing aspect of things and not the value that consumers residing in these niches are able to convey via conversations and two-way experiences.

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