An Invitation Into the Conversation

Have you spoken with your consumer lately? I mean really engaged in a dialogue with them?

If you said "no" to this question, then you're probably behind the times. If you said "yes," then you're probably half-way there (the rest of the way is in my definition versus your definition of a "dialogue").

By asking if you've engaged in a dialogue, many of you will assume I mean via surveys or focus groups. What I really mean is, does your advertising attempt to create a conversation with your audience? Does your advertising offer something of value in exchange for some more information, in the hopes of entering into a "back and forth" that raises their awareness of you and stratifies you one level above the clutter of everyday life?

As advertising moves towards accountability and everything goes digital, we start to see that all media will have the chance to entertain a dialogue. Any vehicle that is networked will have the opportunity to speak with the consumer, providing valuable feedback and the opportunity to tailor messaging in response. As that happens, data management becomes even more important as it provides the means to manage the dialogue with each and every individual consumer that was not possible previously. This dialogue is much more important than traditional advertising as it is a two-way communication.



What's also of interest is the concept that the dialogue can be joined by anyone else. For example, if you are engaged in a conversation with someone in the park or at the bus stop, it's certainly possible that someone may hear what you're saying and interject or become involved in the conversation. This is especially true if the conversation is on something of interest to them as well. Advertising is also similar in this respect.

With the advent of the Internet, we see the increased development of communities of like-minded individuals. These communities offer the opportunity for you to reach specific people, but they also increase the likelihood that these people will find one another and inevitably enter into joint conversations. What this translates to is the chance for your consumer to speak to other consumers and share their experiences. This expands the dialogue from a one-to-one opportunity to a one-to-many engagement. At any time you dialogue with your consumer, the opportunity increases that someone else of a similar mindset will jump in and become involved.

There are three common ways we see people interrupting these conversations. The first is via adware and spyware. These tools are quickly becoming the pop-ups of today and will likely be gone in the next three years as legislation and consumer annoyance makes them obsolete. In the meantime we see many conversations being interrupted by these tools.

The second way we see these conversations interrupted is when the user has an experience that is in conflict with the message of the brand. When this happens, the consumer typically invites other people to the party. They spread this information quickly via these connected communities and other users jump in to share their opinions. This type of an expanded conversation can be deadly to a brand and needs to be reacted to, if not avoided, very quickly.

The third type of interruption comes from a more positive invitation that emanates from a satisfied consumer. The satisfied consumer is the one whose experience with a brand is in line, and is positive, with the message of that brand. These consumers are likely to invite other people to the dialogue only if the brand has made it easy for them to do so as they are less likely to do this on their own. We see the negative reaction from a consumer create a third-party invitation faster than that of the satisfied consumer, but both can be equally as powerful in their respective strengths. It seems to prove that bad news begets bad news more often than good news, which tends to be taken for granted.

Knowing that this is the case, each brand must be sure to arm their satisfied consumers with the means to spread the word. The traditional ways of doing so are through special offers and referral programs, but there are other tools as well. Provide your consumers with a meeting place or a reason to get together. It can be as overt as a chat room on your site or as covert as a party for your local consumer. BMW does a great job of this, as does Macy's, by holding events in local markets with their dealers or the popular Macy's Passport, which creates an environment where consumers get to experience the brand and interact with other consumers of similar backgrounds and interests. This type of invitation for the consumer to chat with other consumers can be extremely beneficial to a brand and increases further word-of-mouth, hopefully of a positive nature.

So next time you sit down to plan your quarter one efforts or pull together your annual marketing plan, be sure that you are working in elements that afford your consumers the opportunity to invite other consumers into the dialogue. Ensure that you are truly creating a dialogue rather than just speaking at them and you'll certainly see the benefits manifest themselves.

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