Conversational Marketing.

This past week I had the pleasure of attending an amazing conference put on by Federated Media dedicated solely to conversational marketing, a concept I have for some time firmly believed holds the key to the future of effective marketing. While a fixed definition for conversational marketing was never set out during the conference (somewhat intentionally), the basic premise is that market initiatives should no longer be linear. The concept of creating and pushing marketing messages must give way in a fragmented, user-controlled media market to a more iterative approach of marketing by conversation creation, participation and refinement — and repeat as necessary. That is conversational marketing.

While I wasn’t speaking at the conference, anyone who reads this Spin weekly will know I have strong opinions on marketing methods within online media, and social media in particular, so I was left with plenty on my mind. Here are some of the areas of interest explored — areas where we should be continuing the conversation.

Best practices of conversational marketing: Perhaps the one area where there is actually consensus among conversational marketing practitioners is the rule that marketers must first evaluate how they can add value to individual or communities before beginning a campaign. They can do this either by participating in an existing conversation (social networks, blogs etc.) or creating a conversation from scratch. This concept is the basis of all of Google’s success (okay, and a kick-ass algorithm). Making marketing message valuable (read relevant) is the only way you can continue to participate going forward. And while facilitating and participating in conversation is easy, achieving marketing goals through conversation is harder. We have all experienced this on a one-on-one scale. Ever tried to shift a casual conversation to business development or a sales pitch?

The best practice I highlighted in keynoting with Rebecca Weeks at the Online Marketing Summit is to imagine your brand’s message as a circle and a community’s conversation as another circle; what you are looking for is the area where the circles overlap. Once you find this overlap, you can begin to look for ways to participate in the conversation and achieve your marketing goals at the same time. Three things to remember: First, speak frankly and understand that each individual you are communicating with is a peer, not a demo. Second, as my friend Rishad Tobaccowala pointed out so succinctly, if your product sucks, don’t bother trying to create conversations. Third, remember, conversation without permission is just interrogation.

Scaling implementation in conversational marketing: One of the other best practices echoed at the CMsummit is that you, as a marketer, should be prepared to finish the conversations you start. Meaning, if you launch a conversational marketing initiative, you are accepting that the other parties in the conversation have a say in where the conversation goes and when it ends. Ending conversations abruptly in the real world will get you disinvited to dinner parties; ending conversations abruptly in conversational marketing can be significantly more damaging.

This point brought up some very interesting logistical complexities. How does this type of marketing then scale — and who is responsible for maintaining the conversation, the agency or the advertiser? These are not easily answered questions. For every example of resounding conversational marketing success, there are those that don’t hit. In order for conversational marketing to take its place as the dominate form of marketing, there is a desperate need to make best practices scalable and repeatable, while redefining the nature of campaign budget allocation and advertiser/agency relationships (a task too big to solve today, so let’s wait a week).

Measurements and metrics for success within conversational marketing: Ah, my favorite. I would simply refer you to last week’s post to start. But even more came out of this conference. After listening to Rex Briggs of Marketing Evolution present findings based on early tests of successful conversational marketing, I couldn’t be more enthused about the technique’s and the medium’s potential. The theme of Rex’s presentation really centered around the need to first clearly define objectives that make sense for your brand before setting out on a conversational marketing campaign. Rex also presented some great stats on a common misconception that all traffic, and sales, driven by performance marketing approaches should be attributed to your performance budget alone. Intuitively, we all know that this shouldn’t be the case, but Rex did a great job of putting figures to the argument. I will ask Rex, and if he’s willing I will send the presentation to anyone who asks for it. I simply can’t do it justice on my own.

I could go on, but we all have conversations to start. I would end by saying that if this conference reinforced one thing for me, it is this: It should not be the fundamental theories of branding that need to be reinvented, but rather the process by which we go about creating, building and enforcing brand message. Conversational marketing allows us not only to iterate based on market perceptions of our brand messaging, but it should allow us to iterate our brands based on the opinions of the people. We just have to know when and how to listen and respond.

By Joe Marchese
Joe Marchese is President of Archetype Media, developing the next generation brand advertising platform, and aiming to bridge the gap between Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley.
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