Companies are not afraid of conversation, some people are, not all of them -- the rest run out of time. We should never talk about organizations as entities, it leads to all sorts of false assumptions, the most glaring of which is that an entity has a mind, it does not.
Conversation is not new, it's not different, it's not even original -- we were built to have conversations. A marketing conversation is also a story -- and we've been telling stories even before we could talk.
It seems alright to keep pointing the mouse to businesses and ask them to join the conversation. We are having this discussion here, where everyone is on board on what that means. Companies are still figuring out how to deliver on the four P's of marketing. And entire departments are still scrambling to pull together brochures, fact sheets and PowerPoints that sales teams cannot live without. The organizational hierarchical model dates back to industrial age, a left-brained environment. We are now in the conceptual age, said Dan Pink, and so we are.
Marketing is a conversation, it always was.
Every time I go back to Europe I am reminded of the markets that fill piazzas with antiques, used books, clothing, jewelry, etc. You walk by the stands, talk to the vendors, take a look at their wares. This last trip I bought some silver jewelry and while I was choosing, the marketer had the chance to tell me a bit more about his other interests in music as he was showing me some pieces he thought I'd like. The social aspect built-in the displaying of wares and my buying experience. We even negotiated a little.
People always talked about their buying experiences with anyone who would listen -- neighbors, family, friends -- especially when very good and when very bad (we seem to be alright with average, although that is subjective). The Internet has made things a bit more obvious on both sides of the spectrum:
- Citizen Marketers on one side, armed with megaphones and ready to broadcast great things about your company, especially since buying there may have made them look and feel sexy, smart, clever -- however good is translated to them.
- A real problem on the other when the experience is so unbelievably poor that the person in question chooses to make an example of it. It's a way to, psychologically, get back the time and aggravation invested in trying to rectify an issue in many cases. In some cases, the people on the inside decide to speak up as well.
Spreading information has become very easy.
Anyone can do it. But is that the same as having conversations? I was reminded of the relational meaning of conversation recently after visiting Mark Earls at Herd. Mark writes that it is a possible language problem:
But maybe the biggest thing for those of us interested in articulating the New Marketing is the fact that it is 'relational' rather than object orientated. How things (and more importantly, people) connect, interact and participate is what matters much more than things or characteristics. And maybe - just maybe - our desire to "communicate" (that is transmit what we have in our heads like an arrow from our heads to the target heads in front of us) is rooted in this language difference.
I am feeling we're getting very warm with this explanation. Thinking about how brochures and fact sheets keep touting things and characteristics, when instead we seek to interact and participate. Doing away with nouns and adjectives in favor of verbs, talking about people instead of talking about products and services would be a good start. A story-based approach is the beginning of a conversation.
I stated it in the opening, companies are not afraid of conversation, some people are. The entity beats some of the enthusiasm out of people, admittedly. When the book of rules and "how we do things here" is thrown at you, if you're not careful and passionate enough, you will bend under its weight and adopt dinosaur speak from group think. That is changing, too, by the way.
The big question is
How do you know that companies are not aware of what you are saying about them? Can you assume that just because you are talking about a company, and they don't come and comment, they are not reading and taking the feedback? I recently had the 140 character discussion (if you can call it that in such small space) with Mack Collier on Twitter. I've written posts that were very positive about companies, as well as some that listed suggestions for improvement.
Only one company, to date, joined the conversation in real time -- Dell. You must understand that they made a specific commitment to be proactive that way after some hard decisions and realities they faced. And I'm sure there are still plenty of discussions on how to handle some comments and conversations on the inside. It is much easier to answer to yourself than it is to a whole organization.
It would be dangerous, because unproductive, to assume that the other companies were not aware of my mentions, that they were uninterested. I know that Unilever was on my blog reading about brand Stories that Work and the Dove Real Beauty campaign a few months back, for example.
Interacting and participating is something that people do, especially in the early stages of something. If we are to talk about relational, we should remember that there comes a time in relationships where the people involved seek independence, and in fact move away from the other so they can become once again whole in their own right. The people inside organizations today are being pulled by many forces, many more than have been experienced before.
Companies (and the people inside them) have been used to creating the conversation, not joining one already created about them.
It's the same behavior I have observed from people who have been blogging for a while -- they are used to setting the tone. Take Hugh MacLeod for example. I've lost count of the times I referred to his work and ideas. I even wrote a love post based on his influence on my thinking, and writing. He has not once joined the conversation here, nor has he acknowledged references in his blog. Can I assume therefore that he is not seeing them? Should I assume he does not care? I can make no such assumption.
We may have a language problem, we should not compound that by making assumptions -- what Mark called fitting our own reality. We are, in fact, having a marketing conversation. The next step will be to align the meaning we as customers assign to it (me, me, me) with what the people inside organizations think are delivering.
I see goodness and change on both sides -- inside the organization where I work, and out here in the blogosphere. The conversation can take place only if both parties agree to look at the world the other is seeing, and living in, once in a while.