Conversation Prism

A key to why so many companies blow it in social media

Last week I posted Marketing interruption still trumps engagement, really? I quoted global brand strategist Jonathan Salem Baskin’s Advertising Age blog where he presents his case that brands have always had it correct:

Brands always had conversations with consumers, whether via broadcast TV or chiseled on clay tablets. The rules have also been consistent over time: Tell the truth and tell it with relevance, immediacy and meaning. That’s why ads that interrupted with sales messages worked so effectively for so long; making the content worth consumers’ time meant that brands could risk asking for the sale. It’s not a new idea, and today’s consumers aren’t a new breed of human being. Yet we’ve assumed that the old rules no longer apply. Delivering engagement and its metrics of time spent and forwards clicked trumps the historic measures of interruption, all of which got to a sales result pretty quickly.

I’d choose effective interruption over pointless engagement anytime. Why wouldn’t you?

I did not see Mr. Baskin made a case and this week still do not see Mr. Baskin has come close to make his case.

Today I came across a post that makes a nice bookend:  Why Do So Many Companies Suck at Social Media? Lee Oden, the writer, presents a nice view.

To me, the issue isn’t about sucking at social media, it’s about failing. Companies should not fear taking risks and trying new, creative ways to connect with their customers. Some of those efforts will succeed and many will suck. Failing at social media is more about choosing NOT to:

  • Listen – Social media monitoring.
  • Create – Content that customers actually want.
  • Engage – There is no substitute for direct participation with customers in social communities.
  • Be open – Stop deciding what’s best for your customer and be open to letting them show you how they’d like to engage.
  • Be brave – Show leadership in your social participation.
  • Test – Moving corporate mountains is tough, so try proof of concept campaigns, run business case examples and get your feet wet.
  • Change – Organizations can only be social if leadership buys-in and commitment to change is made.
  • Make money – Don’t be fooled into thinking social media is all about kumbaya with customers. It’s about creating opportunities to connect and influence sales: indirectly and in some cases, directly.

Mr. Oden ends his post by mentioning a time when he sucked at social media and invites the reader to share moments they may have sucked:

Have you “sucked” at social media? What did you learn from it? How have you turned your social media failures into successes?

The takeaway in social media:  don’t be afraid to suck.

That lesson, in itself, may not resonate with multi-billion dollar brands and multi-million dollar agency accounts.

It’s time to move past debates about traditional media co-existing with social media. Madison Avenue should see social media as a wonderful, if not disruptive, gift. It should run hard to catch up with the consumer, let go of legacy business models and build something better.

This above quote comes from Hank Wasiak’s post last month, How Social Media Radically Altered Advertising. His post is a great buffer between Mr. Baskin’s rather weak platform and Mr. Oden’s call to “suck”.

Mr. Wasiak offers great perspective from an advertising career that began in 1965 and includes a gang of Emmy’s. Mr. Wasiak, like I did in Communication in the age of saturation, mentions Brian Solis’ conversation prism as great conversation atlas.

Brian Solis JESS3 conversation prism communication in the age of saturation

So, three keys I takeaway from these three posts and my experience, thus far:

  1. embrace the opportunity to suck at social media;
  2. learn the art of conversation; and
  3. don’t place your bets on dinosaurs (Madison Avenue)
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Comments 6

  1. Toby, thanks for the reference but you can't seriously believe that the “conversation prism” or any of the other nonsense you quote, can you? My argument wasn't that brands have anything “right” but rather that they've always had conversations with consumers and, contrary to the new-everything blather you seem to prefer, those conversations actually WORKED for a very long time. I think the challenge now isn't to throw out the very purpose of commercial speech — which is to sell stuff — and replace it with feel-good, silly ideas about conversations without purpose, “content” instead of substance, and expecting that consumers will buy things when we utterly fail to tell them honestly, credibly, and directly what we're trying to sell to them.

    The new media garbage you quote sure is fun, though. It's just not business. It's entertainment…which, i guess, is the point. Social is as social does.

  2. Hi Jonathan and Toby. Good discussion and also thanks for the reference Toby. Jonathan, as someone who has been selling stuff for over 45 years I have to agree and disagree with you. On the agree side the way we sold stuff worked for a very long time and it will continue. So, to make the most of advertising and marketing dollars business that combine the best of old and new media will win. On the disagree side, we haven't been having conversations with consumers…we have communicated with consumers, waited for the response…hopefully a sale….and then “kept in touch.” Part of what new media, social media and digital have done is dramatically change the way consumers interact amongst themselves, in communities and with brands and businesses. AIDA is now AIDEAS, Attention Interest, Desire Engagement Action and Shareability. It's demands a new perspective that expands and deepens notion of consumer targeting and requires a new creative mindset. Rather than nonsense, I for one find all this stuff exciting and full of opportunity.

    So, I guess we'll agree to disagree.


  3. “I'd choose effective interruption over pointless engagement anytime.” Why Interruption Still Trumps Engagement. That's the takeaway?

    “Excuse me, do you mind if interrupt you, just for one moment…” What goes through someone's mind in each scenario:

    1. A street of New York City
    2. Four living room at home
    3. Walking down the aisle of a store

    The person interrupting (the brand) now has to get past a defensive wall to be heard and/or may have to move past an offensive slight: either being ignored (how rude) or being told in clear language (region-dependent response, of course) to “buzz off”.

    Who benefits from this strategy? The brand? The person being interrupted?

    For more than 50 years there have been all manner of attempts to get people's attention, just a chance to listen, if only to listen for one moment because people in advertising are sure if the consumer would just hear them out they would love, buy, and devote their future to their product. We marketers just know their life would be irreversibly improved; as long as the correct refill is bought.

    Entertainment is not a substitute for effective marketing. Agreed and an obvious point. And for more that 50 years brands and cottage industries have evaluated and rated ad effectiveness. The great jingles from the 50s, 60s, and 70s (including “I'm a Pepper, You're a Pepper”) are great? Why? Did they sell the product? I don't know, but I sure would like to teach the world to sing, without having to buy a Coke for everyone (I'd be broke and the world's teeth would rot). Is that pop culture or effective branding?

    Who likes to get interrupted? Even if I'm promised a payoff I am sure to love?

    Turn your title around: I'd choose effective engagement over pointless interruption.

    Build a relationship? An ad campaign can build a relationship, yes. So can social media and a recommendation from a friend, from a group I belong to on Facebook, from a recommendation from an Amazon buy, from a dinner conversation.

    Relationships are ongoing and constantly adjusted for merit and value: get recommended a terrible CD, your less likely to listen to your brother's advice.

    Relationships trump slick talk and self-perceived brilliance in many cultures, just look at how business is conducted in almost every country of the world other than the United States.

    Social media was not built for marketers. It has been co-opted by some marketers. I continued to hear the conversations today that harken back to the dinosaurs of the past who refused to believe the telephone could sell and the bigger lunkheads who saw no redeeming value in television, but preferred door-to-door sales. Of course, it is not the technology, it is execution.

    If consumers were not tired of interruption (ask your doctor about), then we would not have product placement strategies for TV (those American Idol judges love Coke AND they want to teach the world to sing…brilliant tie-in!), movie, or celebrity deals.

    I'd choose effective engagement over pointless interruption.

    We enable greater descent into irrelevance when we enable social media fear amongst people who wish they could go back to telling people why their product is great: control. Social media, like most great discussions is about give and take and it may take people places you never expected, that becomes a great learning opportunity for people used to focus groups.

    Jonathan, thank you for contributing your comments. Even though I'm responding to your comment to Hank, I hope you don't mind my interruption. [P.S. that last sentence was an attempt for me to make a joke]

  4. Hank, I'm sure we agree far more than we disagree. I've been at it going on 30 years and I'd suggest that we had the same general conversations about branding vs. functional benefits back in the Dark Ages. The technologies, details, and some complexity are different, and perhaps the biggest change is that consumers today are empowered to discover the truth. I just find it odd that so few marketers choose to TELL the truth to them, whether in ads or social campaigns.

    I'd be more likely to share your optimism if I thought more of today's experts had any real perspective (like yours) on history. Without it, what they're saying is indeed nonsense…

  5. Thanks Jonathan. You are right. We probably agree more than disagree. Matter of degrees and perspective. Respecting and valuing things that have worked and then adding fresh perspectives to make them even better and more effective is important. The old dog can learn new tricks and the young pups can benefit from some wisdom & experience. I've been finding a few experts that have been willing to listen and also willing to teach me a few things as well. Unfortunately sorting the valuable from the nonsense isn't that simple given the numbers and instant access. Enjoyed the discussion.


  6. Thank you Hank for contributing to the comments. I value your clarifying points and the views you've shared with Jonathan.

    I appreciate a look at tools to use rather than the view of tools to manipulate. In an earlier post on Marketing 2.0 I bring up that loss of control is driving fear many big advertisers and brands have over what they thought was control they had by buying and owning distribution channels.

    I see social media causing fear, as most change does. The experts that foment this fear and discredit tools, be it radio or TV in the halcyon days or social media today, miss the options available to engage.

    Social media fear is too pervasive to not be a concern and I am certain both you and Jonathan are dealing with a host of clients that want to be told they don't need social media and hope for the day that this fad blows over so they can get back to old ways of command and control marketing. Making the case and citing the success and the revenue generations and goodwill, just doesn't seem to work, no matter how compelling the business case may be with many of my clients.

    I started marketing in the late 80s in the music industry. The change is just fantastic. Social media has brought speed as much as any other demand to marketing challenges. I think the speed that social media demands is the cause of more nervousness than any other aspect: if the wheel is wobbly at 5mph, at 65mph it will shake off.

    But as both you and Jonathan must see in your work, social media has enabled people to have a conversation about a brand; with or without the brand's permission.

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