Accepting and Embracing the Age of Conversation

For many brands, the “good old days” were when you were in complete control of your brand image and all the associated messaging around it.  You dutifully prepared your annual marketing plans, you developed your various creative strategies, you bought your media and you flipped the switch.  And hopefully your customer bought what you were selling them.  This was the Age of Interruption Marketing, not the Age of Conversation.

Recently I was at a meeting of luxury brands and a high end car company executive told me about how many of his colleagues were practically begging him to get serious about social media and become active on Twitter, Facebook and the like.  He then proceeded to tell me all the reasons why their arguments made absolutely no sense to him.

After listening to him and reflecting on his plight I asked him: “So, you just want me to tell you that you are going to be alright doing what you have always done?”

He looked at me quizzically and said, “well, yes I suppose I do.”

Considering that I do not necessarily consider myself a social media maven–and I am certainly far from an auto industry expert–I was hesitant to take too strident a point of view.   But there were two strong senses I had as I formulated my response.

First, I was struck by how this gentleman clearly lacked a basic awareness of how social media worked and how current and future clients were undoubtedly already having conversations about his and his competition’s products.  If he did not know how his customers were disseminating information about his brand, how could he possibly formulate the appropriate response?

Second,  The Age of Conversation is clearly upon us, and while I seriously doubt that anyone knows exactly what it will mean for any company, denying it will not negate the reality that just about any business will be impacted, in many cases, profoundly.  It is time to accept that the world is changing–and embrace that you therefore must change with it.

Some of you will no doubt detect that I am borrowing a simple, but powerful, technique often employed by 12 Step groups, namely going through Awareness and Acceptance before moving into Action.

Too often we fail to do these at all, or we do them in the wrong order.  And when we get the order wrong, we usually get the action wrong.

Ruthless Experimentation: What Are You Afraid Of?

Part of any remarkable customer growth strategy is what I like to call “ruthless experimentation.”

Old timey, product centric growth strategy was all about the big reveal.  We spend months and months coming up with our bold new marketing plans and then–at this point, please pause dramatically–Ta-Da!–we see if (hope that?) the customer likes it.   If we are wrong, it’s back to the drawing board for Plan B.

Not only is this cycle unacceptably long, it does not reflect the dynamic realities of what it takes to build and sustain a relationship with your best and most promising customers.   Just about any business has the ability to test and learn on a number of fronts: permission-based email, direct mail, Facebook, Twitter, an in-store promotion and more.  So why do I have conversations virtually every day with executives who are still studying their social media strategy, struggling to develop an actionable customer segmentation or waiting to improve their CRM platform before they try more personalized marketing?

It’s simple: they are afraid.  Afraid to admit they don’t really “get” how something works.  Afraid that they may not hit their hoped for response rates.  Afraid a promotion might perform “too well.”  Afraid to pull the trigger on the “good enough” idea rather than the perfect one.

So what’s the riskier move?  Studying and planning until you have lowered your chance of “failure” to close to zero %?  Or sitting on the sidelines while your competition is out there trying stuff, learning, truly listening to customer feedback and evolving to make their value proposition more relevant and remarkable?

Being customer-centric is a dynamic, learning process.  Accept it, walk through your fear.  Experiment ruthlessly.  Be a linchpin.  And make something happen today.*

* see Seth’s Blog for more on this: http://bit.ly/cilzJL