How to Develop the Right Communications Strategy for a Conversation Economy

Begin With the End in Mind: What Message Can Drive Sufficient Revenue to Support a Business Model?

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Marsha Lindsay
Marsha Lindsay
What does the worldwide, technologically enabled drive for conversations mean for marketers? It means you're no longer marketing products or services -- you're marketing conversations. It means marketing-communication planning should be driven by a conversation strategy.

The right conversation strategy answers two big questions: What meaningful content will attract sufficient conversations with the right people? And, how will you jump-start conversations and keep them alive?

When people are starved for time and already engaged in many conversations, jump-starting new and meaningful conversations is the big challenge of marketing today. Just building a website, writing a blog or posting videos on YouTube doesn't mean sufficient numbers to impact ROI will find them organically, much less take the time and energy to converse with you. By definition a conversation requires others to be present and participate -- otherwise you're talking to yourself. Perhaps therapeutic, but no way to make a living.

Even if people know there's an opportunity to have a conversation with you -- on Twitter or your blog, for instance -- you can't expect them to engage given all the other demands on their time. You'll need a strategy that both gets them to know you exist and care so much that you exist, they'll become intrigued about conversing with you. This requires a strategy that integrates search optimization, media, message and contributions of content from consumers.

The right strategy begins with the end in mind: What message can work across multiple platforms and be scaled so quickly and broadly it can drive sufficient revenues to support a business model?

Very few companies have the luxury to let conversations build slowly over time. And no business can afford to risk a high-waste and low-impact effort. More often than not, high-impact campaigns with reasonable returns don't materialize solely from online ads and social media. Traditional media must be a major component of the mix.

Stefan Olander, Nike's global director of brand connections, noted at Lindsay, Stone & Briggs' Brandworks University 2009 that many of Nike's online campaigns received overwhelming response at launch. Colleagues at Nike were excited about the prospect of dropping expensive traditional media campaigns in favor of these successful digital campaigns. Olander reminded them that, despite how well-known the Nike brand is, to optimize online conversations they still must jump-start initiatives with traditional media.

That's because traditional media can do what social media cannot: aggressively interject messages into people's lives in a socially acceptable way. Research conducted by the Advertising Research Foundation indicates that messages delivered by TV may, in fact, be the fastest and most cost-efficient means to jump-start productive conversations in the digital and real worlds.

Experts at the World Advertising Research Center have also studied what it takes to optimize engagement in a conversation economy. They recommend this media priority:

  1. Mainstream media.
  2. Open networks such as blogs and websites.
  3. Closed networks such as Facebook and MySpace.

A multimedia mix framed to spark conversations requires a compelling message concept that can work across a multimedia platform. Its foundation has to be far more than a one-time promotion or product attribute; it must be a message strategy that connects brand meaning with search habits and accommodates ongoing contributions that can range from casual conversations to consumer-generated content.

This is a tall order, but not impossible. That's because the solution can be found in the motivations of the conversationalists themselves. Some psychologists say that people subconsciously come to a conversation with a desire to be changed by them. This makes sense. Conversation is mankind's natural search engine.

What are we searching for? Swiss psychologist Carl Jung identified 12 universal human motivations, called archetypes. Messages that speak to one of these discrete motivations naturally engage consumers and fuel conversations for many reasons:

  1. Associating with any one of these motivations gives a brand relevance and innate appeal.
  2. These motivations are behind our search for change and meaning, and words related to them will find their way into consumers' natural online search habits.
  3. They are timeless and universal. Messages based on them will be relevant across cultures and age groups.

So how do you keep the conversation going? You'll constantly be competing with other conversations for your target's time and attention. So, spark and fuel conversations with surveys, forums, contests and invitations for contributions that pertain to the change your brand's products and services can help people achieve. Keeping ongoing conversations fresh is where contextual ads, blogs, websites, videos and social media shine.

Content themed to your target's daily passions, routines or rituals are great for habituating conversations. And, habituated conversations have the greatest opportunity to generate ongoing revenue and almost unbreakable customer loyalty.

For marketers who get their brand's meaning and conversation strategy right, consumers will take over the conversation for you, making your marketing more proficient, and making you a genius in your new role of chief conversation officer.

Marsha Lindsay is CEO of Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, an ad agency specializing in jump-starting brands using brand-based consumer insights in traditional and digital media.
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