Why We Need Less Talking, More Actual Marketing

A Few Lessons for Those Who've Gone All in on the Church of Conversation

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I clicked on my first promoted tweet last week. It was for Chipotle, a hashtag that said #boorito. Get it? A sucker for lame puns, I couldn't resist. And then, so excited with my social-media brush with the brand, I ran out for lunch that day and bought a burger and fries from Five Guys.

Which should be a lesson to those who've gone all in on the Church of Conversation .

This is not a dig at Chipotle or its social-media strategy. It's just a statement of fact -- this pleasant social exchange between the food purveyor and myself had absolutely no effect on my purchasing decision. And yet this simple fact seems overlooked entirely too often. There's not a day goes by that marketers are told they need to listen and to talk, and to talk and to listen. They need to make nice with consumers. Chat 'em up. Be their friends.

No less than Will.i.am took to these pages to espouse something called "communiting," which is a made-up word that means marketing execs should be talking to consumers. You'll be surprised to note that Will.i.am did not communite with any of the folks who left comments on AdAge.com.

This isn't an argument that you should ignore your consumers. Social media, conversation, whatever you want to call it, can be great for customer-relationship management. TimeWarner Cable's New York City Twitter presence is amazing -- not just for a cable company, but for any business. USAA has an attentive person behind its dashboard.

Did that stop me from ditching TimeWarner for DirecTV? Hardly. No NFL Sunday Ticket, no business. End of story. Did I switch to USAA because of Twitter? Twitter didn't exist when I switched to USAA -- but horrible service from other banks intent on nickel-and-diming customers did.

Put simply, conversation cannot build a traditional brand. It might build a personal brand, but when it comes to dishwashers, automobiles and soaps, no. Talking won't do it. Only solid products and smart marketing will. Look at Apple. Steve Jobs and his company were known for such anti-social tactics as threatening to sue teenage bloggers, talking California police into illegally searching a man's house and going after any entity that so much as looked as their trademarked logo. And we all know how much these sins hurt the bottom line.

Of course we don't, because what Apple did do is meet consumer needs.

There is , obviously, difference between meeting a consumer need and giving a consumer what he says he wants. What any consumer says he wants is more product for less money. Oh, and some respect and dignity and special treatment and for you to know how deeply upset he is about your latest ad campaign, you insensitive jerk.

Because that 's the flipside of "conversation" -- these so-called social-media crises. Though there's little proof that these flashpoints do anything to affect sales, we are meant to hyperventilate when Dr Pepper airs commercials meant only for men or Ragu makes fun of daddy's cooking abilities. (The only fault in either of those instances is that Dr Pepper's commercials are stupid and Ragu specifically targeted the type of men most likely to have a hissy about a mean commercial.)

Can you imagine if Secret launched its famous "Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman" ad campaign in 2011?

More often than not, this trouble starts over something subjective, like an ad campaign or a tagline or something stupid said in social media. But what if the product went wrong. Well, if your cars start acting crazy in traffic, talking it out on the internet won't ease any worries -- and legal won't let you do that anyway. On the flipside -- and as seen with Toyota -- your most loyal customers are going to give you the benefit of the doubt. (The automaker's sales are down 10%, and mostly due to this year's tsunami.)

Yes, companies should pay attention. Of course it all ties into the larger thing we call marketing. But I get the impression that too many people believe that "conversation" matters more than other parts of the puzzle, that it will actually build brands, that it might replace actual consumer research.

Marketing is business; it's hard work that demands respect and study. Like it or not, it's not a nonstop social hour. Maybe your teachers were right about not talking so much in class. Sometimes, if you want to succeed, you have to find a quiet spot away from all the noise and do your homework.

P.S. I won't be communiting about this piece much because I'll be on vacation.

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