The Language Everyone Speaks

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One of the benefits of traveling abroad is that you gain a different perspective. This was my experience on a recent trip to Paris with some of the most social-media-savvy members of our teams in France, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Poland.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

As we swapped stories, it became clear there are massive country-by-country differences in how consumers are adopting new technologies to create, consume, connect and share.

For example, Germans love YouTube, yet they don't publish a lot of videos on the site. They like to gawk and watch what others are uploading. And when they want to participate in conversations, they instead gravitate to German-language sites. In Italy, Beppe Grillo -- a local celebrity who is no longer welcome on TV -- has achieved an even bigger profile via his blog. In Poland social networking is just starting to bloom on

Despite these cultural differences, as we swapped stories we quickly found common ground. The conversation is global, and marketers worldwide are terrified of losing control.

If control is the lingua franca of marketers worldwide, then a quiet revolt is under way. Consumers are tearing down the wall that separates two diametrically opposed forms of marketing: control and collaboration. Savvy marketers know they must move from a command structure to one where they connect and build value together with consumers. The problem is that many are still afraid to.
Beppe Grillo
Beppe Grillo Credit: AP

The good news is that there are lots of best practices to study online. Marketers crave numbers because they provide a safety net. When they hear that Procter & Gamble, Nokia, Apple, NBC, IBM and many more are all successfully dabbling in conversational programs, the fear dissipates. P&G, for example, has long operated a successful program called Tremor to actively engage 250,000 teens in a dialogue about new products and services.

While it can be hard to take the first steps, marketers must experiment in turning to consumers to help them market. With every small success, we all become more accustomed to living in this new environment, and one day this command-and-control wall will be a memory, much like the Iron Curtain is in Europe. The wall is falling. Let's give it one more knock and push it down.
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