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Conversation Marketing: How Do I Get Started?

What is conversation marketing? Is it something my organization needs to be doing? If so, how do I get started? Learn the answers right here.

Let’s talk conversation marketing

Traditionally, marketing was largely a one-way street. There was no dialogue, interaction, listening to customers’ needs, taking those needs into consideration and actually responding to those needs.

Instead, there was a sales message – a big general sales message that brands pushed out to as many people as humanly possible. Cast the net wide enough and eventually we’ll catch something! was the mindset.

Consumers, on the other hand, didn’t have a voice, say, or way of interacting with brands. Instead, they were just expected to do what they were told – and buy, buy, buy!

For a while (ahem, decades), this approach actually worked. But then the 21st century rolled around and the internet started to change everything. Suddenly, social media, blogs and other real-time discussion (e.g. comment sections, forums, live chat) burst onto the scene, and for the first time ever, consumers had an open platform on which to communicate and share opinions. The balance of power started to shift from brand to consumer. And while some brands rolled their eyes, the brands that began to connect, engage and build personal relationships with consumers started to gain traction. The mass broadcast marketing of the past (brands talking at people) was supplanted by a new approach that catered to the individual customer (brands talking with people).

What is conversation marketing?

 From a 10,000-foot view, conversation marketing is not so different from how great customer service has always existed. Think of the restaurant owner who ushers you to your favourite table with a warm welcome. Or the coffee shop barista who offers up just as good conversation as espresso. Or that guy named Paul from Zappos who makes it his mission to put a smile on your face after you’ve had a less-than-desirable experience with his brand.

What do all these have in common? They’re human. At the heart of conversation marketing is the human element. Connecting with one human being as another human being – having a two-way conversation. However, for most marketers, being human and making a personal connection, especially online, hasn’t come naturally (we’ll discuss a few ways to help you with this in the next section).

This is a fundamental shift from marketing that focuses on sheer reach, volume and customer acquisition at all costs. Conversation marketing flips the funnel, focusing instead on existing customers – or customers genuinely interested in what you have to offer – and listening, responding and conversing with them in a more intimate, one-on-one, personalized manner.

If this all sounds fluffy and fanciful to you with no tangible business outcomes attached, keep in mind that it is human nature to buy from those we know, like and trust. Conversation marketing is a great way to become known, liked and trusted. And once you start earning trust, you start turning customers into your brand advocates and influencers – and ultimately, your salespeople.


How can I start conversation marketing?

 1. Connect.

Seeing how it’s 2016, it’s safe to say that everyone is online. You should be too. Conversation marketing isn’t exclusive to digital marketing, but this wonderful interconnected online world does present an excellent opportunity for your brand to converse with consumers in a direct and responsive way. From social media channels that let you respond directly to consumers, to live chat teams on standby on your website, the new media landscape is rife for two-way conversation and strengthening customer relationships.

2. Listen.

Always pay close attention to your fans and followers (they’re your best candidates for brand advocacy). With social listening tools such as Mention, Hootsuite and Google Alerts, monitor what other interested folks are saying about your brand across the web and social sphere too. This is important. It allows you to identify people who are talking about you and join the conversation. Perhaps best of all, these tools listen in real time, which means you can engage in conversations while they’re still happening. Seriously, what better time than real time to spot issues, right wrongs, surprise and delight customers, and gather new information and insights?

3. Engage.

To start or join a conversation online, you’re going to need to engage with customers. How you may ask? Well, there’s no step-by-step manual, but there are a few things worth mentioning. First, use intuition and common sense. If someone asks you a question, make sure you always respond. Same goes for when people are talking about you (which you’ll know because you’ll be listening!). Every comment or complaint represents an opportunity to put your best foot forward. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (or ask for people’s opinions) either, to get the conversation started. Just make sure they’re thoughtful, meaningful and relevant questions.

 4. Be human.

For whatever reason, when people are writing on behalf of a brand or business, they suddenly become distant, impersonal, walking, talking whitepapers instead of human beings. “Professionalism” replaces humanity, and the message – which is often generic and formulated to speak to everyone – doesn’t speak to anyone. So please, please, try to remember who you’re talking to – a person with a BS-meter, a sense of humour and a boredom threshold. So communicate with your customer like you talk to real, live people, and let them talk human back to you. Try to visualize the person you’re writing to and speak to them as if they’re sitting across the table from you. It’ll make your words ring true and be more personally engaging. And hey, if things go well, why not actually move the conversation to a table, by inviting your customer to lunch? It’s amazing what you might learn.

5. It’s not about you.

As mentioned earlier, the customer era is upon us with customer-centricity reigning supreme. So marketers must remember they’re not in the business of serving themselves – they’re in the business of serving their customers. This holds true with “content marketing” taking a stronghold in the marketing mix too. While content marketing is supposed to be interesting and useful information that people want, the reality is that most of it is just as one-sided and self-serving as traditional marketing. As a result, only 37% of B2C businesses and 38% of B2B businesses feel their content marketing is effective. This is likely because marketers are still trying to force-feed customers what they’re selling. They forget that people don’t like being “sold.” So instead, try to focus on helping the customer, listening to the customer, adapting to the customer and befriending the customer. You need to think long-term reputation instead of short-term profit.

So, what do you think of conversation marketing? Ready to join the conversation? We can help you get started.