Posted September 13, 2007 11:12 am by with 15 comments

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on FacebookBuffer this page

Ok, it’s been a while since I’ve disagreed with CNET’s Elinor Mills–something that rarely happens, as she’s a fantastic journalist–but here goes. 🙂

Mills attended FM Publishing’s Conversational Marketing Summit and is somewhat skeptical that marketing and conversations can mix together.

Hold on. Who asked marketers to join readers online? I know blog publishers need to make money, and they do earn revenue off regular old text, video and banner ads. But I’m suspicious when the “conversation” is initiated by the marketer and not the consumer.

And what’s this with the slogan of the conference–“Brands are conversations”? No, they aren’t.

Oh yes they are. I believe that “brands” are indeed conversations. The perception of a brand is defined by those that have a stake in the brand–customers, employers, investors etc–and is therefore determined by what they have to say about it. Just ask Apple what happened to their brand when customers started “conversatin” about how much they felt ripped-off by the $200 iPhone price cut.

Ok, so maybe Elinor’s rebuttal would have been better offered to a statement such as “Advertising is a conversation” or “Branding is a conversation.” I’d definitely agree with Mills on either of those statements. Whenever the company is the one initiating the conversation–via marketing, advertising, branding etc–then it’s less likely to be a conversation and more likely to be a one-way dialog.

What do you think?

  • Andy I agree. Your brand is how others view you and not how you view yourself. Your customers do initiate the conversation about your brand. Apple and the iPhone price cut is a good example.

    Another recent example might be Netscape’s decision to turn the home page back into a more traditional portal based on what their user base wanted. I say might because of the assumption that this was really motivated user wants.

    Advertising is clearly one way communication. Branding maybe. I’m inclined to think there’s a little conversation going on here, but perhaps the conversation is initiated more by the company.

  • Pingback: Brands are Conversations? Really? : The Last Podcast()

  • Jordan McCollum

    Of course brands are conversations. The only alternative is for brands to be monologues by the company. It’s ridiculous to ask who invited marketers to the brand conversation—they started it by creating products, advertising and trying to create a brand image.

    And if they don’t want to make it into a conversation, they’re ignoring customer perceptions and feedback. That’s a monologue that’s gonna be ignored pretty quick.

    Why did she bother going if she disagreed with the underlying premises?

  • @Jordan – she was probably told to. 🙂

    I mentioned, she may have interpreted the statement differently. Let’s hope so.

  • Lets hope so:)

  • Absolutely, brands are conversations. The more conversation, the stronger the brand (assuming the conversation is largely positive), the less conversation, the weaker the brand. I didn’t say that, Larry Weber did in his book Marketing to the Social Web.

  • ted

    brands are not conversations. Brands are dictated by marketers, to consumers– and that’s a good thing ir you actually want to sell stuff. Most people need to be told what they want, what is cool, and what they like. Sorry but the internet changes nothing, the majority of the planet is stupid, ignorant, and needs to be manipulated in order to be parted from their cash for stuff they don’t need.

  • @Ted – and you probably believe that companies were never discussed over coffee or trashed during dinner. 🙂

    There’s no doubt that companies can lay the foundation for how their brand is initially perceived, but it’s how I – and my social network – interact with the brand that defines it. If marketers had full control over their brands then we wouldn’t need the dead-pool – as no company would ever fail.

    Of course, you could always buy a banner on Marketing Pilgrim to convince me otherwise. 😉

  • Au contraire Ted. Maybe in the age of the TV industrial complex marketers dictated to consumers, but not today. If anything, consumers are in the driver’s seat. Methinks you’ve watched one too many episodes of Mad Men.

  • This whole conversational marketing as business model is bull. How do you know what is truth and what is slanted propaganda. I am troubled by this “emerging” trend being pushed by at least one large blog network.

    I view it as a desperate move to sell ads and am surprised by some of the blogs who take the blood money.

    All it will do, and already has to some degree is put bloggers in a bad light.

    The obvious effect is, is the blog I am reading coming from the heart or Microsoft, Cisco or Intel’s marketing people?

    This line of advertising is also hypocritical as many who embrace it also complain about the government working in the dark.

    Good subject Andy.

  • nice write up. thanks.

  • ted

    Consumers are not and never will be in the driver’s seat. We tell them what to think, and they think it, or they don’t because we failed. Conversations they have are ABOUT the brand, they do not change the brand. Moreover, people don’t really want to change brands, they need something to follow and brands facilitate that.

    Of course we can’t control what people talk about, but as long as we dictate strongly and forcefully what our brands stand for, people will fall in line and their conversation will already be dictated by what we have put out there.

    @Andy of course companies go out of business, but it’s not because of a natural conversation, it’s because (isolating cases where the product was very weak, the service didn’t deliver, the business plan was flawed, etc. etc.) the brand was not marketed properly. Giving a very select group of consumers the illusion that they have an impact on the brand is a smart idea, but for brands that really matter, it is, and always will be, dictated from on high. Because that’s what most consumers want and need. Internet, TV, newspaper, chip implant, whatever. Great brands transcend the medium.

  • ted

    scratch that boring ramble above, I just thought of something pithier–

    @Paul– consumers may be in the ‘drivers seat’ but we marketers control the roads and the routes available. And that’s what people want, otherwise they’d be lost.

  • @Steven Bradley – Totally agree with you:)

  • Marketing on the internet has been around for years before blogs where the main stay I used to work for a large manufacturer of computer systems (I will not name who but if you Google me with computers on a UK search I am sure you will work out who!) and are part of my role their I monitored 21 forums for unsatisfied customers my role was reactive not proactive.

    However I know that their where some staff in the marketing department whose role was on a new product releases to go into forums (I banned them from the ones I monitored by kicking off in meetings) and pretend to be consumers signing the praises of products isn’t it wonderful isn’t it great… (this practice stopped in 2003 when I started a new role and had the authority to ban it) but it was at the time known that other companies in the industry did the same thing and other companies also posted comments purposely ‘doing down’ products from competing companies.
    A negative form of marketing if you will.

    Marketing no longer is just in the realm of TV magazine radio ads with the internet the smallest step is a website but when people search for your product, brand via a search engine it is only a small step to companies that have huge marketing departments to have staff who can come into forums and post news about their brand their product and get information moved up. And the consumer sitting at home does not know this the information they find on the internet though searching is what they take to be relevant. But that is the way with all things regarding the internet both good and bad.

    The other side of it is that negative comments from customers appear more on websites for companies than positive comments if a consumer is happy with a product service whatever what need do they have to go onto the internet and post “hey I just bought this great car/ telephone/ computer/ holiday and I just want to post that this is the best product in the world ever!!!” the answer is they don’t because they are off happily using their car telephone computer holiday etc etc. but in reverse what happens is that consumers that are “unhappy come in and say this such and such is awful wish i had never bought it the service from company xyz is bad” meaning more negative comments turn up, the continuation of this is that if the consumer is wanting their issue resolved and the company is dealing with their request once the issue is resolved to both parties satisfaction the consumer is off happily using the product and does not come back and say “xyz really sorted out my problem they have completely resorted my faith in them” instead they don’t come back and the post advising that everything is awful and the world is ending remains with no counter point.

    Another side to it is the size of the company if you have looked into who I used to work for you will know that they did not have the best of reputations and from an internet search it would appear that was justified. However over the time I worked their (over 5 years) we had a lower that 1% failure of product rate over a period of a warranty (not just within the first 12 months our warranties ran for up to 5 years!!!) but when you shift over 20,000 products a month for 17 years you have a lot of customers. The last ten years the company was trading generated over 2,400,000 home user customers this does not include the addition of the schools hospitals and businesses supplied a data base over close an additional 1,000,000 products. Now if 0.5% of those customers are unhappy because of systems failure or user error, misunderstanding or what ever 0.5% of customers ( a reasonable figure by any companies standard a 0.5% rate of unhappy customers, cant please all the people all the time. You can only hope to make them happy once they have told you their are unhappy) this figure still equates to 17,000 UK consumers a lot of people … if they post on a couple of forums each or write to a magazine or newspaper that starts spinning the number of links relating to the company in to huge figures as people link and cross link and generate new posts and new articles and suddenly a company that has a 99.5% happy client base is seen as being a bad guy because of their size… and again home users do not know how to take this into account.

    So a few band marketing conversations I don’t truly see as harmful.

    As ted and many of you say marking controls a lot of what we view think or buy. But that’s not just the internet so do many other things. From the shoes and drinks you buy because your mate is wearing drink them it’s another form of marketing the internet is just an extension of marketing that has been around longer than any of us have been on the planet it has just developed along with everyone and everything else.

    Word of mouth advertising has always been the strongest and many people view the internet as an extension of word of mouth… but it is not word of mouth truly works because you trust the person telling you something is good or bad their are a friend. In a internet forum, blogs, apart from within that blog you don’t know who the person speaking is. Yet people give many of these blogs the same credence as someone they have known for years…

    As with all purchases it comes down to the consumers responsibility to decide on what they want to buy not just blindly purchase an item… However people are becoming lazy and don’t want to think too many people seem to want other people to do their thinking for them rather than have to form an opinion for themselves. And unfortunately those are the people who blame marketing on the internet for when they purchase something incorrectly or something that goes wrong because they did not spend the time to research fully information about what they where purchasing they wanted a quick fix…