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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Book Review: Beyond Buzz

The notion of "Conversational Marketing" makes tremendous sense given The Age of Conversation.

It makes even more sense after reading Beyond Buzz: The Next Generation of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Lois Kelly, a wonderful guide to converting traditional one-way marketing into a two-way conversation that invites and welcomes customers into a relationship with you. It's a concept that comes out of The ClueTrain Manifesto since markets are now conversations.

I was particularly interested in reading Lois' book when Nettie Hartsock, Hartsock Communications contacted me [yes, she sent me a complimentary review copy] and I realized that I knew this author! I had heard Lois speak on a panel at the Columbia Business School/Corante Innovative Marketing conference Marketers' Forum in June 2006.

[This is the conference that rocked my world and got me to start Flooring The Consumer. Imagine being in the same room as John Moore, Johnnie Moore, Bryan Eisenberg, Max Kalehoff, Tish Grier, Craig Newmark, Joe Jaffe, Shel Holz, Larry Weber.... and Lois Kelly. Even David Churbuck! And, there were more... It was electrifying!]

[By the way, Toby Bloomberg wrote up Lois' blogger story in Diva Marketing's Blogger Stories.]

Going back to Beyond Buzz - it's practical and filled with valuable guidelines on how to make the elements of buzz and word-of-mouth marketing more relevant to the kind of relationship building that consumers demand of us. Definitely worth reading, highlighting and referring to frequently.

I was struck by how many of the elements Lois describes are ones that marketing-to-women experts emphasize. The one-way, hard sell, traditional push approach is a losing proposition. Much better to listen, build relationships, and actively engage consumers in a conversation through which we both learn from one another. It's about building rapport [vs. report-like talk]. It's about establishing trust, and being authentic. It's about getting as far away as possible from transactional communications where consumers remain detached and disengaged.

From the press kit: "The first book to focus on the message - not just the mechanics - of conversational marketing. [It] provides practical advice, tools, and techniques for listening in new ways, creating fresh ideas to talk about and re-designing marketing roles and functions."

Some of what I found particularly valuable:
Great marketing is now about meaningful communication. It engages marketers and brands with end users in interesting discussion using both new and traditional channels to build understanding, trust and excitement that keeps customers talking about what you're selling. Consumers are now in control, so it's time to be interested in their world and how to add value or meaning to their lives, rather than focused solely on our organizations and perspectives. In so doing, we can build trust with them and become more relevant.

People talk to and believe those they trust. If they are interested in what a friend tells them, they'll ask to hear more.

Unfortunately, traditional marketing and communication tools don't naturally encourage people to talk. Advertising and direct marketing promote; websites and public relations inform. Neither really engages consumers. With Web 2.0 technology, we can now engage in conversation with large numbers of people, regardless of geography or time constraints.

The challenge is that we must have something interesting to talk about, relevant to a consumer's life, meaningful to him or her, and that helps make sense out of the dizzying array of options and conflicting information available. Too many choices and too much information can paralyze.

This sense making or 'making meaning' that Lois describes is a function of relevance, context, pattern making, and emotion. The goal is to get people's attention, then make sure we make sense [i.e, they understand what the value is to them], so they can process our information, and ultimately remember it.

She describes 3 steps to creating interesting, relevant conversations:
1. Research in new ways, listen more closely, and see new patterns

2. Create conversation themes based on points of view [beliefs or aspirations; David vs. Goliath stories; avalanches about to roll; anxieties; counter intuitive or contrarian perspectives; personalities and personal stories; 'how to' advice; glitz and glam; and ideas associated with seasonal events. [These points of view remind me of Mark Hughes and How Do You Create Buzz? Also, visit Guy Kawasaki's review titled The Nine Best Story Lines for Marketing.]

3. Finally, identify someone to be responsible and accountable for it.

Making meaning helps overwhelmed consumers make sense out of too much information; if we've listened carefully enough, we are able to frame the information in a way that is relevant to the audience. We enable consumers then to make decisions; we help them understand the benefits to them; we increase the relevance of making the decision.

This I found intriguing: marketers help people see patterns or relationships between ideas. People can then connect the idea with the context, allowing them to see value. If they don't see the value, then the idea is meaningless or irrelevant to them.

But, if the idea relates to a pattern, then it is more likely to connect to emotions and feelings we have around that pattern. Emotions strongly influence whether a person will believe or take action. Including negative emotions linked with insincerity, indifference or lack of interest.

Some of the best ways to make meaning for consumers has nothing to do with listings of facts and product attributes. Rather, they can show relevance [and, ideally, emotion] by:

- explaining why/why not the product or idea matters
- doing so briefly with short sentences
- describing cause/effect
- using analogies to help understand
- telling stories [storytelling is extremely effective and allows you to demonstrate relevance to the listener]
- using disruptive ideas and language to get attention
- promoting newness [in ideas or experiences] since people get bored
- focusing on simple rules
- keeping a perspective; using humour

Remember that we are trying to establish trust and be authentic to engage in conversational marketing. Which means that we must give people reasons to believe in us. Kelly describes 10 characteristics of an effective point of view. These 4 are essential: being engaging, true, relevant and genuine. The rest strengthen the point of view: being fresh, connecting the dots, being memorable, talkable, leggy [through multiple channels], and likeable.

If you feel uneasy about engaging in conversational marketing, consider that the goal is to communicate to customers that we are truly listening to them [which echoes the thoughts in Book Review: How To Talk To Customers]. It's comparable to the common courtesy shown toward individuals we respect: we recognize their existence; we actively listen to and acknowledge them; and then by accepting their perspective as valid, we endorse them.

Mind you, endorsement does not automatically indicate that a company agrees with a customer's perspective or that it must take the requested action. Rather, it expresses recognition and respect for the individual, and acknowledges the legitimacy of the perspective.

To build loyalty, though, we must explain why we don't take the action recommended.

Language and style play an important role in building loyalty and making meaning for customers. Jargon must be banished. Out with the buzzwords! Instead, communicate in a conversational style [this is conversational marketing after all!] using human language. Make it relevant, be authentic and sincere.

Why? Because consumers pay attention to companies that express an interest in them and what they want to know or understand. They remain loyal when they feel emotionally connected to a company.

Making it critical to think from the consumer's perspective rather than that traditional internally-focused, product centric company perspective. Making it critical to ask questions to better understand why a customer isn't interested.

This is marketing as the voice of customer service. Marketing as teaching, where the more empowered employees are, the better the opportunity to delight customers and engage them in an ongoing conversation.

Conversational marketing makes marketing be about making our products and organization meaningful to potential customers. It requires that they feel appreciated and listened to, and that we feel comfortable discussing ideas, issues and points-of-view with them. Only then will they get involved, make purchases, become advocates and tell everyone they know about their wonderful experience!

That goes way beyond Buzz!

Do also listen to BuzzMarketingForTech's Podcast with Lois Kelly, which also features a link to this article by Lois Kelly and David Maister outlining several of the premises that Beyond Buzz develops.

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