Tuesday, September 18, 2007

P.S. Nobody Likes You Very Much

Writing from last week's Conversational Marketing Summit in San Francisco, CNET's Elinor Mills asks (and answers), Want to 'converse' with advertisers? Me neither.

"Conversational Marketing is an exciting new practice that engages rather than dictates, invites rather than demands, and listens as much as talks," the Federated Media Guide to the conference states. "Advertising is becoming a three-way conversation, as marketers join readers and authors online. All three parties seek appropriate principles by which to hold these commercial conversations."

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.

I can't help but view conversational marketing as a thinly veiled attempt by the ad industry to insinuate itself into the popular social media craze. Calling it a "conversation" makes it sound benign and implies that it is consensual. Sure, I don't mind hearing about discounts on products I buy, and between all the outdoor, print, TV, radio and traditional online advertising, it's a safe bet that I will have heard about new products that I might want.

These are the things that marketers hate to hear, but she's got a point. The hurdles to making "conversational marketing" work are high, and chief one is a simple reality: people don't really welcome commercial speech.

They will put up with it, and even enjoy it, when it's done right. But you are always starting from the assumption that you're a marketer, you're a shill, and people would prefer you go away unless you prove that you're entertaining, useful, and worth paying attention to.

Marketers usually fail that test, and at the risk of sounding pessimistic or even cynical, this is exactly what I expect to happen with conversational marketing. For every success story, when a marketer actually engages consumers this way, I'm betting we'll see 100 failures, when "conversation" is thinly veiled traditional marketing.

Just look at "opt -in email." Some marketers have done an excellent job with it, but consumers tune a lot of it out, because far more marketers define "opting in" as "glancing in our direction once," personalization as "well, the email came to your mailbox, right?" and relevance as "We need to sell these things - what else do you want?"

So allow Mills her skepticism; given the track record of our industry, it's well founded. I hope that she and I are both wrong, but I don't see much reason to expect to be.

1 comment:

Mary Schmidt said...

Hmmm...didn't I read somewhere that marketers doing "viral marketing" had a really low success rate? Well, duh.

All comes back to - you can write, publish, yell all the purty words you want to - but if you're not selling something terrific (and backing it with great service) - your marketing glitz is worthless. That's why I always say, "EVERYTHING YOU DO is marketing." Yes, I can write a slam-bang brochure...but let's talk about what you really need to do (product development, employee programs, customer service...um, being honest...)