A couple weeks ago, Ray Welling interviewed me for a podcast, HotHouse podcast: Online conversation marketing – are you coming to the party? and, to my surprise, followed up with an analysis of what I actually said at 100-miles-per-hour in the podcast in the form of Being there: tend to your brand online and reap the benefits:
Treat your marketing like a garden and you’ll survive the economic downturn.
Have you seen the classic film Being There? The main character Chauncey (played by Peter Sellers) is a mentally-challenged gardener who through a few twists of fate ends up being a respected political adviser and commentator (I can heartily recommend you getting it out on DVD – a funny film with pointed social commentary that still stings today).
Anyway, when he’s asked his opinion on world events, Chauncey starts talking about the only thing he knows – gardening – and he slowly and deliberately describes the process of planting seeds, watering them, pulling out weeds, pruning, and harvesting. Everyone who listens to him puts their own spin on what he ‘really’ means, and he quickly becomes an internationally respected political guru.
Chris Abraham, interviewed for our recent HotHouse podcast, says Chauncey Gardner’s gardening analogy is particularly apt for online social media marketing today.
Abraham, online PR specialist and president and COO of online consultants Abraham Harrison, based in Washington and Berlin, argues that despite the right-now, viral nature of the Internet, building a company’s brand through social media takes time.
He loves to use real-life analogies:
“Building your communications online is like seeding a reef,” he says. “You have to hang out in the ecosystem, become part of that ecosystem, occasionally adding things that become part of the reef. And if you’re there long enough, the reef builds around you.”
Moving from fish to people, Abraham says social media marketing, or as he calls it, ‘online conversation marketing’, is:
“like going to a party – you need to understand what the ‘lingua franca’ is, who your host is, what kind of appropriate gift you should bring, how people talk, and what people expect.”
He says companies need to become ambassadors for their brand as they take their marketing online – no broadcasting or shouting in this new environment, just a focus on others and a diplomatic tone.
Five dos and don’ts
Another new media marketing consultant, Joseph Jaffe, author of Join the Conversation and Life After the 30 Second Spot, says there are five key things businesses can do to start participating in online conversation marketing:
- Listening – so you can make your contribution to the conversation real, not just hype
- Responding – whether approaches are negative or positive
- Joining in – making non-partisan contributions to position yourself to be invited to join the conversation
- Catalysing – empowering customers to demonstrate your brand on your behalf
- Starting – being a conversation conduit and starting a conversation
He also says that companies shouldn’t be:
- Fake – instead, be transparent in your communications
- Manipulative – don’t try to fool other participants, but instead be open
- Controlling – understand that you can’t control everything all of the time
- Dominating – the world doesn’t operate solely on your terms, allow others room to talk
- Avoiding – marketing is no longer a spectator sport, you must be active and participate
Ritu Pant from the Marketing Hackz website, puts it concisely:
“Conversation marketing is nothing but a way to gain recognition and create a presence among your potential customers. The only thing that is required in order to carry an effective marketing campaign is the ability to dedicate time and be a part of the community.”
“….There is no requirement that you have budget for marketing because it simply requires your time and effort in effectively carrying on a two-way communication. This is one of the reasons why social media has become so powerful in online advertising. If your business doesn’t exist on the web, you are pretty much non-existent.”
Conversations in tough times
The question on every online marketer’s lips is “How will the global financial crisis (GFC) affect e-marketing? Will it be tougher to get companies to spend money on unproven techniques, or will the cost-effective and measurable nature of e-marketing create a boom amid the gloom?
Chris Abraham has some strong opinions on the issue:
“We need to recognize that this is going to be a deep, deep recession – one that’s going to last for a long time,” he says. “Recessions have major ramifications on how consumers spend their income, how companies formulate their budgets, and, perhaps most importantly, how marketing is viewed. In a recession, marketing is often viewed as an expense…not an investment.
“(In times like the present) decision makers often want to work with ‘proven’ models that they’re familiar with. And these models will often be pushed by their traditional agencies because those agencies provide these services. Of course, (what is) proven may no longer mean effective – but at least it has been done before and for the decision makers, it’s best to stick with what is familiar.”
Particularly in the current financial environment, he says, “traditional marketing still very much has a primary role…. we can’t… dismiss traditional type stuff as being ‘so 20th Century’. The end user – the consumer – will be getting the information they seek on products from various sources. “
Abraham says it’s important to integrate conversation marketing with traditional marketing techniques:
“Social media may not be for every business. Or, more realistically, the emphasis placed upon social media will vary depending on the client’s needs and the industry they are in. In practically every case social media will be only part of the equation.”
Abraham encourages new media marketers to turn down the hype and turn up the practicality. “Ladies and gentleman, this is a transformation. An evolution. One that is bringing about substantial change. But the change isn’t absolute nor is it complete. People may not want every brand to try to ‘engage’ them. They may want to just buy something and be left alone.
“We need to stop the shrill ‘change or die/nothing will ever be the same’ mantras. Yes, change is happening, but we need to remember that we are pioneers and early adopters. Not everyone has a Facebook profile or a Twitter presence and most people don’t religiously read blogs.”
I’ve been thinking a bit about Chauncey Gardner, and I reckon that if he was around today he would be a hit on Twitter. The most popular Twitterers are people who dispense timeless common sense that strikes a chord with everyone, rather than those tweeting about the bleeding edge of technology.
As Chauncey says, a patient, long-term approach will help all marketers steer and develop their business successfully through the recession and beyond.