It’s time for more brands to think digital conversations, not campaigns

Neil Davidson, strategic planning director at Billington Cartmell, emphasises the need for brands to think about digital conversations in their campaign planning.

Neil Davidson
Neil Davidson

There’s nothing better than talking to consumers for a reality check, they’ll tell you exactly what you don’t want to hear and remind you what marketing’s really about.

I recently spoke to a group who had been the target of a brand’s most recent digital initiative, a website built to engage with existing customers, to encourage them to submit content and build a community forum around their shared interest.

The brand had invested in the infrastructure, invited the customers to take over and then stepped back. It all sounded positive but people were angry – really angry – with the brand.

They thought it had ’created something, dumped it on us, and ran away.’ One customer told me that she knew that the brand had wanted to ’turn me into a brand advocate’ but that now she was considering becoming ’a brand terrorist.’

In a digital world focused on consumer creation and categorisation it’s easy to forget that brands and marketers still have responsibilities, and that consumers want proper conversations. Away from the social media hype, what does it mean to think digital conversations rather than campaigns?

New marketing models and processes: For many, the rationale behind massive campaign bursts was always questionable, driven by media and organisational considerations before consumer needs.

The digitalisation of consumers and marketing is a further nail in the coffin. There are no easy ’on’ and ’off’ buttons any more. Digital demand and conversations are always ’on’, and organisations have to adapt to.

Seth Godin’s ’Meatball Sundae’ analogy still applies. Many organisations are still not designed to be in constant conversations with consumers, avoiding ’dump and run’ accusations.

Marketers need new models, less linear, more time consuming but quicker and more instinctive than the classic brand planning cycle, where insights are irrelevant by the time they are executed.

It’s no coincidence that many of the digital success stories such as Will it blend? come from smaller organisations without the baggage of old marketing methods.

New ways of working should be closer to the direct marketing model, getting multiple messages out to consumers regularly, monitoring response in its many forms and then amending strategies based on these learnings. The difference in the digital is that there will be even more messages, more often, and reaction time to learnings has to be a fraction of that of classic direct marketing.

Digital also gives marketers the opportunity to set-up smarter research scenarios, basing decisions on real interactions in the digital space in a matter of days, rather than intermediate research.

This goes way beyond digital research tools such as Survey Monkey. Marketers can now truly test ideas, through response to small one-off Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns and mini-versions of ideas on micro-sites and gauging response in forums.

Consumer understanding can be based on real conversations, and can be quicker and smarter than the classic approaches to test and roll-out, through mini-digital conversations.

Listen continually, and in new places: It’s now about more than eavesdropping in forums; it’s about embracing and using other digital insight sources differently. Some marketers are already using the insights in consumer chatter on Twitter, accessing it, analysing and acting on different consumer segments and needs identified within Tweets by using applications such as Tweetdeck.

The language used about a brand or a sector highlights emerging needs long before any other research tool could, and allows marketers to identify and talk to those at the front of the adoption curve. The keyword data insights available from search engines are usually relegated to informing PPC campaigns or developing website content.

John Battelle’s description of keyword data as ’the database of intentions’ is spot-on, this is priceless consumer insight that only a few marketers are using to its full potential, at the start of the strategic and creative process, to understand consumers and develop new product, revenue streams, communication platforms and digital content.

The potential of digital conversations for their brands is unlimited, but rewards will only come when brands prove to consumers that they are engaged in real conversations. Brands will have to listen more, understand which conversations really matter, engage consumers, and then really stick with it.


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