8 Rules for Surviving in the Era of Conversations


(The thinking in this piece first appeared in Contagious Magazine, Issue 16)

1 / You’re part of the conversation, whether you’re managing it or not. And the conversation is getting louder. Fred Reichheld of Bain Consulting says it best: ‘Today, negative word of mouth goes out over a global PA system. In the past, the accepted maxim was that every unhappy customer told ten friends. Now an unhappy customer can tell ten thousand ‘friends’ through the internet.
2 / Everything you do creates conversation, whether you think it’s marketing or not, and whether youknow it or not. Your pricing policy creates conversation. How your people answer the phone creates conversation. In the contagious age, the things that create conversation are not just viral ads. The single greatest driver of positive recommendation is ‘experience beyond expectation’. For advertising agencies, this means you can’t manage the conversation without having a point of view on every aspect of your client’s product experience. If they manage a bank, then most of the
negative conversation is likely to be driven by high fees, long queues or poor service. The advertising won’t fix that.
3 / Changing the conversation to your advantage is what grows your business. Brands with the most recommendation in their category grow four times faster than the category average (London School of Economics). Increasing recommendation by 12% doubles sales growth (Bain Consulting).
4 / Most of what is currently positioned as buzz or word of mouth is completely worthless. It’s transient and disconnected. It doesn’t change the conversation. Getting talked about is not, in itself, the driver of value. Changing the
conversation in the category is. Sometimes that difference isn’t visible until years afterwards. Some Grand Prix winners
have little long term impact. Wassup was certainly talked about, but Apple’s 1984 spot changed the conversation.
5 / You have to be talking about something that really matters to people to really change the conversation. Otherwise you’re just global small talk. Water cooler chit-chat. Suprisingly, even apparently dull categories can be important. Nobody talks about toothpaste, but people do talk about teeth, smiles, and feelings. Nobody talks about constipation, until they have it. But, when they do, you’d be surprised. (Check it out on-line).
6 / Great brands lead the conversation by having a point of view that transcends even the category. They have a vision and a set of beliefs that allow them to redefine the category they work in multiple times, often over decades. Renault, for example, has always beendriven by people-based innovation, not just engineering. This was most famously apparent in the Espace and its creation of the people-carrier segment, but has also allowed them to take leading roles in the low-cost car segment with the nofrills Logan brand, as well as in electric cars. Take a look at this statement of purpose to understand how they are as different from Peugeot as they were in the 1960s, or the 1980s – it’s just the concerns of the time that have changed.
7 / Broadcast marketing can also change the conversation too, but to do so you need to apply a higher standard. Even tooday, nothing gets people talking as much or changes the conversation as effectively as TV advertising. (Little known fact about Barack Obama: he started with Facebook, but he ended up by spending more TV dollars than any candidate in history; likewise, Susan Boyle didn’t get that virally famous by appearing on a small underground show. It was ten or twenty million people who saw her on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. But you do have to think about your ‘broadcast media’ differently. Don’t think about the ad, think about the conversation that starts when
the ad finishes. No conversation? Don’t do the ad.

8 / Symbolic actions have immense contagious power, if they crystallise a powerful vision. Consumers know that talk is cheap. And what you do for them is more likely to get them talking than what you say you believe. The recently awarded Speights Great Beer Delivery created by Publicis Mojo in Auckland was a fine example. The brand is about the importance of beer and mates; putting a pub on a boat and sending it to the other side of the world so that NewZealand ex-pats in England could enjoy their favourite beer was a powerful way of proving that.

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