Thesis #1: Markets are conversations.
With full credit to Hugh Mcleod and his keen cartooning capabilities, it makes sense to kick the conversation on the conversation that is the market with some telling imagery from one of the preeminent provocateurs of conversation on the web and in the social business space. In fact, Hugh’s cartoon, while striking, is really where it all starts. The market conversation, at least the one that people are having about you and your organization, revolves around their experience. In fact, more than ever before, and by the way, here’s a great article on the concept, the customer experience and the deliberate design of that experience to deliver something that is totally fucking amazing is really all you’re put on earth to do as a corporate marketer (or whatever the hell you do in your organization). I don’t care what your position is, it’s still your responsibility to uphold and deliver the most amazing customer experience that you can.
As Searls and Weinberger wrote in Cluetrain Chapter 4: Markets are Conversations:
For thousands of years, we knew exactly what markets were: conversations between people who sought out others who shared the same interests. Buyers had as much to say as sellers. They spoke directly to each other without the filter of media, the artifice of positioning statements, the arrogance of advertising, or the shading of public relations.
Marketing, and advertising in particular, disrupted that ‘market bazaar’ sense of balance. Well, we’re back in balance and largely because of the “ends working against the middle” effect. By ends, I mean customers AND, sometimes, employees. (you know, it’s when employees become genuine advocates for the customers inside the corporation…)
As Brian Solis has stated and Stowe Boyd originally opined – the edge dissolves the center.
As Stowe Boyd says, the edge dissolves the center. We are the edglings and we’re experimenting with new forms of media, not to gain fame or fortune, but to change marketing from a business of bullying, bullshit, and deception, to a genuine form of respectable and valued sense of service and personalization.
Or as Robert Redford says of the character Elizabeth Hadley in Spy Game:
She had worked both ends against the middle for so long…the middle decided to give up and go home.
That’s what happens with conversation. The conversation has a way of dissolving even the most well crafted marketing message. Just look at his example of how the Nestle/Kit Kat “Palm Oil” situation devolved on Facebook this past year. The conversation surrounding Nestle all but caused their social media voice on Facebook to compete meltdown, resulting in what amounted to an emotional pissing match between “Paul Griffin” and Nestle for the entire world to see. Certainly not their best form on that particular day…
The real shift for all of us in light of this new-found conversation that is the market is the imperative for listening. None of us listen enough. More to the point, it’s not just the marketers that aren’t listening, it’s the customers as well. We’ve entered an era where some has said that we have a crisis of civility in our country (around the world?) and I believe that part of the conversation is the back & forth over social media (and all other types of media) where both sides (customer and company) are held to the same standards. The conversation imperative isn’t just for corporate marketers, but rather it’s a call to action for everyone.
What’s a marketer to do?
It’s been said thousands of times by dozens of social media and marketing pundits…that we need to “embrace the conversation.” That’s true, we do need to embrace it. But we also need to shape it.
Part of the reason (well, the main reason for some) for organizations to participate in social media is to influence the conversation. In fact, that was one of the things that we said back in 2004 at the first AMA seminar on blogging that we held in Seattle. You can’t control the conversation, but you can influence it. In fact, you can help design it. Recall the earlier article about designing the customer experience and think of your own experiences with your favorite brands. The market conversation has become part of the brands we all love. From now on, we all need to design customer experiences that embrace and integrate that ongoing market conversation.
What needs to change?
We need to embrace the conversation at a customer service level. According to an April 2010 survey by Gartner, when asked whether or not they had a strategy for integrating social media into customer service, only 15% of Customer Service executives said that they have a strategy. That’s low. That sucks. We can all do better. We can all get in on the conversation.