Be careful what consumer conversations you wish for

Everyone agrees that it is all about consumer conversations now. Command and control is dead. 

It is not enough nowadays for advertisers to do a segmentation analysis to calculate optimum target audience, use media planning to maximise reach and frequency, engage the account planners on unearthing insights, and entrust the creatives with developing an ad campaign to boost sales. (Isn’t that how it was supposed to work?) 

Today’s brand owners are data rich. They are monitoring social networks, chats, blogs and emails. They can observe web surfing patterns and what is happening at point of sale. They get daily feedback on what consumers think about products, service, price, packaging. 

Dialogue has replaced monologue. The consumer has almost as much say on the Five P’s (product, price, place, promotion and people) of marketing as the marketing department. 

So why am I telling you what you already know? Because I have a nasty feeling that while some of the mega brands have well and truly grasped all of the above, hundreds of brand owners have not. What is my evidence? Just sit down for an evening and watch the ads on ITV or any of the other commercial channels. 

Are there still brands inventing problems, which they then attempt to solve? Can you still hear brands shouting commercial messages at the consumer? Are there any campaigns out there appearing at such a frequency that the agency and their client must be relying on a high irritation factor making the brand name unforgettable? 

Look. You know the answer to those questions! 

Bertrand Cesvet, the Chairman of Sid Lee, is a clever man. His 2008 book Conversational Capital (written with Tony Babinski and Eric Alper) is as eloquent account as I have seen on how to create word of mouth that works. He actually tells you how it is done. He talks about the engines of creating conversations: myths, icons, initiation, rituals, over-delivery, tribalism, endorsement. 

He has coined two proprietary techniques – one fairly obvious, the Exclusive Product Offering (EPO), the other more intriguing, the Relevant Sensory Oddity (RSO). The EPO individualises and personalises the service or product experience. Think iTunes or the multiplicity of choice at Starbucks. 

The RSO is all about synaesthesia – appealing to more than one sense, often in a quirky and surprising way (please see my blog post on 9th October “Uncommon Sense”). Good examples: the shopping experience at Abercrombie & Fitch, or the annoyingly slow delivery from a Heinz Tomato Ketchup bottle or Guinness tap. 

How much conversational capital is being created on TV most evenings? Here’s my challenge: watch long enough to pick out three promising examples. I will lay a bet now: that will give you time to write down the names of twice as many brands, which are still delivering unreconstructed hard sell, annoyance or assaulted senses and sensibility. As a brand owner, would you relish the consumer conversations that such an old fashioned approach might stimulate? 

Let’s face it, the editing facility provided by TiVo or Sky Plus is used by viewers to eliminate the ads. Ever wondered why?