The internet is the only two-way marketing medium outside of a face-to-face meeting, a telephone call, or a video conference. That uniqueness makes internet marketing more efficient, profitable, and much, much more complex.
I’ve grappled with that for a while now. This book started out as a short piece I was going to give to my staff and clients as an explanation of what we do for a living. It grew into what you’re holding now.
If you have this book in your hands, you may feel that your internet marketing isn’t quite working, or you may just want to refine what you’re doing. The most common mistake folks make when marketing on the internet is treating it like any other medium. Conversation Marketing is a way to address that because it’s a strategy that builds on the fact that the internet is a two-way dialogue between you and your audience.
Conversation Marketing is a strategy for meeting age-old marketing challenges on the internet. It’s a methodology that makes use of the changes brought about by new, faster, more interactive media, without discarding the basic, sound principles of good communications.
It also ties together creative marketing, web design, copy writing, and the geekiest aspects of web analytics in a way that not only makes sense but provides a blueprint for long-term internet strategies. It’s where the internet’s technical and communications strengths come together that Conversation Marketing really takes root.
In the past few years, I’ve seen Conversation Marketing generate a return for labor unions, mom-and-pop businesses, dress designers, companies that sell bulletproof vests, law firms, and consultants. The principles scale well and work for all manner of organizations.
Folks who have used CM to good effect generally:
A conversation is, at a minimum, a two-way exchange of information — I talk, you listen and respond. I hear your response and answer accordingly, and you do the same, and so on, until the conversation concludes.
Think about traditional marketing media. In print, you deliver an advertisement to your readers, who read it and decide whether to contact you or not. You have no way to know whether they read that ad — you only know if it works if someone calls you and says, “Hey, I saw your ad, and I’d like to buy from you.” Measurement is tough, and there’s no way to change your message, in the short term, according to audience response. On the radio, it’s about the same, and television is even harder to change.
In other words, marketing in traditional media is not a conversation. Information is delivered, but there’s no observe-and-respond cycle. You can’t quickly adjust to your audience’s needs, wants, or approval/disapproval of your initial message.
Now consider internet marketing. You deliver a message to your audience via web site, ad on another web site, or e-mail marketing piece. Folks see your message, and you know they see it because you can measure “views.” They click on the ad, a link in the e-mail, or drill deeper into your site, and you know that, because you can measure that, too. Then they do or do not take the action you want them to take (buy, join, rent, sign up, etc.), and you know that, as well, because yes, you can measure that, too. And you can do all of this anonymously, at a fraction of the cost of traditional marketing. Most importantly, you can do all of this in real time. So you can modify your web site, banner ad, or landing page after days, hours, or even minutes of beginning a campaign. You deliver a message. Your audience responds. You observe and adjust your message accordingly. Bingo, a conversation occurs.
The internet is the first mass-marketing medium where this level of two-way interaction can occur in a polite, empirically measurable way.
I said “polite.” Of course there are all sorts of not-so-polite conversations on the internet. You can engage in them if you want. We won’t judge. But this book isn’t about ’em.
Here’s an example of internet marketing vs. print marketing that further points out the difference between Conversation Marketing and everything else.
Let’s take an imaginary business: Morgan’s Custom Bikes. Morgan is a sharp businessperson, and she’s gotten her company going by building two or three high-priced, custom-built bicycles every month. Now, though, she wants to start making more Morgan Road Specials and selling them all over the country, in local shops. The Road Special is one of those skinny-tire $6,000 high-tech marvels you see in the Tour de France, and there are lots of cyclists drooling to get their hands on just that kind of bike. But local shops won’t order her product if customers don’t ask for it by name. So she needs to get the word out.
Print campaign. Morgan starts with a print ad in a major cycling magazine. She takes out a full-page ad, which isn’t cheap. The ad is beautiful: a famous Tour de France cyclist, smiling broadly, races down a country road on a Morgan Road Special. The message is clear, “Buy this machine, it’s a real treat, and you’ll ride like a pro.” Her print campaign has all of the earmarks of a successful campaign: celebrity, a strong message, and impressive visuals.
Results are mixed, though. A few orders trickle in, and after a four-month run she barely breaks even on the ad. More importantly, no shops are pre-ordering the Road Special. She keeps it running, but starts pondering alternatives.
Internet campaign. Morgan already has a web site that features her product, specifications, reviews, and ordering information, so she decides to try to generate a buzz on the internet. She spends a little cash on a banner ad for a road bicycle review web site, buys a pay-per-click ad on a major search engine, and sponsors a popular cycling-news e-mail list for three months (she gets a link and one paragraph about the Road Special for sponsorship). Morgan sees some results right away — three new orders come in after about a week. She reads her web site traffic report and learns that these new orders came from the pay-per-click ad and the e-mail newsletter. The banner isn’t generating any traffic at all, much less orders. She spends more money on pay-per-click ads and, after an unproductive month, cancels the banner ad. Her orders increase the moment her pay-per-click links appear on major search engines.
She’s doing better, but still not great — no pre-orders — because customer demand just isn’t high enough yet. After two months, Morgan reviews her order history, her web traffic logs, and feedback from customers, and realizes five things:
Armed with this information, she makes some changes:
Morgan hits pay dirt. Three bike shops in California call her within a month, asking if they can pre-order the Road Special for sale in their shops. Now she can make more bikes, get more exposure, and expand her company.
Why this worked. Morgan’s internet efforts were very successful, and even helped her adjust her non-internet campaign. Why? She did a few crucial things. Morgan:
I was sneaky. I just introduced you to the six rules of Conversation Marketing:
Know the Room (aka Get Selective). When you go to a party, what’s the first thing you do? You look around and see if you know anyone. That’s a good idea on the internet, too. Try to learn the nature of the people with whom you converse. Knowing the room means knowing what your audience likes and doesn’t like, their technological limitations, and a range of other attributes. It means selecting your audience rather than accumulating it. It’s the foundation of a good campaign.
Dress Appropriately. That’s appropriately, not cool. You don’t wear a ripped T-shirt to a black-tie dinner. And you don’t wear a tuxedo to a football game. Your web site should know where it’s going, too. It should be designed with your audience in mind — classy if elegance will resonate, simple if complexity is a threat, or a multimedia extravaganza if entertainment is paramount. Internet marketing is a communications contest, not a design competition — do what’s appropriate.
Sound Smart. This rule could actually be “Don’t sound stupid.” If you know the room, and you’re dressed appropriately, then you’ve probably cleared that first, quick inspection by fellow conversationalists. Now you have to actually converse. On the internet, that means a few things: you have to deliver good content, in the correct order, and your site has to work. Sounding smart brings together architecture, writing, programming, usability, and contingency design, and these will occupy a lot of our time as we move through this book.
Make a Connection. It’s great to meet everyone at a party, but you want them to talk to you later on, too. At a party, you exchange business cards or phone numbers. On the internet, you use e-mail or some other technique (such as RSS — if you don’t know what that is, do a quick search on the web and you’ll find out) to help folks keep in touch with you.
Brag Modestly. At a party, nothing’s better than having the host introduce you as “The person I told you about. You have to talk to him/her.” Someone else just bragged for you — that’s modest, but still a great boast. On the internet, modest bragging abounds. Search engines, blogs, and an endless array of PR opportunities allow someone else to say how important you are.
Observe and Adjust. A conversation is really millions of near-instant observations and adjustments. If I’m talking to you and you look at me as though I just turned bright yellow, I may change the subject or ask if you’re OK. If you laugh, I may tell another joke. Internet marketing is remarkably similar
— you can use web site traffic reports and dozens of other measurements to gauge audience response and adjust your efforts, whenever. This is the lynchpin and litmus of successful internet marketing. It is also where I see most organizations fail, miserably, to realize the real promise of internet marketing.
Put these all together and you have a recipe for a selected, interested audience seeing a campaign that they find truly compelling. The rest of this book will explore these six principles in detail, and tie them together. I’ll include examples, tools, and, as you read, a step-by-step guide for implementing the six rules in a way that’ll realize concrete goals for you and your organization.
Nope. Conversation Marketing is actually a solid communications strategy for anyone who needs to get a message out. The message might be “Buy this,” “Join us,” “Vote for me,” “I am cooler than you,” or just “Have a look.”
So why call it Conversation Marketing? Most folks using this strategy do so in the context of a marketing/PR campaign in an effort to sell something. Also, Conversation Marketing and Communications and Stuff sounds pretty silly, don’t you think?