Conversation Marketing: A definition

Ian Lurie

I’ve written 2,890 posts on Conversation Marketing now. I just crossed 10,000 (non-spam) comments, too.
But I’ve never actually provided a definition of Conversation Marketing.
Lots of other people have. Some did OK. Some are just ridiculous. So I figured I’d give it a shot.
I’m not trying to define it in a “this is what it means, so screw the rest of you” way. I just mean, define what I mean when I say the phrase.
So, here goes:
Conversation marketing: Highly iterative, internet-driven marketing where customer needs drive design, content and technology, analysis drives changes, and customers are long-term participants.
I figure I should go into a bit more detail, though. I’m going to do it in reverse:

Customers are long-term participants

I am not going to use the word ‘engagement’. When I say ‘long-term participants’ I mean that:

  1. Companies give customers the option to keep in touch. Think of a Facebook ‘like’ button, or an e-mail signup form.
  2. The company provides value in exchange: Useful information, free stuff, coupons, or just the intrinsic benefits of ‘belonging’.
  3. The company invites participation. The company talks to the customers who opt in. ‘Talks to’ means ‘starts discussions’ and ‘informs’, not just ‘rams coupons down their throats’. For example, the company might send out a quick guide for getting the most out of their product.

Analysis drives changes

I’m all for gut instinct when it comes to marketing. But at some point you need to observe and adjust.
This was actually why I started using the phrase ‘conversation marketing’ in the first place. The internet is the first place, short of an in-person discussion, where you can make a statement, watch how your audience responds, and adjust your next statement accordingly.
With analytics tools, log files, surveys, etc., you can easily use data to tweak and refine your message.

Customer needs drive design, content, technology

This one sounds like corporate marketspeak. Cringe.
But ego-driven marketing still seems to have the edge out there, and I find that infuriating. Just because you, Ms. CEO, think that purple mouse trails are the greatest thing ever, doesn’t mean your customers agree.
Let the customers drive what you do. Not your ego.

Highly iterative

Finally, conversation marketing means a lot of iteration. If analysis drives change, and you can constantly observe, then you should constantly adjust, too.
That’s the other unique property of internet marketing: You can change content in a heartbeat. If you’re not iterating, you’re probably wasting a lot of potential.

There you have it

I’ll warn you: I change this definition with frightening regularity. But the basics are the same: Create, observe, analyze, iterate.
If you have your own definition, fire away.

Other stuff

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is the founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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