Keep the Ball Rolling: Ruminations on Conversation Marketing

Ian Lurie

Why ‘Observe and Adjust’ is the most important rule of Conversation Marketing

I’ve been chewing my marketing cud lately, thinking about Conversation Marketing, Internet marketing and where it all comes from.

Conversation Marketing, while a concept I’m proud of, is purely derivative. I didn’t just conjure it up out of thin air. Lots of people (like John Cass) helped me develop it.

But most important, Conversation Marketing is built to address the strengths and weaknesses of prevailing marketing theory. The basic rules (find them on the home page) focus on what I believe is the biggest failure of traditional marketing in the Internet world: Its linear nature.

Think of marketing as a flat plane for a second (for you English majors out there, a plane is a flat surface, not an squashed aircraft). The plane is marked out in stages from left to right:

  1. Invention/Discovery: You invent a new product/concept/message/service (aka the Widget), or discover a previously unknown one.
  2. Introduction: Now, you bring that Widget in front of an intended audience.
  3. Identification: The honeymoon. The audience identifies you with that Widget. And they consider you the exclusive provider of perfect Widgetness. Others may have duplicates, but it’s just not the same.
  4. Commodification: The seven year itch. Other companies, seeing how cool the Widget is, find ways to precisely duplicate it. Folks no longer identify you with the widget, you’re reduced to competing on price, and your market is marginalized as a result. At this point, you fall off the plane and have to start over again with a new Widget.

The objective of good marketing has always been to get to and stay in Identification as long as possible, by tweaking your message and your Widget to stay ahead of the commodification curve. But pre-Internet it was recognized that marketing was a roughly linear process: You might extend Identification, but you can’t do so perpetually. Eventually someone, somewhere, will duplicate the Widget faster than you can stay unique, and you’ll be commodified. Bam, you fall off the plane.

The Internet changes marketing. Now, instead of rolling straight across the plane and off the edge, you can stay within Identification almost indefinitely. Why? Because the Internet is a two-way medium.

Old marketing relied on surveys, Neilson ratings and such to provide audience feedback upon which marketers could rely to make decisions. The feedback-to-decision loop was long, slow, and not very accurate.

man in blue suit doing some research on the internet

Internet marketing, though, provides a unique opportunity to observe audience behavior, anonymous or otherwise, as it happens. By reading a traffic log file, you can learn which products or content is most compelling to users. By monitoring campaigns and sales, you can draw a direct link between marketing initiatives and conversion rates. The feedback loop is almost instant, and adjustments can be almost as quick.

And accuracy is better. Sure, logfiles aren’t infallible, and search engine marketing is subject to the vagaries of spammers and faulty algorithms. But on the Internet you can get a more complete, less biased sampling of your audience and their opinions than in any other medium.

With better speed and higher accuracy comes the ability to adjust marketing, message and even product long before the identification phase ends. That lets you turn the plane into a curve, and change marketing from linear to cyclical. You can keep the ball rolling between introduction and identification, and stay well clear of commodification. And that’s the goal of any Internet marketer.
More thoughts on this as the weeks go by…

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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