Shhhh... I hear something.  (my RSS feed-reader acting as a glass pressed against a thin wall) It's a Armano's conversation about A Moment of Truth for Digital Agencies.   The candid post spurred an observation about our entire industry.  Agencies still live in the "service" economy.  Visit an agency site, lots and lots of TALK about "conversations agencies".  Seems like an oxymoron when you read their case studies and capabilities and they show desperate :30-second spots, websites, widgets, landing pages and emails.  They may have changed logos, redesigned their web sites, started blogs
and re-thought their approaches but they are still servicing clients
who don't understand what it takes to deliver a real conversation.  Why is this?

I think there are a five factors driving this.

  1. Old definitions of Brands remain. Our clients who sell products or services have forgotten that a Brand is what consumers think and how they feel about their products.  The brand is my perception of the human characteristics consumers have given your product after becoming aware of your relevance. Great brands play on our emotions and facilitate our existing passions.   Brand managers are really product managers.  We the consumer are the "Brand" managers.

  2. Control issues. Most companies as well as brand and product managers are over protective of their images and don't want you to own their brands. They want you to buy their products, but they are unwilling to let go and listen to something besides their business school text books.
  3. Social relevancy. Do you have something interesting to say? If you want to want to have a conversation you need to know a little something about what's important to me.You should want to be provocative. If you want to sell me something you need to tap in to my desire to have a relevant conversation with me.  Most products miss this one entirely.
  4. Fear of standing for one thing and not everything. Most companies fear outside opinions. The point of marketing is to provoke a response. So what if my product says something that people do not agree with?  It's important to have an opinion and to take a stand.  You may actually learn something.  If you stand for fitness, what about your product facilitates that fitness? What "brand" of fitness do you stand for? If you stand for everything you will be a nothing. No one, no product and no brand can be everything to everyone.
  5. Bad listening skills. Some marketers and creatives have not stopped to listen.  The research is out there.  The passions are in constant evolution and people are talking in public so that we can measure their interests.  In the conversation economy the quiet listener and inquisitive spectator is the most an important asset.

The vast majority of product companies out there suffer from one or all of the above.  They too are still doing business in the "service" economy.  What they are missing is that consumers have been bombarded with constant one-way yelling for far too long.  That one-way yelling has reached the point of mass cynicism. Breaking through requires insightful connectivity no matter the medium.

There are a few products that have begun to create amazing conversations worth following. Pepsi, Dove, Flip Video, Nike and Showtime offer a great learning opportunity for marketing organizations.

Real conversations require courage.
You have to grow a pair. Decide what your going to say to consumers and be proud and consistent. You have to take a stand and be prepared to lead. Be prepared to be criticized, learn from that criticism while staying true to the core of the idea and never accept failure. Look at the evolution of Showtime.  The minute they decided to create original content that stood for something different - viewers followed and created tribal villages.

Conversations require social relevancy.
Be contemporary and of the moment.  People create movements products can facilitate them.  In America today we are the cusp of a new day.  A rebuild.  What will your product or service bring to that party? Look at Pepsi. (need i say more?)

or Flip VideoFlip has managed to be socially relevant through the constant innovation and putting their product at places that have social relevance. I look forward to seeing them yield emotional insights from their partnerships with YouTube and Facebook.  Those insights should lead them to a more emotional tapestry of conversations.

Conversations require deep insights and simple observations.
The need for psychological and sociological insight still remains. Listening to what people are saying is just as important as watching what people are doing. This is the key to making sure you are talking to the right people. Take a look at Nike. They decided they were going to be a fitness company instead of a shoe company.  They  have used technology, fitness tribes, and the power of peoples individual fitness needs to continue to innovate year after year.

another example of tapping true insight is Dove's Campaign For Real Beauty.

This one is evergreen as well as the conversation that started the ubiquitous drive for marketers to try and replicate this "lightening in a bottle" viral hit.  What I love about this example is that it not only uses insight, it continues to be socially relevant as well as courageous. Dove continues to strive to do the right thing for woman despite the critics.

Now that we have a few examples of conversations that have created brand movements we should strive to look at what we need to do to be change agents for our clients and agencies. 

Which companies and or agencies have managed to create a real conversation?  Which companies have done it all wrong? And during the downturn who will use conversations to connect people with their products?

ON: Conversations via @jpenabickley