conversational marketing


Gone are the days of one way memos and letters from companies to customers; ushered in is an era of two way communication and consumer feedback. This has become the crux of the internet revolution.

Scoble and Israel’s Naked Conversations tap into the online phenomenon of blogging for business. According to the authors, businesses can benefit exceptionally from this method of communication.

Scoble and Israel list six pillars of successful blogging:

  1. Publishable: the consumer has the ability and freedom to publish their voice
  2. Conversational/social: a two-way method of creating and sustaining a dialogue
  3. Findable: the information on the blog is indexed in search engines
  4. Viral/Shareable: making things shareworthy; information that is spread through multiple blogs
  5. Syndicatable: RSS friendly
  6. Linkable: the ability to link to other bloggers

SpreadFirefox, or SFX, is a great example of taking a marketing campaign and letting it excel through blogs. Just a few years ago, Mozilla Firefox was a no name company attempting to make their internet browser the new Microsoft Explorer. Through the SpreadFirefox campaign, they were able to use the six pillars of a successful blog to let the internet browser spread organically through cyberspace. The success of SFX is attributed to sustainable word-of-mouth and not to buzz marketing; the difference between the two shows a marked difference between SFX and other followers that unsuccessfully tried to spread their initiatives organically as well. Companies have been made or broken in the past few years, depending on their ability (or inability) to blog.

Microsoft started a blog called Channel 9 to help humanize their big company. Channel 9 fosters a sense of community among Microsoft employees and customers alike, and encourages an ongoing conversation and a collaborative wiki that users can participate in. This discussion forum model has been extremely popular, with all sorts of users participating on the website. The most successful blogs seem to be those that deliver information to consumers, while also allowing customers to contribute to the conversation. This allows for a dynamic exchange and sets a platform for feedback and support. As Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba discuss in Citizen Marketers, it is this exchange between the company and the consumers that generates the power and importance of citizen marketers.

CEO blogging has also flourished in the past few years. Corporate blogging is the pipeline of success between a company and their consumer. Companies from GM to Whole Foods have all actively engaged in this level of blogging by putting their CEOs at the forefront of their image. CEO blogs are the closest that people will get to seeing the face of the company–the importance of corporate blogs shouldn’t go unnoticed.

There are so many aspects to business blogs–whether it’s a CEO blogging about the daily goings on of a company, the spread of new initiatives and ideas through viral blogging, or creating a platform for developers, employees, and consumers to get together, business blogging has proved that communication is a two way street.

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It seems like everybody is a blogger these days. With so many citizen journalists online, PR professionals have to cooperate with bloggers more than ever before. Building long lasting relationships with journalists is still important, but building those same relationships with bloggers is just as vital to a PR campaign. So many people check out blogs every day, so it’s crucial to get news about a product and company into the hands of those avid bloggers.

Pitching bloggers doesn’t differ too much compared to pitching the traditional forms of media. The key to establishing these relationships with bloggers is to be casual yet professional. Understanding the landscape of the blogosphere will help PR pros build those solid relationships, while continual interaction with the bloggers—whether you have a story coming out or not—will ensure that the relationship has been cultivated and secured.

Nikon D80

Nikon took an interesting approach when they wanted to gain media attention for their product, Nikon D80. According to Jaffe‘s blog, “this has been the best example of blogger outreach I have either experienced (first hand) or read about.” Nikon originally sent a bunch of Nikon D80 cameras to Flickr users and emphasized consumer generated content (CGC). The pictures were then used in a three page spread in BusinessWeek (among other pubs and mags).

Engaging the consumer obviously paid off, and Nikon followed up by giving the camera to fifty bloggers. Jeffe argues that this act “helps continue to legitimize the blogosphere and the new influencers.” With minimal effort, Nikon successfully participated in rebranding their camera and their overall image. The distribution of their cameras encouraged recipients to take pictures and share their experiences online.

Nikon benefited from this project because they made their product relevant to the consumer—and to the blogger. By reaching out to 50 influential bloggers (instead of journalists), they were setting a standard for this new type of blogger/marketing/PR relationship. Nikon has made known their blogger outreach efforts, and are therefore being heralded for trying out new ground with their product. Unlike the Edelman and Microsoft partnership before it, Nikon and MWW Group made sure they understood the blogosphere by first testing out their trial on the Flickr users.

Nikon was sure to cover any and all ground:

“…The only request we have of you is that you please make sure that, if you choose to write about the camera, you make it clear how you got it. We would never ask you to cross any ethical lines, so openness and honesty on all our parts is in everyone’s best interest.

The camera is essentially being loaned to you for six months at which point you have three options:

1. Return it to us
2. Re-up for another six month loan period, or
3. Buy the camera at a significantly reduced editorial discount.

Should you opt for #1 or #3, the camera or the purchase price will then be donated to a photography education program that Nikon supports. That’s it.” (retrieved from http://www.whatsnextblog.com).

Nikon wanted the camera to do its own advertising once it was in the hands of bloggers. This marketing approach may have gained more attention than the actual product– which will inevitably lead to more interest about the product. These bloggers have become brand ambassadors for the program, whether they choose to blog about the product or not. Other companies and PR/marketing professionals can learn a a lot about blogger outreach from this program—the number one rule being: know the blogosphere and you’ll know your audience.

If business ethics refers to the goings on in the typical corporate world of cubicles and corner offices, where do we extend the practice to the online world?

It’s pretty ironic that Whole Foods—a brand synonymous with organic and wholesome foods and general “goodness”—would be the latest topic of an online business ethics debate. From 1999-2006, Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey used a pseudonym in which he bashed Wild Oats, a competitor, on Yahoo!’s finance message board. Whole Foods has recently proposed to acquire Wild Oats, which has caused the message board scandal to come to light.

Was this Mackey’s way to boost his own brand, or are we dealing with deeper issues of business ethics? WOMMA, or the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, clearly dictates a cut and dry philosophy when it comes to blogging and online word of mouth. While Mackey’s comments were not necessarily “blog posts”, they still fall under the guideline of online communication and general word of mouth information. In fact, Mackey clearly violates the second rule of ethics on WOMMA’s website: “I will fully disclose who I am and who I work for (my identity and affiliations) from the very first encounter when communicating with bloggers or commenting on blogs.” WOMMA suggests configuring an ethics code that follows a basic business model of ethics.

It’s hard to think that Mackey was just trying to champion his own product, when his motives seem remarkably evident. Coming down on Wild Oats in an effort to lower their profits for an inevitable buy out violates all sorts of business ethics—whether online or off. Mackey obviously attempted to capitalize on the online world to maximize his company’s image and promote their products; in doing so, he violated a very simple code of ethics.

Despite what Mackey says did or did not happen (that he wasn’t representing the company, that he was sometimes playing the devil’s advocate, blah blah blah…) the entire situation raises the bigger issue of business ethics online. This crisis demonstrates the sheer ease with which anybody can create aliases and personas (if Second Life wasn’t already a bizarre indicator of that). As The New York Times put it “On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog — or the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.” But with this anonymity, where do ethics come in? With so many companies reaching out online to their potential consumers, it is crucial to perfect this new kind of Business Ethics 2.0.

The adage of capitalism: business is business. No matter what brings in profits, the bottom line is that companies thrive off of revenue.

Fred Reichheld would argue, however, that there is a substantial difference between good profit and bad profit. In The Ultimate Question: Driving Good Profits and True Growth, Reichheld focuses on customer satisfaction and how it fosters company growth. Relationship marketing is the foundation of this model.

It’s simple: Good profit—driven by promoters–relies on loyalty and word of mouth to build the company’s reputation. Bad profits—driven by detractors– make a business vulnerable to competitors and therefore undermine long lasting growth.

The “ultimate question” posed on Reichheld’s book is: “How likely are you to recommend Company or Product X to a friend or colleague?” The answer can be found by using NPS: Net Promoter Score. Behind the notion of NPS is that customers are the #1 promoters of a product. According to the equation, P-D=NPS, where P=Promoters and D=Detractors. The higher the NPS score, the higher the number of promoters the company has. Reichheld believes focusing on long term growth rather then short term profits. Building customer loyalty pays off in the end.

Amazon.com used this structure to ensure a loyal customer base. Unlike other websites of the dot com era, it took Amazon.com several years until they were able to make a profit. They used that time to generate satisfied customers through incentives, competitive prices, free shipping, and personal recommendations rather than pouring money into advertising efforts. The more promoters they had—and the less detractors—helped Amazon.com come out on top of the dot-com boom and finally begin to accumulate good profit. Jeff Bezos, CEO and Founder of Amazon.com, said “if you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about.” According to Reichheld’s research, Amazon.com has an NPS efficiency rating of about 50-80%. While there is still room for them to grow, they serve as a model of an effective NPS structure.

Like Amazon.com, JetBlue Airways focuses on their customer service initiatives. JetBlue is known for their consistently low cost airfare and customer satisfaction. On February 14, 2007, however, JetBlue garnered media attention when an aircraft was left on New York’s JFK airport for almost nine hours—without allowing any passengers to exit the plane. A number of other JetBlue airlines were delayed, setting off an immediate backlash. JetBlue tried exceptionally hard to regain their loyal customer fan base. David Neeleman, JetBlue’s CEO, issued a public apology and took an admirable stance. Rather than getting defensive, he acknowledged the problem and even issued a Passenger Bill of Rights. They turned their less than desirable situation into one that promoters would support.

Their tactics obviously paid off—JetBlue is still voted as one of the best airlines for customer satisfaction. The entire crisis shows that JetBlue’s NPS score must be high since customers are continually happy with the airline.

Maybe money shouldn’t be the number one priority of business—customers should be. It’s the customers who rant and rave about products and service, who write on their blogs and forward emails to their friends. In the digital world of hyper communication, the citizen marketer has more of a voice than ever before…so maybe “business is business” isn’t so cut and dry after all.

Conversational marketing and the outcome of word-of-mouth both rely heavily on the idea of consumer loyalty. As evident in McConnell and Huba’s Citizen Marketers, one person has the power to spread the word about a specific product, store, or notion. By rallying behind Target products or Surge, these citizen marketers have used the internet as their tool. Gutenberg’s printing press has evolved into the blogosphere of the 21st century. Like the printing press before it, blogs are a catalyst for changing culture and moving ideas forward. The passion or distaste for a particular brand or product stems from the loyalty within a consumer to get a certain image across the public. The democratization of the internet allows any consumer to blog about whatever they want.


[Free] Conversational Marketing

Oftentimes, companies may be entirely unaware of a marketing ploy provided by their own consumers. As is the case with Diet Coke and Mentos, Diet Coke’s preliminary response was a rejection of mixing the two products to cause an explosion. Diet Coke felt that it went against the sleek and sophisticated image of their brand, as their new set of advertisements demonstrate. Mentos, on the other hand, was entirely supportive of the experiments and popularity after various YouTube videos began circulating on the internet. After they finally realized the sheer popularity of the experiment, Diet Coke changed their tune.

Drawing the line

What Diet Coke originally failed to realize was that their traditional methods of marketing and advertising don’t match up with the new practice of public relations. Professor Bell’s post further draws the line between traditional public relations and the new breed that conversational marketing and the internet have vastly popularized. In the old method of doing things, Diet Coke wanted to control their image. It took them eight months to understand the new age of public relations where conversational marketing trumps antiquated practices.

Wal-Mart’s spotlight in traditional media is remarkably different from their mentions on the blogosphere. Traditional media outlets like The New York Times have often focused on employee benefits, wages, and Wal-Mart’s initiatives to go green. Online, however, many of the blogs centered around Wal-Mart have to do with back to school, favored products, and general customer service in addition to various anti-Wal-Mart groups like Wake Up Wal-Mart and Wal-Mart Watch. The line between traditional media and social media in Wal-Mart’s case is extremely bold and easy to identify.

The key to getting customer loyalty = listening to the consumer
Listening centered marketing is at the crux of understanding the consumer. This 360 degree idea absorbs every aspect of the new age of public relations. With so many conversations going on about products, stores, ideas, etc., it is essential for customers to listen to the consumers. Pete Blackshaw’s blog says that this model of marketing is uber modern and extremely necessary. Blackshaw names this current era an “age of conversation”. This is anything but a one-sided conversation—with consumers doing so much talking, companies and pr professionals need to listen and act according to these conversations. Listening to consumers is the ultimate way to gain their loyalty for a brand.