Are Customer Relationships Really Built Through Conversation?

Marketers like to think so, and we often say so, because it makes us sound enlightened. It’s also the argument we use to teach uneducated businesses how to use those hallowed social media tools. The purpose is really to convince you that you need to use social media and participate in the whole “marketing 2.0” movement. You know, that’s the movement where advertising is dead.

But the real answer to the necessity of conversation in a relationship isnot always.

Again, we marketers, from our lofty, enlightened perch, like to believe we live in a world where every customer wants to have a conversation with every brand from which they purchase: from personal hygiene products to the farmers’ market. This is simply not true.

Real people don’t have the time, nor the desire, to have a conversation with the hundreds brands they consider purchasing each month. Heck, people don’t always have conversations with their spouse, but now you want them to have a conversation with your farmers’ market? Maybe they want to go and experience your farmers’ market because they think it would be fun.

What Are Conversations?

It is true that having a relationship is the goal of business and the purpose of marketing. In fact, my definition of marketing is convincing people to have a relationship with your business. But those relationships don’t require you to be in constant conversation with all customers.

So, my entire marketing philosophy is summed up in this diagram above that I call The Marketing Circle of Life. It illustrates the four essential spots of small business marketing. As you can see, there is a big, huge red spot called ‘Conversation.’

They shout.

Just hold on there you angry mob of self-righteous marketers. I’m not talking about a brand’s conversation with customers. That spot in the diagram is the customer-to-customer conversations. That’s the real goal of conversation in marketing: to get customers to talk about you, not you talking about you.

The Lowdown of Conversation

Be available for conversations, but don’t try to force them on the customer. When a customer asks a question, that’s an obvious call for a conversation. When a customer needs help but doesn’t ask for it, that may be a conversation cue. But when a customer is minding her own business and you initiate a conversation in an attempt to get social, that’s forcing the conversation and it’s akin to hitting on someone in a grocery store. Creepy.

Be accessible for conversations. Where are you accessible: your website, your social media channel of choice, the telephone? Make it easy for customers to have a conversation if they want one.

Be worthy of conversations. Are you interesting enough that customers would talk about you outside of your presence? Your goal is to provide the spark of conversations, not to be a participant in all of them.

Be a business of relationships. Brand-to-people relationships are different than people-to-people relationships. Brand relationships are a combination of functional and emotional factors. The emotional factors between brands and people are equal parts perception and experience. That experience may include conversations, but most of the time it does not.

So relax, the pressure’s off. Just be an interesting business where people want to buy what you have, and talk about you when they leave. Some of those customers will want to have a conversation with you, but most won’t.

Additional Conversation Creation Resources:

Free Recorded Webinar: Creating Conversation – Harnessing the 3-Headed Messenger
Using the Customer Experience Formula to Create Word of Mouth
The Connection Between The Customer Experience and Conversation

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