Conversation Marketing: The Conversation is the Thing

Christine Fife

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Sponsored Conversations: Just as “Unreal” as “Reality” TV

Today people seem to recognize that reality TV isn’t really all that real

The rise of reality TV shows over the past decade has continued to draw a steady stream of viewers, yet today, people seem to recognize that reality TV isn’t really all that real. The fact that the camera is there and the participants know it, has an impact on how they act. Shows need to fit into their allotted time slots, so a lot of editing alters the reality of the situations that are viewers see. The fact that the situations are contrived by TV producers to begin with means it isn’t a real scenario anyway.

In the business world, it seems to me that “sponsored” conversations are just as unreal.

Recently, one of my favorite marketing industry influencers, Chris Brogan (@chrisbrogan) wrote a post titled As Marketing Shifts Back to the Everyman. I regularly read Chris’ blog, so I would have read this anyway… but when I saw the titled in my RSS feed I thought it might be about some type of shift in how companies are becoming more moral in their marketing. Having gotten a BA in Theater before my master’s in marketing, when I read Everyman in the title, I assumed it was a reference to the 15th century morality play of the same name.

Uh, I was wrong, but the post wasn’t too far off talking about morality in marketing. Well, maybe not “morality,” exactly, but morality as defined in one meaning: The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct. Chris’ post covered his thoughts on marketing’s shift from impersonal interactions in favor of more personal communication.

“Marketing is shifting away from impersonal interactions and back towards the more effective world of word of mouth. Blended with the world of word-of-mouth, however (or maybe more accurately, I should say that word of mouth is only one tool in the bag), are sponsored conversations. Ted Murphy just recorded a video about these recently. The only difference is that in one, things happen a bit more organically. In the other, there’s a bit of a push (which usually involves money or a product or a service changing hands).

To me, they’re like a driver and a putter (not that I play golf). Getting people to pay attention in this saturated market is requiring more and more creative marketing. I, for one, see that to be content marketing. But once you get onto the green (or in the financial sense, the case to earn some green), I think word of mouth is the more finesse-level tool. Make sense”

Chris’ post started out by explaining that he is sent a lot of products to try out because companies recognize that he’s an influential online persona who is highly likely to blog about a product he likes and his audience reach is vast so a company can be sure many people will see a post written by Chris and some people will even pass it on to others.

I suppose Chris was making the connection between products he tries out and blogs about and “sponsored” conversations because he sees the act of a company sending him the products to try as “sponsoring” the conversation about that product. One of the reasons I trust Chris as an influencer is because I know he believes in transparency. He would never endorse anything that he personaly has a stake in without being totally explicit on his involvement with that company/product/person, etc.

I disagree that this is “sponsored” conversation in the market place. I think it’s just a good tactic for a company to do. It’s actually very risky, far more risky than other marketing sponsorships may be. If the influencer doesn’t like the product, they could easily blog about that. Also, in the case of someone like Chris, the readership will know that Chris isn’t randomly sharing his thoughts on a product just because. Here’s where the reality TV connection comes in. The fact that Chris was sent the product by the company changes the reality of how he might think about it and/or whether he’d actually share that info with anyone.

If Chris went through a purchase process of his own to find a product to fulfill a want or need and then he recommended that product on his blog, that would be an organic conversation moment. But perhaps he doesn’t really need a new product to fulfill a want or need, but a company chooses to send him something to try out. If he likes it, great, but would he have ever even looked for it if they hadn’t sent it to him? Would he be as inspired to write about his enthusiasm for the product if he had gone through a painstaking purchase process? The product may be awesome, but what if the buying experience sucked? He wouldn’t know because reality of needing/wanting something, finding out what best fulfills that want/need, and going through a purchase process is altered for him.

Just food for thought.

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More Stories By Christine Fife

As I drove off to college I never would have guessed I would end up here! But it’s been a fantastic journey. My career has been richly diverse giving me an advantage over marketers who are siloed into niche positions. I strive to be a true Renaissance person—I love to learn about everything and trying new things comes naturally. My career has been no different; I’ve successfully launched enterprise software and medical device development startups, improved communications processes for the regulatory department of a major financial exchange, increased client business and product development for several international exchange program companies and founded an international educational non-profit organization. My master’s degree in Integrated Marketing from Golden Gate University gave me a broad understanding of traditional marketing best-practices, but my BA in theater gave me the skills to understand how people communicate with one another and the importance of promoting a brand in a voice that is right for the audience.