Media Perspective: Talking to regular people is the future for brand marketing

It's almost ten years since the Cluetrain Manifesto declared that "markets are conversations". And the idea that interactive technology would help to turn marketing from monologue into dialogue was a cliche even then.

Yet for most of the alleged interactive revolution, not much changed. The idea of dialogue was mostly rhetorical: for all the talk of being interactive, consumer-centric and responsive, most communications were still top-down, one-way broadcasts.

The digital marketing revolution apparently consisted of lots of ways to distribute the same monolithic, unresponsive stuff. From microsites and mailing lists to ambient and banners, all the effort and imagination of the marketing innovators seemed devoted to discovering new ways to spam people with the same old rubbish. The interactivity and dialogue being offered was limited to clicking on some things and opting in or out of some others.

What changed everything was the arrival of millions of regular folk with their own voice and their own channels for talking. They didn't need brands to give them a place for conversation (which would have been odd, like demanding you go to a shop to have a chat), they found their own places to talk: on blogs, social networks, all over the place. And the digital discussion of brands, products and services acquired a new centre of gravity, away from the corporate marketing web and into the world of regular conversation.

That's the world we're now living in: a world where brand owners are increasingly left out of the conversation about their own brands. We thought we were going to host the party, but we've ended up trying to gatecrash theirs. Which means we've finally arrived in an age of genuine dialogue. If brand owners want to get involved in a discussion of their brands, they'll have to do it in a personal, direct, individual way.

Genuinely one to one, no longer one to many. No agencies, consultancies, intermediaries or spokespersons.

My favourite example is at icanhaz.com/timbuk2 - it's a comment from a chief executive on the blog of one of his satisfied customers. That's real conversation. A chief executive spending ten minutes a day talking directly to her customers via their blogs outweighs all kinds of marketing money: everyone in that company doing the same thing becomes a fantastic resource.

The Prime Minister's office has direct conversations with people via twitter.com/DowningStreet, so does Nasa's Mars Lander at twitter.com/MarsPhoenix; surely the average FMCG marketer could make an effort. All you'd need would be a little fluency with a few digital tools, an ability to talk honestly, interestingly and without jargon, and a company willing to trust you to speak on its behalf. It can't be that rare, can it?

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