Do brands overestimate the degree to which consumers want to have a conversation with them?
Do brands overestimate the degree to which consumers want to have a conversation with them?
A view from Staff

Do brands overestimate how much consumers want a conversation with them?

We asked six leading marketers whether they believe brands are guilty of a lack of creativity in their mobile marketing.

Jon Goldstone, Vice president, branding-building, foods and ice cream, Unilever

I only enjoy talking to people who have something interesting to say. I only share something I've heard if someone says something remarkable.

It's the same with brands. It seems to me that a lot of brands think that they have something interesting to say when they don't. When they interrupt, they come across as boring and annoying - two brand attributes best avoided.

In my portfolio I have some brands with big personalities that have some really interesting things to say: think of Ben & Jerry's. It's no coincidence that these are the brands with high levels of social engagement.

Steve Ackerman, Managing director, Somethin' Else


You can't overestimate how important the conversation with consumers is. However, like any conversation, the chat is only good if you have an engaging personality and something interesting to say.

Too many brands mistake corporate messaging for conversation. It's not. It's the equivalent of sitting next to the pub bore who wants to talk only about himself. Brands that take the time to define their personality and have the confidence to express that through social media will succeed in using conversation to develop a deeper relationship with the consumer.

This means having something to say of worth to the consumer, being willing to converse with him or her and, like any friend, expressing humour, empathy or interest in the right amounts.

Martin Moll, European marketing director, Honda


There's always a risk that brands believe customers want to engage with them with the same level of frequency and passion that has gone into the creation of the content itself.

Of course, the degree to which consumers want conversation is very dependent on the subject matter and the timing sensitivity (need vs desire-led). The common dilemma facing brands is that, often, communications may be related to what they want to talk about, in the format and frequency of their choosing, and usually based on the proposition that it will achieve their business goals (a sale).

However, it's clear that consumers do want conversations with brands, but the ultimate role of brands is to try to find ways to create a genuine sense of relationship, where consumers are understood, respected, valued, appreciated and, just as in real life, given space when they want it.

Matt Pye, Chief operating officer, Cheil 


We can all be guilty of overestimating how interesting we are, and brands are no exception. Any conversation that becomes about 'me, me, me' rapidly becomes tiresome.

Effective brand conversations have to be relevant, interesting, engaging or informative. Tick these boxes and you have a chance of keeping consumers' attention. But brands shouldn't fool themselves that high numbers of Twitter followers or Facebook fans make them riveting raconteurs.

People happily sign up for competitions and offers, but are they engaged? It is tough to get consumers to engage in a conversation, except in the area of customer service, where brands need to be on their mettle. Elsewhere, people now respond with a 'like', 'favourite' or 'share'. Maybe that's enough and we need to redefine what a conversation is. Ten years ago, brands would've killed for such instant affirmation.

Mark Trinder, Sales director, commercial and online, ITV

We all know a conversation should be a two-way communication, but some brands fail to recognise this. Pushing messages that don't engage the consumer in a natural and ongoing conversation often fails, meaning certain platforms can end up looking like they exist only to push out advertising messages.

Clearly there are some brands and services that can thrive in two-way conversations if they're genuinely looking for feedback and insights. Brands in key service categories such as utilities, financial and travel probably feel more natural in such conversations, whereas food and non-food FMCG staples often look forced if they're not clever in their tone and offer.

Such conversations need to be human, flexible, topical and engaging, and, as TV is a natural conversation-starter, it's a great place for brands to become part of that conversation.

ITV hosted the first ever Twitter-only vote during this year's BRIT Awards. It was the most-tweeted-about TV transmission ever, generating 4.1m tweets.

Justin Cernis, Founder, The Cernis Collective 


The question is about connectivity and the value of those connections (for customers as much as brands), so the answer is 'maybe', because it depends what type of brand-owner or manager you are.

If you worship at the altar of 'likes' and believe you are connected on that basis, then you are guilty as charged. Business is largely about managing change, and to do that knowing 'who' your best customers are - and, more importantly, 'why' they are - is critical management information.

What businesses don't listen to their customers? (OK, I could name a few.) But do customers want a conversation with brands? I think they do, at the right time, in the right place. So, on that basis, the answer is 'no'. As a potential value-driven route to market, meaningful customer conversations are critical and actually need fostering.

Follow the debate online

Each month The Forum questions members of The Marketing Society on a hot topic. For more on membership, visit

Read next

OMG don't read this

The fourth wave of content marketing