conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue Marketing

A Tale of Two Meetings

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Collaboration in person and on paper

Meeting #1: The entire department was gathered at tables shaped into a horseshoe, to facilitate discussion. Twenty to thirty of us waiting for the director to come in and explain his vision. And his vision was that the creatives needed to become analysts. Art directors, designers, copywriters, production personnel—everyone an analyst. Everyone focused on metrics. Give away the creative to outside agencies.

The director talked for 30 minutes and then asked for questions.

Not a single question.

Meeting #2: The entire group was gathered at tables shaped into a horseshoe, to facilitate discussion. Twenty to thirty of us waiting for a series of speakers to come in and explain their vision. Speaker after speaker explained their vision, the metrics they used to decode that vision, and the outcomes they experienced.

Each of the seven speakers spoke for a few minutes and then paused and waited for responses. Then they spoke again and waited. The entire group learned quickly that each speaker truly sought interaction.

Every pause elicited questions. Tangents were followed despite time constraints. After all, the point was the responses.


In my social media marketing class we spend time talking about how to get interaction and comments from the communities we are building. At first it is discouraging for the students, their work feels like shouting treasured thoughts into a hillbilly hollering convention. Nearly impossible to be heard.

But gradually a few people show up at each student’s attempts. And we learned to treat comments from these few with great care: responding immediately. Thanking those who show up for reading. Engaging the thoughts of the people who showed up. Then the students learned to go visit others building similar communities and listen and comment. And soon they found their community growing (in the social world, people follow back those who show up). And they learned not just to put questions at the end of diatribe but to design pauses in the middle of their thoughts so people could respond. And they learned to break up a lecture into a series of engaging posts. And they learned to let their thoughts be shaped by what the people who showed up said.

Those two meetings had key differences: In Meeting #1 each audience member reported to the director so there was very little debate. Debate in that particular firm seemed not too far from mutiny. But in Meeting #2 (same company, oddly enough), the audience was composed of potential customers. And as each speaker spoke, they did their best work with verbal and body language to engage the audience. And each of the potential customers spoke freely, calling “BS” when they heard it, disagreeing vocally, undaunted by executive titles.

Our verbal collaborations point to our literate collaborations. Pauses in copy, short copy, even shorter copy, copy that talks about what people are interested in—all of these allow collaboration. But the key is how you think about the audience: do you really want their response? People are not stupid: they know when someone is lecturing. And lecturing is a sure-fire way to shut down collaboration.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

What Would a Thick Startup Conversation Look Like?

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Collaboration from the Get-Go

We’ve been tracing social technologies back to where they hit command and control cultures. But what if a startup determined from early on to fold in their customers—not just as buying machines but in limited partnership? A tweet from Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia) captured a poignant plea for healthcare startups to be truly collaborative. I am eager for the same thing.

Entrepreneurs who avoid collaboration may find themselves shunted off to the side.

A recent conversation with an agricultural/big data startup is a great example: they already have the Ph.D’s, the science and the published research papers in their pocket. That part is done. What they don’t have (yet) is the conversations with customers. Traditional marketing efforts might focus attention first on raising awareness, highlighting the problem farmers face and the benefit provided by the startup. That goal would be to get farmers to plunk down the cash for the startup solution.

But what if this startup began with thick conversations that pulled potential customers toward them? Certainly economic motivators would be part of the conversation. But a first-phase of talking and listening and talking and listening (typical conversation stuff) may grow the audience as well as provide clues as to the next steps for the startup. I think we routinely underestimate the power of being heard and the vision of building something together. Of course, this startup will need to decide just how far they will go in terms of partnering with conversational customers.

Their use of Facebook will be all about stimulating conversations. Only it will be for real—not a guise for just shouting marketing messages. Facebook would be the major communication vehicle for the short term. And movement would be powered by conversation.

What else would help a startup be collaborative from the get-go?



Why You Must Tinker with Your Social Media “Why?”

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Strategy is a fuse. You must light the fuse.

Say you’re writing a blog.

Any blog. Maybe…a blog where you want to get people to tell their stories (purely hypothetical example). Or this: maybe you are running a blog aimed at pulling in people looking for insights about what our national obsessions say about us, as told through the press. Again: pure theory. Just making this up. Both blog examples sound a bit vague—but that’s the groovy deal with social media: you try something and see what happens.

So, say you try stuff.

Say you fail.

But…you learn stuff. And you tune it up.

You go back to your original strategy document and realize: Oh! Our stories must be more than just well-told (though that is certainly the beginning point). They must pull people in with tight surprises or well-crafted morals. Or something. Because these stories are competing with Angry Birds and Facebook and actual paid work—all manner of distractions that keep people from reading our blog. So those stories gotta be good. They’ve got to be better in a way we’ve not quite yet devised.

And so your strategy evolves.

Congratulations: this is what forward movement looks like.

These are the questions any brand faces, with the added goal of trying not to devolve into a selling spiel. This social media world is no static, set-it-and-forget-it deal. It’s more like a living, breathing conversation in a room full of people constantly walking in and out. And for your brand to be heard, for your blog to be recognized, for your insights to be caught, you must continue to tighten the focus on who you are trying to reach and get better at laying out the right content for your target audience to feed on.

And this: there is an aspirational part to providing strategic content. I like how Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach says it in Content Strategy for the Web:

Aspirational: it’s a stretch for the organization, focusing on what you want to become ideally (not what you can feasibly do).

Content must paint a picture of who we are that is slightly in the future and slightly a wish list. Brands do this constantly, of course, which is why people buy BMW or Coke or Apple. They buy into the vision as they purchase the product.

How can we do that for the community we want to build with our blog content? It starts and continues with focused attention on what this audience needs, today, tomorrow and the next day. Our content must paint a picture of we can be at our best.

This will always be a moving target.



Create a Conversation Zone Today in 3 Steps

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Make Talk Work at Work

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a truly collaborative conversation at work, take some steps toward that today. Collaboration is starting to register on the radar of many leaders in organizations. Collaboration is the love-child of the free speech we tout in social media and the world of work. Collaboration is freed speech working its way backwards through organizations.

Create a conversation zone in 3 easy steps:

  1. Acknowledge the human in front of you. “What?” you may say. “That’s pretty obvious stuff.” Not so fast: how many times a day does your mind go dark when the janitor says something, or the clerk—or the boss? It’s the automatic assumptions that run ahead of those conversations that poison the water. Start with this basic thought and you may be able to strip away some of the power distance that ruins conversations before they even begin
  2. Listen with your eyes. Eyeball to eyeball. No listening happens when my eyes are focused on my Samsung Note II. Don’t fool yourself that you are listening—you aren’t. Not really. Multitasking does not count when it comes to human relationships. I’ve taught enough college students to know instantly who is paying attention, and 93.2% of that is eye contact (6.8% of students have mastered the art of eye contact while entirely absent).
  3. Expose yourself. Really: tell what you honestly don’t know and what you wonder. Stupidity is endearing when offered without guile. Be the stupid guy. Ask the dumb question. Let it be known that you don’t know.

Good things will happen if you take these three steps today.

Oh, and report back, will you? What happened in your conversation today?



Written by kirkistan

February 5, 2014 at 9:42 am

Chief Conversation Officer: So 2009

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Still…what if we armed someone with authority and charged them with getting us talking?12202013-tumblr_my0lh6gulW1qe0lqqo1_1280

Not just some C-level social media manager—I mean someone really interested in starting conversations throughout an organization and (especially) outside the organization. A sort of gadfly armed with an attitude and a purpose. That purpose would not be selling (it seems natural to put a garrulous salesperson in that position, doesn’t it?). The purpose would be collaboration. And the attitude? Open.

This chief conversation officer would not deploy monologue with all her contacts. Instead, she would be skilled in the art of the open-ended question. She would be relational and vulnerable.


But those are the building blocks of conversation.

Anyone intent on climbing through an organization will read those words and be repelled—“relational” and “vulnerable” represent the opposite of the power trip and pulling rank. Just think on the best, most productive conversations you’ve had and you’ll see you were free to say anything, you were pulled in by the enthusiasm of your conversation partner and by the crazy fun of participation. You were not worried about how you were coming across—which is the collateral damage of most boss-focused rhetoric.

The Chief Conversation Officer (CCO) will be a fearless talker and an optimist. He’ll be a mindful connector. He doesn’t know where the next terrific idea will come from. But he fearlessly pursues conversation with janitors and CEOs and middle managers and walks along with line workers to hear their concerns and ideas. The CCO is boundary-crosser and synthesizer: processing information from everywhere and spinning it into, well, gold.

Launching people left and right.

Sounds like a fun job.

And this: the Chief Conversation Officer could work effectively from nearly any actual position.

What if 2014 were the year of the Chief Conversation Officer?


Image credit: Ho-yeol Ryu via MPD

Marissa Mayer May Be Right: Show Up (How To Talk Series #1)

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You can’t talk if you’re not there.

With your colleague, maybe with your spouse when you left the house. Maybe your sister on the phone, the friend in London using Skype. Nothing happens when you don’t show up.

ShowUp-3-04222013Today we continually fine-tune our understanding of showing up: we show up with a tweet, with a blog post, with a telephone call. We show up by email (and sometimes our explanatory emails mark us absent). And then there is actual, physical, atoms and genes-on-the-scene showing up. But even that is not so clear, because despite standing here as you jabber, my mind is seated on the couch reliving that scene from Terminator (was it II?) where the semi-truck-trailer shoots off the bridge to land in the concrete spillway to continue chasing our heroes.

Maybe this is part of the “Why?” behind Marissa Mayer monkeying with the Yahoo! work-from-home policy—to help people be present:

Mayer defended her decision by first acknowledging that “people are more productive when they’re alone,” and then stressed “but they’re more collaborative and innovative when they’re together. Some of the best ideas come from pulling two different ideas together.” The shift in policy affects roughly 200 of Yahoo’s 12,000 employees. (reported by Christopher Tkaczyk, CNN Money)

I hope and believe collaboration and innovation are at least partially behind the Yahoo! change (which is to say, I hope the change is not a retrograde movement toward tighter control of knowledge workers and the corporate monologues they produce). There is some truth in the move: we cannot collaborate without being present. Also true: there are a lot of ways to be present when the collaborator is not physically there just as there are a lot of ways to be absent even while your carcass sits upright at a desk.

So today, choose to show up. Signal your decision with active listening skills. Refuse to be put off by anti-collaborative rants and power plays—say what you need to say to contribute. Refuse the director’s feigned emotion over this or that decision and tell the truth.

Show up today. It feels way better than hiding on the couch and watching your internal TV.


The Moving Horizon of Engagement: The New Yorker’s Nathan Heller on TED

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How to Boil Down Levinas?

help find a way

A recent issue of The New Yorker includes an excellent article on TED talks. On his way to explaining why the talks are so popular, Nathan Heller stumbles onto  the differences between our rituals of learning in college and how college is set up to support those rituals, and compares that with the kind of learning people need outside of college—the kind that keeps expanding rather than narrowing. Along the way he mentions in an offhand way how Levinas does not lend himself to a quick recap. One must do much preliminary work to begin to understand Levinas. Philosophy, especially phenomenology and theology are useful backgrounds to begin to understand Levinas. But only as a beginning.

The author of Conversation is an Engine is well familiar with this. As he tries to explain Levinas from time to time, blank stares and hasty retreats to other subjects are typical reactions. The French philosopher and apologist for The Other is famously obscure. And fascinating. But obscure.

Heller’s offhand remark reminds me that the bigger challenges ahead of us as communicators have to do with how we let people in on the details that engage us. Over at Big Picture Leadership there was a discussion recently about what it means to witness. That discussion reminded me of an ongoing conversation a few of us have had about what makes something remarkable, as in, making me remark out loud to another person because it was that important to me. In both cases there has to be an intensely personal connection for it to bubble up through our conscious mind and cross our lips.

If we are intent on rhetoric that draws others in (and I believe it is a most excellent thing to be a passionate booster for what we love and understand), than we are constantly providing low-hanging fruit for newcomers to grab and taste so they too will become enamored by the taste and want more. This is the horizon of engagement. That horizon is growing shorter and getting closer with every Google Search.

More sophisticated discussions will always have their place among practitioners and experts. But we’re quickly moving to the point where we each need to have a ready answer about our work, or firm, and what we believe.


Image Credit: Martin Morazzo via thisisnthappiness

How to Pitch a Medical Device Company #5: Be Amazed

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We had just hired a new advertising agency to help rejuvenate the brand of our chronic back pain therapy. I had been sitting in a meeting with several team members of the agency. After a couple hours where I and a few others described how the therapy worked and talked about the outcomes, the science behind it, the competition and the main messages and positioning, we broke for questions.

“Wow,” said the creative director. “That is cool. You guys are doing amazing stuff!” And between the lines that team communicated to me a kind of respect for the work our corporation had been doing.

Was this enthusiasm real or feigned? Yes. The agency had already been hired, so there was no need to pretend. And since advertising agencies typically run on enthusiasm, the comment was not unexpected.

But neither was it expected. Whether real or fake, their enthusiasm hit home. It was a refreshing meeting in a sea of corporate meetings ranging from dull to throat-slitting painful. Life in a medical device company—like most any company—can seem like slow-motion meetings followed by mad rushing to fulfill promises before the next slow-motion meeting. During that rush you forget your company does something exceptional.

I’ve sat on the other side too, where the product manager is telling details and showing outcomes. Even if they start subdued with facts and charts, their excitement grows as they talk through the story. A good creative team picks up on this excitement because it is contagious. New and possibly extraordinary things happen when every member of the team gets the contagion. But it cannot be an act: because feigned excitement is hard translate to the customer.

An amazed creative team can become a set of cheerleaders. This makes the internal champions of the product feel surrounded by allies—especially when the cheers are in the language their customers speak. But the amazement has to be real. The key is to find the amazing thing.


Image Credit: itsraininghens via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

July 2, 2012 at 5:00 am

What Makes Something Remarkable?

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Old Volkswagen Station Wagons never die.

In several classes at Northwestern College we’ve talked about what makes something remarkable, as in, “Hey, let me tell you about this thing I saw….” The Heath brothers tried to parse out the secret of remarkable in Made to Stick, and did a good job noting six principles that make something sticky. But in our Social Media Marketing and now in Freelance Copywriting classes, we’re noting “remarkable” is less science and more art.

Was this ad remarkable in 1966 when DDB’s Marvin Honig wrote it for Volkswagen? Maybe. It is remarkable now because of the nostalgic, iconic bus—just look at the shape of that thing! But for me it is the story telegraphed from inside the bus and at the center of the image: the small businessman waiting to sell you some chili. The copy plays out the story benefit by benefit. Sure—you know you are being sold, but you’re willing to walk right into the story for the 26 seconds it takes to read the copy.

The ad is remarkable in retrospect because of the place this vehicle took in American culture. The story is in the ad, and the story in the ad played out in real life. Surely “remarkable” has something to do with reflecting real life. That’s where things get sticky.

Read the copy here.


Via copyranter

Written by kirkistan

March 15, 2012 at 9:15 am

When Writing is More than Writing: The Idea Writers by Teressa lezzi (Review)

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Your invitation to a new way to persuade

As editor for Advertising Age’s Creativity, Ms. Iezzi has a daily, close-up view of the trends in the creative world and the people behind those trends. The surprise in the book comes with the affection Ms. Iezzi has for the discipline of copywriting and the practical nature for those seeking to grow in the discipline. It is readable, informative and filled with stories about advertising heroes and insights into current campaigns. I plan on using it as text in my next class on freelance writing.

Ms. Iezzi begins by framing the story of copywriting with a look at the ground-breaking work of legends like Bernbach, Ogilvy, Reeves and others back in the 1960s. Their work was fresh in relation to what was going on around them. Indeed that decades-old work formed the basis of many of our current communication trends. Ms. Iezzi uses the legends to reinforce the importance of storytelling, which these guys got right. Storytelling is the concept that best binds together The Idea Writers, as Ms. Iezzi issues a kind of challenge to today’s batch of copywriters to push into the new ways of communicating.

Two powerful notions emerge from The Idea Writers:

  1. Copywriting today is much more than only writing. Maybe writing was always more pure than writing. Today’s copywriters will sketch designs, draft scripts, work out the voices of a cartoon and a blog persona. They will pitch ideas because they are closest to the energy behind the idea and because organizations run much flatter. This book helps break through the silos that are already on their way down.
  2. Today’s copywriters help guide brand development following new methods of persuasion. In this new age, people buying stuff have unprecedented control of brand. Today’s copywriter recognizes the stories that honor the people doing the purchasing while smartly positioning the brand as a kind of conversation partner.

Ms. Iezzi’s book is the first copywriting book I’ve read that does justice to the emerging notion of the switch from corporate monologue to personal dialogue. The only lame part of the book came when she trotted out her personal list of tiresome cliché ad ideas. Her list of six included things we all instantly know, but to say those ideas will never work again seems like a challenge. The list also invalidates the notion that we beg, borrow and steal good ideas constantly—it’s just that those ideas are more or less recognizable in a different arena.


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