Markets are conversations… so what?

Despite the old ‘markets are conversations’ mantra being so well used nowadays, many organisations (particularly big ones) are still struggling to get to grips with its true meaning and what they should actually do about it.

The long and short of it is that at any given time there will be a bunch of customers out there who want to talk to you and about you. Sometimes they’ll want to complain that the product they bought was the wrong size, wrong colour, broke after a day’s use… sometimes they’ll want to praise you and thank you for such incredible service. Sometimes they just want to know when their package will arrive or when the next software release is due out.

The obvious change in recent years impacting the frequency of conversations is the ease with which anyone can share their thoughts via social channels (today it’s YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, blogs… tomorrow something else). Reducing barriers to conversation has set the advocates free. Now everyone can share what they care about. The downside for those with something to hide is the fact the same tools have set the detractors free too.

Now that people have a platform through which their voice can be amplified, success in enabling advocates and pacifying detractors hinges on two key principles.

1. Your biggest influencers are early adopters, so focus on them relentlessly. The rest of the curve is really good at ignoring you, so don’t waste your resources. Instead listen to and converse with the early adopter crowd and they’ll market to the rest on your behalf, at no extra cost.

2. If your product or service is crap, the detractor conversations will be happening right now whether you like it or not. Priority one is to fix your product/service and priority two is to join in the conversations. Or you can flip this and start talking to the outside world openly about how exactly to fix your product/service (but you better be prepared when the floodgates open). It’s vital to tell the truth. Given it’s out there anyway, you can build trust by ‘fessing up; or destroy it by ignoring the obvious or by pumping out generic PR.

So when we say ‘markets are conversations’, if you interpret that as ‘a bunch of people want to talk to us and we should enable that’, you’ll be on the right track.

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