CocktailsConsider this scenario: You arrive at an after-work cocktail party. You see Joan from the office heading in your direction. Mark, another co-worker, walks in behind you. Who do you speak to first?

From past experience, you know Joan will talk about her winning golf game, her genius son, and the long hours she’s been putting in for the company. You also know her eyes will be scanning the room throughout the conversation. Mark, on the other hand, will ask about your family. Both of you love travel, and the two of you could trade trip stories for hours. Mark will listen to your thoughts and opinions with interest. He won’t rush through the conversation. You will choose Mark. He is a good conversationalist. Good conversationalists engage you. They pay attention to what you have to say. Today’s best marketers follow the same practices.

It’s called “conversational marketing.”

Conversational Marketing Basics
Successful conversational marketing strategists establish a give-and-take relationship where both the marketer and the consumer share information and realize benefits. The basic principles of conversational marketing success are simple:

  • Listen and React
    Consumers value companies that care about their interests, just like they value a good conversationalist. Savvy marketers take the time to get to know the needs and desires of their prospects by going directly to the source. They respond with value-added services, benefits and promotions that directly appeal to those needs and desires.
  • Enlighten
    Conversational marketing is about dialogue, and consumers want to know there is substance behind your brand, in other words, that the people behind the brand care about their thoughts and opinions. By openly providing information on company history, background on company leaders, philanthropic and volunteer endeavors, and the like, businesses foster a connection with their customers. This connection equates to loyalty, trust and repeat business. It’s a lot like relationships between people. We place a higher value on relationships with those that offer a common bond, who are genuinely interested in us, and who openly share things about themselves.

Modern Day Marketing and the General Store
Conversational marketing is not new. It is an age-old technique that has been re-energized thanks to the need to reconnect with a skeptical public jaded by traditional mass marketing. Think back to the days of the general store. These one-stop shops were once the center of activity in rural towns throughout America. A general store was the place to go to purchase everyday necessities and to trade a little friendly gossip. The store owner knew all of his customers by name. He stocked his shelves based on their specific needs. Before there was direct mail or telemarketing, the general store owner had perfected the art of conversational marketing.

The proof of this success is evident today. I live in Maine, and we are lucky enough to still have traditional general stores in nearly every town. Though you might save a few dollars by going to the nearest grocery chain, most of us still prefer to pick up our sundries at the local general store, where they still call all their regulars by name. My local store sells Pepsi products, not Coca-Cola. They have an exclusive arrangement with the Pepsi distributor. However, the store owner has a ‘secret stash’ of Coke products out back in his walk-in cooler. He knows that I prefer Coke over Pepsi so he told me just to ask for Diet Coke whenever I come in, and either he or one of his employees will get one for me. He cares about me, and he cares about providing me with the brand that I want. I am loyal to him and his general store for that reason.

In the next installment of this article, we’ll discuss the power of people in the marketplace.