A few old model marketing die-hards still point at content marketing and say “It’s just PR”. They are wrong of course, but it’s academic now anyway.

What matters now is we understand that we all think, socialise and work in very different ways than we did just a few short years ago. It’s one of the legacies of the Internet and like it or not, there’s no going back. Today marketing is about conversations.

Cross-platform conversations

The conversations that form the basis of all our personal relationships are conducted across media. Throughout your day you bump into people you know in all kinds of places and it’s the same in the virtual world. There, you’ll have conversations with them on FaceBook, maybe migrate to quick asides on Twitter or Instagram and when you have something complicated to explain you’ll move to e-mail or, heaven forbid, a face-to-face conversation or phone call? The conversations that form the basis of our relationships with brands (I call these “brandships”) work in just the same way and it’s the conversation not the medium that’s the focus..

Engaging with, not selling at

Old Model Marketing communication was also one-sided, about telling customers and consumers what you wanted them to know. Today marketing communications are real conversations, open-ended, two-way, dialogue, getting to know each other. It’s not necessarily driven by consumers as is often said either. Both parties are equal in a brandship, but what separates pros from amateur content marketers is the ability to keep the brand promise in sight and build in subliminal sales messages and brand prompts.

A new approach to sales

The dominant feature of a traditional sales role has always been persuading someone that they need what you have to offer. It’s an approach that’s a slap in the face compared to today’s subtle art. Today, business is about building trust by forging relationships with the objective of understanding what customers want and delivering it to them.

You won’t build relationships by talking about yourself all the time and it’s the same with brandships. The conversations you should be having with your targets will cover a variety of subjects representing your shared interests. If it’s BtoC the subject matter will be wide-ranging. For BtoB it will be more business focussed. I have been working with a perfume manufacturer and our subjects have included gifting, travel profiles on places like Provence in France where a lot of perfume is made, high fashion handbags, shoes, a profile of a perfumer … you get the idea. Right now I’m working with a business that makes management platforms for shipping companies and our subjects lines are about new docks, profiles of high profile shipping personalities and industry innovations.

While all of this is going on the sales process has also morphed into a two-way street, with customer’s needs identified and communicated to the folks within the organisation who produce the solutions (products) so that they can fine-tune their offer. It’s complex, it’s subtle, it’s marketing and, at the centre of it all there is always conversation

It’s not about the medium

Thinking about these conversations in terms of media or disciplines will get you nowhere, Digital, PR, social, broadcast, print and the rest are just the forums. It’s the conversations that matter and a marketer has to move between media as their targets do. It’s not as simple as being media agnostic either. Today’s marketers have to be experts in all media. Yes, the marketing role is far more demanding than it used to be.

Be interesting or shut up!

Of course, if your conversation is boring or full of rubbish you’ll fail to engage people, whatever environment you are operating in. On this point too the competition is hotting up. Many marketers make the mistake of thinking that if they are in the right place their job is almost done, in fact, this is often far from the truth. If you are boring or talk rubbish in a busy place you’ll just let a lot of people know how boring or dumb you are. These days your content has to be meticulously produced, relevant and impactful. Fail on any of these points and you are wasting time, effort and money. No, its worse than that. If you are missing any of these points you will probably be damaging your business, so you are almost certainly better off staying quiet!

First published on LinkedIn February 2015

Phil Darby
August 2, 2018

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