Let’s talk brand, shall we?


Over on CNET, Elinor Mills appears to have been wildly unimpressed with the conversational marketing summit. While there’s some interesting stuff to chew on in what she has to say, I’m surprised and a little taken aback by how aggressively Mills rejects the idea that brands are conversations:

And what’s this with the slogan of the conference—”Brands are conversations”? No, they aren’t.

The phrase “brands are conversations” is shorthand. Unpack the catchy soundbite a bit and you get something like this: the tools of mass communication are no longer limited to one-to-many broadcast, but rather support a many-to-many network. Furthermore, that network undercuts companies’ ability to “own” their brands as they could in a purely broadcast world.

Thirty years ago your company had the only megaphone in the room, and it could drown out conversations. Today? Well, you’ve still got that megaphone, but people are sitting in that room browsing the Web and texting one another as you talk. And it’s good odds that they’re talking about you and your dumbass megaphone.

Put in the most mercenary terms, “brands are conversations” acknowledges that people are getting input regarding your brand from a lot of sources that aren’t you these days, and that your best chance at shaping your brand now comes from listening to—and then trying to work with or gently guide—that public exchange.

Failed marketing stunts like the ill-fated Chevy Tahoe campaign that Mills cites are a dramatic expression of this dynamic, but it’s something that happens much more quietly every single day. The idea that companies even have the option of not “giving Internet users a way to ‘interact’ with a brand” is absurd.

Just go ask Sony. Or Microsoft. Or Noka