by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

It's very likely that we're going to hear lots more in 2008 about the magic and glory of endless conversation. I'm going to suggest that we might see just the opposite start happening or, if not, that we should.

It's a sexy proposition, this idea of incessant sharing, swapping, forwarding, and incrementally adding or subtracting from someone else's somethingoranother. Communication is one massively infinite combination soap box, rumor mill, and chain letter; with no objective reality or truth to consider, everything and anything is an infectious meme, nothing more. 

More of it is therefore good for brand marketing, because it's awareness. And we already have buzzwords for the phenomenon -- social media, viral marketing, word-of-mouth -- and a fast-evolving eco-system for helping clients spend money on such digital activities, and then feel good about doing so. 

We should expect more in 2008. Better, faster, more pervasive ways to converse and share. Lots of marketing budgets earmarked to prompt or contribute to conversations. 

I say maybe we should be figuring out how to stop them. Conversations, that is. 

It's so easy to be cavalier and recommend that brands throw money at a phenomenon that never concludes, ends, or resolves. You'd think that it would be a guarantee for billings and fees (who'd dare stop doing the hip, easy thing?). 

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that riding that gravy train might get a little bumpy in 2008. 

At some point, conversations have to result in behaviors, right? Getting eyeballs to a web promotion is no different than counting viewers of a broadcast media ad (funny how we tend to use the same measures, to make it easier for clients to spend their money).

There's still this giant gap...a chronology of events that we hope lead to purchase, but over which brand marketing takes little responsibility. Conversational media makes this chronology more complicated, important and, oddly, easier to understand, if anybody tries.

But if we stop at the conversation itself, we're missing the point. Forgetting to consider a real payoff.

If pointless engagement with digital media provides no more tangible benefit to the bottom line than the vague awareness and intent of the analog advertising it replaces, we've just renamed a problem, not solved it.

I say maybe we should be figuring out how to solve the problem of linking brand spending with consumer behavior. One of the places we could start is in strategizing how to conclude conversations, not just diving into them. 

  • Think about where conversations lead
  • Where do the participants go after they've conversed, and what actions (not just comments) do they influence next?
  • How can brands participate in conversations about reality -- motivating facts and opportunities -- and not just about themes or topics relevant to brand attributes?
  • What does the brand do to preserve the connection made via conversation, and migrate it to purchase? 

I'm guessing that we'll see more thinking this coming year about how to finish conversations. And perhaps that'll enable us to better monetize them. 

And if we don't see it, I suspect we might see some visionary clients start questioning the merits of endlessly purposeless conversations.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/12/2008-prediction.html

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