There’s so much talk over the last few years about conversations in marketing when I think a great deal of what still goes on are monologues infused with good listening data. Sure, we’ve embraced the listening side, but are we really letting our customers talk, really letting them suggest how they want to be served, or what they want to buy?
For this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I had a chance to visit for a bit with Doc Searls. Doc is senior editor for Linux Journal, alumnus fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University and co-author of the seminal work – The Cluetrain Manifesto with Rick Levine, Christopher Locke and David Weinberger.
In 2000, Searls and company painted the road map for what was coming only to have it high jacked to some degree by marketers that misinterpreted the manifesto as a foreshadowing of social media. When Cluetrain told the world that markets are conversations, they meant, I fear, that we as marketers should have an actual conversation and not simply listen and react in ways that tailored our marketing conversations to the research we are now able to obtain via social sharing. (Click on this search for “markets are conversations” and you’ll get an even grimmer sense of this.)
In Searls’ latest work, The Intention Economy, he returns to the notion of conversations but puts the onus and control firmly in the hands of the consumer and not the organization. A great deal of the work that Searls was engaged in at Berkman surrounding the notion of something that’s become known as Vendor Relationship Management or VRM.
VRM tools provide customers with both independence from vendors and better ways of engaging with vendors. The same tools can also support individuals’ relations with schools, churches, government entities and other kinds of organizations.Think of VRM as the customer-side counterpart of CRM.
This is where real conversations will happen because there is no other option. But more importantly this is where firms that embrace this way of thinking will get better at what they do, provide choices and options that customer actually want and service that is tailored to the individual needs of those engaged in the conversations.