At least since publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto, with its meme that markets are conversations, observers noted the importance of what customers say about a brand, online and off — but especially those online. However, a somewhat subtler point from Cluetrain is increasingly relevant to brands and social media. The point was made in the book’s Thesis 39: “The community of discourse is the market.” In fact, the thesis actually consists of several ancillary ones:
34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
35. But first, they must belong to a community.
36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.
39. The community of discourse is the market.
53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.
56. These two conversations want to talk to each other . They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices. (my emphasis)
57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
These observations are almost ten years old. Cluetrain’s authors offered a preview of how innovations such as Web 2.0 and social media provide the basis for bringing the two conversations together in dialogue, as a community of discourse. In a couple of posts several years ago I noted the importance of looking at customer experience and product/service innovation from the point of view of dialogue. The increasing maturity and diffusion of social media over the ensuing years makes it clear that a dialogue strategy provides a coherent framework for communications, whether addressing collaboration, innovation, marketing, sales, support, or branding. The key to the process is understanding customers, attracting them, engaging them, and learning from them to improve products and services, thereby strengthening your brand.
As noted in our discussion of the engagement gap:
listening strategies alone, though useful in understanding the interaction of an organization’s brand with participants in the groundswell, are most effective when the organizations plan how to act on what is learned. In other words, closing the engagement gap also means learning from the customer’s experience with your brand.
Gerald and Lindsay Zaltman add an additional insight in Marketing Metaphoria that builds on the groundswell point. They note that,
Consumers develop brand loyalty because the product consistently delivers what it promises and it resonates emotionally.
The Zaltmans contend that making a product resonate emotionally involves a reciprocal process between the company and the consumer. Discussing their own research findings, they note:
When asked, many loyal consumers did not feel that the company or the brand reciprocated their own commitment. While consumers may continue to use those brands and thus, by some standards, be deemed loyal, the loyalty is fragile…Companies cannot simply offer quality products, because competitors can always emulate a quality product. Companies must convey that they have the consumer’s best interest at heart.
An experience design strategy that aims to increase brand loyalty and retain customers is more likely to succeed if it displays its own loyalty towards customers, and employees, in all its processes by consistently following through on its promises. Strategists increasingly recognize that listening to customers, engaging them in dialogue, and acting on what is learned lies at the heart of experience design’s relevance to brands, customers, and social media. It makes the design of dialogue strategies an essential resource for companies to mold their brands through developing an emotional connection with customers.
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