The advent of social media and online publishing has dramatically highlighted the importance of understanding the mechanics of the two-way conversation between a brand and the consumer.
This is nothing new and should have been the absolute fundamental component of any marketing communication, but because virtually every marketing communications medium – particularly above the line advertising – consisted of a one way conversation, not many strategists and copywriters worried too much about consumer response simply because there wasn’t any.
But now social media is leading the way in demonstrating how important it is to compose a message with extreme care and a lot of psychology to ensure the conversation goes the way that it is supposed to.
This doesn’t matter whether it is Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Mxit, radio, TV or print advertisements. Quite simply, the consumer has now got so used to responding to messages that no longer do they simply accept an advertising message, commercial SMS, or tweet, for example, but sub-consciously reply without possibly even realising that they are replying. Talking back has become an consumer imperative.
What happens in effect, is that the basics of human communication are now major influencing factors in marketing and subsequently impact heavily on traditional mass media.
The first thing we should know about human communications is that mankind is particularly bad at it. The ‘broken telephone’ game demonstrates just how we are more often than not reading something completely different to that we are hearing or reading. Wars, divorces, fist fights and so on are mostly the result of misunderstandings and the inability of human beings to communicate. We’re worse even than amoeba and far, far behind apes, slugs and all manner of slimy things.
In every conversation there are keywords that act as triggers. And when these triggers are activated in the mind of the consumer, the conversation stops right there and a reaction takes place.
In my various weekly online columns where readers have the facility to respond to what I have written, it has been quite fascinating over the past four years that I have been collecting trigger data, how often someone will stop reading after one or two paragraphs and start responding. Quite clearly, because some word or group of words has triggered something and brought a stop to reading any further.
The same applies to all forms of advertising today. Actually, every form of communication. Just keep an eye open next time you are having a conversation with someone and you will see precisely the moment when some phrase or word you use will activate a trigger. You will see quite clearly through fairly obvious body language that the person to whom you are talking simply stops listening and starts composing a response. Some are polite and wait for you to finish, others just butt in.
Successful social media marketing and increasingly, above the line advertising, will have to be very carefully composed in terms of identifying all possible triggers. Not only from the point of view of causing a negative response but most importantly, using these very triggers to motivate a positive response from the consumer.
These triggers have been part and parcel of marketing and particularly its advertising constituent since forever. Words like ‘new’, ‘improved’, ‘best’ and so on. We’ve all spoken ad nauseam about the magic component that sparks a call to action or desire to purchase. It is what has made aspiration such an incredibly important part of marketing.
But now, those triggers that would quietly motivate consumers to take some sort of action are simply simply not quiet anymore. They’ve moved from the equivalent of the really slow movements of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto to the part where the live cannons go off.
Marketing communications is not a one way street anymore and it is vital that one chooses words very carefully to avoid consumers responding to a negative trigger and getting completely the wrong end of very expensive mass media sticks.
The best place to start this process, by the way, is to remember always that the fundamental of marketing is not about what you want to say but what your customer wants to hear.
Do it the other way round and those triggers will go off faster than the gunfight at OK Corral.
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