Speak Like a Person!

Can Marketing People do it?[tweetmeme source=”Marcio_saito” only_single=false]

From the spirited and visionary Cluetrain Manifesto, first published in print in 2000:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.

More than 10 years later, reality catches on with vision and markets have turned into conversations outside the control of companies, enabled by social media (PR expert Brian Solis has declared “Ladies and Gentlemen, the conversation has left the building”).

Empowered customers, both consumers and businesses, are well informed and connected. They are not dependent on marketers to obtain product information and often know about the product and the competitive landscape better than the vendor itself.

Customers cannot be easily manipulated. Marketing-speak doesn’t move us anymore. Consumers can see through it and understand the intention and motivations of corporate marketing. Besides knowing Marlboros won’t turn us into rugged cowboys, we understand why marketers tried to make that association. Further, consumers don’t even care to pay attention anymore.

The paper-printed word creates formality.  Its unidirectional nature implies communication from an expert to a broader audience receiving information without the opportunity to interact. It is natural to use language distinction as a symbol of that separation.

In the digital medium, the conversation focus shifts towards interactive peer-to-peer communication and collaboration. The marketer no longer has control over the ears and eyeballs. To engage in that conversation, the marketer needs to listen first, then dispense messages that resonate with the community.

In this new environment, listening and speaking like a person to talk to people becomes essential to marketers who want to connect and be heard. (if I was not thinking about marketing-speak, I might have written this last sentence as “using a human voice to interact with and influence the prospect”)

Being able to handle both positive and negative feedback with honesty, integrity and transparency (this last one being the hardest), to react to customer feedback in real-time. Those are new challenges.

A few days ago I saw an advertisement from Oracle/Sun. It was a “product comparison” ad, with pictures of a server from Sun compared to an IBM followed by a checklist and specs table. The copy read: “our goal is to design really fast computers, their goal is to create intelligent planets”.

I had a good laugh seeing Oracle poke fun at IBM’s “Building a Smarter World” tagline. But Oracle was also using the technique of comparing apples to oranges (the still-to-be-released Sun server was being compared with a 3-year old IBM server). Does Oracle think disclaiming it in very small font keeps users from noticing the manipulation?

Look at this paragraph taken from the website of a random IT vendor.

What sets the successful IT operations apart from the rest is how they manage a fluctuating environment. How they bring control to the chaos. How they ensure they’re an indispensable contributor, rather than an annoying hurdle, to helping their organization achieve business goals.

Now, look at the website of any IT vendor. You will find very similar scramble of words (complexity, need to take control, achieve business goals). Do buyers actually read that or do their eyes glaze and relegate the message to noise?

Marketers are faced with a complex dilemma: use marketing-speak or talk like a person? Leverage overcooked industry language to describe their products or just say what it is? Do you sell based on what it is or try to create the perception of a bigger problem?

They need to participate in the conversation, engage and connect. They are after a new generation of consumers and buyers who grew up under the influence of the digital medium. But they still face the pre-conceptions of the past, where the “corporate voice” is not like regular people’s voice.

Can Marketing People do it?

This article was originally written for and posted at  http://www.theclickcompany.com

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