Elements of a Conversational Marketing Campaign
As with any marketing strategy, a comprehensive approach will generate far more results than putting all of your eggs into one basket. Following is a list of standard marketing strategies we’ve approached from the conversational marketing perspective:

Surveys: Get to know your customer first. Don’t make the mistake of assuming. Find out what they think about you. Discover their passions and needs. Determine what drives their buying decisions. Use this information to establish your key messages. Continue to query contacts often. If their perception changes, for the good or for the bad, you need to know about it. Plus, their positive remarks and suggestions for improvement are important indicators of what’s working and what’s not. To garner a high response, provide an incentive for completing the survey.

Message map templateMessage Map: Formalize your key messages in the form of a message map. A message map ensures everyone is speaking from the same page when it comes to company identity. It keeps the conversation consistent, boiling the company philosophy down to concise sound bites that communicate main points to be driven home to stakeholders. I call it the ‘song sheet’ that allows everyone in an organization to sing together in harmony. Ensure that everyone in your company, from the CEO to those on the front line, understands its significance and posts the map prominently in their personal space.

Special Events: Special events create a sense of involvement for the consumer and create a fresh news angle for the media, giving people something to talk about. On July 4th, hot dog purveyor Nathan’s hosts a hot dog-eating contest on Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y. The contest draws thousands of spectators and garners significant national and international media coverage every year. It has become a widely accepted Independence Day tradition. It allows consumers to connect with the company on a very personal, not to mention fun, level.

Media Relations: Humanize a company by telling the stories behind it through a trusted third party – the media. To generate results, provide a steady stream of targeted, newsworthy story ideas; be truthful and accurate; and be willing to give journalists direct access to company decision makers. We work with clients on a day-to-day basis to increase access between their organizations and the media. We see ourselves as liaisons between journalists and our clients. We realize that the media will not publish every bit of information we provide to them on behalf of our clients, however, the media knows that our clients are interested in a dialogue with them, and that we will work to get them the information they need on our clients in a timely manner to meet their often-urgent deadlines.

Public speakingFace-to-Face Contact: Politicians know the value of face-to-face contact. That’s why they make the rounds at parades and community events before election time. So what are you waiting for? Get your decision makers and company experts out there. Set up editorial board visits with targeted newspapers, and be ready for an open discussion about your company and industry issues. The next time the paper is looking for a resource, they’ll be more likely to turn to you. If there is a crisis, the credibility established at this face-to-face meeting could help minimize negative publicity. Journalists tend to be suspicious of those who hide behind spin doctors or prepared statements.

During television and radio interviews, special events, and press conferences, put key people front and center. Media training will give them the skills they need to handle it like a pro. Also encourage company representatives to actively participate in forums that give them direct contact with stakeholders. These include speaking engagements, industry-related conferences, and fundraising events supported by target audiences. Or, create your own forum. A new state economic development office director recognized he was not in touch with the local business community, so he proactively set up one-on-one appointments with key business leaders throughout the state to openly discuss how his office could better serve businesses. The rapport he established through these meetings set the framework for a very productive first year.

NMC Report exampleNewsletters: Newsletters sustain and strengthen customer affinity. Use them to introduce value-added information that can increase sales. The best newsletters are interactive, so be sure to include a call-to-action: invite readers to participate in a year-end sale, take first advantage of new product arrivals, or enter to win a prize. It’s also a good idea to give customers the opportunity to submit testimonials, questions, pictures and stories related to your product. Let’s face it; everybody likes to see their name in print. Also, don’t just send the newsletter to customers and prospects. Add on your vendors, employees, possible referral sources and industry partners. They all contribute to the word-of-mouth machine. Do all you can to get people talking!

Email: Email is a great way to continue contact with niche audiences without the expense of direct mail. Encourage customers to continue reading and receiving your emails by ensuring the content always provides an added benefit. Also, when you update your website with new information, email your customers. It will give them a reason to visit your site again and again. Every positive impression strengthens the relationship and your customers’ brand loyalty.

Websites’ High Impact: Websites offer interactive content driven by the customer’s needs and desires. By appealing to our practical and emotional sides, websites can be a powerful tool in building affinity. Good sites are well organized. They clearly and concisely convey a company’s identity and make it very easy for individual audiences to find what interests them. Innovative and interactive sites offer live chats, surveys, contests, forums, webcasts and the opportunity to sign up for an e-newsletter. These elements encourage return visits and generate interaction. However, if you don’t have the budget or time to maintain an extensive site, it’s better to stick with the basics. A website may have all the bells and whistles, but if it is not frequently updated and customer queries are not answered in a timely fashion, it’s more likely to end the conversation than keep it going. The most important thing is for people to be able to find your site on the search engines, and a basic site with well-written copy will help you achieve that goal.

Blogs, Forums & Social Media: Word-of-mouth drives the considerable influence of blogs, forums and social media. A blog is a journal-like website where an individual author submits entries on a given topic. Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has established a large cult following and a great deal of media attention with his posts on celebrity sightings and gossip. There are also thousands of blogs devoted to more serious topics – ranging from the latest technologies to world politics. Establishing a blog can help position you as an industry expert. Like an opinion piece or letter to the editor, it gives your stakeholders the opportunity to relate to your unfiltered point of view. Accepting questions and posting replies really gets the conversation going, the lynchpin of a successful conversational marketing campaign. It also gives direct access to an authority, building trust and affinity. Before you start a blog, however, be sure you have the time and energy to keep it updated and relevant. There’s nothing worse than an out-of-date blog.

Forums are open discussion boards to which numerous users contribute. Forums incite passion. Write into foodie forum Chowhound about virtually any culinary topic and you’ll have a lively on-line discussion on your hands. Establishing a forum gives customers an opportunity to generate excitement about your product.

Social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more, present a tremendous opportunity for businesses to have a conversation with their targeted audience. Choose one or two platforms that you know your audience follows, and make frequent posts focused on creating engagement. Ask questions and respond to comments; personalize your business so people get to know you. The Bangor, Maine, police department has a hugely successful Facebook page (258k followers) by posting stories about local happenings, police department activity, and their mascot, the Duck of Justice (DOJ).

Developing a forum or blog, or establishing a presence on social media does carry some risks. They each open the door to negative comments. If you’re not ready to take the risk, don’t enter the realm. However, allowing constructive criticism can lead to improvement and build trust. The key is careful monitoring. If a single negative comment receives no support from others, you may want to let it be. If the comment begins to gain momentum, it should be dealt with just as you would respond to a negative phone call, letter or editorial – respectfully offer to help resolve the discontent and take the conversation offline.

Emerging Technologies: New technologies are enabling people to receive only the news and information they want when they want to receive it. These include: wireless messaging, which broadcasts information via a smartphone; podcasts, which are audio or video files downloaded for playback on mobile devices and personal computers; and RSS feeds (RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication), which deliver headlined information summaries to web browsers or desktops. The challenge with many of these new means of communicating is establishing an audience. Start by querying existing contacts to create a subscription list. Build on the list by posting notices in your newsletter and on your website. Sending out a press release about the transmission and incorporating a newsworthy hook can also draw in new subscribers. To elevate interest, don’t forget the basics of conversational marketing. Invite feedback to your transmission and provide an email address and phone number for people to respond. Answer select queries on your website or as part of your next transmission.

Closing Thoughts
Conversational marketing, especially with the advanced technologies available, presents all businesses, from large corporations to small companies, with the unprecedented potential to attract, engage and motivate large numbers of customers on a highly individualized basis. It is also raising the bar in terms of product performance and customer service. Consumers are wiser and more demanding. When it comes to making a buying decision, they have more sources to consult, and the most trusted source is often other consumers. Marketing strategists can harness the power of conversational marketing to get a pulse on consumer needs and desires. They can use it to weigh the effectiveness of promotional initiatives and programs. However, true success is contingent upon the authenticity of the brand and the quality of the product they represent.

Conversational marketing is not about controlling the message. Successful conversational marketers start out with a strong brand and a great product. They gain market share and establish affinity by empowering consumers and giving them an active role in the process.