This year's Ad-Tech, which I'm still attending, is very special. Most importantly, the first "keynote panel" of industry experts focused on an issue that rarely gets top billing at industry confabs: the art of conversation. This is an important shift in our collective industry "attention" and "engagement," and while we're all far from finalizing the perfect white paper or case study about managing relationships with consumers in this age of consumer control, we're finally starting to talk about it, and at minimum, ask the right questions. I was deeply honored to moderate this first diverse panel of industry experts, which included (right to left after me in the photo) Tom Asher of Levi-Strauss, Beth Thomas-Kim of Nestle, Jordan Warren of Agency.com, Todd Cunningham of MTV, and Rick Clancy of Sony Consumer Electronics. I was also thrilled to debate, discuss, and vet out all the relevant issues in several spirited meetings and conference calls before the actual event. (Key learning: the "conversation about the conversation" as as important as the end result.) You can skim various blogs (or Twitter feeds or see a superb cNet News story summary) that recap the panel, but what I'd like to do here is simply list the key question we probed and discussed. I truly believe every marketer needs to hit the white-board sooner than later on these questions.
- In what ways does Web 2.0 or the digital space expand the boundaries and opportunities of having meaningful conversations with consumers? Does it reinforce or add value to what we are currently doing?
- What makes conversations truly authentic and genuine? Is blogging the answer, or is it just an entry strategy? What's the right way of setting expectations with consumers?
- How do we keep conversation with consumers trusted and credible? In the age of consumer control, do we have a higher threshold to meet this torture test? What is the relationship between search and brand reputation, and how is 'conversation' impacting what shows up on the shelf? Can that be influenced?
- If conversation is king, is customer service or consumer affairs the new marketing? What's the true value of listening and being responsive to issues consumers raise directly to the brand? Nurturing loyalty and advocacy among enthusiasts? Garnering big insights?
- If we agree consumer affairs is a new centerpiece of managing conversations with increasingly empowered consumers, why is this group so divorced from marketing or media planning? How do we change that?
- How do we begin to train, or expand the wings, of customer service reps to embark upon these new conversations with consumers, even outside of the company's backyard? Who else should be involved? What's the right and appropriate way to enter a blog or online community and address or clarify an issue? Or is that even appropriate?
- Who should "own" the conversation among marketing stakeholders? Corporate Communications (Ricks' group), Consumer Affairs (Beth and Tom), the digital agency (Jordan), the research folks (Todd), or someone else? Or is that the wrong question? How do we use conversation and social media to soften corporate boundaries and silos?
- In what ways should employees be enrolled in conversational marketing? In what ways can their passion and credibility be unleashed? Are employees a more trusted ad channel? Can it go too far?
- What is the value of "internal" learning in this area? Can organizations become better primed to exploit the power of conversation, CGM, and social media through internal use of Web 2.0 tools, blogs, and beyond. What can internal networks borrow from consumer innovation?
- How does conversation impact the retail channel? What are Apple, Sony, and Levis retail store venues learning about the relationship between "service" and marketing. How does the consumer benefit from this mindset, both offline and online?
- Bonus Question: What can go wrong? What if every marketer jumps into the conversation? Nirvana or Spam 2.0? What happens if we lose consumer trust?
Many of these themes will be tackled at many levels -- and with finer levels of granularity -- at the upcoming Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) conference entitled WOMM-U. I provided background about this last week. Here's more info.
Other Ad-Tech Notes: Late last night, I was flattered to receive a special Ad-Tech industry achievement award. I dedicated it to my recently deceased father, William Blackshaw, who taught me all that can be good in advertising -- provided we keep it trusted and credible. Other industry achievement award winners included Rich Lefurgy and Kate Thorp, both of whom I deeply respect and admire. My message to the audience was that if we continue to keep the consumer right smack in the center of our radar, everyone wins -- always. I still think there are so many important issues we need to pro-actively address -- privacy, word-of-mouth ethics, ad intrusion, and more -- so while awards are appreciated (even humbling), we still have so much more work to do. But before we get too serious here, I'd be remiss not to direct folks to the full list of award winners, including "Elf Yourself," which swept three categories.