Is the “Age of Conversation” Coming of Age?

It’s a bit like that ‘fool me once…’ adage: When the second observation showed up this week, I started wondering if this is a trend. Then I realized it’s inevitable.

There are few people left (at least among those with internet access) that would dispute that, in the past decade or so, technology has changed the way we interact with and relate to each other. Whether you call this the ‘Age of Conversation’ or refer more generally to the social media/social networking trends, it’s been clear for some time that the skills of technology have been applied to the art of human relationships, and how those relationships manifest has changed.

Another point that few would argue is that the social media/social networking phenomenon has changed the way corporate – actually, all – marketers see the world and related to and communicate with their target audiences. Even the simple use of the phrase ‘communicate with’ in the previous sentence is symptomatic of the change – 15 years ago I would have said ‘communicate to.’

I found it interesting when two unrelated experiences began to triangulate (yes, I’ll still need a third to fully triangulate – care to offer one in the comments?) on these ideas.

  1. Over an otherwise social dinner, a friend who is a successful CMO told me he’s thinking of leaving his position to start an agency. When I pressed him for the reason he wanted to do this after many years working in corporate organizations, he said ‘Marketers have forgotten how to market.’ He explained (and I mostly agree) that most marketers have become so caught up in the social media trend and have focused on a long list of not-well-developed-conventional-wisdom approached and tactics, that some of the fundamentals – like knowing how to segment a market, understand basic customer needs, and focusing on messages (read: content) that is of critical interest to your customers and prospects – have been lost in the shuffle, or worse, forgotten.
  2. I watched a Tom Peters video that talked about the importance of being able to write well and coherently (you can judge for yourself if I’ve mastered that skill). Yes, the very same Tom Peters who is always ranting about big strategic ideas and the importance of challenging the status quo, is now talking about a very basic skill in which most of us became at least moderately proficient in high school. His explanation for this is that in the age of quick e-mails, facebook statuses (statii?) and Twitter, where writing is reduced to the fewest characters possible and sentence structure gives way to compact meaning, being able to communicate well and coherently is still a highly valued skill. In fact, good communication – including written – skills are critical for business success (his new book, in fact, focuses on the importance of the so-called ‘little things’). I would add that for marketers, being able to express yourself well rather than briefly (in most cases), makes it more likely that your audience will understand your message.

A return to fundamentals is the core idea that ties these two observations together. Good marketing is, well, good marketing, no matter the tools, channels, media or relationships. The core elements of understanding how to relate to your audience and how to get a message across in a way that is compelling and results in action (presumably buying, but not always), along with the rest of the basic marketing tenets, are still the things we must do right every day to make sure that, whether in old or new or social media, we can be effective communicators. The same is true of the basic skill of written communications (admit it, you love reading blogs – obvious, because you’re reading this – but you know that so many are poorly written, and sometimes hard to decipher).

I would never make the argument that the so-called ‘revolution’ in the nature of the relationships among people and between companies and their audiences is coming to an end. In fact, I’d argue that it’s only just begun (but I won’t argue that right now – maybe later). Relationships must and will change, and they will change dramatically.

We are no longer at the point where we are experimenting with what the new tools can do. We have reached the point where we’ve played with the new tools and now we have to go start finding out not only what they can do, but where they are useful and how to make them a part of our own lives, our own professions and our own relationship. Then we have to use them to redefine and rebuild those lives, professions and relationships in ways we may not fully understand.

As we do, we should not forget that we still have lives, professions and relationships, and the need to do the simple things right – to live lives, to practice professions and to relate to others – and to do them well has not changed, and I don’t think it ever will.

Add your story about how you see good fundamentals returning to blend with a radically changed world in the comments

One thought on “Is the “Age of Conversation” Coming of Age?

  1. Could not concur more on this being the “Age of Conversation.” The balance of power has changed and customers demand to have trust with whom they consider buying. So call blast and pray marketing has lost its relevance.

    Thanks for posting and keep it up. I’m good friends with some of yours too, like Paul Dunay.

    Jeff Ogden, Director of Marketing
    Author: How to Find New Customers

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