Keynote Roundtable: The Art of Conversation

One keynote down, one more to go today. Our next event is focused on building great brands in the digital age. Moderator Pete Blackshaw (Neilsen Online) and panelists Tom Asher (Levi Strauss & Co), Beth Thomas-Kim (Nestle USA), Jordan Warren ( and Todd Cunningham (MTV Networks) will be discuss how conversation is vital to marketing. Also joining Rick Clancy (Sony).

And with about 30 seconds (no, really) between one keynote and the next, it’s time to go. Oi, have some love for the bloggers, guys!

We’re not quite sure what conversation means. How do we deliver on the full promise of conversation? We don’t have the answers but we’re here to find them. Pete talks incredibly fast.

Everyone introduces themselves and their companies a bit.

We’re going to start with Sony’s corporate blog. Beth (who works in consumer interaction and with call centers) thinks that blogs are awesome; it’s a great way to start conversation. Jordan thinks you need to have more than just one face, you need faces in a large company. Who is the face of each division? Todd agrees that it’s great, guest bloggers, celebrities are great. Tom says it’s a great reflection of blog 1.0. Why was it the corporate communications guy blogging? Why wasn’t it the engineers, the people doing the work?

Beth says why not create an internal blog? Find out who is passionate and connected. Use the internal blog to find talent and then put them out there. Recognize who your brand ambassadors are.

Rick: This is just the beginning. We’ve had about 15 guest bloggers, engineers, marketing, even a celebrity. Long term we want to have microsites and develop an internal platform. We have a CEO blog, but we want the rest of the employees to have a voice too and turn them into brand ambassadors. However, right now there’s a shortage of infrastructure.

Pete: We hear a lot about authenticity. What is that? How do you make yourself authentic? What does that mean?

Todd: We want to reflect our viewers’ passions. That’s being genuine, putting our money where our mouth is.

Rick: We wrestled with who should host the blog. It came down to us because I’m an 18 year veteran of the company. It’s been about being honest, sincere, generous, transparent, straightforward. It’s hard because you have to go from a “we” mentality to an “I” mentality. You need to be a personality that people can relate to, not just a global voice.

Beth: It comes down to person to person interaction. When you have that interaction, it needs to be real. You have to pull away those time constraints around talking to a customer. It’s important to them, so you have to have empathy with them.

Pete: Do you really have TIME for listening?

Tom: We don’t have a time limit. It’s not a metric we use, what we want to do is solve the customer’s problem. Connecting with consumers, sending them a personal thank you note is a great, simple way. They have a wall of letters going back to the gold miners.

Rick: We’re bringing together consumer affairs and consumer marketing. The blog has gotten people talking within the company too.

Jordan: It’s an interesting evolution, it went from call centers to Web sites and now it’s coming back to that personal touch again. Getting insight from the people calling in to address what people are looking for when they come to a URL instead. If you make a mistake, respond to it in public because, if you don’t, someone will.

Todd: When you talk about are these things the new kind of marketing? The movie bloggers on are the new gatekeepers of consumer interaction instead of research.

Pete: Is some of this at work at the retail environment today?

Tom: We have a few retail stores and we’ve taken what we learned in consumer interaction and taught to them about how to be consultative sellers. It’s a good example of how customer care can help retail, not just UGC.

Rick: We have Sony Style. The retail stores are a good way to get consumer feedback and engagement.

Pete: Are we getting it?

Beth: There’s a gap between the “complaint” dept and the people who view this as an opportunity. Zappos on the other hand is the other side of that. It’s an investment opportunity to them. They really use that to drive the connection to the community. They go out and very aggressively fix problems. Even on Consumerist where they don’t like anyone, there’s only one bad comment about Zappos.

Jordan: The best place to get consumer insight is from our consumers but we also need to be a couple steps ahead. Make products that get you excited. Don’t make consumers the only source of ideas.

Rick: Employees communicating with each other and engaging with each other is a huge opportunity for new ideas.

Beth: There’s an internal and an external component and you need to tap into both. We need to do better internally.

Todd: People come to work for a company for a reason. Especially the emerging work force, they’re oriented towards working for their passion and they’ll change jobs seven times to work in what they’re passionate about. Tap into that.

Pete wants to know if anyone is badmouthing him on Twitter. HEE!

Jordan: It used to be that people went to the address bar. Now you go to the search box. People are going to say what they want to and that’s going to come up in the search results. You need to make sure that you’re in the top ten. [You need to be where people are going to find you! Be active! –Susan]

Tom: The culture is changing for a lot of companies. You need to be open and honest. Spend time with your marketing colleagues and take time to learn their world.

Rick: There’s a whole new lexicon these days that’s built around consumer experience. We’re all being challenged to get out there and get engaged with the end consumer. By starting the blog and being proactive, we’re finding that the sites that are bad mouthing us are getting pushed down in search results.

Jordan name checks SEO. Preach it, Jordan!

Pete: Should we embrace negative comments?

Beth: Yes, absolutely. Who wants to be ignored when they’re pissed off? They have so many venues for putting their anger out there and it’s incumbent upon us in consumer services to go find those people and address their concerns. When you see a posting on a blog, it’s like a private conversation in a public place. You need to be delicate while you step in. It’s hard but it’s appropriate and it’s important to do. “I see you’ve had a bad experience and I’d like to help.”

Todd: You have to jump in but you have to be careful. We’ve had to become leaders instead of just support and help people understand how to take negative comments.

Rick: We have to be more proactive and inviting those people to come talk to us. Some people are waiting for the customers to complain directly but a lot of customers are going to their family or friends.

Beth: You go to your family and friends because they’re going to validate them and emphasize with them and they don’t think that the company will do that. We need to bring back the human experience into this.

Tom: We have to find people in the places where they are. The communities exist already. There’s a section on how to shrink your 501 jeans on a CAR site. Why is it there, we don’t know but it is.

Pete: If you had to write the first couple of sentences in the memo to legal on how important this is, what are your first bullet points?

Rick: “It’s happening regardless.” You’ve got to be there, providing the human face because it’s going to happen either way. You have to have faith and trust in your employees.

Todd: Potential to mitigate the risk and protecting our brand and intellectual property.

Beth: Consumers own the brands, this is important to them and their lives. We’ve got to find a way to let that idea sharing happen. Nestle acquired Gerber. Moms have lots of ideas of what they want for their kids and so Gerber’s trying to get some feedback. It’s not perfect but it’s a start.

Pete: Do Beth and Tom’s departments deserve more money, Jordan?

Jordan: The only way to make the connection is to invest in it. Yes, they should get more money.

Tom: I think we’re seeing much less pressure now. We have to demonstrate and prove an ROI.

Beth: I think the walls need to be blown out of the contact center. We need to start moving out of our own world and talking to people where they are. A blog is inbound, call centers are inbound. We need to go outbound. Need to seek them out.

Rick: That’s what’s next for us. Seeking people out on the 3rd party blogs. It’s coming.

Jordan: We’re being very literal here. It’s more than just blogs and calls. Behavioral targeting is conversation as well. It’s listening and delivering something of value in return. We have a responsibility not to abuse that but we also want to give people things that are of interest to them. What would I rather see, a general ad or something that I’m interested in? There’s legislation that would shut all that down, making it opt-in instead of opt-out.

Beth: But if you’re going to collect the data, use the data. [There was a faint rumble at that.]

Todd: I completely agree, it’s what you said about blowing the walls off. We’re all awash in so much data but it’s missing the complement of the how and the why. People have bought into targeted advertising but they’re not good at it yet.

Question & Answer

How do you measure or demonstrate ROI when you’re delving into blogging?

Rick: You have to start tracking visits and dialogue and consider the impact of word of mouth. There isn’t a methodology for checking that yet.

Jordan: Some media are obviously better suited than others for direct ROI. How do you measure impact? People got excited about WOM and viral but how do you measure that? It’s not predictive. What is the impact of one positive review?

Todd: We’re looking at it at MTV. We’re trying to move off ROI because investment isn’t always clean. We try to measure objective. There’s not been a widely accepted approach on how to measure engagement. They’re going to announce engagement as a metric.

Beth: We can measure everything. We protect $100 million worth of business if we do our jobs right.

French journalist: I don’t consume Nestle because I’ve heard it’s done horrible things in Africa. Why aren’t you going after people like me?

Beth: I think you’re talking about the infant formula issue? (Yes) We’re a conservative company and it’s hard to talk about what would happen outside of the US.

Rick: That’s kind of why we started the blog. The issue with the exploding batteries a couple of years ago would have been a great time to have the blog because it would have been open and engaged and transparent because it was a lot of misinformation and missteps.

Jordan: Brand management is online reputation management. If you’re not monitoring it, you’re in trouble. Everything is global now. Even if you think it’s US targeted, Google doesn’t discriminate.

As a consumer, I don’t like being a target. I didn’t like seeing targeted ads in Gmail right at first. How do you take your relationship with the consumer and talking targeting with ads and putting the consumer at ease so they don’t feel invaded?

Jordan: We have a responsibility to protect information. You need to allow people to opt out. It’s an opportunity to deliver more value and build communications so that people aren’t feeling taken.

Todd: It’s about managing expectations. If it’s a targeted experience, that should be transparent that that’s what it is. [see the recent news story about BT]

I’m considering starting a blog: Do you actively promote a blog or do you just let people find it? Is it on your corporate site or is it separate?

Rick: First question: Yes and yes. You promote it grassroots some (like appearing on this panel) but people will find it as well. You have to be a little careful that you’re not coming across as a marketer who is shouting at a consumer. First and foremost you need to just put yourself out there and let people know who you are first rather than ‘what do I need to sell them’?

What is the new definition of brand and branding is?

Jordan: A brand is what is in your consumer’s mind. Who are you want what do you mean to them?

Todd: There isn’t a new definition of brand, we just have to realize that’s it’s always belonged to the consumers.

Pete: A brand is a promise.

Do you think that it’s likely that consumer interactions will integrate more with marketing?

Beth: Yes, and it’s already happening.

Jordan: It should be the first stop for Marketing to get information on the customers.

Whew, done. Now time to chug some coffee and get ready for the next panel in fifteen minutes.

Susan Esparza is former managing editor at Bruce Clay Inc., and has written extensively for clients and internal publications. Along with Bruce Clay, she is co-author of the first edition of Search Engine Optimization All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies.

See Susan's author page for links to connect on social media.

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