An Exclusive Conversation on Conversational Capital with Author Bertrand Cesvet
What is the most common mistake made by individuals seeking to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing?
All too many individuals seeking to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing focus on the vehicles through which word-of-mouth is perpetuated, rather than the triggers of word-of-mouth to begin with.
The number of times we've heard marketers yearn for a presence on social media or a user-generated content campaign is nauseating. Our response is pretty universal ~ it doesn't matter that you give your consumers a place to talk if they don't have anything good to talk about.
Thus, our central message is to focus not on the tools, but on the substance of conversations. The only way to create resonant and sustained word-of-mouth is to focus on the inherent value of the experience itself.
I found it interesting that Conversational Capital should not be termed "buzz." Why is this so important?
Buzz is something created around an experience rather than related to the experience itself. Let's say I put a pedometer in a box of Fruit Loops cereal and proceed to call it "healthy" because the pedometer encourages one to exercise. I've done nothing to change the experience or the nutritional value of the cereal itself - only created a stunt to project a temporal aura of "health."
Do smaller companies have an advantage in building Conversational Capital?
Being small isn't necessary, but it helps. Why? Because engineering and implementing Conversational Capital requires three things: 1) the ability to be nimble, 2) the capacity to be entrepreneurial (and thus embrace some degree of risk-taking) AND 3) the foresight to take a long-term view of the development of your brand, unconstrained by investors clambering for short-term profit-taking.
That being said, many large organizations have successfully preserved these three competences. Look at an organization like Southwest Airlines - the largest domestic air carrier in the US. The firm has managed to develop Conversational Capital principally because its empowered culture is by its very nature, entrepreneurial.
So in essence, the ability to act small is what matters more than being small.
How wary should marketers be with the double-edged sword of myth?
Myth must be rooted in some fundamental truth about the brand, the brand experience, or the brand's founding. Otherwise myth lives in the realm of lies, rather than as a story that's told and retold. Marketers can temper their wariness by ensuring that the myth(s) around their brand are continuous ~ it is continuity that keeps the cutting edge of that proverbial sword away from you.
What industries do you feel are under-utilizing Conversational Capital?
Industries that view their customers with disdain or an attitude of dismissiveness.
Look at the North American Air Transport sector. Airlines continue to pare service in a continuous quest for cost-cutting, thereby commoditizing themselves rather than developing the ability to build brands and extract premiums.
Look too to the North American Auto Industry. It is in crisis principally because it didn't listen to the talk around its brands. And it didn't build products worthy of conversation.
Many further examples exist, from education, to financial services, to telecom, to department stores. But ultimately, the realization must be apparent that not everyone can be a Conversational Capital king. But each industry should have its star(s).
Bertrand Cesvet is chairman and chief strategist of SID LEE, a Commercial Creativity company with offices in Montreal and Amsterdam. He provides creative and strategic leadership on marketing communications and experience design projects for clients such as adidas, Red Bull, Cirque du Soleil, and MGM Mirage. He lives in Montreal with his wife Josee and daughters Gabrielle and Emma.
Tony Babinski is a Montreal-based writer, creative director, and filmmaker. He has worked with SID LEE since 2000 and is the author of Cirque du Soleil :20 Years Under the Sun, the authorized history of Cirque du Soleil. He lives in Montreal with his wife Julie and children Sophie, Max, and Lily.
Eric Alper is a strategist for SID LEE. He has kept a blog about Conversational Capital going since 2006. He has also developed and written the Conversational Capital blog.