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June 05, 2018

By Moa Netto, Chief Creative Officer, RAPP NY

In a media climate where numbers rule, we seem to have lost the art of conversation. People’s consumption of media is fragmented: An advertisement pops up here, a news headline scrolls along a banner there. It can be scattershot and impersonal.

More than ever, we crave the intimacy of a good chat — that special connection that happens between individuals. This is why peer influence has become so powerful through social media. Consumers look to their trusted friends and contemporaries to guide them in the cultural and social conversations that are important to them.

Brands wishing to turn their consumer relationships into deep, lasting friendships must design, join, and provoke meaningful conversations with their campaigns. But they must also be careful to stay true to their brands’ values and missions.

The benefits of creating a conversational brand 

If brands can turn their ideas into ongoing conversations in an authentic way, they will initiate further coverage and build reputation, even with customers they don’t yet know. For people on the cusp of buying, conversations are crucial: They can transform the purchase decision from a monetary transaction into a cultural value statement. And for people in different stages of the journey, enabling the right conversations helps improve consumers’ experiences and builds advocacy.

When it goes really well, brands can grow beyond sales and become part of the cultural makeup of a generation or country. Take Chinese skin care brand SK-II, for example. The company connected its skin care campaign to a deeply rooted social problem: the pressure on Chinese women to marry and the stigma facing those who don’t. The result was a campaign that boosted sales, sure, but literally changed lives by reconnecting families and casting new light on age-old traditions.

Conversely, if a brand ignores cultural and social conversations, or joins in half-heartedly, the results can be decidedly negative for business. The brand can end up sounding like an opportunist or a people pleaser, just trying to butt into others’ conversations. Remember when Kendall Jenner joined Pepsi for a campaign in which she appears to solve racial tension with a can of soda? This poorly executed conversation starter cost Pepsi way more than the millions it took to make the ad.

The big picture is this: When brands make conversation authentically, they enter consumers’ lives in a more natural way. It’s a familial kind of engagement that provokes people to learn more, share more, and ultimately buy more. Here are three ways your brand can start speaking up authentically:

1. Know exactly who you are
The way many brands get stuck when trying to join cultural conversations is by jumping on bandwagons and throwing their voices into any subject matter they come across. But every brand has its niche and territory. Know what your brand stands for. Map cultural tensions and phenomena related to what you do, and keep your voice within that territory.

2. Be bold, and plan ahead
You don’t want to be that brand that stands on the sidelines of a conversation, nodding in agreement. Part of controlling the narrative is planning ahead and being proactive with what you want to talk about. If the idea is powerful enough, it will spark a cultural conversation — like Tide did when it took over the Super Bowl with its #TideAd trick. After your idea hits big, stay involved in the conversation and use the ensuing communications to influence what you say in future campaigns.

3. Listen up and respond accordingly
Some of the best conversations are the hardest to initiate. When KFC ran out of chicken, social listening revealed that consumers were truly angry. Instead of running a classic apology ad, Yum Brands created one that changed the acronym KFC to FCK. Openly owning the mistake was key. Clients empathized deeply with that message, which shows how important it is to use social monitoring tools to check the cultural pulse of your consumer base and join conversations using the appropriate tone.

Snickers’ Hungerithm campaign used social conversations in two ways: by mapping the mood of people online and then adjusting the candy bar’s prices in real time to spark its own wave of conversations. The maneuver boosted conversion, driving consumers with coupons to the stores and giving Snickers a 67 percent sales lift. As Snickers did, spot the topics and tensions that people are mentioning; overlay your unique passions and values; find the sweet spot; and join in.

The art of conversation isn’t hard to master. Your brand already has a personality and a set of values. Stay true to these qualities, and throw your voice into the cultural arena. The more you talk, the more others will engage, connect, and talk about you.

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