Brands Need 'Consumer Conversation Department'
Underscore Marketing's Tom Hespos writes in OnlineSpin about the first chapter of Ad Age Editor Scott Donaton's new book Madison & Vine. The chapter discusses product placement and integration - fancy terms for bribing producers to incorporate brands into a television show hoping to glean some "cool factor" with consumers. Hespos questions why a marketer would want to engage in product integration in the first place knowing most fail and are scoffed at by increasingly marketing-savvy consumer s as lame attempts to sell product.
Hespos also discusses what really amounts to fear and laziness on the marketer's part to engage with the consumer in a meaningful conversation and suggest the creation of simple brand-hosted message boards and discussion lists the draw consumers into a conversation about a company's product. Certainly, bad things will be said about any given product but wouldn't a smart marketer want to know everything about their product including what might be wrong with it?
I'd go a step further and suggest the creation of an entirely new discipline headed by a director of customer/consumer conversation/dialog. The sole responsibility if this person/department would be to converse and listen to the consumers with no interest in selling product. Sure, product management, marketing, sales and customer service touch this area but not enough to make it effective. Each of those disciplines has a goal that is counter to having an open, honest and friendly discussion with a customer of prospective consumer.
This is not achieved though doing surveys or hosting focus groups or through agency account planning efforts. It is achieved by talking to customers/consumers as one would if they were discussing a product at a cookout or dinner party. This is not stuff that can be rolled up neatly into a spreadsheet of a PowerPoint presentation. This is roll-the-sleeves-up, get-dirty-with-the-customer conversation.
If a customer were to say, "the hose on my Kenmore vacuum always gets twisted because the connection between the handle and the hose doesn't turn," the correct response is "I'll run over to Jim's (hose designer) office and see what he can do and get back to you" and not "Well, we've designed it that way so that the hose won't lose too much suction."
Give a shit. Basically, that's what this boils down to. Consumers are not a vast collection of numbers on a spreadsheet or a nice collection of 5 categories with silly marketing names like "early, suburban adopter." They are people with real concerns that will, ultimately, lead to a better product. Listen and give a shit. That's good marketing medicine.