TV’s Struggle with Conversational Marketing

By Graeme Newell 

-Listening to customers continues to be a low priority in much of the media industry.
-Negative viewer feedback is frightening but can be effectively managed and turned into an asset that proves authenticity.
-Spend more time listening and facilitating discussion.
-Do an honest gut check on your own ego. Is your site designed to be a place were customers are expected to worship your company?

“There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.”

Rebecca West
Irish critic, journalist, & novelist (1892 – 1983)


In 1999, the landmark book “The Cluetrain Manifesto” created a whole new science of marketing – one that is focused on authentic two-way communication with customers. “Conversational marketing” takes the focus off the product and the client and puts it firmly on the customer. Instead of speaking “at” the customer through advertising, its primary goal is to engage and win customers through real dialogue.

A few months ago at the annual Conversational Marketing Summit, the organizers put out a white paper checking on the progress of conversational marketing in the past ten years. The media industry was singled out as one of the businesses lagging behind the rest of the nation when it comes to true authentic dialog with customers.

Conversational marketing is not a new concept. For two generations, Dale Carnegie‘s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has been a must-read for anyone in sales. The message – shut up and listen. If you want to build a bond with someone, let her talk about herself – both her joys and her fears. The simple act of being heard is one of the greatest gifts you can give another human being.

The language we use when talking about TV marketing campaigns reveals our mindset when it comes to our customers. The words we use have more in common with war than with conversation. We have “doppler wars.” Advertising campaigns are “launched” and “waged.” Ads are purchased in “waves.” The audience is a prize to be “won.” Like the troops landing at Normandy, we assault the beaches of market share in hopes of wrestling valuable territory from a challenger. Most of us are transfixed with our competitor’s tactics, not the behavior of our customers.

Traditional one-way marketing campaigns are just easier. That’s the way it’s been for 75 years. We talk and everyone else listens. Conversational marketing can be incredibly humbling. When you give your customers a chance to comment on your product and people, it can be startling to hear what they really think of you. Honest feedback in a public forum is just too scary and hard on the ego. The knee-jerk reaction is to shut it down.

Still, some companies have learned to embrace customer feedback and use it as a daily roadmap for product evolution. They actively promote their forums and social network sites as safe places where honest dialog is treasured. The knowledge these companies gain proves invaluable.

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Graeme Newell is a broadcast and web marketing specialist who serves as the president and founder of 602 communications. You can reach Graeme at