From Conversation Company to Optimization Organization

optimization organizationA friend and fellow country-man, Steven Van Belleghem from InSites Consulting, wrote two books, ‘The Conversation Manager’ and, more recently ‘The Conversation Company’.

Steven makes very valid points of how important it is to involve people and facilitate conversations while having a ‘social’ mindset across the organization. However, it’s time to take it a step further and move to the optimization organization.

This is my second post in the series of ‘The Future of Social Media’. Again, feel free to comment.

In social media, the emphasis has been on the holy conversation for quite some time now. Remember when you first signed up on Twitter? Indeed: “Join the conversation.”

While the term conversation has become one of those typical social media buzzwords, it is not new. We just used to call it dialogs, as in dialog marketing, interactions or direct touchpoints. However, with social media, businesses have finally been forced to start doing what they didn’t do enough: having genuine two-way dialogs. The punishment if they don’t? Losing revenues and trust, while dealing with a tarnished reputation.

From conversations to touchpoints: death to the silos

Unfortunately, with the idolatry of the ‘conversation’ as that ‘social ideal’, many businesses have been focusing too much on the different elements that constitute a conversation such as the ‘content’ that ‘drives’ or feeds it. They often also overemphasize the act of moving the conversations with and about our brands further and further into the social space, driven by an obsession with storytelling and worth of mouth. “Sharing” sometimes seems to be a new word for “sending” or “pushing”.

Conversations, storytelling (which does not equal telling stories, by the way…) and word of mouth are all very important. However, we must not drive and facilitate conversations for the sake of them.

The focus must shift from the stories we tell and the content we spread, towards the individual interactions with the individual consumer. Their preferences matter. They steer the conversation. The content depends on what they need, in correlation with our business goals. This goes for content that we use to attract, inform and nurture as well.  The customer experience and each element that constitutes it, is your holy grail. Take the entire social customer experience into account, optimize the value of the touchpoints that constitute it, and put needs, emotional preferences and the buying journey into the heart of the content and conversation process.

It’s not a coincidence social media experts are increasingly talking about conversion and integration. As Brian Solis rightfully said in a recent interview, marketers and executives have been very fast in their efforts to put social in silos. In fact, they always tend to do that in order to have a grasp of a consumer, media and buying reality that is too complex for simplistic models and categorizations.

However, silos are the death of everything that we can call social: they stand in the way of internal collaboration, and of a coordinated and consistent effort to serve the customer and have meaningful dialogs with consumers. A customer-centric and preference-driven approach goes beyond silos, channels and certainly social media.

Do not ask how you can drive conversations. Ask how you can organize your marketing and business to capture what is being said and what the consumer wants, regardless of channel, time and context. Set up beacons with social objects such as content depending on the scenarios consumers will go through during their buying journey and that will lead to further interactions. The individual preference, signal and act is at the center of your content and all conversations.

Businesses that use social media for marketing and business purposes – finally – start realizing consumers are people and by definition social and channel-agnostic. It’s time to put people back in the overall marketing process and break down those silos. It’s time to integrate ‘social’ in the broadest sense with everything else we do. It’s a key evolution that will shape many evolutions regarding processes and investments in various business functions of smart businesses. And there are many challenges that must be overcome to succeed.

How ‘Kaizen’ are you? The optimization organization

Marketers should focus on interactions across every single touchpoint, whether it is a ‘social media conversation,’ an email, a website visit, a talk with a sales or customer-service rep, an interaction with an ad or even an indirect touchpoint, that cannot be measured at all.

A customer-centric and even people-centric approach is about continuous improvement as Bryan Eisenberg calls it, referring to the concept of ‘Kaizen’ and being the core of his work regarding marketing optimization. The consumer is connected and indeed uses more channels than ever before when seeking information or preparing a purchase. However, the customer experience, individual preferences and triggers that show a ‘question’ or need, across all touchpoints, ultimately define conversations, content and, in the end, revenue.

Improvement must be at the center of all business functions and customer-facing processes. Optimization is the mindset every organization should have. Not as an attitude but as a structured approach. It’s time for the optimization organization. One that focuses on the preferences, pains and needs of all stakeholders in its ecosystem and constantly improves efficiency.

Customers don’t want to have conversations with your business all the time. What we call conversations often is nothing more than simple and shallow social interactions that have no meaning for your business or even the consumer at all.

Marketers must stop acting like many parents: shut up sometimes and listen more often

However, people often are still vainly searching for a true dialog, at every step of their buying process and when THEY need it. Compare it with the education of a child. Children don’t want to be bombarded with parental advice and a never-ending stream of ‘meaningful’ opinions. They want to discover themselves and will ask your advice when they need it. They just need to know you are there once they have a question. They need to be able to trust you. And they will define what is meaningful to them or not. As a parent you’ll find there is a discrepancy between what you find relevant for them and what they really need from you. Sounds familiar?

Well, it is not a coincidence there is a discrepancy between what marketers believe is valuable and what consumers perceive as valuable, with decisions still being taken all too often in the boardroom or task forces without any involvement of the consumer whatsoever. Marketers must stop acting like these parents who think they know better. Empowerment is about offering space for freedom and growth. Listening is key in parenting. It is in business as well. Yet, in business, listening is not enough. Learning is not enough either, although it’s time to move from monitoring to learning as Brian Solis wrote. What matters most of all is acting upon what you have learned in a holistic way. Optimization.

Marketers and businesses simply are not in that listening mindset they should be in yet either, for many reasons. They are still these talking moms and dads. They are not taking into account the voice of the customer in a holistic way. They create content, spread their ‘meaningful’ messages, talk and try to drive conversations. They rarely ask what people really want from them. Actually doing something with the insights they thus gain is even more difficult, among others due to silos and disconnected technologies and processes.

In order to optimize touchpoints, provide mutual value and actually improve everything we do for our customers, in order to raise profit in the short and – certainly – mid and long term, a culture of listening, analyzing and understanding is essential. And it is by definition cross-channel. However, the end goal of all these processes is improvement.

Move beyond single conversations and focus on optimizations by an unconditional customer-centric attitude. It’s one of the spots where social media will find a perfect place within your organization. Within the optimization organization.

Let the conversations happen and optimize!