As a long-time advisor to small businesses and startups, I still find many who think marketing is still primarily broadcasting your message to as many customers as possible, hitting them again and again, until it sticks.

They don't realize that customers today are looking for relationships, meaning two-way conversations with your business. They ignore all else as just plain noise.

Customer conversations are easy today, through responding to customers on social media, web live chats, and interactive applications on mobile devices.

In fact, your marketing costs using this approach may be far less than the traditional television, newspaper, and email campaigns. Yet even conversation marketing has to be done right to get customer attention and have an impact.

I found the rules and expectations nicely illustrated in a new book, Conversation Marketing: How to Be Relevant and Engage Your Customer by Speaking Human, by one of the experts in the new digital marketing strategies, Kevin Lund.

He offers a wealth of examples that I second from my experience on how to get started and do it right, as well as real guidance on what not to do:

1. Paying attention to customer input.

In great marketing, as in real life, starting the conversation is just the beginning. You have to focus and listen to what the potential customer is saying during the conversation to fully understand their message and needs. We all know people who don't listen while we are talking. Don't let your business be one.

For example, it's easy to get so focused on selling the product you have, that you miss the customer desire for free shipping, or personalization, or colors you don't have. Instant empathy and positive responses will make new customers your best advocate, bringing customer friends and repeat business you can't get with traditional marketing.

2. Talking about your products, not your customer.

Nobody wants to listen to someone drone on about how great they are. Yet, throughout the decades, common advertising copy has been a description of product features and benefits, with a nod to what it will do to enrich the customer's life. Don't let your conversation marketing do the same thing.

A successful content marketing strategy turns traditional advertising on its head by first asking customers to tell you what they need, only then bringing up what your business offers to meet those exact needs.

Pull in customers with questions, rather than pushing answers.

3. Trying to close on a sale transaction too early.

As with all relationships that you want to last, preparing for a close must be done with patience and two-way conversations. Old-fashioned marketers feel the pressure to produce an immediate return on investment (ROI), and prefer the billboard approach to closing. Do less pitching and more teaching.

4. Offending or talking down to your potential customers.

The best content marketing is tuned carefully to the desired customer set or demographic. That means than one size probably doesn't fit all -- if your audience is millennials, the questions you ask and the language is different from what boomers expect. Be sensitive to geographic and cultural implications.

What constitutes a 'basic assumption' depends on your audience. If, for example, you're writing a blog post aimed at professional investors, you don't need to stop and explain what an entrepreneur is to them.

Don't offend customers by getting too personal for certain cultures in your attempts to understand what it takes to be memorable.

5. Having credible data to support factual content.

We have all had conversations with a know-it-all who makes questionable statements, causing us to lose trust now, and for the long term.

Make sure your content can withstand even the most critical scrutiny, and doesn't come across like marketing hype or unsubstantiated claims.

For example, we have all seen weight loss and exercise products that claim to evaporate some number of pounds and inches in the first week, without any reference to a real study supporting these assertions.

Credibility is key in relationships, so pick your influencers well. The safer way is to let your advocates and their friends share their facts.

Conversation marketing will help you connect your business to the hearts of your customers for the long term, not just to their minds for a single transaction. They want a sense of personal value and a relationship before they act. You can't deliver that with a one-way monologue.

Published on: Oct 15, 2018