I was following the Twitter stream today and saw an exchange about marketing message control between Lee Odden and Rohn Jay Miller:@rohnjaymiller
Having this same absurd discussion with a client too used to controlling messages. What if the dialogue goes "off message?"@leeoddenright. Not allowing comments doesn't mean commenters will stop thinking what they're thinkingI can feel Miller's frustration and agree with Odden's response.
This is why marketers need to shift their thinking. Your customers have changed. If you're afraid of what they'll say in response to your message, you need a better conversational strategy.A company that's afraid the dialogue will go off message should consider:The message isn't likely in tune with their customers' and prospects' perspectives.
Perhaps their market's needs have shifted and they haven't.What direction are they afraid the dialogue will take?Why would that be a bad thing?What are they preventing themselves from learning by limiting the dialogue? Odden makes a really valid point for companies who'd like to continue to operate under the illusion of controlling the message.
Just because you don't allow people to comment directly on your website, blog, microsite, etc. doesn't mean they're going to take your message for the gospel, agree with it-or even like it.And, it also doesn't mean they won't go express their thoughts elsewhere - like on Twitter, in a question on LinkedIn, in a user forum or through their own blog post with a link back to the message they're discussing. Which can create an even wilder tangent the company hadn't counted on.This is why listening is such a big deal.
Companies can push all the cotton in their ears that they want to, but they're only hurting themselves. In fact, by continuing to participate in only a one-way fashion, they're:not authentic or transparenttaking risks with their credibilitypotentially harming their reputationprobably alienating their customersimpacting follow-on, word-of-mouth exchanges Instead, why not listen and participate? This is the time for companies to rethink their messaging strategies.
In fact, if you think the dialogue might go "off message," brainstorm all the possibilities you can think of and plan for a dialogue that helps you gently enter the discussion to learn why that perception exists. You may even find some gaps in your message creating the issues causing you to worry in the first place. With that insight, you can shift proactively-before it becomes an issue you'll have to address.It may be that you find a new direction, shift a bit to come into alignment with customer and market perspectives, or even learn that you're on target. What if companies actually discovered the fear they have is blissfully unfounded. Wouldn't that be a terrific validation?
Companies will never know what kind of dialogue is possible if keep a wall up between themselves and their customers. Just by the virtue of saying - "nope - we don't care what you have to say" - they're taking a defensive stance that will cause enough friction to drive those responses they're so worried about.It's kind of one of those self-manifestation things.
What you project into the universe will come back to you. And finally, consider what might happen if a raving fan comes to your defense when a naysayer appears. How will that shift your market's perception? And how can you enlist those fans to help spread the conversation and pull more like-minded folks back to you?Well, if you try to control the message...you'll never know. Or, even worse, you'll be doing a lot of damage control.
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