Conversation is the momentum of life; the mass of humanity propelled by verbal exclamation points and question marks, slowed by unseen commas and paused by parenthetical asides. Conversation cannot be stopped; people conversed long before they read. Conversation comes naturally and is one of our most authentic expressions since the human ability to edit speech in real time is limited.
Conversations follow simple patterns: one speaks, another listens, bombastic types interject, and the introspective keep their own counsel. Conversations are repeated, paraphrased, and extended, threads quickly spinning to form the fabric of society. Brands that master the art of conversation can tap into a very powerful method of communication.
One-on-one conversation used to be the currency of commerce—talking with a shopkeeper over the counter at a store, exchanging pleasantries with a waitress, greeting the local banker by name, even reaching customer service representatives by telephone. All of these interactions cemented the brand experience. Gradually, mass marketing, “efficiency experts,” and high-speed, database-driven technology silenced human conversation in favor of impersonal, stilted, written communication. The dreaded “form letter” became acceptable, maze-like phone trees became the norm and assembly instructions became kindling for fireplaces.
Online conversation is often like seeing the inner workings of exposed brains—messy, active, pulsing, and convoluted.
Ironically, social media has reignited the importance of conversation while also redefining its meaning. Conversations now have thousands of voices and invisible participants, both posing wonderful possibilities and undesirable consequences. Conversation is always moving forward, even when it tells tales of the past; each conversation brings new perspective, new information, and sometimes, new falsehoods. Online conversation is often like seeing the inner workings of exposed brains—messy, active, pulsing, and convoluted.
Many industries, occupations, companies and organizations now find themselves in the position of wanting to encourage conversation, but having spent years inhibiting natural communication by using jargon, doublespeak, and gobbledygook, they are hard-pressed to do so. Perhaps to gain emotional distance, medicine made doctor/patient visits into “encounters,” and do not resuscitate orders “DNRs,” but in the process, constrained communication outside of their field. Wall Street executives talk about “bespoke tranche opportunities,” “exchange-traded swaps,” “diluted earnings,” and “covering margin calls” perhaps to convince themselves that they really are worth million-dollar bonuses, while in the process, confusing investors and making them distrustful. Used to speaking remotely and in an off-putting manner, many companies are still unprepared to respond intelligently and honestly in social media conversations.
As live chat, speech-to-text systems, and artificial intelligence leap forward, the momentum of conversation is increasing as well. Companies need to adopt a plain language, customer-centric focus in all of their interactions, and make sure that they address tone, method, and style of conversation as well. Branding conversation is one of the next great frontiers in branding; it is particularly challenging because conversation is unpredictable, nuanced, and swiftly moving. Branding conversations, live, online, and via social media, requires careful thought and attention.