The Art of Conversation

Arttu Tolonen • Communications Specialist, Group

Reach out and touch someone

Did you ever have a friend who wouldn’t stop talking about themselves? Whatever the subject of conversation, said friend would find a way to divert the flow of conversation back to himself - every news item a jumping off point for solipsistic rumination, every anecdote a platform for a grand “me, too!” moment. A genius of the self-obsessed non-sequitur.

When watching brands interact with their customers in interactive channels, I am often reminded of people like that.

There are many potential reasons why this is the case. Maybe it’s the fact that we are still transitioning from a one-way mediascape into a more interactive world, so even on social media brands sometimes talk like they’re a TV ad. Or it could be an insufficient understanding of the customers’ needs, which would result in an inability to come up with relevant “topics of conversation”.

It may also be down to a lack of self-knowledge.

Who are you?

If your brand is not a natural outgrowth and integral part of the product, the people who speak for you may have a hard time knowing how to talk to customers outside a planned script. And nowadays planned scripts end up as internet memes after being rolled out in hilariously or tragically inappropriate contexts.

A great example of a script or strategy being followed, come hell or high water, is food and menu site Epicurious using the Boston Marathon bombing as a sales opportunity. It’s an example of tone deafness and indicates a lack of understanding about what your brand’s story and raison d’etre are and what it stands for.

This is not how you talk to people.

An example of how to talk to people is Wolt, an app people use to order food delivered from restaurants around town. They have a Facebook group for users where the company responds to questions, with employees taking immediate responsibility for resolving any issues. Their Twitter account is active, conversational and humorous without feeling forced. It reflects the fact that Wolt is friendly and approachable, someone you can trust to keep you fed. There’s a bit of the neighbourhood bistro to the whole thing… They’ve obviously managed to hire some top notch Community Managers. It’ll be interesting to see if they can hold on to this feeling as they scale up and add locations as well as languages.

Staples is another great social media conversationalist. They seem to go for a combination of down-to-earth and a little anarchic, perhaps with a touch of Office Space thrown in. And a lot of the time they succeed, thanks to a nice combination of campaigns as well as off-the-cuff comments. Not bad for a big corporation.

Don’t relegate the brand to an afterthought.

Or waterfall it to end run of the development process.

The best way to make sure your product and brand are aligned and inseparable is to make branding a part of the design process from day one. Lay the groundwork for the brand at the very beginning. Let the brand develop with the product and have an impact on business, design and tech choices along the way. Break the silos and let them interact freely to bring out the best in all.

Even the most compelling brand is just a minor blip in the life of the average customer. Anything beyond that strays into art or pathology. Try to engage the customer in areas outside your core competence and offering, but do it from a position of strength where you know who you as a brand are and who your customers are. Talking about other aspect of life on social media will come more naturally. Picking the right outside services and products to perhaps offer as a part of a loyalty program will be easier and the choices will make more sense to your customers.

It’s important for designers to get out of the building to see what real people need from the services they are building. It’s equally important for brands to get out of the, well, brand and see how it can help the customer in areas outside the brand’s core offering.

A more natural interaction born out of deep self-knowledge, augmented with a smidgen of social smarts, brings with it the potential to create a deeper and more lasting relationship.

Look out. It’s a big world out there.

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