Management Ideas 2: Conversational Capital

Products that enable consumers to position their identity within a conversation (about the consumer experience) will turn consumers into avid advocacies. It’s a way to start powerful word-of-mouth campaigns that supersede the old mass production marketing paradigm.

Conversational Capital
∙    Conversational Capital. How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About. Bertrand Cesvet; Tony Babinski; Eric Alper.

A story is a powerful, indeed, one can argue the most powerful way to communicate. Unlike just viral marketing, converstational capital aims to use the power of story telling to turn consumers into veritable ambassadors of their products.

Cirque du Soleil doesn‛t spend a dime on marketing, yet is well known and highly regarded everywhere because enthusiastic visitors tell their experience to others.

If advocacy drives growth (to quote a study by Marsden, Sampson, and Upton), then what drives advocacy?

A crucial new ingredient is that talking about a product enables the story teller to position his identity. For instance, a holiday to Tuscany enables the consumer to position himself as a sophisticated world-traveller.

This conversational capital gives consumers a vested interest in talking about consumer experiences and is a reason why it goes beyond mere word-to-mouth campaigns or ‛viral marketing‛

If you fly with almost any garden variety airline, you don‛t end up having a good story to tell, unless something goes wrong (but not that wrong, you must able to tell it afterwards).

Fly Virgin Airways, and you will be able to tell about the interesting people you met at the bar, or the massage you got. You‛ll be happy to tell these kind of stories (even if they‛re not entirely true) because it enables you to position yourself in a certain way.

So the trick becomes to link products with stories that enables people to reap conversational capital.

Obama is excellent example of conversational capital in politics. He gave his supporters the feeling that they are part of a mythical story, creating a shared experience and identity, and one that is very familiar and popular in the US: outsider overcomes establishment and all odds to succeed.

The stories not only have to create a personal experience from which conversational capital can be reaped, they also have to conform to customer‛s expectations, that is, integrity plays a major role. That‛s the trouble with most run-of-the-mill advertising, they are basically lies (often told by famous people).

Planet Hollywood is another example, it tried to create conversational capital by recrating the Hollywood experience, but customers soon found out that the owners (some Hollywood stars) weren‛t really involved much (if any). The ‛experience‛ proved rather fake.

There are eight archtypes of such stories, we give some simple examples:

1) Rituals
∙    Placing a lime wedge into a bottle of Corona beer
∙    Rituals of ‛initiation‛ are especially powerful, as the interaction of clowns with the crowd at the Cirque du Soleil before the show, which turns them into potential comic victims.

2) Exclusive product offerings (EPO)
∙    Getting more easy in times of mass customization, like designing your own Adidas shoes in the ‛mi Originals‛ section
∙    Over delivery, that is, exceeding customer expectation by a wide margin is also a good (but often expensive) way, like Virgin Airways

3) Myths
∙    Founding myths Hewlet and Packard starting from a garage or Michael Dell from his college dorm
∙    The stunts of Richard Branson

4) Relevant Sensory Oddity (RSO)
∙    Designer packaging
∙    The Sony P (the not-netbook small form laptop)
∙    The Mac Airbook coming out of an envelope

5) Icons
∙    The Coke bottle

6) Tribalism
∙    Mac users

7) Endorsement
∙    Credibility is everything here, and this is not often achieved

8) Continuity
∙    Integrity and continuity of image and experience are crucial, see the Planet Hollywood example above.

It’s good stuff, but it takes a lot of work to align one’s products experience with possible conversational capital. Bookstores invite authors to sign books and establish coffeeshops (browsing books is actually the primary experience, booklovers, including us, would say).

It requires assembling a team with diverse background and perspectives, an audit to determine where their products stand in terms of satisfaction and word-of-mouth.

Essentially, Conversational Capital increases this value by providing consumers stories to enjoy and employ long after the immediate experience of a product or service is over.

One thought on “Management Ideas 2: Conversational Capital”

Comments are closed.