The 90s was a zeitgeist-shifting decade for many reasons. The Spice Girls, the Good Friday Agreement, Bucket Hats… ok, maybe less the latter, but if Gen Z are repping them all over TikTok, they’ve got to have a certain something right?
It’s pretty obvious that I am a true child of the 90s, but sadly we’re not here to bask in the golden glow of nostalgia, instead, we’re here to talk about another of the decade’s greatest outputs – the then nascent world of digital and the ‘world wide web’ (not heard that one for a while have we…). Though hopefully you’ll forgive me some iconic 90s Easter eggs along the way.
The tail end of the 90s heralded the very beginning of marketing’s long term love affair with the internet. A relationship that has altered the way brands communicate with consumers forever. It started with enabling people to find and receive information, but boy has that changed. We’re looking at you, social media.
After a few false starts, real social media marketing started with Facebook in February 2004 (lest we forget Bebo and Myspace). Facebook, though primarily a social space gave businesses a new platform to sell and has revolutionized the way brands and platforms monetize online. The rest, as they say, is history.
Instagram, LinkedIn, Tik Tok, they’re all spaces ‘owned’ by consumers, where brands have a presence, but must get onto their audience’s level to truly engage. And while there are lots of tactical ways to do this, the backbone is conversational marketing.
So, what is conversational marketing?
The concept of conversational marketing has been around for as long as people have had an opinion about what they want to be shown. However, it has blown up for two reasons.
One, brands are now technologically able to have direct conversations with consumers thanks to social. And two, people have become more self-aware of their needs. The need to feel not only heard – but listened to.
Brands broadcasting messages to consumers is so passe. The success of a brand’s conversation with its community as a whole and the individuals within it, is dependent on many elements. Somewhat ironically, less talking and more listening is a good place to start.
The knee-jerk response that comes next is what will inform its success. Brands can’t and shouldn’t talk about every issue that its community care about, but through good community management and hosting events they’ll start to get a read on where values align, and which topics sit in the sweet spot.
This will allow them to join conversations authentically.
The community management revival
Community management was a big deal 8-12 years ago when social really started to mature. But it’s back.
At Ingenuity we’ve seen a revival in brands looking for expert community management partners. Part of this is due to the in-housing cycle (brands outsource expertise > brands inhouse skills > things evolve so brands outsource again), but there are more complex reasons beyond this.
New, closed platform communities like Peloton and Discord are popping up and brands want to know how to manage and maximize them. Consumers have become increasingly and overtly values-driven and brands want to understand how to get EVEN closer to them so they can foster a sense of community and respond to this. It’s a real opportunity for agencies to add value here.
There’s just no way to have a constructive growth strategy as a brand, without that higher level of listening. Brands talk about consumer insight, which is effective and what you want, but they can have all the data in the world and if it’s not processed in a way that applies to their marketing or growth strategy, then it’s not valuable. Brands need to become more personable; consumers will respond better, and you will stand out.
So often marketers' market by following the new and shiny. Magpies eat your heart out. They fall into the trap of following marketing trends, instead of really tuning into consumer ones. B2B marketing has nailed this because it’s not traditionally seen as “sexy” and creative, they had to find another way in – one that’s more effective. They really took it in their stride to become more personable, before personable was a thing.
The impact of covid on the shift in marketing:
People talk about the pandemic causing a decade of digital development in one year. But it’s also accelerated other issues.
A new crisis has accelerated, the “attention crisis”. Too much of something is bad enough. Too much content, too much time in front of screens and widespread dystopia-induced brain fog has caused people to develop coping mechanisms. Including proactively, curating and editing the content they consume more diligently. And the window brands have to capture that attention is so very narrow.
The echo chambers that result from this behaviour are dangerous for the consumers that have created them, but also brands too. Brands can play a role in helping their communities (and target growth audiences) access and consumer content from diverse sources. To do this, they need to invest more into listening to create the right sort of content for the right sort of audiences and roll it out in an effective way.
How can brands become more personable?
To put it bluntly, stay in your lane. There is a lot to be said about having a solid narrative around the brand that also encompasses your values, including your stance on sustainability and ethics. But equally if it’s not a core part of your narrative, stop right now. Thank you very much.
Invest more in your community, spend more money on events that matter, with good speakers who supply interesting and valuable information and opinions. Spend money on managing your social communities properly in a way in which you reach out to individuals, in essence your biggest support, not just influencers. Pay more attention to your tribe who give you the most amount of support without trying to become influencers.
The answer lies in strategic community management
Successful engagement lies in an exceptional community management strategy and really listening to what the community have to say and what they need from you. Then Say You’ll Be There… but don’t forget to show them too. Funnily enough it’s something that the Spice Girls did very well in the 90s – well enough to command hordes of engaged fans even after they said Goodbye.
Own your core beliefs and values and follow through on connecting with your tribe. Remember you are as much of a human as your consumers are, and that’s how you get your foot in the door to become as successful as possible. And don’t forget to SPICE UP their lives.
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