Seven, Eight and Nine

“It’s good to talk”

As promised in my last post, this next one is a bit of a biggie. Sitting comfortably?
Then I’ll begin…

Towards the end of last year, around the start of December in fact, I found myself having a conversation with fellow Mobile Industry Review contributor, Jonathan Jensen. He and I were discussing that as we move into 2009, brands should be placing a certain level of importance on engaging with their consumers on an increasingly more conversational level.

The exact words that struck such a chord with Jonathan were as follows:

‘2007: Content was King. 2008: Context is King. In 2009? Conversation will be King.’

At that point however, I had to dash off to do a presentation for SpinVox and never got the chance to elaborate on that thought any further.

What I mean is; back in the ring tone & wallpaper days of 2005-7 (does anyone below the age of 16 actually use those services anymore?), everywhere you went the mystic phrase was uttered; ‘content is king’

The content in this instance is the aforementioned downloadable premium additions to your handset. During my job at Mobizines (and subsequently Mippin), we were still seeing presentation after presentation and report after report, all supporting (or at least purporting to) this concept – as late as this time last year in fact.

And we lapped it up.

2007 came and went, and sharing was set to be the theme for 2008 (that was my prediction anyway) and you could argue that this was proven to be correct in a number of ways.

In the future, people will look back and say that Facebook was instrumental in introducing Social Media to the masses. It unified communications on a consumer level and gradually allowed people to begin sharing.

Of course, the ‘Content is King’ mantra did not just disappear with the twilight of the year. The legacy lived on, rearing its ugly head once again, this time in the form of Facebook Applications. With only a few exceptions, this first swathe of applications; including Werewolves, Ninjas, Sheep Throwing and more, were soon replaced with some contextual goodness.

The adverts soon followed suit; “Your friend ‘x’ likes this, so you will like it too…”

It’s hardly a trusted referral from a non-branded, independent entity, but it’s not far off.

We’ll come back to this point later as, before we look at trusted referrals, we need to return to content for a moment – and how that lineage spreads into Social Media.

Facebook for example, gives you contextual content from your friends. If you give any content just a smidgen of context, suddenly you’ll find you have the potential for engagement. Facebook, by turning content over to its users, allowed context to become king – almost overnight.

Context gives content meaning, and is at the centre of any Location Based Service actually ever becoming successful. Context also adds to the ambient awareness that Facebook has brought upon us all. Knowing where my friends are and what they are doing is not only easy to implement, but also fantastically simple to engage with. Comment on this, write on that, post it here – Facebook makes it so easy. Some people choose to have a constant stream of ‘noise’ flowing through them at all times, but it’s the content from your friends that is important. That is the context.

As I said in Helsinki;

“YOU are the stream, everything else is just the channel you use to publish your content…”

So that’s the consumers sorted. What about advertising?
For that, I’m going to use another quote;

“A trusted referral from a non-branded independent entity is more powerful than any amount of advertising, marketing or PR.”

– Blake Chandlee, MD Facebook Europe.

For me, this can be simply illustrated as follows: You and I are in a pub, posters surround us for Beer X, but everyone around us is drinking Beer Y.
I ask you which one you’d prefer and you say; “I’ll have what you’re having”.

When you use the same example, but add in the context of Facebook, you find that it becomes;
“Your friend likes this, so you should too.”

Alas, the latter is missing context. The pub example outlined above works because both you and I are there together, and we’re there to drink together, (two words: social objects).

The addition of an advertiser – in this case on Facebook – does not work, as there is no human context involved. It has attempted to do what I like to call ‘content wrapping’ – making an advert that has no relevance to me appear meaningful.

There is a massive difference between “I’ve done this, so you must do it too” and “I’ve done this, I loved it and here’s why you’d love it too”. It is the equivalent of me talking to you as an individual, instead of an advertiser using my profile picture to endorse its brand.

You get my meaning…

In 2008, people and brands began to realise that without context, content is rendered meaningless. Now in 2009, the tide is turning and advertisers are beginning to understand that old school games of ‘scattergun marketing’ just don’t work anymore.

This is nothing new, nor is it by any stretch of the imagination, rocket science. I’ve talked about this before numerous times. However, to give this piece context (see – it is important), I need to re-iterate a couple of things.

In 2008 – the year of sharing – context was most definitely king. Any person’s homepage on Facebook (that most people look at daily) was, and still is, very smart. It displays interesting content created by people you know (which immediately provides context), which was specifically created for you.
If that’s not targeted advertising, I don’t know what is.

Funnily, you know what else it is?


But enough of that. Let’s look forward. To 2009. To the year of CONVERSATION.

At this point it should be noted that these opinions are my own and are based on my personal experiences & knowledge of this particular space, in this particular part of the world.
In other markets, I am well aware that content is still reigning king and that context is quietly plotting its imminent downfall.

In the same way traditional marketing and advertising methods are being scrapped in favour of more intelligent niche or hyper-targeted practices, in this coming year brands will realise the benefit of engaging with their consumer on a more conversational level

Don’t get me wrong, some are doing it already, there are MANY forward-thinking brands out there doing just that.

Last year, when I wrote about being human, I talked about how the guys that will do well in this coming year will the ones that want to have genuine conversations with their consumers.

And I stand by it.

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Author: James Whatley

Chief Strategy Officer in adland. I got ❤️ for writing, gaming, and figuring stuff out. I'm @whatleydude pretty much everywhere that matters. Nice to meet you x

15 thoughts on “Seven, Eight and Nine”

  1. Great Post James.! Facebook to me, has been a superb resource of keeping in touch with friends, and family back in the UK where I moved from when I left to come start my new life here in Finland. Its also been a great resource for tracking down ex telecommunication employees, and catch up with things with them all.

    Facebook, to be at least at first i shy away from it, thinking it was just a mere site full of useless posts from people with nothing better to do. How wrong was I? Yes, there are idiots on there, you get them everywhere, but at least with FB you can control your content to a certain level in which your happy with.

    I too have often wondered if anyone still uses those ringtone, and wallpaper services you see advertised, and am guessing, its the younger generation that still do (those that don’t really know better, or have a pc), and by doing so, more than likely have many a heated debate with their parents to why their phone bill is so big, or why they never have any credit on the payg sim card.

    As you say, “its good to talk”. I agree wholeheartedly.

  2. I love the pub exmple, it nicely explains the difference between peer pressure and peer advice/recommendation.

    I’d certainly welcome more brand conversation in 2009, I’m much more likely to either buy (products/servies) or buy into (ideas) if I feel like the brand is engaging WITH me rather than throwing ads AT me.

  3. James – do you follow Seth Godin’s blog at all? He’s an internet marketer, and very much of the opinion that the best marketing is permission based, and centered around building a two-way relationship with the people you’re trying to market to.

    I think you’d find him interesting if you’re not familiar with his work.

  4. A very timely and relevant post James. Nice one

    I think you are correct regarding “conversations” in 2009 however I feel that the people who get it right will ensure that the conversation also has content relevant to both parties and context. The previous terms you used which I don’t think disappear but instead become part and parcel of just “being”.

    I wonder if as well as “conversation” we’ll also see “contribution” as being a major factor in 2009. As well as Conversations, people giving of themselves, their knowledge, time etc. with love and without expectation.

    I like the term you use “social objects” which I think is the same, or similar to, “social proof”. Social proof is incredibly powerful, as you have pointed out, and the reason that many people will follow a recommendation from a friend. In fact their are many similarities between Marketing and the world of dating / seduction however that’s a whole other conversation.

    I fear that many Companies still haven’t grasped the many changes taking place around us and will still attempt to use the various tools we have available to broadcast. That’s OK too, they’ll be rumbled. but lets not shun them. Even better than that is to embrace them and it’ll give people like your good self an opportunity to converse with them, changing their belief structure around Marketing.

    And that’s got to be good for all of us 🙂


  5. Fabulous post. Watching the Super Bowl I thought of this during (an admittedly good) Pepsi commercial.Pepsi wants to sell me the notion that to be “like Obama” I will drink Pepsi and the fill 30 seconds with images blasting at me. But then I watch my kid’s friends bringing in Smithwicks – which they drink because my son drinks because I drink – and not just drink, but connect to a set of personal narratives and, yes, conversations.

    So I watch people adopt technologies and products these days far more based in those (increasingly diverse) conversations and far less on any corporate traditional direct message. I buy a mobile after listening to people I personally have come to trust. I choose an application, or promote one, the same way. Cashiers at the grocer ask me about the sometiimes unusual food choices I purchase (who buys Brit food in America?). But they don’t just “ask,” they really ask, wondering about the why and how.

    So in person, on-line, through texts, through Twitter, these conversations are going on.

    How to market through that? Be real, be available, be open,acknowledge that there are choices (and every choice has certain benefits), engage people where they are, and in the media form they prefer. And, yes, actually converse.

    Now, you think that’s hard to sell to marketers? Try selling it to educators.

  6. What a great post James. I agree with you across the board, although I have a concern about future marketing within the conversation space. I think at this point it’s still doable while there are only 5-6 million users on Twitter…but what happens in 24 months when there are 100 million? Right now a simple search for a brand name or phrase yields a handful of results each day, easy enough to personally reply to. When there are hundreds or thousands of mentions in a day, what do we do? Social media departments?

    My favorite line from your post, “…content is still reigning king and that context is quietly plotting its imminent downfall.”

  7. James,
    I think Twitter can be thrown in the mix, too. There are brands out there using Twitter as a way to have conversations with their customers and not just broadcasting product updates. I might be more inclined to try a product after having an actual conversation (or multiple conversations) with an actual person from the company. Much in the way of your pub example.
    Some companies haven’t learned this yet and use Facebook, Twitter, etc. in the “old” marketing style. It will take people such as yourself, and other social media stars, to teach them to talk to people, not at them.

  8. @Micky – Glad you agree! Thanks for reading and for commenting 🙂

    @IAmKat – Exactly. Advertising no longer works* as a broadcast mechanism. Engage and converse, that is the way forward.

    *Did it ever?

    @jfs – Hello Sir! 🙂 Lovely to see you here and thank you so much for dropping by. I am indeed familiar with Seth Godin’s work. In fact I believe he is over in London this month at some point giving a talk. However I don’t think I’m in town for it… Boo!

    @mike ashworth – You make a really interesting point. Yes, they all do build on each other. Eventually becoming part of the ‘being’ as you put it.
    Have you heard the ‘Social Object’ term before? It’s something I’ve written about extensively and can provide you with links to (other) works that are around. Really an intriguing subject and a theory that underpins most of my day to day work… Going back to your comment; You’re dead right. Shunning those that haven’t changed yet will not work. Only through collaboration and education can we move forward.
    Well said chap. 🙂

    @Ira Socal – I think you nailed it when you said:

    “Be real, be available, be open,acknowledge that there are choices (and every choice has certain benefits), engage people where they are, and in the media form they prefer. And, yes, actually converse.”

    Perfect. But it’s sad to hear you’re coming up against such barriers within the world of education too. In what way?
    Anything bad? There are some AWESOME examples out there about how some Teachers are using Social Media in their classes…
    Want me to dig you up some links? 🙂
    Let me know…

    @dan tynan – Dude, talk about missing the point entirely! Jeez… The bit towards the end where I said:

    “…how the guys that will do well in this coming year will the ones that want to have genuine conversations with their consumers.”

    Read it again. Keyword: “Genuine”.
    I’m not even sure you actually read my post to be honest. Rather just commented to link to your own blog (which is *such* bad form by the way, really). I mean, how does Arrington being spat on have anything to do with BRANDS needing to have a GENUINE conversation with their CONSUMERS?!


    @Matt Singley – Hello mate, nice to see a friendly face. Thanks for the kind words.
    Your ‘What if?’ poses a thought provoking problem: Will we need Social Media Depts when Twitter *really* takes off?
    The answer is an inevitable ‘Yes’.

    Vodafone UK – a large mobile phone network here in Blighty – already operates a ‘Forum Intervention Team’ who monitor blogs/forums/twitter etc for *negative* comments. They deal with these on case by case basis and I know for a fact there are at least three people in this ‘dept’, reporting into the Chief Communications/PR Officer.

    It’s already happening mate.. 😉

  9. hey James. Great post. I agree with above statements that say we’ll probably need teams to respond, although I wonder about the scalability of doing this. Perhaps the business case for this could be less phone calls to customer service.
    I’ve been saying that to increase the amount of digital marketing spend requires more dedicated, passionate people, ie not just a different media spend allocation. But that is difficult for traditional marketers, well-versed in things such as “reach” and “frequency”, to understand.

  10. One wonders how this–or at least some form of it–will change humanity.

    In the past you basically had isolated ‘ego islands’ as it were, people would spend most of the day associating and conversing with themselves. This internal monologue of the mind was punctuated by brief challenges (to your world view) from family, work mates and TV shows, etc.

    But now, or at least in the years ahead, these ‘islands’ will be bridged by a near continuous conversation with many many people. Will this be a force for good or for bad? Good… I think. One thing *is* absolutely certain though. Change will happen almost instantly. Global brands will emerge with hours instead of months, people will rise to power/fame/influence with minutes and then disappear again as if they never existed before the turning of the hour.

    Great post James, keep ’em coming my brother!

  11. Gawd, the comments are almost as long at the post… Subsequently, I have noting new to add to this… How’s that for conversation? 😉

  12. oh man, i was trying to read through this post and all the comments and I slammed my head onto my keyboard when I dozed off… and the award for longest blog post and longest winded comments goes to…. year of the Conversation… i love it!

    glenn (the gisuser)

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