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                        ‘The Conversation Company’
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  This March, we organized the „official‟ launch of the
  Dutch version of „The Conversation Company‟ in
  Belgium and The Netherlands. Thank you all for the
  warm reactions and great feedback, I really enjoyed
  the ride. To give everybody the opportunity to
  understand my new book‟s key messages, I‟ve written
  a series of 6 blog posts summarizing the core of my
  new book and I‟ve assembled them in this paper while
  warming up for the UK book launch in London on May
  22nd.



  Steven van Belleghem, May 2012
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         The Conversation Company:
         The world is full of paradoxes
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In your company there is a huge amount of unused
conversation potential

  Every company is trying to change. Every marketing manager              I am convinced that all companies have a huge amount of unused
  wants to adapt his or her strategy to the modern consumer. The          conversation potential. We are doing great things, but are not fully
  problem, however, is that most are doing this from a tactical point     integrating them. We organize cool campaigns, but fail to be real consumer
  of view. Seven out of ten companies that have adjusted their            centric in all our actions.
  marketing strategy to reflect the expectations of the new
  consumer regard these changes from a purely tactical                    We have a challenge for you. Try and look at your own company, purely
  perspective.4 They have what we call a „checklist mentality‟.           from the perspective of unused conversation potential. If you look carefully,
  They heard that you need a Facebook page - so they create a             you will find potential that is not being used in almost every corner of your
  Facebook page. Check, done that! Twitter is becoming                    organisation. But by thinking and acting differently, you can put that
  increasingly popular? Check, done that! Mobile apps are cool?           potential to very good use. What is at stake is the creation of new and
  Okay, I suppose we‟d better do that as well… This is all very           more impactful conversations about who you are, what you do and what
  good, and possibly well intended, but its purpose is tactical rather    you sell.
  than strategic. For example, a company of this kind will set up a
  new Twitter account for each of its events. But they don‟t always
  do the necessary follow-up. In other words, they are making             The most important conversation starter with consumers is their
  repeat investments in followers who are consequently left to their      experience of your company. The impression made by your products and
  own devices after the event. Investments may be made                    services is the most important reason for talking about you and your
  occasionally to win new fans for the company‟s Facebook page.           organisation. In addition, customers can ask questions about your
  However, new content of interest is only posted on this page            company via both online and offline channels. If you respond cleverly,
  during campaigns. And the rest of the time? Little or nothing at all.   these questions can lead to successful conversations. Companies can also
  Not really the best way to create satisfied fans, is it? These          encourage consumers to talk about them through the careful composition
  actions fail, because they are not framed by the context of a           of their content.
  specific vision. They are just opportunistic, tactical pin pricks.
High-impact content leads to conversion and
new customers
 The basis of these three conversation starters (customer            These are the most important of these paradoxes:
 experience, conversations and content) is to be found in the
 interaction between different people (staff, customers, opinion
                                                                     •     Almost every company thinks that word-of-mouth advertising is
 makers, etc.). Taken together, these aspects frequently exhibit a
                                                                           important, but they make no effort to manage it. There is a
 great deal of unused conversation potential. The paradox of
                                                                           (mistaken) perception that companies can do little to influence
 business: we all love positive conversations, but we make
                                                                           consumer conversations.
 decisions that block them.
                                                                     •     The companies communicate impersonally, while their customers
                                                                           are demanding a more human approach.
 When I talk to managers about the importance of conversations in
                                                                     •     The customer wants just one thing: to be treated in a manner that
 supporting their business growth, most of them agree with me. If
                                                                           makes him happy. Companies seem more concerned with
 we discuss the unused conversation potential, they get a clear
                                                                           processes, structures and budgets.
 view on the huge opportunities for their companies.
 However, most managers take decisions that block the                •     One of the global trends in the business world is a growing
 conversation potential instead of boosting it.                            requirement for good service. Many companies see customer
 Thanks to my first book, „The Conversation Manager‟, I have had           service as a budget post on which savings can and should be made.
 the luxury of getting the chance to brainstorm with over 100        •     Customers want to help companies, want to be their friends. The
 companies about the impact of contemporary consumers on their             companies do not think that „just‟ a few hundred fans are worth
 businesses. The conclusion is that most companies are riddled             investing in.
 with the strangest paradoxes. And each and every one of these       •     Companies spend a small fortune on advertising in which they
 paradoxes results in the further underuse of conversation                 essentially make promises. The modern consumer wants proof, not
 potential.                                                                promises; action, not just communication.
                                                                     •     Consumers talk to each other and often have interesting and
                                                                           relevant things to say. Companies make little effort to track down
                                                                           these comments and even less effort to take account of them.
                                                                     •     Consumers now have relatively sophisticated technology at their
                                                                           disposal. Many companies are still working with outdated
                                                                           technology. Indeed, Peter Hinssen has described „a job‟ as „the
                                                                           eight hours a day when you work with ageing technology.‟35
                                                                     •     Staff are often proud of their companies and would like to talk about
                                                                           them, but are forbidden to do so by their employers.
But the biggest paradox of all is this: we keep on saying on       The Conversation Company breaks
a daily basis that satisfied customers and satisfied staff are
important, but our actions do little or nothing to reflect these   the paradox
words.
                                                                      Your task will not be easy. The path leading to the optimization of
This is the fundamental cause of unused conversation                  your conversation potential is strewn with paradoxes. These are
potential. During a presentation to 100 European marketers,           obstacles that you must learn to avoid. This first blog about „The
I asked two simple questions:                                         Conversation Company‟ makes clear that today‟s consumer wants
                                                                      more from companies than just a creative Facebook page or an
1 Who thinks satisfied customers are important?‟                      occasional response to a tweet. Today‟s consumer wants a
100 hands shot up into the air, accompanied by 100 baffled            company that is open and receptive to his opinion, a company that
looks that anyone could ask such a stupidly obvious                   puts the customer first.
question.
                                                                      In other words, a Conversation Company is not a company full of
2 Who dares say that they do absolutely everything                    Twittering employees. Our story is not just a social media story. The
possible to make their customers satisfied?‟                          Conversation Company really puts the customer in a central
Just three hands remained in the air….                                position. By eliminating the paradoxes we have mentioned, you will
                                                                      maximize your conversation potential. This will lead to a constant
                                                                      stream of positive conversations about your organization. These
Enough said.                                                          conversations will lay the foundations for your future growth.

                                                                      In fact, „The Conversation Company‟ is a metaphor for the most
                                                                      consumer centric organization you can imagine, using the power of
                                                                      the people as a positive lever and thankfully accepting social media
                                                                      as an ideal business partner. Tomorrow you will read about the heart
                                                                      of the Conversation Company: company culture.

                                                                      Please let me know what you think. Have you seen the same
                                                                      paradoxes in your company or among your clients? Did I miss any
                                                                      paradoxes?
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     Corporate Culture is the Heart of The
           Conversation Company
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I described the context most businesses are in: a lot of conversation potential left, but
somehow companies take the wrong decisions in finding a way to optimize the
conversation potential. In today‟s post, we dive into the core of the Conversation
Company: a Corporate Culture where the client has a central position. A culture that is
characterized by an open, authentic and positive spirit.
Company Culture is the Conversation Guide of
your company
  The most commonly used definition of company culture is as follows:

           “Company culture is a series of shared values and convictions
           which help individuals to understand the functioning of the
           company. A clear company culture makes it easy for the
           employees to know precisely what the company expects of them.
           Culture gives people an insight into the type of behaviour that is
           desired within the company.”

  Research has confirmed that a company culture often forms the basis for
  the successful implementation of a strategy. A strong company culture
  also has a positive impact on the performance and productivity of its
  employees. The culture is a kind of „mental programming‟ for an
  organization, which distinguishes it from its competitors.

  Your culture is the personality of your organization and the foundation on
  which your Conversation Company is built. Your staff and your customers
  make this culture tangible to others. This involves a method of reasoning
  that works from the inside to the outside. A traditional company is first and
  foremost interested in making its shareholders happy. Making customers
  happy only comes second, with the staff being a poor third. A
  Conversation Company turns this logic upside down. If the staff are
  happy, they will be pleased to make the customers happy; if the customers
  are happy, profits will rise, so the shareholders will also be happy. The
  CEO of Southwest Airlines puts it like this:

           “We take good care of our staff. Our staff take good care of our
           customers. And our customers take good care of our
           shareholders.”

  Your Company Culture is the conversation guide for employees and
  clients. It makes clear to employees how to behave and how to
  communicate with clients. For clients it becomes clear what to expect.
There is still some work to do for companies
in bringing culture to life
   The many workshops that we have conducted with companies suggested to us that the factors which prompt organisations to start
   with Conversation Management have little to do with company size or sector. The companies which are furthest along the
   conversation road have either had a social media crisis in recent years (Dell, Comcast) or have a very strong company culture
   (Zappos, Southwest Airlines). Research carried out for my new book has confirmed these general impressions. 82% of the companies
   that already focus strongly on customer-oriented thinking have clear and consistently applied company values, in comparison with
   54% of the companies that are at the start of their change process. 77% of the advanced companies think that culture is as important
   as strategy, against just 31% in the starter companies. The same research shows that only 63% of American and British companies
   have clearly defined corporate values. Just 56% make efforts to actively manage these values. 45% want to amend their values
   because of the increasing importance of social media.
Culture must lead to identification with
your company
  Every company needs appropriate values. There is no point trying to            Our research has also shown that the ability of your
  introduce the values of Zappos into Ford, or vice versa. Your values have      employees to identify with your company values is the key to
  a great impact on the conversations about your company. If staff interact      a good company culture. The art when defining your values is
  with people on the basis of these values, your company will speak with a       therefore to ensure that people are able to recognise
  single voice, even though it has a thousand different mouths. This             themselves in them. If staff are able to relate to the values of
  uniform approach means that your customers will get a clear and                the company, a powerful mental and emotional bond will be
  consistent experience, every time they come into contact with your             created. This bond leads in turn to positive conversations. If
  organisation. This leads to conversations that are appropriate for your        your people feel good, they will converse enthusiastically
  company. Moreover, it ensures that the conversations are                       about your company.
  „believable‟, and therefore impactful. If your company does not have
  clear values, each member of staff will be talking to your customers as an
  individual, not as the representative of a coherent whole. In this
  instance, the conversations will fly off in many different directions, and
  will not have the impact that the Conversation Company seeks.

  Many companies have similar values. The four most frequently cited
  values are: result-oriented, customer-oriented, good service and integrity.
  There is nothing wrong with these values, but they are hardly likely to
  excite your customers – at least, not expressed in this manner. If you
  read the ten values of Zappos, you immediately get a „feel‟ of what the
  company is like and what it stands for. Values must help you to
  differentiate your company.

  To such an extent, that after a while the outside world begins to describe
  your company in terms of your chosen values. Here at InSites
  Consulting, it gives us great pleasure if one of our customers tells us that
  he/she thinks that we are a passionate company. Passion is one of our
  core values. And if our customers are able to feel this passion and tell us
  that they have experienced it, this is a nice compliment – and it shows
  that we are still on the right track.
There are three values in particular that can help to ensure a strong        All three of these values are part of a strong culture. But it is
identification with your culture, and so lead to positive conversations:     not our intention that you copy them literally! It‟s best to use
                                                                             them as a source of inspiration when thinking about your own
•      Open: Nike describes this perfectly: „transparency is a strength,     „appropriate‟ set of values. Search for values that match your
       not a threat.‟ The Conversation Company succeeds in                   image and needs. Above all, search for values that you know
       communicating openly with its employees and customers. An             you can truly live up to. These values will determine the
       open attitude leads to the development of trust. Clear and open       direction of everything that your company does: the
       communication always encourages trust between people, and             recruitment of staff, the development of new products, the
       trust is the basis of impactful conversations. „Open‟ can be          creation of new advertising campaigns, etc.
       interpreted in many different ways. You can be open to negative
       criticism. You can be open to collaboration with customers for the    A company culture where the client has a central
       development of new products. You can be open to the creation of       position, supported with values like openness, authenticity
       space for staff and customers who want to help your company.          and happiness is the heart of The Conversation Company.
       Our research showed that the companies which are furthest
       advanced in terms of customer-oriented thinking are also the most
       open to the idea of giving trust to their employees.

•      Authentic: Being genuine and coming across to the public as
       genuine are crucial factors in ensuring the credibility of
       conversations. In his book „How cool brands stay hot‟ my InSites
       Consulting partner Joeri Van den Bergh argues that authenticity is
       one of the aspects that the brands of today must have, if they want
       to convince the new generation of consumers (Generation Y).
       Being honest with your staff, honest with your customers and
       honest towards society are the key elements in acquiring this
       authenticity. Recent surveys have shown that marketers regard
       authenticity as the most important trend in the years ahead.

•      Happiness: This factor is also mentioned in „How cool brands
       stay hot‟. Our own research has shown that the modern
       consumer likes positive emotions. Being positive and making
       people feel good is an important conversation starter.
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   The power of people as a positive booster
            on your path to growth
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  A strong client oriented company culture is the heart of the       People – both inside and outside the company – are the most important
  Conversation Company. The culture is the conversation guide        source of conversations. When faced with this situation, a classic
  for employees and clients. In today‟s post, I focus on the         company behaves reactively and with suspicion; in contrast, a
  power of the people and how companies can leverage this            Conversation Company is proactive and positive.
  unique asset.
                                                                     Internal and external conversations are complementary. Your employees
                                                                     make your culture tangible. Everything that they say and do reflects what
Internal and external communication                                  your company stands for. Customers converse about their experience of
                                                                     your company and your products. Both types of conversation influence
form a perfect duo                                                   public opinion and, consequently, your company results. For this reason,
                                                                     companies are becoming more and more aware of the power of the
  Under the old management model, all power was vested in the        conversing customer. However, the role played by employees is still
  company. This meant that all communication was guided by the       seriously undervalued.
  wishes of the commercial department. This communication was
  also one directional: from inside to outside. In my book The
  Conversation Manager I described how this traditional style of
  communication is a finite process. To be effective, modern
  advertising must be the start of a good conversation, and the
  advertisers need to take part in that conversation. Dialogue
  thinking must triumph over the broadcast model.

  The Conversation Company applies the concept of the total
  company. In other words, a Conversation Company knows how to
  deal sensitively with the inverted hierarchy and is able to deal
  respectfully with „people power‟ both inside and outside the
  company. Their management model is designed to facilitate the
  conversations of both employees and customers, with the aim of
  generating as many positive and impactful conversations about
  the company as possible.
Four types of companies

 By combining these two sources of conversations (internal and
 external), we can arrive at four different types of company:

 •   Boring companies: These are the companies that nobody
     talks about; largely because there is little or nothing to say. If




                                                                          Conversations from internal stakeholders
     you position your company in this quadrant, you are in serious
     trouble! In reality, this type of company does not exist in normal
     circumstances. It is all a question of what you make of it
                                                                                                                     Proud                  Conversation
     yourself. Every company has a story. The trick is to (want to)                                                  company                company
     do something with it. Someone in the public service sector
     recently said to me that his sector belongs in this quadrant
     „almost by definition‟. This is not true. I my opinion, there are
     no boring companies. Every company has a story to tell.

 •   Proud companies: In these companies, the employees form
     the most important source of conversations. Companies in a
     niche sector are often to be found in this quadrant. Advertising
     agencies are a good example. The staff are proud of their
     work. They make attractive-looking case videos of what they
     do. They then share them on the internet (and elsewhere) as a
     kind of reference. The managers/owners of advertising
                                                                                                                     Boring                 Adored
     agencies are often influential figures who lead the                                                             company                company
     conversations about their companies.

 •   Adored companies: The customers love these companies.
     The companies themselves don‟t say very much; they don‟t
     need to – the customers provide all the communication that is
     necessary. The most famous example in this quadrant is
     Apple. Apart from their CEO, very few Apple employees are
     visible for the outside world. It sometimes has the appearance
     of a closed company, but it has one of the highest conversation
                                                                                                                     Conversations from external stakeholders
     totals in the entire business world. The fans are so convinced
     by the products, that they promote the company non-stop.

 •   Conversational companies: These companies display the
     ideal combination between internal and external conversations.
     Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines can be
     found in this quadrant.
Combination of the two sources offers great                              A lot of companies are trying to catch the consumer conversations, but only a few
                                                                         companies are thinking about the role of their biggest ambassadors: their own
advantages                                                               staff? A lot of companies are still afraid to let their employees talk about their job
                                                                         on the internet. I feel this is a missed opportunity.
  Scoring well on both sources of conversations offers a number of
  important advantages. Customers mainly talk about their                Of course, it is important that your conversation guide (culture) is clear to them
  experiences with your products and services. Your staff talk           and that you facilitate their conversations. The Conversation Company facilitates
  mainly about the culture and important events in your company.         the conversations of its employees at three levels:
  This combination ensures a good content mix. This increases the
  likelihood that potential new customers will easily find information   •      Trust: The employees are sometimes uncertain about what their
  about you on Google, since the search engine has recently                     employers will allow them to do. In these circumstances, they will usually
  adjusted its algorithm in favour of social conversations. This                prefer to do nothing, rather than make a mistake. This is a waste of their
  means, for example, that Twitter messages now come higher in                  good intentions and their conversation potential. By providing strong
  the order of search results. Moreover, information which is                   values, clear guidelines and, above all, relevant training, the Conversation
  accessed in this way has a very high credibility rating. In other             Company offers sufficient comfort to its staff, so that they can approach
  words, it can be a huge help in finding you new customers.                    their online conversations with confidence.

  During conversations, your staff and your customers will often         •      Content: How to talk, what to talk about, how to respond to criticism, etc.:
  come into contact with each other, which narrows the gap                      the Conversation Company instructs its employees in all these matters, and
  between the internal and the external world. This makes your                  many more besides. In this way, it is possible to create a conversation
  company much more „human‟ to your customers. Your                             comfort zone, in which the employees feel relaxed and confident to talk with
  anonymous organisation suddenly acquires a face (or a voice, at               others about their work.
  least). This makes the company easier to approach. It also
  strengthens the emotional bond between your employees and
                                                                         •      Tools: The Conversation Company provides the right software and
  your customers. In this way, the outside world will gradually gain
                                                                                hardware, so that its employees can participate easily and fluently in
  more trust and confidence in you. This gives your own
                                                                                conversations. For example, the Dutch Rabobank is prepared to provide
  conversations even greater impact.
                                                                                staff with whatever hardware tools are necessary to do the job. 100 If
                                                                                someone can show that they need an iPad to communicate effectively with
  And the most important advantage? A McKinsey study has shown                  their customers, Rabobank will issue them with an iPad.
  conclusively that companies whose internal and external worlds
  are closely linked grow fastest of all.
                                                                         I am wondering how you look at facilitating employees as brand ambassadors.
                                                                         What can companies do to use this fantastic asset in an open, authentic and
                                                                         positive way?
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    Social Media as a perfect partner for the
            Conversation Company
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  The core philosophy of the Conversation Company is based on three           Building a strong relationship with the customer is equally
  layers: a customer centric company culture, people who make the culture     important.
  tangible and act like ambassadors for your brand and finally social media
  as the perfect partner to boost the great stories to another dimension.
                                                                              In the previous parts I discussed the important role played by your
                                                                              employees in helping to make your culture tangible. In this post I
                                                                              will be showing how social media are the ideal way to spread your
Social media are a means, not a target                                        culture and stories about your company on a wide scale. In
                                                                              addition, social media are also the ideal place to conduct
  For the Conversation Company social media are a means, not an               structural collaboration with your customers. The Conversation
  end. Social media are the ideal partner for the Conversation                Company seeks to exploit these possibilities and to integrate
  Company. The advantages are obvious: speed, a wide potential                social media in all aspects of its organization.
  reach, a human method of communicating, no hierarchy, full
  transparency, the creation of communities, etc. It is the only
                                                                              In recent years, social media have built up a huge number of
  channel where feedback from the outside world is transparent and
                                                                              users, with an enormous potential reach. In July 2011 there were
  so direct. Social media force companies to be more
                                                                              1.2 billion social media users worldwide. 96% of people have
  honest, quicker and clearer in their communication. This trend has
                                                                              heard of Facebook and 62% are users. 80% know of Twitter and
  allowed companies to develop in the direction of genuine
                                                                              16% are users. In addition, more and more people are using
  customer orientation.
                                                                              social network sites to link themselves to particular brands. More
                                                                              than half (600 million people!) follow at least one brand via social
  The checklist mentality which some companies use when dealing               media. In Europe 51% of social media users are linked to a brand;
  with social media is not the right way to maximize your                     the figure for the United States is 57% and in India it boils down to
  conversation potential. Considering Facebook pages and Twitter              a massive 70%. Media, fashion, food and retailing are the most
  accounts as some kind of magic will only lead to disappointment.            popular sectors to follow. People expect information about
  The reality is that, apart from a few exceptions (such as Charlie           products, promotions, invitations to events, etc. They want to give
  Sheen), nobody is likely to have a million fans on the first day. For       feedback and are keen to collaborate on the development of new
  the vast majority of companies, it takes time and effort to build a         ideas. These are all opportunities that companies need to exploit.
  community of fans and followers. Besides, wide reach on social
  media is only one of the important criteria.
The two social media dimensions of
The Conversation Company

   Dimension 1: Building up reach

   Via social media, it is possible to study everything your company        In addition to the direct effects of a wide social reach, there are
   does through a magnifying glass. Companies which have many               also a number of indirect effects. When the Belgian entrepreneur
   fans on Facebook and Twitter have the luxury of being able to            Wouter Torfs posted a tweet in which he asked for people
   spread their stories, content and campaigns on a massive scale.          interested in working in his local chain of shoe-shops, many
   Social media allow the reach of every action you take to be              pundits thought that he was wasting his time. „The target group he
   multiplied both directly and indirectly. The built-up reach of your      is searching for might not be on Twitter,‟ said the critics.
   own social media channels is the ideal way to communicate                However, the tweet brought Torfs a number of interesting indirect
   directly with your fans and followers. Coca-Cola makes excellent         benefits. The next day there was a full page article about his tweet
   use of these opportunities. Their „Happiness Machine‟ films are          in one of Belgium‟s best-read daily newspapers. And thanks to all
   spread exclusively via their social channels. In this advertising        this free publicity, just a few days later all the vacancies were
   gimmick, the traditional drinks machine is transformed into a box        filled.
   full of surprises. Every time someone orders a can of Coke, they
   get an extra surprise. This can vary from a second can of Coke to        Although a wide reach is important, social media also offer
   a giant pizza or even fifty free bottles of their favourite drink. The   interesting short reach possibilities. Helping individual customers
   actual machine is only physically „available‟ to a handful of            can mean a serious added value for both the person concerned
   people, but Coca-Cola film the machine and distribute the video to       and for your company. The numerous web care teams in
   their 26 million Facebook fans worldwide.                                companies such as ING, Delta Airlines, Comcast, Dell, Gatorade,
                                                                            etc. show the value that leading companies attach to this
                                                                            enhanced form of customer service. No single conversation is left
                                                                            unanswered. And by helping individual consumers, you are
                                                                            maximizing your conversation potential.
Dimension 2: Building structural collaboration with the market

For the very first time, companies now have the opportunity to
build a structural relationship with a large group of people.
Customers want to be involved with your company. The
Conversation Company tries to create a „we‟ feeling between
itself and its consumers. The structural involvement of
customers in your management processes is a part of this
approach. And social media offer a framework which is ideally
suited for this purpose. Dunkin Donuts regularly asks the help of
its fans to come up with new product concepts and the fans do
indeed regularly submit fresh ideas for new donuts. Sometimes
this collaboration goes beyond basic product development. Last
summer the brand asked for help in compiling a list of summer
songs that fitted well with the tastes of their ice smoothies.
Before Dunkin Donuts takes action, it always consults its fans
and asks for their opinion.

Notwithstanding the fact that structural relationships are the
objective, loose individual contacts can also create added
value. If a customer accidentally comes across interesting
content from your company, this may immediately result in the
sale of a product. Long- term structural relationships often start
with this kind of chance internet encounter. And the more of
these encounters you can transform into lasting
partnerships, the greater the impact of social media on your
company will become. In this manner, the quantitative contacts
of the first dimension (reach) will be transformed into qualitative
contacts via the second dimension (collaboration).
Every company dreams of having a large number of qualitative
   contacts. This is something that the Conversation Company also
   wishes to achieve, but without losing sight of the value of
   individual, one-off contacts. This is the unique aspect of social
   media: wide or narrow reach, structural collaboration or once-off
   contact – they all have their value. Every type of conversation is
   valuable both for the customer (who is helped) and the company
   (which benefits from positive conversations).




And now? Implementation!

   In this and the 3 previous parts, you have learned about the
   philosophy of the Conversation Company. The basis is a strong
   company culture. This culture is the conversation guide for your
   staff and your customers. Your people make your culture tangible.
   At the same time, the Conversation Company also seeks to
   develop structural collaboration with consumers. Some
   consumers will even be involved in the management of the
   company. Via social media, the bond between company and
   customer is strengthened at all levels. Social media can also
   magnify aspects of your culture and the experiences of both
   customers and staff alike. This creates a positive drive. The
   Conversation Company maximizes this conversation potential.

   The next sections will discuss the following two subjects:

   1. How should you continue to successfully manage our very
      own Conversation Company?
   2. How should you fully integrate conversation thinking into your
      company?
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                    The Conversation Company: Managing the 4 Cs
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I will discuss the 4 Cs that you can use to manage your Conversation Company. These pillars work
perfectly in a culture as described a few weeks ago. It will allow you to fully use the power of the
people and the opportunities social media have to offer:


     •      Customer Experience: people love to talk about your service and your products. It is
            the key driver of consumer conversations.

     •      Conversation: this is the story of my previous book, The Conversation Manager. The
            goal is to converse and not to communicate. Listen, ask questions, facilitate the
            conversations and take part in them actively.

     •      Content: give people things to talk about, but do it in an authentic, positive and relevant
            way.

     •      Collaboration: involve customers in everything your company does. Let them be part of
            your boardroom and involve them in your decision-making processes.
Why these four components?

    These four new disciplines have not been chosen without            Managing the conversations themselves is the second pillar. This
    careful consideration. A survey of 400 marketers has shown         involves observing, facilitating and participating in conversations. Your
    that companies grow more quickly than their sector rivals          participation in conversations in social media will make your company
    when they use these four components in unison. The largest         seem less distant, more human. By asking and answering questions, the
    portion of underused conversation potential is also to be          interaction between the company and the market will increase.
    found in association with these same four components. By
    managing them actively, you can optimise that potential. In        In addition to the reactive answering of questions, the Conversation
    their different ways, each of the four components can help         Company also adopts an active strategy with regard to content. This
    us to eliminate the paradoxes that we discussed in a               strategy is the third pillar. Your content proves that you are an expert in
    previous post. These four pillars will help to build a             your field. Your company moves away from campaign-based thinking and
    conversation lever for both your employees and your                towards the planning of impactful, conversation-generating content. The
    customers. And this will all take place in keeping with your       final pillar is the pillar of structural collaboration between your company
    company culture and company values.                                and the market. The customer wants to help you and you will be happy to
                                                                       accept this help. The Conversation Company builds various communities
    The first pillar, customer experience, is the most important       of customers, which help to determine the future of the organisation.
    conversation starter. If your employees and your customers
    feel well treated, they will talk to each other about this fact.
    By managing customer experience, you are investing in
    word-of-mouth. You are developing a focus for staff and
    consumer satisfaction. In this way, service will no longer be
    seen as a cost, but as an investment in conversations.
Customer experience                                                           Conversation
 The basis of positive conversations about your company is very simple:       The Conversation Company manages online conversations in three stages:
 offer strong products and a decent customer service. These two drive         observing, facilitating and participating. They start simply by listening to
 conversations. If you do them well: conversations will boost the             consumer conversations, adding a few relevant comments where necessary. At
 business, if your performing just a little below                             the same time, the company prepares its content in such a way that it can easily
 expectations, conversations will decrease the business. It is the            be shared with other interested parties. Clever companies combine these online
 foundation of a Conversation Company.                                        conversations with their offline activities. The Heineken Champions League stunt
                                                                              makes clear that the effect of small offline events can be magnified many times
                                                                              by social media. Heineken facilitated this process by providing the right content in
 Next to that, there is the challenge to integrate online and offline
                                                                              the right form. Some time ago Kraft had the idea of integrating customer tweets
 customer experience. There are still far too few companies that
                                                                              into its offline advertisements. People quickly caught on to this idea and were
 supplement their traditional offline customer service channels with the
                                                                              super-keen to get their quotes in the adverts. As a result, more than 1.5 million
 new online possibilities offered by social media. At the end of 2010 just
                                                                              tweets were sent to Kraft in the course of the campaign.
 6.5% of companies offered online services to their customers. The
 Conversation Company believes in a total philosophy towards customer
 experience. The role of social media within this philosophy is to react in
 real time to people‟s problems and complaints. Companies like KLM
 and Best Buy (with Twelpforce) demonstrate perfectly how this pillar fits
 in to the overall picture. Other companies, such as Dell, build mission
 control centres. These centres are manned 24/7 by staff who answer
 the online questions put by customers and prospects. Not one single
 conversation is left without a response; everyone is helped.
Content
 Companies should no longer be concerned with the planning of once-off
 advertising campaigns, but with the global planning and management of
 their content. Your company must learn to think like the publisher of a
 newspaper. The paper with the most interesting content is the paper that
 is read the most. Good content is the ideal way to increase your reach.




Collaboration
 The Conversation Company collaborates structurally with its customers. This
 increases the average level of consumer commitment. It is possible to be
 fairly creative within this pillar. 4Food, a successful hamburger outlet in
 Manhattan, draws up a new menu every day with the help of its own
 customers. Using a series of tablets left on the tables, the diners can put
 together their own recipe for the „perfect‟ hamburger. Every new concept put
 on display for the other customers and the best-selling burgers are promoted
 via Twitter and Facebook. For each burger sold, the recipe-maker receives
 25 cents. In a similar vein, Proctor and Gamble has developed Vocalpoint, a
 community in which 350,000 mothers help to develop new product ideas for
 P&G. These mothers are also the first users of the new products during the
 development phase, so that they can provide feedback with regard to
 possible problems/weaknesses before the product is finally launched on the
 market.
………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..……..
     Become a Conversation Company by
        executing 10 strategic projects
………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..……..


                      The journey of becoming a Conversation Company is a journey that begins
                      today, but never ends. As mentioned in the first post about the new book: the
                      Conversation Company is a metaphor for the most consumer centric company
                      possible, leveraging the power of people in a positive way and grasping all the
                      opportunities new media has to offer.

                      To get there, it requires change. To stay there, it requires passion and
                      dedication. I hope you enjoyed the summary of the new book. As said, I‟m open
                      for all feedback, suggestions, opinions. And if these 6 articles aren‟t enough
                      inspiration, there is one more thing to do: order ‘The Conversation Company’.
Three phases every company has to go through


 As part of the preparations for this book, we interviewed 25 senior managers.     1. The build-up of knowledge: during this first step, the internal
                                                                                      knowledge and conviction necessary to apply Conversation
 Our purpose was to discuss their views about change projects. We talked to
                                                                                      Management are built up in a structural manner. You follow a conscious
 people in organizations that are already well on their way to becoming a true        training trajectory, making sure that you involve your legal and HR
 Conversation Company, as well as to people in organizations that have hardly         teams, as well as any other important internal partners. This creates the
 started. In addition, we asked another 400 managers to complete a                    necessary internal consensus of support. Finally, you need to introduce
 quantitative questionnaire about the integration of the conversation philosophy      the necessary hardware and software. These are the bases for a
                                                                                      successful evolution.
 into their company. The results of these studies prove that every company
 goes through similar processes in their attempt to build greater customer-
                                                                                   2. Pilot projects: during this phase the first test projects are implemented.
 orientation and conversational thinking into their operations. The roadmap           These projects offer important opportunities to learn, but are also a way
 consists of three separate steps:                                                    to demonstrate the added value which can be created by the new
                                                                                      methods. This means that as well as accelerating your learning
                                                                                      curve, they must also have a positive effect on your marketing and
                                                                                      financial results. At the beginning of this phase, it is important to appoint
                                                                                      a central person (= the Conversation Manager) who is responsible for
                                                                                      developing conversational thinking in your organization. This is also the
                                                                                      phase in which you must start actively listening to conversations.

                                                                                   3. Integration and the lever effect: in this final phase your organization
                                                                                      must embrace the concept of the Conversation Company fully. The 4 Cs
                                                                                      must be applied consistently and the gap between your company and
                                                                                      the market must be closed. When this happens, a lever effect will be
                                                                                      created. Everything that you do will be magnified in a positive manner
                                                                                      and your unused conversation potential will disappear.
Most companies have hardly started
  Our research has revealed that the largest
  proportion (38%) of companies in Europe and the
  United States are still in the first phase or have not
  yet started with their change process. 184 14% of                           <500   500+   B2C   B2B
  companies claim to have already implemented the
  philosophy in full. The four sectors in which this is    Doing nothing
  most likely to be the case are                              with social
  telecom, media, travel and foodstuffs. The
                                                                  media      15%     8%     11%   12%
  financial market and the health industry are
  currently at the bottom of the class. As a general
  rule, service industries are also further along the         First small
  change pathway than production industries.
  Similarly, the largest global companies have made
                                                                    steps    30%     23%    27%   25%
  less progress than regional companies with fewer
  than 500 employees.                                         Setting up/
                                                            running pilot
                                                                 projects
                                                                             23%     25%    26%   22%
  The shining examples of Conversation
  Management include
  Google, Zappos, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Starbucks and          Integrating
  Best Buy. Yet notwithstanding the great advances
  that they have already made, all these companies
                                                            social media     20%     31%    22%   28%
  admit that there is still work to be done – or
  rather, that the work is never finished. The non-         Social media
  stop evolution of the market requires them to keep
  their eye continually on the ball. But if the journey
                                                                 are fully
                                                              integrated
                                                                             12%     13%    14%   12%
  to becoming a Conversation Company is a long
  one, it at least holds the fascination of being a true
  journey of discovery. There are no certainties: you
  are never quite sure what is going to happen and
  you never know in advance whether your plans
  will work. Everyone is exploring together and
  learning together. Surely this is something that you
  also want to be a part of?
Can it be the same for every company?

                                                                                      Does this then mean that there will be no similarities? On the contrary, there
 Are we not missing something with our three step plan? Is there not a risk
                                                                                      will be plenty of similarities! Just like every company is today organised in
 that in future every company will be more or less the same? How will
 companies be able to differentiate themselves if everyone follows the same           accordance with the silo model, in the future companies will be organised
 path?                                                                                along conversational lines. Just like every company today arranges market
                                                                                      research to learn more about its customers, in the future this will be done
                                                                                      through direct customer communication. A number of elements of the new
 Have you already asked yourself these questions while reading the posts so           philosophy offer advantages to every company, so it is reasonable to expect
 far? It is, perhaps, an understandable reaction. It is indeed difficult to imagine   that these will be adopted by every company. But the content and the
 that every company will seek to implement the same strategy. Even so, the            implementation will continue to be different in almost every case.
 research carried out by InSites Consulting showed clearly that the companies
 who most closely reflect the Conversation Company philosophy have all
                                                                                      The last part of my book describes in detail the projects which every company
 taken a remarkably similar route.
                                                                                      needs to undertake in order to complete its transformation into a Conversation
                                                                                      Company. Completing such a process usually takes between 24 and 48
 Does this mean that there are no longer any differences between companies?           months. The exact speed (like so many other things) is largely dependent
 Of course not! Even if companies follow identical trajectories, there will           upon the culture of your company. One of the most crucial steps is the
 always be differences between them. Why? First and foremost because the              selection of the right pilot projects. These projects must have sufficient impact
 three steps to change are carried out within the framework of the company            to create both support and movement within the company with minimum
 culture – and every company culture is different. To give a simple                   delay. No company can afford to wait 48 months for impact! Both in the short
 example, this means that every company will draw up its own training                 term and the medium term, it is important that the change process develops
 programme specific to its own needs. What suits Intel might not suit Unilever        momentum – and then keeps it. Be aware of the fact that this type of process
 – and vice versa. Secondly, the pilot projects are also very different. Once         will always create tension and frustrations between the leaders and the
 again, these pilot projects are chosen on the basis of their relevance to            followers in your company. For some, things will be much too slow; for others,
 specific company needs. For Intel this meant the development of a blog               much too fast. You can help to reduce these tensions and frustrations to a
 strategy, for ING (as we shall read shortly) it meant the creation of a web care     minimum by working through the process in a step-by-step manner. Your
 plan. Dependent on these two variables – company culture and existing                leaders will be mentally in stage 3 while your followers are still in stage 1!
 strategy – the final outcome will continue to vary from company to company.          Draw up a clear plan in advance and make sure that everyone keeps to it. In
                                                                                      this way, everyone will have the same expectations.
………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..……..

                                                                    This is it!
………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..……..




Now the real work can begin: the building of your own Conversation Company. I wish you all the success in the world. The purpose of the book is
to offer you a new business philosophy and to suggest the tools that will be necessary to implement that philosophy. I hope that I have succeeded
in that task and I look forward to seeing the first results of your efforts. I really like any kind of feedback and conversations.

Please feel free to let me know what you think of the book and where you do not agree with it. I would also love to hear about your practical
experiences.


                                             Suggestions, feedback…SHOOT!




                                                               steven@insites-consulting.com

                                                               @steven_insites

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The Story of The Conversation Company

  • 1.
  • 2. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. ‘The Conversation Company’ ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. This March, we organized the „official‟ launch of the Dutch version of „The Conversation Company‟ in Belgium and The Netherlands. Thank you all for the warm reactions and great feedback, I really enjoyed the ride. To give everybody the opportunity to understand my new book‟s key messages, I‟ve written a series of 6 blog posts summarizing the core of my new book and I‟ve assembled them in this paper while warming up for the UK book launch in London on May 22nd. Steven van Belleghem, May 2012
  • 3. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. The Conversation Company: The world is full of paradoxes ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. In your company there is a huge amount of unused conversation potential Every company is trying to change. Every marketing manager I am convinced that all companies have a huge amount of unused wants to adapt his or her strategy to the modern consumer. The conversation potential. We are doing great things, but are not fully problem, however, is that most are doing this from a tactical point integrating them. We organize cool campaigns, but fail to be real consumer of view. Seven out of ten companies that have adjusted their centric in all our actions. marketing strategy to reflect the expectations of the new consumer regard these changes from a purely tactical We have a challenge for you. Try and look at your own company, purely perspective.4 They have what we call a „checklist mentality‟. from the perspective of unused conversation potential. If you look carefully, They heard that you need a Facebook page - so they create a you will find potential that is not being used in almost every corner of your Facebook page. Check, done that! Twitter is becoming organisation. But by thinking and acting differently, you can put that increasingly popular? Check, done that! Mobile apps are cool? potential to very good use. What is at stake is the creation of new and Okay, I suppose we‟d better do that as well… This is all very more impactful conversations about who you are, what you do and what good, and possibly well intended, but its purpose is tactical rather you sell. than strategic. For example, a company of this kind will set up a new Twitter account for each of its events. But they don‟t always do the necessary follow-up. In other words, they are making The most important conversation starter with consumers is their repeat investments in followers who are consequently left to their experience of your company. The impression made by your products and own devices after the event. Investments may be made services is the most important reason for talking about you and your occasionally to win new fans for the company‟s Facebook page. organisation. In addition, customers can ask questions about your However, new content of interest is only posted on this page company via both online and offline channels. If you respond cleverly, during campaigns. And the rest of the time? Little or nothing at all. these questions can lead to successful conversations. Companies can also Not really the best way to create satisfied fans, is it? These encourage consumers to talk about them through the careful composition actions fail, because they are not framed by the context of a of their content. specific vision. They are just opportunistic, tactical pin pricks.
  • 4. High-impact content leads to conversion and new customers The basis of these three conversation starters (customer These are the most important of these paradoxes: experience, conversations and content) is to be found in the interaction between different people (staff, customers, opinion • Almost every company thinks that word-of-mouth advertising is makers, etc.). Taken together, these aspects frequently exhibit a important, but they make no effort to manage it. There is a great deal of unused conversation potential. The paradox of (mistaken) perception that companies can do little to influence business: we all love positive conversations, but we make consumer conversations. decisions that block them. • The companies communicate impersonally, while their customers are demanding a more human approach. When I talk to managers about the importance of conversations in • The customer wants just one thing: to be treated in a manner that supporting their business growth, most of them agree with me. If makes him happy. Companies seem more concerned with we discuss the unused conversation potential, they get a clear processes, structures and budgets. view on the huge opportunities for their companies. However, most managers take decisions that block the • One of the global trends in the business world is a growing conversation potential instead of boosting it. requirement for good service. Many companies see customer Thanks to my first book, „The Conversation Manager‟, I have had service as a budget post on which savings can and should be made. the luxury of getting the chance to brainstorm with over 100 • Customers want to help companies, want to be their friends. The companies about the impact of contemporary consumers on their companies do not think that „just‟ a few hundred fans are worth businesses. The conclusion is that most companies are riddled investing in. with the strangest paradoxes. And each and every one of these • Companies spend a small fortune on advertising in which they paradoxes results in the further underuse of conversation essentially make promises. The modern consumer wants proof, not potential. promises; action, not just communication. • Consumers talk to each other and often have interesting and relevant things to say. Companies make little effort to track down these comments and even less effort to take account of them. • Consumers now have relatively sophisticated technology at their disposal. Many companies are still working with outdated technology. Indeed, Peter Hinssen has described „a job‟ as „the eight hours a day when you work with ageing technology.‟35 • Staff are often proud of their companies and would like to talk about them, but are forbidden to do so by their employers.
  • 5. But the biggest paradox of all is this: we keep on saying on The Conversation Company breaks a daily basis that satisfied customers and satisfied staff are important, but our actions do little or nothing to reflect these the paradox words. Your task will not be easy. The path leading to the optimization of This is the fundamental cause of unused conversation your conversation potential is strewn with paradoxes. These are potential. During a presentation to 100 European marketers, obstacles that you must learn to avoid. This first blog about „The I asked two simple questions: Conversation Company‟ makes clear that today‟s consumer wants more from companies than just a creative Facebook page or an 1 Who thinks satisfied customers are important?‟ occasional response to a tweet. Today‟s consumer wants a 100 hands shot up into the air, accompanied by 100 baffled company that is open and receptive to his opinion, a company that looks that anyone could ask such a stupidly obvious puts the customer first. question. In other words, a Conversation Company is not a company full of 2 Who dares say that they do absolutely everything Twittering employees. Our story is not just a social media story. The possible to make their customers satisfied?‟ Conversation Company really puts the customer in a central Just three hands remained in the air…. position. By eliminating the paradoxes we have mentioned, you will maximize your conversation potential. This will lead to a constant stream of positive conversations about your organization. These Enough said. conversations will lay the foundations for your future growth. In fact, „The Conversation Company‟ is a metaphor for the most consumer centric organization you can imagine, using the power of the people as a positive lever and thankfully accepting social media as an ideal business partner. Tomorrow you will read about the heart of the Conversation Company: company culture. Please let me know what you think. Have you seen the same paradoxes in your company or among your clients? Did I miss any paradoxes?
  • 6. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. Corporate Culture is the Heart of The Conversation Company ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. I described the context most businesses are in: a lot of conversation potential left, but somehow companies take the wrong decisions in finding a way to optimize the conversation potential. In today‟s post, we dive into the core of the Conversation Company: a Corporate Culture where the client has a central position. A culture that is characterized by an open, authentic and positive spirit.
  • 7. Company Culture is the Conversation Guide of your company The most commonly used definition of company culture is as follows: “Company culture is a series of shared values and convictions which help individuals to understand the functioning of the company. A clear company culture makes it easy for the employees to know precisely what the company expects of them. Culture gives people an insight into the type of behaviour that is desired within the company.” Research has confirmed that a company culture often forms the basis for the successful implementation of a strategy. A strong company culture also has a positive impact on the performance and productivity of its employees. The culture is a kind of „mental programming‟ for an organization, which distinguishes it from its competitors. Your culture is the personality of your organization and the foundation on which your Conversation Company is built. Your staff and your customers make this culture tangible to others. This involves a method of reasoning that works from the inside to the outside. A traditional company is first and foremost interested in making its shareholders happy. Making customers happy only comes second, with the staff being a poor third. A Conversation Company turns this logic upside down. If the staff are happy, they will be pleased to make the customers happy; if the customers are happy, profits will rise, so the shareholders will also be happy. The CEO of Southwest Airlines puts it like this: “We take good care of our staff. Our staff take good care of our customers. And our customers take good care of our shareholders.” Your Company Culture is the conversation guide for employees and clients. It makes clear to employees how to behave and how to communicate with clients. For clients it becomes clear what to expect.
  • 8. There is still some work to do for companies in bringing culture to life The many workshops that we have conducted with companies suggested to us that the factors which prompt organisations to start with Conversation Management have little to do with company size or sector. The companies which are furthest along the conversation road have either had a social media crisis in recent years (Dell, Comcast) or have a very strong company culture (Zappos, Southwest Airlines). Research carried out for my new book has confirmed these general impressions. 82% of the companies that already focus strongly on customer-oriented thinking have clear and consistently applied company values, in comparison with 54% of the companies that are at the start of their change process. 77% of the advanced companies think that culture is as important as strategy, against just 31% in the starter companies. The same research shows that only 63% of American and British companies have clearly defined corporate values. Just 56% make efforts to actively manage these values. 45% want to amend their values because of the increasing importance of social media.
  • 9. Culture must lead to identification with your company Every company needs appropriate values. There is no point trying to Our research has also shown that the ability of your introduce the values of Zappos into Ford, or vice versa. Your values have employees to identify with your company values is the key to a great impact on the conversations about your company. If staff interact a good company culture. The art when defining your values is with people on the basis of these values, your company will speak with a therefore to ensure that people are able to recognise single voice, even though it has a thousand different mouths. This themselves in them. If staff are able to relate to the values of uniform approach means that your customers will get a clear and the company, a powerful mental and emotional bond will be consistent experience, every time they come into contact with your created. This bond leads in turn to positive conversations. If organisation. This leads to conversations that are appropriate for your your people feel good, they will converse enthusiastically company. Moreover, it ensures that the conversations are about your company. „believable‟, and therefore impactful. If your company does not have clear values, each member of staff will be talking to your customers as an individual, not as the representative of a coherent whole. In this instance, the conversations will fly off in many different directions, and will not have the impact that the Conversation Company seeks. Many companies have similar values. The four most frequently cited values are: result-oriented, customer-oriented, good service and integrity. There is nothing wrong with these values, but they are hardly likely to excite your customers – at least, not expressed in this manner. If you read the ten values of Zappos, you immediately get a „feel‟ of what the company is like and what it stands for. Values must help you to differentiate your company. To such an extent, that after a while the outside world begins to describe your company in terms of your chosen values. Here at InSites Consulting, it gives us great pleasure if one of our customers tells us that he/she thinks that we are a passionate company. Passion is one of our core values. And if our customers are able to feel this passion and tell us that they have experienced it, this is a nice compliment – and it shows that we are still on the right track.
  • 10. There are three values in particular that can help to ensure a strong All three of these values are part of a strong culture. But it is identification with your culture, and so lead to positive conversations: not our intention that you copy them literally! It‟s best to use them as a source of inspiration when thinking about your own • Open: Nike describes this perfectly: „transparency is a strength, „appropriate‟ set of values. Search for values that match your not a threat.‟ The Conversation Company succeeds in image and needs. Above all, search for values that you know communicating openly with its employees and customers. An you can truly live up to. These values will determine the open attitude leads to the development of trust. Clear and open direction of everything that your company does: the communication always encourages trust between people, and recruitment of staff, the development of new products, the trust is the basis of impactful conversations. „Open‟ can be creation of new advertising campaigns, etc. interpreted in many different ways. You can be open to negative criticism. You can be open to collaboration with customers for the A company culture where the client has a central development of new products. You can be open to the creation of position, supported with values like openness, authenticity space for staff and customers who want to help your company. and happiness is the heart of The Conversation Company. Our research showed that the companies which are furthest advanced in terms of customer-oriented thinking are also the most open to the idea of giving trust to their employees. • Authentic: Being genuine and coming across to the public as genuine are crucial factors in ensuring the credibility of conversations. In his book „How cool brands stay hot‟ my InSites Consulting partner Joeri Van den Bergh argues that authenticity is one of the aspects that the brands of today must have, if they want to convince the new generation of consumers (Generation Y). Being honest with your staff, honest with your customers and honest towards society are the key elements in acquiring this authenticity. Recent surveys have shown that marketers regard authenticity as the most important trend in the years ahead. • Happiness: This factor is also mentioned in „How cool brands stay hot‟. Our own research has shown that the modern consumer likes positive emotions. Being positive and making people feel good is an important conversation starter.
  • 11. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. The power of people as a positive booster on your path to growth ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. A strong client oriented company culture is the heart of the People – both inside and outside the company – are the most important Conversation Company. The culture is the conversation guide source of conversations. When faced with this situation, a classic for employees and clients. In today‟s post, I focus on the company behaves reactively and with suspicion; in contrast, a power of the people and how companies can leverage this Conversation Company is proactive and positive. unique asset. Internal and external conversations are complementary. Your employees make your culture tangible. Everything that they say and do reflects what Internal and external communication your company stands for. Customers converse about their experience of your company and your products. Both types of conversation influence form a perfect duo public opinion and, consequently, your company results. For this reason, companies are becoming more and more aware of the power of the Under the old management model, all power was vested in the conversing customer. However, the role played by employees is still company. This meant that all communication was guided by the seriously undervalued. wishes of the commercial department. This communication was also one directional: from inside to outside. In my book The Conversation Manager I described how this traditional style of communication is a finite process. To be effective, modern advertising must be the start of a good conversation, and the advertisers need to take part in that conversation. Dialogue thinking must triumph over the broadcast model. The Conversation Company applies the concept of the total company. In other words, a Conversation Company knows how to deal sensitively with the inverted hierarchy and is able to deal respectfully with „people power‟ both inside and outside the company. Their management model is designed to facilitate the conversations of both employees and customers, with the aim of generating as many positive and impactful conversations about the company as possible.
  • 12. Four types of companies By combining these two sources of conversations (internal and external), we can arrive at four different types of company: • Boring companies: These are the companies that nobody talks about; largely because there is little or nothing to say. If Conversations from internal stakeholders you position your company in this quadrant, you are in serious trouble! In reality, this type of company does not exist in normal circumstances. It is all a question of what you make of it Proud Conversation yourself. Every company has a story. The trick is to (want to) company company do something with it. Someone in the public service sector recently said to me that his sector belongs in this quadrant „almost by definition‟. This is not true. I my opinion, there are no boring companies. Every company has a story to tell. • Proud companies: In these companies, the employees form the most important source of conversations. Companies in a niche sector are often to be found in this quadrant. Advertising agencies are a good example. The staff are proud of their work. They make attractive-looking case videos of what they do. They then share them on the internet (and elsewhere) as a kind of reference. The managers/owners of advertising Boring Adored agencies are often influential figures who lead the company company conversations about their companies. • Adored companies: The customers love these companies. The companies themselves don‟t say very much; they don‟t need to – the customers provide all the communication that is necessary. The most famous example in this quadrant is Apple. Apart from their CEO, very few Apple employees are visible for the outside world. It sometimes has the appearance of a closed company, but it has one of the highest conversation Conversations from external stakeholders totals in the entire business world. The fans are so convinced by the products, that they promote the company non-stop. • Conversational companies: These companies display the ideal combination between internal and external conversations. Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines can be found in this quadrant.
  • 13. Combination of the two sources offers great A lot of companies are trying to catch the consumer conversations, but only a few companies are thinking about the role of their biggest ambassadors: their own advantages staff? A lot of companies are still afraid to let their employees talk about their job on the internet. I feel this is a missed opportunity. Scoring well on both sources of conversations offers a number of important advantages. Customers mainly talk about their Of course, it is important that your conversation guide (culture) is clear to them experiences with your products and services. Your staff talk and that you facilitate their conversations. The Conversation Company facilitates mainly about the culture and important events in your company. the conversations of its employees at three levels: This combination ensures a good content mix. This increases the likelihood that potential new customers will easily find information • Trust: The employees are sometimes uncertain about what their about you on Google, since the search engine has recently employers will allow them to do. In these circumstances, they will usually adjusted its algorithm in favour of social conversations. This prefer to do nothing, rather than make a mistake. This is a waste of their means, for example, that Twitter messages now come higher in good intentions and their conversation potential. By providing strong the order of search results. Moreover, information which is values, clear guidelines and, above all, relevant training, the Conversation accessed in this way has a very high credibility rating. In other Company offers sufficient comfort to its staff, so that they can approach words, it can be a huge help in finding you new customers. their online conversations with confidence. During conversations, your staff and your customers will often • Content: How to talk, what to talk about, how to respond to criticism, etc.: come into contact with each other, which narrows the gap the Conversation Company instructs its employees in all these matters, and between the internal and the external world. This makes your many more besides. In this way, it is possible to create a conversation company much more „human‟ to your customers. Your comfort zone, in which the employees feel relaxed and confident to talk with anonymous organisation suddenly acquires a face (or a voice, at others about their work. least). This makes the company easier to approach. It also strengthens the emotional bond between your employees and • Tools: The Conversation Company provides the right software and your customers. In this way, the outside world will gradually gain hardware, so that its employees can participate easily and fluently in more trust and confidence in you. This gives your own conversations. For example, the Dutch Rabobank is prepared to provide conversations even greater impact. staff with whatever hardware tools are necessary to do the job. 100 If someone can show that they need an iPad to communicate effectively with And the most important advantage? A McKinsey study has shown their customers, Rabobank will issue them with an iPad. conclusively that companies whose internal and external worlds are closely linked grow fastest of all. I am wondering how you look at facilitating employees as brand ambassadors. What can companies do to use this fantastic asset in an open, authentic and positive way?
  • 14. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. Social Media as a perfect partner for the Conversation Company ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. The core philosophy of the Conversation Company is based on three Building a strong relationship with the customer is equally layers: a customer centric company culture, people who make the culture important. tangible and act like ambassadors for your brand and finally social media as the perfect partner to boost the great stories to another dimension. In the previous parts I discussed the important role played by your employees in helping to make your culture tangible. In this post I will be showing how social media are the ideal way to spread your Social media are a means, not a target culture and stories about your company on a wide scale. In addition, social media are also the ideal place to conduct For the Conversation Company social media are a means, not an structural collaboration with your customers. The Conversation end. Social media are the ideal partner for the Conversation Company seeks to exploit these possibilities and to integrate Company. The advantages are obvious: speed, a wide potential social media in all aspects of its organization. reach, a human method of communicating, no hierarchy, full transparency, the creation of communities, etc. It is the only In recent years, social media have built up a huge number of channel where feedback from the outside world is transparent and users, with an enormous potential reach. In July 2011 there were so direct. Social media force companies to be more 1.2 billion social media users worldwide. 96% of people have honest, quicker and clearer in their communication. This trend has heard of Facebook and 62% are users. 80% know of Twitter and allowed companies to develop in the direction of genuine 16% are users. In addition, more and more people are using customer orientation. social network sites to link themselves to particular brands. More than half (600 million people!) follow at least one brand via social The checklist mentality which some companies use when dealing media. In Europe 51% of social media users are linked to a brand; with social media is not the right way to maximize your the figure for the United States is 57% and in India it boils down to conversation potential. Considering Facebook pages and Twitter a massive 70%. Media, fashion, food and retailing are the most accounts as some kind of magic will only lead to disappointment. popular sectors to follow. People expect information about The reality is that, apart from a few exceptions (such as Charlie products, promotions, invitations to events, etc. They want to give Sheen), nobody is likely to have a million fans on the first day. For feedback and are keen to collaborate on the development of new the vast majority of companies, it takes time and effort to build a ideas. These are all opportunities that companies need to exploit. community of fans and followers. Besides, wide reach on social media is only one of the important criteria.
  • 15. The two social media dimensions of The Conversation Company Dimension 1: Building up reach Via social media, it is possible to study everything your company In addition to the direct effects of a wide social reach, there are does through a magnifying glass. Companies which have many also a number of indirect effects. When the Belgian entrepreneur fans on Facebook and Twitter have the luxury of being able to Wouter Torfs posted a tweet in which he asked for people spread their stories, content and campaigns on a massive scale. interested in working in his local chain of shoe-shops, many Social media allow the reach of every action you take to be pundits thought that he was wasting his time. „The target group he multiplied both directly and indirectly. The built-up reach of your is searching for might not be on Twitter,‟ said the critics. own social media channels is the ideal way to communicate However, the tweet brought Torfs a number of interesting indirect directly with your fans and followers. Coca-Cola makes excellent benefits. The next day there was a full page article about his tweet use of these opportunities. Their „Happiness Machine‟ films are in one of Belgium‟s best-read daily newspapers. And thanks to all spread exclusively via their social channels. In this advertising this free publicity, just a few days later all the vacancies were gimmick, the traditional drinks machine is transformed into a box filled. full of surprises. Every time someone orders a can of Coke, they get an extra surprise. This can vary from a second can of Coke to Although a wide reach is important, social media also offer a giant pizza or even fifty free bottles of their favourite drink. The interesting short reach possibilities. Helping individual customers actual machine is only physically „available‟ to a handful of can mean a serious added value for both the person concerned people, but Coca-Cola film the machine and distribute the video to and for your company. The numerous web care teams in their 26 million Facebook fans worldwide. companies such as ING, Delta Airlines, Comcast, Dell, Gatorade, etc. show the value that leading companies attach to this enhanced form of customer service. No single conversation is left unanswered. And by helping individual consumers, you are maximizing your conversation potential.
  • 16. Dimension 2: Building structural collaboration with the market For the very first time, companies now have the opportunity to build a structural relationship with a large group of people. Customers want to be involved with your company. The Conversation Company tries to create a „we‟ feeling between itself and its consumers. The structural involvement of customers in your management processes is a part of this approach. And social media offer a framework which is ideally suited for this purpose. Dunkin Donuts regularly asks the help of its fans to come up with new product concepts and the fans do indeed regularly submit fresh ideas for new donuts. Sometimes this collaboration goes beyond basic product development. Last summer the brand asked for help in compiling a list of summer songs that fitted well with the tastes of their ice smoothies. Before Dunkin Donuts takes action, it always consults its fans and asks for their opinion. Notwithstanding the fact that structural relationships are the objective, loose individual contacts can also create added value. If a customer accidentally comes across interesting content from your company, this may immediately result in the sale of a product. Long- term structural relationships often start with this kind of chance internet encounter. And the more of these encounters you can transform into lasting partnerships, the greater the impact of social media on your company will become. In this manner, the quantitative contacts of the first dimension (reach) will be transformed into qualitative contacts via the second dimension (collaboration).
  • 17. Every company dreams of having a large number of qualitative contacts. This is something that the Conversation Company also wishes to achieve, but without losing sight of the value of individual, one-off contacts. This is the unique aspect of social media: wide or narrow reach, structural collaboration or once-off contact – they all have their value. Every type of conversation is valuable both for the customer (who is helped) and the company (which benefits from positive conversations). And now? Implementation! In this and the 3 previous parts, you have learned about the philosophy of the Conversation Company. The basis is a strong company culture. This culture is the conversation guide for your staff and your customers. Your people make your culture tangible. At the same time, the Conversation Company also seeks to develop structural collaboration with consumers. Some consumers will even be involved in the management of the company. Via social media, the bond between company and customer is strengthened at all levels. Social media can also magnify aspects of your culture and the experiences of both customers and staff alike. This creates a positive drive. The Conversation Company maximizes this conversation potential. The next sections will discuss the following two subjects: 1. How should you continue to successfully manage our very own Conversation Company? 2. How should you fully integrate conversation thinking into your company?
  • 18. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. The Conversation Company: Managing the 4 Cs ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. I will discuss the 4 Cs that you can use to manage your Conversation Company. These pillars work perfectly in a culture as described a few weeks ago. It will allow you to fully use the power of the people and the opportunities social media have to offer: • Customer Experience: people love to talk about your service and your products. It is the key driver of consumer conversations. • Conversation: this is the story of my previous book, The Conversation Manager. The goal is to converse and not to communicate. Listen, ask questions, facilitate the conversations and take part in them actively. • Content: give people things to talk about, but do it in an authentic, positive and relevant way. • Collaboration: involve customers in everything your company does. Let them be part of your boardroom and involve them in your decision-making processes.
  • 19. Why these four components? These four new disciplines have not been chosen without Managing the conversations themselves is the second pillar. This careful consideration. A survey of 400 marketers has shown involves observing, facilitating and participating in conversations. Your that companies grow more quickly than their sector rivals participation in conversations in social media will make your company when they use these four components in unison. The largest seem less distant, more human. By asking and answering questions, the portion of underused conversation potential is also to be interaction between the company and the market will increase. found in association with these same four components. By managing them actively, you can optimise that potential. In In addition to the reactive answering of questions, the Conversation their different ways, each of the four components can help Company also adopts an active strategy with regard to content. This us to eliminate the paradoxes that we discussed in a strategy is the third pillar. Your content proves that you are an expert in previous post. These four pillars will help to build a your field. Your company moves away from campaign-based thinking and conversation lever for both your employees and your towards the planning of impactful, conversation-generating content. The customers. And this will all take place in keeping with your final pillar is the pillar of structural collaboration between your company company culture and company values. and the market. The customer wants to help you and you will be happy to accept this help. The Conversation Company builds various communities The first pillar, customer experience, is the most important of customers, which help to determine the future of the organisation. conversation starter. If your employees and your customers feel well treated, they will talk to each other about this fact. By managing customer experience, you are investing in word-of-mouth. You are developing a focus for staff and consumer satisfaction. In this way, service will no longer be seen as a cost, but as an investment in conversations.
  • 20. Customer experience Conversation The basis of positive conversations about your company is very simple: The Conversation Company manages online conversations in three stages: offer strong products and a decent customer service. These two drive observing, facilitating and participating. They start simply by listening to conversations. If you do them well: conversations will boost the consumer conversations, adding a few relevant comments where necessary. At business, if your performing just a little below the same time, the company prepares its content in such a way that it can easily expectations, conversations will decrease the business. It is the be shared with other interested parties. Clever companies combine these online foundation of a Conversation Company. conversations with their offline activities. The Heineken Champions League stunt makes clear that the effect of small offline events can be magnified many times by social media. Heineken facilitated this process by providing the right content in Next to that, there is the challenge to integrate online and offline the right form. Some time ago Kraft had the idea of integrating customer tweets customer experience. There are still far too few companies that into its offline advertisements. People quickly caught on to this idea and were supplement their traditional offline customer service channels with the super-keen to get their quotes in the adverts. As a result, more than 1.5 million new online possibilities offered by social media. At the end of 2010 just tweets were sent to Kraft in the course of the campaign. 6.5% of companies offered online services to their customers. The Conversation Company believes in a total philosophy towards customer experience. The role of social media within this philosophy is to react in real time to people‟s problems and complaints. Companies like KLM and Best Buy (with Twelpforce) demonstrate perfectly how this pillar fits in to the overall picture. Other companies, such as Dell, build mission control centres. These centres are manned 24/7 by staff who answer the online questions put by customers and prospects. Not one single conversation is left without a response; everyone is helped.
  • 21. Content Companies should no longer be concerned with the planning of once-off advertising campaigns, but with the global planning and management of their content. Your company must learn to think like the publisher of a newspaper. The paper with the most interesting content is the paper that is read the most. Good content is the ideal way to increase your reach. Collaboration The Conversation Company collaborates structurally with its customers. This increases the average level of consumer commitment. It is possible to be fairly creative within this pillar. 4Food, a successful hamburger outlet in Manhattan, draws up a new menu every day with the help of its own customers. Using a series of tablets left on the tables, the diners can put together their own recipe for the „perfect‟ hamburger. Every new concept put on display for the other customers and the best-selling burgers are promoted via Twitter and Facebook. For each burger sold, the recipe-maker receives 25 cents. In a similar vein, Proctor and Gamble has developed Vocalpoint, a community in which 350,000 mothers help to develop new product ideas for P&G. These mothers are also the first users of the new products during the development phase, so that they can provide feedback with regard to possible problems/weaknesses before the product is finally launched on the market.
  • 22. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. Become a Conversation Company by executing 10 strategic projects ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. The journey of becoming a Conversation Company is a journey that begins today, but never ends. As mentioned in the first post about the new book: the Conversation Company is a metaphor for the most consumer centric company possible, leveraging the power of people in a positive way and grasping all the opportunities new media has to offer. To get there, it requires change. To stay there, it requires passion and dedication. I hope you enjoyed the summary of the new book. As said, I‟m open for all feedback, suggestions, opinions. And if these 6 articles aren‟t enough inspiration, there is one more thing to do: order ‘The Conversation Company’.
  • 23. Three phases every company has to go through As part of the preparations for this book, we interviewed 25 senior managers. 1. The build-up of knowledge: during this first step, the internal knowledge and conviction necessary to apply Conversation Our purpose was to discuss their views about change projects. We talked to Management are built up in a structural manner. You follow a conscious people in organizations that are already well on their way to becoming a true training trajectory, making sure that you involve your legal and HR Conversation Company, as well as to people in organizations that have hardly teams, as well as any other important internal partners. This creates the started. In addition, we asked another 400 managers to complete a necessary internal consensus of support. Finally, you need to introduce quantitative questionnaire about the integration of the conversation philosophy the necessary hardware and software. These are the bases for a successful evolution. into their company. The results of these studies prove that every company goes through similar processes in their attempt to build greater customer- 2. Pilot projects: during this phase the first test projects are implemented. orientation and conversational thinking into their operations. The roadmap These projects offer important opportunities to learn, but are also a way consists of three separate steps: to demonstrate the added value which can be created by the new methods. This means that as well as accelerating your learning curve, they must also have a positive effect on your marketing and financial results. At the beginning of this phase, it is important to appoint a central person (= the Conversation Manager) who is responsible for developing conversational thinking in your organization. This is also the phase in which you must start actively listening to conversations. 3. Integration and the lever effect: in this final phase your organization must embrace the concept of the Conversation Company fully. The 4 Cs must be applied consistently and the gap between your company and the market must be closed. When this happens, a lever effect will be created. Everything that you do will be magnified in a positive manner and your unused conversation potential will disappear.
  • 24. Most companies have hardly started Our research has revealed that the largest proportion (38%) of companies in Europe and the United States are still in the first phase or have not yet started with their change process. 184 14% of <500 500+ B2C B2B companies claim to have already implemented the philosophy in full. The four sectors in which this is Doing nothing most likely to be the case are with social telecom, media, travel and foodstuffs. The media 15% 8% 11% 12% financial market and the health industry are currently at the bottom of the class. As a general rule, service industries are also further along the First small change pathway than production industries. Similarly, the largest global companies have made steps 30% 23% 27% 25% less progress than regional companies with fewer than 500 employees. Setting up/ running pilot projects 23% 25% 26% 22% The shining examples of Conversation Management include Google, Zappos, Cisco, Dell, Intel, Starbucks and Integrating Best Buy. Yet notwithstanding the great advances that they have already made, all these companies social media 20% 31% 22% 28% admit that there is still work to be done – or rather, that the work is never finished. The non- Social media stop evolution of the market requires them to keep their eye continually on the ball. But if the journey are fully integrated 12% 13% 14% 12% to becoming a Conversation Company is a long one, it at least holds the fascination of being a true journey of discovery. There are no certainties: you are never quite sure what is going to happen and you never know in advance whether your plans will work. Everyone is exploring together and learning together. Surely this is something that you also want to be a part of?
  • 25. Can it be the same for every company? Does this then mean that there will be no similarities? On the contrary, there Are we not missing something with our three step plan? Is there not a risk will be plenty of similarities! Just like every company is today organised in that in future every company will be more or less the same? How will companies be able to differentiate themselves if everyone follows the same accordance with the silo model, in the future companies will be organised path? along conversational lines. Just like every company today arranges market research to learn more about its customers, in the future this will be done through direct customer communication. A number of elements of the new Have you already asked yourself these questions while reading the posts so philosophy offer advantages to every company, so it is reasonable to expect far? It is, perhaps, an understandable reaction. It is indeed difficult to imagine that these will be adopted by every company. But the content and the that every company will seek to implement the same strategy. Even so, the implementation will continue to be different in almost every case. research carried out by InSites Consulting showed clearly that the companies who most closely reflect the Conversation Company philosophy have all The last part of my book describes in detail the projects which every company taken a remarkably similar route. needs to undertake in order to complete its transformation into a Conversation Company. Completing such a process usually takes between 24 and 48 Does this mean that there are no longer any differences between companies? months. The exact speed (like so many other things) is largely dependent Of course not! Even if companies follow identical trajectories, there will upon the culture of your company. One of the most crucial steps is the always be differences between them. Why? First and foremost because the selection of the right pilot projects. These projects must have sufficient impact three steps to change are carried out within the framework of the company to create both support and movement within the company with minimum culture – and every company culture is different. To give a simple delay. No company can afford to wait 48 months for impact! Both in the short example, this means that every company will draw up its own training term and the medium term, it is important that the change process develops programme specific to its own needs. What suits Intel might not suit Unilever momentum – and then keeps it. Be aware of the fact that this type of process – and vice versa. Secondly, the pilot projects are also very different. Once will always create tension and frustrations between the leaders and the again, these pilot projects are chosen on the basis of their relevance to followers in your company. For some, things will be much too slow; for others, specific company needs. For Intel this meant the development of a blog much too fast. You can help to reduce these tensions and frustrations to a strategy, for ING (as we shall read shortly) it meant the creation of a web care minimum by working through the process in a step-by-step manner. Your plan. Dependent on these two variables – company culture and existing leaders will be mentally in stage 3 while your followers are still in stage 1! strategy – the final outcome will continue to vary from company to company. Draw up a clear plan in advance and make sure that everyone keeps to it. In this way, everyone will have the same expectations.
  • 26. ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. This is it! ………………………………………….………..……………..……………………………………………..…….. Now the real work can begin: the building of your own Conversation Company. I wish you all the success in the world. The purpose of the book is to offer you a new business philosophy and to suggest the tools that will be necessary to implement that philosophy. I hope that I have succeeded in that task and I look forward to seeing the first results of your efforts. I really like any kind of feedback and conversations. Please feel free to let me know what you think of the book and where you do not agree with it. I would also love to hear about your practical experiences. Suggestions, feedback…SHOOT! steven@insites-consulting.com @steven_insites