Conversation in Marketing

Marketing is not, traditionally, a conversation. It never has been. It is a form of communication that's intended to elicit a specific action from its audience and to arouse (in most cases) a specific emotion.

Yet it can be. A true conversation is made up of specific cognitive and affective components[1] which can be borrowed and instituted into marketing, turning marketing messages into a real conversation. This is not unlike the Jaffa Cake case where McVities defended its classification of Jaffa Cakes as cakes at a VAT tribunal in 1991, against the ruling that Jaffa cakes were biscuits due to their size and shape, and the fact that they were often eaten in place of biscuits.

Once the components and consistency is there the shape and size (in the case of Jaffa Cakes) or the style and channel (in the case of marketing) are irrelevant.

What makes a conversation truly a conversation as opposed to one-way messaging or a monologue is the fact that it is made up of specific cognitive[2] and affective components that our brain processes, recognizes and responds to in the form of engagement. A conversation then is an interpersonal construct[3] that is made up of Listening, Validation, Understanding and Care.

These are components that represent the desire to understand what someone else is communicating which means we also need to be empathetic and curious in that context. A study published in the Journal Of Consumer Research[4] shows that traditional marketing (and yes, branding too) lacks empathy and attempts to shoehorn audience needs and wants into preformed ideas created around the traditional marketing personas that businesses employ as a marketing tool.

This empathy deficit as M&C Saatchi call it in a 2018 study of 34,000 consumers across 225 large brands in China, US, UK and France costs the average brand in excess of $300 million in lost revenue every year. A 2019 study carried out by Reach to help better understand the problem revealed that marketers appear to lack the ability to empathize with consumers, all the while believing that they can and they do. The study, titled The Empathy Delusion highlights a broader trend surfaced by a meta-analysis carried out at the University of Michigan.

But, Marketing Can Be A Conversation

While all this is pointing out to why marketing has not been a conversation and why traditional marketing cannot be a conversation; it also makes it obvious what it will take for it to become a real conversation.

Being real requires interpersonal skills and a willingness to engage at a level that shows you listen, validate, understand and care.

Not that hard to do. Right?

Cited Sources

  1. Bodie, Graham & Jones, Susanne. (2017). Measuring Affective Components of Listening. 10.1002/9781119102991.ch5.
  2. Potter, Jonathan. (2006). Cognition and conversation. Discourse Studies. 8. 131-140. 10.1177/1461445606059562.
  3. Bachman, Lyle & Palmer, Adrian. (1982). The Construct Validation of Some Components of Communicative Proficiency. TESOL Quarterly. 16. 10.2307/3586464.
  4. Kelly B Herd, Ravi Mehta, Head versus Heart: The Effect of Objective versus Feelings-Based Mental Imagery on New Product Creativity, Journal of Consumer Research, Volume 46, Issue 1, June 2019, Pages 36–52,