Thursday, October 13, 2011
Can magazines be the conversation medium – Another strategy to compete against Google

As magazines innovate in the digital age, I went to a book for inspiration on how magazines can adapt. This book written ten years ago titled The Cluetrain Manifesto talks about how the internet will empower individuals to tip the balance of power in the market. It talks about how the internet will change the one-way dialogue corporations had with their consumers into a two-way conversation creating a more democratic process. Some say that this book was the inspiration for social media.

Conversations online consist of blogs, websites, forums, newsletters, comments, social media sites and any new inventions that comes next. This chatter is the world talking about what they think about a company’s products, politics, life or just passing around a good joke. This has inspired a concept called viral marketing where a joke can be shared in an endless chain letter sent to friends across the world. What is the role of magazines in this new world order?

Doc Searls was one co-authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto that was written 10 years ago and this book some say inspired social media based on the concept that markets are conversations.

So I went back to one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, Doc Searls and asked this question – How can magazines be part of the conversation?  He says that magazines can be the focal point or source of this conversation through an article that starts the conversation. Magazine content due to its quality and credibility can live forever online as an article is part of the conversation on a subject matter that is dear to the heart of the readers. A credible magazine article will also having a higher search engine ranking than a word press blog so people will find it.

To solidify my thoughts on the subject I reached out to Doug Brownridge from the client side and ask him about this concept. Here is what he has to say.

Building engaged relationships

“Imagine meeting Bob…every day for 52 weeks. And each time Bob says the exact same spiel to you, never recognizing that you have already met! That would be a nightmare, and most of us would think Bob probably has a short term memory problem. But for those of us in the communications and brand building business, Bob sounds a lot like a high frequency traditional media plan based on a repetitive single minded message. Proponents have said for years that the only way to break through the massive advertising clutter is to repeat a simple message over and over…and over.  Are we that slow? I never really bought that logic.

My personal experience has always been that a multi-touch point campaign built around a common brand persona and bundle of benefits is far more impactful and interesting. Each communication builds on the last, and feels more like a conversational dialogue. But historically, the high cost of creative production has been a constraint to building effective conversations with your target market. When I led NA Marketing for Motorola in the late ‘90’s, we had a lot of success running a pool of 6 spots, each message synergistic but fresh…but at $400K per spot, it was an expensive proposition.

Thankfully today innovative technology has enabled the art of ‘conversational marketing’ to rise to a more effective and intimate level. Many of the cost related barriers are gone. But the core essence of brand building is the same, based on human nature.

1. People remember interesting stories, much more than facts and figures. So the art of storytelling is critical. And in these stories, the most critical factors are relevance, a challenge to add some suspense and drama, and a positive outcome in which the likable protagonist is helped by ‘the brand’ in an understated and authentic way. Quiet heroes are far more likely to generate admiration than boastful ones. And the best stories are ones that are easy and interesting to retell.

2. The number 1 reason most people make a purchase is the positive reference of a friend or colleague. This has been true for ever…word-of-mouth advocacy will beat any ‘ad’. Ads generate awareness, but the decision to make a purchase usually comes from a valued reference. But of interest, the relevance of a  traditional friend or colleague has now extended to comments posted on-line by people we actually do not know, but share an affinity with. High on this list are personas whose on-line postings we follow…subject experts and personalities.

So in the new world of ‘do more with less’, ‘show meaningful metrics or cut the spend’, are their any home runs left?

Doug Brownridge is a Brand strategist and former Senior Marketing executive at P&G, Motorola, PMC-Sierra and Intrawest. He currently is president of Sherpaquest Consulting (, and serves on the Board of Coast Capital Savings.

Absolutely. Here is one I have found extremely powerful, and cost effective. Search out the best real life stories of your product solving real issues. Help capture the bigger story, and share it. There are almost limitless ways to do this. The easiest might be a blog, recounting a story. A step up in impact would be to share the story with a journalist or on-line blogger who can retell on your behalf…reaching more people, and leveraging their credibility to the listener or reader. Invite comments. Encourage a dialogue. And it becomes searchable…and the more its found, the more its served up! Then move on to other stories. Each will connect with a slightly different persona to a different degree. But very quickly you will have added life and momentum to your brand, and be one your way to building a persona amongst engaged prospects, versus managing a brand to a faceless mass target."

Doug’s insight is consistent with mine, as I had the opportunity to put some of this thought in an actual campaign when I wore my media director’s hat as a consultant for The Idea Lab’s campaign for Equifax’s product launch of their Tenant Selector credit check service this fall. A campaign was built around the concept of the Tenant from Hell blog to inspire readers of Canadian Apartment magazine to learn about this new service. The goal of the blog was to create an infotainment experience for readers, based on the premise that everybody likes to see a train wreck (thanks to Kim Pittaway for this great advice) using fear as a motivator. So the art of conversational marketing perhaps is a opportunity for magazines to get a competitive advantage versus other media and fight back against the online titans like Google for ad dollars, as magazines are the best storytellers, are they not?

- Martin Seto
About Me
Martin Seto

Martin Seto is the producer of the Canadian Online Publishing Awards (COPAS) with 30 years of life expereince in technology, advertising, media and creative exploration. He can be reached at marty(dot)seto(at) or 416-907-6562, and on LinkedIn.

Most Recent Blog Comment
Lorene Shyba says:
Full of terrific information, Thanks!...
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