Redefine “Conversation” to Better Facilitate Consideration … and Purchase

Tuesday Feb 2, 2010

The Conversation of the Future?

Over the holidays, my 12 year-old son went shopping for a present for his mom on his own. After browsing around in Borders bookstore, he sent me a text which listed the things he was considering. I suggested he send me a photo of his favorite option. He did, I approved, and I can still recall the feeling as if I participated in the decision, even though he was exercising his independence. What a great experience and a nice connective moment for us both.

This got me thinking about what it means — or doesn’t mean — to have a conversation in an age of mobile ubiquity.

Humans have long enjoyed the art of the conversation. These days, we “talk” in many ways, including in person, over the phone, texting and tapping social media applications. What if brands spent less time prying their way into those conversations, and more time adding value by making it easier for us to converse about our brands and products?

Social Media types love to use the word “conversation.” So much so that now the phrase “Participate in the conversation” is cliché —and even derided.

Call me old school, but I think it’s important to revisit the notion of conversation before SMS texting, Twitter, Facebook and other non-verbal platforms. Merriam-Webster defines conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” In other words: talking; dialogue; banter; chin wag.

Remember the good old days when you caught up with friends by placing a phone call? You could hear their happiness, or sadness, laughter, inflection. Even better, how about a face to face encounter, say lunch or a drink, where one can truly ascertain mood, nuance, and body language. These, combined with environmental factors allow both parties to reap the rewards of a meaningful conversation. Commenting on someone’s Facebook status or twittering 140 characters of #thoughtsonthetoilet doesn’t replicate the true definition of conversation. Perhaps there is a narrative created by the stream of comments and tweets, but how connective is it compared with a traditional multi-sensory conversation?

Or should we redefine it?

Or, perhaps this new age just means that we need to redefine the idea of conversation so that it’s not limited to “oral” but to also include visual and text inputs. With this expanded take on things, brands can better understand the role of public conversations and do a better job of facilitating. Again, Merriam-Webster tells us that to facilitate means “to make easier.”

Start with a basic understanding of how people are having conversations when thinking about brands and making purchases in a store. Last week, Motorola released their 2009 Holiday Shopper Report. According to the study, this past holiday season 64% of Gen Y used their mobile device for shopping IN-STORE1. Gen Y are the generation that has redefined our view of a traditional conversation, and they are almost twice as likely as Boomers (33%) to use their mobile phone while shopping. These are the types of primary conversations they’re having:

  • 38% called a friend to ask their opinion about a considered item purchase
  • 31% texted a friend to ask their opinion about a considered item purchase
  • 23% sent an image to a friend to ask their opinion about a considered item purchase

The types of secondary conversations are:

  • 21% used a mobile phone to access the Internet for product reviews or other product information
  • 21% used a mobile phone to access the Internet to compare prices
  • 14% searched for a coupon relevant to a considered item purchase

10% actually made a purchase using their mobile phone while they were standing in a store (and presumably a purchase with a competitor).

While the report doesn’t clarify the implication of that last statistic, retailers can either ignore what consumers do in their house, or they can strategically embrace these growing mobile behaviors and make it easier for consumers to have these conversations with the objective of converting consideration to purchase.

This seems like a pretty simple strategy to execute. Some thoughts on how:

  • Display products so that they are easy to photograph.
  • Leverage POS signage to encourage sharing by creating text codes for picture sharing or accessing specific product reviews.
  • Empower sales associates to encourage image capture and MMS sharing. Salesperson: “You look great in that outfit; I could take your picture and so you can send it to someone for a second opinion.”

And with new solutions providers developing share utilities for shoppers (e.g. www.inmarkit.com), it is increasingly easy to create wish lists and capture data not only on what people are sharing, but to monitor the conversations. “Participation” has potential to be meaningful and relevant, not intrusive and promotional.

1 Motorola Enterprise Mobility Solutions: Business and Market Intelligence. 2009 Retail Holiday Season Shopper Study, Key Findings Report – January 2010.

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The Conversation of the Future?
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