Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, I think I'd rather the imitators keep their distance.
The word-of-mouth marketers have latched onto a term that was gaining traction in the blogosphere -- conversational marketing -- and they're trying to turn it into something that it's not.
I don't know if it's marketing's penchant for sucking the deeper meaning out of things or what, but I think we're at such a critical stage in the marketing industry's development that I'd rather plant a stake in the ground than surrender a perfectly legitimate marketing concept to those who would corrupt it.
Where it comes from
"Conversational Marketing" was a term that entered into the lexicon on the coattails of ". To Wal-Mart, the approach to online marketing involves using a PR agency to help influence the blogosphere, rather than connecting directly with its customers.
When the opinions and pieces on the Working Families for Wal-Mart and Paid Critics websites turned out to be messages crafted by Wal-Mart's PR agency, the blogosphere and the mainstream media erupted. Not only did Wal-Mart flagrantly violate accepted tenets of transparency, but they also executed their strategy using broadcast thinking. They used Edelman PR as an agent to spread a marketing message, taking a top-down approach rather than a bottom-up one.
True adherents to conversational marketing would consider both lazy and disrespectful.
See for yourself what's happening to Wal-Mart as they continue to swing the broadcast hammer at the marketing nail. Perhaps if they changed their approach they might get closer to achieving their objectives.
This town ain't big enough…
So, get lost word-of-mouth marketers. While you're using broadcast thinking and paid agents to advance a marketing agenda, conversational marketing would like to distance itself from you. We'd prefer to think of word of mouth as a symptom of marketing success, and not as an objective in and of itself.
Meaningful online communication is a very human thing, and it can't be faked.