Content Marketing Social Media Marketing (SMM)

Conversational Marketing: What Is It and How Do You Use It?

Having conversations with your target group is becoming increasingly important for every successful company. That is, of course, nothing new, but the ways in which you can conduct these conversations are changing rapidly. And all that conducting conversations has also been given a hip name: conversational marketing. In this article, we explain why the term conversational is so popular, which companies are successful with it and how it is used by means of tools, social media or – nice old-fashioned – personal contact.

conversational marketing

We have already come across the term ‘ conversational ‘ in various combinations. Think of conversational commerce, sales, human voice, customer service, presenting, interfaces, AI, and we also used the term in this article about conversational storytelling on social media. In the end, it’s all about one thing: talking to your target groups to find out what they need. And then respond to that.

A lesson in history

To put the conversational trend in perspective, we first have to take a look at history. Since the 1950s, the popularity of mass marketing has grown, with not the customer but the product at the center. Marketers concentrated on making great products and made big generalizations about their customers. Companies developed the best possible products and set up emotional mass media campaigns to convince customers of their products.

At the end of the 1990s and the beginning of 2000, the change came to relationship marketing. Mobile phones came into our lives and conversations with customers became important again. Marketers were able to get close to the customer and were less product-oriented. At the time they were not so aware of the enormous technological change that awaited them.

From digital marketing to online conversations

With the rise of the internet, smartphones and social media , we entered the era of digital and inbound marketing, combined with a range of tools and technology. Due to the possibilities of technology, the focus shifted from real conversations with real people to online interactions. Customer behavior suddenly became more visible than ever: what people did on your website, what they said about you on social media.

In the end, it’s all about one thing: talking to your target groups to find out what they need. And then respond to that.

Interesting, of course, but companies became voyeurs instead of participants in the conversation. They learned a lot about their customers, but often remained silent themselves. And even worse: social media, which promised two-sided communication (and was certainly used by customer service teams as well), became a sort of broadcast channel for email marketing.

It is logical that this happened, because of the rise of inbound marketing, marketing employees suddenly became a kind of editors of their own publications. They were overloaded with social channels, while there was no budget to invest in people who could conduct full-time online conversations. There are always exceptions, but for the masses, tracking social media was a symbolic effort.

And companies are still very good at ‘sending’ on social media. Just look at this example of an English retail company , which has a relatively large budget but usually does not enter into conversation with followers on social media.

Intelligent marketing

We have now entered the age of intelligent marketing. Thanks to chat apps, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other technologies, companies can come even closer to their customers and understand and predict behavior patterns better than ever. The target? 100% customer-oriented on a large scale.

Some examples. Chat apps such as WhatsApp Business and Facebook Messenger are increasingly being used as customer service tools. KLM knows how to make good use of this and helps customers arrive at the airport as smoothly as possible, flights to book or change seats. This way of, say, conversational customer service, helps brands quickly solve customer problems and increase customer satisfaction.

Drift is a good example of how marketing and sales are increasingly automated. They have developed a ‘Conversational Marketing Platform’ that allows visitors to your website to have a real-time conversation with support, sales or marketing teams. The idea is that a ‘bot’ through AI investigates which website visitors are serious leads and only forwards the best leads to the sales teams. This increases customer satisfaction and reduces the conversion time.

Sounds good, right?

Here we have to place a critical note. Companies have to be careful that they automate too much and forget to really talk to customers. It remains extremely important to communicate with your target group in an appropriate way. And that is not so easy.

Offline conversations

Fortunately, we see that companies not only use technology, but also want to continue to have personal conversations. They even put them on their own seats when it comes to communication. BMW does this with their BMW Geniuses program . They have removed all vendors from the showrooms and replaced them with BMW Geniuses – people who are product experts and can have a substantive conversation with potential customers.

Why did BMW choose this? Because they saw that people nowadays only come to the showroom once instead of eight times. Potential customers can look up all the information online and come to the showroom, because they are not sure of something. It makes little sense to have someone with a sales pitch sell the car. Instead, BMW needs people who are skilled in removing any uncertainties or resistance. Someone who listens well to the customer and really understands him or her. A BMW Genius is more aware of what information a potential customer is missing, and what prevents them from making a purchase.

Chip Bergh, the CEO of Levi’s, also believes that a personal conversation with your customers leads to success. For example, in Harvard Business Review he tells about home visits where he goes through the wardrobe of customers and asks questions about their jeans. During one of those house visits, a customer told: “You wear other jeans, but you live in Levi’s.” This became their successful tagline in advertising campaigns. It only indicates how valuable personal contact with your target group is, and remains.

Give your audience more control

Since a few yea,rs we also see that (sales) presentations are increasingly changing in conversations. A monologue of half an hour, in which people drop out – unless you are a brilliant speaker – is no longer of this time. Only presenting what is relevant to the conversation at that moment ensures that you fill the gaps in the knowledge of your audience or potential customers. We also call this conversational presenting. Your listeners get the control, determine the topics for discussion and the presentation is next.

Many people find it scary to let go of control during their presentation. Yet it generally works well, because your presentation changes into a conversation with your audience.

Letting go of the control and letting your client speak also works well on social media. Just look at the Wylder Goods brand, which uses conversational storytelling on Instagram with a small budget (39.9K followers). They focus on connecting customers and let fans tell their personal story in their own way. Wylder does not have much influence on the content, but believes in the value of interactions with their customers and between customers. And that makes the brand very credible.

Tools or human contact?

All examples in this article reflect how we want to be approached and how we buy things. We want fast, clear and hyper-relevant information, on our terms. With conversational marketing you can meet your target groups in this. Tools are indispensable, but especially people with strong communication skills, such as empathy, self-reflection, active listening and collaboration. With the right technology, you can automate certain parts of your digital marketing, so that you have more time for real conversations with your customers. In our opinion, that is the ideal form of conversation marketing.

About the author


Vikram is a Digital Media Strategy Consultant who helps small business owners grow their
business. He is passionate about blogging, digital marketing, and emerging technologies.

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