The days of standing in an auditorium with a spotlight on stage shouting while the audience obediently listens are over. The era of big broadcast messages on television shows, billboards that clutter every open space, or in the pages of your magazine are reaching the end of their usable lives. People are tired of businesses screaming at them and telling them what to buy, at what price and how many. Now consumers are talking to each other, talking to the businesses, and sometimes even shouting back, a little.
B 2 C (Business to Consumer) is redefined. Under the new definition, Business to Conversation, businesses eavesdrop on the Consumer to Consumer conversation for an opportunity to jump in:
Take Comcast, for example. Have a problem with your cable or internet connection. Jump on Twitter and start talking about your experience. I wager that a friendly tweet will come from @comcastcares trying to help–talking with you about your problems (and not just sleeping on your couch).
A friend was raving about a new wireframing application, Balsamiq, through a tweet. They reached out to him and started a conversation about the product. They not only gave him a free license to the product, they offered more licenses to friends. The online conversation that started with a tweet sprang to life as he truly had something to talk about: a great product and a company that engaged.
B 2 C is also flipped to C 2 B. The consumer now has a voice to reach out and talk to businesses. If careful and attentive a business can listen exactly to the needs of their market. What would have required focus groups and millions of dollars in testing is now just a matter listening, which is reserved for the courageous.
After listening to a few raving reviews, I wanted an invite to a cool new application, Boxee, but Alpha testing was backlogged. After my subtle suggestion, Boxee obliged the next day. By gently listening, which in this case required nothing more than a search feed, this company can organically grow their product to interested parties. Compare that with a blairing billboard.
Sometimes the Customers shout a bit more. Glenn Reynolds’ core concept in Army of Davids is that the emerging (conversational) Web and other technological enhancements are allowing the little guy take down giants. For example, conversations between a group of moms in the fall of 2008 forced the Goliath, Motrin, to yank their ads after a short run.
We are truly in a different era that is not fully understood. Some businesses lightly wade into the social sphere to “get the benefits” of the new web, but they are unwilling to truly get wet. Unfortunately, there are some still standing on the dimly lit stage, shouting and no one is listening–they just don’t get it. The age of conversation is here, just listen.