Cafe-Shaped Conversations

cafe conversations The thing with all this talk about social media and how it changes marketing is that I don’t think you’re going to like it. I don’t think the end state is what most companies are thinking about. Google doesn’t buy other companies because they seem neato. Pepsi doesn’t want to talk with a few hundred people at a time, do they? It’s just that all these businesses have built huge platforms, huge sales funnels, huge marketplaces, and I think what social software is setting us up for are cafe-shaped conversations.

My Vision of Paris

I only know Paris through the words of others, but here’s what I see: little coffee shops with no more than ten tables. I see little bags of groceries, you know those types in movies, with the baguette sticking out? (Always with the baguette). Everything there is neighborhood-sized. People walk or at the worst ride a bicycle. The mod use scooters. But they don’t span the whole city. They stick to their bank, their tribe, their cafe and their cheese shops of reference.

In this world, no one cares what large companies are doing. They buy what they like. They talk about what they like. They consume what their friends and neighbors consume. It’s nothing if it’s not something they need.


My Vision of Springfield

In every city USA (and this isn’t a bash on USA, but I’m talking about consumers), we are in a weird crux. We care about what car to buy next. We roam the grocery store aisles wondering what’s an interesting new snack to put in our kids’ meals. We are thinking about the holidays, the movies, the whatever else needs buying. Even in a credit crisis, we’re thinking about how we can spend more, and our government wants us to spend more, too.

Big Business Needs Mass Communication

Why should Best Buy try to reach the one when they do much more business trying to reach the one million? Who at The Home Depot is thinking that talking back and forth with folks on Twitter is important? One person at a time isn’t who buys things on a radar-shaking level.

Last summer, I met the CTO of Thomson/Reuters at a private event where I spoke. He was a smart man with a lot of responsibility. He didn’t even look at projects under $5 Million, meaning his employees handled those “little” projects. I asked him what he was worried about on any given day. His answer: nanoseconds. He was thinking about the speed of the world’s financial data.

This is not a man who needs to care if there’s a friending feature that would appeal to his typical customers.

So why?

Cafe-Shaped Conversations

I think we’re moving towards something and I don’t think it’s going to be an easy shift. I don’t think social media just plugs into the marketing mix, though sometimes others prove me wrong. Alan Scott, CMO for the Dow Jones shared his 2008 marketing spend and there wasn’t a dollar allocated to social media. Instead, he used social media as just another card in the marketing deck. He doesn’t treat it poorly. He just doesn’t call it out as anything really different.

For the rest of the world, I believe that there will be some issues with how social media delivers. I think some companies will want big conversations, mass messaging, when what we’re offering are cafe conversations. We’re offering the intimate, the personal, the chance to talk in numbers of dozens and hundreds, and to make the appropriate kind of impact.


So Why Am I At The Cafe?

Because I think that’s what’s selling. I think we’re buying that way. I think that telling you about my experience with Jameson and Bank of America will be the new influence. I think that full page ad in your local newspaper is nowhere near as impactful as what I hear about on Frugalous.

I think the cafe is where the action is. I think that your $15,000 an hour film crew can’t beat my Flip Mino and a personal touch.

Should Big Businesses Play?

Yes, if they are ready, I say that big businesses should play. But, take a look at Mitch Joel‘s thoughts on whether or not your company might be ready. If you can’t answer that list, then maybe you’re not ready for the cafe.

Dell has brilliantly executed Digital Nomads as a content marketing platform around a specific product niche. It works because we’re here and they’re talking to us in our language. Will other companies have it so easy? Scott Monty at Ford is trying hard to help them move the Ford Flex into our hearts via his social media efforts. Will it work?

The cafe-shaped conversations that we are finding through social media are more meaningful, more impactful, and have a chance to spread and overtake other mass methods. And yet, they need tending. It’s like watching a small cafe pour an espresso versus getting a cup of joe at the local McDonalds. Completely different value propositions from the start.

Are there places for both? Sure. Should we throw out everything mass and switch to everything cafe? No.

So in the end, the question is more this: where should we employ cafe-shaped conversations (social media) and what should the desired results be? I have some thoughts. What are yours?

Photo credit, Shahram Sharif

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