Spreading ideas: Conversation vs. monologue

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Mar 28, 2013

The idea of getting attention does not support the idea of monologue. To get attention you need dialogue, conversation. And conversation is in the heart of all marketing success. We don’t remember monologue that’s boring, mere advertisement that spoils our leisure time entertainment, and text messages that slips into our personal life but we remember conversation. Anything that can’t ignite a conversation or can’t make us to think is worthless. Why conversation is important? It’s because it spreads ideas unlike any other promotional approaches. In a world of attention deficit nothing else but conversation counts. Whatever you do make sure it sets the game up.

We believe in Conversation
We believe in Conversation

Why conversation spreads and mere advertisement does not?

In 2011 “Epique Home Appliances Ltd (EHL)”- a small home Appliances Company- located in Dhaka, Bangladesh decided to air a TVC for the first time to boost up its sales. Few weeks later, EHL aired a TVC in three different Bangladeshi TV channels for at least three months.

The cost was around BDT 26 lakhs.

After completing an ‘Airing Course’ the company initiated a feedback research on TVC effectiveness. It planned to survey 400-500 customers whom it was targeted as their TVC audience. The first feedback survey was conducted in ‘Bogra’ district, Bangladesh. In ‘Bogra’ it interviewed 100 respondents and only 4 out of 100 respondents watched the TVC!

The Company found the most shocking lesson in its life!! It stopped feedback research on TVC immediately.

Monologue does not work, in fact it does not create leads, and you need conversation, dialogue to meaningfully reach out to your target audience and to influence their behavior in favor of your cause. Make sure your idea and ad ignite talks, question and curiosity and mostly start a conversation. Conversation spreads because of the degree of public involvement in the process, and monologue does not work for the very same reason. Without people nothing sustains.

What conversation looks like?

Take Apple’s 1984 television advertisement that famously proclaimed “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like 1984”. It was a wonderful combination between a product that talks for itself and a creative approach that takes the idea of product to a new height. In an investigation to social impact of Apple 1984 ad Ted Friedman asserted in his 2005 text, Electric Dreams: Computers in American Culture, that:

“Super Bowl viewers were overwhelmed by the startling ad. The ad garnered millions of dollars worth of free publicity, as news programs rebroadcast it that night. It was quickly hailed by many in the advertising industry as a masterwork. Advertising Age named it the 1980s Commercial of the Decade, and it continues to rank high on lists of the most influential commercials of all time [...] '1984' was never broadcast again, adding to its mystique”.

It was not a mere advertisement rather starting point of a conversation that implants the greatness of Apple Computer. However, the missing point of this brilliant example is not the so called creativity but the idea, relevance, and PR that supported the ad to have a place in public coffee shops. And as a marketer we need to understand this very basic of how to cook the dish.

You can say Apple is a long distance example for us in Bangladesh! Well, for an example of igniting conversation and spreading ideas we don’t need to go too far, just look at the 2009 campaign of daily Prothom-Alo titled ‘Bodle jao bodle dao’. The campaign is a brilliant example of how to issue a conversation and get benefit out of that. It never claimed that Prothom-Alo is the best source of authentic news or anything about that. Instead it asked you to join a movement for making things better and making a difference. And as we’ve weird brain, so it picks what it always picks. Brain gives this indirect message lot of attention and keeps thinking which is may be why you don’t buy any other newspaper but a Prothom-Alo!

What it takes to start a conversation and spread an idea?

In the year of 2000, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book titled “The Tipping Point” that has changed the very fundamental idea of marketing and the approach of spreading any idea. In the book Malcolm prescribed a compelling way to spread an idea which he named ‘tipping point’-a point from where ideas tip. Malcom asserted:

“The tipping point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple. It is that the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth, or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

According to Malcolm the three rules of the Tipping Point are-

the law of few-“The success of any kind of social epidemics is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. It’s things how sociable they are, or how energetic or knowledgeable or influential among their peers”,

the Stickiness Factor-“The stickiness factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes”,

and the Power of Context- “Epidemics are strongly influenced by their situation by the circumstances and conditions and particulars of the environment in which they operate”.

The game begins with the product or idea itself, similar and some kind of extension to the idea of Malcolm’s ‘Tipping Point’, Seth Godin wrote a book named ‘Unleashing Idea Virus’ where Seth asserted the importance of idea/product as a basic foundation of starting a conversation and spreading an idea. He said-

“An idea merchant understands that creating the virus is the single most important part of her job. So she’ll spend all her time and money on creating a product and environment that feeds the virus’.

A mediocre idea does not spread but brilliant one does. In an attempt to define the ideas that spread and win Heath Brothers (Chip and Dan Heath) wrote a book named ‘MADE to STICK: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die’ where writers suggested that an idea that sticks possess six characteristics: Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions and Stories.

Having a great idea or product sets the stage to perform. If we take the Apple example again then we can easily translate why it tipped. Because the product was itself brilliant, the idea was extraordinary, the media coverage was huge- most of the cases these were for free and by public figures-, the context could not be right more than that. It was the time people were expecting a personal computer that does not suck. With Macintosh Apple fulfilled almost all criteria of tipping an idea and starting a conversation. Consequently, it wins. Make something that tells a story.

Spreading your idea is important because it sells. But only circulation of any idea does not sell, it must ignite action. But do we act when we hear about any idea/product? No, mere hearing does not inspire us to act. It takes pressure. And monologue can’t create that pressure because monologue itself is short living. But conversation is not, it’s sustainable. And conversation spreads and sells almost anything. Let’s go and ignite a conversation.


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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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