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Conversation skills as a guide to commercial communication

[Dit artikel is voorlopig alleen in het Engels beschikbaar]

Consversation in dictionary

Dear friends,

For my first blog post I chose to write something general about business communication. It’s an idea that’s been in my head for many years now and I want to share it because it’s so easy to put into practice, especially for small businesses. Secondly I want to emphasize that I believe in two-way marketing communication and transparency in business, our customers (or targets) know best what they want after all…

We are all social beings and I think you all agree that communication plays a vital role in our daily lives. It’s as important as, let’s say, oxygen, food, safety etc… . We communicate and use our conversation skills all the time to promote ourselves and expand our social network. When listening to someone we could constantly interrupt the conversation by saying how great we are or we could do a monologue, but we know by experience that this is not a good idea. So why not take the opportunity to use this knowledge in our commercial advantage? Everyone has different styles of communicating during a regular conversation, but there are some general rules though to get the attention of the receiver. In other words, some tricks can be used in any given situation. How can you optimize your communication and reach your buyer personas with minimal effort? In this article I’ll explain how to use your conversation skills to improve your advertisements and commercial or (external) marketing communication. I’ll also cover a lot on online marketing because the importance of internet becomes inevitable.

The following rules don’t have to be applied with every move you make, but your overall communication has to be coherent and should follow all of these rules.

1. Think before you speak!

Plan your communication! Never ever forget this rule.

2. Be yourself, be natural.

If you lie or try to be someone that you’re not, it will show and your conversation is destined to fail. The same goes for business communication. Some companies talk about strengths they don’t have, or even worse, they make promises they can’t keep. This definitely won’t work on the long run. Always remember that your communication should reflect who you are. A comedian is funny because he tells jokes, not because he says he can…

But how can a company -with employees who have their own identity- communicate naturally? Well, the company itself needs some sort of identity or personality on which it can build it’s entire communication plan. In an ideal situation the company already has a corporate identity that is used as a guideline in commercial communication. This corporate identity defines how a company intents to present itself, it includes elements like behavioral guidelines, communication, mission statement and values but also visual elements like logo’s, etc… . It’s useful to capture limits and potentials of a business. To communicate consistently it can be extremely useful and powerful!

Some companies don’t have a corporate identity, for example small firms with little employees, and how they communicate is defined by their corporate culture. This culture is formed by the actions of individual people, the perceptions they have and the procedures that are already present. None of those things are defined beforehand and nobody pays attention to it, they are obvious. Therefore a corporate culture isn’t ideal when planning communication on a longer period of time, it offers little guidelines and the communication can become confusing without.

The corporate image should correspond with “who the company really is”. In other words, your communication should be spot-on and reflect your identity! To succeed you need to know where you’re going.

3. Don’t dominate a conversation or make it all about you. Strive for a balance between giving and taking.

Like I already mentioned, do not conduct a monologue. Listening to someone who only speaks (about himself or herself) is just annoying. Many companies seem to fail at this third rule, they only „talk” without listening to what their customers have to say. Think about companies who use interruption marketing, they push people hard with continued ads and other forms of communication. I strongly dissuade such practices, there are better ways to meet the same objectives. Then there are forms of outbound marketing, older marketing techniques, that are perceived in the same way. They offer a lower return on investment compared with newer marketing techniques, for example inbound marketing.

Communication in inbound marketing is always balanced because the information people get is adapted to their needs and it approaches them where they want, in the channel they want to interact with your company.

4. Be interesting and have something to say.

This is obvious, people will listen if you have something interesting to say. Good talkers tell things you don’t know already. In a business environment this means the message of your commercial communication should be interesting. Yes, you can use traditional communication channels with a creative message but you can go much further.

One way is using content marketing. Next to selling products/services your company can offer valuable information about the market it operates in, for example on a blog. The power of content marketing is that you attract people with the same interests, what can result in new leads and even new customers. Here are some examples:

If you sell…

… pizza’s you could talk about good food.
… furniture you can talk about interior design.
… diapers you talk about how to nurture a baby.
… you sell building materials you talk about do-it-yourself building and technological improvements in the sector.

There are companies out there who struggle with this idea. How do we start with content marketing? Where do we get this content from? The answers are not that simple. Once again your corporate identity (especially your mission statement and values) plays an important role. First of all you should have advanced insight into your own business and into your target audience.
When you actually start to create valuable content it’s a good idea to involve the people who work in your company because who knows better what’s going on in your market? But there is much more to say about this topic, I’ll address this in later posts.

5. Ask questions and find out a few things about the person you’re talking to.

If you want information from your target group, the traditional way is through surveys and interviews. Although these are still very important approaches the internet provides other interesting ways to interact with customers.

Social media offer the most extensive possibilities to interact with a target group but are therefore harder to manage. There’s a reason why social media marketing exists but it shouldn’t hold you back to explore some of the possibilities since it could provide an ideal opportunity to engage with your buyer personas. If there’s only a small budget or amount of time available, try to start with one channel only, preferably one you can reach many people with. Once you’ve done this, make sure you do updates regularly or have some basic conversations. You’ll probably get some customer reviews as well, this is a perfect moment to engage in a conversation. Reviews provide super valuable information that you can use to improve your product or service. Encourage people to suggest new products/services and vote on their favorites by setting up a poll. Keep track of what competitors and potential clients post and do, this is called social listening. Like I said, the possibilities are endless. On the long run you could plan a social media strategy with a more rigorous approach.

Other ways to get info are feedback forms and comment boxes. Users of your website even give you information without telling, there are dozens of analytics tools out there to analyze their behavior.

6. Adapt your language and content to the receiver.

Skilled speakers adapt their language and content to the person they’re talking with to increase likability and avoid misunderstandings. Use all the previous tips to determine what the best content is. Remember this: your target group needs the right information at the right place and time. Once more, you can go a step further by tracking your customers, offer them something relevant, build a relationship and finally analyze the total process using CRM (see lead nurturing or marketing automation).

7. Maintain an open mind.

It’s hard to have a conversation if one of the participants is stubborn. Use your open mind to evaluate how you communicate and be innovative!

Quick tips

– Plan your communication!
– Determine your corporate identity and use it to your advantage.
– Be consequent, open and honest when communicating with your target market.
– Learn more about inbound marketing.
– Try to get as much information as possible from your target audience.
– Question your methods all the time and be innovative.

Enjoy your conversation!

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