The Age of Dialogue has grown up.

Last week we held our latest Age of Dialogue conference at MediaCom.  The terminology has now passed into popular usage, but to remind you The Age of Dialogue is our name for the 4th and current age of communications.  Consumers relationships with companies and their products and brands have changed.  In the  1st age in the 1950s, The Age of Interruption, consumers were happy to pay attention to advertising and essentially to do what it told them to do because they actively sought the reassurance of brand names and tended to trust what big companies told them.  In the 2nd age, the Age of Entertainment in the 60s and 70s people would still pay attention to ads, but they needed to be entertaining.  In the 3rd age, the Age of Engagement, the 80s and 90s the relatively rapid rise in the number of media channels meant that reaching people at the right time and place was crucial.  But now, in the Age of Dialogue, dialogues between consumers can and often do have more effect on brand image than advertising.

Our first age of dialogue conference was in 2007.  A lot of the things we talked about then seemed disruptive, but marginal.

Now Facebook has in excess of 35 million users, Search Engine Optimisation is a recognised part of brand management and famous brands have been brought to their knees by a bunch of mums chatting online.

The Age of Dialogue has grown up.  Non traditional media channels are now part of mainstream media plans.  Many people think it still a confusing age.  But we believe it is an exciting place, full of opportunities to effect behavioural change and to deliver opportunities for growth.

And growth is what we need right now.  All of us with very few exceptions have been through or are going through cutbacks in marketing spend, in staff, in nice to have but non essential activities.

We are now lean, we are now pared back to the bone, and now is the time to take the lead, to take competitive advantage and drive growth.

But it is a different kind of growth in an important way; it is growth driven by consumers not by business people.  The new ways of communicating with consumers don’t necessarily conform to the old principles, for instance psychographic segmentation of consumers.  There are new consumer journeys in every category – new ways to understand and to direct behavioural change, new ways of getting our messages across.  For instance if you have a new advertising campaign you can work with the blogging and tweeting community to understand how it is being received and to help to amplify it, the very fact that everyone has their mobile on and with them nearly all the time gives you the potential to take the consumer from ad awareness to purchase in minutes.  There is no need to leave a communications strategy set in stone for months.  Real time course correction planning can and indeed must be built into any media plan.  And there are opportunities too now to build partnerships in new ways with media owners based on effectiveness.

We had an exciting array of speakers.  They included Justine Roberts of Mumsnet – whose community of mums wield great influence.  Mary Portas, Queen of Shops, who spoke with great panache about customer power and the new “universal shopper”.  A better informed shopper who will mix high and lower end products and switch from shopping instore to shopping online as it suits them.  David Abraham, CEO of C4, talked about the evolution of trading and business models for TV.  John Grant showed us how games and gaming can be a great analogy for behaviour change.  And our own speakers Jerry Lloyd Williams and Steve Gladdis talked about accountability and planning methods for the Age of Dialogue. 

Things have changed and are changing but if we focus on the consumer we can drive growth in the year ahead.

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