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Learning to Shut Up and Listen

Let consumers dig your brand -- or not -- on their terms.
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In what is being billed as the first-of-its-kind collaboration via the Internet, a group of marketers two weeks ago published The Age of Conversation, a book that offers advice on ways businesses can engage consumers through conversation -- in short: "shaddup already... and listen more."

The 103 authors are marketing types and bloggers (including me), each of whom contributed a 400-word essay. Hailing from 24 states and 10 nations, the contributors were brought together (virtually) by Drew McLellan, who heads McLellan Marketing Group in Des Moines, Iowa, and Gavin Heaton, who works at a marketing agency, Creata, in Sidney, Australia. Appropriately enough, the two guys have never met. In fact, with the exception of a single, garbled Skype exchange, they've never even spoken, trade pub Ad Age points out.

So a bunch of authors who've never met collaboratively publish a book, with the help of two guys who, by the way, have also never met. Here's why else this book is cool:

1. It explores how the business of marketing is changing. If Madison Avenue spent much of the last century using one-way communication to push toothpaste and soap and Cheetos at people -- and spent most of its energy controlling the chatter -- it's time that companies now "grab some humility and learn the art of conversation," contributor Ed Cotton counsels. Adds Faris Yakob, a senior strategist at Naked Communications in London: Companies need to loosen their grip on consumer creativity; let consumers dig your brand -- or not -- on their terms.

"The marketing industry is abuzz about how the citizen marketers are changing the landscape. This book captures that new phenomenon," Drew says.

2. It explores how communication is changing. Social media like this blog and others, podcasts, wikis, and so on mean that a single soul has the potential to influence many. Everyone has a voice and ability to influence. On my page, I write, "The thing is... in this Age of Conversation, one exchange has the potential to influence many. Anyone can be a maven. Or a connector."

3. Readers can yak back. I'm imagining that it's easy for readers to feel overwhelmed by the admonishments throughout the "Age of Conversation" to lighten up... open up... shut up... listen... blog... embrace. But readers of the book can talk back. This wouldn't be the age of conversation otherwise, right?

4. All proceeds go to charity. The book is available in a downloadable e-version and in hardcover and softcover. All proceeds will be donated to Variety, the international children's charity.

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