Chief Conversation Officer

February 4, 2008 at 6:03 am | Posted in Advertising, Books, Communication, Companies, Decision making, General, Jaffe, Joseph - Join The Conversation, Marketing, Online marketing, ROI, Social Media, Turow, Joseph - Niche Envy, Web 2.0 | 3 Comments
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Updated: Welcome Jaffe Juice readers! Note that my other posts regarding Join The Conversation are linked at the end of the first paragraph below. Also, if you like what you see, be sure to subscribe. Thanks! 

I just finished reading Joseph Jaffe’s Join The Conversation and highly recommend it. I’m a believer that the internet age largely only changed our medium of communication. We still function basically the same and this is a book that supports the need for conversation (more important that communication or dialogue) through the online channel. This sounds easy but Jaffe has many, many examples of companies that failed miserably in this regard. (You may remember Jaffe from when I mentioned his work here, here, and here.)

Conversation in business is like a fairy or Santa Claus – you want to believe in it, but when the rubber hits the road, you “know” there’s nothing in it. This couldn’t be further from the truth (Jaffe has examples to back up this notion too). But who would fill this function in the office? Conversation isn’t on the org chart.

Jaffe suggests a Chief Conversation Officer (CCO). (Sidenote: Joseph, I tried to join the conversation at as instructed on page 102, but that page did not exist – for shame!) Here’s the gist of a CCO:

“Said CCO would report to the very top and thus bypass any blinkered or biased silos. The conversation department would be populated by true generalists with expertise across marketing, advertising, internal communications, corporate communications, customer service, government, analysis, and press relations. They would be responsible for monitoring and listening to conversations, understanding and contextualizing them, responding to and catalyzing existing conversations, and, ultimately, joining them. (Jaffe 101-102)”

Later in the book, Jaffe reiterates that this is someone with a mix of attributes, somewhere between PR people (more “social media”) and advertising/marketing folks (more “storytelling”). I imagine this multi-dimensional CCO would also be “somewhere in between…longing for the days of good old-fashioned storytelling, with a sprinkle of authenticity and a drizzle of ROI to boot. (Jaffe 180)”

Likewise, I would think this conversation department headed by the CCO would be something like the “black ops” team mentioned late in the book. They would be responsible for experimentation, a vital aspect of any business, and fit in to the CCO model in my opinion.

“Experimentation is best conducted by a separate team – a nimble, independent, empowered, and intense group of individuals who report straight to the top. Depending on your anticipated level of risk and your comfort level, this team could be assembled as a ‘Delta Force’ or ‘black ops’ group…unaccountable throughout but ready and prepared to pay the ultimate price upon failure. (Jaffe 252)”

Jaffe’s sentiments relate to Joseph Turow, who recently wrote a terrible screed bashing all marketers in Niche Envy: Marketing Discrimination in the Digital Age (and yes, it is intentional that I am not hyperlinking the title – don’t buy this book!).

Turow says “The adperson who is master of this particular form of ‘conversation’ [two-way contact with customers and potential customers] can expect a growing role in tomorrow’s marketing world. (Turow 69-70)” He only begrudgingly acknowledges the usefullness of a marketer in touch with his/her audience and throws sarcastic quotation marks around “conversation,” but the sentiment is the same. He later goes on to quote James Stengel, P&G’s marketing chief:

” ‘All marketing should be permission marketing,’ he said, and ‘all marketing should be so appealing that customers want us in their lives…and homes.’ To do that, he cautioned, required creative content and ‘connection points’ in a variety of media and environments. (Turow 87-8)” While Turow spends most of his book bashing all marketing and inciting paranoia about the information marketers have (Old Navy knows I like blue shirts, the horror!), he is correct that direct connection between the customer and company will only become more important in the near future. What better person to be responsible for this connection than the Chief Conversation Officer?



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  1. Hilarious – “Old Navy knows I like blue shirts, the horror!”

    People do get really exposed on the net, especially with social networking and such. I don’t worry too much. I’d be interested in your political perspective on this (you were in politics before, right?). Perhaps that was a different blog I read. Politicians have to be the ultimate in exposed.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Phil. Yeah, there is definitely an exposure level that politicians have to deal with. We’re in an interesting time because these old-school politicos keep getting caught with their literal or figurative pants down – they don’t understand that *everything* can be logged and saved. It is a mindset that is changing, but slowly.

  3. As a new blogger, I sit in-front of my computer trying to think of something witty or clever to say about Jaffes’ C-type marketing question.

    So, do I think a company needs a new department to handle the conversation going on in the market?

    Working for a large fortune 500 company- I would enjoy sitting in on the first meeting with the Conversation expert recommending his ‘new wave thinking to the 25 board members, president, and managers, lawyers, and external PR consultants with their $0.02- on the first blog. It would cosgt an estimated $45,000 for a single post or about $974/word.

    Do I think it necessary? Absolutely.

    Take the conversation at the last ‘industry gathering’ I attended (commercial real estate lending). Our department has turned into an over night joke by our peers, competitors and former customers. I won’t get into the specifics, needless to say, we have lost what used to be our competitive advantage.

    Are these conversations currently taking place on a blog? I don’t know- I haven’t checked- yet.

    Point is, keeping up with what people are saying about your business online or off line is critical. Will we see a conversation CCO in the next 2- years?

    Who knows- maybe I become the next overpaid online CCO guru in real estate

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