February 24, 2010

Small Talk

In 1923 the study of small talk was pioneered by a polish anthropologist named Bronisław Kasper Malinowski who postured that a "phatic expression is one whose only function is to perform a social task, as opposed to conveying information."

Malinowski explains that small talk is nothing more than conversation for its own sake, or "…comments on what is perfectly obvious."

Malinowski insisted that all anthropologists have daily contact with their informants if they were to adequately record the "imponderabilia of everyday life" that was so important to understanding the culture.

The "imponderabilia of everyday life", a term that has for decades been a subject that was incredibly difficult to define and even harder to employ in the study of social behavior.

Until now!

I am the furthest thing from a scientist but I feel somewhat confident in saying that based on Malinowski's criteria for adequately recording the "imponderabilia of everyday life" I may actually have some expertise in this particular area of anthropology.

In today's advertising world social media has become a necessary focus and its trends change by the minute. It is a living target that must be communicated with at the speed it is traveling.

We can no longer rely on the trusted billboard, the reliable circular or the memorable television commercial to speak to an audience. We must now communicate and interact directly with our audiences and in many cases even include them in the critical functioning and the overall success of our marketing initiatives.

As marketers we no longer have to spend countless (billable) hours trying to guess what the deep inner thoughts of our audiences are. Working in huge groups and spending millions of client dollars trying to hit our targets while blindfolded and hoping to get as close to the bulls eye as possible.

Today we live in a new world, a digital world with an ocean of "imponderabilia of everyday life" flowing rapidly across our eyes and every current in that ocean brings with it the vision we as marketers need to communicate with our customers.

Before social media took the grand stage we were an industry dominated by advertising shamans and persona like Don Draper whose strength and charm would give license to conjure up campaigns from deep inner wounds, giant egos or some mysterious connection into the consciousnesses of the public. The bravery to express those ideas against mostly unfounded assumptions were often awarded and then were copied again and again because they slightly resonated with the general public.

There were no questions or arguments, no forums for feedback or criticism, the general public trusted the techniques of advertisers because they believed that advertisers knew how to communicate and that if it was on TV then it must be important.

A new age has dawned (its so cool that I can actually say that).

An age where everyone has a voice.

There are 500 million people, all connected, that are expressing and exchanging ideas, praising and complaining, competing and supporting and buying and selling from one another.

Gathering virtually, all day, every day to form new and unique groups and societies, thriving on the social web while living simultaneously and performing necessary tasks in the physical world.

We are communicating constantly and in our own natural environments that shift as we shift. Advertisers must now also shift if they are to remain relevant voices in the"imponderabilia of everyday life."

The only way we can expect to communicate with our audiences today at the pace they are living is in short succinct and informative dialog. What I would like to call Small Talk.

Now you may be questioning my decision to attach such a mundane and even annoying moniker to such a monumental shift in society and are probably thinking it should be called something more along the lines of The Great Conversation.

But if you recall at the beginning of this post I introduced an anthropologist named Malinowski who explained that small talk is nothing more than conversation for its own sake, or "…comments on what is perfectly obvious." What he calls small talk.

Those "comments on what is perfectly obvious" amongst one another are the secret formula we as advertisers have been yearning for all these years. It is our direct line of communication with our audiences and the source for which we should base our marketing strategies.

There was a time when commerce and daily life was driven by conversation.

Consumers lived in well defined communities and completely relied on the trust of the community and the ability to engage in dialog regarding every aspect of that community.

The products these consumers desired to purchase were often used by other people they knew and the reputation of the products would be woven into the daily chatter.

If the goods were defective customers knew exactly who to complain to and if they were in high demand it was immediately recognized by the peddler selling those goods.

The source of these goods were usually supplied by a man with a cart whose ability to make a living was based on a keen talent for listening and responding to the needs of his customers. Being an active voice in the community.

Everything happened in real time, no check out lines or customer service reps, it was advertising and selling in the midst of a bustling life that was vibrant and exciting.

Everything returns in new incarnations.

Today there are virtual communities are all over the place, each one of them with very specific needs.

In an article written by Moses Ma, a partner at Next Generation Ventures, Moses writes "These social networks act to fill a deep psychological need in our society. The reality is that customers are starved for real community. Consumer's brains are wired to operate within the social context of community - programming both crucial and ancient for human survival."

Brands must now rejoin the societies they supply. They must once again become part of the ecosystem and re-establish the meaningful connections of the past through the powerful medium that is the future. In short succinct messages (140 characters perhaps), not huge special effects or sexy flashy models but speaking as the community speaks, in small talk.