Have you ever been stuck in a conversation with someone so obsessed with making his point, he doesn’t give you a chance to speak? That’s how consumers often feel about marketing.

When brands demand that audiences engage with them via social media, paid content, ads, and other platforms, people feel like they’re trapped in a conversation with someone they don’t want to talk to.

My company calls this trap the monologue mindset. Marketers are so eager to connect with consumers, they forget that the key to connection is dialogue.

It’s not that people dislike hearing from brands. In fact, 80 percent of consumers surveyed for one study cited “authenticity of content” as a driving factor in whether they follow a brand. Another study found that brand engagement plays a critical role in earning Millennials’ loyalty, in particular.

So content and advertising are not the problems, but many marketers haven’t mastered the art of conversation with their audiences. The result is mistrust between companies and their customers. People may love the products, but they’re wary of brands that don’t engage with them authentically.

The End of the Monologue Era

The monologue mindset is not a new phenomenon. For as long as companies have hawked their wares, marketing and advertising have centered on brands pushing their messages — and consumers being forced to receive them via TV, radio, or full-page ads in their daily newspapers.

The internet, and social media, in particular, have changed the dynamic. Social channels like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram enable people to talk back to brands. Savvy companies seized this opportunity, using social channels to delight followers with mentions and direct messages and to respond to customer complaints. Brands that mistake social as merely a means for further self-promotion are seen as insincere and out of touch. 

The use of ad blockers in the U.S. increased by nearly 35 percent in 2016, a clear signal that people don’t want brands talking at them. They want to brands talking with them, including them in the conversation. This appetite for dialogue creates fertile ground for influencer marketing, which is why influencer content generates 11 times more ROI than traditional digital strategies. Consumers trust their favorite Instagram or YouTube stars far more than they do corporate brands. Two-way engagement is largely responsible for that trust.

Two-Way Marketing

Most brands lost control of their customer conversations years ago — they just haven’t realized it. Consumers increasingly determine when and how they interact with brands, and marketers must respond to the behaviors and preferences demonstrated in those choices.

Here’s the upside: This makes marketers’ jobs easier. People are eager to tell companies what they like and dislike, both through social posts and their online behaviors. Marketers have access to more data than ever before on what resonates — if they’re willing to listen to what customers are saying. 

Rather than bombarding prospects with “impressions,” successful marketers work hard to learn what their customers value and engage them on topics about which they’re passionate. 

If you’ve been monologuing to your audience to ill effect, use the following tips to establish a more mutually beneficial relationship:

1. Participate; don’t dominate.

The way to people’s hearts is not through clever marketing or witty jargon. People care less about brands and more about causes, so you need to prove that your company is an authentic champion of something meaningful. 

To determine what your audience is passionate about, create opportunities for conversation. Hold Twitter chats or live Facebook sessions where they can talk with you about the issues they hold dear. Invite them to contribute in the form of selfies, videos, testimonials, and other content that will resonate with their fellow consumers. 

By inviting people to be part of your campaigns, they’ll feel that you value their ideas and concerns — not just their business. Once you’ve engaged them and gathered their feedback, you can incorporate their input into your cultural mission.

2. Engineer meaningful moments.

Engineering moments might sound like the opposite of authenticity, but the concepts can complement one another. You’re not trying to manipulate people; you’re creating opportunities for intelligent, thoughtful conversations.

The goal is to make an ordinary day magical or memorable through serendipitous moments. A well-timed message, touching video, or relatable article can make people feel deeply connected to your brand’s mission. Those touches will also inspire them to reach out via social or email, furthering the exchange.

The more meaning you can impart through your marketing materials, the more inspired people will be to buy from you or work with you. Authenticity-based strategies also generate advocacy, so happy customers will sing your praises among their networks.

3. Exceed expectations.

There’s an endless stream of content on the internet. You cannot win over customers if you’re playing the quantity game. People want informative, interesting, moving content — not clickbait articles that do nothing to enhance their lives. That’s why the top 5 percent of brand content attracts 90 percent of engagement, so focus on delivering quality.

Google’s search algorithms also favor quality and engagement. Pieces that receive lots of likes, upvotes, and shares rank higher than vacuous articles that people immediately forget.

Still, it takes a lot to stand out. Publishing polished, well-written content isn’t enough. Take time to deeply understand your audience then to create unique content that speaks to their personalities and tastes. Delighting audiences is a great way to exceed their expectations and keep them interested in your story.

Audience engagement requires more effort than monologue marketing. You must witness people’s stories, be open to criticism, and be willing to invest time in developing quality content and establishing credibility.

But the payoff is huge. Instead of being skeptical, your audience members will become loyal, enthusiastic advocates for your company. The dialogue you begin with consumers today will inspire countless conversations among their communities for years to come.


Cecy Shveid is the SVP of Planning at RAPP. She has 25 years of experience building global brands and business through heart-opening insights and data-driven strategy. She brings a broad range of experience in multichannel marketing communications, applying qualitative and quantitative research and proven methodologies to drive perception, engagement, and behavior to transform brand experiences.

Cody Hudson is Brand Strategist at RAPP, a company that focuses on critical, direct, and high-value relationships that link people and brands across the fast-changing digital landscape. With over 15 years of hands-on marketing experience, Cody is driven to find the sweet spots within consumer and data trends that allow a brand’s voice to resonate and evolve. From the attribution model challenges of mobile and social to the complexities of commerce-enabled content, the field fuels her fascination and drive.