Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Customers Don't Want Ads, They Want A Conversation

Marketing is rapidly transforming into a dialogue between buyers and sellers or collaborative marketing. Crowdtap CEO Brandon Evans on the five trends driving the shift.

It is becoming clear that the future of social marketing, and marketing in general, will be built around collaboration. Social technology has already evolved from a focus on consumer listening to broader social management platforms that help brands build and communicate with their consumers. Now, the stage is set for social tech to begin creating real value for companies through deep collaboration with consumers.

Collaborative marketing will mean that marketers truly shift from marketing "at" consumers to marketing "with" consumers. We have reached a tipping point where a penalty will be paid by those companies who simply view social as a mass communication channel for blasting out messages to a mass audience.

Today, the companies that win are closest to those who buy, use, and advocate for their products. Five trends demonstrating a shift to collaborative marketing will create the biggest changes and ultimately offer the most significant rewards for marketers:

1. Democratized product development

New models and technologies continue to make it easier and quicker for upstart companies to create and market products. Brands must keep pace with the speed and crowdsourced brainpower this technology enables, including:

Funding: Crowdsourced funding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo make it easy for anyone with a good idea to raise millions to build a product with little risk.

Distribution: Quirky democratizes invention to anyone with an idea, and Etsy provides a global marketplace for designers and artists to sell their goods.

Production: 3-D printers like Makerbot and Cubify look to revolutionize how prototypes and products are produced via their low-cost devices.

2. Close, continuous customer relationships

IBM’s Global CEO Study found that 88% of CEOs said "getting closer to customers" was the top priority for their business over the next five years. Brands that have a genuine, real-time dialogue with consumers will be well-positioned in a world of evolving and increasingly niche markets.

Krister Zackari, president of Gum and Candy at Mondelez International, has employed a strategy built around ongoing optimization for its Twist brand[/url] to ensure it offers teenagers exactly what they want from a snack brand. He states: "Because we’re working with teens on the strategy, we’re developing it as we go along. It means that we’ve had to change how we would normally go about planning the marketing for a brand. We don’t know what we’ll do next with Twist because we want to evolve naturally as a result of our work with teens."

With this approach, it’s easy to see how Mondelez will keep pace with changing consumer tastes.

3. Open organizations

Businesses in the past succeeded with secrecy. Keeping technology, formulas, and processes under wraps often led to a competitive advantage. Today, competitive innovation stems from open information.

One recent example of a consumer crowdsourcing project is Coca Cola’s newly launched Facebook app that asks its 50 million fans to suggest ideas to make the world a happier place. The winning idea will be funded by Coca-Cola and launched in 2013.

4. Peer-powered media

Pushing out mass messages simply will not cut through the clutter in this age. One-third of all display ads that brands pay for are never shown, and 86% of people skip TV ads. Customers are simply too fragmented, too overstimulated and have too many distractions for these conventional marketing strategies to maintain their effectiveness.

Already, 80% of online content is consumer generated, and content will increasingly come from a customer’s peers. Today, friends are exposed to one another’s location, mood, music, likes, and more. Marketers need advocates talking about their products as people increasingly receive information about brands from their social connections.

5. Measurement of Influence not Impressions

Impressions provided a simple metric for a mass-marketed world. Success today, however, is not based solely on quantity; quality of the engagement with a message must be factored in as well. In order to measure the quality of any customer communication, Crowdtap developed the Brand Influence Metric, along with Joanna Seddon, the former CEO of Millward Brown Optimor.

Brand Influence looks at both quantity and quality of impressions. Marketers should look to implement a measurement system similar to the Brand Influence Formula in order to begin optimizing the quality of their communications in addition to reach and frequency.

What the future holds

Collaborative marketing will bring much greater change than enabling consumers to comment, like, or retweet posts. Collaborative marketing will mean that the current barriers between companies and their consumers will be removed. Successful brands will create and improve their products and messaging continually with their consumers. Likewise, consumers will influence and take co-ownership of their favorite brands.

The collaborative marketing future has arrived, and it’s going to be a fun ride.

Brandon Evans is the CEO and founder of Crowdtap, an Influencer Marketing platform that enables brands to identify, activate, and manage their influential consumers.

[Image: Flickr user Sharon Drummond]

Add New Comment


  • Belinda Summers

    As they said we are now in the third phase of social marketing which is the collaborative marketing and I can see many benefits for brand that are using these tactic. Thank you for giving us a deeper look of collaborative marketing.

  • Leslie Nuccio

    Great article.  It's worth mentioning that, while social has changed the marketing landscape dramatically, we can still apply the same traditional monologue advertising and marketing principles to the new social dialogue marketing model.  An audience becomes a community; a message becomes a conversation; channel is easier to identify beforehand due to sophisticated social listening tools that allows us to understand where our target communities are before a spend.  (For more on social dialogue marketing:

    "The 4 C's of Social Media Marketing" (free e-book: ) covers this shift from monologue to dialogue marketing so that those of us who were trained in marketing before the '90's can find the parallel structure between the old monologue model and the new social dialogue model.  

    I recently listened to Nate Silver talk about Big Data at SXSW, and his points really resonated from a social listening point of view  (  While inciting word-of-mouth ist he ONLY goal of a social media marketer, we need to listen before we market in order to join or start an organic conversation that's actually meaningful to a target community.

    Exciting times ahead for sure!

  • Gerry Rye

    We have been told so many times there is no room in the future for telemarketing, if so why are we busy and have been busy mainly with the same businesses since 1998.

  • Ltrevenen

    Have you been able to apply collaborative media to healthcare where most text is highly scrutinized and approved prior to use?

  • Brandon Evans

    We have done some work with over the counter pharma but agreed, there is additional red tape that will make it more difficult in healthcare/pharma in particular.

  • Amusoka

    To some extent collaborative marketing makes sense- especially for firms in "talk" business (telecoms) and no one is best at it than Safari-com in Kenya

    Maxwell Anyonyi

  • Florence rhydderch Mailhos

    Another case of comments being more interesting than the initial post (although it isn't as vacuous as what I have just read on another topic). A topic dear to my heart, great comments from mike, Dan, Robert with whom I agree, we have lost the basics of what consumers want whilst using more and more channels and technology. This strikes me more and more, as a customer myself and as a professional. I would love to go all Mary Portas on companies that do mot get it, and actually I might do just that, customers bug busting... It is everywhere, in big and small businesses alike...

  • Robert Bacal

    Coincidentally, there was another bit of research mentioned, I believe in Fast Company, that suggests that customers do not want companies intruding on their online experiences, unless specifically ASKED. If I find the mention I'll add it here. I think we're going to see (in 2013) a backlash for the intrusive and less intrusive "conversations", and companies realizing that the "conversation" thing is NOT what customers want. Unless they need something, in which case they want problems solved,  not "chatting".

  • Garyjmccloud

    Robert, I don't agree with your consensus about "what consumers want" as you are lumping all consumers into a single narrow category which they are many times have consumers wished that they could send some meaningful input regarding product development or other ideas and not fall onto deaf ears or into an abyss called a round file!  There are many consumers who would love to be part of this collaboration and conversation process and some who will not...the basis for current social networks right?  

  • Kristen Matthews

    Hi Brandon,

    I loved the way you've wrapped up a topic that has gotten a lot of buzz lately in this post. I recommended it to my own network.

    Have been doing a lot of thinking on consumer generate content. I agree that it's by far the most effective content to perpetuate a brand. Do you have any strategies on getting/incentivizing consumers to generate content about a brand?

  • Brandon Evans

    Thanks Kristen,
    Glad you enjoyed the article. We certainly have tons of experience and strategies for collaborating with consumers to drive the spread of branded content. I'd start with our recently released white paper The Collaborative Marketing Future which is linked in the article. 

  • Mike Power

    BTW - the stat that 86% of people skip TV ads is misleading.  In fact, the stat is even lower than that during playback of DVR recordings of TV programs.  BUT I do agree that the world of communications has been democratized by the digital effect and that brands must start thinking of themselves as having being publishers of relevant content...even if some of that content are still ads.  The truth is the old model of advertising still works - i've seen hundreds of regression analysis that prove it mathematically.  But with so many new roads open to marketers, there are just new avenues that can allow their marketing to work even better, more holistically and for the longer term.

  • Robert Bacal

    I know you're talking about marketing here, but I think we're losing site of the bottom line WANTS of customers. I don't think they want "conversation". I think they (we) want SIMPLE, CONVENIENT, COMPETENT, FAST, NO HASSLES, in addition to value.

    When they don't get that, they want resolution fast, and easy, which they don't get. Only when things go wrong do customers want more "conversation". In fact, there's some recent research that suggests customers are getting tired of the constant attempts to "get them to engage", when all they want is to make a simple, no hassle purchase.

    There's more about this at:

  • Brandon Evans

    Thanks for your comments. I think what is perhaps unclear is that what I am speaking of is not something that brands need to do with every consumer. Nor should consumers have this relationship with every (or even any) brands if they don't wish to. 

    The point is that marketers need to partner and collaborate with a set of consumers in order to understand how to provide consumers like you with a "SIMPLE, CONVENIENT, COMPETENT, FAST, NO HASSLES" product that has value to you. Without that, how would they know how to deliver on that. 

    In addition, traditional marketing messages often fall on deaf ears now. The consumers who are passionate about brands and do want to connect deeply with them are critical to helping other consumers learn about products that they find valuable. 

    Yes, while none of this is new (I've been building solutions in this space for 8+ years) and much of it sounds like common sense. The technology and marketing ecosystem; however, is finally getting to a point where this is possible and increasingly necessary at scale. 

  • BraandLife

    SPOT ON! Curating, Authoring and/or Distributing Content that Solves A Problem, Answers A Question, Satisfies A Passing Interest or Speaks To Our Local Interests is key.

  • Donna Kivirauma

    I think the big shift is how to integrate advertising into what a person is doing online so that it is not intrusive.  Click through rates are negligible which says people don't want them or in most cases don't even notice them.  

  • François Prigent

    Most marketers who read Disruption marketing, and Seth Godin are on this stage now. Problem is technology is growing faster than what we can learn. And not always for the good like Retargeting or RTB: if I speak Display only these are somehow and sometimes hard to track.

  • tomfosgard

    I've been thinking a lot about this lately and I have to say that despite what you are saying is very NOW thinking, I do not entirely agree. What is the capacity for a human to have conversations? Think of how many brands we consume. Do we want to have a conversation with all of them? Or even some of them? My laundry detergent (no)? My cable company (maybe)? My lamp (doubt it)? My carpet (nope)? We, I think, don't have the time nor the desire to engage with companies we like let alone those that are competing for our attention. Yet, sometimes, I believe, one-way advertising is useful to us. Yes, I agree traditional TV ads should be on the way out because people aren't paying attention but there are other methods to get useful messages to people (online, in-venue, outdoor, etc.) without demanding that they engage with you. It just depends on your brand and where you are in the process of establishing your brand.

  • Ursula Huber Rea

    Tom, companies do not continue running ads which do not work!!! Their advertising counselors/agencies do much research and ROI is done at every turn by media directors, whether one, or another medium, works or not. These data show if a purchase is validated/proof of performance.

    The end result is income creation for a company or product. The product you care about may not be the same product your neighbor or family purchases. If it is a corporate product, you may never see the ads, unless you are in that specific business. Further, kiosk and billboard advertising works for foot or automobile traffic areas and, where people do not have access to, nor own their own portable cell phone or tablet. (Some people are poor and can only get access at the libraries.)

    Ursula Huber Rea