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What is Conversational Captial?

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This chapter is from the book
Learn the triggers of word-of-mouth and a process to embedding them in your own products, helping you create stuff people love to talk about.

What Is Conversational Capital?

By studying the activities of category-defining brands2 such as Cirque du Soleil, Apple, adidas, Red Bull, IKEA, method cleaning products, and many others, we’ve come up with a series of observations that can help generate and spread positive word-of-mouth.

We call these observations Conversational Capital, and they’re not just limited to big brand names and international marketers. Some of the world’s best word-of-mouth examples are small, local success stories—such as Schwartz’s, a much-loved Montréal smoked meat restaurant, or an independent artist with a video on YouTube.

What they all have in common is that they are fully endorsed by consumers who share their enthusiasm with their peers. Because word-of-mouth is peer-mediated, it has more authority—this much we know already. However, what Conversational Capital reveals to us is why peers talk about an experience to their friends, families, and coworkers.

The short answer is that the experience means something to them. This is our first major insight. When consumers discover something meaningful in a consumption experience, they are prepared to make the consumption story their own.

This naturally leads to our second major insight. For some time now, marketers have talked about how brands have become identity markers. What our observations about word-of-mouth tell us is something more: Stories about consumption experiences have become identity shapers.

Today’s consumers are increasingly developing their own personal narratives, creating and recreating identities for themselves. What they consume and how they consume it are important parts of that identity-shaping process. Consumption experiences are substories that they incorporate into their own narratives—the stories they tell that define who they are and how they relate to the world. The more intense and meaningful the substories are, the more likely they are to become part of the larger, personal story.

We call our series of observations Conversational Capital because this storytelling process is a form of powerful currency that transforms the relationship between brand experiences and consumers. In this new type of transaction, marketers provide consumers valuable conversational currency by successfully delivering outstanding and meaningful experiences that help consumers define who they are and where they stand. In return, consumers talk positively about certain experiences and, by extension, increase their value.

You’ve encountered the process many times. We’ve all met people who like to talk about their consumption experiences (some at greater length than others). Rather than merely filling gaps in conversation, they are, in essence, talking about themselves. By saying how much they enjoyed Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class service or how delicious Pastis’ oysters are, they actually convey that they are interesting jet-setters.

This may all sound very esoteric, but how esoteric can we be? We’re marketers! So, as marketers naturally do, we’ve broken our insights down into an easy-to-understand list of eight “engines” of Conversational Capital: Rituals, Exclusive Product Offering, Myths, Relevant Sensory Oddity, Icons, Tribalism, Endorsement, and Continuity. When some or all of these engines are incorporated into your experience, the result is Conversational Capital—fuel for stories consumers want to spread to others, the most valuable currency any marketer could hope for.

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