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Express yourself: Becoming a conversation manager

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem on what makes a ‘Conversation Manager'

A conversation manager is someone who can listen to and talk with consumers, who communicates with consumers, rather than at them, and lives in and experiences the same world as the consumer. He can manage the new communication channels and techniques of the 21st century. In contrast to the traditional advertiser, he does not ask himself what the central message of his new campaign should be – instead, he looks for subjects that he can explore with his consumers. He helps the consumer to talk constructively about his brand.

The key question of a conversation manager is not: 'what should I say to my consumers?', it is, 'What should others say about me?'

Word of mouth

A conversation manager believes in the power of word-of-mouth because nothing beats the feedback of a happy client to convince a potential client. Everybody knows this power, but only a limited number of people are managing it. A conversation manager helps to optimize the 'unused conversation potential' of an organisation. It is a new management role, which can be fulfilled by every marketer and by every manager. It is a metaphor for a new marketing approach.

The conversation manager’s creed is brand – activation – conversation.

Let's start with the brand, which is central to the working methods of the conversation manager. If consumers feel a high degree of identification with your brand, they will be willing to commit to it. Brand identification provides a lever effect for all forms of communication. Both communication emanating directly from the brand, as well as communication which spontaneously arises in consumer circles, will be more powerful if the level of brand commitment is high.


A conversation manager believes in the power of word-of-mouth because nothing beats the feedback of a happy client to convince a potential client.

Brands encourage emotions in their consumers. It is therefore wise to use these emotions to cement the positive relationship between the consumer and the brand. Can a supporter of Liverpool ever become a supporter of Manchester United? Almost certainly not. Brand identification is so intense that a change from one football team to another is virtually impossible. Harley Davidson riders often tattoo the Harley badge on their arm – a gesture of brand identification which it is difficult to beat. Millions of consumers prefer Heinz ketchup to any other kind of ketchup, even though many of the others are cheaper. The emotion which the Heinz brand creates results in positive purchasing motivation.

Conversation managers can influence the position of their brand, amongst other things, through the use of relevant advertising. A conversation manager continues to be an advertiser. However, the manner in which he advertises is radically different in comparison with his predecessors. For a conversation manager, the purpose of advertising is to activate.

A traditional advertiser regards reach as the most important performance indicator for his campaign.  For a conversation manager reach is just one of the factors contributing towards his success. Reach – bringing your advert to the attention of your consumers – is the easiest part of advertising. Making sure that the consumer reacts to your message in a positive manner, so much so that he is prepared to pass it on to others, is much more difficult. It is only then that your message will achieve real impact. 

The conversation manager takes account of his consumers’ conversations. It is important to know what thousands of consumers are saying about your product on the internet and elsewhere, and he observes conversations. He also facilitates them: making it easy to talk with and about their brand. Finally, the he participates in the conversations.

The interaction between brand identification, conversations and advertisements is the playground of the conversation manager. He understands how these three elements relate to each other and strengthen each other. The conversation manager sees his brand as an oven, his advertisements as the fire and the conversations as the oxygen that will allow his fire to burn.

Prof. Steven Van Belleghem is author of The Conversation Company and The Conversation Manager (Kogan Page)


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