Relationships, Value and Confidence: Valeria Maltoni On Smarter Marketing

Valeria Maltoni is the founder and principal of Conversation Agent,

Valeria Maltoni is the founder and principal of Conversation Agent, where she works with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups, and writes one of the top 30 marketing blogs worldwide as ranked by the AdAge Power150.

We caught up with Valeria between her frequent speaking gigs to talk about relationship marketing, how to grow your business with more than just tactics, the real bottom line on social media, and the sources that help fuel her thinking and insights.

Hunter Boyle: Tell us what you’re focused on lately with your work and Conversation Agent.

Valeria Maltoni: I’m taking a look at the bigger question of confidence in business. Brand managers, communicators, marketers tell me they are constantly in reactionary mode and are seeking a seat at the executive table by being more proactive. There is a path to step up your game.

Confidence takes work. There are no wrong answers — it really is early days with social and even digital media hold more exciting opportunity. What’s served up in the mainstream right now is the concept of “trust” because it’s the easy choice.

What does it take for brands to get beyond tactics and, as you suggest, create a truly authentic, human voice for their business? Why is it so hard for many companies to overcome?

The idea that the solution is the opposite of the problem is a common misconception. The solution lies in creating the conditions upon which clients/customers can buy and keep buying in confidence.

Confidence comes from making the best possible promises, delivering on them, exchanging value in return and then making better promises. Promises made in confidence and not hope is what leads to strong, resilient, and enduring organizations. Social technology helps directly with that.

Brands benefit more from confidence than trust. One way to measure the value of a brand is to measure the gap between what was promised and what was delivered. This is the brand delta. The smaller the gap, the larger the premium. But as the gap grows, the brand’s value diminishes until goods and services need to be discounted. This is valid for any size business.

Social media is clearly a driving force in this, so what should organizations be doing with those channels that most aren’t doing already? What about other digital channels?

It’s 2012 and we’re still talking about channels. Social is about how do you continue having people understand what the exchange is about (and not just trying to sell). Dell took control of its promises. It reached out from behind the shop floor and started to close the brand dissonance gap. When you become available in response, social turns buyers into customers.

It’s about giving people a way to organize their experience. Their mind opens wide. Provide a way to organize experience, and everything else flows from that.

You built one of the first online communities with Fast Company. Tell us what you learned from that and what lessons still apply to building online communities today.

Whether it’s 12 years ago or a hundred years ago, people respond in the same way — people sign up to do the work once you give them a way to organize their experience.

We’re seeing a lot about the evolution of the traditional sales funnel and AIDA models. How do you see the sales and marketing process evolving today?

Evolution as development is gradual and you often see it only looking back. Some advantages brands and businesses have today are the ability to go direct to their customers. You’ll hear often people talking about the need to think like publishers — broadening topics to notable industry issues, including third party testimonials and research with technical specifications.

At a more tactical level, I’m a big believer in the power of email to help establish a relationship of mutual interest. When you’re invited (by opt-in) into people’s inbox, that’s a valuable place, it’s the gateway to someone’s “to do” list. For example, in my premium newsletter, I publish deeper research and analysis of topics I shared in the blog’s editorial calendar that got a lot of attention. So there is a way to qualify leading content and read people’s digital body language to give them what helps them in their work.

You can re-imagine content and package it in various visual formats as well. In fact, you’ll be using topics to pull interest both with organic search and through sharing by people in social networks, and your experience and smarts to hold attention. Inbound marketing helps you lower the cost of leads as well.

You’ve spoken about the need to “engage the Human OS” — elaborate on what that means and why it’s so important.

Many businesses feel they need a tactical Hail Mary rather than anything solid. It doesn’t work or doesn’t hold you for long when you operate at “app” level.

Being flexible at comprehending — identifying, classifying, and putting in a model is about source code. Analyzing is about thinking to motivate doing in a more appropriate way. What people do in the end flows from why and how. So you need to operate from the motivation. What is it that people (read: customers and clients) want to do? How can you use your experience and practice to help them leverage their own assets to trade more effectively?

Not long ago, you blogged a list of 50 #mustread blogs; if you could choose only three from that list, the ultimate must reads, which would make the cut?

That was a suggestion filtered from the 300 or so blogs I discovered in the last year, so the list of 50 is already pared down and organized in categories or buckets of usefulness. If you explore just a new one a day, in a couple of months, you have developed a sense of what helps you most with what you’re working on, and maybe discovered new content through them as well.

What Do You Think?

How are you approaching your relationship marketing? What do you doing to build or maintain confidence in your organization? Don’t be shy — share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Subhash Kumar

    5/2/2012 3:10 am

    I completely agree with Valeria when she says that the gap between promise and delivery has to be as small as possible for companies to maintain their brand value. As and when the gap increases the value diminishes, and thanks to technology the word will spread faster than wildfire in today’s world. And Social Media will have a roaring contribution to make in this scenario. It will expose the gap and present it to the world in a forum that is open to everyone. FOR FREE!!!

    The chances of customer raising his voice is ten folds higher when he is dissatisfied. Hence, companies will have to follow a simple formula.

    “Promise only what you can deliver and deliver what you promise”

  2. Hunter Boyle

    5/2/2012 8:40 am

    Thanks for your comments, Subhash. You’re absolutely right that social media forces organizations to be more responsive, and receptive, to comments from customers. Companies that aren’t at the top of their game when it comes to listening, reacting and proactively engaging in social communications are taking the hit in their bottom line; however, many don’t recognize the real impact, since lost business can’t be tracked like clicks, leads and sales.

    For instance, people who read negative Yelp reviews and never visit that business’ website or brick-and-mortar location, or read a friend’s complaints on Facebook or Twitter about a bad experience and decide not to do business with that place. These types of exchanges are happening constantly, so brands that still don’t see the connection between social media and customer support are increasingly in trouble. The same applies to sites with user-generated content and reviews (like TripAdvisor or OpenTable). Those sites usually aren’t lumped in with the social media titans, but they can do just as much, if not more, damage to brands that don’t deliver exceptional experiences.

  3. BrianWillingham

    5/4/2012 1:35 am

    What we are really talking about is intelligent conversion funnels. The funnel must be automated to react to the dynamic interaction between mobile devices where social media clients are being used. Smart responders that are able to integrate between social media services and APIs in near real time. The leads attention must be maintained once capture unto conversion.

  4. Hunter Boyle

    5/7/2012 4:00 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the feedback. You’re absolutely right about intelligent conversion funnels. There’s definitely a shift occurring where the old-school sales funnel model is being replaced by other models (see this topic discussed here and here recently). That said, even the best technologies and tools are only as good as the sales force behind them, so training and understanding how to see leads as people and deal with them effectively is one part of the equation that doesn’t get as much airtime as it should!

    Cheers — Hunter

  5. How to Achieve Good Relationship Marketing | Opher Brayer's Blog

    6/25/2012 1:58 am

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