Stimulating Conversation And The Marketing Cafe

Marketing Cafes are a great way to liven up traditional conferences and seminars – bringing different questions to the table and encouraging new conversations ..

A Good Cafe Conversation Is About More Than The Coffee…

Albert Einstein once said  ‘not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted – counts’. In other words, we are in danger of spending a lot of time measuring and analysing what is not important – whilst ignoring what truly is. The marketing, innovation and sales business is not immune.  A great quantity of noise,  reports, feeds, briefing, planning – and meetings. Lots of meetings. Yet whilst we have a surplus of texts, emails and data we often overlook what is in real short supply – purposeful, collaborative, open and focused – business conversation.

A Beautiful Noise?

Research consistently shows that internal and external collaboration is what marketing leaders,  innovation teams and CEO’s are recognising as the key to innovation. From General Electic’s Innovation Barometer (with their CMO Beth Comstock seeing partnerships and alliances as the key to future marketing success) – to Cap Gemini, revealing earlier this year that whilst 84% of CEO’s they surveyed said collaboration was the key to innovation – only 18% said their culture was set up to do so.

As Morten T Hansen explains in his superb book ‘Collaboration’ – a non collaborative culture can lead to present problems suffered by businesses like Sony. The Japanese technology giant created a culture of competing product and content platforms and conflict across its silos – a situation that ultimately led to Apple take  hold of Sony’s traditional dominance of music platforms through a unified simple offer. According to Hansen, people with an ability to build their networks across their business and act as ‘T-Shaped People’ – with both a depth of knowledge and a breadth of contacts are required. Connecting and networking across the business is an individuals responsibility but it is a skill and attitude that be coached.

A lack of important conversation between the right people prevents many businesses from becoming truly innovative . Too often the important questions, the ones that may challenge the status quo and help paint a picture of the future – are left unasked or dominated by the usual suspects. Meanwhile, the same questions, the same ideas and same answers are repeated. There is a lack of new questions, answers and discussion – a lack of fresh and innovative conversation…

The reality is that most people and most businesses are not very good at collaboration.  The Journal of Psychology type says that 45% of business relationship derailment is due to issues of understanding, empathy and concern –  whereas only 10% is due to failures in technical delivery. It is a sobering statistic. And you can see this in the poor quality everyday business conversations…

Most meetings, workshops and conferences are not viewed as an opportunity to converse, listen, build dialogue and explore solutions, but a means to present, report, control, persuade – to control your own plan, to get buy-in, to approve or deny. No wonder then, that when the time does arise for focused, innovative, open and progressive conversation that most of the time – we fail.  It’s not part of our learned behaviour – for most marketers and for most leaders. And its a weakness.  As Innovation guru Stefan Lindegaard says “If you can’t even share your ideas across the business – how can you expect to share them outside?”.

How A Marketing Cafe Stimulates Conversation

The Marketing Cafe  is one way to help marketing, commercial and sales teams to construct better conversations. It’s one of the workshop tools we use in the Collaborative Edge Programme.  The Cafe combines the well established and proven open group conversational techniques of the excellent Knowledge Cafes (a workshop and meeting format often used in the Knowledge Management, Project and IT fields) – with a strong emphasis upon marketing and innovation topics.

Uh-oh. Its Time For The Creative Brainstorm…

How does a Marketing Cafe work? Well, its definitely not a brainstorm – the  traditionally used ideation technique that is now acknowledged in most academic and creative research as being highly flawed and misused. In Cafes, firstly, simple and open questions are explored in small groups of people (ideally just 2-3 people per table) to allow them to have a small, private conversations. And after 8 minutes or so –  table composition is mixed  further. This simple step deliberately shakes-up the conversation, preventing too much group thinking or narrowing of opinion or perspective. Participants are encouraged to ask further questions, explore different avenues and see where the conversation leads.  The result is a greater stimulation of  ideas and sharing of information –  and less chance of the conversation being led by just a few.  The Cafe  format prevents ‘loafing’ – where people feel no need to contribute – and allows the more senior, the more vocal and the more confident to take a step back, take time to listen and to reflect more.

Typical Marketing Cafe questions include  “What Conversations Must We Start?” and ” Do We Seek To Execute Perfectly?” – and “What Will Our Market & Customers Look Like In Three Years Time?”.  The Cafe conversation is then expanded and the discussion facilitated  – allowing all views, opinions, strands and ideas to be expressed and explored. The emphasis (importantly) – is NOT on instant solutions and plans but on a time to reflect, listen, question and explore further. In fact, it’s a lot like a proper, human conversation. The positive kind you may have in a cafe. As Knowledge Management Cafe expert David Gurteen says “A true Knowledge Cafe is not about group decisions or reaching consensus – it’s about individual learning, and insights, the surfacing of assumptions, issues, problems and opportunities – seeing things that have not been seen before or seen only dimly.”

Marketing Cafes, which can last between 1 – 3 hours can help kick-start fresh thinking at a marketing or sales conference or regular meeting – to generate ideas and solutions in a far more effective and inclusive manner than traditional brainstorms. Or alternatively, the Cafe can be used to build better relationships across internal departments or with key partners and suppliers, perhaps when building a new project or joint initiative.

Marketing Cafes are a great way to liven up traditional conferences and seminars – bringing different questions to the table, encouraging new conversations and yes, they lead to a bit of fun and laughter too – which cannot be a bad thing. Conversation management is a personal skill as well as a valuable an important process to good business thinking and encouraging the right ones needs more than just the coffee…

For more information on Marketing Cafe and other Workshop and Facilitation, please see Benchstone or contact Andrew Armour by email or call him on (+440) 7971 231 025

Author: Andrew Armour

Andrew Armour is a marketing and media professional, a specialist in business partnerships and the Founder of the consulting business - Benchstone Limited. His career spans from the UK music industry to the America's Cup, from winning agency pitches to securing key digital content deals. He is married to Viv, lives in Hampshire and works in London.

5 thoughts on “Stimulating Conversation And The Marketing Cafe”

  1. “The Journal of Psychology type says that 45% of business relationship derailment is due to issues of understanding, empathy and concern – whereas only 10% is due to failures in technical delivery. ”

    A sobering statistic indeed. Too often we forget that business is about dealing with people, not just companies. People need different things in order to have a successful business relationship than a faceless corporation does.

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