'Say goodbye to brand managers', says marketing specialist

Brand managers should be replaced by 'conversation managers' if brands are to be successful in the future, according to Steven van Belleghem, head of the brand and communications research unit at Belgian consultancy Insites Consulting.

Presenting at the Media Research Group conference in Malta, van Belleghem urged marketers to let go of the illusion of being in control. He said: "Say goodbye to brand managers as you don't have to manage a brand any more, consumers manage a brand."

The most successful companies in 2020, according to van Belleghem, will be ones that build conversation and dialogue by involving consumers in the decision-making process.

Using the success of Google as inspiration, van Belleghem said companies should now integrate social media into eveything they do, and embrace the new age of openess.

"Word of mouth marketing is back, and overruling media research," he said. "After Google, world of mouth, speed and reach is so much higher than before...

"The world is radically changing, consumers are moving forward, companies have to catch up with them."

The managing partner of the research agency said companies now require "conversation managers" to integrate word of mouth into everything they do. Their job will be to observe, facilitate and join the brand conversation.

He said that in order to communicate effectively, brands should "always be positive, never defensive, and prepared to say thank you and sorry".

"People talk postively about brands they love, conversations are overtaking advertisng," he said.

He still sees a place for traditional advertising but said its focus needs to shift away from simply selling things to new customers to encouraging existing consumers who already love a brand to sell it to others.

"Advertising is the start of a great, impactful conversation, but it must target the right people to spread conversation, with the right motivation about interesting topic for sales to increase," he said.

Going forward, van Belleghem said clear brand identification with established advocates is going to be key for the future conversation. "The moment you see tattoos of the brand on the streets of London you know you are winning."