Building conversation around your brand has long been an important and effective marketing communications strategy, especially in today’s hyper-connected environment where white noise is at a peak, as is the public’s ability to screen out advertising messages.

That said, it’s not exactly an easy strategy – it takes time, effort and considerable thought to consistently develop and surround your brand with interesting talking points that resonate with key audiences.

This is what PR people have been doing for decades. As a profession we’re adept at creating stories and engaging an audience whether directly or via journalists and media producers.

For many years the channels used for brand talking points have included broadcast and print media, web, printed materials and face-to-face/live forums. These channels continue to exist today, but can now be supplemented with a vast interactive layer called the social web.

The myriad of channels, available to imbed your brand story in the public consciousness, are both complex and dazzling. If you take the positive view, such an array spells huge opportunity, not only due to potential reach but also, and importantly, due to the depth of engagement social media allows. To their detriment, many marketers simply dismiss the notion of actively engaging consumers (and the marketplace generally) in ongoing and productive dialogue.

I mean, why spark conversation and engage people with stories, ideas and interesting (and relevant) information when you can carpet-bomb the hell out of them with boring chest-beating ‘me-to’ messages? (The latter, of course, being a lot easier to achieve).

Here are some examples of brands that know how to start a conversation:

  • The (original) Bodyshop was a perfect example of a brand that ignited debate and took part in a broader conversation about social and environmental causes dear to the heart of its founder, Anita Roddick.
  • Dove too is a good example, with its long-running ‘Real Beauty’ campaign.
  • SouthWest Airlines is a genius brand that talks about everything from green issues to music to the inside workings of the popular airline.
  • Check out Puma and its ‘Clever Little Bag‘ project (part of a broader campaign to offset carbon emissions).
  • Zappos.com gets people talking about corporate culture and customer service and freely shares its ideas and management philosophies.
  • Whole Foods Market provides information and shares ideas, not only about fresh food, but also sustainability and the environment.
  • John Butler Trio supports the music community via its grassroots The Seed Art Grants Fund.
  • UK apparel manufacturer Howies shares its brand philosophy with the world.
  • Moleskine passionately extols the virtues of jotting down notes, sketches, thoughts, ideas and stories and celebrates the creativity of the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, van Gogh et al.
  • Web-based software company 37 Signals sparks discussion with its ‘fresh take on business’ – how to start one, build one, and grow a brand.
  • Grasshopper Group – a US-based brand of virtual phone systems for small business – promotes and supports the entrepreneurial cause.

This leads to the question: what about your brand? Are you a conversation-starter or a carpet-bomber?