I like reading children’s books. They are full of life, colour and imagination. Last night, I finished reading ‘Lost and Found’ by Oliver Jeffers once more. It’s the story of a boy who finds a lost penguin on his doorstep and then travels all the way to South Pole to return the stranger.  It is, by all standards, a pure story of curiosity and love from a child’s eye. In 2008, the story was adapted into a 24-min film and was first aired in the UK on Christmas Eve.

I recently read it to a little girl and she loved it too, to such an extent that she carried on reading it (over and over again) at short intervals throughout the day.

(Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. Image from http://thecomiccast.com)

To their innocence, children carry the most creative brains amongst us all. And the thing I find most fascinating about children’s books is how they engage with children’s creative brains. They are always relevant, timely and acquire complete attention. Instead of talking at them, they ignite the imaginative neurons and talk with them. And of course, if you can connect with the brain of a child, you can connect with any. It’s no mystery why we suddenly change our tone when reading the bedtime story to the little ones.

Sometimes, whilst flaring-up the corporate boardrooms with graphs, charts and propositions, I question – when was the last time we thought of talking with the audience and not telling them our marketing dreams? When was the last time we focused on taking them on a journey and allowed them to create their own meaning of it as they move along? When was the last time we thought of walking with the audience and not driving them to a destination? And when was the last time we thought of moving people’s imagination with feelings and emotions and not merely by logical reasoning?

With the web working wonders, it seems everything is becoming about reach and close targeting. As user data becomes more easily accessible, our commercial brains have started to believe we can reach anyone and everyone and convert them into our ever-increasing stock of profitable graphs. But even with all this data, a machine remains a machine. Jon Steel is so right in reminding us, ‘If you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should do it.’ Sigh – no matter how much we talk about connection and engagement, our advertising beliefs are still dominated by telling and selling.

For example, Facebook knows everything about me – perhaps more than a lot of people I meet on a daily basis. However, I must admit when it comes to advertising and marketing, it still doesn’t know how to talk with me. Sadly, I don’t like casinos, have no need for opening another bank account and nor do I want a free Vodafone PAYG sim. I use Facebook to connect with people I know and share my life stories; therefore, the advertising must fulfil the purpose of using the service. It should help me connect with people and let me create more personal life stories. Just like the purpose for using Google search is to get information – advertising on Google delivers nothing but information matching mu search query – therefore it is relevant to me. To no surprise, Google increased its stock price by 65.62% in the first four months of going public, whereas, Facebook share value dropped by 50.05% since 18th May 2012.

Tell and sell is simply not a thing of the social web. In this new space, the advertising needs to talk in a new way too. Just like decades ago, when we moved from Radio to TV, advertising moved from just audio persuasion to both audio and visual persuasion. Using my friends’ actions to make me take actions is not social, but manipulation of social data is. Who said I wanted to know everything about my friends anyway?

Let’s understand this from an ancient Greek story. Though the attribution of the story to Socrates is questionable, the principles are not.

As the story goes, one day an acquaintance met the great Greek philosopher and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about your friend?"

"Hold on a minute," Socrates replied. "Before telling me anything I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test". "Triple filter?" "That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be a good idea to take a moment and filter what you're going to say.

The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?" "No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and…" "All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not.

Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?" "No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, but you're not certain it's true. You may still pass the test though, because there's one filter left: the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?" "No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true nor good nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

Similarly, who is Facebook to decide that if it is going to tell me something about my friend then it will be true, good or useful for me at all?

In this automated age of machine-dominated marketing, I would like the social web and the brands within it to talk with me - surprise me, delight me with what would allow me to open a conversation. Involve me because they know me, not because they can reach me. Feel for me, so I feel for them in return. If I like them on Facebook, then try not to Junk Mail my stream. Think of me a human not another number increase to one of their marketing databases. If I follow them, then make me feel that I am part of a community, not a lonely follower – waiting for information re-loads from the magnificent leader.

I would like this beautiful ever-evolving web and the brands within it to share stories with me I want to hear and talk about, not destinations to complete the user journey process. Inspire me, but don’t try to control me, as I don’t want to be controlled – who does? Let me make my decisions by myself and myself alone.

Let’s not forget, strong relationships are based on trust and feelings not transactions, offers, money off coupons and irrelevant talks. To make the transactional decisions I have plenty of friends, online acquaintances, forums, opinions, and reviews to consult to, so I really don’t need a brand in my social life to just keep selling to me.

A brand may have millions of bought friends, fans, followers or subscribers – but I would like it to understand and talk with me as an individual on pure human basis - just like 'Lost and Found.'

Spielberg, as always, was so right, ‘I make movies for the masses, but I talk to them one at a time.’