Thursday, May 10, 2007

Markets are conversations

In 1999 The Cluetrain Manifesto was published, replete with 95 theses. The first thesis: Markets are conversations. Here’s a peek:

These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can't be faked.

Seems pretty logical, eh? If you’re running a company or a marketing organization, of course you want to converse in a candid, genuine voice. You seek to communicate with (not broadcast to or speak at) an identifiable, visible, self-referencing, homogeneous constituency. Basic marcom blocking and tackling, right?

Unfortunately – or, fortunately if you’re one of the few who get it – most organizations are apathetic and sedentary in their marketing. Though they won’t admit it, they do business in a dark room, aspiring to captivate constituents with a hopeful wink. It’s like a junior-high dance: boys on one side of the gym, girls on the other. It did not work then, and it doesn’t work now (unless you get lucky or employ a blind shotgun approach).

Cluetrain continues:

… most companies ignore their ability to deliver genuine knowledge, opting instead to crank out sterile happytalk that insults the intelligence of markets literally too smart to buy it.

Sterile happytalk. I like it. Consider Permission Marketing author Seth Godin’s take:

Marketing is a contest for people's attention. Thirty years ago, people gave you their attention if you simply asked for it. You'd interrupt their TV program, and they'd listen to what you had to say. You'd put a billboard on the highway, and they'd look at it. That's not true anymore. This year, the average consumer will see or hear 1 million marketing messages - that's almost 3,000 per day. No human being can pay attention to 3,000 messages every day.

Cluetrain’s “sterile happytalk” is analogous to what Godin calls “interruption marketing”.

Interruption marketing is giving way to a new model that I call permission marketing. The challenge for companies is to persuade consumers to raise their hands - to volunteer their attention. You tell consumers a little something about your company and its products, they tell you a little something about themselves, you tell them a little more, they tell you a little more - and over time, you create a mutually beneficial learning relationship. Permission marketing is marketing without interruptions.

Seems logical, eh? If you run a business, of course you know who you’re communicating with. And, no duh!, you know what’s important to them. And they must care about you, your company and your products. And you would never talk to or speak at a customer; everything is first-person conversational. Right?

Here’s a quick test: Grab one of your company’s brochures or print the sales/marketing copy posted on your web site. Set a meeting with one of your more intimate (better) customers. And, open the meeting by reading the literature – verbatim -- to them.

Does it feel authentic? How do they react? Are the messages conversational and meaningful to the customer?

The authenticity of your marketing communication is important. So too is the genuineness, the intimacy, and the relevance of the experience you deliver. Take a peek at Andy Hargadon’s elaboration of a recent internal memo from Howard Shultz, Starbucks’ chairman. Good stuff.

And, keep the conversation going.

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