Moving past marketing

Says Stowe Boyd (in a post that has been re-tweeted a bit),

We need to move past the Cluetrain Manifesto, and acknowledge that what people are doing on the web is much, much more than conversing. It’s not just a chat room: it’s an entire culture under development, and the conversation is just the tip of the iceberg.

All due respect to Stowe and the RTers, the Cluetrain Manifesto didn’t say the Web was about conversing. What it said was,

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations.

If you read down through that original Web page, or the book chapter titled Markets Are Conversations, you’ll find that Cluetrain is not only a brief against marketing in general, but that it’s a book about markets.

Somewhere back there, Jakob Nielsen told me that Cluetrain’s authors had “defected” from marketing, and sided with markets against marketing. Now that the world is thick with “conversation marketing” and worse, I’d say that’s more true than ever.

So, to set the record straight, “Markets are conversations” is a statement about markets. It’s about getting real. Not about getting talkative.

Of course, countless marketers have jumped on what they think is the clue train, and with lots of BS about “conversational” marketing. In the old days, we called this “sales”.

For what it’s worth (a lot, I hope), a 10th anniversary edition of Cluetrain is due out this summer. It’s the original with some more chapters added, including a couple by other folks who found Cluetrain useful. I hope it helps correct other misunderstandings as well.

Stowe’s post is about “unmarketing”, about which he says,

I think companies need to take several steps back, and rethink their own motivations, before attempting to grapple with the new motivations of an open web citizenry.

First to be reconsidered — a la Cluetrain — is that markets are not what they used to be, where relatively passive consumers were messaged ‘to’. It has become an overused maxim that markets are conversations, which trivializes what is going on in the web, actually, and props up the notion of markets.

That stuff is right on. Bravo. But Stowe follows that with the first item I quoted. That’s where he — and everybody who thinks Cluetrain is just about “conversing” — goes off the rails.

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  1. Kristine Lowe’s avatar

    Looking forward to the new chapters:-)

  2. Tom O'Brien’s avatar

    Hi Doc:

    I read Stowe’s post – and I think this is largely a semantic argument. I am a Cluetrain fan from way back – and I understand it the way you to. It is about people connecting to each other across time and space. It isn’t about talking at people or especially about conversational marketing.

    Smart marketers are figuring out how to be useful and relevant to the communities that care about their brands. This is not conversational marketing – it is about forming human, helpful connected relationships.

    Just yesterday I put up a blog post arguing that communities don’t care about brands – – and I think it supports your argument.


  3. Jon McLeod’s avatar

    Fantastic post! I was having a similar discussion today with a small-bussiness newspaper editor, covering everything from misunderstandings to misuses of online media. Thanks for posting a well-thought and concise commentary!


  4. Chris Locke’s avatar

    Stowe wrote…

    “A more considered response would likely focus on supporting Edglings efforts to create meaningful relationships with others, taking some sort of role in the activities that they participate in online, and affiliating with the aspirations that they have. There is a lot of room in there to explore, but it is all pretty far away from advertising and promotion, which still seems to be the center of gravity for online marketing, at the moment.”

    Yes, great idea! In 2001, I wrote an entire book on that subject. It’s called Gonzo Marketing: Winning Through Worst Practices.

  5. Keith McArthur’s avatar

    Doc – Wanted to give you a heads-up that tomorrow (April 28) is the day bloggers around the world are using to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of Cluetrain in the cluetrainplus10 project. The idea is 95 bloggers each reflecting on one of the 95 theses.

    Chris Locke is participating and – if you’d like to join – there are still some theses available on the cluetrainplus10 wiki. If not, I hope you enjoy the reading!

  6. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I think the benchmark for anything that we adopt in the future should be:

    Did I learn anything new from my time spent using X?

    If not… why not? Was it close? How could it be done slightly differently, to yield much better results?

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