Cluetrain at 10: It’s time to listen

Today, the Cluetrain Manifesto is 10 years old!

When you look back through the 95 theses, it is amazing to think that this was all thought up long before the internet had come of age. Some of the 95 still resonate very well indeed. Some need a bit of updating, but are still relevant. Some, unfortunately, are still ideals.

The whole manifesto centres on one central strand (also the no. 1 thesis):

Markets are conversations.

And also through the following introduction:

“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.”

The first thesis really hits home and essentially sums up much of the current thinking about the democratisation of media and the increasing role of social networks and collaboration in business today.

As part of the 10th birthday celebrations, bloggers are being invited to take one of the theses and write a post assessing it with modern-day eyes. A number of distinguished folk have already participated.

I thought I’d give it a go and whilst going down the list, one thesis really stuck out:

60. This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.

For me, this thesis is a crux or changing point in the whole manifesto. Having discussed the new marketplace and the steps companies need to take, the manifesto turns to the idea of engagement between markets (publics) and companies. Its not hard to draw a parallel to some of the key strands of PR here, although, what comes next may concern a number of more ‘traditional’ PR agencies:

62. Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.

63. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.

64. We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

65. We’re also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script.

66. As markets, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual reports and third-hand market research studies to introduce us to each other?

67. As markets, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking a different language.

68. The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the press, at your conferences—what’s that got to do with us?

69. Maybe you’re impressing your investors. Maybe you’re impressing Wall Street. You’re not impressing us.

70. If you don’t impress us, your investors are going to take a bath. Don’t they understand this? If they did, they wouldn’t let you talk that way.

71. Your tired notions of “the market” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere.

72. We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.

73. You’re invited, but it’s our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!

And, recently, more and more companies are discovering that they are treading a suicidal approach. Motrin, Amazon, Skittles; the list will go on.

What we are seeing is that the ‘market’  is seizing the advantage. It is taking the issues to the companies. It is ignoring tradition and speaking up and speaking loud.

Markets want to talk to companies.

But what if companies aren’t listening? Or wont listen? Or don’t feel they know how to communicate?

And here’s rub. These companies are missing a trick. By talking, communicating, engaging (whatever you want to call it) with markets, customers, clients, partners, publics (ditto), businesses have an incredible chance to improve, benefit and profit more because the product or service is more suited or geared toward the market.

Understanding the market is key.

If markets want to talk.

Then perhaps the best advice for companies is to stop talking for a bit and listen.

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