The Cluetrain Manifesto is 10 today
Today is the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto. The Cluetrainplus10 wiki is marking the event through inviting bloggers to write about one of the 95 theses of the original book. It’s a great initiative that should bring up some diverse and interesting perspectives on the book’s precepts. It’s also a networked, distributed conversation bound by a common theme, very much in keeping with the Manifesto itself.
I put myself down for thesis 18 which is the subject of the rest of this post:
“18. Companies that don’t realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.” … here goes
Business feels more comfortable seeing the customer as ‘king’ rather than as a peer. After all, it’s easier for the marketing dept. of a company to objectify and bestow importance upon its customer as a segment (identifiable, but not easily actionable), a target market, trend or latent need, rather than go through the day-to-day, humdrum activity of talking to the people who consume its products and services.
The trouble is we as customers are down-to-earth republicans at heart and prefer to solicit the views of other people before we make a purchasing decision and indeed afterwards. Online communities are now an integral part of the early stages of the purchasing cycle and after-sales support process. We consult them long before we go near the official web site of a business … it’s been a very long time since I booked a hotel room without vetting it first through Tripadvisor. And off-line we use our personal networks to find trusted suppliers for the jobs we need to get done. Some recent research from BT found that the biggest driver of new business leads for small businesses was still offline Word of Mouth – 70% of the sample got the majority of their business this way, going up to 88% for sectors such as professional services.
Companies have everything to gain from tapping into the power of conversations both on and offline. The example of Walkers Crisps is a good one. They have run a campaign to get the public to suggest new flavours for crisps (1.2M entered!) and then vote on the finalists made into packets of crisps like the Cajun Squirrel pictured here.
You may think this is a cheesy viral … I see it as a fantastic way for Walkers to become part of a fun, creative and meaningful conversation with its customers that will reinvigorate its product line and sales. The crisp company has made itself the subject of the conversation between its customers.
A related but alternative strategy is for a business to become the place of conversation for its customers, in other words a platform. This is the approach of a community like Get Satisfaction for example.
In contrast I see many of the large customer review sites that provide a platform for consumers to comment on a company, but limit the means of interaction/right of response of the business, as a flawed medium. At the end of the day it doesn’t help consumers if the subject of the conversation can’t take part in it! Yelp’s recent change of policy to allow businesses to comment on reviews indicates that having a one-sided conversation is not the best way forward either for individuals or businesses.
The Cluetrain Manifesto ten years ago made a compelling case for markets to be seen as conversations that remains as valid today. Business practice has yet to catch up with consumer behaviour, but the signs are positive and change is accelerating.
Posted by Ivan Croxford on April 28, 2009