Markets are Conversations

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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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