Psssssst! I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Well, it’s not exactly a ‘secret’ secret, but it appears to me there are many, many people in marketing, PR and communications – in fact, in business generally – who are unaware of what I’m about to tell you. To that end, this may be one of the most important Marketingmag.com.au posts you’ll read this year! Okay, enough of the dramatics.

I’ve been giving a lot of talks and presentations lately on social media and the effect it’s having on companies and brands from a PR and marketing perspective. I tend to focus a fair bit on the attitude required to participate effectively on the social web, including banging on about social media being as much about a ‘state of mind’ as it is about technology.

One thing I emphasise early in my talks is that this ‘new economy’ thinking hasn’t exactly snuck up on us because 10 years ago (yes – 10!) a very important book laid it all out for us in the shape of 95 theses (don’t worry, these ‘theses’ are only one to two sentences only – less is definitely more!).

The book in question is called The Cluetrain Manifesto and if you’re in marketing and haven’t read it, I suggest (cajole, recommend, urge?) that you do so. Today!

“Markets are conversations,” state Cluetrain’s four authors Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger. And thus a revolution was born. The four authors summarise their position in succinct and powerful fashion:

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 Cluetrain guys talk about the power of conversation and how it goes well beyond its ability to affect consumers, business and products. “Market conversations can make – and unmake and remake – entire industries,” they state.

Cluetrain is a wake-up call for business and marketing, being the public face of business in many respects, cops the brunt of the authors’ sledgehammer style. As professional communicators, Cluetrain spells out a lot of the challenges we face in the ever-evolving, hyper-connected commercial environment in which we operate. The ideas put forward aim to examine the impact of the internet on both markets (consumers) and organisations.

If the book was relevant in 1999, then it’s critically relevant today. Here are a few more of the 95 theses, just to whet your appetite:

  • “Your tired notions of ‘the market’ make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognise ourselves in your projections – perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere.”
  • “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.”
  • “If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.”
  • “You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.”
  • “As markets, as workers, we wonder why you’re not listening. You seem to be speaking another language.”
  • “Companies attempting to ‘position’ themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about, and
  • “We’d like it if you got what’s going on here. That’d be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we’re holding our breath.”

The key point is this:

With all the hype of social media and the desire by many companies to jump on board the bandwagon, I think it’s imperative that first you read Cluetrain. In fact, whether or not social media is in your sights, Cluetrain still provides plenty of rich and relevant insights to help you better understand the consumer backdrop against which your business operates. 

If you can’t be bothered going out and buying the book, no excuse! You can download its entire contents online. If nothing else, I recommend you read and digest the 95 theses because they’re playing out in front of you as we speak!

Over 10 years ago the Cluetrain authors identified the profound social and marketing changes occurring as a result of the internet. Little did they know that social media would emerge some five years later, injecting further confusion into the marketing landscape. 

For marketers and communicators, it doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but it does explain a lot about the world in which we live and operate, and for anyone in this business, ‘inside information’ like this is simply ‘gold’! Don’t say you weren’t warned!

I’ll leave the last word to the Cluetrain boys:

“You have two choices.
You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and
happytalk brochures. Or you can join the conversation.”