There’s a great project going on here to celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Cluetrain Manifesto, the seminal call-to-arms written by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger.
95 bloggers are taking one of each of the 95 theses, and asks whether
it’s still relevant today…
…I’ve chosen this one, which at the time was a proposal of what was wrong with the way companies saw the conversations they had:
I think it’s fair to say that for the duration of the mass media age these two conversations have existed;
i) the one that the company has inside, deciding what to make, where to source ingredients, how it should look and so on
ii) the one they had with people outside, when they told them to buy the branded products.
Why didn’t it change?
Well, companies (and perhaps specifically marketing folks) liked the clean, clear division between the makers of the product, and the buyers of the product.
The language we cloak our world in makes it even easier; the ‘brand’ is a method of communicating all the complexities of ‘the product’ in order to make ‘the consumer’ purchase. It’s language of division; them, the consumer, and us, the brand team.
Why did they like two conversations so much?
Think about the minutiae of the detail, the interaction, the two-way exchange that characterises conversation…
…it’s too complex to wrap up in a homogeneous, one-size-fits-all brand communication. Companies only had access to a communications network a framework where they could only talk to everyone all at once, with the same words, and without response.
Simple messaging had to prevail:
For every company, ‘the brand’ is constructed to simplify everything down, extol the benefits, offer little explanation, and to not encourage a conversation.
When the Cluetrain Manifesto came along, the burgeoning internet world was then just starting to offer a way for companies and people to come together in one conversation.
Let’s think, for a moment, about an example company…
…The Wizard of Oz Industries Ltd.
Now, there’s all the complex backstory, all the intricate detail and so on about how the Wizard got to Oz and so on. None of that stuff made it into the ‘brand communication’ of course. Some of the consumers might get confused.
So they go with the brand as a giant, all powerful green head. It’s simple, everyone will get it.
Of course, being a giant green head, it barks orders at the ‘consumers’. It certainly doesn’t hold conversations. You don’t hold conversations with a god.
Then, one day, a band of new people come along (having heard so much about the greatness of the brand). Each is after some pretty diverse, specific things. Yet to the head, and his little team inside Oz Industries, they are all ‘consumers’.
As a result, they don’t get the answers to their problems. They get a conditional bargain; “you can only get that if you do this”. You can have it in any colour, as long as it’s Witch…
Off they trot, obeying the brand conditions that come from this ‘one-size-fits-all’ emerald entity. They kill a witch, get a broomstick, and come back. “Can we have what we really want now, then?”
Nope, of course not… because the giant green brand doesn’t know how to deal with individual requests.
All that’s about to change; the curtain that separates the two conversations, ‘brand and consumer’, is about to come down…
After all this, it turns out that the Wizard is just a bloke. He’s just like anyone else, though he works for Oz Industries. And not some hugely powerful giant green head (that was just the brand he hid behind).
But here’s the thing; by engaging in conversation with the people who’ve tipped up at Oz Industries, each after something different… everyone gets what they want.
The Scarecrow gets his brain, the Tin Man his heart, the Lion his courage, and Dorothy the promise of a trip home. And Oz Industries gets four more impressed, loyal customers.
That’s the value of trying to have one, open conversation rather than two… everyone is more likely to get what they want, walk away happy, spread the word on your company, and return next time they need something.
….by doing so you’re not only more likely to let them set what they want, but they’ll improve your products for everyone, be more likely to come back in the future, and tell other people about what a nice conversation they had with you.
10 years on, it’s still true; if you haven’t already, stop having two conversations.
(original analogy taken from The Communis Manifesto which I wrote last year)