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Manifestos Are Conversations
More than 10 years after upending the balance between companies and customers, the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto reflect on its creation—and its lasting influence.
For the rest of the May 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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It’s been more than a decade since the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto fired an opening salvo across an emerging battlefield: the fight to determine control between customers and companies. The front lines may have shifted here and there, but we’ve been fighting that same essential battle—the struggle to preserve human-level interaction—ever since. 

The original manifesto comprised 95 “theses”—a sequential list of declarations aimed at the misconceptions that corporate leaders were applying to customers at the time. We’ve included them on this spread in their original format. 

But where a manifesto issues a decree, true progress requires the kind of communal effort that only a conversation can provide. The Cluetrain authors knew full well the power of conversations in the marketplace—in fact, the very first line of their document asserted that “markets are conversations.”

We can safely say Cluetrain made that point, but the time has come to revisit its precepts, reassessing its decade-old directives in a contemporary context. It’s no surprise that the overwhelming majority of the manifesto’s theses hold up remarkably well—but in the spirit of conversation, we’ve reordered them on the following pages into five groups: The Human Market, The Human Company, The Human Employee, The Human Community, and—of course—The Human Customer.

With that as a new framework—and some additional sources of information to guide us—we hope not only to revitalize the old conversation, but to spark an entirely new one, a conversation appropriate to a new decade and new challenges.

The original manifesto, after all, ended with a warning to companies: We have power—real power. We are organizing faster. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down. We are waking up. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

We are awake now. We are organized. And we are doing far more than merely watching.

The Human Market 

1. Markets are conversations.

2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

8. In both internetworked markets and among intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.

9. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.

10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.

12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.

32. Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.

59. However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.

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

61. Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.

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.

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.

The Human Customer

3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.

4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

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 four-color brochure, for Web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.

77. You’re too busy “doing business” to answer our email? Oh gosh, sorry, gee, we’ll come back later. Maybe.

78. You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.

The Human Company

13. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.

14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

15. In just a few more years, the current homogenized “voice” of business—the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.

16. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.

17. Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.

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.

19. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.

20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.

21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.

22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate Web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.

23. Companies attempting to “position” themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.

24. Bombastic boasts—”We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ”—do not constitute a position.

25. Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to the people with whom they hope to create relationships.

26. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.

27. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.

28. Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.

29. Elvis said it best: “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds.”

30. Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable—and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed.

33. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can’t be “picked up” at some tony conference.

41. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.

49. Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work orders could be handed down from on high.

50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.

51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

52. Paranoia kills conversation. That’s its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.

53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.

54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.

55. As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked markets.

56. These two conversations want to talk to each other. They are speaking the same language. They recognize each other’s voices.

57. Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.

58. If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ, then very few companies have yet wised up.

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.

80. Don’t worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it’s not the only thing on your mind.

81. Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?

92. Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can’t they hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.

The Human Employee

31. Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own “downsizing initiatives” taught us to ask the question: “Loyalty? What’s that?”

42. As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other directly inside the company—and not just about rules and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.

43. Such conversations are taking place today on corporate intranets. But only when the conditions are right.

44. Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR policies and other corporate information that workers are doing their best to ignore.

45. Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate conversation.

46. A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any union.

47. While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They need to resist the urge to “improve” or control these networked conversations.

48. When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.

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.

82. Your product broke. Why? We’d like to ask the guy who made it. Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We’d like to have a chat with your CEO. What do you mean she’s not in?

84. We know some people from your company. They’re pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you’re hiding? Can they come out and play?

85. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn’t have such a tight rein on “your people” maybe they’d be among the people we’d turn to.

86. When we’re not busy being your “target market,” many of us are your people. We’d rather be talking to friends online than watching the clock. That would get your name around better than your entire million-dollar Web site. But you tell us speaking to the market is Marketing’s job.

The Human Community

34. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.

35. But first, they must belong to a community.

36. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.

37. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.

38. Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about human concerns.

39. The community of discourse is the market.

40. Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will die.

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!

74. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.

76. We’ve got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we’d be willing to pay for. Got a minute?

79. We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic self-involvement, join the party.

83. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.

87. 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.

88. We have better things to do than worry about whether you’ll change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it: Who needs whom?

89. We have real power and we know it. If you don’t quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that’s more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.

90. Even at its worst, our newfound conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate Web sites we’ve been seeing.

91. Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that have no part in this world, also have no future.

93. We’re both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but they’re really just an annoyance. We know they’re coming down. We’re going to work from both sides to take them down.

94. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.

95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.


SIDEBAR: The Quixotic Effect// These Four People Were the Engine That Powered the Cluetrain

  • Rick Levine (@ricklevine on Twitter) is the founder of Seth Ellis Chocolatier (www.sethellischocolatier.com). Earlier in his career, he worked for several high-tech companies, including a stint as Web architect for Sun Microsystems’ Java Software group.
  • Christopher Locke (@clockerb) blogs at Mystic Bourgeoisie (mysticbourgeoisie.blogspot.com) and Entropy Gradient Reversals from his home in Boulder, Colo.
  • Doc Searls (@dsearls) is senior editor of Linux Journal, head of ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center, and a well-known blogger (blogs.law.harvard.edu/doc/).
  • David Weinberger(@dweinberger) is the author of Small Pieces Loosely Joined and Everything Is Miscellaneous; he is also a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. His Web site is www.evident.com.

SIDEBAR: Reordering the Cars of the Cluetrain

Sometimes all it takes to gain a fresh perspective on a familiar text is a chance to view it from a new angle. Having arranged the 95 Theses—which can be found at http://sn.im/cluetrain-95—into five groups, we spoke with Cluetrain co-author Doc Searls about the manifesto’s origins and motivations, and asked him to reassess some of the content with the glorious benefit of hindsight. Excerpts from that conversation appear below.

“[The Cluetrain Manifesto] is a creature of its times. We wrote it at the height of the dot-com madness. 

Chris Locke knew both me and David Weinberger—Rick Levine was brought in later. The three instigators were guys with a marketing background—and we all had the same gripes. We were all good writers—and we started sharing war stories. One that I told [involved] my way of filtering out lame prospects, to share with them my marketing logic: Markets are conversations and conversations are fire—so marketing is arson. 

So Chris said, ‘Let’s put up a Web site and see what catches fire.’”

“Everybody was called ‘an eyeball’—[companies] were trying to ‘capture eyeballs.’ That’s very disrespectful of what individuals brought to the party—individuals and groups were being ignored. We knew it was just stupid. We knew this wasn’t just bricks-and-mortar 2.0.

“Cluetrain’s success with marketers is sort of ironic. [We’ve] masked the need that we all have to do our own tracking. Where does this go downstream? Now you get better offers—the big marketing Holy Grail—and the sell side wants to give you better offers. But improving a pain in the ass doesn’t make it a kiss.

Number 74 in the manifesto—‘We’re immune to advertising’? Well, Google wouldn’t be earning $25 billion a year. Still, we do in fact ignore most advertising: ‘Clickthroughs’ and ‘impressions’—who’s impressed? Am I impressed by something I’m not clicking? Is that an impression? It’s an illusion.

The problem with looking at everything in terms of a site is that my world is not organized by other people’s sites—it’s organized according to my needs, in ways that work for me. Open protocols made it possible for email to be something you could do yourself. We don’t have that in relationship management now.

The technology people are saying we’re going to have a better relationship with them if we present them our information, that it’s in our best interest to give them that data. But we are light years away from having a full comprehension of data.”

“I think an awful lot of the social media revolution is a crock. 

My perspective on this is, being 62 years old myself, I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go. The Net isn’t old enough to drink yet. It’s not what it’s going to be.

The architecture of the Internet—end to end—is one in which anyone can be a point of origin and a destination; it’s going to be one in which individuals’ power is going to go up natively. It’s going to take a while as we struggle to figure out how this works.

What you really need is trust—that’s what relationships are all about. There’s a legal side to it—but the way we’re approaching it isn’t [working]. What can we do with behavior that will obviate the need for laws?

On the whole, customers have much more power than they had before—the power to make or break companies. That’s a very different world than we had before, when we really were at the mercy of the companies.

A lot of the assumptions from 10 or 11 years ago are still there: A captive customer is still thought to be more valuable than a free one. You ‘acquire’ and ‘manage’—this is the language of slavery, and it carries some assumptions of slavery.

The [challenge for] CRM—and I see this as an opportunity—is to have relationship become something where both parties bring something to the table, and that becomes the marketplace. Cluetrain is an unfinished story.”


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