A little less action, a little more conversation

Ten years ago, the Cluetrain Manifesto crashed into existence, subtitled "The end of business as usual". Its ideas attracted a vast amount of attention and as many passionate adherents as defensive detractors.

Richard Eyre is chairman of the IAB
Richard Eyre is chairman of the IAB

Drafted by four business and technology experts, it offers an exceptionally disparaging view of marketing.

"Every one of us knows that marketers are out to get us and we all struggle to escape their snares." "We know the real purpose of marketing is to insinuate the message into our consciousness, to put an axe in our heads without our noticing."

As so often with the voice of the dissident, it was overstated, flamboyant - yet it remains influential, since great gobs of truth hide within its occasionally objectionable propositions. Even the name belies a conspicuous superiority - it's from this quote: "The clue train stopped there four times a day for 10 years and they never took delivery."

The fundamental message is that markets are conversations. This is how things were in the beginning when buyers would engage their suppliers - Mr Baker, Mr Smith and Mr Carpenter - to go off and make what they needed.

Industrialisation begat mass production, so mass marketing had to be invented to persuade us all that "any colour you like as long as it's black" isn't as disappointing as it seems, because we all love black, thanks.

Over the years, marketing has got better and more entertaining, so the axe is less obvious, but, say the authors, "the message that gets broadcast to you, me and the rest of the earth's population has nothing to do with me in particular. It's worse than noise. It's the Anti-Conversation". Ouch. See what I mean?

But if markets are conversations, broadband technology and web inventions have created something the manifesto writers could not and did not anticipate.

Twitter has turned out to be rather more than the pre-teen drivel bazaar many of us first thought, now connecting thinkers, creators, influencers. "Retweeting", forwarding an idea to one's "followers" has created something unprecedented - a mass conversation.

Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging, e-mail, blogs, Skype - the internet is alive with conversations. Tempting for marketers to think that today's challenge is to find a way of inserting themselves into these exchanges. No, that's rude and it doesn't work.

Our challenge is the much more interesting one - to allow customers to have a conversation with us on their terms and whenever they choose.

Richard Eyre is chairman of the IAB, richard.eyre@haymarket.com

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