10 Years Down Cluetrain’s Single Track, And Where Are We?

If you need more acerbic wit in your blog diet than George Parker and Bob Hoffman combined can muster, try adding The Grumpy Brit to your reading list. This is the kind of thing he likes to say:

Suggesting that with a bit of social media savvy brands can create relationships with their customers is hyperbolic twaddle.

And if that’s not enough, take a look at anti-conversation activist, Chronic Fatigue.

Where did “starting the conversation” start? I don’t know for sure, but it has a vaguely “Oprah” feel to it. I can just hear Dr. Phil telling the battered wife of a chronic alcoholic, “You need to start the conversation with him about how his toxic behavior is jeopardizing your relationship.”

By now, I suspect you may recognize that the Cluetrain backlash has begun in earnest and is edging toward full swing.
Let’s revisit said train, for a moment…

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. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.
But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about “listening to customers.” They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.

The people who are pushing back are saying customers don’t want to engage, relate or converse with a brand, or its designated “humans.” They just want what they want without having to over think it or work too hard for it. Naturally, a person in need of customer service is the exception, and some brands (like Zappos) have done well by using social space tools to provide better customer service.
But The Cluetrain Manifesto isn’t about better customer service. It’s a speculative, vaguely academic book of neat ideas about changing the way things are in marketing communications. The authors are smart guys, I don’t question that for a second. But Bob Hoffman, George Parker and the rest are also smart and they have a BIG advantage in this argument–they’ve been making ads that work for decades.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.