The Cluetrain Manifesto – Manifested Today

October 3, 20113 Comments

With the huge abundance of experts cropping up in the fields of web marketing and social media, I am often surprised by the fact that nobody stops to ask, “How did we get here?” When did the rules of marketing, and of the entire brand-consumer relationship as a whole, change so dramatically?

For this reason, it shocks me that The Cluetrain Manifesto is such a well-kept secret. Published online in 1999, the Manifesto is a blunt wakeup call to corporations everywhere. Fashioned in the style of the Communist Manifesto, it too makes bold claims about the masses overpowering and outnumbering the once powerful oppressors – in this case, evasive corporations. Though the manifesto predates Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and even MySpace by years, it accurately predicted the change in markets, and the new demands being placed on the companies that benefit from these markets.

We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
Thesis #72

Today, the document serves as a chilling artifact, a road map as to how exactly we reached this point. As the foundation for how businesses behave in these “new markets,” it is also an extremely useful handbook for corporate conduct online. Needless to say, if you haven’t read the original 95 theses, you really should.

Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman. 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.
Thesis #14-15

Even thirty years ago, the brand relationship between consumers and the products they bought was minimal. You went to the store, you bought Tide. You took it home, you used it, and when you ran out, you bought more Tide. Occasionally, Tide advertised a message – you listened, and acted accordingly. Those days are over.

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

Today, you purchase coffee from Starbucks. You have an experience, good or bad, and you share that experience on Facebook, Twitter, and a whole host of other online networks. Starbucks, a $10 Billion a year company, then comments on your experience, engaging you in a real way and ensuring your satisfaction. Often times, they share information about the inner workings and future plans of their organization. This is a huge shift in the way companies conduct themselves; and if the giants like Starbucks and AT&T are doing it, it becomes even more paramount that your small business is dialed in with social media.

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?
Thesis #82

The Theses were later turned into a full length book.

As the manifesto predicted, markets have become conversations. They are smarter, more informed, more interconnected, and more organized. Customers can not and will not be duped, misled, or silenced. Most importantly, corporations that speak in the old language of the press release, the dog-and-pony-show, and the polished presentation… well, they no longer are speaking to anyone. Nearly every aspect of the Cluetrain manifesto, from it’s harsh predictions of customers shopping elsewhere to it’s expectations of corporate transparency, has been manifested today. Smart companies have figured this out, and are responding accordingly. Personally, I have had my tweets and online frustrations answered by companies of all sizes, from Wells Fargo Bank to AT&T, Starbucks, Jawbone, and more. As a result, I am far more likely to continue doing business with those outfits – even though I may have had a bad experience in the first place.

Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
Thesis #57
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?
Thesis #76

Perhaps most poignantly, the Manifesto spells out how companies can successfully participate in and even take advantage of this new market. From crowdsourcing to market research, there is a great deal of value for companies who host open and transparent conversations, if they are willing to open their doors and their dialogue to the public.

Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.
Thesis #64

These are no longer viewed as extremist or idealistic pipe-dreams, but are in fact realities. Companies as large as Coca Cola and General Motors are harnessing the power of these incredibly social markets to design their products, improve their customer service, and predict their corporate strategies. All of this, I believe, stems from the demands made back in 1999. For this reason, I believe that the Cluetrain should be required reading for anyone who Tweets, Likes, or Blogs on behalf of any company anywhere. Until you understand the new rules of the game, you can’t be expected to play well with others.

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?

What do you think? Is the Cluetrain Manifesto the most under-rated document in social media? Have you heard of it or used it to guide your company’s online involvement? Let me know.
Thanks, as always, for sharing.

  • Joseph Ratliff

    More marketers and business people should be familiar with Cluetrain for sure. When I read the book for the first of quite a few times in 2005… it opened my eyes to where we were heading as a society (as well as business).

    Great post.

    • J. Levi

      Thanks Joseph! I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Patrick

    I have promoted these concepts to the corporate middle managers that shape the film business. Even when couched and rephrased in their own vocabulary, they cannot grasp that there are customers, not consumers. In spite of the revenue trends, they cannot turn from the model that created and sustained a century of success. And those that are interested, and willing, are often then back stabbed for even suggested that new methods and markets are possible.
    Even amongst the new giants that came out of the IT bubble, there is resistance to this thinking. They know better, and their success proves it. They are smarter than their customers. The fact that they haven’t produced anything like the 90s success since isn’t evidence that they were just in the right place at the right time and not really geniuses after all.
    Interesting how you describe the book as “chilling”.