September 14, 2005
Excerpts: Branding Unbound by Rick Mathieson - Part III
Christopher Locke: "Cluetrain Manifesto" for the Mobile Age
Not everyone believes mass-market advertising translates to the wireless world. Just ask renegade marketing strategist and dyspeptic malcontent Christopher Locke, coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, and author of Gonzo Marketing, Winning Through Worst Practices.
The problem, says Locke, is that in an increasingly interconnected world of the wireline-and now, wireless-Internet, new communities of consumers are growing immune to corporate pitches and officially sanctioned marketing-speak, much less mainstream news and media.
As a result, "the artist formally known as advertising must do a 180," contends Locke. The goal is market advocacy-tapping into, listening to, and even forming alliances with emerging online and wireless markets, and transforming advertising from clever ways of saying, "I want your money" to "We share your interests."
From The Cluetrain Manifesto, The End of Business As Usual, by Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger. Courtesy of Perseus Books.
RICK MATHIESON: What do Gonzo Marketing and Cluetrain Manifesto mean in a mobile age where the Internet travels with us?
CHRISTOPHER LOCKE: The big shift here is away from oneway communications from large organizations-whether they were media organizations or big companies or the government, telling people, "This is the way it is." Weve moved from broadcast to point-to-point, peer-to-peer, group-to-group, where it isnt just a question about beaming out advertising. Its people who can go where they want, buy what is attractive to them.
You had a little of this with the remote control and TV, which bothered the hell out of broadcasters at first-"What if they switch away from the ads?" Well, this is orders of magnitude beyond that.
Now, people are talking to each other about your statements, creating online networks about any particular topic theyre passionate about, and saying, "Yeah, well, we dont buy it," or, "We have a different view," which you never had before the Internet.
The fact that people can communicate with each other, that they can deconstruct and analyze and comment on the official channels of communication, is shifting power away from companies and the media, and more to masses that are self-selecting into micromarkets.
Look at blogging. With the wireless Internet, youre starting to see a lot more real-time commentary and analysis thats flying by so fast that if youre outside of it, and youre just reading the newspaper, youre just getting the news, while another couple of million people have already compared it to ninety-six other events and cross-indexed
them, whether its the Middle East or whatever these folks are interested in.
RM: How does this shift hamper or help the objectives of marketers?
CL: Marketers are largely wedded to ideas that are intrinsic to the broadcast paradigm. Theyve never known anything else. From the perspective of gathering an audience in broadcast, you want the biggest possible audience. You want the highest Nielsen ratings. And from the perspective of advertisers, you want the real easy jingle. You want the vanilla message that can be delivered many, many, many times, and goes into your limbic system, so you go out like
an android and buy Downey Fabric Softener.
Marketers have made the mistake of thinking the Internet is like TV, when there are fundamental differences of interconnection and intercommentary and conversation. This is a technology that enables person-to-person and many-to-many conversations, and those conversations really define and characterize the medium in a way that just doesnt bear a lot of resemblance to broadcast or television at all.
Marketers-television is what they knew, so they employed the same sort of techniques, the same sort of shotgun, get the message out there, get the key points, get them to click the animated banner with the monkey whos running back and forth, or whatever.
In the first blush, some of the techniques had a certain appeal because they were novelties. But the novelty wore off after the third time youd clicked the monkey, and it was like, "Oh, I get it. This is just the same old crap," even with all this "permission marketing" stuff.
RM: In fact, you contend that online audiences are self-segmenting into micromarkets, where, as a marketer, you cant really approach them on your own agenda anymore. You have to talk to them about theirs.
CL: Yes. Used to be, to start a television station, or a radio station, you had to sign up these big sponsors with highticket items-car dealers, car companies, and so on. It worked in that medium. Here, the market is fragmented. But whats happened is that the big companies just repeat the same stuff online as they do everywhere else. You have NBC, ABC, CBS, all hawking the same homogenized crap. But thats the beauty of the Internet. Its just not one place, its scattered all over. And audiences dig around and turn each other on to places that they like: "Well, have you
heard what this guy is saying, or that woman is blogging," and so on.
The community that you volitionally participate in is always more true than a segment a marketer places you in. And thats the power of these micromarkets. Theyre not demographic abstractions. Theyre actual communities of discourse. Communities that are really talking to each other, and are not based just on interest, but passionate interest in how to make clothes for your kid, or how to powerboat,
or snowboard, or write Java code, or thousands and millions of other obsessions.
If you approach those kinds of communities saying, "Hey, buy our new tires for your SUV." Its like, "Huh? Where the f-k did you come from?" Its like a guy walking into a party where people are in little groups around the room, talking about stuff that theyre interested in, and here comes the used car salesman who wants to tell you, "Hey, Im with Joes Pontiac, and boy, weve got some great specials this week." How long would that guy last at a party? They would throw him out the damn door.
RM: So whats the alternative? How can companies effectively communicate with, and capitalize on, these 'networks'
CL: Start by looking inside your own company at interests that your employees haveat passions. Not about your product. Not about the nine-to-five work. But what are your people really interested in? What do they care about? What do they do with their spare time?
Find those interests, because they are intellectual capital that has been left lying in the dirt, unrecognized. It's what they want to get the next paycheck for, so that they can go buy the motorboat, or the snowboard, or the trip to Vail to go skiing. Find those interests among your people. Figure out which ones would map into your market in general.
Then, go out on the Web and find similar passions and interests represented by Web sites that are doing a good job, that have a demonstrable ability to be engaging-funny, well-written, graphically adept-and form relationships with those sites. Give them money. Give them technical resources.
It's almost like third-world development, where you grow them and ink legal relationships with these Web sites, so that you can intersect the people inside your company with that outside network, so when people hook up together, they're not talking to shills from Ford or Motorola or whoever. They're talking to people that are talking the
same language about stuff they're interested in, and by the way, theyre also meeting actual real people in those companies that they begin to have a feel for.
At some point, people say, "Hey, I need help with this or that," and a conversation starts that can end in a big sale. Along the way, youll probably earn the kind of brand equity youve always wanted, in a way you never expected.
There are people who are highly, highly motivated and enthusiastic about certain aspects of the world, and there are usually products or services relating to those people in some way or another. Take fly-fishing. Advertising fly-fishing stuff on television probably doesnt make a lot of sense. But online, a company can sponsor or underwrite a
fly-fishing contest, seminars, or an excursion, or tips on the best fishing spots this week. That can be very powerful.
But trying to get a bunch of sites to adhere to your notion of what you want the customer to hear is trying to drive the square peg into the round hole with a bigger hammer. And if were not careful, thats what will happen here. It used to be that really intelligent people saw what was going on and were attracted to the Internet because it was different. Now, you turn it on and its not different at all.
Its like turning on the television. Yeah, I can get my flight information faster, and I can get my news without having to get those wet newspapers off the front porch. But the really radical stuff thats possible in this medium is in danger of falling by the wayside.
Its so much more powerful to go to these sites that are out there, give them some money to help them make their trip. And in each case, the money is a tiny fraction of what it would cost to do traditional advertising. Its about going out there to build goodwill, to build relationships, to build, ultimately, not just a place to advertise, but a place to participate in those communities, and bring new ideas into your company-real intellectual capital-and to get people
really understanding what the company is doing, rather than just saying, "Buy my product."
RM: How will the mobile Internet give this trend pervasiveness?
CL: As the connection gets more ubiquitous, as youre freed from the desktop, as you have the ability to be more constantly connected, you can tap into your network anytime.
Its getting easier to go to your blogger, and say, "Hey, Im at the corner of Walk and Dont Walk in New York City, and Im looking for a good Chinese restaurant." Its fast enough that six people could come back and say, "Oh, youve got to go to Hop Sings."
Thats getting closer to real time, and guess what? Its more fun. Because somebody else that you trust can say, "Oh, you know, Charlies telling you to go to Hop Sings, but actually, that sucks. What you really want to do is walk three more blocks and take a left, and go to this other place that nobody knows about, but its fantastic."
Its like an instant, always-on community giving you information that you trust because youve trusted them in other areas.
RM: A reputation system built on some kind of 21st-century version of the Old Boys Club?
CL: Yes, thats a good analogy. Or The Alumni Association. You go to a new city, and you say, "Charles, where do you
think we can get a good cigar?" Youre going to trust Charles because hes from your class. Youve got more tie-in to him than if hes some guy wearing a bow tie talking at you too loud.
RM: Hmmm...sounds great, but its so grassroots. Is going Gonzo really a viable marketing strategy?
CL: No company in its right mind is going to shift its entire media budget to Gonzo Marketing.
But a lot of companies are spending a lot of money on corporate Web sites and not really getting much out of it. They cant take these sites down. It would be like being delisted on the stock market. It would be very bad, so they are hostage to paying lots of money to keep these sites up. Theyre not meeting their ROI expectations at all, and so what are they going to do?
I think a lot of these companies are scanning the horizon for alternatives. Gonzo Marketing is a really scary alternative. I think the classic company that is more desperate and has smarter folks is going to pick a few test steps to check this out, and I think theyre going to do it very quietly.
This is not something you can do by formula, by algorithm. Youre really going to have work by trial and error. On the other hand, I think Gonzo Marketing is only alternative because the dynamics that are embedded inherently in the medium are absolutely nonnegotiable.
Unfortunately, many companies are out there trying to shove their view on these communities, and Im disappointed in what Ive seen in terms of what could have been done, and what has been done. If were not careful, it will be more like Disney World than it is like the United Nations. I dont know which one is more of a joke.
TRAIN OF THOUGHT
The Cluetrain Manifesto burst onto the scene as ninety-five theses on the Web, and became a bestselling book that challenged corporate assumptions about business in the digital world. As that world goes wireless, a little Cluetrain, revisited:
- Markets are conversations.
- Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
- Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
- The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
- As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
- People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors.
- 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.
- 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.
- Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
- Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
- Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.