Less chatter, more meaning for companies through networking

As a big fan of manifestos and other calls for change, The Cluetrain Manifesto’s 95 Theses really spoke to me this week. There were several themes therein that I found especially appealing.

The first of these themes is that companies need to ease up in the Department of Propaganda and Information Control:

  • 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.
  • Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  • Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what’s really going on inside the company.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.

I remember learning about all the different methods of advertising in elementary or middle school, and I’m pretty sure it was in the context of D.A.R.E. I suppose they taught about advertising to strengthen my resolve against all the illegal drug pushers I would inevitably encounter who used tactics like “join the cool people, buy THIS!”, “you’ll totally get laid if you have THIS”, “you are clearly lacking and need THIS to compensate”. While I never met any drug dealers with such a corporate, consumerist sales approach, that little tidbit of education is knowledge I’ve applied to the advertising I’ve encountered ever since, and I’m proud to consider myself more or less impervious to traditional advertising.

What works on me? Facts. Tell me the facts, I’ll look into it and get back to you. A little personality that isn’t irritating helps too. Hold the b.s., meaningless claims, and parsing of phrase, please. This is the kind of advertising I choose to design in my graphics work (whenever possible) and this kind of relationship between company and consumer lends itself well to a networked market, I believe. Dispensing with the fluff and distraction shows a respect for the market as thoughtful, intelligent people.

Another theme I really enjoyed was the idea that real, live, human employees are valuable for more than propagating the company “image”, shutting up, crunching numbers and generally being treated like a thoughtless machine:

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

In reality, it is “The Company” that is the thoughtless, inhuman machine that exists as no more than an idea, a construct, and figment of the imagination. It is nothing if not for the people that make it up, and I truly believe connections with those humans are what the future of marketing and customer service will evolve into as consumers demand access to relatable people for information and help.

The last theme I really appreciated was the idea that social media, crowdsourcing, and networking offers companies an absolute wealth of information to improve and create products and services. Involvement in society, culture, and community are what’s expected of modern companies:

  • Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  • If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market
  • Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable to happen sooner.
  • 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?

The last point has always been a disconnect between consumers and business I’ve found ironic. I can think of any number of products or services I might use, if only someone would offer them! Now that the capability exists for direct communication between company and consumer, I hope companies will take advantage of access to consumers to help guide their decisions.

I noticed that the 95 Theses was written in 1999. Fifteen years later, there are companies who have embraced these ideas, but so many more who are stuck in old ways of advertising, controlling information and employees, choosing to dictate how things are instead of listening to how things should be.

About Michelle Mailey Noben

I'm a graphic designer and graduate student at the University of Wisconsin–Stout in Menomonie, Wis. I'm in my second year of the School of Art + Design's Master of Fine Arts in Design program. So far, it's been a great experience, although challenging at times to come back to academia after working in the industry for several years. When I'm done with my studies, I'd like to teach at the adult level. I work for the University as Graduate Assistant in the University Library, where I work with the Public Relations committee on promoting library events. This year, I recently started in an office assistant position in the School of Art + Design's program office. I'm looking forward to becoming more comfortable with emerging media to make the most of this amazing technology. Thanks for reading!

Posted on October 19, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. natashajmceachin


    Awesome post! I also see the changing consumer attitudes towards marketing and your description of what works for you (stating facts, losing the pitch, and giving you time to think) can apply to most of us. We would definitely rather buy from a company that seems to respect us as “thoughtful intelligent people”.

  2. I think you brought up a great point here. Companies spend so much time and money trying to figure out what consumers want but consumers are sitting right here with a ton of ideas. The thing is… hardly any companies will just directly ask the consumers what they would like or what products and services they would find worth paying for.

    I have a hunch that this has to do with control. If a company creates a product, they set the expectation for how it should function. If a company creates a product that was pitched or suggested by a consumer, there is a much higher standard to adhere to.

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