Monday, September 17, 2007

Get back to the sandbox

We all heard of the Cluetrain Manifesto. If you haven't, please leave this blog immediately and read it. The main thesis of the groundbreaking book, authored by Rick Levine, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, was that in the Information Age 'Markets are conversations.'

8 years later, Doc Searls, Peter Hirshberg, Technorati's chairman and Steve Hayden, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy& Mather Worldwide, extended the Cluetrain concepts to the office with a paper titled "The Manifesto on Monday Morning: How to put the wisdom of Cluetrain into action when you get to your office." It was presented at the Conversational Marketing Summit in San Francisco last week.

As I haven't had a chance to read it, I quote the ZDNet blog:

"The Cluetrain Manifesto was ahead of its time–before the “Live Web” of blogs, wikis, RSS and the high-velocity, real-time information flow–and business practices are just beginning to catch up. The paper offers guidelines for applying conversational marketing for business and real world examples, and deals with the fundamental concerns marketers have entering the new terrain, e.g., How do brands enter a conversation? How do they syndicate conversations? How do you make advertising include your customer? How do marketers deal with an audience of thousands or millions of Web publishers?

The authors also include a “Conversational Advertising Code of Conduct,” and are solicitating comments in true conversational marketing fashion. Among the “codes” are the four areas where transparency is required: Use of a publisher’s content, the editorial process, attributing advertising and influencing content creators.

“Conversational advertising will fail if it is exploited as a means to cover-up sponsored blogging, pay-per-posting, or any other publishing that is supported and influenced by a brand without being represented as such,” the authors wrote regarding a blurring line between advertising and content.

Doc Searls offers his rules of the road for conversational marketing road, such as:

The purpose of conversation is to create and improve understanding, not for one party to “deliver messages” to the other. That would be rude.
People in productive conversation don’t repeat what they’re saying over and over. They learn from each other and move topics forward.
Conversational marketing is carried out by human beings, writing and speaking in their own voices, for themselves—not just for their employers.
Conversational marketing’s heartbeat is the human one, not some media schedule. Brands need to work incessantly to be understood within the context of the market conversation and to earn and keep the respect of their conversational partners.
From a monetary standpoint, authenticity and credibility come into play for the most savvy buyers. According to the paper, click-through rates on ads featuring conversations are often much higher than conventional ads.

Hence, conversational marketing will graduate from conceptual framework to a path to profits, and products, brands and services will be better informed via the conversation."

We see some brands embracing this concept. However, most brands are still on the sideline, waiting to see if this is just another fad or a real change in people behavior.

The most fundamental paradigm shift for sideliners is to transfrom from teacher to student. Brands used to teach consumers what to do, how to behave, gave them positive reinforcement for good behavior ('You purchased this product - Good Boy.') and bad behavior ('You don't want this product - Let's switch to the Noriega torture and continue to bombard you with irrelevant, loud and annoying messages.')

The switch from teacher to student is tough. But everyboy who's a parent knows that you can be a teacher while learning at the same time. You will widen your horizon and learn fascinating things about your kid and, most often than none, about yourself when you have the willingness and openess to learn. From your kid. And your customers.

The best place to develop campaigns is in the sandbox. Don't bring your best clothes, expect to get dirty and enjoy yourself.

P.S.: Get cutting-edge ideas and observations about the Age of Conversation here.

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