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Without a doubt, one of the most original books on marketing ever conceived was “The Cluetrain Manifesto”. Published originally as a website in 1999, the authors (Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls & David Weinberger) managed to compress the new era of Internet marketing into 95 thesis, the first of which was “Markets Are Conversations”.

the cluetrain manifesto


It was all the rage (at least in Internet circles) ten years ago but these days I don’t hear much talk about it, which is a DAMN SHAME.

This book explains everything that’s wrong about marketing today. Wait – what’s that? There’s nothing wrong with marketing today?

Here’s an experiment. 

As quickly as you can, write down the most impressive 5 marketing campaigns you’ve been a recipient of in the last six months. Pick the 5 campaigns that have really blown your socks off, that demonstrated an understanding of you, your life, and your problems, and that quickly and concisely communicated how a product or service you aren’t currently a customer of, can solve that problem for you and, in doing so, make your life measurably better?

Now don’t write down funny or pithy deoderant ads or beer ads that had a huge budget. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about marketing that actually made a difference in your life (because, after all, that’s what marketing is supposed to do).


I’ll give you 60 seconds to write your list.

…… 10….. 20….. 30….. 40….. 50….. 60.

Time’s up. How did you go? Could you think of 5 campaigns that fit that description? Could you think of one?

No matter how many you could think of, ponder this – how many marketing messages do you think you’ve had pushed in front of your face in the last six months? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?

And how many could you remember as having made a difference in your life?

According to The Guardian, we are exposed to 3,500 daily messages and 99% have no impact. So don’t tell me marketing isn’t broken. It’s broken. Fundamentally broken.



Why is it broken?

It’s broken because most marketers and their bosses don’t really think too hard about how to have conversations with their prospective and existing customers. They still want to talk at them and not listen.

It’s also sometimes hard to get clients to want to invest the time, money and effort in engineering marketing systems that will allow you to start long-term conversations with customers. We live in a short-term focused world, where businesses want to see a 90 day ROI on their marketing. Building systems that allow on-going conversations takes time.

Here’s an example of an ongoing conversation.

A few years ago, I was the marketing manager of a business that imported and retailed premium cigars. One of the first things I did was set up a forum. I made it open and free and allowed members to talk about any kind of cigars they liked, even the ones we didn’t sell. I even allowed them to talk negatively about our cigars.

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What?? That doesn’t make any sense!!

Well, actually, it does.

If customers have criticisms of my product, I want to know about them. If I don’t know about them, I can’t do anything about them.

Secondly, I knew that my product was first class and that any problems would be rare. I knew that the people who might be having a bad experience were opportunities to demonstrate my customer service.

“Got a bad cigar? No problems! We’ll replace it straight away.”

This ties into one of my central beliefs about marketing:

Customers don’t expect you to be 100% perfect – but they expect you try hard to make things right when (not if) something goes wrong.

And how do you demonstrate that customer service isn’t just lip-service?

You do it in public.


So anyway, today there are over 1000 members of that forum. It’s not just a forum, it’s a community. People help each other out, share product and tips. They celebrate birthdays and new babies with free gifts to each other in the mail. Most have never met face to face. They are spread out across Australia.

Now, unfortunately, I’m no longer in the cigar business, so the forum isn’t any use to me as a commercial exercise. I still keep it running though, partly because I sometimes get free cigars, but mostly because it’s a great reminder to me that creating conversations works. Imagine if you could get 1000 people in your market to start talking to each other about the products and services your business provides – in a forum that you own and manage.



  • Don’t make bad marketing if you can avoid it. There’s too much of it already. Be the 1%.
  • Think hard about how to have a genuine conversation with your market. Yes, it might take time to build.
  • How well do you really know your customers? Not just their email address.
  • How well do you really know their problems? Can you quickly write down 5 points about how you can make their lives better?
  • Are you listening to them on a regular basis? Really??