The Cluetrain Manifesto

One day Dunkin Donuts pissed off the wrong customer --David Felton -- by refusing to put skim milk in his coffee. So - enraged -- he registered the domain and turned it in to a public comment board.

The site quickly became a hit for people who wanted to air their donut gripes. Dunkin Donuts employees got a wind of it and started revealing things like why customers should avoid jelly donuts (employees toss them around and play with them). Later franchisees also got involved, usually to follow up or defend their outlets against negative comments.

In The Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors use the Dunkin Donuts hacker site to illustrate one of the Internet's key contributions to marketing: a place where people can engage in real conversations. The book evolved from their Internet site where the four new economy gurus nailed 95 thesis on the Internet economy.

The authors are not just a group of loud mouth putzes. Rick Levine, was Web architect for Sun Microsystem's Java Software group, Christopher Locke, is publisher of Entropy Gradient Reversals, Doc Searls, senior editor at Linux Journal and David Weinberger publishes the Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization.

The imagery evoked by the use of the word "manifesto" which recalls Marx's Communist Manifesto, and "theses" Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses Against Indulgences, attests to the historical significance which the author's attribute the Web's evolution.

"Markets are conversations," reads the first thesis. "Markets consist of human beings not demographic sectors," on it goes: "Conversations among humans sound human, They are conducted in a human voice." "We are immune to advertising. Just forget it." One after another every belief and tradition underlying the way corporate America has worked for the last century is challenged.

The fact people from all walks of life now can, and do, talk to each other directly in chat rooms, Usenet groups, message boards and thorough E-mail, rather than through stuffy hierarchical corporate channels is forcing companies to change the way they communicate.

Meaningless words and phrases that litter corporate public relations departments like "extended enterprise client server", and "seamless," "solutions," and "state-of the art," ... are going to have to go. No longer will mass production companies be able to deliver mass marketing messages through mass media. Customers want to be spoken to individually in a human voice. No longer will the accept a "corporate message" that has been filtered through PR, so every department says the same thing.

The Cluetrain site quickly generated considerable interest and as more people visited, commented upon and signed the manifesto, it evolved into its present form.

This year's NASDAQ roller coaster ride which saw the tech heavy sky rocket and then crash and burn has soured a lot of investors of Internet and e-commerce stocks. But marketers should not be fooled by investor's greed and stupidity. The medium is causing a massive shift in how companies communicate with their stakeholders.

Although the authors are ahead of their time, they share some fabulous ideas, which uncannily unnerve those of us who make a living in the marketing and advertising industries.

Dunkin Donuts eventually sued, and re-acquired the domain name in an undisclosed settlement. But the company, and others should be warned say the authors. Customers will find a way to continue the conversation. In fact is already registered.


The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Sears and David Weinberger. 199 pages Perseus Books

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