Markets Are Conversations



Christopher Locke


The ClueTrain Manifesto

First Published





United States

All you marketeers. If you have not discovered The ClueTrain Manifesto by now. Buy it and read it today. Do not delay! The following short story is taken from the opening chapter. It spells the slow but inevitable death of marketing as we know it! Note - the words and phrases that I've bolded.
Communication is a powerful tool. And like any other powerful tool, it has been pressed into the service of business-as-usual. A few years after my stint in Japan, I ended up back in the United States, hired by an AI software outfit to be their director of corporate communications. Cool, I thought. That sounded important. I had no idea what it meant. Only later did I discover I'd become their PR guy. Bummer.

I was pretty naive back then, but I quickly figured out that public relations was perceived by the press — the people I was supposed to be talking to — as little more than thinly disguised hucksterism. I tried playing the high-tech huckster role precisely once and came away from the experience feeling dirty, phony. I couldn't bring myself to do it again, which was a big problem. It was my job. And I needed the money. Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.

The "key messages" of any AI software company back then involved head-bangingly abstruse concepts like "heuristics," "backward chaining," and "nonmonotonic logic." Very deep. And very boring. I barely understood this jargon myself. How was I supposed to get on the phone with some total stranger and enthuse about The Product? The truth was, I didn't give a damn about the product. What I cared about was knowledge, how people acquired and used it, how organizations suddenly seemed to need a lot more of it, and why. What I cared about was how technology applied — or didn't — to the world of business and the actual people who worked there.

So instead of pitching the product, I started talking to journalists about stuff like that. I figured I'd just pretend to be working until I got fired for goofing off. But something amazing happened. As soon as I stopped strategizing how to "get ink" for the company that was paying my salary, as soon as I stopped seeing journalists as a source of free advertising for my employer, I started having genuine conversations with genuinely interesting people.

I'd call up editors and reporters without a thought in my head — no agenda, no objective — and we'd talk. We talked about manufacturing and how it evolved, about shop rats and managers, command and control. We talked about language and literature, about literacy. We talked about software too of course — what it could and couldn't do. We talked about the foibles of the industry itself, laughed about empty buzzwords and pompous posturing, swapped war stories about trade shows and writing on deadline. We talked about our own work. But these conversations weren't work. They were interesting and engaging. They were exciting. They were fun. I couldn't wait to get back to work on Monday morning.

Then something even more amazing happened. The company started "getting ink." Lots of it. And not in the lowly trade rags it had been used to, but in places like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. One day the CEO called the VP of Marketing into my office.

"What has Chris been doing for you lately?" the CEO asked him.

"I'm glad you brought that up," said the marketing veep. "In the whole time he's been here, he hasn't done a single thing I've asked him to."

"Well..." said the CEO looking down at his shoes — here it comes, I thought, this is what it feels like to get sacked — "whatever it is he's doing, leave him alone. From now on, he reports to me."

That's how I discovered PR doesn't work and that markets are conversations.

Video: David Gurteen on how to best secure continuous innovation

David Gurteen on how to best secure continuous innovation from iriss on Vimeo.

David Gurteen discusses how to best secure continuous innovation

David Gurteen on how to best secure continuous innovation.

The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS), Glasgow.

Media Information: Image

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
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