I just finished reading this book called The Cluetrain Manifesto. I read about it on someone’s blog a long time ago, and had it on my reading list for a while. Then recently, my close friend Kiran recommended it to me again, and so I picked it up.
I liked it! Sure, it is a little repetitive at times – the book is kind of a collection of essays by a group of four authors – and they cover overlapping grounds. However, for most people the book will be one of two things – a) a whack on the side of the head, or b) a reinforcement of what they might have been thinking.
The basic premise is simple – the Internet has changed the way markets behave, and companies need to respond and engage the new markets in this new way as well. Nothing new, huh? Still, how many companies are truly doing it?
In fact, from the above, it might even seem a rather dated book. After all, it was written in 1999, when it was a fact that the Internet was new, and not well understood, and companies were jumping onto the bandwagon. The authors explain that the Internet is not just some new medium to advertise on, or set up websites that dispense corporate-speak. It is a place where people (existing and potential customers) can talk, have a conversation. And these people talk about companies, and share experiences about them. They swap reviews – both good and bad, they analyze companies’ strategies, they come up with ideas for improvement, so on and so forth. It is up to the companies to participate in these conversations and gather what they should from them.
Smaller companies are sometimes good at doing this. They actually know many of their regular customers by name, and gather plenty of feedback and ideas on what they could do more or better. However, there are plenty of companies out there, that even today, do not respect truly their customers, or think they can get away with being a corporation that doesn’t need to truly engage with their customers in a human-like manner. If you’ve ever been treated badly by a large company, say an airline company or a rental car company, then you know what I mean. Most people are pretty clear about the difference in service they should expect when they’re dealing with typical large corporations versus small, mom-and-pop outfits.
And that’s the point. Companies need to get off their high-horse of being a business, and become more like the normal people that work in them. After all, they’re customers too, from someone else’s perspective. Companies sometimes do this during the startup phases. And as they expand (when the distance between the producers and the consumers grows beyond a certain point), they lose this human-ness, and become a faceless corporation that is impersonal and forbidding. If the founders can truly inculcate this and the rest of the principles outlined in The Cluetrain Manifesto, they will find that it becomes another secret-weapon that can be wielded against their more traditional, large corporation-type competitors.
A decent read, I’m sure at least a couple of ideas will stick.