Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The ClueTrain Manifesto, Ten Years On

The following post is part of the ClueTrain Manifesto 10th Year Anniversary and was posted on April 28th, 2009 as part of a larger blogging event. This post addresses thesis #30 which reads:

"Brand loyalty is the corporate version of going steady, but the breakup is inevitable--and coming fast. Because they are networked, smart markets are able to renegotiate relationships with blinding speed."

- The ClueTrain Manifesto, 1999

The brand promise. It is the foundation of what marketing used to be: reinforcing a perceived value set behind a brand to build loyalty amongst consumers. And while that basic tenet remains an important, if not less structured, one, the medium itself has morphed into a Macluhan-esque world of interconnected and vocal consumers who are only too happy to weigh in on how the relationship is going. The rules of the brand game have irrevocably changed.

Watching the evolution of online marketing has been a fascinating process. More than once I have heard the proclamation that marketers would determine how the relationship and the brand would be "presented" online. They structured programs, built advertising campaigns, and offered relationship marketing for the web that were simply an extension of existing programs and extant thinking.

Those brands missed the point.

Looking back to the ClueTrain Manifesto and the surrounding buzz ten years ago (and I was in the thick of it then, working with at what would become one of the biggest email marketing providers), it remains fascinating how relevant many of the original proclamations remain, particularly in light of the (relatively) new social web. The idea of inter-consumer relationships and communities having a vocal say in the brand conversation seemed overly ambitious at the time. Audacious even.

Not anymore. Brands must increasingly be an active partner in the relationship and respond to our needs. We are no longer willing to go steady just because a brand is good in bed. What if it has bad breath? We want more. We demand more. And we can quickly ask our extended, interconnected network where to find it.

We have already witnessed the early benchmarks of the new relationship paradigm, where the audience dictates what values they expect of the brand. Did Amazon have a #glitch? Did #amazonfail? At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter. Because we let them know that our interconnected and socially networked worlds expects them to embrace the values of diversity, equality and fairness that we believe in. We needed them to know this. And so we Twittered. And blogged. And fought back. Loudly. And let them know that we wouldn't continue in this relationship unless something changed. Immediately.

It isn't me, it's you.

This is the new reality of the Brand and branding. The speed and force with which consumers can weigh in on the status of our relationship have forever changed the rules of the game. Ignore the signs at your own peril. The sensations of our day, the way messages are delivered, and the way that we now insist on engaging with corporations and brands and even each other perfectly reflect the paradigm shift described in the original manifesto written just ten short years ago. Pity those marketers who didn't understand it then. Won't it be interesting to see where this new reality takes us next?