Markets are conversations


Back in 1999 a new tool, the internet, had begun to change the fundamentals of commerce, communication and expression.

Whilst many businessmen saw the internet simply as another broadcasting channel, some farsighted contrarians, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, disagreed.

They saw the that the internet would radically change the way we do business – not just as a communication channel – but as a disruptor of the status quo.

Businesses that failed to recognise and adapt to this disruption have disappeared.

The Cluetrain Manifesto

The four men published their predictions in the form of the ClueTrain manifesto comprising 95 theses.

The central thesis – “Markets are conversations” asserted that the internet would provide a platform allowing hitherto unprecedented levels of communication amongst consumers in the new virtual marketplaces.

This assertion has been proven correct – think how online reviews of products impact sales.

The internet is now only one of the digital channels available

The digital revolution

In recent years, digital businesses are the new disruptors.

The face to face channel is being displaced – driven by a combination of convenience of the part of the customer, and cost cutting on behalf of the company.

In South Africa, for example, new digital-only banks have entered the market, whilst traditional banks are closing branches and retrenching staff.

Yet, for all of the opportunities created by digital channels it remains critical to remember that markets are conversations.

There is no doubt that digital transformation depends on data.

In practise, digital channels generate vast additional quantities of data, in various formats, as customers now have a variety of options to reach out, particularly when unhappy, and communicate with both their service provider and with the broader market – sometimes at the same time.

Last year, I highlighted the experience of DNB Bank, Norway, that recognised that their ability to manage data is key to their ability to communicate with customers.

Customers whose requests for service are missed due to poor data management may churn, or, even worse, may actively campaign against your business, influencing whole groups of consumers to move away.

In the age of digital, the Clue Train Manifesto is more relevant than ever.

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