Did the Clue Train Stop at Your Marketing Department?

Brian Halligan
Brian Halligan



A couple of weeks ago, a classic book calle d the Cluetrain Manifesto was re-released .  The book was originally written back in 2001 and brilliantly describes the internet's impact on how an organization should engage with its employees and on how an organization should engage with its marketplace.

It turns out that this book has been very influential in my life.  My last company, Groove Networks, was founded by Ray Ozzie who is now the CTO of Microsoft.  Ray was a big fan of the book and its authors and got me into it.  Groove essentially was trying to build a modern communication platform to enable organizations to run the way the Cluetrain folks thought they should run.  The good news about the book is I think it very accurately predicts the future, but in the case of the way organizations run, it is still in our future. 

My current company, HubSpot, was founded by yours truly.  HubSpot is essentially building a modern marketing platform to enable organizations to engage their marketplace in much the same way as the book recommends.  The good news is that the book very accurately predicts the future of marketing and in HubSpot's case, I think the future is happening right now.

The book starts out with the 95 thesis.  This is a take on how Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to a church door in Germany several hundred years ago that ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation and the split off from the Catholic Church.  I took the liberty of pulling out the Cluetrain theses that I think apply to modern marketers everywhere today:

  1. Markets are conversations.
  2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  3. Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  4. Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, and uncontrived.
  5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
  6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
  7. In both inter net worked markets and among intra net worked employees, people are speaking to each other in a powerful new way.
  8. These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
  9. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.
  10. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
  11. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
  12. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audiences, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
  13. In just a few more years, the current homogenized "voice" of business— the sound of mission statements and brochures—will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
  14. Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
  15. Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
  16. Companies that don't realize their markets are now networked person-to-person, getting smarter as a result and deeply joined in conversation are missing their best opportunity.
  17. Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If they blow it, it could be their last chance.
  18. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them.
  19. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
  20. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate website. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
  21. Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
  22. Bombastic boasts — "We are positioned to become the preeminent provider of XYZ" — do not constitute a position.
  23. Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are deeply afraid of their markets.
  24. By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant, they build walls to keep markets at bay.
  25. Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market might see what's really going on inside the company.
  26. 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.
  27. Networked markets can change suppliers overnight. Networked knowledge workers can change employers over lunch. Your own "downsizing initiatives" taught us to ask the question: "Loyalty? What's that?"
  28. Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.
  29. Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It can't be "picked up" at some tony conference.
  30. To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities.
  31. But first, they must belong to a community.
  32. Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
  33. If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have no market.
  34. Companies make a religion of security, but this is largely a red herring. Most are protecting less against competitors than against their own market and workforce.
  35. This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.
  36. Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk to is usually hidden behind a smoke screen of hucksterism, of language that rings false—and often is.
  37. Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate firewall.
  38. De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We want to talk to you.
  39. We want access to your corporate information, to your plans and strategies, your best thinking, your genuine knowledge. We will not settle for the 4-color brochure, for web sites chock-a-block with eye candy but lacking any substance.
  40. We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are creating it.
  41. You're invited, but it's our world. Take your shoes off at the door. If you want to barter with us, get down off that camel!
  42. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
  43. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
  44. You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
  45. Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's not the only thing on your mind.
  46. We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
  47. We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?
  48. When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn't have such a tight rein on "your people" maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to.
  49. We'd like it if you got what's going on here. That'd be real nice. But it would be a big mistake to think we're holding our breath.
  50. We have real power and we know it. If you don't quite see the light, some other outfit will come along that's more attentive, more interesting, more fun to play with.
  51. Even at its worst, our new-found conversation is more interesting than most trade shows, more entertaining than any TV sitcom, and certainly more true-to-life than the corporate web sites we've been seeing.
  52. To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused or may sound confusing, but we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
  53. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching, but we are not waiting.

If you like the ideas in the Cluetrain Manifesto, you might like our new Inbound Marketing book .  As David Nielsen pointed out in his review , reading the Inbound Marketing book is the "how to" part of having the Cluetrain stop at your marketing department.

Is your business using practices that worked pre-internet today or have they embraced the practices espoused in the Cluetrain Manifesto?  In other words, did the Clue Train stop at your marketing department or did it go on by?  If it went by, can you schedule another stop for yourself?

- Brian Halligan

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