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A TCI Book Review

The Cluetrain Manifesto – The End of Business as Usual

Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger
Perseus Books, Cambridge, Mass., 2000; ISBN – 0-7382- 0244-4

The Cluetrain Manifesto is a set of 95 theses (and associated commentaries) that describe how business will be done on the Internet in the future. Reminiscent of Martin Luther’s 95 theses that were nailed up on the door of that German cathedral church in 1517 (which caused that little brouhaha known as the Protestant Reformation) the intent of The Cluetrain Manifesto is to document and maybe help foment a (similar?) revolution in how people think about the Internet and business.

The Cluetrain Manifesto started as a web site put together by the four authors listed above, each of whom is a luminary (i.e. geek and gazillionaire) in the world of computers and the Internet. They started the site as an expression of their philosophy about how the Internet was changing the face of business and social interaction. More and more people became aware of Cluetrain, and ‘signed up’ to the Manifesto, expressing their support for its basic tenets. Nowadays, the Cluetrain website (accessible at is quite extensive, and has a lot of ancillary information on it.

The title, Cluetrain, is enigmatic, and is not explained in the book (or, at least, not that I could find). The best I can come up with is that it suggests that you should get a clue about how the Internet is radically changing the face of business (preferably several clues) and then get on the train of those who are using it properly.

So what does the Manifesto say? Here are some of the theses:

#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.

#6. The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that were simply not possible in the era of mass media.

#7. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. (my personal favorite)

#10. As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more organized. Participation in a networked market changes people fundamentally.

#13. What’s happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called “The Company” is the only thing standing between the two.

#14. Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new networked conversations. To their intended online audience, companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.

…and so on, through to number 95, which is quite sinister:

#95. We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.

I think that the whole philosophy boils down to this: individuals increasingly are communicating via the Internet, where they have a free voice in the affairs of the world. Anybody can post information about anything at any time, including views about particular companies’ products and services. Corporations are not able to control this voice, and must get used to the fact that their customers, their employees and their suppliers are talking about them through the unregulated medium of the Internet. Companies can either join into these conversations honestly and use them to their benefit, or they can watch from the sidelines, increasingly removed from their (likely shrinking) markets. Hence, tenet #1 of the Manifesto: ‘Markets are conversations’.

Moreover, when companies do engage in market dialogue, they must speak in a human voice (tenet #3). Corporatese bureaucraticspeak will not cut it in the freeand- easy, say-what-you-mean environment of the Internet.

The 95 theses take up the first 20 or so pages of the book. The remaining 160 pages are devoted to 7 essays written and co-written by various combinations of the four authors of the book. Some of the most interesting of these are: Talk is Cheap – This essay contains examples of how conversations among customers, employees and suppliers and even the general public are creating the image of the company, quite apart from the ‘formal’ image creation channels of PR, advertising, etc. There is a great example (ostensibly real) given involving Saturn, where a disgruntled new car owner appeals to other customers for help regarding a service problem through a particular Newsgroup. This elicits all kinds of comments, and generates quite an extensive conversation that eventually involves a Saturn employee who (undoubtedly unbeknownst to his or her manager) starts to provide some useful information. It’s a good example of how a company’s image and reputation are affected by an Internet market conversation, which can be quite influential in that potential Saturn owners might well visit the Newsgroup to see how satisfied owners are with the product.

Markets Are Conversations – Given that markets are conversations and can be influenced by anybody with a modem and an opinion, what is the traditional marketing department then to do? This chapter provides some clues:

“Marketing isn’t going to go away. Nor should it. But it needs to evolve, rapidly and thoroughly, for markets have become networked and now know more than business, learn faster than business, are more honest than business, and are a hell of a lot more fun than business. The voices are back, and voice brings craft: work by unique individuals motivated by passion.

What’s happening to the market is precisely what should – and will – happen to marketing. Marketing needs to become a craft. Recall that craftworkers listen to the material they’re forming, shaping the pot to the feel of the clay, deigning the house to fit with and even reveal the landscape. The stuff of marketing is the market itself.” (pp. 113, 114)

The Hyperlinked Organization – This chapter is about how the internal organization of companies is changing due to the hyperlinked structures of company Intranets. Increasingly, individuals in a company are being listened to because they have something relevant to say – not because of their position on the corporate org chart. This greatly facilitates networking within the company, and has the effect of ‘flattening’ the organization’s structure.

Clearly the Internet is changing the face of face of business in many ways, and we are just beginning to understand how these work. The Cluetrain Manifesto provides many fascinating insights into this process – it’s well worth a read.





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