There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda... You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning....
And that, I think, was the handle --- that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn't need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting --- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave... -- Hunter S. Thompson
When I first read the Cluetrain Manifesto, I was specifically drawn to the main point of the book: "Markets are conversations." Reason being at the time I was co-founding a B2B exchange for telecom, developing a market. When the company was a small unfunded startup we had a site that automated little more than posting an offer to buy or sell. The rest was pure phone grease. Picking up the phone and mediating discussions between buyers and sellers to find common ground.
When the B2B boom hit (Doc recently said rightly it should have been BwB, as people dont want business to be done to them, but with them), we got a little away from the converation piece to create automated value. But then we began working with the energy industry to develop a commodity market. When most people think of commodity markets they think of automated straight-through-processed transactions. But the reality is these markets are even more conversational than transactional. They rely on phone brokers and traders to hold conversations about where the market is, where its going, and the relationships that unfold.
Now I find myself in the role of a marketing consultant and an entreprenuer in areas where I am participating in, not designing, markets. Along comes another clueful book to keep my philosophies in check, Chris Locke's Gonzo Marketing. This time its about enaging in conversations with customers.
Chris writes in just about the most dense rich evocative prose possible. I come away feeling I have been brainwashed with brilliance and compelled to return and refer, make that re-read. The thrust of the book cannot be summed up in a nutshell, but it purports Gonzo Marketing as the next, and more human, in a line of marketing theories. Gonzo Marketing suggests e-commerce is a set of micromarkets, each potentially with its own community and if large companies can put aside their fears and practices they have a unique opportunity to engage customers in honest and fruitful conversations. But rather than try to outline it here, let me get to the point of this post.
All theories of marketing eventually outdate themselves in use. Mass or Niche or Relationship or Cause or other marketing theories become ineffective because customers wise up. Marketing is about making buying something compelling and reasonable. Most techniques validate a product through something different than the product itself: ads and placements that provide identity, custom tailoring messages to profiles, third party institutions providing validation, association with other causes, etc. In other words, associating the product with something customers trust or aspire to.
What Gonzo offers is different, no false associations. Just enable real conversations between you and the customer and between customers. Let the social network provide the validation. But here's the rub: I fear the world in which too many people read this book.
All mediums and modes of communication become saturated and outdated as well. Advertising in abundance becomes ineffective. Spam destroys the utility of modes of communication. And people only have so much time. If too many people read this book and employ Gonzo strategies, then you are going to have alot of people trying to have conversations with you. The noise in the room will increase, people will be shouting and our ears will hurt.
On the Net, besides having choice in what you, um, consume and who you communicate, people also increasingly create. This all takes time. Look at Bob Frankston's essay today on the challenges of writing and communicating today (I have been taking away much of Bob's email time this week, and we just met, so its partly my fault).
I have no doubt that big business will find a way to clone Chris before too many people read his book. There are alot of liberal arts majors out of work these days. And people always value what they create more than those that consume it. But the other side of the conversation won't have clones for some time now.