Signers & Comments
Markets are conversations.
Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted
in a human voice.
Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting
arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open,
People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
The Internet is enabling conversations among human beings that
were simply not possible in the era of mass media.
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.
In both internetworked markets and among
intranetworked employees, people are speaking to each
other in a powerful new way.
These networked conversations are enabling powerful new forms of
social organization and knowledge exchange to emerge.
As a result, markets are getting smarter, more informed, more
organized. Participation in a networked market changes people
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
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.
What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A
metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing
standing between the two.
Corporations do not speak in the same voice as these new
networked conversations. To their intended online audiences,
companies sound hollow, flat, literally inhuman.
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.
Already, companies that speak in the language of the pitch, the
dog-and-pony show, are no longer speaking to anyone.
Companies that assume online markets are the same markets that
used to watch their ads on television are kidding themselves.
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.
Companies can now communicate with their markets directly. If
they blow it, it could be their last chance.
Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At
Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously.
They need to get a sense of humor.
Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the
corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little
humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
Companies attempting to "position" themselves need to take
a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their
market actually cares about.
Bombastic boasts—"We are positioned to become the
preeminent provider of XYZ"—do not constitute a position.
Companies need to come down from their Ivory Towers and talk to
the people with whom they hope to create relationships.
Public Relations does not relate to the public. Companies are
deeply afraid of their markets.
By speaking in language that is distant, uninviting, arrogant,
they build walls to keep markets at bay.
Most marketing programs are based on the fear that the market
might see what's really going on inside the company.
Elvis said it best: "We can't go on together with suspicious
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.
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?
Smart markets will find suppliers who speak their own language.
Learning to speak with a human voice is not a parlor trick. It
can't be "picked up" at some tony conference.
To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of
But first, they must belong to a community.
Companies must ask themselves where their corporate cultures end.
If their cultures end before the community begins, they will have
Human communities are based on discourse—on human speech about
The community of discourse is the market.
Companies that do not belong to a community of discourse will
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.
As with networked markets, people are also talking to each other
directly inside the company—and not just about rules
and regulations, boardroom directives, bottom lines.
Such conversations are taking place today on corporate
intranets. But only when the conditions are right.
Companies typically install intranets top-down to distribute HR
policies and other corporate information that workers are doing
their best to ignore.
Intranets naturally tend to route around boredom. The best are
built bottom-up by engaged individuals cooperating to construct
something far more valuable: an intranetworked corporate
A healthy intranet organizes workers in many meanings of
the word. Its effect is more radical than the agenda of any
While this scares companies witless, they also depend heavily on
open intranets to generate and share critical knowledge. They
need to resist the urge to "improve" or control these networked
When corporate intranets are not constrained by fear and
legalistic rules, the type of conversation they encourage sounds
remarkably like the conversation of the networked marketplace.
Org charts worked in an older economy where plans could be fully
understood from atop steep management pyramids and detailed work
orders could be handed down from on high.
Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect
for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority.
Command-and-control management styles both derive from and
reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of
Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open
conversation kills companies.
There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One
with the market.
In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost
invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete
notions of command and control.
As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are
broken. Command and control are met with hostility by
intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in
These two conversations want to talk to each other. They
are speaking the same language. They recognize each other's
Smart companies will get out of the way and help the inevitable
to happen sooner.
If willingness to get out of the way is taken as a measure of IQ,
then very few companies have yet wised up.
However subliminally at the moment, millions of people now online
perceive companies as little more than quaint legal fictions that
are actively preventing these conversations from intersecting.
This is suicidal. Markets want to talk to companies.
Sadly, the part of the company a networked market wants to talk
to is usually hidden behind a smokescreen of hucksterism, of
language that rings false—and often is.
Markets do not want to talk to flacks and hucksters. They want to
participate in the conversations going on behind the corporate
De-cloaking, getting personal: We are those markets. We
want to talk to you.
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.
We're also the workers who make your companies go. We want to
talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes
written into a script.
As markets, as workers, both of us are sick to death of getting
our information by remote control. Why do we need faceless annual
reports and third-hand market research studies to introduce us to
As markets, as workers, we wonder why you're not listening. You
seem to be speaking a different language.
The inflated self-important jargon you sling around—in the
press, at your conferences—what's that got to do with us?
Maybe you're impressing your investors. Maybe you're impressing
Wall Street. You're not impressing us.
If you don't impress us, your investors are going to take a bath.
Don't they understand this? If they did, they wouldn't let
you talk that way.
Your tired notions of "the market" make our eyes glaze over. We
don't recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps
because we know we're already elsewhere.
We like this new marketplace much better. In fact, we are
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!
We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it
something interesting for a change.
We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some
better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute?
You're too busy "doing business" to answer our email? Oh gosh,
sorry, gee, we'll come back later. Maybe.
You want us to pay? We want you to pay attention.
We want you to drop your trip, come out of your neurotic
self-involvement, join the party.
Don't worry, you can still make money. That is, as long as it's
not the only thing on your mind.
Have you noticed that, in itself, money is kind of
one-dimensional and boring? What else can we talk about?
Your product broke. Why? We'd like to ask the guy who made it.
Your corporate strategy makes no sense. We'd like to have a chat
with your CEO. What do you mean she's not in?
We want you to take 50 million of us as seriously as you take one
reporter from The Wall Street Journal.
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?
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.
When we're not busy being your "target market," many of us
are your people. We'd rather be talking to friends online
than watching the clock. That would get your name around better
than your entire million dollar web site. But you tell us speaking
to the market is Marketing's job.
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
We have better things to do than worry about whether you'll
change in time to get our business. Business is only a part of
our lives. It seems to be all of yours. Think about it:
who needs whom?
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.
Even at its worst, our newfound 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
Our allegiance is to ourselves—our friends, our new allies
and acquaintances, even our sparring partners. Companies that
have no part in this world, also have no future.
Companies are spending billions of dollars on Y2K. Why can't they
hear this market timebomb ticking? The stakes are even higher.
We're both inside companies and outside them. The boundaries that
separate our conversations look like the Berlin Wall today, but
they're really just an annoyance. We know they're coming down.
We're going to work from both sides to take them down.
To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear
confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than
they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow
We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But
we are not waiting.