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Anals of Marketing: The Problem

Anals of Marketing: The Problem with Voice

As an official Cluetrain Author(tm), I am all in favor of voice. One of the Web’s main attractions — in fact, perhaps its deepest spiritual attraction, IMO — is that it returns our voice to us. We can sound like ourselves again, shaking off the professional straitjacket we don at work. Companies that continue to talk in the safe-but-robotic soothing monotone we’ve come to expect will come to early ends. Yada yada yada.

But no one ever said this was unproblematic.

For example, Jack Vinson writes:

I have been wondering about the new Mini that BMW is producing. A mongst too much Flash at their website is a bunch of non-corporate speak. They are clearly trying to brand the Mini as a fun vehicle. Even their “user agreement” has silly stuff like “I agree to avoid ruts (in the street).”

And the page with information about applying for a job with them says:

If you’re talented, passionate and can name at least 60 of the best diners in the U.S., please send a resume, a cover letter and your best road trip story to us.

They have a page where readers can submit stories and photos and a humorous “license to motor” exam that is occasionally actually funny.

But then we face Jack’s implicit question: “They are clearly trying to brand the Mini as a fun vehicle.” Indeed. And thus the voice behind this site is suspect. It has to be, for two reasons. First, this site is still broadcasting to us: it is a single voice beaming itself to a multitude in hopes of affecting our buying behavior. It is still their site, not ours. We’ve be idiots not to be suspicious. (On our site about Minis, we’d talk with one another.) Second, it’s anonymous. Voices have to be attached to people. Committees, marketing departments and companies don’t have voices. Only individuals do. As RageBoy says in Gonzo Marketing, corporations have no corpus, no body, no sex, and no voice.

(By the way, there’s been some good discussion of Gonzo Marketing at the Gonzo Engaged blog.)

Crusty John Dvorak in one of his PC Magazine columns points to a report by Charles Murray in EE Times (Nov. 30) about an effort by the entire Microsoft’s Talisker embedded OS team (30-50 people) to go into the Net discussions about it and listen to what people are saying. According to the article, the engineers have been pulled into frank discussions with their potential customers. The EE Times report is actually pretty favorable. Here’s a long quote:

…the new modus operandi represents a stark departure from business as usual at Microsoft, but they say it’s paying dividends.

“Historically, we didn’t ever want our developers out in news groups,” Morris said. “People would get ahold of our internal addresses and we’d get spammed, so we rarely used actual Microsoft addresses.”

But as part of an effort to generate Linux-like excitement about CE, the company encouraged its Talisker team members to use their real names and e-mail addresses. Now, the engineers who wrote the kernel are accessible to anyone who has downloaded a Talisker Emulation Edition Preview or is working with a beta version. Beta users are given an ID when they sign up, and can use it to enter a news group and “talk” with Talisker team members.

“Now, I’m out there and they can see my name and title, and they don’t hold anything back,” Morris said. “They quite bluntly tell me what they want changed in the kernel or in a menu. Sometimes the feedback is harsh but they can still give valuable criticism.”

To ensure that the developers truly address the users’ issues, Microsoft has even assigned its own people to watch the news groups as spectators and look for any questions that go unanswered. If issues are left unresolved, the “spectators” prod the developers to respond.

Sounds pretty durn cool, and highly voice-ful. Yet, Dvorak’s coverage of this begins by reminding us of the attack of the “Munchkins” when OS/2 was dying — Microsoft employees who fanned out across the newsgroups and message boards, boosting NT and flaming OS/2. Nasty.

The negative conclusion: Companies can easily abuse the openness of the Net by imitating “voiceful” communications. The positive conclusion: Companies can enable employees to participate in the global conversation in an open, honest way … and if they try to cheat (as per the Munchkins), we will find them out and will remember their betrayal for a long time.

One Response to “Anals of Marketing: The Problem”

  1. All our Matrices are Company Forced Matrices filled top to bottom, left to right with no holes ever!

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