Cluetrain 23: Positioning in the Age of Conversation
The Role of Positioning in the Age of Conversation
The Conversation Group
“There’s a New Conversation”
Palo Alto, CA
“Companies attempting to ‘position’ themselves
need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate
to something their market actually cares about.”
The Cluetrain Manifesto (1998)
“We believe the world would be a better place if
brands realized their Big Ideals.”
Steve Hayden, Ogilvy (2007)
Somewhere Near the Middle
“Corporate governance is concerned with
holding the balance between economic and
social goals and between individual and
communal goals. The aim is to align as nearly as
possible the interests of individuals, corporations
It Begs the Question
“Can good be monetized?”
Tyrone Davis (2008)
Lowering the Costs of Transaction
Conversational media is:
Who are we, and what is our role?
Who are they, and what is their role?
What’s our bargain with them?
What about the rest of the market?
What’s the big idea(l)?
Who Are We? (Then)
We were a small group of people: C-level execs,
marketing folk, and salespeople. And on the
front lines -- the people who were sanctioned to
engage with the market -- were an even smaller
group people we called ... ahem ... spokespeople.
Who Are We? (Now)
Now anyone -- at least in theory -- is a
spokesperson, and anyone has the ability if not
permission to engage with the market. But
note ... we are the market.
Who Are They? (Then)
We approached the market by connecting with
various and sundry external “constituencies” --
investors, employees, customers, partners,
media, etc. We then devised messages for them.
Who Are They? (Now)
Today, almost anyone can join a market, and the
roles that traditional constituencies once played
What is Our Contract With Them? (Then)
Our relationships with were based on
professional engagements -- they were either
paid by us, or by sponsoring organizations. We
needed to do nothing more than participate in the
existing system of rewards and incentives.
What is Our Contract With Them? (Now)
We now understand that many people who make
up the market have no professional relationships
with us. We must support a new complex of
What About the Competition (Then)?
In the day, the competition was perhaps the most
important point of focus in positioning exercises.
We defined who we were by defining what we are
What About the Competition (Now)?
Today, it is more effective to regard the
competition -- just as we regard ourselves and
our partners -- as part of the market. We define
ourselves relative to the entire market, not to any
of its constituents.
What About the “Big Idea”? (Then)
The “Big Idea” was a story about what a
company will do to a market. It was a work of art
that looks at a market from the outside.
What About the “Big Idea”? (Now)
Today, the Big Idea is a path for what a company
will do for a market. It is a plan of action that
looks at a market from the inside.
What About the “Big Ideal”? (Then)
We used to look at social causes as activities that
were extraneous to our business. We’ve come a
long way in our thinking, but the consensus is
What About the “Big Ideal”? (Now)
Again, it’s a matter of perspective.
Conversational media is time binding, not just
space binding -- enabling the market to look both
forward and backward.
There was a time when various sectors of the
retail business -- particularly pharmacy -- served
a distinct social need: the neighborhood store.
For many reasons, the stores -- and the
Elephant Pharm is reimagining the neighborhood
drugstore in an age when there are very few
neighborhoods left. And by supporting a broad
range of citizens dedicated to both community
and wellness, Elephant is helping to serve an
even large market in a cost-effective way.
Back to our premise ...
Who you are, and what you do, determine your
value in the market.
Who you are
It used to be about a few people, at the top of the
organizational ladder. Now it’s about everyone,
on the edges of the organization.
What you do
It used to be about competing in a market. Now
it’s more about joining and serving that market.
It used to be about sizing the company according
to its share of the market. Now it’s about how the
company serves the whole market. We are
remapping the reach of an organization by
integrating ourselves into the market.