This post is part of a 95 post series discussing the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Manifesto as they relate to business in 2009. Read more about the series in the introduction post. And check out the rest of the series!
Thesis #5: People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.
Listen first. Introduce yourself. Interact like a human being. Repeat.
What about the time in between that cycle, or between those cycles? Another aspect of marketing is establishing yourself as a leader in your field. Every day, more and more companies are beginning to get their heads around blogging, tweeting, and other methods of online publishing as a mechanism for posting news updates about their businesses.
The missed opportunity here is to use these publishing platforms for sharing more than the robotic, formulaic contents of press releases. Progressive companies are allowing their employees to share knowledge from the inside. The more editorial control that the company removes, the better these efforts tend to be. One of the original Cluetrain concepts was trusting your employees to know more than you do about whatever they’re best at. That’s what you hired them, right?
Then let them speak, and in their voice instead of yours!
This is a scary barrier to cross. What if they say something offensive? What if they misrepresent the brand? What if?
I think one of the best examples of a company embracing their internal voices on a large scale, and having more success than any of the negative alternatives, is Zappos.com.
Tony Hsieh (pronounced “Shay”) is the proverbial “Tweeting CEO”. Beyond Tony himself being extraordinarily accessible and candid about his life and his business on Twitter, he’s gone one step further. He’s encouraged his employees to tweet, too. And not just about business stuff, but about whatever they want. Whatever they are thinking. Whatever they are doing. It’s up to them.
But Zappos didn’t stop there.
Zappos built a website that consumes all of their employees’ tweets and republishes them. A megaphone for the collective voice of Zappos employees, in real time, for anyone to read.
But Zappos didn’t stop there.
Zappos also runs a blog network within their company, with contributions from the CEO and COO, all the way through the depths of the company. These blogs share not just company news, but insights, event announcements, musings, and more. They rarely link back into their product catalog. Instead, Zappos uses these opportunities to provide value, and establish natual dialogue between their customers and their employees.
Why? Because people are interested in other people. We recognize the human voice in others, and identify with them. Companies are not human, so we humans do not identify with their voice. But if the voices within the company, the human voices, are allowed to shine, customers can once again identify with “the company”.
Rather than have an ivory tower with now windows or doors, Zappos purposely put not just one human face on their company, but hundreds (435 at the date of writing this). What are the odds of calling in an order or customer service request to Zappos and getting a twittering CSR? Reasonably high. And that’s the Zappos way. Tony explains that Zappos culture, the collective voice of Zappos, is Zappos brand.
The result is what we’re really interested in, right? Well how’s this for results.
Right before the new year, Zappos announced that they had achieved $1 Billion in annual revenue a full 2 years ahead of their anticipated goal, and attribute every bit of success to their customer inteaction and extrodinarily high value placed on corporate culture. From Tony:
Our focus continues to be on building our brand and our culture around providing the very best customer service and experience. Our hope is that 10 years from now, people won’t even realize that we started out selling shoes online. (emphasis added).
Zappos is close to that hopeful goal already. More and more people know that Zappos sells shoes, but they’re never talking about how great the shoes are; they’re talking about how great the service experience is. Need more evidence? Take a look at this tweet from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
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