The idea that marketing is a conversation between a company and an industry ecosphere is not particularly new. The Cluetrain Manifesto (full text of the book is here) articulated the idea in 2000. Much of the substance of Web 2.0 ideas and techniques are directly related to the idea that markets are conversations. In theory, this is increasingly possible with social media.

When you look at the vast majority of the material that flows from the marketing departments of our industry, you have to wonder if this idea ever penetrated our world. Loud shouting and ridiculous claims drown out any possibility of nuanced conversation. The air is littered with so many “bests” and “biggests” that there’s little room for discussions of effectiveness and quality. It is completely impossible to tell the difference between one vendor’s claims and the next.

One has a conversation with the idea that the other people involved are peers. Sadly, the boorish behavior of most vendors (and make no mistake, third party recruiters are vendors) features arrogance as a substitute for substance. Shouting is passed off as conversation. Broadcasting is called collaboration. The customers know and the vendors can’t tell.

Having conversations that are substantial and nuanced requires an element of trust. It also requires that the participants be prepared, readily admit ignorance and learn in public. In order for a conversation to take place in a market, there needs to be room for experimentation. In order for there to be conversation, listening has to be practiced.

The other part of a good conversation is being prepared. Marketing is hard work, participating in trade shows, and if you think its expensive then its not, you can get Exponents exhibit rentals for a reasonable cost. Someone who tells you about size and rank hasn’t paid enough attention to their product development. If the marketing is not well executed, you hear repetitive nonsense. If the job is done well, you can tell the differences between one company and the other.

So, how many companies can you distinguish in the space? It’s not a battle of broadcast themes of technical functionality. I’d love to get a list of the companies who stand out. It’s probably not the winners of this year’s shoot out or the best place to work in East Poughkeepsie.

Companies already differentiate themselves from one another on the basis of brand. It just isn’t quantified quite yet. The market knows (because customers talk to each other) which companies lie and which tell the truth, which operations are fluid and flexible and which are tight and overbearing. The market knows who keeps their promises and who doesn’t. The market knows who is an innovator and who isn’t.

Now that the economy is picking up, expect the marketing floodgates to come crashing open. As the volume increases, expect the sameness of the story to be the most noticeable feature. The winners will be the ones whose name you can remember. The winners will be talking to customers and developing reputations for making their customers successful.

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