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BlogOn Panel – Markets Are Conversations

_This article is by Guest Contributor Kate Trgovac, reporting from the “BlogOn”: conference._
Heralding the call of the “Cluetrain Manifesto”:, this panel promised a discussion on becoming a smart voice in the market place and engaging your customers in a conversation. Moderated by Steve Rubel, VP at CooperKatz and author of the “Micropersuasion blog”:
Steve started the conversation with the recent incident of “FedEx Furniture”: — an individual who created furniture for his apartment from any used FedEx boxes he could find.
He then posted pictures of them on a site. Predictably, FedEx’s lawyers sent him a cease and desist letter. Which he posted on his site. He finally ended up being interviewed on NBC’s Today Show. And FedEx received more negative publicity than if they had just left it alone, or, gave him a few boxes.
Rubel asked the panel, “if markets are conversations (and really, as the example above shows, conversations are markets), what has substantially changed for marketers?”

After a few references to the Cluetrain Manifesto, the conversation circled around to the role of blogs in customer service. Vicki Walker, VP Marketing for Sprint Business Solutions recently started a company-sanctioned blog to reach out to Sprint’s business customers. It was originally intended as a way to extend the conversation that Walker has on a smaller basis with her customer advisory panel. It is working well – there are a number of customers commenting on it. Walker also received a customer service complaint from a non-business customer. She shepherded that complaint through Sprint’s usual process and was able to resolve it. But much discussion ensued about blogs and if they could be used that way.
What I took away from the conversation is that blogs are simply another interface into your customer service organization. *But*, you must a) have a strong customer service organization and b) they need to understand and be ready to have this additional channel opened up. A little prep goes a long way.
A question then came up about what marketers should blog about. Deborah Schultz, Marketing Director for SixApart sees marketers as customer advocates and, as such, takes a different tack on the content she shares. She says, “Instead of thinking about what I want to tell my customer, I think about what my customers need to hear from me.” Amen.
Side Note: This came up later in a discussion about the “tell” model and how that may not be the best blogging strategy. There hasn’t been a lot of talk about specific content here at BlogOn – some about enabling technologies, but more about the appropriate “philosophy” for approaching your customer. That’s all great, but at the end of the day, you need to make sure you provide something of value. Because you can approach your customer with the right attitude and still deliver nothing that resonates with them. Deborah’s approach was one of the most customer-centric and I wish we had heard more from her.
Finally, a discussion was had around who should blog in a company. Walker feels strongly that if you blog, you can’t be a reluctant blogger. Get legal, PR and HR engaged before you start a company-sanctioned blog, but just from an awareness point of view. You need to blog with a genuine passion for what you do and the company you do it for.
_Kate Trgovac is currently Manager, Web Evolution for Petro-Canada. Prior to joining Petro-Canada, Kate spent eight years developing user experience strategies for clients at several interactive agencies in Toronto. She writes about technology, branding, user-experience and other topics of note on her blog “”: ._


  1. Jeremy Pepper
    Jeremy Pepper October 22, 2005

    Well, the FedEx Furniture incident was slightly misrepresented, in my opinion, by Steve Rubel. He told the story the way he wanted it to be, I have on my blog the story the way I saw it to be – and the truth is likely out there somewhere.
    Kid moves to Tempe. Can’t afford furniture. Supposedly orders 300 – yes, 300 – boxes for his shipping (more than my office used to use in a year), but then builds furniture instead.
    The rest of the panel was quite good, until the Q&A session.

  2. Kate Trgovac
    Kate Trgovac October 22, 2005

    Hi, Jeremy …
    To me, the real take away from this panel were Vicki’s comments about her blogging experience: what they hoped to gain thru blogging, the importance of not being a reluctant blogger and the role of a ringleader.
    And Deborah’s gem about what the customer needs.
    I think the audience got away from the topic at hand in a number of these panels which was sometimes instructive and sometimes … not.
    Thank you for your clarification of the FedEx incident and for your comments!
    Cheers .. Kate

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