Markets are conversations and conversations create markets.
What follows is a case study that shows how important conversations are in the marketplace and especially in our ubiquitously connected world.
I have been using SmartDraw for several years and made my first post about this diagramming software in May 2004. I was approached by the company and asked to write a testimonial, which I did for free. I later became an affiliate which meant that I could place “click-through” ads on my site and I would get a commission on any subsequent sales.
This year I downloaded the new version, SD2007, and checked it out. I liked the look and feel and found it easy to use. The company had changed the free trial period from 30 days to 7 days, so I didn’t have a lot of time to test it. I decided to wait before purchasing SD2007. I posted my opinions on this blog on 31 October.
What followed were a number of questions and comments, mostly negative. I tried to help out those who commented and personally replied to some of them. This post became the unofficial SmartDraw complaint site, because there was no public forum offered by the company. In the course of the last month and a half, traffic to this post has been steady:
- Searches containing word SmartDraw (mostly Google) that came to this site since 31 October – 211
- Visits to my blog post on SmartDraw since 31 October – 411 (this doesn’t include any views from RSS aggregators)
- Click-throughs to the SmartDraw download page:
- November (negative comments began in mid-November) – 22 Clicks and 12 Downloads.
- December to date – 3 Clicks and 2 Downloads.
Someone also set up a wikipedia page on SmartDraw, though its commercialism was in question, and even decided to link to my post. The link to my site is currently not there, perhaps because of the negative comments (5) on my post.
I signed up as a SmartDraw affiliate as an experiment with online advertising. I liked the product and felt comfortable endorsing it. The SmartDraw ad was not as “in your face” as Google Ads, so I thought it would be better for my viewers. During the course of over two years I’ve earned about $150 in commissions. I noticed that of the people who clicked-through this year, 70% downloaded the software but only 4% actually purchased it. Given the negative comments I’ve received and the lack of company response to the issues raised, I doubt that I will purchase SD2007 in the near future.
Let’s go back to the Cluetrain Manifesto, from which we get the initial thesis that markets are conversations. In this case, I think that theses 11 and 12 are much more pertinent:
11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
SmartDraw is a small business, not some multinational corporation, and I’m sure that they’re trying to do the right thing. However, at this time SmartDraw is not engaging its customers in real conversations. Instead, customers are venting on my site, because there is no other place to go. A company blog, or an evangelist who knows what’s going on inside the company, would be quite helpful right now.
Staying quiet and letting others carry the conversation is not in the best interest of SmartDraw. It’s not in the best interest of any company. With blogs and powerful search engines, anyone can find out who is talking about your company. If your company doesn’t make it easy for customers to converse on your website, then they’ll find somewhere else to do it.
The Cluetrain left the station a long time ago; 1999 to be exact.
Update: Paul Stannard, CEO of SmartDraw has added a detailed comment on the evolution of the product to my original post.