[Book Review] Brains on Fire
Brains On Fire
by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church and Spike Jones
For my full 2011 reading list, click here.
A very inspiring read, Brains on Fire builds a fantastic case on how to create movements, albeit a less convincing one on “why”. If you already think it’s the right thing to do, it will help you do it much better, building from the many practical lessons learned in their agency practice. But the book won’t help you decide how far you should take ‘movements’ in your budget mix. And if you need a book to convince a boss or CEO to change the way you do marketing… well, this is probably not the one you are looking for.
WHY I PICKED IT UP
Obviously, the title! How can you not want to pick up a book with such a great title? Of course, you may also know of the agency of the same name, whose principals co-authored the book; also, Scott Stratten suggested four books to me for 2011, including this title. And what the author of Un-Marketing tells me to read, I read.
THE BIG IDEA
While movements is the new marketing buzzword all clients and agencies try to substitute to campaigns today, fact is that the two are very different. Contrary to a campaign – brand-centric and limited in time – a movement is passion-centric, rooted in people and is self-perpetuating.
Brains on Fire is about creating powerful and sustainable movements based on people, peer-to-peer relationships, shared passion… and few key ignition lessons shared in the book! To clarify and manage expectations, this is not a book about social media; it’s a book about connecting people in communities build around a conversation. Brain on Fire’s argument is that 90% of this happens face-to-face, in real life.
Some of their lessons sound rather obvious, such as finding the passion conversation, i.e. what your brand fans are already talking about; and no, it’s not the brand itself… it’s what the brand enables. Or looking for inspirational leaders to create momentum in your movement; and picking them with diversity. Other lessons are less obvious. How about the need to create barriers to entry into your movement? Seems counter-intuitive to whoever is looking for millions of Facebook fans, but is a must if you want commitment and participation. And opening your kimono talks about letting fans see the humanness – and mistakes – past the controlled corporate layers of perfection; a hard thing to do, even putting lawyers aside. Finally, some of the most engaging lessons feel anecdotal, but work disproportionately well according to Brains on Fire: think of the power of giving every member of a community a number (such as Fiskateer #2056), to cement the feeling of belonging and ownership.
A FEW COOL NUGGETS
- On who should own movements, social media inside a company: “Whoever cares the most.“
- On traditional branding vs movements: “The role of traditional branding is to influence behavior. The difference with movements is to inspire behavior. So don’t try to influence; get out of that business. Now is the time to inspire. People don’t want to be influenced.“
- On Buzz: “Buzz does not create evangelists; evangelists create buzz.“
- On Influencers: “Influencers have organized themselves and now see their influence as a business (…) And we’d take 100 passionate people who contribute that sweat equity just because they care, as opposed to 1,000 influentials who tweet once and never think about it again.“
- On creating barriers to entry: “(…) if that person isn’t willing to send an e-mail back with any reason at all [note: why they would want to join] (…) then the odds are that they aren’t going to be an active member of the community.“
Very little to disagree with here, as Brains on Fire dissects the key principles behind authentic movements. Testimonials ring true, examples are very inspiring and the underlying logic is… well it is quite logical. I’ll be going back to the 10 lessons and some of the most practical advice as a check-list for some of my 2011 initiatives!
That said, I was frustrated by the lack of significant metrics of success in the book. Don’t get me wrong, I am not in the camp that thinks marketing initiatives are only validated by the sales lift they generate; but I don’t think either that a kitten dies each time you say “Social Media ROI”. You decide what success looks like when you set targets and objectives, and then evaluate actions against your own criteria, be it sales, awareness, equity, loyalty… Up to lesson 10, nothing tangible in Brains on Fire, and really even that “results” chapter feels very light. That makes it hard to agree fully with, and decide to divert resources to WOM movements (unless you are already convinced). But even then: how much should you invest?
Likewise, a second unanswered question is how these movements scale up. In my job leading brand building efforts of Pepsi internationally, the challenge is literally billions of “moments of truth”, in over a hundred countries, with consumers who are less-than-passionate about the category. What is the significance of 7,000 Fiskateers and how can it translate into supporting billions of acts of purchase?
ReWork, by Jason Fried and David H. Hansson.
Another reco by @unmarketing. And actually so many people told me in tweets or comments how good it is, I had to change my reading plan and jump straight to it!