Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements, by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones (Wiley, 2010)
Is there a more authentic marketing strategy than turning your fans into brand ambassadors? I’ve long been an advocate of this approach, but even so, Brains On Fire opened my eyes to possibilities I’d never thought about.
In the Brains on Fire approach, professional marketers play an important role—not as controllers or planners, but as nurturers and facilitators.
This book is about not just identifying your deep loyalists, but empowering them, supporting them, and then getting out of the way while the magic happens. It’s a refreshing change from most other books I’ve seen about word-of-mouth/word-of-mouse marketing, because these folks understand that the real marketing arises spontaneously out of the members of a community (often unpaid), and not by faking your way through tactics like recruiting pretty young women to talk up a particular product to which they have no actual loyalty.
The book focuses on several case studies, all clients of the Brains on Fire marketing agency, which we follow through every “lesson” (chapter). Examples range from a 300-year-old Swedish scissors manufacturer to the state agency charged with reducing teen smoking in a tobacco-producing state.
Along with the focus on fan-initiated, empowered marketing comes a strong commitment to ethics—and to taking the marketing vocabulary away from the war-oriented “campaign” language of crushing your opponent or defeating your customers into purchasing, and into the more sustainable world of community, inclusiveness, and mutual benefit. Scientific marketing becomes less important. Your strategy evolves toward unlocking and channeling the passion of your fans, their desire to make a difference, and their need to be valued. Ask yourself how your product or service makes it easier for your fans to do what they love. Your goal is not just participation; it’s active engagement.
Your fans will be a mix of personalities, some of whom already have a fan base, and quiet, shy others who would not traditionally be seen as influencers—yet may have a tremendous impact. And the way you interact—even something as mundane as the way you handle incoming fan mail—can have either a big positive or big negative impact, depending on how you make that person feel.
Among the many wise points in this book:
- When allowed to lead themselves, genuine movements tend to exceed the expectations of the marketers who assist them
- A brand promise is sacred; failing to keep it will have negative consequences
- Big ideas start as small, intimate conversations—and even a single person can start a movement (this is absolutely true; I’ve done it in my local community)
- At the start of a movement or community, ask the people you’ve identified as influencers to discuss their passions; if you treat them as valued experts, they will not only give you insight, they’ll also start talking you up
- You don’t get to choose your fans; they choose you
- Smart brands become fans of their fans
- Strive to put as many employees as possible in customer contact; companies with 25-50 percent of their workforce in customer contact wildly outperform those with 5-10 percent
- Strong movements fight injustice
Yes, but does all this cool and groovy stuff actually work? Yes—big time. Two among many examples:
South Carolina’s 16.9 percent smoking reduction was the largest in the nation (in the state with the cheapest cigarettes and among the lowest budget for smoking prevention programs); Brains on Fire client Rage Against the Haze (a teen anti-smoking group) had a lot to do with this
Fiskars, makers of the famous orange-handled scissors, puts the ROI for its Fiskateers community of brand evangelists at 500 percent. Fiskateers not only tracked with a 6-fold increase of online mentions, but sales doubled in the four target markets where the effort was rolled out—while the company R&D department receives an average of 13 new product ideas every month, gratis. This doesn’t even count the impact of 7000 volunteers who can defuse PR problems before the company even knows they exist.
Read this book as an excellent companion to Guerrilla Marketing Goes Green. And be sure to read the introduction, which has enormous value.