Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements by Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones
Although these days, with an active two and a half year old at home, it’s hard to find the time to start—never mind finish—reading a book for pleasure, I recently found myself quickly turning the pages of Brains on Fire (2010). Published by the South Carolina–based word-of-mouth marketing and identity company of the same name, the book is an astutely written manual about how to shift the way we think about traditional marketing campaigns in business today, and provides a step-by-step guide on how to stop ‘marketing to’ customers, and instead start tapping into our existing customers’ needs and wants and with them co-create sustainable movements that promote our businesses in a more organic and genuine way.
Each chapter in the book is a ‘lesson’ in how to ignite these word-of-mouth movements, with titles ranging from “Movements start with the first conversation” to “Movements make advocates feel like rock stars.” Supported by case studies from their own clients, such as Fiskars (the orange-handled scissor company), BestBuy, and the state of South Carolina, the authors illustrate how embracing the people already loyal to your product/service, and making them a part of your day-to-day business practices (and we’re not talking focus groups here), can make ‘fans’ out of your customers and in a very natural way, cause them to start communicating your value to the community you serve by—you guessed it—word of mouth.
Brains on Fire articulates a fresh and exciting way to think about how we get the word out about our businesses, and how we continuously grow a loyal fan base around what we do. As someone who has worked in traditional marketing circles in the past, the authors’ philosophy on the limiting and disconnected nature of advertising campaigns, target markets, sales figures, and generally pushing messages out to people who are already overloaded with information, really resonated with me. It’s obvious that the nature of how clients interact with the businesses they support is changing rapidly, and traditional marketing tactics are being rejected in place of more honest, transparent, and genuine relationship building.
In a very real way, Brains on Fire also taps into the recently discussed idea of the need for businesses to embrace a strategy of ‘creating shared value.’ Co-founders of the global social impact consulting firm FSG, Michael E. Porter and Mark Kramer published a well-publicized article in the January-February 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review, entitled “Creating Shared Value.” In short, the idea of creating shared value means that businesses can “generate economic value for themselves in a way that simultaneously produces value for society …” Porter and Kramer argue that operating on the principle of creating shared value is the future of effective business strategies—those who don’t begin to incorporate the idea of creating shared value into the way they operate will soon be outpaced by those who do. I see Brains on Fire taking the same line on a smaller scale: by igniting movements instead of pushing campaigns, businesses can create economic value for themselves while simultaneously creating value for their customers. (I highly recommend a thorough read of Porter and Kramer’s excellent article).
Although I think Brains on Fire could have benefitted from a more holistic look at word of mouth movements—both past and present—instead of solely focusing on the work the company Brains on Fire had done with their own clients; overall, the book is a very accessible and a worthwhile read for anyone involved in the marketing side of business. The lessons, tips, and ideas put forward in the book are easy to understand and the results they illustrate are quite compelling. Ultimately, if the book speaks to you, it will serve as a solid jumping off point for changing the conversation about the marketing practices within your business.