We’re screwed, but at least we can do something about it

Picture 8Irony of ironies.  We are in the midst of the digital age, yet books about it are more popular than ever.

Want the big picture scenario?  Read Bob Garfield’s Chaos Scenario. It’s filled with doom and gloom if you’re an old media type and validation of your imminent dominance if you’re a new media type.

Chris Brogan and co-author Julien Smith offer us Trust Agents, a possible antidote for those of us who want to survive the Apocalypse that Bob convinces us is already underway.

And finally, with Baked In, Alex Bogusky and John Winsor serve up the solution for companies that want to create products and businesses that market themselves. Get that right and you won’t have to worry about the ruins that Garfield predicts. Plus you can avoid working the 20 hours a day that Brogan’s advice requires.

I recently read all three.  (You can plow through them pretty fast.)  Here are my impressions.

The Chaos Scenario, by Bob Garfield

I’m not supposed to like this book. After all, Bob Garfield is the Ad Age critic who basically tears to shreds almost any work that creative people like. So call me a heretic. I think everyone in our business should read it. Garfield doesn’t simply claim that old media is dead, that consumers dislike interruptive advertising, and that everything will be digital, he pretty much proves it with a never ending string of facts, anecdotes, and references to actual examples, telling stories about how Six Flags used alternative media to generate awareness and attendance to Lego’s techniques for listening to and learning from its target market directly.

His Comcast Must Die story alone is worth the price of admission.  A terrific account of how one person (Garfield) can create content, spread the word, inspire participation and force a brand to react to its customers rather than vice versa is vivid proof that the consumer, not the brand, is now in control.

Granted his “listenomics,” a Garfield-coined term for how we need to listen, is rather lame and not all that original; anyone with even one ear knows that this is what social media is all about.  And his suggestion that advertising agencies will go out of business, or something to that effect, doesn’t take into consideration that an agency’s greatest asset is its creativity and that as online conversation and community approach a state of white noise, that creativity will come in handy if a brand wants to stimulate conversation, participation and word of mouth.

Nevertheless, Garfield is both a solid reporter and an entertaining writer.  Here’s his take on promotional items.

“Not that the 30-second spot represents high culture exactly, but it’s hard for mere words to convey how déclassé is the advertising-specialty niche. Still, I’ll try: they are the white-belt/white-shoes Full Cleveland of marketing. In a digital world, advertising specialties are as analog as you can possibly get.”

This is pretty much a must read if you’re in any media related business. If you don’t already believe the old media world is screwed, you will by the time you finish Chaos Scenario.

Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Wondering what to do about the depressing state of affairs portrayed by Garfield? Fear not, Brogan and his friend Julien are here to guide you. Take matters into your own hands; master the protocols of social media; give, share and promote others before you promote yourself; foster a community; attract enough followers; and guess what? You can do the equivalent of what Chris and Julien did. Get your book on the best seller list, by inspiring your community, calling in favors, asking your followers to help you out and making them feel truly vested in the outcome.

While some have claimed Trust Agents is little more than recycled blog content, numerous members of Brogan’s loyal community have hailed the book as the light that guides the way. True much of the content is a collection of social media advice that’s already out there, but a lot of that content was originated by Chris. It may have already appeared on his blog, but “best of” anthologies were around well before social media.

If you’re new to social media, and that’s probably the majority of all marketers — those of us using it forget that conversation marketing is still in its infancy — there is plenty of useful advice about how to make the conventions of social media work for you. Understanding that it’s not about “who you know” but about “who knows you” (Chris’s Agent Zero) can jump start any individual hoping to build reputation and influence.  I admit that that I learned a couple of things I hadn’t thought of regarding listening tools and generating blog content.

Can you actually accomplish anything with the advice that Chris and Julien serve up?  Witness what they’ve done: published a book, crowdsourced tips on how to market it, and mobilized a loyal following to sell enough volumes that Trust Agents made it to the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal’s best seller lists.

Chris would probably be the first to admit he’s no Malcolm Gladwell or even Bob Garfield when it comes to the craft of writing.  But he is the hardest working man in social media.  He practices what he preaches and he proves that it works.

If you’re just getting started in social media and want ideas that will help you as an individual, this is worth your time. If you’ve been doing this a couple of years and read all the usual suspects, instead of reading it yourself, give it to someone you’re trying to convert.

Baked In, by Alex Bogusky and John Winsor

If Trust Agents is the guide for individuals, Baked In is a compass for the brand.  Once again there’s a fair amount of stuff that you probably know, but that’s the case with almost any marketing or business book.  But to their credit, what Bogusky and Winsor have done is taken a stand as two marketers and reminded us that the old way of marketing — inventing a made-up story to talk about a commodity product — is dead and that the new way begins with conceiving and making products in which the story is baked in. Examples would be Starbucks and Mini-Cooper, which they mention. Or add your own (mine would be the Flip Mino or the Dyson Blade hand dryer).

As agencies and marketers we have plenty to unlearn.  But rather than tell us what we’re doing wrong,  Baked In reminds us of what we can do to get it right.  It defines a new, more effective way to market and suggests behaviors and rules — 28 in all — that will help, from re-thinking design, to valuing silo jumpers, to trying to put yourself out of business. (Yes, that can be a strategy for marketing and growth.) In all likelihood you will read this book and say to yourself, “Gee, I know that.” But what you’ll take away is the focus, enthusiasm and examples you need to actually do it.

Finally, if you’re at all imaginative (and you probably are more than you know) you have to admire two “ad” guys for being anything but. Alex and John are thinkers first, entrepreneurs second, visionaries third (they have both transformed the businesses in which they work, advertising and publishing respectively) and now, in the age of social media, creators of content that is worthy of attention.

Should you read Baked In?  If you work for an ad agency, absolutely.  It will remind you to stop being in the service business and inspire you to think much bigger.

What do you think of these books?  Good?  Mediocre?   Worth the paper they’re printed on in an era when digital content is free?  Love to hear your thoughts.

edward boches
edward boches

Brogan's book is good if you're new to all of this stuff. Otherwise it might feel familiar. Garfield is smart and it is likely that old media as we know it is about to enter the state of imminent demise. However, the future still belongs to content and creativity. Much of may have to be given away for free (if Wired editor Chris Anderson is right) but it can be the leverage for profits in other ways. Don't ask me how, still working on that. News as it comes.

Laurence Smink
Laurence Smink

Thanks for the reviews Edward. In the midst of reading Chaos Scenario and just ordered Baked In.

I've been putting together notes on what I've come to call 'the great reckoning' as well as doing some blogging recently, trying to make some sense of what's happening to the advertising/marketing industry. As I read Garfield I'm beginning to understand that he's pretty much got everything I've been thinking figured out, and then some.

I try to be a little more optimistic than Bob is because I don't buy the chicken little approach to anything. It sells books though. Regardless, so far it's a good read and I'm recommending it to colleagues and I haven't even finished it yet!

Thanks for the recommends on the other two.

James Cioban
James Cioban

Garfield makes you think. Brogan/Smith make you scratch your head. Trying to get to Baked In.

One thing I sense is that in the rush to get books out the door, authors and editors are letting lots of things through that would normally land on the floor. We are getting lots of rapid-fire, reactive, sometimes trite observation vs. deep analysis. I think there are lots of good things in the first two books, but I fear that one result of social media fever is "mass mediocrity" as market-savvy authors rush to take advantage of the ability to produce and distribute information with ease.

Now, we need more reviewers and critics to help us filter the onslaught... ;-)

Seth Simonds
Seth Simonds

Greg's comment serves as a great reminder of the things that can happen when book promoters are not given a strict style sheet to guide them in PR efforts.

That said, Edward: This is one of the best book review posts I've read to date.

"It’s filled with doom and gloom if you’re an old media type and validation of your imminent dominance if you’re a new media type."

Not a huge fan of the book but a tremendous fan of sentences like that!

Will definitely check out Baked-In.

.-= Seth Simonds´s last blog ..Why You Can’t Find Better Employees =-.

edward boches
edward boches

Just to clarify, Chris has assured me that none of the writing in Trust Agents was repurposed in its original blog form. Some of the content and recommendations may be ideas that Chris has espoused in the past, but all the writing in Trust Agents is original.

Greg Stielstra
Greg Stielstra

Edward, Thanks for reviewing The Chaos Scenario. I passed your link along to Bob and you should expect to get a mention soon on www.thechaosscenario.net blog.

I also wanted to say that you and your readers can get daily doses of Bob's book with a program we created called 30 Days of Chaos. It's free and you can sign up here. http://bit.ly/u9RD8

Full disclosure: I am helping Bob publish and promote the book.

edward boches
edward boches

Ah, I do love honesty. I agree with your comments, I think. Though I have tried to look at Brogan’s book from the perspective of a newbie. Don’t forget lots of people don’t read blogs and are just getting into this. For them there is much value. Yes, publishers (antiquated, ridiculous business model) are anxious to make a buck and will jump on whatever trend they think they can milk. We will continue to see more and more of these kinds of business books as there’s a market for them and in most cases are bought by people anxious to advance their career or are even reimbursed by companies. I’m not a fan of business books, life is too short. But every now and then I plow through one. Since these are all related to what I do every day, figured I’d scribble up my thoughts. Thanks for yours.

edward boches
edward boches

You just put a smile on my face. I, too, love sentences like that, and on occasion take the time and energy to craft them. Lots of bad writing out here in the blogosphere. Trying to up the standards, or at least live up to yours.

edward boches
edward boches

Well I have no interest in helping you or promoting Bob (he does a pretty good job of that himself); just sharing honest observations of Chaos Scenario. I grew up in the old media world that Bob claims is on life support. But I'm pretty convinced he's right. Maybe more so than he even knows.