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.