BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Who do you trust?

I have to predicate this review with a bit more “disclosure” than I usually do ... I've known author Paul M. Rand for a while, and even interviewed with him a couple of years ago for a position at his agency, the Zócalo Group (sadly, I didn't get hired). This past summer, he gave a presentation at Social Media Week Chicago where he previewed the book … and while I wasn't able to make that session, the buzz it created was notable, as I kept running into folks at the various parties who were talking about it. Of course, I hopped onto Gmail and sent off a request to the good folks at McGraw-Hill for a review copy of Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business which they kindly sent along when the book came out.

Rand's Zócalo was one of the early agencies focusing on “word of mouth” campaigns, and this is, naturally, the focus of the book. The currency of word-of-mouth marketing is the “recommendation”, and the dynamic of this is boiled down to one question on the inner flap of the dust jacket: “What do you trust more – an advertisement or a friend?” ... followed up by a factoid from Nielsen that the top reason reported by 92% of consumers of what influenced them to buy a product or service was a word of mouth recommendation.

In the Preface, Rand defines what he's intending for the book:
Social media has supercharged the power and impact of recommendations. Today's businesses can't just use social media; they have to become social businesses, inside and out and from top to bottom. Ultimately, that is the goal of this book: to harness the power of being a social business to become the most highly recommended organization in your industry, category, and/or niche. The ability to easily research online consumer reviews or see which brands your social media friends like is fundamentally shifting how people buy – and sell – nearly everything.
This, while providing “an easy way for marketers to understand and act upon making their brand eminently “talkable”, shareable, and recommended”. He's divided the book into three roughly even parts, the first on the theory, the second on the how-to, and a third on transforming your business.

It could be argued that Highly Recommended is an outgrowth of a Convocation Address that Rand gave at Northwestern back in 2012, Living A Recommendable Life, which is presented in its entirety in the Introduction, the key points of which are:

  1. Develop a clear and purposeful story of how you want people to talk about and recommend both you and your brands.

  2. Live your brand.

  3. Be human, be transparent, and live up to mistakes quickly.

  4. Stay engaging and interesting.

  5. Regularly evaluate and evolve – but stay true to your core.

However, that piece is about as “philosophical” as it gets, and the rest is a combination of personal stories and fire hose info. Rand starts with an example … he's on a business trip, and he's meeting with clients, and at dinner the subject of a supermarket chain called Stew Leonard's comes up and he indicates that he'd never heard of them (they just have 4 locations), and is regaled by these clients for the next 30 minutes with story after story after story of how awesome this company is, and both these businesswomen offered to pick him up early before their morning meetings so they could show him this amazing place. As he notes, “it was a microcourse … about how the recommendation culture worked, the power of recommendations, the passion of advocacy, and the motivation behind helping others through suggestion”.

He has stories about Angie's List, Yelp, and others to give concrete, relateable examples of how the theory works, and then breaks down the theory into sub-sections such as “Are You Engaging Your Audience – or Interrupting Them?”, while supporting things with sources such as Robert Cialdini's Influence and Bill Lee's assorted pieces positing that “Marketing is Dead”. He warns that “creeping your customers out” with too much “Big Brother” big data is the next danger zone (I know I hate seeing stuff I surfed for on-line showing up as ads elsewhere on the web!) in the “consumer decision journey”, while defining such things as a “loyalty loop”. He dissects the math behind the “Net Promoter Score” and how that relates to Zócalo's own “Recommendation Index”, discusses the differences between Explicit and Implied endoresements, and walks the reader through some case studies and on into the “Influencer Ecosystem”. My head's still spinning from just flipping through that again.

Next he moves into the nuts-and-bolts part, discussing free and paid tools for monitoring and managing word-of-mouth, and then introduces Zócalo's “Digital Footprint Analysis”, which is based on “Four W's”:

  • Who – Who's talking?

  • What – What are they saying?

  • Where – Where are these conversations taking place?

  • Why – Why does this matter?

This is followed with how to plan, how best to include SEO, how to develop a “Shareable Story Map” with examples from projects he's done, and how to integrate Paid, Owned, Earned, and Shared media and strategies within the “path to recommendation”, and finally looks at how to defend your brand against hostile/negative word-of-mouth. Amazingly, he cites studies that as many as 67% of consumers won't buy a product if it has as few as three negative reviews, which makes the “Determined Detractors” (in three flavors: “Hear Me's”, “Reputation Terrorists”, and “Competitive Destroyers”) a real hazard. Rand goes into detail on how to deal with these various types of risks, and how to be proactive with one's listening and messaging.

The final part of the book is interesting as it's sort of a manual for re-making one's business to be more “recommendable”, looking at customer service, HR and staffing issues, product innovation and R&D, and how to bring all those elements into an integrated whole. Obviously, this is more of a “specialized” concern (I could make use of a lot of the previous sections' stuff, but don't have a company I'm currently running to implement these bits), but some of the stories there are amazing, like the user on the “CloroxConnects” service who shared a dozen solid product ideas in less than a year, and how customer engagement has resulted in numerous new product pushes at several major corporations.

Obviously, Highly Recommended isn't a “general reader” book, but if you have an interest in marketing, social media, and the evolving communication channels, this will be a riveting read. The combination of personal stories and textbook-like detailing of the elements being discussed provides an engaging and highly informative intro to word-of-mouth marketing. This has been out a few months, but I'm guessing it's selling well enough that all the business-oriented brick-and-mortar stores will have this stocked, but the usual suspects online are currently offering it for about 1/3rd off cover price, if you want to go that route. I really got a lot out of reading this one, and it's probably the best “primer” for the WOM niche since Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing which sort of defined the space a couple of years back!

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Tags: book review
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