Just finished reading what I considered to be a quite remarkable book titled Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable Word of Mouth Movements, authored by the principals of the Word of Mouth marketing and identity consultancy of the same name based out of Greenville, South Carolina.
A Crisis in Marketing
I think it’s pretty fair to say that the Brains on Fire folks take a unique approach to marketing. At the heart of their approach is the belief that it’s really important to “stand for something”. To deliver something of value to your customers and community that make a difference in their lives. And if you focus on that – on providing something of genuine value to your customers or audiences – it challenges a lot of traditional assumptions that companies have about their business, and how they do business.
And probably the most fundamental change is that your approach shifts from “selling your product” (or “pimping” your product) to listening to your customers, and trying to understand how you can genuinely be relevant and valuable in their lives. And from that intent, and conversation, and a relationships … well, it just sort of naturally happens.
From the Introduction to the book (p. xxii):
… What i you didn’t think about marketing at people and instead about talking with them? What if you didn’t try to sell people something they didn’t need so they can fit into your customer base and instead tried to figure out how you can fit into their lives in a useful, meaningful way?
… if you can step back and think about actually adding value to people’s lives, then a whole new world opens up. And you quite being a marketer … and start being a person.
Why is this not completely obvious?
Honestly, I don’t really know. It probably comes down to a pretty basic equation, perhaps something like this: If I’m going to put food on the table for my family, I have to help my company make money. And for my company to make money, it has to sell stuff. And to sell stuff, we have to convince potential customers that that stuff is worthy buying. And to do that, we create marketing campaigns.
And so it goes …
Gino Church of BoF on building a movement
I think I should probably introduce some of the folks from Brains on Fire, and let them “tell their story”. And then I’ll have some follow-up comments. I think my favorite BoF evangelist is Gino Church. In the video below, Gino talks at the Word of Mouth Supergenius conference about his experience creating a Word of Mouth Movement of Fiskateers – a loyal community of crafters supported by Fiskars:
This is really quite an amazing presentation. So what is happening here exactly? Well, Brains on Fire worked with Fiskars to create a Movement – an impassioned following of fans that became loyal ambassadors for the brand.
You can listen to Geno tell the story. But in a nutshell, Brains on Fire worked with Fiskars to:
- Discover and listen to those who were passionate about crafting (a community that, in marketing speak, was an important target market for Fiskars)
- From this select group, they further refined their search to a select group that was REALLY passionate about crafting, and they worked with these folks to form a devoted community – the Fiskateers – centered around the joy of crafting
- These leading brand evangelists – the Fiskateers – basically became an extension of Fiskar’s organization – the very reason for Fiskar’s existence (in that market segment). And the Fiskateers became wired into Product Development, Customer Service, and Marketing at Fiskars in a profound and fundamental way.
Pretty amazing really.
The Brains on Fire book is a wonderful read – both for its empathy, insight, and tactics. But it really follows, to my mind, from a deep, profound commitment to provide meaning and inspiration to the lives of people, and to provide them the tools and resources to share that inspiration with others. Of course, there’s a commercial side to it as well. And actually, not being a marketer by profession, I’m not sure how that sits with me. But it is what it is. And it’s a lot better than traditional marketing practices IMO.
So to round out the post, I’ll share a couple more videos of the BoF team speaking about what they do. First, Geno Church again in an informal interview from 2010:
The last video is of Heather Hough – VP and Director of Client Services for Brains on Fire – talking about lessons learned in igniting Brand Ambassador movements: