August 3, 2010
News & Opinion: Brains on Fire
Ever since I first read their ChangeThis manifesto, and heard Spike Jones speak in Milwaukee about the incredible approach people should consider in marketing - creating movements, I was hooked. These Brains on Fire people are different, and now they have shared their experience and insight in a great book jammed with pages that will make you reconsider the ways you think about marketing and advertising - throwing most of them out the window. It's called: Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements.
Brains on Fire helped ignite a global fanaticism for scissors, they helped an electronics store become a hip music retailer, and so much more, and they did it by tapping people's passion and bringing them all together - not just the people at the companies, but the people who use their products. How do you do that? It's what marketers have been trying to figure out since the beginning of time.
Like a Seth Godin book, or Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson's Rework, you can literally feel your mind change when you read this. Here's a glimpse into the ideas within the book - a brief Q&A with Brains on Fire co-author (and company president) Robbin Phillips:
What does Brains on Fire mean?
Yes. There is a company named Brains on Fire, but we didn’t name our book after our company. For us, “brains on fire” is what happens when you ignite the passion within your employees and customers. It’s about people who are so excited and devoted that they want to share their passion with others. We also like to think Brains on Fire is a love story. It’s about creating real relationships with people who love you. It’s about trust and about lifting others up. It’s about celebrating and creating remarkable stories that people want to share. It’s about igniting powerful, sustainable word of mouth movements.
For a long, long time, business has been about convincing people of something's value. How do you see that changing?
Marketers have been trained to talk about product benefits and how much we care about our customers. Customer satisfaction ratings used to be golden. But in a world where the customer’s voice can be amplified at least as much as a company’s, talking AT your customers is outdated. Let’s face it; talking about yourself will not make others talk about you. No one talks about the precise angle on a pair of scissors, but they do talk about what they DO with those scissors – like crafting and sharing memories with friends and family. It’s not the product conversation anymore. Smart companies are learning to listen, reframe and support the passion conversation.
Who are the leaders, and how do we find them?
One of the lessons we learned in igniting movements and studying movements is this: Movements have inspirational leadership. Think about it. If everyone is expected to lead, no one will. When looking for leadership, we don’t look for the influencers; we look for regular, everyday people who just happen to have a deep passion for the category. Not the divas, the super-bloggers, or the supposed influencers that everyone else is trying to get hold of. We have seen first hand how these everyday people have more and greater credibility; because they are in fact, “just like me.” Influence can be built, passion cannot. Find your company’s passionate leaders and empower them with tools to spread their passion and their love.
New technology is all around us. What should companies do with it?
If there’s one thing you take away from our book let it be this: It’s about people. Period. Chris Sandoval, a kindred spirit, says it best: “When it comes to technology, what’s exciting and shiny today will be freakin’ dead tomorrow.” Ninety percent of word of mouth happens offline. So many companies jump into social media technology first -- with Twitter strategies and Facebook fans. Our advice is to engage people first. Observe how they communicate and connect, then the tools and tactics will be as plain as the nose on your face.
Here's a big question: How can a company become the center of the universe?
Big question. But there’s a simple answer. Take a look around your company. What do you have to offer that you take for granted? Perhaps you have experts who design your products who can share knowledge. Maybe your factories or offices are interesting to the people who love your products or services. Embrace the leaders and your fans, and give them access to the things you know. Share freely. Give freely without expecting anything in return. Treat your customers like your best friends. Forever.
And here's a little bit of Robbin talking about the book in person:
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.