Book Review — Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth

Author Ted Wright opens Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth with a prescient, pre-Fizz experience from his late-90’s graduate school days.  Fizz-3dLeft

Entering a University of Chicago computer lab, he noticed that all the students’ faces were glowing blue from the Netscape page on their monitors. Minutes later, at his own lab computer and frustrated by his own slow search on Netscape, a neighboring student leaned over and said “have you thought about using Google?” By the time he left the lab, the word had spread, and the blue glow was gone from the students’ faces – replaced by the white sheen of the Google home page.

Thus the seed was planted in Wright’s brain: the power of “talkable”.

Wright’s very readable book is filled with engaging anecdotes and observations within the world of marketing. Perhaps the first to get my attention was his creed that marketers should assume that their audience is smart – “at least as smart as you are”. How novel!

The word-of-mouth marketer can’t just be sitting at a computer poring over social media and demographic data. He / she will have to have a relevant story that is new, true and authentic about their brand – because that is what your Influencers will talk about. Indeed, it is the newness of something related to what the influencer loves that will wind them up to do the word-of-mouthing — and they love to know what’s new before their peers do.

But why gear your efforts to just influencers, since you may know that they only make up 10% of fizz_soda_fizzconsumers? Because it’s likely that the remaining 90% might not show any interest in your product – until their influencer’s word-of-mouth brings it to their attention. That 90% is very interested in what those influencers think, and will follow their lead.

For all of our present communication channels – be they cable television, the internet, social media, and who-knows-what-else even just a year from now, more does not mean better. Wright notes that 75% of Americans don’t believe companies are truthful about their ads – regardless of communication channel (are you surprised?). Instead, 50% of all purchasing decisions are based primarily on the recommendation of a friend / influencer.

Wright offers a simple real-world illustration to set the table for the “talkable”. If you have ever been to a beer tasting festival, you already know where I’m going. Everybody gets their 2 oz. sampler glass at the start. There’s a lot of “competition” at these festivals, and they are all pouring the 2 oz. samples. But it’s the product and conversation sharing that opens the face-to-face opportunity to tell your product’s story. The newness of your authentic story and product is what the influencer will in turn begin talking about. Pretty obvious, right?

Now, contrast the sharing philosophy with that of the recording industry about 13 years ago.   Rather than acknowledge and work with the rising and unstoppable tide that was Napster, Kazaa and other file-sharing technologies, the recording industry tried to hoard its products and punish their customers – the very life-blood of their business. How did that work for them? Your business may not be staffed with Scrooge-ish hoarders in the way that the recording industry was, but Wright’s illustration certainly makes the case for how sharing – your brand, your story, AND your product – will facilitate the word-of-mouth that will positively influence purchasing decisions.

Wright devotes an entire chapter to how to convince your boss about the effectiveness of Word-of-Mouth – that it’s not just another shiny marketing fad du jour that will be old news by the end of the week. In fact, this is where the Fizz fun starts! Without being a spoiler, let’s just say that Wright has developed a couple of game-like formats to play with the boss which will quickly demonstrate why high-priced billboards and TV ads are a) less effective than you think, and b) well… high-priced!

If your boss needs more convincing, Wright cites a large-scale 2011 study undertaken by AT&T to see what they were getting for their $20 billion per year advertising costs. And no, that’s not a typo. I indeed wrote $20 billion. That’s billion with a “B”. For advertising! But I digress…

The short story is that AT&T determined that word-of-mouth efforts resulted in 10% of their sales volume. Not much, you say. But that 10% was second only to their paid media (30%). You know – the stuff that ate up most of that $20 billion advertising budget! So, did paid media or word-of-mouth provide the most bang for the buck?

Many marketers and advertisers can recite a quote by John Wanamaker, the early-20th century retail innovator and merchandising genius. While Wanamaker believed in the power of advertising, he is believed to have famously said “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

Maybe if Wanamaker had only used half his total ad budget, and invested it in sharing both his products and his story to influencers, it would be Wanamaker and not Wright who could lay claim to the word “talkable”.

Wright, T. (2015). Fizz: Harness the Power of Word of Mouth Marketing to Drive Brand Growth. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Book Review: How to Kill a Unicorn: How the World’s Hottest Innovation Factory Builds Bold Ideas That Make It to Market.

This blog entry was originally posted in December, 2014.

9780804138734I knew I would like this book when, quite early on, it had the guts to tell Emperor Post-it that he had no clothes.

I don’t know about you dear reader, but if I took all the Post-its used in supposed brainstorming meetings that I attended and lined them up, I’m pretty sure they’d go to the moon and back. And while I’m all about divergent thinking, the psychologist in me could never quite embrace the belief that papering the walls with colored Post-its was the only productive method of brainstorming.

With How to Kill a Unicorn, I finally feel vindicated.

Indeed, author Mark Payne blames a 1948 book for initially championing the “quantity v. quality of answers” method that is probably solely responsible for decades of booming Post-it sales. But it turns out that at least one study in this century (Nemeth, Personnaz, Personnaz, & Goncalo, 2004) found that the traditional embrace-all-ideas method of brainstorming is actually inferior to a debate-and-criticism-allowed method. So, Post-it sales might be about to tank. You heard it here first. Sell that 3M stock now!

But the above brainstorming tidbit is worth remembering as you read Unicorn, because Mr. Payne poses that, given the pressures for companies to innovate in order to maintain growth, too often financial caution is cast to the wind in favor of “the unicorn” – Mr. Payne’s embodiment of the magical next-big-thing mirage, the product of can’t-miss innovators.

Mr. Payne is one of the leaders of Fahrenheit 212, a leading innovation consultation firm. In their efforts to assist scores of industry giants (and at least one tiny craft distillery), Fahrenheit has developed a method of forcing an uneasy marriage between the creative and financial sides of a company – a partnership he calls “Money & Magic”. This is where the traditional Post-it brainstorming goes out the window. Rather than create unicorns first and then pass the subsequent financing details and headaches on to the company bean counters, the Money & Magic method gets both sides to the table from the beginning, and makes sure the Magic is tempered by the rigors of business realities, with the Money side asking questions such as “how could that be made with today’s technologies? Where’s the competitive advantage?”, etc. Mr. Payne notes – not surprisingly — that these make for some spirited discussions. The Magic side of the table might see their Money counterparts as a total buzz kill, but the big picture is that if the magic-bred unicorns fizzle into the ether later down the line, the entire business has wasted time and resources. Asking the Money questions early on will better assess which Magic offerings have legs, and which might not be destined to live happily ever after.

Unicorn is filled with famous and not-so-famous Money & Magic brand innovation examples: Starbuck’s. Sanyo. Coca-Cola. The Tuthilltown distillery in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley. And my personal favorite might be those of Progressive Insurance! Yes, that free-spirited Flo and her company have some real innovators, and the company is more than successful at delicately straddling the fine line between price leader Geico and service leaders State Farm and Allstate. And the real story and advantages of Progressive’s Online Rate Comparison and onboard Snapshot monitor makes for an interesting Money & Magic win-win.

Unicorn is a fine resource if you have reason to believe that your innovation ideas are on fire in January but aren’t really innovating anything months later. Maybe it’s time for the Money & Magic to come break bread at your table. In preparation, dust off the notes from your debate class, and clean and load your unicorn gun. And don’t be afraid to use the latter on whoever walks into the meeting with an armload of rainbow Post-it pads.


Nemeth, C. J., Personnaz, B., Personnaz, M., Goncalo, J. A. (2004).  The liberating role of conflict in group creativity:  A study in two countries.  European Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 365 – 374.

Payne, M. (2014). How to kill a unicorn: How the world’s hottest innovation factory builds bold ideas that make it to market. New York: Crown Business.

Book Review: The sonic boom: How sound transforms the way we think, feel, and buy

Beckerman, J., Gray, T. (2014). The sonic boom: How sound transforms the way we think, feel, and buy. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We react faster to sound than to any other sensory stimuli. Not by much, especially relative to 9780544191747touch and sight (placing 2nd & 3rd in the sense race). But composer and Sonic Boom author Joel Beckerman cites this science to argue why some companies knowingly offer ongoing (and profitable) “boom” moments for their customers, while other companies spend millions exclusively on visual ads while ignoring the importance of sound in fostering a great customer experience.

Beckerman is the founder of Man Made Music, a company specializing in sonic branding. He and co-author Tyler Gray waste no time in regaling the reader with corporate stories where sound played an important part in a company’s success – whether the customer realized it or not!

The art of successfully utilizing sound as a marketing tool is to make it speak for the brand. The th-2authors offer diverse examples: Why do kids run past a home freezer that might be stocked with Ben & Jerry’s to beg for money and chase the jingle-playing Mr. Softee ice cream truck? Mr. Softee founder Jim Conway knows: because “going to the fridge isn’t an experience”. A more high-tech example? If it wasn’t for devoted Apple employee Jim Reekes, that big, comforting two-hands-on-the-synthesizer-keyboard C-major chord that announces your Mac is ready would have been a harsh tritone – historically known as the “devil’s interval”. For my non-musician readers, ask a musician pal to simultaneously hit C with the F# above it. Sonic
agony! Many of Reekes’ coworkers didn’t understand the big deal, but at this point in the book, theimages term “earcon” is introduced – the sonic version of the icon or logo. And that big, warm C-chord is as experientially important to Apple as the visual design lines and screen graphics of your MacBook Air.

Some of Sonic Boom’s marketing and customer experience claims would seem to be common sense: customers spent significantly more on food & drink in a restaurant when slower tempo music is playing; supermarket sales are up 38% when the stores opt for the same. Simply, when you’re aroused by music, you’re less likely to take time to shop, and your extra money walks out the door with you. But the authors challenge businesses to take sound to a new creative level: Why not pump in college or NFL game sounds in the chip, dip, and beer sections of the supermarket? Salsa music in the aisles lined with tamales and frijoles negros? Pair sounds with the store’s visuals and aromas, and transform a domestic chore into a trip to a theme park!

On a larger scale, the authors believe in the creation of brand anthems, not jingles. Think the Star Wars and James Bond franchises: each has an anthem that can be sonically related with both a few notes AND a cinematic orchestra.

On a smaller scale, a business owner needs to devote some serious planning on their soundscape. How do you want people to feel when they hear your sonic brand? What music does your competition play in their stores? Rather than go with the most recognizable tunes by a customer-friendly band, maybe go with deeper cuts. But as the authors note, “make sure it sounds like YOUR party, and not someone else’s.”

In any case, the authors advise that it’s never too early in a plan to consider your sonic branding – don’t wait until the end of your creative process. Sonic branding should be a consideration from the beginning (where it might even offer some inspiration!).

Finally, it’s ironic that I’m finishing this entry on Martin Luther King Day. Sonic Boom actually cites Dr. King, and recalled how his song-like oratory style yielded its own sonic stamp. He often made reference to and quoted from spiritual music. Indeed, the lyrics from the spiritual Free at Last was the crescendo of his “I Have a Dream” speech. The authors note that “…King might have created history’s most powerful “boom” moment by tapping into the power of a song lyric that instantly conveyed a place in time, a rich history of a specific set of disenfranchised people and hope for their future”.

Find out more about Joel Beckerman and to try out his Interactive Experience here:




Book Review: Brains on Fire: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements

This blog entry / book review was originally published in November, 2014

Phillips, R., Cordell, G., Church, G., Jones, S. (2010). Brains on fire:  Igniting powerful, sustainable, word of mouth     movements.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.

First off, I can’t express how impressed I am with myself for remembering the above American Psychological Association (APA) Editorial Style format for citing a text. Once a psychologist, always a psychologist. But I digress…

Let me start this review with a quote from a contributor cited in the latter half of Brains on Fire:

“I’ve never been comfortable with social media. I think it’s an oxymoron”.

The speaker is a Ph.D. in Complex Systems and Brain Sciences. She was addressing how businesses are drawn like51rS2MJM8LL moths to a flame when it comes to The Next Big Thing in social media. But Brains on Fire reminds the reader early and often that “90 percent of word-of-mouth happens off-line”.

That has been my own experience with Next Big Thing marketing. To wit:

“We have 19,000 websites hits!”

“We have 35,000 followers on Facebook!”

So…? What is your company doing with this supposed fandom?

Brains on Fire is about creating a movement, not another ad campaign. In fact, the authors posit that companies shouldn’t be forking over huge dough to ad agencies to influence behavior, when the company could start by inspiring behavior.

The authors suggest that it’s time for marketers and advertisers to shut up and (gasp!) listen. All the buzz in the world won’t necessarily create raving fans, but fans can certainly create the almighty buzz. And a movement’s buzz is based on the stories people tell about your company. Traditional marketing and advertising require a big budget and an ever-extending deadline to accommodate art, copy, proofing, rewrite, printing, etc. And if the stars all line up just right, the final product will be a colorful, controlled, one-way testament to: The Company…..?

Brains of Fire contributor Greg Cordell reminds readers that no matter how much inventory you have and how many people are in your employ, “your company is the stories people tell about it”. And no matter how pithy an ad slogan, it will have neither the real meaning nor the staying power of a customer’s story. And those stories are passed on by (surprise!) word-of-mouth – not by slogans pushed out at you.

Brains on Fire would have had more punch if it could have cited more than the handful of illustrating cases, to which the contributors returned often. The one that stands out for me was the Fiskars company. Yes, the scissor maker. The company is something like 350 years old. And you may roll your eyes, but when Brains on Fire notes the power of the small-town scrapbooker to influence products and sales, well – you’d better listen up and take some notes to discuss at your next managers meeting.

The bottom line is yes – use social media. And maybe whatever The Next Big Online Thing will be. But use it with off-line – use online to build off-line gatherings, relationships, etc. Judicious use of Facebook and Twitter can indeed help the off-line relationships today. But Brains contributor Chris Sandoval warns against shifting the balance to favor online, because technology “is like the philandering girlfriend. Technology is not going to stay faithful to you”.

But the customers with your company’s stories might.

Book Review: We first: How brands & consumers use social media to build a better world.

As we watch Super Bowl XLIX disappear in the rearview mirror, maybe this would be a good time for some Superbowl trivia! Anyone can play, because the two-part question really has nothing to do with football. Ready?

After 23 years of dropping millions and millions of dollars on traditional high-end, celebrity-based Super Bowl ads,th-1 which company approached the 2010 Super Bowl in a radically different way, and what was the approach?

I will reveal the answer soon. It is one of several interesting points made by Simon Mainwaring in We first: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World.

The title is a play-on-words derived from a type of capitalism that Mainwaring feels has been about Me First for too long. And he argues that businesses that opt to stick with that model have their collective heads in the sand. Instead, Mainwaring sees the rise in a We First capitalism – where visionary corporations, businesses, consumers and citizens begin using capitalism as a “profit with purpose”: mindful, contributory, and socially oriented. Indeed, Mainwaring refers to studies that have determined that large majorities of people around the world are willing to change their consumption habits if it will make tomorrow’s world a better th-2place to live. Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Anita Roddick’s Body Shop, and Seventh Generation products started their businesses with these beliefs.

Mainwaring makes the case that a confluence of at least two unstoppable changes will be responsible for the rise in a “profit with purpose” philosophy. The first is clearly social media, which is the new revolution – following in the steps of how the Industrial Revolution transformed manufacturing and the Digital Revolution transformed communications. Social media can be tied to many things, but Mainwaring is certain that social media will permanently transform the way business is conducted. It is is democratizing the market — providing people with new leverage to push back against corporations that misuse resources and consumer trust, and whose mission is solely to profit their shareholders. Social media will also be the tool that recognizes and reinforces the efforts of We First companies.

The second unstoppable change is generational. Researchers have found that Millennials are the likely demographic of change. They prefer collaboration to competitiveness, and sharing to hoarding. They prefer connections and diversity. And data has shown that once Millennials find a company they like, trust, and respect, they not only will keep coming back, but they’ll support and promote that company through – you guessed it – social media.

Social media may be the new revolution, but Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine is cited in We First as noting that we can also perceive this new era as digital socialism (down, DOWN, political geeks! Hear me out!). Kelly quickly differentiates that political socialism is an arm of the state, whereas digital socialism operates in the realm of culture and economics. Progressive companies are mining digital socialism by the now-familiar crowdsourcing – using social networks to seek out collective mind power, ideas and feedback that can both accelerate innovation and build an ever-growing customer community that are emotionally invested in the company. Which conveniently brings me back to our Super Bowl trivia question…

In 2010, Pepsi used the big money they would have laid out Super Bowl ads and instead funded the Pepsi Refresh project, which worked thusly: Pepsi invited people to its website, and encouraged those consumers to complete an application describing a social cause, and then select a monetary award category (ranging from $5K – $250K). Crowdsourcing is what actually selected the winners, since visitors to the site could vote for favorite projects. By the way, the advertising industry immediately thought PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi had too much carbonation on the brain, and that the company had totally blown its marketing budget (and chances) on some kind of low-ROI touchy-feely flavor of the day. But in about 90 days, even PepsiCo was amazed with the outcomes, as more than a billion impressions were logged from the Refresh site. Shortly thereafter, Pepsi could boast that their Facebook fans quadrupled. And Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s CEO, garnered Fortunes magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business” — for the fifth year in a row.

Mainwaring has written an eye-opening book – one that reaches far in demonstrating the ripple effect in how social media, Millennials, and other factors may interact to move from a Me First to a We First capitalism.

Bonus: Mainwaring makes reference to how smart phones can help you promote a We First world. Check out this link, and then look for some on your own. Let me know what others you find!

For more on Simon Mainwaring and We First:

Simon Mainwaring / TED Talk – We First