Category Archives: Book Reviews

Branding theories under scrutiny in “Absolute Value”

To call advertising as the ‘art of relative persuasion‘ is sure to get the major advertising practitioners to put you on their black list.

I just completed the book Absolute Value, and found it to be a larger thesis than the title implied. In some ways it’s a systematic take-down of several sacred cows of marketing, branding, the role of persuasion and much more. But what’s impressive is how the authors (Ithamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen) do it in a calm, intellectual fashion, trying to assure readers they are not really picking a fight.

Book - absolutevalueThey observe how we customers have a hard time assessing the quality of products, so we typically use ‘quality proxies’ such as a brand name, prior satisfaction, country of origin, image of the store at which the purchase could be made etc. Oddly enough, we change these proxies over time. Think about this: There was a time when ‘made in China’ meant superior quality, but not anymore. There was a time our prior experience with a brand determined its replacement. Today? (I recently ditched another carrier for T-Mobile because prior experience wasn’t exactly great.)

Absolute Value gives you a three-part theoretical framework of how to promote brands –the P-O-M Influence Mix. I find it interesting how the authors steer clear of calling it the Marketing Mix. It stands for Prior Preferences (P), Other People (O), and Marketers (M).

Does this mean the death of branding? No! But it does reveal serious cracks in what is typically considered brand management –tied to Positioning theory, Segmentation etc. Today we are nearer to having perfect (or ‘absolute’) information about a brand we are considering because of the abundance of reviews, and websites dedicated to testing, comparing, or even disparaging brands. Bloggers and journalists prod and pry a brand’s claims to see if it is living up to it or the market hype, exposing the slightest flaw, or lesser-discussed breakthrough feature. Social media is a big part of this, obviously.and marketers should understand that their primary role is shifting from persuasion to (and this should not come as a shock!) communication!

In this scenario –this has to be troubling to ‘positionistas’ and those running loyalty programs—customers can evaluate a brand for what it is, rather than how it compares with other “choice-sets” they are allowed to see.

Sidenote: There’s a great story about Jonney Shih, who created a brand following with hardly any brand advertising. I was in the market for a laptop a few weeks back, so having sworn by a Toshiba for many years, guess what brand I bought?


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Chat Republic backgrounder – IABC/Phoenix

In three weeks I will be speaking at a meeting of IABC-Phoenix, and to that end, this interview by Peggy Bieniek has  just been published.

It’s a bit of a long read, so if you’ve gotten used to 140-character summaries (and that’s one of the points I raise in Chat Republic), this is certainly not for you.

It is one of the most thorough backgrounders to the book, and my take on social media.

Interview with IABC-Phoenix

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Posted by on February 3, 2014 in Book, Book Reviews, Chat Republic



Ambient Awareness – A fancy way of saying TMI is good

I would love to see Clay Thompson and Nicholas Carr in a sparring match.

THOMPSON talks of Ambient awareness as if it were some rare gift that comes with augmenting (saturating?) our brains with feeds and Tweets. He calls it “the experience of knowing what’s going on in the lives of other people — what they’re thinking about, what they’re doing, what they’re looking at — by paying attention to the small stray status messages that people are putting online.”

CARR famously said that he’s “had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.”

Who’s side would you be on?

I’ve got a vested interest in both sides. I teach students to use technology and computers in a way that does not necessarily outsource their thinking and memory and ideas to some machine. I also try consider extending the boundaries of knowledge, using available (aggregation, collaboration, inquiry) tools.

I’m a big fan of the Shallows. I also use the Kasparov Vs Deep Blue example now and then when discussing robotics and getting people to stop thinking in terms of a “man vs machine” debate. Thompson uses ane example –you could see it here in an excerpt– of how collaborating with the ‘machine’ rather than competing with it changed the game –for Kasparov at least.

He may have a good point.

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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in Book Reviews


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Chat Republic Book Review – Newsroom Ink

Here’s a review by someone from a company I interviewed, in the chapter about Socializing the Press Release, to make it more authentic.

New tools such as the social media release and the online newsrooms are rapidly gaining acceptance by companies and traditional media. Storytelling, as done through brand journalism, is replacing the press or news release.

Read more here at Newsroom Ink

What’s your take about something called ‘brand journalism’ and storytelling?


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Context is king. Book’s web site has lesson for us

I was looking up author, David Carr, after using a quote from him in my previous post. His is a fascinating story captured in his book, The Night of the Gun.

Since every book today has a companion web site, I nearly skipped it, assuming it was another content dump with blurbs and links. I was wrong!  It’s a trove of context, not content.

  • One of the tabs opens a page laid out in a grid of 60-squares. Click on each square and it takes you deeper into Carr’s story by way of candid interviews, photos, scanned documents etc.
  • Another tab has a timeline, which takes you on an online experience you couldn’t even come close to in the pages of a book.

The publisher, Simon and Schuster, notes that it created a database of content because Carr ended up with a large stack of material, recording his thoughts and interviews using many formats – video, audio, notes etc.

With help from the New York Times‘ digital guy, (a ‘User Interface Specialist!) they built a site as a multi-media backdrop, or more precisely, a back-story, to his memoir.

While it makes for a novel way to market a book, we could learn some important lessons in how to surround any other form of communication with rich, contextual information.

In the end The Night of the Gun is more than a book -a living story that cannot be contained within templates, hard covers or style sheets.


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Time magazine’s cover sells, enrages

I’m a great fan of and subscriber to Time magazine. I’ve been used to their shift to become more edgy over the past few years –perhaps in order to stay in business. But this caught me off guard.

Last Friday, when it arrived, I left the magazine on the counter, not thinking too much about the mother and child cover. Another mother’s day angle, I surmised. My wife was shocked, and my daughter probably was even more.

I could see the firestorm emerging. But it’s coming from several interesting sides, especially those enraged by the ‘Mom enough’ question, and also the challenging pose of the breastfeeding mom. The “this creeps me out” reaction from mothers was quite common, and I bet Time wanted This kind of reaction, as the buzz was good for newsstand sales.

Time magazine is not just a news outfit. It’s a marketing machine. I’ve noticed that recently it often makes a big point about how a story gets more web traffic than any other story, or has has more letters to the editor etc. I also get it. Covers need to be provocative, and even stimulate a conversation. But in this instance I think Time went too far. Here’s why:

The headline. Reading the article, it seems to have very little to do with adequacy or inadequacy of mothers, and their feeding methods. Connecting that headline to the stand-up feeding pose, seems like it is posing an unspoken question: “Would you be brave enough to do what I am doing? (with my one hand on my hip, too!)”

The eye contact. They probably took a lot of angles of this mother-and-child. (They had great inspiration, apparently)


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‘Now Revolution’ book tour begins soon!

Why do I feel like the word Revolution is all over the place? Maybe it’s that ‘ear worm’ of the Beatles signature tune from my radio show that’s in my head.

Jason Baer and Amber Naslund’s upcoming book, The Now Revolution, has the word in its title, though it’s the word NOW that jumps out. As they lay it out, they say that this book isn’t about how to “do” social media, but about a broader need to rejigger the organization on the ‘now’ factors. The chapters have those broad goals, such as how to ‘engineer a New Bedrock;’ ‘Organize Your Armies;’ ‘Answer the New Telephone;’ ‘Build a Fire Extinguisher’ etc.

You could find a free chapter if you go here.

On February 1, the book will be on shelves across North America.

Jay and Amber have a post-launch speaking tour for The NOW Revolution. If you, or an organization you know of, likes to have either of them to present the “7 shifts” to make business faster, smarter, and more social, they are open to talking.

Here’s the deal. Just commit to buying 200 books (ideally before release) and we’ll work with you on a date between February and June where we can visit your region and do a presentation, book signing, tweetup, game of Twister, etc.

Email them at

But wait! There’s More! If you’re into the Quick Response Codes, use your phone and take a picture of this image (right) using the Microsoft Tag software, for bonus content.

It’s a pretty cool way to promote a book using the very principles it talks about.


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Posted by on December 28, 2010 in Book Reviews, Events


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What’s a ‘Great Place To Work?’ Podcast of radio show

Employees are either ticked off or raring to go.  That’s the commonly held wisdom, right?

I wanted to find out and conducted a survey before my radio show, Your Triple Bottom Line.  Some pleasant surprises: A large percentage of responders have positive things to say about the workplace. (The survey is still open for a week, so that number could change.)

However, when asked to describe what a terrible place to work was, one respondent cited “Filth, blind micro-management, too many chiefs.”

Hmmm! Too many chiefs is a common refrain whenever I speak to companies about what’s the biggest stumbling block to a more collaborative workplace.

I conducted this snap survey because we were planning on asking our guest, a much-acclaimed author of the book Fired Up Or Burned Out, about what kind of leadership makes workplaces so dreary or at other times, inspiring. The book (it’s received great reviews on Amazon!) takes you into the ‘power of connection’ at work from the American Revolution to… Starbucks!

Show # 8 – with Michael Stallard

Download a PDF of the book free here.

Cross-posting this from the Show blog,

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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in Book Reviews, Podcasts, Radio, Social Media


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Clay Shirky on distraction: turn the damn wi-fi off!

Whenever  I digest Clay Shirky’s books, such as Here comes everybody, I always wonder where someone like him finds time to draw out such astute observations about so many social and technological events swirling around us.

His latest, Cognitive Surplus,  is a must read for anyone wondering (or responding to the cynical question)’where do people like you fund time to blog and hang out on social media sites?”

So when I heard him last week on a webinar, remark that he often goes to a place with his Netbook and turns the wi-fi off, it all made sense. We celebrate the fact that many gadgets around us are wi-fi enabled –now including cameras and MP3 players. But just because we have the default option of being always on, always connected to the grid, we could be denying ourselves the time to sit back and come to our own conclusions.

“The volume of the media coming at us is so large,” he observed;” we need to filter it and ‘do new imaginative things’ out of them.

Whereas once literacy was once a goal for our children,  we now need to teach children how not to be distracted, he said. “Being deluged,” is the norm. “For all the fetishizaion of ‘inbox zero’ for example, there is no way to keep people from  wasting your time. The discipline comes to basically turning off the channels.

I tried it today at the coffee shop. I got so much more done. I was reminded of the book I intended top pick up, Distracted.  It deals with “networks of attention.”

That’s a new phrase to me!

“Attention is not always within our control. The unexpected, the changeable, the novel, even the habitual abduct our focus, intrude upon our awareness, and pull us off course for a time.”

The funny thing is, I would not have been able to find that book is not for my wi-fi connection. I know what Clay would say: “Get thee to a library!”

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Posted by on September 13, 2010 in Book Reviews, Social Media


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Quotes for the week ending 17 April, 2010

“I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff.”

AdAge on the New York Times Reporter, writing fro DealBook, who resigned for ‘accidental plagiarism’

“If you get the chance, grab a video camera (or a smartphone) and head to your nearest Tea Party. Who knows, your footage could dispel some false accusations; citizen-journalists are turning in the most reliable kinds.”

Lachlan Markay,  of Dialog New Media, on the Tea Party infiltrators.

“To all the Twitter lovers out there: this is NOT the first sign of the apocalypse….People will not desert Twitter for this. It’s inevitable — technology services need revenue.”

Josh Bernoff, on Twitter’s business model that might involve advertising

“Her brand is Teflon, ubiquitous and so strong that a book like this is not even going to dent it….The media is not going to give this story a second life.”

Michael Kelley, in Advertising Age, on Kitty Kelly’s latest unauthorized biography on Oprah

“Wait, Who Says My Tweets Belong to Google or the Library of Congress?”

Slate’s Heidi Moore, on the news that Twitter content from as far back as 2006 is being archived in the Library of Congress

“Weave in your personality. Sure it’s business, but you don’t want to be a social media sleeping pill. Avoid dry and boring messages, posts and links.”

Susan Young, at on the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Successful Social Media Communicators’


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