Category Archives: Book Reviews

What Computers enable in our second ‘Machine Age’

I just ordered “The Second Machine Age” not because authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee seem optimistic about the ‘digital engines’ that were able to diagnose diseases, talk back, drive cars, and write quality prose. But because they seem to acknowledge the thorny challenges we face as these new machines run our lives.

Think about the recent challenges: We are still surprised by catastrophic weather events, despite the satellites and other climate science tools we have. Our marvelous machines may help us locate a lost phone, but often miss the big things. Just consider what GM’s ‘system’ ignored or considered unimportant in their cars. Then there’s the lost 747. A friend recently commented how, despite all our tools, there’s something humbling about how we don’t have smart enough technology to locate something as big as an airplane.

The book is based on the work at MIT’s Center for Digital Business, at which Brynjolfsson is the prof of management at the Sloan School. I like his description (In a Ted Talk) of what he calls  ‘general purpose technology’ that changes the game.

It’s funny, but this seems to be yet another ‘MIT book’ that has crossed my path that delves deeper into the subject of technology compared to the usual blather about how good things are. Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together was a classic discussion in a narrower field of communication tools and robotics.

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Posted by on April 26, 2014 in Book, Book Reviews, Social Media


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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