Book Review: Absolute Value

by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen

by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen

It used to be that if you were selling consumer goods your field of play was limited to the shelf space immediately to the right and left of your item. People could compare packaging, price and quantity to determine if your item was worth their money and attention. In Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information, Stanford professor Itamar Simonson and best-selling author and executive Emanuel Rosen discuss what is causing the shift from relative to absolute value and how your company can make an impact. This book is now available as a Soundview Executive Book Summary.

Simonson and Rosen do an excellent job of compressing and presenting a mountain of research into concepts executives can absorb in a timely manner. The pair begin by presenting the new patterns in consumer decision making. One particular point of interest is the authors’ suggestion that there is a decline in the belief that marketers can cause buyers to act in “irrational” ways. As the pair write, “The relevance of these influence tactics has diminished in a world where people can easily assess quality. On average, better decisions are being made based on the information that’s available.”

Absolute Value then takes readers into a new framework for influence. Executives will want to spend a portion of time considering the ideas presented in a section on the Influence Mix. Simonson and Rosen write that three sources can impact a person’s decision to buy: prior experiences, preferences and beliefs, other people/information, and marketers. One of the most beneficial sections in the book pertains to matching your communication method to the customer’s influence mix. In a book filled with forward-looking insights, the authors’ advice will help guide marketing professionals into the next shift in commerce.

How to Create Strong Relationships with Consumers

Romancing the Brand. It sounds like the sequel to Romancing the Stone, the movie. But actually it’s a new book by author Tim Halloran. Here is how he begins the book.

“It wasn’t a particularly dramatic moment. The eight women sat around the overflowing table of colored cans and bottles of soft drinks. They has just completed what we call a ‘sorting’ exercise, in which participants arranged soft drink brands in groups based on some organizing principle that they were to develop themselves. I don’t remember how they organized the forty-plus brands that day, but what happened next stuck with me. A petite woman in her late twenties, picked up one of the cans and said to the focus group moderator, ‘I drink eight of these a day. It is always with me, no matter what happens. I was there when my boss gave me my promotion last week. It was at my side two months ago when my cat died. It got me through it. I start and end my day with it. It’s never let me down. I can always count on it. To sum it up, it’s my boyfriend . . . Diet Coke.’”

Wouldn’t we all like to have this kind of loyalty from our customers? They are engaging in a rich, complex, ever-changing relationship, and they’ll stay loyal, resisting marketing gimmicks from competitors and influencing others to try the brand they love.

Halloran reveals what it takes to make consumers fall in love with your brand. Drawing on exclusive, in-depth interviews with managers of some of the world’s most iconic brands, he arms you with an arsenal of classic and emerging marketing tools—such as benefit laddering and word-of-mouth marketing—that make best-in-class brands so successful.

We’ve invited Tim Halloran to join us on April 30th to reveal to us How to Create Strong Relationships with Consumers. This Soundview Live webinar with give you the chance to learn first-hand about these emerging marketing tools, and to ask your most challenging questions. Join us for the sequel and bring your popcorn.

Book Review: Platform

by Michael Hyatt

by Michael Hyatt

Trying to get the message of your company or brand heard in today’s social media environment is equivalent to trying to hear an ant’s footsteps while seated next to a jet turbine. The secret, according to author, blogger and publishing executive Michael Hyatt, is to build the virtual stage from which you address your carefully cultivated following. In Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, Hyatt gives executives a thorough method to connect and build your business.

Hyatt didn’t acquire more than 200,000 Twitter followers without providing a mountain of bankable advice. Platform gives readers the best of the best in a jam-packed read that should sit close at hand on an executive’s desk or digital reader. He begins with the observation that too many social media books overlook: start by creating a great product. Fortunately, Hyatt’s advice about product creation covers everything from how to be compelling to how to create a memorable name.

Once a company has its outstanding product, Hyatt takes readers through the steps to prepare for launch, build a strong strategy, expand your reach and stay actively engaged with your followers. The section on building your home base is can’t-miss reading. In an era when litigators are fielding more and more questions about intellectual property, Hyatt’s tips to protect oneself are well-considered.

Of the utmost importance to executives is Hyatt’s staunchly realistic reminder about how a great platform is built. For any leader who considers platform creation a task that can be farmed out to what Hyatt calls a “babysitter,” he provides the following advice. “Take a long look in the mirror. The person you are looking at is your new chief marketing officer,” he writes. Executives can lead the charge to be heard and Platform is the book to help them do it.

How to Promote Yourself and Your Work

With the proliferation of social media and online marketing, it has become a difficult challenge to make a name for yourself among the millions of people screaming for attention. How do you establish and grow your personal brand above this noise?

Rob Eagar is one of those individuals who has developed a strategy for being heard above the noise. Rob founded his consulting practice, WildFire Marketing, in 2007 and has attracted a diverse range of clients including businesses, non-profits, and bestselling authors. He’s trained over 400 authors and consulted with respected publishing houses, including Zondervan (HarperCollins), Howard (Simon & Schuster), Moody, Barbour, and Harvest House. Plus, he’s worked with well-known non-profits, such as Growing Leaders, Campus Crusade, Proverbs 31 Ministries, and Hearts at Home.

Rob’s background includes over 10 years’ experience as a regional and national sales manager, public speaking for over 10 years to more than 35,000 people at over 180 events, and generating a consistent, six-figure income as a self-publishing entrepreneur from his first book, Dating with Pure Passion. His national media appearances include interviews on the CBS Early Show, CNN Radio, and the Los Angeles Times. He has a degree in marketing from Auburn University.

Rob is especially focused on helping authors, but his principles apply to anyone trying to make a name for themselves. Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn at this webinar:

  • Sell more books by driving readers to your website and retailers.
  • Secure more media interviews and speaking engagements.
  • Connect with key influencers who will spread word of mouth.
  • Create raving fans via social media that buzz about your book.
  • Build an author brand that makes you stand out from the crowd.

If you would like to tap into Rob’s expertise to grow your own brand, then join us on March 20th for our Soundview Live webinar entitled How to Create a Marketing Wildfire. Rob will explain how to use the best promotional methods available to build your brand, sell your products and services, and stand out from the crowd. You will also have the opportunity to ask Rob questions during the webinar.

Building Brand Loyalty

People everywhere describe their relationships with brands of all kinds in deeply personal ways—we hate our banks, love our smartphones, and think the cable company is out to get us. What’s actually going on in our brains when we make these judgments?

Through their original research, customer loyalty expert Chris Malone and social psychologist Susan Fiske found that we relate to companies, brands, and even inanimate products in the same way that we naturally perceive, judge, and behave toward one another.

Early humans developed a kind of genius for making two specific kinds of quick judgments: What are the intentions of other people toward me? And how capable are they of carrying out those intentions? Social psychologists call these two categories of perception warmth and competence, and they drive most of our emotions and behavior toward other people—and in today’s modern world, toward businesses too. As a result, we become devoted to certain companies, brands, even products, but we also have high expectations for loyalty from them in return.

We’ve invited Chris Malone to join us for our Soundview Live webinar on March 11th. Join us for How We Relate to People, Products & Companies to learn:

•             How the social psychology concepts of “warmth” and “competence” apply to the way we perceive and relate to companies and brands.

•             From in-depth analyses of companies such as Hershey’s, Domino’s, Lululemon, Zappos, Amazon, Chobani, Sprint, and more.

•             How and why we make the choices we do.

•             What it takes for companies and brands to earn and keep our loyalty in the digital age.

Make sure to bring your questions for Chris, to post during the webinar for him to answer, and invite the rest of your department or team to join you.

What You Need to Know to Cash In on Your Inspiration

IDEA TO INVENTION

Anyone Can Be an Inventor

One day, Patricia Nolan-Brown was driving in downtown Boston with her young child in a rear-facing car seat in the back seat, as required by law. On arriving home, she complained to her mother about the frustration of not being able to see the child as she was driving to make sure that she was okay. In her book, Idea to Invention, Nolan-Brown describes how she told her mother that “Somebody should invent some kind of a special mirror so you could see your kid in the stupid rear-facing car seat.” To which her mother replied, “Why don’t you invent one?”

Nolan-Brown did just that and transformed that one day of frustration into a lucrative career as an inventor and entrepreneur who would sell millions of her products. In Idea to Invention, she emphasizes that you don’t have to have a business degree from Harvard or trust-fund seed money to invent and sell products. “The first thing you need to know about me is that I’m an ordinary person,” she writes, and her book is clearly designed for readers who are looking for the basic steps for turning their dreams into reality.

What It Takes

Successful people, according to Nolan-Brown, display the following characteristics:

They are inquisitive. “An inventor’s best friend,” she writes, “is curiosity.” They have the nerve. Many people have great ideas but don’t have the self-confidence to make it happen.They have a strong voice. They communicate passion and truth. They have energy. They keep their bodies healthy and their minds sharp.They nourish their dreams. If their passion or commitment begins to fade, they find inspiration and courage in workshops or seminars, biographies and autobiographies, mentors and networking, and a variety of other sources. They are tenacious. They believe in what they are doing and refuse to give up.

Not coincidentally, the first letter of these six success personality traits form the acronym INVENT.

Once Nolan-Brown has explored the six personality traits, she offers readers her six steps to invention.

Think it. It all starts with an idea. Start with what you know; then think outside the box.

Cook it. Is your idea marketable? Will it sell? What does a prototype look like? These are the questions that need to be answered to start moving the idea from just an intellectual concept.

Protect it. Nolan-Brown guides potential entrepreneurs through what they have to do — and they might not have to do — to protect their idea.

Pitch it. Entrepreneurs must know how to generate excitement around their idea, which might involve social media, trade shows and more.

Make it. Should you license the idea and have others put it together, assemble the product, or outsource it to an overseas manufacturer?

Bedazzle it. This is the bells and whistle phase, making sure the product attracts buyers for years to come.

Every chapter in Idea to Invention is filled with concise, practical advice. In the “Make It” chapter, for example, she explains the advantages and disadvantages of licensing. She warns that online submission companies are paid to do what you could probably do just as easily. She explains some of the basics of starting a business, describes the challenge of outsourcing manufacturing, and offers the essential steps for at-home DIY assembly.

Nolan-Brown ends the book with an inspirational chapter called “You Can Make It Happen.” But perhaps the true inspiration is found through the clear and practical information she conveys, which reinforces that anyone can follow in the footsteps of this “ordinary” person.

A 7-Step Guide to Big, Hairy, Outrageous Sales Growth

FEED THE STARTUP BEAST

Tips for Unleashing Your Business

“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer,” wrote Peter Drucker many years ago. While none of the many books written by the father of modern management featured a purple monster on its cover, the mindset behind Feed the Startup Beast by Drew Williams and Jonathan Verney reflects Drucker’s words: A business without customers is a business that’s finished. Or, to use the metaphor in the title of the book, a business needs to be “fed” if it is to survive.

A Seven-Step Plan

Focusing specifically on business-to-business startups, Williams and Verney show how to feed the “Beast” through a seven-step marketing plan designed to attract and convert prospects into customers. The interrelated steps are

1) Ask the right question. Survey your customers with only one question: How likely are you to recommend [my product or service] to a colleague or business associate?” The scores will tell you if your startup is a Beast ready to grow or not.

2) Listen to your best customers. The next step is to listen to your best customers, which means first identifying them – and then show them that you understand their pain.

3) Focus your resources. In this step, you lay the foundation for your marketing by creating the tools you need: a website, your Engagement Spreadsheet through which you can carefully track thousands of prospects, your Engagement Pages (the landing pages for prospects who find you) and your sales team.

4) Attract your best prospects. The key to being found by prospects is your online presence – your success in showing up in search engines and social media sites.

5) Pursue your best prospects. Successful startups do everything to be found online, but they also take preemptive steps to seek out and engage prospects. While much of the conversation today focuses on inbound marketing, outbound marketing continues to be relevant.

6) Nurture your engaged prospects. In the vernacular of the book, prospects are now in the cave, but they have to be converted into customers and eventually fans.

7) Grow! Measure your success. A “Beast Dashboard” is used to track the conversion rates of prospects to engaged prospects, engaged prospects to sales-ready leads, sales-ready leads to customers and customers to fans.

Tools and Examples

Williams is a serial entrepreneur who sold one of his businesses for eight figures. Verney is a communications professional specializing in corporate storytelling. The result of this collaboration is a book that is rich in visual metaphors but grounded in real-world experience.

For example, the authors describe a prospect’s “decision cycle,” which moves from problem awareness and solution education to vendor education and vendor consideration to, finally, vendor selection. In the nurture phase (step 6), marketers move the prospect through this cycle by getting them to climb the “engagement ladder.” Thus, a startup might offer analysts reports and buying guides to lead vendors through the solution education stage. Webinars or white papers will respond to their vendor education needs, while video testimonials or demos engage them during the vendor consideration phase. Custom analysis and aids such as ROI calculators can help push prospects to take the final step and to become sales-ready leads. At this point, your sales team will take over.

Humorous and energetic but also comprehensive and practical, Feed the Startup Beast is a valuable manual for entrepreneurs building up their marketing.

The 30 Best Business Books of 2013

With the publication of our December edition, Soundview is pleased to announce the complete list of the 30 best business books of 2013.

This proved to be an interesting year for business books. In a year during which world governments struggled with economic pressures and internal breakdowns, a clear lack of communication has been routinely cited as a major symptom of global problems.

This was reflected in the business books that rose to the top of many people’s reading lists, as well as Soundview’s 30 best business books. Depending on one’s interpretation, there are at least six titles on the list below that deal directly or indirectly with communication. In an era in which communication occurs in an instant, executives should take more than a moment to read and learn from the summaries below.

Well Said by Darlene Price

The Pause Principle by Kevin Cashman

Change-Friendly Leadership by Rodger Dean Duncan

Extreme Productivity by Robert C. Pozen

Stop Selling Vanilla Ice Cream by Steve Van Remortel

How to Be Exceptional by John H. Zenger, Joseph R. Folkman, Robert H. Sherwin, Jr., and Barbara A. Steel

Care to Dare by George Kohlrieser, Susan Goldsworthy and Duncan Coombe

The Pumpkin Plan by Mike Michalowicz

Beating the Global Odds by Paul A. Laudicina

Real Influence by Mark Goulston and John Ullmen

You Can’t Lie to Me by Janine Driver

Idea Agent by Lina M. Echeverria

The Art of Explanation by Lee LeFever

How to Say Anything to Anyone by Shari Harley

Changeology by John C. Norcross

Can’t Buy Me Like by Bob Garfield and Doug Levy

No More Pointless Meetings by Martin Murphy

Leadership and the Art of Struggle by Steven Snyder

Finding the Next Steve Jobs by Nolan Bushnell and Gene Stone

The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Change with Confidence by Phil Buckley

The Inclusion Dividend by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan

The Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace by Cy Wakeman

Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication by James E. Lukaszewski

Tipping Sacred Cows by Jake Breeden

Relationship Economics by David Nour

ENGAGED! by Gregg Lederman

The Fearless Front Line by Ray Attiyah

What Keeps Leaders Up at Night by Nicole Lipkin

Talent Economics by Gyan Nagpal

How to Combine Story and Action to Transform Your Business

TRUE STORY

BUILD A METASTORY TO WIN CUSTOMERS

Why do we choose the clothes we wear, buy the cars we buy, choose the friends we hang out with or our jobs? According to strategy consultant Ty Montague, everything we do, every action we take is part of our metastory. A metastory is different from a traditional story because it is not told; it is done. “Storydoing,” in Montague’s terms, is creating your true story through your actions. A business will have a metastory as well, and in his book True Story, Montague explains how businesses can use the concept of the metastory to define or create their brands and strategies.

Discovering the Four Truths

To develop its metastory, Montague writes, a business must explore and understand four key truths about itself:

The truth about the participants. This is the truth about the people who are affected by what the business does. They can include customers, employees, suppliers, shareholders and even society at large. For example, a retailer called Stylebox (a fictional name) filled its stores with a huge number of unbranded generic products. When the company developed the metastory of its typical customer – a mother with a household income of $40,000 a year who was working hard because she aspired to better things for her family – it realized, Montague writes, that the unattractive generic products mainly emphasized to customers that they couldn’t afford the real thing. Stylebox developed a more positive relationship with its customers, reconfiguring its generic offering with a visible and attractive brand name and more selective products.

The truth about the protagonist. This is the key truth of the business itself. Montague describes how, to develop its strategy and its brand, the new digital-driven education division of News Corporation had to understand its core truth as a protagonist: It was an optimistic new player in education that was outside the traditional educational battle lines of status quo unions and crusading reformers battling those unions. Amplify, as the division was branded, is an advocate for a “third way” toward its vision of an education system with happy teachers, happy parents and happy students.

The truth about the stage. This is the truth about the context in which the business operates. Spike TV, for example, was based on the traditional he-man identity and featured scantily clad women, car crashes and wrestling. This stereotype was outdated in a world in which women drove big trucks and watched Ice Road Truckers (on another channel), and many men took the stay-at-home role in the family. The truth about the stage had completely changed from the past, and it was up to Spike TV to change with it.

The truth about the quest. This is the truth about the overall purpose – beyond making a buck – of the company. The Shaklee Corporation stagnated after its founder, a pioneer of the nutritional supplement industry, had died. The company came back to life when it modernized its quest to use technology to help people take the first steps to health and keep them on the path.

No one truth is the linchpin on which a strategy or brand metastory is built. In the examples above, one truth is highlighted, but all four truths were involved in paving the way for change and success.

True Story offers a concise yet innovative framework for identifying the defining elements of your business and for using this to build the metastory that will capture the attention and loyalty of your customers.

Transforming Business at the Intersection of Marketing and Technology

CONVERGE

MARKETING AND TECHNOLOGY JOIN FORCES AT LAST

In the past, marketing and technology were considered two vastly different functions. Nothing could be more different today, argue Bob Lord and Ray Velez, CEO and chief technology officer (CTO), respectively, of the global digital marketing group Razorfish. Marketing is about creating a customer experience, the authors write. And in today’s world of customers enabled by the Internet and the smartphone to be both engaged and demanding, creating a customer experience requires what the authors call the “convergence” of the disciplines and skills related to both marketing and technology.

More specifically, convergence is the coming together of media, technology and creativity. All three of these areas have dramatically changed in the past few decades, the authors write. Media is not about one-way communication such as TV ads, but about engaging with customers who control your brand’s reputation. Technology is not about infrastructure, but about identifying customer segments and helping to tell the stories that will bring them to the brand. And creativity is no longer a topdown process. Today, creativity comes from everywhere, including your customers.

It’s All About the Customer

One of the core themes of Converge is that business has never been more customer-driven than it is today. In this new customer-centric world, marketing, the authors write, “is no longer about throwing a message out into the world and hoping that you interrupt the right person at the right time. Marketing has become about service and utility, and much of it is technology enabled.” In other words, successful marketing requires using technology to help customers achieve their goals.

This is a lesson that Jeff Bezos and Amazon understood from day one, and technology-driven features such as their recommendation systems and readers’ reviews are the reason that no company – not even Barnes and Noble – has been able to knock the pioneer of online book sales off its perch. Customer-centricity is the first of the authors’ five principles of convergence that are required for success. The other four are:

  • Reject silos. Collaboration across functions is an absolute prerequisite for      convergence.
  • Act like a startup. Go for cheap, fast and flexible.
  • Adopt a cross-disciplinary mindset. “Get a wide variety of expertise around the      table,” write the authors.
  • Think of your brand as a service. You’re not selling stuff; you’re fulfilling a need.

Applying the Buzz Words

Much of the terminology covered in this text – such as cloud computing and data-mining – will be familiar. Through its explanations and examples, however, Converge transforms these often vague buzzwords into meaningful concepts with clear applications. Cloud computing, for example, allows companies that don’t have the resources of an Amazon to replicate Amazon’s data processing at a much lower cost than through traditional servers.

How to make the most of big data, what ubiquitous computing means to your company and its clients, and how to change your processes to take full advantage of today’s “marketing eco-system” are just a few of the critical business topics covered in Converge. Ending each chapter with a convergence to-do list called “Convergence Catalysts,” the authors – consultants responsible for results and not white papers – have produced a clearly written guide to marketing in the 21st century directly aimed at the business practitioner.