Likeonomics: A Book Review

We're now facing a crisis of believability in marketing. Triggered by the collapse of the financial system in 2008, widespread deceit by big corporate brands and sheer volume of advertising "clutter", consumers distrust big brands, companies and governments more than ever before.

Against such a backdrop, what can one do? The answer, according to Ogilvy's Rohit Bhargava, is to be more likeable.

With the subtitle The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, And Inspiring Action, Rohit's latest volume Likeonomics proposes that companies should move from analytics to altruism in their bid to win the hearts of their customers. To do so, they should embrace the five principles of Likeonomics, namely Truth, Relevance, Unselfishness, Simplicity, and Timing (ie TRUST).

The first principle Truth comprises the three elements of Unexpected Honesty, Unbiased Fact and Proactive Integrity. With the rather sordid example of how Oprah revealed how she was raped by a relative when she was nine, Rohit shows how being open about an "inconvenient truth" helps one to gain credibility and forge an instant connection with one's customers. Being truthful also requires one to stick to one's guns and live up to high ethical standards when conducting one's business.

The second principle of Relevance is somewhat similar to Stephen Covey's 7 Habit philosophy of "seeking first to understand and then to be understood". In the case of the World Bank, being relevant means deploying its bankers to client economies so that they're closer to the action and the people whom they're helping. Relevance can be dissected into three elements: Active Listening, having a Meaningful Point of View, and knowing the Surrounding Context.

The third principle of Unselfishness debunks the myth proposed by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins that we're all genetically predisposed towards "social Darwinism". Brimming with optimism, Rohit proposes that the rise of "Wikinomics" and a new movement of compassion driven by the three elements of Human Empathy, Giving Freely and Offering Value would help change the world. The story of the incredible altruism of Japnese citizens in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 drove home this point - amidst the rubble, citizens who found cash returned tens of millions of yen to the government to rebuilt the city rather than pocket them!

The fourth principle, Simplicity, is embodied by this quotation which Rohit uses in the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - "Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add but when there is nothing left to take away." Both Google and Apple are well documented cases of companies obsessed with keeping things simple. Like the first three points, Simplicity comprises three elements: focusing on a Core Concept, ensuring that ideas are Highly Shareable, and speaking in a Natural Language (I especially love this point!).  

The fifth and final principle of Timeliness is probably the hardest to control. In a time-shifting culture where customers can choose whichever time they wish to conduct their activities and where obvious timings are fiercely competitive (eg selling flowers 2 weeks before Valentine's Day), one needs to go beyond just pure luck. Here Rohit offers three elements to up your timeliness factor - Necessary Urgency (get people to act or pay attention in the moment), Habitual Connection (coinciding your activity with people's habits), and Current Events.

Unfortunately, the final sections of the book were a little skimpy with a couple of "feel good" stories. They include how Bhutan (the "Happiest Place on Earth") chooses to restrict tourism to protect their environment and people's lifestyles, and how Yanik Silver's Maverick1000 network (starring uber CEO Richard Branson) brought value to members. I felt that these examples weren't as strong as those that were woven into the earlier chapters of the book. 

Like his previous book "Personality Not Included", Likeonomics is written in a highly readable and conversational narrative. Its central tenets are somewhat simple, straightforward, and presented in a clever acronym which makes them easy to remember. Naturally, the challenge is in applying these principles, and here, the additional resources from the Likeonomics website should come in helpful.

In conclusion, Likeonomics provides a good guide to businesses keen to earn the trust of their customers and to be more relevant to their lives. Despite being short and succinct, it is loaded with useful ideas and concepts that one can apply immediately wherever one is.

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