Can't Buy Me Like: Book Review

Do you know that most TV ad viewers avert their eyes the moment a company's brand appears?

Or that 6 out of 7 "megaviral" branded videos - think Subservient Chicken and Old Spice Man - are jump-started with paid seedings?

Seasoned with startling facts like these, Can't Buy Me Like by long-time journalist Bob Garfield and CEO of MEPlusYOU Doug Levy is a rollicking read. With the onset of what the authors call the "Relationship Era", companies are urged to shift from transaction and campaign-oriented consumer marketing to a more purposeful, trust-oriented form of relationship era marketing.

Like other "social" marketing books of its ilk, the book begins with a sordid scenario depicting the demise of mass-marketing. Ad revenue for print has declined by two-thirds over the last 15 years in the US, while TV commercials are stymied by DVRs owned by 40 percent of US households. These precipitous drops are accelerated by the increasing lack of trust amongst consumers in candy-coated corporate brand-speak.

To arrest this, Garfield and Levy proposes that Trust needs to be brought back into the marketing - and business - equation. Brands with a strong foothold in trust can build richer and more sustainable relationships with their constituents, compared to those focused purely on transactions. This can be represented by the top right quadrant in the authors' Brand Sustainability Map below:

Brand Sustainability Map courtesy of the relationship era

In the book, trust is represented by three "Cs":

1) Credibility: The ability to say what you mean, and mean what you say. "If the M&Ms melt in your hand, and not in your mouth..." ;

2) Care: Actually caring about the lives of your consumers and constructing your business to be as helpful as you can; and

3) Congruency: Ensuring that the intangibles of an organisation - beliefs, values and purpose - are authentically aligned to the wavelengths of consumers.

Before building a sustainable brand infused with the goodness of Trust, one needs to discern one's purpose. Here, we're told how enlightened companies like Patagonia, Zappos, Charles Schwab and even (gasp) Krispy Kreme Doughnuts embraced higher callings while earning lots of consumer love in the process. This can be done by addressing your "Whys" followed by your "Hows" and "Whats" (ala Simon Sinek).

To bring it all together, companies should measure their "social engagement" metrics (think number of shares, comments, likes, reposts, etc) while embracing a six-step process as follows:

1) Listen, particularly on social platforms, to discern what your publics are truly concerned about. Using Venn diagrams, you can draw overlapping circles of interest around topics of relevance to your brand.

2) Define your social personality. How can your brand be portrayed as a living, breathing, warm-blooded person?

3) Join the conversation. Here, you need to be careful not to keep talking about yourself (that'd be abrasive), but instead, listen and share helpful information focused on the needs of consumers.

4) Lead the conversation. Do this using the topics that you've earlier identified in 1). Be careful not to push your brand upfront right now. Instead, solicit involvement through questions.

5) Ignite and invite action. Once you've reached a certain maturity in your level of relationship, you can find ways to trigger participation. Create and curate content which is valuable to your communities, and seek the help of your constituents.

6) Inspire greater collaboration. Finally, find ways to deeply engage and involve your consumers in developing products (eg LEGO Mindstorms).
This shift towards relationship era marketing - termed a "social strategy" - can be represented by the table below: 

Courtesy of  Can't Buy Me Like

My favourite part of the book is probably the section on Secret. By focusing on "Female fearlessness" as a brand value, Secret worked with athletes like skiier Lindsey Vonn and swimmer Diana Nyad to successful bring its core purpose to life. Its also laudable how its Facebook page "Mean Stinks" encourages kids to be civil and kind to each other while igniting huge growths in fans and engagement (203,000 new fans in one day, with a total of 339,000 text and video engagements).

Written with much journalistic flair, Can't Buy Me Like is chock full of social strategy goodies brought to life by numerous examples and case studies. While much of its ideas are not altogether new (the memes of "likability" and "trust" are much bandied about by new-age marketers), I like how the book presents both the pros and cons of "social era" marketing in a candid and bullsh*t-free demeanour.

Let me end with some choice quotes from the book for your entertainment:

"It is better to be admired than ad-mired."

"In the Relationship Era, your every action, and inaction, is advertising."

"Useful advice in business and in life: Don't be a dick."

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