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Book Review: The Method Method by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry with Lucas Conley

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In The Method Method, co-founders Eric and Adam take us on a journey from the beginning of the Method cleaning product brand to its present day and dish out useful advice for start-ups and business people along the way.

The book is split into seven chapters using the popular numbered-list device (named here “the seven obsessions”) and almost all of them stand up to scrutiny as offering something beyond advertisement.

1. Create a Culture Club. Use culture as a competitive advantage by branding from the inside out.
2. Inspire Advocates. Create advocates behind a social mission rather than just transactional customers.
3. Be a Green Giant. Personalize the green movement to inspire change on a grand scale.
4. Kick Ass Fast. If you’re not the biggest, you’d better be the fastest.
5. Relationship Retail. Deliver retail differentiation by creating fewer but deeper relationships.
6. Win on Product Experience. Be product-centric and deliver remarkable product experiences.
7. Driven by Design. Build design leadership into your DNA.

The authors of this book are good storytellers. The book feels carefully crafted to keep the reader interested; it’s engagingly written and well-paced. It is peppered with amusing and useful anecdotes and written in that chatty, informal, “writing just for you”-style. Some of the most useful advice comes from the “Error Autopsy” segments where the authors dissect and explain one of their less successful moments in business.

There is a degree of refreshing honesty to the writing. It’s not all-pervasive, and the book is far from devoid of spin, but for the most part, the authors’ voices have the ring of honesty, and, for the most part, it’s worth paying attention to what they say.

In the beginning, it is made clear that when Eric and Adam started up, they just needed The Idea and didn’t have any particular passion for cleaning products. Having identified a gap in the market, they set out to bring what they describe as “Aveda for the home” to the masses.

And herein lies the true value of this book. In the beginning Eric and Adam may not have been experts in cleaning products, much less in retail, but they sure are now. They’ve had to learn many things the hard way and whilst it may seem that their “seven obsessions” are some holy business commandments that came to them in a revelation they are, in fact, the beneficial product of hindsight. The best advice in this book is not spelled out, but rather unfolds as we follow the co-founders’ journey and live through all their ups and downs with them.

The persistence, energy, drive and what to onlookers often looks like sheer insanity required to get an ambitious start-up off the ground is what comes across loud and clear. It’s a book you should definitely read if you’re thinking about starting a business.

Method versus the laundry jugSome of the highlights come in the form of stories and illustrations of clever advertising campaigns that the Method team has concocted. Their assault upon the dominance of the “laundry jug” and Tide is quite ingenious (and also one of the greenest, laudable concepts they have come up with), while the story of what happened when they decided to run a seemingly innocent “Shiny Suds” advert (and how it all went horribly wrong) is excellent. By the time we’re told how the guys at Method handled a cease-and-desist demand from Clorox over a daisy, it’s pretty clear these guys have a) balls; b) a sense of humour; and c) a finely tuned instinct for modern-day marketing.

The only part of the book I would take with a large pinch of salt is the one that focuses on the contents of their products. They claim that “At Method, we will tell you every molecule in every one of our products” (they don’t) and that they have developed a list of safe, non-toxic ingredients (this is impossible; toxicity is not a binary condition and it’s a current, worrying and much-exploited myth that it is possible to have ingredients that are categorically safe) and that their products are “all natural” (they aren’t).

Yes, there are some interesting propositions, for example that in order to have more of an impact on encouraging people to make greener choices, it is better to make small improvements to the products that people actually want to buy rather than try to make them buy the super green option. So, instead of selling a bar of soap, Method sells liquid hand soap — but the soap is in a bottle made out of recycled and recyclable plastic. Now whether you agree with that or not, it shows how to carve yourself a niche that has some impact on a larger scale (and make a lot of money in the process).

However, the section that focuses on — and I quote — “scary toxins” and risk assessment is not only misleading; it’s quite patronising and doesn’t feel like it was co-authored by someone who has studied chemical and environmental engineering at Stanford University (Adam) and should really know better.

After tipping my hat to the Method boys so many times in the course of this book I was annoyed at them for letting me down this way. Their brand, concept and products are good enough without having to go down this road. I’m sure they’d have plenty of other messages with which they could make their fortune.

I was offered the opportunity to contact the authors. After discussing this aspect of the book with Adam via email, I understand their reasoning for publishing as it is. I just don’t like how they’ve presented themselves here. Yes, I understand that tapping into scientific illiteracy and chemophobia for marketing purposes is now big business and Method are hardly the first or last company to take that route. What Adam wrote to me in emails was far more sensible and factually correct than what’s in the book. I wish they had used that tone instead.

What does come across is that they clearly want to have a superior product and care a lot about how their customers feel when they’re using them. If you put aside the twisted facts, you do get a product that is still far more environmentally friendly, nicer to use and most certainly the prettiest detergent bottle you’re likely to encounter.

On that note, I shall leave you with a summary of the book taken from the authors’ own conclusion:

“Really, if there is one thing we want you to take away from this book it’s… buy our soap. Lots of it!”

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About Nukapai

I learned to write before I could read and my first story was published when I was only 9 years old. I'm interested in a range of topics - particularly in science fiction, fantasy, horror, illustration, cosmetics industry, consumer psychology, marketing and perfumery. I keep a personal blog at http://www.volatilefiction.co.uk