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Tomi Ahonen and Alan Moore’s Communities Dominate Brands

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Following my interview with Tomi Ahonen a few weeks ago, I’ve been reading the new book Communities Dominate Brands he co-wrote with Alan Moore.

If you’ve only got time for a top-line opinion and you’re interested in marketing, here it is; very good, you should read it.

Here’s a slightly more meaty review.

Unlike the scope of Tomi’s previous books, which are focused on mobile, this one has a much wider scope, encompassing a look at everything that’s happening in media, blogging, mobile, marketing and online communities. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, many of the themes and case studies will already be familiar to you – indeed, I joked with Tomi that if I was to write another book at the moment, it would have been this one!

That’s not to imply in any way that you won’t learn anything from the book&#8212far from it. It also does a very fine job of bringing these themes together and making sense of the big picture.

It’s very hard to summarise a closely-worded 250 page book into a blog post. But if I had to pick the most important conclusion it would be that the days of traditional, advertising-led, interruptive marketing, dominated by big media, are over. The ROI from this type of activity is in rapid decline now, with swathes of big business in denial&#8212led by the ad agencies and the big media owners. Pretty soon they’ll move on to the anger stage of the grieving process, like we see in the music industry.

New marketing is emerging and it’s about dialogue, or engagement. Companies need to engage with their customers in an authentic, honest and open manner. One of the many case studies in book is the infamous Kryptonite Bike Locks, which I’ve covered before. While it was certainly true that their locks could be opened with a Bic pen, what enraged people and caused such a problem was that the company ignored them.

As Hugh McLeod so memorably put it:

DAY ONE:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are the best.

DAY TWO:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Yes, your bike locks are still the best.

DAY THREE:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Ummm… yeah I’m sure they are, but what’s all this about some recent video on the net that’s supposed to show how you can crack your locks in 10 seconds using a simple Bic ballpoint pen?

DAY FOUR:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just saw that video on a friend’s website. And I’m kinda ticked off because I just paid $60 for one of your new locks 3 weeks ago, and I’m wondering if a Bic pen can crack my lock or not… does the pen crack all Kryptonite locks or just one or two models?

DAY FIVE:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: Hey, I just visited your website and saw no mention of the Bic pens. What the hell are you doing about it? Are you going to fix the locks? Are you going to give me a refund?

DAY SIX:
KRYPTONITE: Our bike locks are the best.
THE MARKET: No, they’re not. You guys are assholes.

At a cost of $12 million, so far, I’m sure they won’t make that mistake again&#8212if they survive, that is. They abused the trust of the community and they’ve been made to pay the price. The trouble is, you can’t get that trust back so easily.

[Speaking of Hugh, it occurs to me that the book could have been improved by the judicious scattering of a few cartoons, or something to lift the fairly intense layout. I don’t mean the writing style itself is intense, just the way the book is laid out. This is only a small point, though.]

New marketing is not about engaging individuals in dialogue, but about working with them as clusters of individuals&#8212or the communities that have organically formed online and through networks of connected mobile phones. People are going to talk about your company or brand, whether you like it or not. You can’t set the agenda or control the conversation. But you can listen and react. And you can use this feedback to improve your company and its products.

And you know the scary part? It’s cheap. Sure, you need bright people to lead and manage the change. You still need smart people in an organisation to engage with customers. But there’s no cost of media anymore. And that’s why those who understand this in the ad agencies are desperately seeking a way out, while the rest of the Ruperts blithely continue to wine and dine increasingly dissatisfied clients.

This has fundamental implications for PR agencies too. If clients engage in direct customer communication, why do they need to use the press as a conduit, which just distorts what you want to say?

The other very important message of the book is the importance of Alpha Users. These people are authorities within their community on a given subject. Seth Godin had a similar concept with Sneezers and Malcolm Gladwell with Mavens. But the basic idea is that these are the people who evangelise about your products in the community. If you focus your engagement on them, they’ll tell everyone else.

Bloggers are typical Alpha Users. If you engage with a blogger in the right way, they can deliver your company credibility and sales. If you engage in the wrong way, they can do real damage.

On to the book itself. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that has such a contemporary feel to it. Even the case studies feel current and relevant in an environment where even a few months can seem like years. The price of this is that the editorial process seems to have been a little rushed, with quite a few typos and some areas which could be more polished. In some ways, it’s bloggings answer to a book – the writing isn’t perfect, but it’s open, honest, readable and authentic. Personally, I’m happy to trade a few typos for speed-to-market, so it’s hardly a major criticism.

I do have one other major disappointment with the book, being quite honest. That is that the people who need to read it (big company Marketing Directors, Ad agency CEO’s, big media CEO’s) probably won’t, and will stay cocooned in their own little worlds. This is going to be very bad news for their companies. So if you know one of these people, you’ll be doing them a favour by buying them a copy&#8212even if they might not thank you for it right now.

By the way, I don’t benefit if you do buy a copy, in case you were wondering. I did get a free review copy though.

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About Russell

  • http://www.yahoo.com A Marketing Professional

    Unfortunately for Mr. Ahonen, I happen to know a bit about communities, and I also happen to have been a professional editor in the past. This book comes off as a bit ridiculous because it is badly written, has typos on nearly every page, and ignores the rules of grammar. If Ahonen can’t be bothered even proofreading his book why should I be bothered reading it? I found it mildly offensive how little care was taken with this book. It comes across as something written over a weekend and with no organisation or genuine understanding of the material. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised: the publisher (http://www.futuretext.com/) doesn’t have much credibility. In fact, there is a misspelling in the browser title of the page: Convergance. (The right spelling is convergence in case you didn’t know.)

    This book has some fine ideas, but nothing new or earth-shaking; I would rate it a weak attempt to establish thought leadership. To be fair, the concepts dealt with are in fact compelling: communities and social network analysis are becoming more and more important in communications and marketing. However, this is not the book to read if you want to learn about social networks, communities or branding. Instead, try Emergence by Steven Johnson, Linked by Barabasi, and Wally Olins’On Brand.

    All the best,
    a reader