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 / Winter 2009 / Issue 57(originally published by Booz & Company)


Best Business Books 2009: Marketing

Branding Goes Viral

Shel Israel
Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods
(Portfolio, 2009)

Chris Anderson
Free: The Future of a Radical Price
(Hyperion, 2009)

John Gerzema and Ed Lebar
The Brand Bubble: The Looming Crisis in Brand Value and How to Avoid It
(Jossey-Bass, 2008)

Perhaps nothing this year captured the fancy of the marketing and media intelligentsia, and the interest of pop culture as a whole, more than Twitter. This micro-blogging service promised to infuse excitement into moribund customer service, revitalize marketing, reengineer the connections between celebrities and fans, and perhaps even overthrow governments, all in 140 characters or less — the maximum allowed length of a message.

It’s been true for a few years that consumers have a more commanding voice in the marketing arena; the difference now, as Twitter’s popularity reveals, is that more and more individual consumers are using their voices — what was once a trickle produced by the most tech-savvy consumers is now a rushing stream. The injection of the consumer’s voice into brand messaging may be the most explosive change for digital-age marketers, but it’s the ongoing contribution of all those voices that is actually making the impact.

Now that major marketers and individual consumers use the same tools to produce and distribute messages, it’s as though the open source movement has spread into the business of brand communications. Take Dunkin’ Donuts: It spends millions of dollars on marketing, but there are also dozens of fan-produced Dunkin’ Donuts pages on Facebook, and the vast majority of the 5,000 YouTube videos tagged “Dunkin’ Donuts” were uploaded by consumers. The cross-pollination of corporate marketing and consumer messaging has reached a point of irreversibility. The three best marketing books of the year address this reordered world of messaging and marketing.

All Aflutter about Twitter

It is virtually, pardon the pun, impossible to ignore the mental space that Twitter has taken up in the last year within the marketing and communications industries. The service is still relatively small — InformationWeek reported that Twitter attracted about 23 million hits versus Facebook’s 122 million hits in June 2009 — but its hold on the marketing imagination is profound. Twitter is word-of-mouth moving at hyper-speed. Each person (or corporation) using the free service can post text-sized messages (tweets) and “follow” the messages of other users. Users resend the most interesting of the messages to their followers, creating a constant spreading of tweets in a very public forum in real time. This makes Twitter an incredibly dynamic platform for communicating with and distributing messages to people with high levels of interest in a brand, as well as a potent platform for gathering consumer intelligence.

Not surprisingly, about two dozen books solely devoted to the two-year-old service are already for sale on Amazon. Thus, in picking books to review, the task became not whether a Twitter book should make the list, but which book to include. Some of the authors are marketing wonders, but many are charlatans who simply consider their role as Twitter pundits to be a get-rich-quick opportunity.

Shel Israel (Twitter user name: @shelisrael) doesn’t fit into that latter category. Israel is the coauthor, with tech evangelist Robert Scoble (@scobleizer), of Naked Conversations: How Blogs Are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Consumers (Wiley, 2006), and he admits his own early skepticism about the service. In Twitterville: How Businesses Can Thrive in the New Global Neighborhoods, he writes: “When a friend talked me into trying Twitter in August 2007, I found myself reluctant.… I already had all the contacts I thought I needed and was having plenty of interaction with people through traditional and social media tools.” Israel’s experience, replete with early fits and starts, makes his insights into Twitter all the more credible, as does his research method — about three-quarters of the book comes from people who are active users. He also knows how to tell a good story, in this case of how a teenager named Jack Dorsey created an online municipal dispatch service in 2000, which provided the seed that became Twitter.

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