When we recommend a brand we love that much to a friend, who rejects it, she says, "it leaves a little cloud over that person's head." It can even be marriage-changing. When one man's wife didn't share his enthusiasm for Breakstone Fat Free Sour Cream, for example, he was hurt. "I was shocked. It changes the way we eat together. I don't feel free to make recommendations anymore."
Not many brands make us care that much, but Newlin has come up with a list of brands that have developed their own cult of consumers-as-spokespeople, a list as diverse as Camel, Red Bull, Jeep, Chemistry.com, Krispy Kreme, and the Boston Red Sox. Then she talks to both consumers and marketing execs who helped shape the brands, coming up with guidelines to help marketers discern if their brand has what it takes to vault through indifference, and into buzz.
Acknowledging that passion brands are often for the elite (and she has plenty of examples of brands that lost their core following when they became too popular), she explores the tricky path from the devoted few, the true democratization of brands (her favorite example is Wikipedia) and finally, masstige - a brand that appeals to many but still hangs on to its cachet.
Winners in the passion race, she argues, share many things. They take a big view of the world, not some narrow segment. (Red Bull's target market, we learn, includes "the mentally fatigued, the physically fatigued, or both"; some of the most devoted members of Red Sox Nation live far away from New England.) And while the marketing for such brands tends to be witty, the cult is powered not by words, but great design: We may all be tired of hearing about brands like Apple, Martha Stewart, and Michael Graves for Target, but she makes the case that truly exceptional design is one of the surest paths to devotion.
Newlin is clearly kind of a fringy thinker, unapologetic about - for example - her reliance on hypnosis as a marketing tool. (Seriously. She talks about watching one 40-something woman being transported back to her first experience with Trix, and "the funny bunny rabbit.") And it gets a little tiresome to hear her constant kvelling about FreshDirect, her own personal passion brand. (There's the parbaking, the way they can find her daughter's favorite cereal ...) But for those who looking to take their brand to a whole new level, Newlin's insights are provoking.
If the very idea of personal branding - "unearthing what is true and unique about you and letting everyone know about it," writes Dan Schawbel in Me 2.0: Build a powerful brand to achieve career success (Kaplan) - strikes you as a dangerously high level of narcissism, put this book down. From Chapter One ("The brand called YOU!") to Chapter 4 ("Introducing Commander YOU!") to the concluding "Your Entrepreneurial Conquest," Schawbel's book focuses on a level of communicating that, while it makes perfect sense to the Gen Y masses who understand why it's important to maintain multiple Facebook pages, will seem like screaming self-centeredness to everyone else.
Still, the book is a must-read for any marketer operating extensively in social media, and an eye-opening testimony to how delicately nuanced communicating with this group is. And it's also a testimony to how differently Gen Y operates in the larger workforce. For Schawbel's core audience, such self-promotion isn't just okay, it's becoming a requirement: A Pew Internet and American Life study finds that 18% of college grads say their new employers expected them to maintain some kind of self-marketing presence online. The sections on starting a blog, and maintaining consistency in your brand over time and different media are especially strong.
For marketers who love to shop, don't miss George Whalin's Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 best independent stores in America (Portfolio.) In a period when all retailers are getting battered about, it's great fun to pore through this collection of off-the-beaten track stores and rediscover what makes shopping so entertaining.
He includes stores that range from the swish, such as the elegant and stylish LouisBoston, to the kitsch, such as Estes Ark, the Rocky Mountain toy store that specializes in stuffed animals, including stuffed scorpions, jelly fish and wolverines. (Since teddy bears are the main attraction, they live on the main floor, and, yes, there is an annual picnic.)
Whalin - who as leading retail consultant, more or less shops for a living - manages to capture what it is that makes these stores both independent and remarkable. (When appropriate, expect a tour of the restrooms.)
Some stores are icons -- Gump's, for example, or architecturally impressive. But some are hideous, like Toy House & Baby Too, the Jackson, Mich.-store that carries 32,000 toys from more than 550 manufacturers - a greater selection than any other store, including Toys R Us. What makes it special, though, is that toys are selected not because of TV show tie-ins or marketing, but because buyers find them educational, engaging, or "inherently fun to play with."