book review


The Marketer's Bookshelf: Trust In The Post-BP Era

With BP still unable to stop one of the ghastliest corporate-triggered disasters in history, it's hard not to open a book like Michael Maslansky's The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics (Prentice Hall Pres) with a foul taste in your mouth. The problem, as the world's skeptics know, isn't what companies say. The problem is what they do.

That said, anyone in the business of persuasion these days could benefit from Maslansky's compelling picture of just how little consumers trust anyone -- not just companies and entire industries, but government, the media and even philanthropic organizations. Pushing four basic messages -- creating marketing that is personal, plainspoken, positive and plausible -- he makes a convincing argument for engaging skeptics on their own terms. While his basic premise -- "It's not what you say. It is what they hear" -- has doubtless been kicking around since before Seneca, he uses plenty of up-to-date examples, including the ways new technology, such as user comments and social media, has shifted the locus of control in corporate credibility.



That said, it's clear that Maslansky, CEO of a New York public relations and research firm, doesn't advocate plain honesty, but the kind that requires a little slickness and spin control. Yes, he talks about respectfully engaging skeptics, but also advocates the very dumbing-down process that has already alienated so many: "You can only tell one story," he writes. "Make it easy to understand, or else." Another curious twist is that the book has three additional co-authors, all poobahs for Van Kampen Investments, a firm known for selling variable annuities, one of the most (often deservedly) spat-upon investments ever, and that the book jacket claims to be "based on the acclaimed New Word Order program." Yep, it sounded creepy and cultish to us, too, but turns out to be the idea that you should present information in its proper context, consider customer needs before your own, and then engage them.)

Most helpful: The constant emphasis on speaking the language of your audience, and the brief chapter on digital trust, gauging outrage, and putting viral responses in perspective.

Looking for something a little more ... playful? Grab a copy of Game-based Marketing: Inspire Customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges and Contests by Gabe Zichermann and Joselin Linder (Wiley.) Zichermann, CEO of a mobile networking platform, describes himself as the father of Funware theory, and the book offers many new ways to think about injecting play into product messages. With insights from pioneers ranging from S&H Green Stamps to frequent-flier programs to Facebook, he details the many ways companies are winning at play (Nike +) for example, and losing (Volkswagen's Fahrvergnugen.) But mostly, he gets marketers a little closer to understanding why play is increasingly important, whether to the typical video gamer (a 41-year-old woman, by the way) or the emerging Generation G. (That's the 20 million people born between 1998 and 2000, whose principle form of entertainment has always been -- not TV --but games.) Let the advergames begin.

And finally, Marketing Daily would be remiss if we didn't recommend the blast of common sense in Repositioning: Marketing in an era of competition, change, and crisis by Jack Trout, with Steve Rivkin (McGraw Hill), released earlier this spring. Trout's straight-ahead take on what so often goes wrong when marketers try to adjust customer perceptions about their brand and their competition provides valuable -- and gutsy -- perspective. Many companies, he argues, such as White Castle, should resist the urge to evolve, not jump, on the reinvention bandwagon.

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