I NEVER write book reviews. NEVER.
I decided that I REALLY wanted to write one because I found Brian Solis' book, "The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution" not just compelling and interesting, not just a book by a dear friend, but a genuinely important book. And, truthfully, compelling and interesting don't particularly or necessarily lead to "important." But in this case they do.
Let me tell something about Brian first so you understand the book. Why? The voice of an author matters. If the voice isn't in the book - meaning you can't say "wow, its like I'm having a conversation with the author" and you don't get a feel for who the author is by how the book's narrative is being told, then it won't be a good book. Even if its important.
Brian Solis is one of the most significant social thinkers in business. He is someone who set out to reinvent how public relations was done, after he realized how important the social channels were going to be - and he did that. He did that so well, that PR 2.0, is associated with him. He did that so well that he has advocates across the world including a number of well known celebrities - as you can see by who writes the forewords to his books - Ashton Kutcher, Katy Couric, etc.
He is also a master story teller with a relaxed and entertaining style that actually comes across. He does something else that entertains and provides a lot of value too - he uses a lot of references to pop culture.
Whaaaaa? Why is that important you say?
Every individual thinks differently. Each of us has our own set of metaphors that triggers emotional states associated with them and ideas that are reflected in them. For example, in the U.S. when I spoke in the past, I would talk about natural leaders (related to an experiment in psychological warfare done by sociologist Kurt Lewin in the 40s). My equation that got the light bulbs going off was "For those of you who watch 'Lost' - Jack." In Europe, that didn't work.
Like or hate pop culture, it is the world that we inhabit and it plays a profound role in how we do things. How many times do we say, yeah, that's like the movie - and often science uses movies for the prototypes of ideas for devices and designers use them for their ideas for "futurist" style. So pop culture is a reference point for triggering a lot of different things. Brian judiciously uses celebrity culture to get across key points about the changes that we are undergoing. This is no coincidence, nor is it a coincidence that a Katy Couric writes the foreword to his book.
His style, his ability to use entertainment metaphors and similes and examples, his conversational approach all help to make this very forward thinking book about a complex nascent subject of great importance - social business -and a highly digestible one.
But, style notwithstanding, the value and importance of EOBAU is driven by its content; and what Brian says in the "End of Business As Usual" (EOBAU) is exactly what 21st century businesses need to hear.
I'm not going to regurgitate what he says constantly and call that a review. I want to take a look at the essence of the book and then you should all go out and buy it and make it your go-to book on how to handle handle your brand.
He does some of what you would expect in the book - speak of the connected consumer, brand co-creation and collective commerce - in other words, identify with some real clarity, the aspects of the new and social business world that we are now beginning to inhabit. But to some degree, though not as elegantly or entertainingly, so have several others in one fashion or another. But what EOBAU is able to show uniquely and most importantly, is that the strategies that we have to carry out are strategies for customer engagement and that they MUST take into account the emotional side of the customers and of the business. This is NOT a negotiable position. That on the one hand, connected customers are expecting to be uniquely treated and on the other hand the business is responsible for creating shared experiences that are the foundation of the new business models that are needed for what he calls "an adaptive business." Witness these two paragraphs:
"...The adaptive business earns relevance by then connecting with customers and those who influence them based on this intelligence directly through contact and indirectly through products, services and processes. This is how a business becomes one with the customers defining new market opportunities.
The emergence of these new media touchpoints creates new opportunities for engagement. But engagement in the human network requires a new outlook, a new approach, and a new model for conveying empathy and leadership and creating magical (PG: emphasis his) and shareable experiences."
One thing that I'm glad to see is that this dovetails quite nicely with my far less elegant definition of the 21st century general business model which in its essence says that the company has to provide the products, services, tools and consumable experiences that allow the customer to sculpt the kind of experience and interactions that they want with the company.
I would be remiss I didn't examine briefly his treatment of Social CRM which is not long but significant. Here is a key sentence in the beginning of the discussion - and one that I think needs to be emblazoned in the brains of the corporate world - and of the social and CRM practitioners out there.
"In the rise of social media, the need for CRM to socialize became paramount....As a result the role of sCRM is to support the creation and sustainability of collaborative experiences and engagement that deliver and nurture value."
But how do you do that when you're dealing with a company that's done things the way they are doing them forever?
Key to Brian's concept of the new social business is the culture of the company which has to not just adapt but to change to meet the demands of the connected customer and the human network. More so than any other book of its type, he drives home what has to be said, which is that culture change is a necessary and irrevocable requirement for the transformation to an adaptive business that can actually be engaged with its customers. He warns (yes!) "Any organization that focuses on operations, margins and efficiencies over customer experience will hasten the erosion of market relevance."
The problem with taking this approach to business - the idea that engaging customers in a way that encourages them to participate in the creation of what they need to remain engaged in the business - is that it can smack of pie in the sky. This is something to be desired, but not possible, or "it sounds great, but...", the naysayers mantra goes. But EOBAU takes that into account. Monsieur Solis makes it quite clear that there have to be realistic models, strategies, programs and objectives to make this something that is meaningful and achievable and that we're not just talking about culture change in the abstract but also in real terms. He makes clear via the examples of companies like Zappos and to some extent, Dell. He also looks at what kind of enterprise framework is needed to effect these changes. One thing I'm glad to see is that he isn't talking about democratizing the corporation via leveling the hierarchy, which, as much as I'm sure we'd all like to see some of, ain't happening ever. Instead, he talks about the senior management of the company empowering employees to take actions and to encourage interactions with customers. He looks at it through the lens of a holistic model, but recognizes that a. most businesses aren't using a holistic model yet and b. you have to get there; you don't just "do" it. As opposed to those who love "leveling the hierarchy" - he makes a fundamental point.
"The executive management team responsible for the direction of the brand is, of course, at the center. That is where leadership, culture and a holistic view of empowerment take shape."
He then proposes a Center of Excellence that would be responsible for the execution of the plan for the new business model from processes to culture shift down to the individual business unit.
In other words, he is viewing what is a new world within the context of a world in transition, not a shift from black to white without any grey in between, which is sadly what you read from a lot of the so-called "influencers" as opposed to the true business leaders like Brian.
But its not just the organizational framework as EOBAU makes clear throughout. Its also the psychology and behavior of the individual customer. This isn't just a matter of recognizing that it matters or even "listening to the social web" with an ear to understanding it. Its a matter of institutional accountability for it - making sure that there is a set of repeatable practices that the company provides that accounts for the ever shifting behaviors of its customer groups and individual customers - and that there are programs that are designed for that. That is the essence of customer engagement.
He takes a good look at the psyche and personality of the connected consumer and the commensurate demands they are now placing on business in channels that weren't available a decade ago and are now ubiquitous - which changes how businesses must react to them. He understands that what customers value isn't the same as what businesses value, yet, the adaptive business has to take all that into account. Businesses are at a disadvantage to some degree because customers aren't taking profitability, revenue and shareholder value into account when they are deciding how they want to engage with a business. But businesses have to take the "personal values" of customers into account and thus, what moves those customers, when they are deciding on how they want to be engaged and how they want to engage with those customers. So the customers have a decided advantage in the situation. He also understands that when a business makes the changes it needs to make to become customer-centric, that there has to be some reason for employees (customers at work so to speak) to want to be empowered - incentives. He identifies a set of "experience types" that customers/employees connect to ranging from achievement - the ability to accomplish great things to appreciation - "recognizing good intentions and the role you play in day to day outcomes." These are the kinds of experiences that when provided and then reinforced help make the cultural transition to a social business at a company more successful
What that means is that you have build the programs for change to make sure that they are institutionally embedded and continuously realizable. This could include communications plans, training, incentivizing employees, etc. Again, making sure that the self-interest of those who are expected to interact with the customers is taken care of.
The book covers a lot more than I can ever get into but I hope this at least provides you with a flavor of this incredibly entertaining and invaluable work. Brian Solis nails how business is changing and the fact that it is changing not changed yet. Thus what companies need to do is to recognize the changes, recognize the process of change and to take the time to recognize who their customers are and what they are thinking. What you have to do is go out and buy this book. Then listen, learn and act. You and your company will be the better for it.
Way to go, Brian, my man.