Monday, August 23, 2010

Buying In by Rob Walker

The message of Buying In is that while modern consumers have becomes smarter and more discriminating, they are nonetheless embracing brands like never before.

Despite cynicism in general toward the persuasion industry and new technologies that allow people to bypass advertising in some contexts (using TiVo, DVRs, website ad blockers), author Rob Walker contends that people are increasingly finding value by bringing their own meanings and interpretations to brands. Using varied examples including Hello Kitty, Timberland, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR), Red Bull, and the iPod, Walker cites case after case where the consumer brings her own meaning to the brand, often ascribing an interpretation totally unanticipated by the company owning and marketing the brand. Bottom up interest in pink Timberlands is just one of many examples from the text.

This phenomenon has led to what Walker calls "murketing", partially a range of tactics that blur the lines of the traditional sales pitch, but also a whole new, closely-connected relationship between consumer and brand. Murketing includes brands quietly sponsoring extreme sports and music, tapping popular youth as commercial persuaders, and facilitating buzz agents to push products in everyday conversation.

I've only touched on what you'll find in Buying In, but if you have any interest in what we buy and why, like me, you will probably find this fascinating.

You can also learn more about the author and find links to his popular "Consumed" column at

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom (Book Review)

As the Internet has collapsed the relative costs for forming and maintaining large groups, it has paved the way for a new breed of distributed, decentralized organizations. The Starfish and the Spider is all about emerging, leaderless organizations in comparison to traditional, centralized organizations.

The authors use the great title metaphor to setup and explain the two types of organizations. Here, centralized organizations are like spiders, with a head and command and control system, and distributed organizations are like starfish, with no central brain and nearly-autonomous parts that can function so well indpendently that you can cut off a starfish's leg and the leg will grow an entirely new starfish.

Practical examples follow, with studies showing how Alcoholics Anonymous, Craigslist, Wikipedia, Napster, and Skype all flourished as they embraced distributed models or aspects.

The text does a good job elaborating the differences between centralized and decentralized organizations, and it also concedes that many organizations have evolved to use a hybrid model. Perhaps the best example of a hybrid organization is eBay, which is decentralized in how it lets users sell to each other and centralized in how it has established a reliable rating system and relationship with PayPal to ensure transaction security.

Bottom line: The Starfish and the Spider is interesting and and well worth reading.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Following Polly by Karen Bergreen (Book Review)

Following Polly is a fresh and fun novel about Alice Teakle, a women who tries to inject some excitement and pulse into her nondescript life by following a more interesting woman, a former classmate named Polly. Alice finds the stalking strangely affirming, but things turn when Polly ends up murdered and Alice finds herself the prime suspect in the murder.

I started Following Polly not sure what to expect. I suspected that the book was written primarily for women (in the vein of The Nanny Diaries), but I was intrigued enough by the hook of a bored and lonely person following someone much more interesting that I knew wanted to start reading. I'm glad I did, as I enjoyed the evenly-paced plot, the dialog, and the blurring of genre elements, especially as the book shifted from a traditional romantic fantasy to a comedic murder mystery thriller and then went back and forth. Ultimately, the book will likely appeal more to a female audience, but I think male readers will enjoy it as well, especially those who enjoy light murder mysteries.

Following Polly is the debut novel by Karen Bergreen. The author has a distinctive but smooth style that made for easy, enjoyable reading.

Full Disclosure: The author is the best friend of the wife of one of my best friends, and I learned of the book through that relationship.