Sunday, July 30, 2006

A General Theory of Love - Lewis, Amini, Lannon

It's rather odd to think that a book of this title could be considered a business read. That was my own thought when I found it on Amazon while searching for Orbiting the Giant Hairball. What caught my eye was the high percentage of people who had purchased this book while looking at other business books. Very odd. And I love very odd things.

As the title suggests, the book takes a close look at where love comes from. Where does it come from? The authors, M.D.s and professors of psychiatry, trace the evolution of the human brain from its reptilian beginnings, to the formation of a limbric brain shared by mammals, to the addition of the neocortical brain that humans alone possess. The physiology of the brain is discussed extensively and the book examines research that has taken place only within the last 20 years. We are told that this is but the very beginning of this type of scientific research into the brain. The discovery, largely by accident, that certain drugs affect brain chemistry, that in turn affect behavior, has ushered in what the authors call the "post-Prozac generation." Neuro-transmitters and neural pathways in the brain have a lot to do with not only what we think, but certainly how we feel.

The first part of the book is heavily technical, but it's important to understand the physiological aspects of brain function before moving onto how that function produces emotion. The authors cover the gamut from attachment theory in infants to the affect of managed healthcare on mental health issues. Part of the book focuses on the critical impact of how we nuture infants, and they draw on many animal studies to support their theories. Recently, I was sent an email about a baby hippo that had formed a relationship with an old turtle following the tsunami in 2004 that left the hippo motherless. Those photos of the hippo and the turtle illustrate the attachment theory described in this book. At every turn and in every chapter, I found that I could understand and believe what these psychiatrists had to say about how the human mind and the human heart function in making us the people we are.

The true test of these theories was over the dinner table with my children. Reading the book was an exercise in self examination. It made me think about how I was raised myself, and also about the kind of mother I have been. My daughter of 20 was the most interested in the book and jumped right into a discussion about the theories I described and their relevance to my life and to hers. We agreed there seemed to be a lot to what these authors have to say about how we experience the world and how that affects who we love and how we love.

I highly recommend the book. Much of this research is new and science has contributed so much to our understanding of the human mind that it is a giant leap forward from the long held tenants of Freudian psychiatry. They tackle broad and far reaching issues that affect Americans culturally: the escalating suicide rate among adolescents; a rise in the number of young violent criminals; the high percentage of people being treated for depression and anxiety; and the impact of outsourcing child rearing on our future generations. Whether you agree with everything they posit or not, it's worth the time to consider their arguments.

If nothing else, I learned something important about myself. To me that is the most rewarding part of reading a good book - to feel that I came away with something I didn't have before. This book is definitely thought provoking and its subject is universal to all that harbor a human heart.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands - Kevin Roberts

This is a terrific book that has the added benefit of being visually appealing in addition to providing valuable and engaging content. The author is Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of the agency Saatchi & Saatchi. The book was mentioned in an article that appeared in the May 1, 2006, issue of BusinessWeek entitled "Detergent Can Be So Much More." I was convinced after reading the article that Roberts was on to something when he talked about trying to understand the relationship that people have with the products and services they use. They set out to see first hand how people used Proctor & Gamble products in their home. Unlike other types of research that rely on focus groups or surveys, their focus was on how their customers actually shop for and then use certain types of products like dish washing detergent. This is particularly important when introducing products into foreign markets where culturally they may perceive or use products differently. This is a whole new way of looking at marketing: understanding the consumer experience and peoples relationship to the brands they love.

Hence the term "Lovemark" evolved to mean those products/services/companies that inspire "loyalty beyond reason." Saatchi & Saatchi has even set up a very innovative website at that captures those feelings by providing a forum where people from all over the world can nominate, vote and talk about their own "lovemarks." In looking at some of the many brands that had been nominated already, I discovered I had lovemarks of my own: Subaru, Panera, BusinessWeek, FastCompany and the Violet Crumble candy bar. It's a very cool thing to see what other people have written about and to articulate what you LOVE about certain things you would never want to be without. Blue Ocean Strategy was nominated along with the book's website, and when I clicked through to their site one of the rolling quotes that came up was "Blue ocean companies have fans rather than customers." And I thought that was also an excellent summation of what Roberts is saying in "Lovemarks."

So marketing in the 21st century really has to be about consumer experiences and their relationship to the things they spend their money on. Roberts covers how all of our five senses play into how we feel about certain products, and how those sensory perceptions need to be incorporated into marketing. The book is rich in pictures, quotes and examples of some of their past marketing campaigns, including those done for public service and non-profits.

One of my favorite quotes was about the importance of stories. How companies need to tell their stories to differentiate themselves and to create an important connection to their customers/fans. Not long after reading this book, I opened my monthly mortgage statement to see that Wells Fargo Mortgage had set up a special website for a essay contest they were having. The gist of the contest is that they give you the opportunity to win money toward the purchase of your next home in exchange for telling them your story. I thought the timing of that was very ironic, but indicative of how companies are buying into Roberts perspective on how marketing needs to tap into how people relate to the companies they do business with in a very personal way.

Equally interesting was the appearance of Kevin Roberts again in the June 2006 issue of FastCompany magazine. In the "Open Debate" column on the very last page Roberts and Brian Collins go head-to-head in a discussion about how companies need to engage their customers through marketing. I think the book is a great read and full of terrific information that companies need to understand in order to reach out to their customers and potential customers. A quote from the book that really spoke to me was this: “Be Passionate. Consumers can smell a fake a mile off. If you’re not in Love with your own business, they won’t be either.” Truer words were never written.