brand book bites from The Passion Conversation

–  the book:  The Passion Conversation:  Understanding, Sparking, and Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing – a terrific primer on word of mouth marketingpassion conversation

–  the brains:  four of the brains from word of mouth marketing firm Brains on Fire collaborated on the book – Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and my friend and mentor John Moore.  Please check out the conversation I had with John, which covers highlights of the book including details on how Anytime Fitness inspired a Fitness Rebellion (more on that in a moment.)

–  the best bits:  The Passion Conversation is an excellent resource for understanding the elusive topic of word of mouth marketing because it combines principles, research, and exercises; four in-depth case studies from a range of organization types; and commentary from two outside experts, Steve Knox, former CEO of Tremor (Procter & Gamble’s advocacy marketing business) and Ed Keller, CEO of word of mouth research firm Keller Fay.

Here are some of the best bits from the book:

  • Know yourself and clearly define what you really want from a relationship with your employees and customers.  Word of mouth marketing isn’t about fielding publicity stunts or chasing hot topics to talk about – it’s about expressing the passion of your brand and inviting like-minded others to engage in that passion.
  • Micro targets are the key source of a company’s future growth…It’s the hard work of identifying the micro target you can best serve…and you must passionately connect with the micro target.  And there’s no need to treat them the same as all of your customers.  They are special to you, and therefore deserve your special attention.  This takes the notion of segmentation to a higher, more precise and productive level.
  • Pay attention to the little things; feed and fuel [love between employees and customers] every day. Communities need inspirational leadership.  Just like any other aspect of brand-building, word of mouth requires attention to detail, consistent nurturing, and clear direction.
  • And some quick passion tips:
  • People are motivated to talk for functional, social, and emotional reasons.
  • We talk about things that are in front of us, things we see often in public settings.
  • Visual cues work best when they invite a conversation.
  • Stories make things sticky, easy to remember and repeat.
  • When our normal patterns of thought are disrupted, we talk.
  • Conversation has more impact when it’s coming from someone you have a relationship with, and who’s very passionate about the subject.

–  the brand story:  The vision of Anytime Fitness, a fitness club chain with over 2,000 locations worldwide, is “to improve the self-esteem of the world.” With such a lofty – and passionate – vision, it’s no wonder they decided to engage current and prospective members through an emotionally-driven tack.  They began The Fitness Rebellion, a conversation that turns typically gym-club messaging on its head.  Take a listen to my interview with John Moore about how and why the Fitness Rebels inside the company fueled this conversation.JohnMoore_lower_res

–  the bottom line:  Authenticity is such an over-used word these days but it epitomizes all the points The Passion Conversation.  The authors write from a genuine place of love for what they do and they encourage that quality in others:  “Life is better when you embrace loving your customers and employees, and supporting their passions…Life is better when you move from the marketing business to the business of inspiring people.

(“brand book bites” are book write-ups that highlight the most interesting brand stories in the latest best-selling books.  Subscribe to my feed so you don’t miss these regular bulleted briefings on the books I recommend.)

(This write-up is part of a Post2Post Virtual Book Tour – check out other write-ups by Jay EhretMatt Collier, Jackie Huba, and Paul Williams.)

other brand book bites:

***interview transcript:

Denise: Hello, this is Denise Yohn, and welcome to the Brand-as-Business Bites podcast. The Brand-as-Business Bites podcast gives you a taste of insights and information about brands, businesses, and the people who work on them. It’s available on iTunes. For more stuff for your brain to chew on, please visit my website at deniseleeyohn.com.


With a title like Chief of Wahoo for the firm Brains on Fire, John Moore is sure to be a fun person to talk to, and so that’s why I’ve asked him to join us today. Actually, John has been a friend, mentor, and role model to me, and he is now also co-author of a very important book called ‘The Passion Conversation: Understanding, Sparking, and Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing’. Welcome, John.

John: Hello, Denise. Thanks for having me.

Denise: Great. Well, you know, I loved your book but I have to say that the word passion and love are words that kind of seem out of place in the business world, but your book makes a strong case for why they aren’t just relevant, they’re actually vital concepts in today’s business environment. So, can you walk us through the thinking there?

John: Yeah. Those whole terms of loving customers and having customers love a business, that does seem to be a little squishy, no doubt about it. Because too many times, we business people, we try to find ways to exploit opportunities, to leverage or to use customers to get what we want. We think that that’s just not quite right. We think that there’s something flawed in that. Because, again, that’s exploiting and leveraging. We think that brands should love customers more than leverage the customers. I can go back a long way to an iconic American businessman, Henry Ford, who has been quoted as saying, “A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.” I totally agree with that, because if all a business is set up to do is to exploit their customers, solely to profit off of the customers, they’re going to be, long-term-wise, set up to fail.

We at Brains on Fire believe that a business has a true obligation to make more than just money, but also to make meaning in the lives of people. Yes, a business has to be profitable to live another day, but those businesses, again, that exist solely to make money, they’re not going to become a beloved brand. One brand that I know very well that has become a beloved brand, Whole Foods market. They are wildly profitable, but they’re also a wildly passionate business. And it clearly shows that they love what they do because the customer experience is true evidence of that; pristine stores, happy employees, the products are right. It has really built its business around making meaning in people’s lives. The byproduct has been making a profit too.

Denise: And you know I’ve had the honor of hearing Walter Robb and John Mackey speak, and you can tell that they run their business with their hearts, which really is an authentic love that you’re talking about.

John: Yeah, and because they will of course use a trope called cautious capitalism, which is in a way, a lot of the things that we’re talking about. However, we go a little further and we say that for a brand to receive love from its customers it must first be a brand worthy of being loved. With that, it really is wanting to get personal, to get to know their customers. It is about the brand, again, wanting to find ways to help to improve the lives of the customers.

Denise: You know, it strikes me that, especially when you go back to the Henry Ford quote, that this is not a new idea, per se, but I think how you go about cultivating love and cultivating these relationships may be different in our environment today. So, one of the things I wanted to ask you about is that in your book you talk about sparking conversations and you outline three motivations that help to spark conversations about brands and organizations. So, can you talk about what those motivations are and maybe give us some examples?

John: Yeah, yeah. About two years ago we came across a very rigorous study done by marketing researchers, and it is chock full of great advice. But they’ve gone out and they’ve studied what those conversations triggers are that people have about brands. And it comes down to three. The functional, there are emotional, or they’re social triggers that spark a conversation about a brand. So let’s take each one.

A functional conversation about a brand deals with, basically, facts and figures, nuts and bolts stuff. This helps people to make a better decision on things to buy. For instance, you go to Google and you want to find what is the best phone for me, Android or iPhone? You’re going to get back a lot of facts and figures, a lot of functional products, features, and benefits, let’s just say. And that is a functional trigger to spark a conversation.

If we were to continue with the Whole Foods type analogy here, functional conversations would be, let’s say, talking about the value of kale, of kale in your diet, what are the types of nutritional components of that. That one there is a functional conversation, and it’s going to help someone to make a better decision about what their body needs to eat in order to feel better. Nothing really emotional there, nothing really social there, but it’s a nuts and bolts factual conversation, so that would be functional.

Denise: Okay.

John: Now we know that people engage in social conversations about brands to impress their friends and the friends of friends, and it’s also about trying to express their distinctiveness. With this particular study here, it is actually a term that a lot of marketing researchers say, and that’s social signaling. It’s something that they use. Basically, that’s a visual sign, a visual cue, a signal to society that expresses someone’s uniqueness. We see this happen all the time online through Facebook and Twitter.

We have friends who socially signal their uniqueness online all the time. And I’m talking about people that share a status update with a photo of their beautiful dinner at some extravagant place. And in a way, they’re signaling to folks, hey, you know what? I’m having an exquisite dinner at so and so place. I must be special. Or we have a friend who’s always posting their Nike Fit updates. I just did a five-mile run at a so and so clip. They are telling folks something about them that’s going to be distinctive. And we have, of course, a friend who will always find the opportunity to tweet about getting an upgrade to first class on Delta, let’s just say. Again, socially signaling something unique about them.

But this also happens in the offline space too. Because I see so many people carrying around Lululemon bags. That bag socially signals something about the person. So that’ll be functional, that’ll be social.

The third trigger that some academics have been able to pinpoint that can spark a conversation about a brand are going to be emotional triggers. We’re talking about some emotional conversations talking about a brand because it sparks some strong emotions, ranging from love to hate, shock to awe, to giggles to glares. Brands that elicit strong emotions are more likely to spark word of mouth conversations. Humor seems to work. Dos Equis, the Most Interesting Man in the World. That right there makes you laugh, and then of course, then also probably makes you want to talk a little bit more.

Denise: Right.

John: Let’s go to cancer causes. That right there, cancer, it just brings up emotions. It could bring up some positive or it could bring up some very, very negative emotions. It could bring up the fact of we must find ways to end cancer. And people can get very emotionally charged about it. When they’re emotionally charged, they’re going to talk. But if someone isn’t emotionally charged, conversation doesn’t happen. So, that’ll be functional, which is more about factual information. Social, which talks about visually expressing what makes special, unique. And emotional, which says there’s some sort of emotional trigger, love or hate, that is going to spark a conversation.

Denise: Wow. Okay. That’s a great overview. One of the things that I really appreciated about your book was the way that you went into detail into four different organizations that you worked with and really laid out the entire, it was even more than really a case story. It was an entire story. And one of those organizations was Anytime Fitness. What I found really interesting about your work with them is that it involved identifying people inside the organization, so club owners and trainers, to actually lead the conversation about the brand. So, can you talk about how you enrolled these people, what they did, and why they were so critical to achieving the company’s goals?

James: Yeah, yeah. Let’s go back a bit because one thing that we found out in talking to customers, talking to folks who were going to that gym is the fact that so much of the conversation about becoming a member of a gym is very functional. That’ll be rest, set, and muscles. But we found that there was an emotional conversation about wanting to work out. This is a company that has a credo to improve the self-esteem of the world. We ended up really focusing in on people start exercise so they can feel better about themselves, to improve their perception of themselves.

However, much of the messaging that goes on about joining a gym or being a part of a gym is about obtaining the perfect, buffed out body. We wanted to help them to re-frame the conversation, to rebel against the norm, to make it about fitness on their own terms, about progress not perfection. And thus, that was the core of why the fitness rebellion was born out of that mindset of about progress not perfection. What we did to help create that community is we did look internally because we knew that those employees connect directly with their gym members. It was important to have trainers that were going to be there every day connecting with gym members to be a part of this.

So what we ended up doing was we put a call out on an internal company message board, and then we directed folks to go online to do a very detailed questionnaire. And we’re talking about a good 20 questions, let’s just say. It was very detailed because we think that’s a barrier. Because if you were really passionate and really want to be involved in it, you’re going to go through a process to say, wait a minute. This is really serious. They’ve got 20 questions here. My goodness gracious. So, of the folks that we did send out, we had 100 people respond back to us. From that, we then had Skype conversations to find out who would be the best 25 people to lead this fitness rebellion movement.

So, again, we chose 25 people, and they were picked to help to share stories from gym members about how people were finding ways to go to the gym, as opposed to finding ways not to go to the gym. Stories about what sort of change that they are feeling internally about themselves from getting into a regimen. These were all stories that were posted online so that hopefully gym members and folks outside of Anytime Fitness would be able to be inspired by these stories of real people making real progress. Not perfection, but just real progress and improving their own self-esteem.

Denise: That makes so much sense when you lay it out like that. With the heart of the brand and what, really, the brand was trying to do, it just makes it so, like I said, it just makes so much sense that you would enroll those internal people. Well, John, it’s been terrific talking with you today.

For my listeners, I want to let you know that you should check out this book, The Passion Conversation. You can do that by going to the Brains on Fire website, brainsonfire.com. Or you can actually go to the Twitter handle for Brains on Fire, which is brainsonfire. And you can also interact with John directly through his own Twitter handle, which is brandautopsy. John, thank you so much for inspiring us today. I look forward to hearing more from you.

John: Thank you, Denise. I appreciate being here.

Denise: That’s it for today. Thanks for listening to the Brand-as-Business Bites podcast. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes so your brain will always be filled with good stuff to chew on. For more information or to contact me directly, please visit my website at deniseleeyohn.com Take care, and thanks again.

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