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The Business of Love and Passion

At Brains on Fire we believe with all our hearts and souls, it is possible to fall madly and passionately in love with the people you serve. And we believe that it’s possible for those folks to fall in love with you, too; and, yes, for you to become famous and grow your organization because of that love.

That’s exactly what we’ve done to grow our own business over the years. Not only have we fallen in love with our customers, we received the permission and indeed the honor to get to know and care for our customers’ customers. It’s our role as marketing matchmakers to help connect our customers with their employees and customers through shared passions.

Every business owner should be wildly romantic and passionate about your advocates; the employees and customers who help fuel your success.

What does it take to fall in love with your advocates, the customers and employees who are ready, willing and happy to fall in love with you? Start by following these Passion Principles.

1. Love people. Never leverage people.
We hate it when we hear companies talk about leveraging fans to tell their story. Think about it: Do you really use people you care about? Absolutely not. You listen to them. You get close to them. You see them frequently. You want to be a meaningful part of their life. You inspire them and in return, they inspire you.

If you want people to be in love with you and talk about you, you must fall in love with them first. Your clients, customers, donors, tribe, employees, advocates—what you call them doesn’t really matter—can and should become beloved heroes in your organizations.

2. Love takes patience.
For real and lasting relationships to take hold, you have to be in it for the long haul and not for a one-night stand… perhaps the marketing equivalent of a one-time purchase.

Loving your customers is not something you do for a limited amount of time. It’s something you do every single day. And the value of that effort grows exponentially stronger and deeper with time.

3. Get people to talk about themselves.
The passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves. Encourage others talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes and their dreams. Create platforms, online and offline, for the people you serve to share their own stories. Give them opportunities to talk and be willing to listen.

At Brains on Fire, we no longer consider ourselves to be in the marketing business. Instead, we’re in the people business. This makes sense for us because marketing nowadays is more about reframing the work you do in the world to inspire your employees and customers. The most successful word-of-mouth–driven businesses in the world have always been in the business of inspiring people.

Good stuff happens when you’re in the people business. We promise.

I’ve long been into word of mouth marketing. Sparked it. Studied it. Lived it. Done it. Talked it. And written about it in countless blog posts. All of that has led to this…

THE PASSION CONVERSATION: Understanding, Sparking, Sustaining Word of Mouth Marketing

In early September, THE PASSION CONVERSATION will be published by Wiley. It’s a co-authored project with Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and myself all contributing to the book.

Much more will be shared about the book on the Brand Autopsy blog and over on the Brains on Fire blog. (Yeah yeah yeah, we’ll also be tweeting about it and sharing other tidbits on Facebook. Pre-orders? Yep, more here.)

How did THE PASSION CONVERSATION book come about? Read on…


Last spring I took my word of mouth marketing studies up a few notches with Geno Church of Brains on Fire.

Geno got wind of a smarty-pants academic research paper about what sparks people to talk. We scrubbed the academic paper free from its rigorous scholarly language and distilled its findings into much easier to understands words. We also dug up more research papers and scrubbed those as well.

Together, we crafted a presentation that Geno delivered at conference in May of 2012. That one presentation got a lot of play at the conference and has been seen over 90,000 times since on Slideshare.

We got to thinking all this scrubbed academic research coupled with our real world marketing experiences would make for a great book about understanding, sparking, and sustaining word of mouth conversations.

Robbin Phillips picked up the ball and together we wrote a book proposal that serves as a sequel of sorts to their first book, BRAINS ON FIRE: Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movements.

One of the lines from the first BRAINS ON FIRE book is the starting point for this book.

“It’s not about the product conversation;
it’s about the passion conversation.”

If you think you are in the marketing business, think again. You’re in the people business, and THE PASSION CONVERSATION will teach you how to get people to fall passionately and madly in love with your organization or cause.

Yes, we mash-up the latest in wonky academic research. But the practical, real-world stories we share shows how any business can spark long-lasting word of mouth. You’ll learn how loving your customers results in not just building a thriving community, but also driving meaningful conversations, ultimately impacting the financial success of a business.

We truly believe this book will change your perspective on marketing by:

  • Explaining the motivations for why people talk about businesses and causes
  • Detailing how every marketing problem is a people problem in disguise
  • Giving heartfelt evidence that marketing materials are now conversation tools
  • Showing how customer communities sustain word of mouth while also sparking financial impact
  • Helping your business apply these marketing lessons through a series of workbook exercises called “Passion Explorations.”
  • The time is now for marketers and businesses to go beyond the product conversation to understanding, sparking and sustaining THE PASSION CONVERSATION for why your business is in business.

    A disruption is always an interruption. It’s something that gets in our way preventing us from doing what we set out to do. That’s the negative take. But there’s a positive angle from which to view a disruption.

    Bill Jensen reframes the conversation about disruption in his book, Disrupt! Think Epic. Be Epic. Yes, he touches upon how disruptions can be horribly bad. But really, the takeaway for me is how disruptions can positively change the course of your life.

    To share his perspective on disruption, Bill is talking to lots people over Skype and having them share personal stories about how disruptions have radically changed their life. It’s a series on YouTube called DISRUPTIVE HEROES.

    Bill invited me to play along and I jumped at the chance because it allowed me the opportunity to tell the story of how Lisa Denney Compton is my disruptive hero.

    Lisa forever disrupted my life and my career by hiring me as a field marketing specialist for Starbucks in 1995. If that disruption didn’t happen, I shudder to think where I would be today.

    Lisa took a huge risk in hiring me. Not only did I lack experience, but my wicked-good stutter made me unhirable to so many companies. Lisa was able to look past my stuttering and hired me into a role where I flourished.

    To learn the very personal story of how Lisa positively disrupted my life, watch below. (You’ll also hear me talk about my favorite disruptive change [tasty craft beer] and the disruptive change I’m struggling with [my smartphone that’s making me dumber].)

    The Power of Follow-Through

    I’m a Jackie Huba fan. Been one since late 2002 when I first read Creating Customer Evangelists. Over the years I’ve come to know Jackie as much more than a colleague, but as a good friend. A few years ago she started talking about the marketing genius of Lady Gaga. I was skeptical but I kept an open mind as Jackie began telling me everything Lady Gaga did to become this generation’s Madonna.

    Jackie first shared her appreciation for Lady Gaga’s marketing skills in a blog post from February 2010. At that time, Jackie was a principal at Ant’s Eye View (now part of PWC) and knee deep in enterprise consulting work. Her Loyalty Lessons from Lady Gaga blog post began to receive a lot of attention and Jackie’s infatuation with Lady Gaga grew.

    In early 2012, Jackie had reestablished herself as an independent marketing consultant but couldn’t shake loose her attachment to Lady Gaga as a marketing genius. She had gathered enough material to write a book sharing how big and small businesses can benefit from what Lady Gaga did to sell over 23-million albums and rake in hundreds of millions of dollars from touring the world. However, Jackie, having co-authored two marketing books, couldn’t envision herself being a solo author.

    Jackie faced what Steven Pressfield describes as RESISTANCE in his masterful book, THE WAR OF ART. Pressfield writes, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

    Jackie faced an avalanche of internal resistance to turn her blog post into a book. That resistance ultimately propelled Jackie to write the book without having a strategy to get it published. Her plan was to write it and then figure out how best to publish it. To overcome resistance, Jackie started writing.

    Months past and Jackie wrote a little every day and tapped into her network of friends to help with all aspects of the book from proofreading to publicity. She worked with biz book geek Todd Sattersten on shaping the content and together, they devised an ingenious plan to self-publish the book. By November 2012, the book was done, self-published and soft-launched at a WOMMA Conference with a keynote presentation.

    Soon after the soft-launch, top-notch business book publisher Portfolio caught wind of this book sharing marketing lessons from Lady Gaga. Portfolio loved the book and Jackie’s self-publishing plans went away as she was offered a major league business book deal.

    Last week, Portfolio published MONSTER LOYALTY: How Lady Gaga Turns Followers into Fanatics. Jackie Huba celebrated its publication with a book launch party in Austin, TX and for the foreseeable future, Jackie will be very busy with new consulting projects and corporate speaking gigs based upon her Lady Gaga infatuation.

    The lesson here is simple… Don’t allow resistance to win. Follow-through on what matters most to you. To overcome resistance, start anywhere. Stop doing nothing and start doing something, dig?

    Jackie overcame resistance by forcing herself to write. Because of her follow-through, Jackie is now primed to enter the next phase of her career. Kudos to you Lady Huba.

    Chopping Down a Product

    Years ago I wrote about how businesses “chop down” their products to maintain/grow profits. I used a scene from AMERICAN GANGSTER to illustrate this point. It’s the scene where Frank Lucas confronts Nicky Barnes for chopping down his “Blue Magic” dope in order to make more money.

    The current Maker’s Mark brand dilution hullabaloo makes the following vintage Brand Autopsy post new again.

    Read as drug kingpin Frank Lucas shows some serious CMO chops in explaining why diluting a product is a bad idea.


    Setting the Scene:
    Frank Lucas’ “Blue Magic” heroin became the market leader in New York City. Rivals said he had “upended the natural order of things” by selling heroin that is twice as good for half as much. Competitors left the heroin market because “nobody wants to compete with a monopoly.”

    To accelerate growth of the “Blue Magic” business, Frank arranged wholesale distribution agreements with other drug lords and mafia families. This shift in business strategy made competitors part of the “Blue Magic” family, with Frank Lucas as the all-powerful CEO and Chairman of the Board.

    Never Dilute a Brand
    Nicky Barnes competed with Frank Lucas and the success of “Blue Magic” hurt the financial viability of Nicky’s operation. Grudgingly, Nicky signed on as distributor of “Blue Magic.”

    In an effort to increase profits of his “Blue Magic” sales, Nicky began diluting the purity of the heroin to increase his inventory and his margins. He sold the diluted heroin as “Blue Magic.” Frank Lucas wasn’t pleased and addressed his concerns just like a top-notch Chief Marketing Officer would to any rogue field marketing manager, maverick product manager, or renegade franchisee.

    Follow the encounter from this modified script snippet…


    Businesses “chop down” their products all the time. In the quest to maintain profits or possibly, grow profits, businesses make strategic decisions to dilute their offerings. And if done inconspicuously enough, customers will hopefully never notice.

    Frito-Lay chopped down its 12-oz bag of chips to 10-oz. bags. Price remained the same.

    Hellmann’s chopped down its 32-oz. jar of mayonnaise to 30-oz. Price remained the same.

    Dial chopped down its soap bars from 4.5-oz to a 4.0-oz size. Price remained the same.

    Bounty chopped down the number of towel sheets per roll from 60 to 52. Price remained the same.

    Kellogg’s chopped down its Fruit Loops cereal package size from 19.7-oz. to 17.0-oz. Price remained the same.

    Iams chopped down its 6-oz. package of cat food to a 5.5-oz package. Price remained the same. [SOURCES: USA Today ; New York Times]

    However, customers have noticed all this chopping down. According to a Consumer Reports study, 75% of shoppers surveyed said they have noticed smaller package sizes from their favorite brands. And, 71% of shoppers believe the package downsizing is a clear attempt by brands to hide price increases. It’s interesting to note, 50% of shoppers prefer brands stop chopping down their products and instead, keep their old package size and simply raise the price. [SOURCE: Consumer Reports]

    The takeaway lesson is simple … when a business decides to dilute its products, it runs the risk of drawing ire from customers.

    The action step is also simple … if you find yourself saying or thinking, “A customer will never notice that.” Chances are, they will. Be prepared to deal with their reaction.

    Finding Brand Love

    It’s Valentine’s week and at Brains on Fire we’ve been talking about LOVE. As in… what it means for someone to fall in love with a brand or a cause.

    Brands desperately want people to fall in love with them in hopes they become customers for life.

    Simplistically speaking, life-long customers are more profitable than short-term customers. And, life-long customers are certain to spread more word of mouth to their friends and friends of friends about the goodness of business than short-term customers.

    However, brands may be approaching finding love from the wrong end of the love chain.

    Finding brand love isn’t about finding customers to love you. It’s about becoming a brand worthy of being loved by customers.

    That line is worth repeating…

    Finding brand love isn’t about finding customers to love you. It’s about becoming a brand worthy of being loved by customers.

    So… what is your business doing to become worthy of receiving love from customers?

    FIRE Sessions 2013: the day after


    Whoa. The 2013 FIRE Sessions were more like the Firehose Sessions. We brought together a collection of kindred spirits, clients, and super smart speakers for a jam-packed day of learning and connecting.

    What are the FIRE Sessions? Think marketing grad school complete with everyone doing keg stands of knowledge. (Seriously, keg stands of knowledge.)

    Here’s what went down. We had Jackie Huba share her obsession for Lady Gaga’s marketing strategies to turn followers into fans. Our own Geno Church schooled us on how cookie cutter customer communities don’t cut it. Wharton Professor Jonah Berger gave a class on crafting contagious content. Rob Morris, co-founder and president of LOVE146, closed out the day by sharing his “in the trenches” advice for authentically and passionately sustaining a movement.

    There was so much smart thinking for us all to digest. Expect a complete recap of the 2013 FIRE Sessions on this blog next week. Until then, here are 15 embers still glowing in my mental fireplace from yesterday’s FIRE Sessions …

    #1 | CMOs are too preoccupied with new customers and new products. They’re forgetting about the power of current customers.

    #2 | Use Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle to forge emotional connections with customers by leading with the WHY behind what your business does.

    #3 | To forge deep connections with your die hard brand fans (the 1%), give them a name and a shared symbol – ex. Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters & claw.

    #4 | Building a customer community is a lot like baking homemade chocolate cookies. There is no cookie cutter process. It’s messy work.

    # 5 | Community is a way, not a place. Community rallies people around a cause/idea. Community is defined by customers who give a damn.

    #6 | A brand community isn’t for every customer. It’s for the fervent ones, the freaky ones, the weird ones. The 1%ers.

    Jonah_500#7 | The STEPPS-by-step process for crafting contagious content includes: Social currency, Triggers, Emotions, Public, Practical Value, Stories.

    #8 | Social Currency … are messages that make people feel smart, cool, and special spark word of mouth. ex: Please Don’t Tell in NYC

    #9 | Triggers… design products/messages to be triggered by the environment in order to become talkable. ex: FRIDAY by Rebecca Black

    #10 | Emotions… focus marketing messages on feelings more than function. ex: Google’s Parisian Love commercial

    #11 | Public… products/messages/ideas that are easily viewed out in the open get talked about. ex: Movember

    #12 | Practical Value… products/messages/ideas that are highly useful get discussed. ex: saving money coupons/tips get talked about

    #13 | Stories… to spark word of mouth, wrap products/messages/ideas around a broader narrative. ex: Jared’s Subway story


    #14 | Movements take Audacious people, Thorough thinking, Personal engagement, Tenacity, People Perspective, Collective Shout

    #15 | Great marketing inspires passion from customers, donors, employees, and people. The prerequisite for passion is thoughtfulness from every angle.

    UPDATE | Jan 31

    FIRE Sessions attendee Michael Jantz (from 800-CEO-READ) sketch-noted the first two sessions of the day. Michael admits to being new to sketch-noting but his newness is chock-full of awesomeness. These are great Michael. Thanks for sharing and adding your voice to the FIRE.



    NOTE: cross-posted on the Brains on Fire blog


    What happens when your life, both personal and professional, becomes too routine?

    That’s the question I’ve been facing for many months and I addressed it late last year when I decided to join Brains on Fire after eight-years of self-employment. It wasn’t an easy decision.

    The easy decision would have been to stay the course and coast as I have been doing. Life was good. Business was good. But something was missing.

    The difficult decision was to change my ways and purposely place myself in a new city with a new role at a different company.

    I chose the difficult path and I’m not looking back.

    During the upending of my life, I found serenity by following six guiding words:
    LET GO.
    SAY YES.

    Each word combo has special meaning that is helping me to smooth out the ups and downs involved with the upending of my life. To gain the most from this transition, I believe I must…

    LET GO of the mindset that I am in total control of my life and of the circumstances that surround my life. I’m now focusing on freeing myself of this need to feel as though I am in control. I’m trying to take life and all of its variables minute-by-minute and not trying to control my life minutia-by-minutia.

    HAVE FAITH that wherever I am supposed to be, I’ll get there. I might not get there today or tomorrow. But, I will get there someday. Patience and trust are my allies as I fight back my controlling tendencies.

    SAY YES to the opportunities that present themselves to me. The controlling perfectionist in me finds it easy to say NO. It’s how I feign control by deliberating walking past open doors. Now is the time for me to explore life by walking through open doors.

    These six guiding words have personal and professional meaning to me. Perhaps they can have meaning to guide your business.

    Could your business benefit from LETTING GO, HAVING FAITH, and SAYING YES?

    Is your business really in control of its future? Do you spend too much time managing the minutia of your daily business activities? Do you micro-manage employees in an attempt to control everything they do, when they do it, and how they do it? Do you lack complete confidence in the ability of your business to succeed no matter the economic climate? Are you afraid to say “yes” to new methods and new ideas?

    Is it time for you and your business to LET GO, HAVE FAITH, and SAY YES in order to grow?

    NOTE: cross-posted on the Brains on Fire blog

    Watts Wacker on Tomorrow

    No one is less ready for tomorrow than the person who hold the most rigid beliefs
    about what tomorrow will contain.
    ” — Watts Wacker

    Alan Greenspan on Greed

    It is not that humans have become any more greedy than in generations past. It is that the avenues to express greed have grown so enormously.” — Alan Greenspan