Sure, you go to a “seminar” and get all fired up to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do. But have you ever spent a day with true kindred spirits and walked away knowing that you’re supposed to be doing exactly what you’re doing? I just spent the day with a bunch of really smart people. No, I didn’t spend the day learning how to do a new thing, but I learned a ton. There were no tips, tricks or fixes. Simply a bunch of smart people sharing what has worked for them and what hasn’t. That’s the Brains on Fire FIRE Sessions.
This year, we were treated to a wonderful surprise: We met on the stage of the Peace Center! If you’ve never been on a stage, this is the place to first experience. Olivier and I took a moment to appreciate the view of the seats and balconies, and marveled at how close people would feel if the seats were filled. Not an intimidating close, but intimate. The stage was significant for me, because the stage can signal fear for many. And we talked about fear a lot today. Fear of engaging in conversations. Fear of losing control. Fear of the unknown.
Geno Church challenged us to let go of traditional definitions of ROI. We all know that investing money, especially today, is scary. And, so, many look to the numbers for a guarantee that the money will be spent well. But, with all the “trust numbers” showing that real people trust companies less than they ever have, companies need to rethink marketing as rebuilding trust through conversations. Then, redefine ROI with more intrinsic measures of success. Dare to do it. Don’t be afraid.
Big lesson: Talk. And listen. You might learn something more valuable than tracking leads.
Jake McKee of Ant’s Eye View spoke of his days with LEGO, building online and offline communities that had a direct line of communication with LEGO. Looking at LEGO today, it’s hard for me to remember that LEGO operated like “Fort Business,” with no consumer communication coming in or going out. I know the LEGO that gladly accepts photos of my kids’ creations, even though not one has made LEGO Magazine yet. I also know the LEGO that has created some fabulous games and the model maker that we all love to play.
LEGO has come a long way by thinking of itself as a company with a higher calling: Providing a creative medium. They also took another look at their “numbers” a bit differently, and found that a market they had been marginalizing (ages 18+) actually spent a lot more on LEGO sets than they thought. That’s why you’re now seeing bigger, more complicated sets focused on things like Star Wars. People at LEGO had to work very hard to change their mindset not only about the adult vs. child markets, but also about the value of “weird” people who dress in character and spend big bucks on a child’s toy. Jake talked a lot about how long it took to change people’s minds, but he kept at it. And he had a VP behind him, willing to support him and back him up. Two necessary ingredients for making change happen among fearful people.
Big lesson: LEGO went from struggling financially to doing better than it dreamed during the same period of time it shed the fear of talking and listening to its customers. Coincidence?
The Fiskars Fiskateers are crafting rock stars. Really. The top five Fiskateers shared how people drive hours to meet them at product demonstrations. Yes, these women are passionate about their craft, and just happen to sometimes use Fiskars products. The amazing part is that these women (are there any male Fiskateers?) are not required to show any Fiskars products. They are not exclusive to Fiskars. And they can say anything they want, including whether a Fiskars product stinks. Scary? You bet! But it works. The Fiskateers already loved Fiskars products before they became brand ambassadors, so naturally they will show off Fiskars products when it makes sense. And because it happens naturally, people adore these women. They’re honest, and Fiskars is selling more products because of the Fiskateers.
Big lesson: Yes, people will jump up and down and scream and shout good stuff about you. Even if they look weird doing it.
Mr. Made To Stick, Dan Heath, talked about sticky ideas. Sure, you can read his book, but it’s different hearing his tales in the context of the FIRE Sessions. We’ve talked about fear and letting go, and getting in on the conversation. Dan helped us figure out what makes a good “how.” Emotion triggers conversation. Use that emotion. What’s behind it? Passion. “Passion is easily squandered.” Yup, that’s a quote from Dan. Figure out how to connect through that passion, and give people a clear way to respond. So many “campaigns” fail, despite the assumption that it has a crafty “call to action.” There is no one way to choose a next step, but think in terms of showing people how to behave, you’re on the right track. Oh, and don’t forget the Curse of Knowledge when showing them how to behave. Grab the book. It’s better that way. Finally, don’t try to be everything to everyone, because you’ll alienate them all. Dan used a great saying he heard long ago: “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” Suddenly I’m thinking of a certain purple cow. (Or, as Olivier might say, a purple splotch.)
Big lesson: Know who you are and stay true to it. Have a heart, share it, and use that to bring people along with you. Don’t forget to show them the way, and give them a great reason to follow you.
After a fabulous coffee break with West End Coffee brewed on the spot, Jake McKee, Dan Heath, Susanne Fanning from Fiskars and Jamie Plesser from Best Buy joined Geno Church and Carol Reese Rage Against the Haze on the couches to talk about building communities.
Fans vs. friends: Fans will shout, “I love you!” all the way home. Friends will tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. Build your community with friends.
Hearing the bad stuff (Susanne Fanning): You gotta hear the bad stuff. Really. You think you’re in control. Control of your comfort and economic stability. Really, you’re not. You can regain some of that control by joining the conversation.
On finding community leaders: Rage Against the Haze hand-picks teenagers that are willing to stand up in the face of opposition and stick by a pledge to resist smoking, drinking and drugs. Carol is gentle, but pushes to test resolve when interviewing in person. Susanne said that 60-65% of requests to become a Fiskateer fall off when they get the email asking why they want to become a Fiskateer. It wasn’t intended to be a deliberate barrier to entry, but rather to get to know each and every Fiskateer. Jake was glad to hear that there weren’t any automated processes.
Does a community really need a leader? Absolutely. There is no way to manage communication between the community and the right people within the company. Remember “Fort Business”? Jake adds that the natural tendency for any human is to default to needs of the self and the company first. The community manager steps in to ensure that the community doesn’t get left out. Draw the line and preserve the relationship. Besides, just because you’re done with one implementation project for the community doesn’t mean you’re “done.” Always look to improvement.
These are tactics that speak to a bigger movement: changing the inner-workings of a company to think about customers as a community, not as a number. It’s a huge shift, but it can be done. Jake had some great tactics for involving people from all walks of a company, and the end goal is to engage people “inside” with people “outside.” Eventually the culture of community builds.
Last year, I attended the FIRE Sessions as a “corporate insider,” evaluating Brains on Fire. It didn’t work out with that particular employer at the time, but they invited me back this year. I’m not working for anyone that would engage Brains on Fire, but they’re not casting me out. Evidence that they live by what we learned today. We’ve developed a bit of community, BoF and me, and they brought me into the FIRE Session to keep making connections. I met some great people and got to greet people I met last year. Stick together. Friends. No matter who I talk to, if they ask about ROI and word-of-mouth, identity or social media tactics, I’m pointing them in the direction of Brains on Fire. I’m a fan. I’ll even go out on a limb and call these people my friends. That’s what the FIRE Session is all about.