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Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Time Event
4:08a
Foreshadowing "Social Media" ...
One of the occasional joys of getting nearly “random” books from things like the B&N.com clearance sales (where descriptions of the books are tweet-like in their minimalism) is encountering “a gem” that would have never come to my attention if it wasn't sitting there for $1.99 … I typically will scour those listings to find 13 “likely” books to order, to get a total over the free shipping line, and will frequently end up adding things just because they “sound interesting”. Harry Beckwith's The Invisible Touch: The Four Keys to Modern Marketing was one of these.

This is not a “new” book, having come out in 2000, so it can't really be considered a “social media” book (as that moniker had only just been coined around then), but it could certainly be described as an “Ur-SocialMedia” book, as much of what Beckwith discusses here could as easily have flowed from the keyboards of Brogan, Vaynerchuk, or Stratten a decade later. The perceptions here, like those in some of Seth Godin's early books, seem remarkably visionary, if having details that are almost “quaintly” off-base (in a discussion of branding he looks at search engines and notes that 3/4ths of respondents say they used Yahoo! vs. Excite, Dogpile, AlteVista, or Northern Light … a little company called “Google” was obviously not even on his radar at that point!).

The book is really in two parts, a first almost “philosophical” portion, taking up a third of the book, and then the sub-title's “four keys”. To me, the “meat” here is in that first part, as this is where he sets the stage for the rest, and quite accurately details many trends which are blossoming in the present time. This part consists of three sections, “Research and Its Limits”, “Fallacies of Marketing”, and “What Is Satisfaction?”, each contemplating the realities of these business elements … some quotes:

If people sought only basic services, Caribou's double cappuccinos would cost less than Taco Bell's burritos, because the raw ingredients and labor cost less. Consumers buy more than things; they purchase connections. … Our lives seem increasingly disconnected … technology reduces direct contact with people. Our drive for connection grows more intense. Making genuine, human connections become more important everywhere – not least of all in our business every day.

People who know they are being studied change what they do. … Research changes its own results … if a researcher can effect the relationships among protons and neutrons, what does this tell us about the validity of research into people's attitudes and behaviors?
...
The more innovative your idea, the smaller the number of people who will understand it – and people have great trouble imagining that they will buy something they cannot understand. … The more innovative the idea, the less likely it is to survive this kind {opinion surveys, etc.} of scrutiny. And yet the more innovative the idea, the greater the potential success. Research supports mediocre ideas and kills great ones.

We limit ourselves if we fail to recognize not just the extraordinary marketing power in being known to a prospective buyer, but the liability in being little known – or not known at all. … Deep in our genetic code, an instruction warns us to treat the unfamiliar with suspicion. The Unfamiliar is a threat we must avoid or overcome. … unfamiliarity breeds more than indifference. It breeds contempt.

We experience what we believe we will experience. This means that anything and everything a service can do to convey quality, expertise, and the ability to perform well likely will enhance client satisfaction. Conveying quality can be as critical to satisfaction as actually delivering quality.
The rest of the book looks at what Beckwith defines as “the four keys”, which are Price, Brand, Packaging, and Relationships. Each factor he looks at here is generally a counter-intuitive revelation about marketing a product or service. Each sub-section within these “keys” also closes with a take-away sentence reflecting the essence of that point. The author looks at companies, industries, different sorts of businesses, and how they exemplify these concepts. Like in the first part of the book, much of this deals with human psychology, and there are certainly eye-openers in here. If there was one particular “disappointment” I had with the book it's that there are no references or foot/end notes to point to specific bits of research. This makes one feel that much of this is “shot from the hip”, and that one has to take his word for it all.

Given that one caveat, I was quite enthusiastic with The Invisible Touch, and found the vast majority of what Beckwith presents here both prescient and profoundly perceptive. I have not only recommended this to various associates, but have even ordered copies for a couple of folks I'm doing consulting projects with. The hardcover edition I have seems to be out of print (although available used for as little as 1¢) but there's a paperback edition that's available, plus versions for the Kindle and Nook. If you have an interest in marketing, it's something you should definitely pick up!


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