Much smaller than a breadbox, Baked In, Alex Bogusky's latest book about marketing, is printed on actual paper bound between hard covers. Still, it's about the size of a Kindle and as easy to read as a bunch of tweets.
So it would seem easy to dismiss the slim tome with the charming little line drawing illustrations as just another cynical, EZ Bake product extruded from the Crispin Porter + Bogusky factory. The title, in a font that looks like 1940s Diner, invokes a phrase that's already become cliché and just about begs to be called "Half-Baked," and indeed it was in a withering review in the Los Angeles Times.
Another problem is that Bogusky's co-writer, John Winsor, formerly "director of strategy and innovation" at Crispin, seems to have taken his own advice and moved on. One of the mini-nuggets of wisdom in the book is "Do you have an innovation department?"
"Maybe you shouldn't. Try getting everyone involved in the process." Winsor now heads his own Colorado-based agency, Victors & Spoils, "The world's first creative [ad] agency built on crowdsourcing principles."
That said, I liked the book: it's honest and smart. Sure it's a bunch of stuff that you can find in other contemporary advertising and leadership books about knocking down corporate silos and figuring out what business you're really in. Still, it's a one-stop, handy-dandy guide to the seismic changes in communications happening at the moment.
For instance, it begins by debunking Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point" theory, which was seen as the coolest principle in marketing circles a couple of years back. Instead, it quotes Duncan Watts, Yahoo's researcher in residence, who has found that "news travels as readily through ordinary people as influential ones. . . . This means our world is not 'hub and spoke' like the flight network model built by the airlines. . . . Instead, interpersonal networks are more democratic."
(Even Gladwell would seem to be making the same point in his second best-seller, Blink, but I never thought of putting the two together.) OK, so that brings us back to the start, to what we already knew about believing in gut reactions.
The next point the book makes, in my mind, can't be made enough: Broaden your definition of design. Everything is design. Design is the easiest way to "bake in" demand.
In the last few years while all advertising canons have been turned on their heads, I've always believed that a great, beautifully designed product and packaging is advertising, period. And the obvious response to this is yes, but not every company makes the iPhone and iPod. What do the rest of them do?
The book gives several examples of design as simply "humanizing" your business, as Patagonia and Progressive Insurance have done. It also points to a company called Eco-Products, which "saw its business grow 500 percent in 2008 and is projecting the same for 2009" because it developed biodegradable utensils -- forks, spoons and knives made from vegetable starch.
The book includes examples of how to keep your intuition open, citing the case of Bruce Livingstone, an amateur photographer who wanted to share images with his friends. In 2000, he started iStockphoto, which took advantage of the fact that digital technology turned everyone who could buy a $100 camera into a photographer who didn't necessarily want to give up his or her day job but was looking for a little extra cash. It now has more than 3 million photographs for sale. Oh, and the guy who founded it sold it in 2006 to Getty Images for more than $50 million.
One of the main tenets of the book is its advocacy of "open-source" marketing, which is anti-measurement, anti-focus group, etc. It also makes the point that you should feel good about "stealing" ideas, and for a brand, being "mid" anything, is death.
But it does begin to lose steam about two-thirds of the way through.
The first two-thirds are good enough -- imagine that it's a helping of baked goods that you don't need to finish. In fact, you should serve it on a smaller plate, to invoke Bogusky's first book.
Another thing it teaches us: sometimes you can learn a lot from the obvious.