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unbranding

 

I have a really bad habit when reading non-fiction books.

When I come across something I find particularly interesting I fold the edge of the page over so that when I am looking for it at some point in the future, or if I just want to remind myself of what I found particularly fascinating, I can go directly to the information. I used to actually read with a stack of post-it notes and a pen, but that becomes tiresome very quickly- and the books don’t stack well on the bookshelf any more with post-it notes sticking out of them.

I tell you all of this to give some background to my experience of reading “UnBranding, 100 Branding Lessons for the age of Disruption,” by Scott Stratten and Alison Stratten. It is no secret that I have been a fan of Scott’s for a while now and that has inevitably caused me to become a fan of Alison’s too. However, I had an issue with “UnBranding,” and it can be summed up by this picture:

unbranding corners.jpg

For reference the book is face up.

Can you guess my problem was?

For some reason, I could not connect with the concept of the book, and therefore the ideas did not resonate with me, until page 99. And while what’s on page 99 is important and worth looking up, what was really brought home to me by the story you will find is that the book is actually 100 branding lessons, and 100 examples that give them context.

Why I did not learn this from the title might say a lot about business books in general, but probably more about myself.

Most marketing and business books, and therefore by definition most marketing and business writers (including myself), use their writing to explain concepts and ideas and then throw in a couple of examples to prove themselves right. The Stratten’s turn this on its head. They fill their work with examples of the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of customer service, marketing, and business in general, and then tie these examples together with workable concepts and ideas.

Unbranding, is exactly what it says on the cover. Some of the examples are personal to Scott and Alison. Some of the examples are national media stories that feature the world’s biggest brands. But each one contains a lesson for how to market and conduct better business (or how to adjust your expectations).

In the past, Scott has been accused of retreading over the same territory again and again particularly when it comes to his books. I think this is unfair and to misunderstand the various works and what makes them unique; however, I did have this feeling when I started UnBranding – until page 99 of course.

Having now gone back and reread pages 1 – 98, I can confirm that it really was my issue. There are great things on those earlier pages and the book did exactly explain what to expect and what I should be learning, but for some reason they washed over me. It may have been because of their previous book: UnSelling, which I feel is a bit if a Rockstar – you can read my review here.

While not the Rockstar that UnSelling was, UnBranding is still a great business book with important lessons. Some of these lessons you will have heard before, particularly if have read the previous books: UnMarketing, The Book of Business Awesome / The Book of Business UnAwesome, QR Codes Kill Kittens, and Unselling, or listen to Scott and Alison’s excellent UnPodcast; however, there are still plenty that you will not have heard. Also, having this many great concepts on 21st century branding in one place is useful all on its own.

What makes this book special is not the branding lessons themselves, but the context to understand why they are important. Simple, readable, and relatable, UnBranding is a more mature than some of their other work, but is worth your time now and very much worthy of pulling off the bookshelf in the future reviewing when you think you may have forgotten its lessons.

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(Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon where a tiny percentage goes to help fund my book buying habit.)

“We have always had some influence over the justice system but for the first time in 180 years, since the stocks and the pillory were outlawed we have the power to determine the severity of some punishments and so we have to think about what level of mercilessness we feel comfortable with.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson shines a, sometimes unwelcome, light on the unforgiving nature of Internet shaming. Ronson convincingly argues that almost 200 years ago we abandoned shaming as a form of punishment, not due a lack of effectiveness with rise of the larger towns and cities, but because it was seen as overly cruel.

Ronson has extraordinary access to those who lives have been ruined because of a bad out of context joke, calling out someone for perceived sexist comments, for making perceived sexist comments, and for being too irreverent in a selfie at a national memorial. The author also cleverly focuses on those less worthy of pity; the successful author who gets found out for making up quotes, and exposes our own attitudes to shaming. And then there are those who seem to have beaten the shame cycle; the UK publicist who went to war with the tabloid press, and the small town where almost a hundred of its citizenry where reveled to be visiting a local prostitute.

As well as telling the story of the various victims of the modern age of public shaming, Ronson also tells us of his own journey and grappling with his own role in the shaming of others and of being of control of his internet persona. This does not hang together quite as well as the rest of the book. I have a hard time, for instance, that such a talented researcher cannot look back through their own Twitter history to see who they have previously shamed. However, this is minor quibble and a brave personal exploration and opening up about personal shame.

The book does end on a relatively positive note due to the miracles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), however the real point of the book is for the reader to examine how they feel about this return of public shaming. Even for those whom it is hard to defend; the hunters seeking big game trophies, the Vet taking pleasure in shooting a cat with a bow and arrow, and the plagiarizing author, to name but a few – do they really deserve this level of life altering destruction?

For those who answer yes, this book is for you. “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” is, if nothing else, a testament to how much of a double edged sword internet shame can be, how cruel and destructive it is, and how uncomfortable we should all be with it. The Internet shows us at our best and worst as a culture – it is we who have to change.

Note: I have refrained from using the names of any of the subjects, or related people, in this post so as not to add to add to the problem.

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