Monthly Archives: September 2013

Attract, Interact, Engage: The Path to Becoming “Highly Recommended”

CBR_Logo2Highly Recommended:
Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business
by Paul M. Rand

According to Nielsen, 92 percent of all consumers believe that word-of-mouth recommendations are the “leading reason they buy a product or service.” In addition, a “7 percent increase in word-of-mouth recommendations unlocks 1 percent additional company growth.” And, yet, “64 percent of social media marketers worldwide [report] that it was a challenge to get people to talk about their goods and services on social media in a way that matched their desired brand attributes.”


Author Paul Rand

Therein lies the rub that author Paul Rand, founder, president, and CEO of Chicago-based Zócalo Group, tackles in his new book, Highly Recommended, a guide for executives, managers, and, in fact, employees at every level of an organization who want to garner positive recommendations for their companies.

Packed with anecdotes, case studies, data, examples, and statistics, Highly Recommended explains how organizations of every ilk can harness the power of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to attract and retain customers who, in essence, become volunteer evangelists. FritoLay, L.L. Bean, Nike, Red Robin, Starbucks, and Whole Foods are just a few of the companies featured in the book as Rand explains how these—and other—organizations have managed to tap into social media in clever and compelling ways, creating relationships with customers that build loyalty.

Written in an accessible, conversational style, Highly Recommended is an easily digestible guide for organizations seeking inspiration when it comes to making the most of social media and ensuring that it is they—rather than their customers—who are controlling any and all messaging about the company. Rand is an excellent storyteller, persuasive in his argument that word-of-mouth marketing is one of if not the leading tool today’s companies can use to build their brands and their reputations. (Indeed, the book is focused primarily on brands and reputations rather than the bottom line, which may frustrate those readers who are looking to not only manage the efficacy of their social media campaigns but to measure them as well.)

Much of the information contained in this short guide seems like good common sense. Many of the approaches Rand suggests also seem to be credible, workable techniques. Little information contained in these pages seems revelatory, however, and few of the techniques Rand suggests seem particularly innovative. In fact, neither buzz marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, loyalty marketing, one-to-one marketing, nor customer relationship marketing is a new concept; most have been part of the business vernacular for years. Even social media is far from nascent technology, despite the fact that venues such as Facebook aren’t even a decade old.

That said, the oddly dated feel of the book doesn’t necessarily detract from Rand’s message that companies need to control their messages at every turn, whether through traditional advertising, websites, blogs, or other social media platforms. Even for those readers who have been practicing CRM for the past decade will find the insight in Highly Recommended interesting if not entirely actionable.

Rand0071816216Indeed, much of the advice in these pages is implicit. The first few chapters of Highly Recommended serve as something of a very long introduction, setting the stage for the importance of using social media to drive effective word-of-mouth marketing. Later, however, and especially in Chapters 10–12, Rand offers more concrete, prescriptive guidance that readers can put into action. It is here where readers who are looking for actionable, how-to advice will find practical information they can implement in their offices.

Organizations mired in old-school, traditional forms of marketing or companies which have yet to make the most of social media will find much to inspire them in Highly Recommended. Rand’s discussion about the evolution from traditional customer service to interactive, proactive “social care” offers perhaps the freshest insight, insight that should be of interest to individuals at all levels of an organization of any size. Those looking to move beyond amassing countless Facebook fans or Twitter followers to actually engaging with them and building relationships with them also will find helpful inspiration and sage advice in these pages.

Although in some ways the ground covered in Highly Recommended may seem well trodden, much of the insight and advice is timeless. Rand’s enthusiasm for the subject and his common-sense approach make for easy reading. It’s questionable whether readers will find the advice imminently actionable, but the information Rand offers is at least thought-provoking, making this book recommended if not highly recommended.

Two-Star Review

September 2013, McGraw-Hill Education/MH Professional
$25, hardcover, 230 pages
ISBN: 978-0-07-181621-2

Learn more about Paul Rand and Zócalo Group.
Listen to Paul Rand discuss social media marketing.

—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen*

*in the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that Christiansen spent part of her career as an editor with McGraw-Hill, and she knows some of the individuals involved in the production of this title, although not the author.


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Local Author Spotlight: Patricia Ann McNair Sees Stories Everywhere

CBR_Logo2For years, Patricia Ann McNair didn’t want to be a writer. Or, maybe she did.

“For a long time, I pretended it didn’t matter,” says the award-winning writer of her craft. “I wanted to be an actress back in the day.”

It may have been that McNair would have made a great actress. She’s certainly worn a lot of hats in her life. But with other wordsmiths in her family, including a half-brother who is the poet laureate of Maine, it seems she couldn’t escape writing.

“I think writing has always been in my genes,” she says. “I’ve racked up a lot of stories.”

Patty 2013 headshot

Author Patricia Ann McNair

In fact, McNair sees stories everywhere, and her life has taken her to a lot of places and into a lot of situations—all of them rich with stories. Although she’s spent 98 percent of her life in the Midwest, McNair’s world reaches a lot of corners. Over the years, she has traveled to Honduras, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, and Italy. She’s managed a gas station, sold pots and pans door to door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and taught aerobics.

And in all those places, doing all those things are stories. Whether in a bar, in a city, or in a small town, stories practically jump out at her. “You notice broken toys in the yard, and you wonder ‘What’s up with that?’,” McNair says, musing about where ideas come from and how quotidian observations become stories. “Observation plus memory plus imagination equals something new.”

Perhaps it’s that ability to see a story in just about anything that drives McNair and keeps the stories flowing. Her stories, which have been published in a number of journals, have won much acclaim, and her first novel, The Temple of Air (Elephant Rock Books, 2011), a collection of interrelated stories, has reaped equally glowing praise. In fact, the title was named the 2012 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year.

“It’s done well,” McNair says, modestly. “I was surprised. I’m kind of happy about that. I’m kind of a big old mush. The first review—you’re kind of screaming and jumping around. But each one felt like the first one, actually. I’m either just thrilled that someone liked the book or a little sorry that somebody didn’t.”

audrey quote coverThe truth is that a lot of people like McNair’s work. And a lot of that support has come from friends and colleagues in the Chicago area. From Jotham Burrello, her editor and a colleague at Columbia College Chicago, to local author Audrey Niffenegger, who praised The Temple of Air as “a beautiful book, intense and original,” to Mare Swallow of Chicago Writers Conference, whom McNair credits with doing much to get Chicago’s literati out and about and talking to each other, McNair has high praise for the area’s literary folk.

“We have a very nice community of writers,” McNair says. “We support each other on the way up. We support each other at the top. We have some very significant award winners in our department [at Columbia]. We have always rooted for one another.”

Maybe that support has something to do with those Midwestern values that so many people like to talk about. Whatever it is, McNair calls Chicago home, and she has become part of a welcoming literary scene that embraces its local authors. From her colleagues at Columbia to the book clubs she meets with, McNair believes Chicago has a strong sense of community.

“People seem to help out each other a lot,” she says. “The number of readings and literary events around town is incredible. You can really run into people who are connected to or by the word.”

Connected to the word: McNair is certainly that. With scores of published stories under her belt and countless stories brewing in her mind, McNair is in no danger of becoming unconnected to words. Nor is she likely to become disconnected to the Midwest, a place she happily calls home.

“There’s something very comforting about the gentleness of the Midwest. I believe in the ‘heart’ of the heartland,” McNair says. “It’s part of my DNA.”

Learn more about author Patricia Ann McNair.
Listen to Patricia Ann McNair read one of her stories.
Read an excerpt of Patricia Ann McNair’s work.

—Kelli Christiansen


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War and Peace in the 21st Century

CBR_Logo2Zen Under Fire:
How I Found Peace in the Midst of War
by Marianne Elliott

A short way into Zen Under Fire, Marianne Elliott’s memoir of her time as human rights lawyer with the UN in Afghanistan, a line makes the writer come into focus:

“Like everyone who gets into this line of work, my compulsion to save the world has been fueled by my own private fears and insecurities as much as by my compassion and commitment to justice.”

In 2006, after working in dangerous places like Gaza and Timor, Elliott was assigned to Afghanistan. There she would be helping to create history, brokering peace between tribes that had been fighting for generations, and aiding women struggling to balance their new rights with the traditions that they have to observe to safe be in their own country. And, at the same time, Elliot’s personal life was on an upswing, a romance with a fellow human rights worker blossoming. The assignment should have been the pinnacle of her career, but it wasn’t.

9781402281112-300During her time in Afghanistan, Elliot helped in talks over contested land, wrote reports on prisoners’ rights (for instance, it is common, but illegal, for criminals’ relatives to be imprisoned for their crimes), and interviewed victimized women and children. All the while, she risked kidnapping, being shot, and bombings, the last of which actually happened toward the end of her stay.

Elliott is clearly someone who has spent most of her life trying to make a difference in the lives of some of the world’s most endangered people. Considering her background, it is not shocking that New Zealander Elliott would be bluntly honest about what she saw and did, but it is surprising that she is so thin-skinned, as when she writes:

“My boss in Gaza was Raji Sourani … The first time I burst into tears over a child killed by a ‘rubber bullet.’ Raji said, ‘Marianne, if you want to do this work, you are going to have to toughen up.’ Over the next two years Raji did his best … he had failed miserably; I was just as ‘soft-hearted’ as the day I landed on his doorstep.”

Elliott soon found that Afghanistan and the restless life she had been leading was destroying her emotional well-being. She developed insomnia, was insecure in her relationship, and second-guessed herself at work. The exercise and fitness routines that had seen her through tough times in the past failed, and her need to be better, to push herself harder in order to find self-worth, was damaging her psyche.

Finally, fearing that a poor series of interviews she had done with a group of homeless women had in fact harmed their cause, Elliott turned to yoga and Buddhism to find peace.

Although Elliott’s feeling for her spiritual practice is clearly heartfelt, it is here the book is weakest. When writing about her work experiences, Elliott is clear and engaging, able to make the difficult political life of Afghanistan seem understandable if not simple. It is easy to see how she would be good at her work, making the confounding situations she deals with feel immediate. This is, unfortunately, not true of her experience with yoga, which seems tacked on to the book, rather than being a natural part of the whole.

That said, for anyone wanting to know about this tragic, beautiful place, Elliott provides an excellent guide to the war-torn region in Zen Under Fire, taking readers by the hand and leading them into a new understanding of a part of the world that Americans know too little about.

Three-Star Review

June 2013, Sourcebooks
$14.99, paperback, 402 pages
ISBN: 978-1-4022-8111-2

—Reviewed by Lynda Fitzgerald

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