Conversational Capital, by Bertrand Cesvet, Tony Babinski, and Eric
Alper (Hardcover, 2008)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
I read through this book quickly, because there
really isn't much to it. The book contains enough actual material for an
average-sized magazine article, but by "clever" use of filler and
repetition, the authors stretched it into a book. I'm not overly impressed with this book.
This is a sales/marketing piece being presented as a "how to"
business book. This tactic should backfire, given how blatantly they did
it. I would never hire a company that considers this kind of
If you were the marketing director for a public relations company or
marketing agency and needed a gussied up brochure to send to potential
clients at large firms, you might decide to write a book like this one and mail it out to prospective clients. Busy
executives scan, rather than read, so something about this size can
garner interest because it stands out from the normal trash basket
Read the title, read the TOC, go to the bottom
line (chapter on implementation), and respond to the call to action.
That seems to be how the authors intended for this book to be "read." A
call to action does not belong anywhere in the body text of a "how to"
business book. Yet, there it was. Repeatedly.
The target demographic of this book is ideal for getting an
appointment for a "presentation," which means spending an hour torturing
people with a few hundred PowerPoint slides until they just surrender
and you walk out with a deal. If that's not the case, then the last four
chapters and most of what preceded them serve no purpose.
The book is clearly aimed at large, bureaucratic organizations where
one hand doesn't know what the other is doing. I say this because in the
implementation chapters, the authors tell us to assemble a
large and diverse team so we can "multiply cultural references." But if
only huge organizations can be nimble, as this recommendation suggests,
how did the deli they used as an example ever succeed? What kind of
"cultural references" will you find on the payroll of a deli? There's a
It necessarily follows that the authors are also
don't have any recommendations for you sops whose companies are too
small to have a culturally diverse payroll and whose companies don't
waste thousands of manhours each year on mindless meetings. You have no
way to properly manage your company's reputation."
Desperate in Montreal
Absurdly, the authors refer to Montreal as a
location that naturally fosters the whole "cultural references" thing.
Montreal, however, is noted as being especially parochial and
insular--it's a running joke throughout the other provinces. And it's a
constant source of friction, politically.
Now, there are many fine people living in Montreal
and the rest of Quebec. And people from all over the world visit there,
and it's a conference destination as well. But let's not let those facts
lead us into mischaracterizing Montreal to be whatever someone thinks it
"should" be. I don't have a problem with how Montreal actually is, but
the authors apparently think it's not good enough. There's a whole lot
of this spin and "creative" interpretation of reality throughout this
The authors trumpet the fact that "we speak
English and French" but ignore the fact that many Quebec citizens speak
little or no English and even more of them generally have a hostile
attitude about being "forced" to speak English by "arrogant English
speakers who won't take the time to learn our language."
Related factoid: In the 1999 movie "Grey
Owl," Annie Galipeau, the actress who co-starred with Pierce Brosnan,
was from Quebec and spoke only French. She had to learn English for that
role. And why did she have to learn English? Because only 5% of the
people in her hometown speak English as their first language and less
than 1% of the people in her hometown are bilingual English and French
as their first language. Her hometown of Maniwaki serves some "seat of
government" regional function and is only a couple hundred miles from
Montreal. True bilingual development is not a characteristic of the
area. Not even close.
Yes, there is bilingualism in Montreal. But
thinking in a bilingual manner doesn't derive from simply being there.
And even if it did, what value does it actually have for marketing?
Answer: zero. It's just not relevant. The authors try to make it sound
as though the mere fact they live in Canada imbues them with insight the
rest of us just aren't going to have and living in Montreal imbues them
with even more of such insight. Yet, the evidence they give is
unconvincing at best.
All of this smacks of desperation. "We can't sell
you on the merits of what we know and accomplish, so we're trotting out
a few facts and extrapolating statements that conflict with other
facts." This material should be excised, if for relevancy alone.
One page 5, the authors tell us they are "totally unoriginal," aren't
innovative, and haven't invented anything new. They say, "We've just
given it a name." Incorrect. It has already had a name; they just gave
it a different one. The book presents the concept of "Conversational
Capital," which we all know as "reputation marketing."
We see this in various forms, such as (and this is a short part of a
- Word of mouth. Your customers tell their friends and associates
about your products or services, without being asked to.
- Referrals. Your customers tell you about other potential
customers, and you can use their name when contacting those
- Testimonials. Your customers brag about you, and you can use
- Viral marketing. Considered new on the Internet, it's been
around for decades. In the old days, your company name was on a pen,
mug, golf ball, or some other promotional item. Today, it's on a
Basically, reputation marketing involves taking
actions to get people to talk about your business in a positive way. The
authors are correct that it's not a new concept.
So, what are they providing? They list eight "engines" of
conversational capital in one place and ten in another. While they have
put their own labels on these things in an attempt to make it look like
they are providing original analysis or new insights, what they've come
up with is nothing new. Just new names for the same things marketing
people have been doing for decades.
The authors also use examples that smacked of desperation on their
part. The main example used in the book is an entertainment company and
the other examples are mostly service companies (such as a deli). I am
unfamiliar with most of the "successful" companies used as examples of
companies that allegedly have mastered this concept. Of the names I did
recognize, I have never done business with those companies. Not one. So,
I felt a strong cultural disconnect. This, despite the authors' claims
of being both European and American by dint of being Canadian, and thus
really tuned in to the marketplace.
The book is divided into three Parts.
Part One is "Defining Conversational Capital" and it contains seven
chapters. Chapter One provides the definition, explaining it in terms of
the "engines" of conversational capital. We'll read this same stuff,
slightly rewarmed, list again and again ad nauseum throughout the book.
If the book were structured in a standard nonfiction format (things flow
in logical progression toward a conclusion), most of the material would
have been cut. The next six chapters made me feel dazed and confused.
Part Two is "The Engines of Conversational Capital" and it consists
of ten chapters. The two engines missed in Part One are "Initiation" and
"over-delivery." Much of the discussion on "initiation" defies logic,
and the examples are poor. I can see why they skipped this, earlier.
They should have just left it out. The "over-delivery" concept is a good
one, and it's discussed in many business books. The authors don't seem
to have read any of those books.
Part Three is "Implementing Conversational Capital" and it consists
of four chapters. The underlying message is, "You need to be talking to
us." So, once we get through all the "information" we get to the sales
pitch. There are actually two sales pitches. One is "we can help you
market your stuff" and the other is "send us your ideas via our Website,
so we can sell them to our clients." Just before the Foreward (which is
just before the Introduction), there's a two-page section with a big,
bold heading that reads, "THIS IS AN OPEN SOURCE BOOK" (yes, all caps).
I don't see how they make that happen. I did visit their Website, and it
was not at all clear to me there was really any "open source" going on.
Where's the beef?
This book does cover the basics of marketing.
But it often provides weak examples and explanations, so those concepts
aren't clearly conveyed. I don't believe this was incompetence on the
part of the authors. Remember that earlier I noted there's really just a
magazine article here. A marketing strategy for subject matter expert
articles is to provide just enough
information to be seen as an expert without giving away your expertise
in the article. If you're selling expertise to make your living, you
can't be giving it away.
As an example, consider the thousands of SEO (search engine
optimization) that have been written. If these were written to inform
rather than to serve as marketing pieces, nobody would need to hire SEO
experts because by now all readers would be experts. The articles do
help the reader understand the issues, so they are actually useful. But
they aren't going to tell you "how to." You have to hire the experts for
that. This is as it should be, and we all understand this when reading
The tagline, "How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About" is not
relevant to the book. This book is not about creating stuff and does not
tell you how. So, the tagline promises two major concepts that the book
does not deliver on.
A tagline of "Issues that determine what people say about your
company" would have been accurate. The book helps the reader understand
basic marketing issues. But, a reader with a basic
marketing background already understands those issues. That leaves a
couple of other people who would find this book useful:
- An executive looking to hire a marketing firm.
- Someone who has no marketing background but is considering
starting a small business.
authors had an agenda, and serving the general business community was
not it. The authors would have better served themselves if they had
written to a different agenda.