Michael J. Silverstein: Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris


SilversteinMichael J. Silverstein is a leader of The Boston Consulting Group’s global consumer practice. He specializes in helping the senior team at large multinationals transform their companies through superior consumer insight, accelerated organic growth, and M&A. His clients include some of the world’s largest and most prominent consumer goods companies and retailers. He is a frequently cited expert on consumer buying behavior, retail and packaged goods innovation, and market development. Michael is also one of BCG’s most prolific authors.

For example, he is the author of $10 Trillion Prize (2012), the story of how rising affluence among Chinese and Indian consumers will create a vast new market. His earlier groundbreaking research with 20,000+ women in 21 countries led to the 2009 book Women Want More about the rising female economy. Before that, Silverstein’s research focused on “new luxury” goods and discount products, leading to two books: Trading Up (2003), and Treasure Hunt (2006). His latest book, Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth, was co-authored with Dylan Bolden, Rune Jacobsen, and Rohan Sajdeh, and published by McGraw-Hill Education (October 2015)

In addition, Michael is the author of two Harvard Business Review articles and more than 30 BCG publications. He has been interviewed often on the national TV programs of CNBC, ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox News. He also has been quoted extensively in leading publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Times of London, the Financial Times, The Economist, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, and The Washington Post, among many others. He holds an MBA with honors from Harvard University and a BA in economics and history from Brown University.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of Michael.

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Morris: When and why did you decide to write Rocket and do so in collaboration with with Dylan, Rune, and Rohan?

Silverstein: Choosing co-authors is important. I did most of the writing. But Dylan and Rohan are experts on demand spaces. This is BCG’s proprietary research tool that allows you to understand why people buy and what technical, functional and emotional benefits they are seeking. Rune is our global retail expert. It was an amazing team effort.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Silverstein: The 8 rules for growth are the head-snapping revelations. They allow a company or entrepreneur to really drive growth.

Rule #1 is don’t ask your customers what they want. This is based on the view that they probably don’t know. You have to fully understand them, the context for their needs and their major dissatisfactions.

Rule # 2 is wooing your biggest fans. This one says concentrate your efforts at understanding on the 2 percent of consumers that personally drive 20 percent of sales and invite their friends and colleagues to enjoy you.

Rule # 3 is always welcome your customer’s scorn. This one says read the complaint letters. Categorize them. Decide how you are going to wipe them out.

Rule #4 is looks do count. Deliver visually stunning merchandising. Engage at the point of sale. Help consumers shop with their eyes.

Rule #5 is transforming your employees into passionate disciples. Teach. Create apostles. Give people a calling, not a job.

Rule #6 is better ramp up your virtual relationships. Companies think omni channel is the correct answer. This is not enough. The information explosion for consumers makes 24/7 and full and complete engagement possible.

Rule #7 is take giant leaps. Too many companies are into incremental innovation. The only thing that moves markets is violent turns. Major differences. Don’t get caught in the trap of small steps.

Rule # 8 is find out what schismogenesis means. Schismogenesis is anthropology. It says relationships between people are not stable. They are either moving up or moving down. The same is true for brands. You need to understand where you are.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ [begin italics] significantly [end italics] from what you originally envisioned?

Silverstein: Writing a book is an adventure. The original idea for the book was something we called “One and 99.” It was about how the one percent can help the 99 percent and help themselves. We move to something much broader, aiming for a permanent impact on business with the “branding bible.”

Morris: What did you learn while writing it in collaboration?

Silverstein: Collaboration was actually easy. My co-authors are very very busy. They wanted surgical participation.

Morris: Who have had the greatest impact on the development t of your thoughts about brands and how they can help to accelerate organizational growth? Please explain.

Silverstein: My client work delivered for me. In Rocket, we tell real stories about Victoria Secret, Toyota, Hilton, Frito Lay. They are the core of the book.

Morris: How important are the social media to effective brand management? Please explain.

Silverstein: I used to have a rule that I called “the rule of 10 and 100.” If you pleased a customer, they would tell 10 of their friends. If you displeased them, they would tell 100. Now if you displease them you they will use social media to tell 1000 or more. Epidemics of “bad” voice can kill your reputation overnight.

Morris: You recommend rewarding converts with experiences worth sharing. For example?

Silverstein: Consumers are time constrained, budget restricted and less loved than they would like. Give them a wonderful experience and they will share it. Capture their soul and win big time.

Morris: In your opinion, what is the Disney Company’s most powerful brand?

Silverstein: The Disney Parks are the touchpoints for the company. They are wonderful assets. Remember that operating a theme park is a fixed cost business. You make money when you get visitors to go through the entrance at capacity. Disney has delivered dreams and experience. They have continuously added additions that increase the number of days of visiting. They have used these new parks to extend out appropriate age range of guests. In Rocket we tell the story of one consumer who dreamed her whole life about a Disney themed wedding. She finally got it and had her dream come true. She and her family go every year. They love the experience. It is an annuity. The opening of Shanghai Disney opens up a market for more than 1 billion consumers. This brand within a brand refreshes with each dollar invested. Look for the Star Wars exhibits to drive new growth and repeat visits. It is a wow of a business. A far stretch from Walt Disney’s original Disneyland in California.

Morris: What about Zappos?

Silverstein: Zappos is the story of service and availability. They take a totally different view on incoming calls. For Zappos, a call is a chance to relate to a customer and to lock them in for life. Tony has a unique view on business. He is among the first proponents of an engaged workforce. I’m glad to have met him first hand. The chapter on Zappos is very engaging.

* * *

Here is a direct link to all of Part 2.

Please click here to read Part 1.

Michael cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Amazon page link

Rocket book page link

Boston Consulting Group link

HarperCollins link

LinkedIn link

BCG’s Michael J. Silverstein in conversation with Mondelez’s Sanjay Khosla link

Feather Factor interview link

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