What’s not to like about Rohit Bhargava‘s new book Likeonomics: The Unexpected Truth Behind Earning Trust, Influencing Behavior, and Inspiring Action? It’s a quick, enjoyable read — perfect for a lazy day at the beach or a business flight. It’s loaded with real-world examples, many of them familiar to most marketing people. It includes quick case studies from a variety of fields (including one for education). It features a complementary website — likeonomics.com — where readers can access bonus material (PDF workbooks and “action guides” as well as links to many of the articles and other resources Bhargava incorporated into his book). And if you’re really pressed for time or just totally ADHD, Bhargava hits the highlights in 60-second recaps of each chapter at the end of each one.
OK, so there were a couple of things I didn’t really like. But they’re minor, nitpicky sorts of things — the stuff copy editors are more likely to obsess over than regular readers, like a typo on a chart in the introduction; but maybe the publisher sent me an advance copy, and that error was corrected before the book shipped). So I won’t go there. Because, well, Bhargava seems like such a genuinely good fellow and it would look like I’m taking cheap shots. And nobody wants to look like a chap shot-taking jerk who points out a few stylistic issues in a book with a title and theme as uplifting as Likeonomics. Besides, there’s more than enough positive and useful information in this book to make up for those trifling errors.
Likeonomics is the second book by Bhargava. He’s a marketing guy at the global PR firm Ogilvy and an adjunct marketing professor at Georgetown, so he comes with strong credentials for writing this book. The premise of Likeonomics (which is pretty obvious from the title) is that even in business, nice guys and gals can finish first.
The point is that you don’t have to be a ruthless, money-grubbing jerk to come out ahead in the world of business or, more to the point for this audience, the world of marketing. This should be obvious to us in the days of social media, when customers can and do use social media to complain about lousy customer service or shoddy products, and their networks can quickly amplify those complaints to a worldwide audience. (United Breaks Guitars, anyone?) But apparently the idea that being likeable is a winning business strategy hasn’t reached everybody in the business and marketing world. Here’s hoping that Bhargava’s book will help spread a virus of likability.
So, on to my top five takeaways from and about Likeonomics:
1. It’s not all about social media. Thanks to Facebook, “liking” someone or something has taken on a new meaning these past five or six years. Bhargava is quick to point out in the preface (“Warning: Unexpected Honesty…”) that “the idea of likeability goes far beyond getting people to like you on a superficial level.” And what is the Facebook “like” if not the ultimate symbol of social media superficiality?
2. Marketing and PR have caused a “believability crisis.” One reason people distrust corporate and government institutions is because of the way they’ve tried to push their products and ideas, or tried to manipulate and spin us into seeing things their way. The now-glamorized Mad Men mass-marketing era that gave us the Marlboro Man “played a central role in creating a culture where people are afraid to trust the media around them,” Bhargava writes (pp. 13-14). This escalating distrust has blossomed into “a full-blown crisis” (p. 14).
3. T-R-U-S-T is the answer. Bhargava believes that the remedy for this believability crisis is TRUST, a handy acronym for what he calls the five principles of likeonomics: Truth, Relevance, Unselfishness, Simplicity and Timing. (OK, I said I wouldn’t nitpick; but Bhargava’s reference to this acronym on p. 55 calls to the first principle “Trust,” not “Truth,” although he got it right in the first reference, back on page xxxvii. I would think Wiley’s copy editing would have caught that. Error-free books go a long way toward inspiring trust among certain obsessive-compulsive copy editor types who review books on their blogs.)
4. Examples abound. It’s obvious from reading Likeonomics that Bhargava is an excellent researcher. He cites numerous examples to support his TRUST principles — from the success of Costco’s ethical business practice model (Unselfishness) and Avis’s classic “We Try Harder” ad campaign (Truth) to the popularity of TED Talks and and the rise of the plain language movement (Simplicity). These examples show the practical nature of Bhargava’s ideas. And he was surprised at “just how easy it was to find examples of Likeonomics in action. It is all around us” (p. 146). I do wish he had found a couple of examples from the world of higher education, but I guess I’m just being selfish.
5. It’s good to be liked. Throughout my reading and re-reading of Likeonomics, my mind’s VCR (yes, I’m that old) kept replaying that portion of Sally Field’s 1985 Academy Award acceptance speech, the one where she exclaims, through tears of joy: “You like me!”
It’s good to be liked. And as Likeonomics and Sally Field both show, being likeable can also be good business.