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The Influentials

Written by Ed Keller and Jon Berry. Published by Free Press

While working for the marketing consultancy RoperASW, marketing experts Ed Keller and Jon Berry discovered the power of an ancient force in marketing that has become more important today than ever before: word of mouth. According to their research, word of mouth—one of humanity's first forms of social influence—has become even more important and influential today for people trying to make sense of their complicated world. In their book The Influentials, the authors present an amazing glimpse into the word-of-mouth phenomenon. Through their well-documented research and analysis, they describe the best ways businesses can tap into its power through a small group of Americans who use word of mouth to spread their opinions, ideas and behaviors to the wider population.

According to Keller and Berry, one in every 10 Americans is what they call an "influential." These people have a tremendous impact on the rest of society because their ideas and opinions are sought out by the friends, family and community members around them. The authors explain that the conversations they hold and the examples they set have the power to shape the community's behaviors and attitudes.

Through their research, the authors have identified many of the characteristics that make a person an influential. For starters, these people have an activist approach to life that they exhibit in the places they live, work and play. They also have large circles of friends and acquaintances inside and outside their communities. Others look to these people for advice and opinions, the authors write, because they have an innate desire to solve problems. These influentials also set trends that make a difference in the lives of others.

To help businesses benefit from the powerful word-of-mouth influence these people have on those around them, Keller and Berry offer a solid, research-based prescription for getting into the brains and mouths of these people who can make or break a new idea, product or service. To help companies and marketers get into the conversations of these people and develop what they call an "Influential Strategy," the authors offer six rules for reaching the people to whom everyone else turns for ideas and information.

The authors' first rule is, "Be where the information is." Since influentials value information more than everyone else, and read more newspapers and magazines than everyone else, reaching them includes infiltrating the media they peruse with compelling stories and advertising.

Rule two, the authors write, is "When critics come knocking, invite them in." In other words, when an influential complains, listen, because these people are not only vocal about what they don't like, they will also crow about what they like and love as well.

The third rule the authors offer to help businesses connect with the people who can provide the word of mouth that leads to success is, "Get out into the community." If you become active in a cause that helps people, influencers will appreciate your efforts and support your offerings. Influentials are already out there, getting involved in community events, school meetings and public projects. When you join them with sincere concern, the authors write, The Influentials will notice you and tell others about your good works.

Ed Keller and Jon Berry offer businesses a plethora of great advice on tapping into the vast power influential people have on the rest of their communities through their behaviors and word-of-mouth recommendations. Not only do the authors reveal the results of their research in cold, hard facts, but they also illustrate their numbers with colorful stories about people who exemplify their results. By introducing readers to the inner world of influential people, and showing how influentials think and act, the authors connect business leaders to the valuable word of mouth they need now more than ever.

Review by Chris Lauer, senior editor, SEBS

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