Ego Trip


Blueprints and Tools to Unleash Your

Company's Hidden Creativity

By Bernd H. Schmitt and Laura Brown

Free Press -- 206pp -- $28

When I last encountered Bernd H. Schmitt, he was in his skivvies, awakening in a double bed beside a black-lingerie-clad female whom he had evidently met the night before. Not that I'm an intimate of Schmitt's: This was all happening onstage last spring at Columbia University, to kick off a conference on brands called "True Love or One-Night Stand?" The conceit became clear as the two characters got themselves ready for their day. Schmitt--in real life, executive director of the Center on Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School--and his new friend proceeded to compare the brands they use as a way of determining whether theirs would be a lasting relationship.

That pretty much sums up the modus operandi of SCHMITT (as he likes to brand himself), who has sought to make his own career a paradigm for the marketing and branding experience, using a sort of artsy, downtown attitude. After writing an influential, but rather conventional, business treatise called Experiential Marketing, Schmitt has adopted a more freewheeling approach for Build Your Own Garage: Blueprints and Tools to Unleash Your Company's Hidden Creativity, co-authored with writer Laura Brown.

In Garage, SCHMITT--sorry, I mean Schmitt--has sought not only to provide a tool kit of techniques to spur corporate creativity but also to reinvent the way in which usually turgid business books are written. Both are praiseworthy goals, but Schmitt succeeds only partially at each.

The volume is structured as a melange of lengthy parables (including a "passionate love story between a fiery marketing executive and shy branding consultant"). There are also offbeat photo collages by graphic artist Gail Anderson, jargon-y constructs such as the "bizz" and the "buzz," paeans to the latest gadgetry, and worthwhile marketing and operational guidelines. To bang home his points, Schmitt seeks to make Garage not just a book but "a multimedia experience of creativity." This seems to mean shuttling the reader among the parables, graphics, and Web sites that offer art filmettes illustrating the parables as well as biographical material on Schmitt.

Unfortunately, although there's plenty of useful advice for melding technology, branding, and "customer experience management" in an effective enterprise, it all adds up to less than meets the eye. What we see, primarily, is Schmitt's strenuous effort to erect a cult of personality around himself. This may provide a useful method for explaining what marketers call "integrated marketing"--the idea that all communications to consumers must be consistent in tone and message. But the approach can also become self-indulgent. That's the problem with the parables, which can be open to interpretations at odds with Schmitt's basic points. And he is mistaken in thinking (as he indicates on a Web site) that the parables will be read partly for literary pleasure. Although he knocks off a range of genres, from vampire tales to romance novels, the writing is second-rate.

So call this one an ambitious miss. Still, a business-advice genre given to portentousness needs fertile minds like Schmitt's. I'm looking forward to the time he is able to put it all together.

By Gerry Khermouch

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