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SID LEE | Conversational capital

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“In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell presents an important idea without any ‘how to.’ Now Bertrand Cesvet provides the ‘how to’ you need to create ‘Tipping Points’ for your business and success. This book is a compelling presentation of a powerful idea. This is how the new world will do business. Highly recommended if you care about your future.”

Stewart Emery, coauthor of international best-seller Success Built to Last

“Ultimately, magic is unexplainable. Still, Conversational Capital provides the most insightful analysis of what makes our shows ring in the heart of fans.”

Guy Laliberte, founder, Cirque du Soleil

“Like all great ideas, Conversational Capital is at its core simple: word-of-mouth momentum can be created, harnessed, and used to build consumer passion for a brand better and more cost-effectively than almost any other marketing medium.”

Rupert Duchesne,CEO of Aeroplan

“Marketing is an art that Conversational Capital turns smartly into science. This book provides the complete prescription for getting consumers excited about your ideas.”

Jim Champy, coauthor, Reenginering the Corporation, and author, Outsmart!

Embed into Your Products and Experiences the Ingredients that Drive Advocacy:

Create products and services that consumers find truly significant
Intensify consumption experiences to transform your brands into market leaders
Don’t settle for serendipity: manage and control the word-of-mouth around your brand by manipulating eight powerful experience amplifiers
For all the books that speak of the value of consumer advocacy, few indicate how to create it to begin with. Armed with a compelling set of examples from their own work in fostering leading brands, the authors reveal the triggers of word-of-mouth and a process to embedding them in your own products, helping you create stuff people love to talk about. From Bertrand Cesvet, chairman of Sid Lee, a leading purveyor of experiential design and communications services that leverages commercial creativity for breakthrough brands including Cirque du Soleil, adidas, and Red Bull.

1% of the proceeds from the royalties earned by the authors will be donated to the One Drop Foundation. The mission of the One DropTM Foundation is to fight poverty around the world by giving everyone access to safe water.

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SID LEE | Conversational capital

  1. 1. CONVERSATIONALCAPITALHow to Create Stuff People Love to Talk About
  2. 2. “My naMe is sjoerd KoopMan and i aM Managing director of intellectual capital projects for sid lee. the Most proMinent of these projects is the recent creation of a booK entitled “conversational capital: how to create stuff people love to talK about.” Authored by Bertrand Cesvet with Tony Babinski demands that they be charged with meaning and & Eric Alper, the book runs counter to the critical intensity. This Conversational Capital abstract mass of marketing literature. It speaks not of how explains how to make that happen. word-of-mouth is transmitted, but of how it can Those interested in learning more about be created to begin with. Conversational Capital are invited to engage Conversational Capital is a far-reaching philo- the authors in their very own one-on-one sophy that redefines our collective understanding conversation in the Conversations section of of consumption as more than an empty or hollow http://www.conversationalcapital.com. experience. Conversational Capital compels mar- The book can be purchased in retail stores keters and consumers alike to see consumption and online booksellers across North America and as an identity-shaping process; a process that is a the UK including: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, natural outgrowth of our innate human desire to Borders, Chapters, FT Press, Indigo, Target, discover, be stimulated, and indeed to talk. Waterstones, WH Smith. Creating consumption experiences that shape identity, and by extension, spark conversations questions can be directed to skoopman@sidlee.comCONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL - 4 -
  4. 4. intro-ductionIt is a notion so entrenched, that by now it has to Tuscany, therefore I will be perceived as aalmost become a truism. Word-of-mouth has sophisticated global traveler”). Following thisbecome the communication lever for product logic, consumers collect and use consumptionmanufacturers and marketers, creators of what experiences, good and bad, not merely as thewe call “consumer experiences.” Peer-to-peer components of conversation, but as assets thatcommunication can kill innovative design, turn shape their identities.accepted pricing wisdom on its head, and neuter In other words, they have a vested interest in tal-multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. Its king about consumer experiences with their peers.growing influence is being felt throughout the Recognizing the importance of the residualeconomic sphere, and beyond. value of consumer experiences, we worked to While most of us understand the vehicles deconstruct the components of conversationsthrough which word-of-mouth spreads, its power related to consumer experiences.and origins remain mysterious and impossible to What we discovered was that, almost invaria-control. But are they really? bly, what was being discussed fell into eight catego- In order to understand why certain products ries or, as we term them, engines: Rituals, Exclusiveand experiences enjoy positive word-of-mouth Product Offering (EPO), Myths, Relevant Sensorywe focused our attention on what consumers talk Oddity (RSO), Icons, Tribalism, Endorsementabout. As we interviewed consumers on the street, and Continuity. In experiences where consumersattended focus groups and experienced firsthand recognized these so-called engines, the saliencyconversations with anyone that crossed our path, (significance) and resonance of their consumptionwe came to realize that consumers often tell the experiences increased, thus rendering those verytales of their consumption experiences to affirm experiences worthy of talk. The outgrowth of thistheir social identity. For example, in order to signal realization is unsurprising; for consumption expe-their social stature, more and more newly affluent riences to be used as identity markers, they have totell detailed descriptions of their latest vacations. be meaningful for consumers.We realized that for many consumers, in additionto the immediate and obvious benefit derived fromconsumption experiences (e.g. “I went to Tuscanyto relax”), they were reaping a second, and per-haps more important form of residual identity-shaping value: Conversational Capital (i.e. “I went CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 9 -
  5. 5. Consumers are looking for The title of a recent study conducted by resear- chers at the London School of Economics puts This insight is crucial, particularly in an era marked by increasing consumer sophistication.experiences it succinctly: “Advocacy Drives Growth.” The As consumers grow more sophisticated—two findings of the study, conducted in the UK, have important phenomena are emerging: universal implications. They reveal that consumer advocacy—namely positive word-of-mouth—pre- 1. Satisfaction has become a mere “green dicted sales growth for retail banks, car manufac- fee.” Consumers expect to be satisfied. turers, mobile phone networks and supermarkets. For advocacy to occur, consumer expe- The study also indicated that companies with riences must transcend satisfaction greater degrees of advocacy grew faster than their and enter the realm of emotions and competitors—and generated greater sales.1 personal significance. This begs a fundamental question for crea- tors of consumer experiences: if advocacy drives 2. Consumers have begun to crave more growth, what drives advocacy? The short answer than transactionality—they are seeking is that advocacy is a product of meaningful inte- experiences that leave them changed raction. Consumers tend to become advocates and enriched with the stuff of stories. when their consumption experiences are high in saliency and meaning. For marketers this This heralds a fundamental and intimidating indicates the necessity not only of communicating shift in marketing orientations, as everyone an experience’s intended meaning, but also of around us senses that we’ve entered a new marke- actualizing that meaning at as many touch points ting era, but no one knows what it looks like and as possible. Then and only then will the intended what it will lead to. Conversational Capital is thus market enjoy the experience and share that en- a vision for what this next stage heralds. thusiasm with peers. 1 Marsden, P., Samson, A. and Upton, N. “Advocacy Drives Growth.” Brand Strategy. Nov./Dec. 2005. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 11 -
  6. 6. Why saliency drives The creators of consumer experiences have forgotten that what they are designing, manufac- Conversational Capital seeks to repair this disconnect by maximizing the potential forconversational turing and promoting are just that: experiences. saliency within consumer experiences. The result Born of decades of mass production and mass- is a three-step process whose effect on the bottom marketing, this enduring failure to recognize the line should be clear to any marketer: importance of experiences in consumption has created a void that has rendered too many aspects 1. Salient consumer experiences are more li- of the consumer relationship with products and kely to have an identity-shaping residual services essentially meaningless. In a Harvard value we call Conversational Capital. capital Business Review piece entitled “Understanding 2. Conversational Capital fuels positive Customer Experience,” Christopher Meyer and word-of-mouth. André Schwager express this very clearly: “[The- 3. Positive word-of-mouth allows marketers re] is too often a split between what marketing to reduce marketing and promotional promises, and the brand. ‘Customer experience’ costs while driving growth. encompasses every aspect of a company’s offe- ring—the quality of customer care, of course, but also advertising, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, and reliability.”2 2 Meyer, C. and Schwager, A. “Understanding Customer Experience.” Harvard Business Review. Cambridge, MA. February 1, 2007. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 13 -
  7. 7. The Eight Engines of 1. 2. Rituals Exclusive Product Offering (EPO)conversational Rituals are an essential part of how human beings create and formalize meaning. The presence of In an era of growing customization, opportuni- ritual marks out an experience as deeper in mea- ties to own something exclusive are increasing ning—a phenomenon that is true for consumer every day. adidas offers shoppers the opportunity experiences as well. Consider an interaction with to fashion their own pair of shoes in the “mi greeters at Wal-Mart, or the act of placing a lime Originals” section of its heritage stores. At Build- capital wedge into a bottle of Corona beer. These small A-Bear Workshop, customers can create a lovable rituals make the experiences of discount shopping friend on-the-spot from a virtually limitless array or drinking beer feel slightly more exalted. of combinations. Human beings love to feel unique, There is a special subset of ritual that occurs and to assert their individuality. The presence so often that we would like to draw special atten- of EPO in an experience means that, in a world of tion to it. We term it Initiation. six billion people, they can. Before every Cirque du Soleil show, clowns Over Delivery is another facet of EPO. The interact with the crowd as they take their seats, act of Over Delivery signifies that an experience turning innocent audience members into poten- transcends simple customer satisfaction, making by studying word-of-Mouth success stories tial comic victims. Espresso connoisseurs finesse that experience all the more unique. Consider the intricacies of their machines to extract the Volvo’s overarching emphasis on safety, or we have identified eight powerful engines perfect demitasse, crowned by the glory of rich adidas’ Over Delivery on originality by offering of conversational capital, which can be cream foam. All of these are initiations; rites of 2,400 shoe varieties in its heritage line. passage that serve as transitions from the banal understood as word-of-Mouth triggers. and everyday into the meaningful. When consu- mer experiences include rites of initiation, they become more memorable because they are exis- tentially richer. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 15 -
  8. 8. 3. 5. 7. The closer these three factors are to one ano-Myths Icons Endorsement ther—the more continuous and integrated—the more likely a brand is to enjoy cascading word-Myths are the narratives that become part of the Icons are signs and symbols that clearly demarcate Endorsement is not merely about a celebrity len- of-mouth. The farther apart they are, the morevery fabric of a consumption experience because a consumption experience from any other. These ding his or her name to your product or experience likely one’s reputation is to suffer.they provide important clues as to the funda- triggers can range from design features like the (though under the right circumstances, it can be). Conversational Capital hinges on the integritymental meaning of that experience. Michael Dell three trademark stripes on adidas sneakers to Rather, endorsement happens when someone and continuity of image and experience. Word-working out of his college dorm, the stunts and familiar logos and product symbols like Mr. Clean credible speaks up for you. If a trusted authority of-mouth success is the result of effective com-schemes carried out by Richard Branson, Keith or the Pillsbury Dough Boy. They can include praises you in a spontaneous and genuine manner, munications, the inherent value of an experience,Kellogg trying to improve hospital patients’ familiar and distinguishing packaging features it can have enormous impact because it confirms and consumer advocacy.diets—these are now part of the folklore that tells like the Coke bottle, and even structures like the relevance of your consumption experience. This last point is tremendously important.consumers what Dell, Virgin and Kellogg’s stand Cirque du Soleil’s familiar blue and yellow big We began this manifesto by claiming thatfor, and why that should matter. top. Meaningful associations transform signs and 8. Conversational Capital could very well change4. symbols from mere product identifiers into com- Continuity the way consumer experiences are marketed. This ponents of identity-shaping experiences. is because we believe that much of today’sRelevant Sensory Oddity One’s reputation is the result of the relative proxi- marketing practice is still hindered by a mass-(RSO) 6. mity of three factors to one another. marketing paradigm that doesn’t take into account Tribalism the bedrock importance of Continuity.Method cleaning product packages look more a. Our mantra is deeply rooted. We cannot over-like sculpted works of art than packaging. Flower Mac users have always thought of themselves as WhO yOu ARE emphasize that for discontinuous ex periencesvases in certain hotels designed by Philippe Starck a band apart. Wisely, Apple has facilitated their (experiences that fail to deliver on what they pro-are so large they seem to defy visual perspec- desire to gather together as members of their own mise), satisfaction is an unlikely goal, much lesstive. Flight Attendants in Air France’s L’Espace tribe. This has helped to create one of the most advocacy. Despite this understanding, marketersPremière don’t all wear the same perfume—but loyal and vocally supportive user groups on the continue to concentrate their efforts on above-what if they did? When our senses are presented planet. And it works because the desire to gather the-line efforts that are disconnected from thewith something extraordinary, we recognize an into tribes is fundamental to human nature. We b. c. WhO yOu ThINk WhO PEOPLE ThINk rest of consumer experience. More recently, theexperience as special, and are subsequently more like to associate with like-minded people, or simply new breed of “experience marketers” has repeated yOu ARE yOu AREinclined to talk about it. to be close to people we find interesting. Being the same mistake. The results are often hollow part of a group that we feel is worth belonging to stunt or, at best, buzz. helps us to make more sense of our lives because affiliation confirms our sense of identity. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 16 - - 17 -
  9. 9. Implementing getting readyconversational 1. Assemble the Right Team Implementation must be a group effort, embracing a diversity of talent and perspective, accompanied by extensive analytical ability and real debate. Implementing Conversational Capital requires works- hopping and prototyping—ideally the province of groups and teams. capital 2. Carry out a Conversational Capital Audit The Conversational Capital Audit allows organizations to determine where they stand in terms of client satisfaction and word-of-mouth. Audits are about mining internal and external information to build an understanding of where the company succeeds or fails. We begin by asking very basic questions about consumer satisfaction, both within organizations and among consumers: we believe that designers of consuMer products and • Are customers satisfied with this product or experience? services can influence word-of-Mouth by engineering • Are they compelled to talk about it? • Would they talk about it if asked? the presence of the eight engines in their experiences. • Would they talk about it if unsolicited? crafting highly salient consuMer experiences requires Audits are essentially a way of testing experiences for their residual value. Essentially, Conversational a delicate balance of strategic analysis, insight and creativity. Capital increases this value by providing consumers stories to enjoy and employ long after the imme- diate experience of a product or service is over. here’s an overview of the approach we use to MaxiMize The project team can subsequently begin studying the experiential dimensions of their product or service. These consist of the consumer path, the sensory experience, form, function and flow, the conversational capital of brand & their offerings. problem points and the resulting story. Once the audit is completed, development teams will have to synthesize their learnings into a handful of actionable insights that form the basis for the creation of Conversational Capital. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 19 -
  10. 10. That physical form can be anything. It can range from a script, layout or video to a completegetting to worK architectural maquette. However complex an idea, it must be simple and comprehensive, graspable by both the left and right brain.Equipped with the learning and insights from the preparatory phase, the project team can begin design-ing the consumer experience. This is a five-stage process that is continuous rather than iterative. 4. Prototype the Experience1.Get the Story Straight The prototyping phase begins with a brief to everyone who will be needed to carry the project forward. The brief will allow writers, industrial designers, architects, marketers, public relations professionalsStories form the atomic centre of Conversational Capital. Each of the examples we’ve cited is infor- and anyone else possibly involved in the project to share an understanding and speak the same language.med by a central narrative: what we call the “metastory.” The Apple experience tells a story about It allows for a supreme level of cohesion.innovation, individuality and freedom. Cirque du Soleil tells a story about human potential, youth, The goal is to arrive at a working prototype of the experience by approximating reality as intimatelyexcitement and optimism. The adidas story is about technical excellence, the triumph of the human as possible so that all parties can proceed to the next stage: monitoring.spirit and international unity. In this respect, leading brands are like outstanding individuals: they own their story like no one 5.else. It’s what sets them apart and draws people to them. In creating and recreating your story, it is Monitor and Adjusthelpful to think of your “metastory” as the overarching notion that makes your experience meaningfuland sets it apart. Readers may have noted that, up until this point, Conversational Capital has not relied on traditional The degree to which an organization will have to dig to find its story will depend on where it stands forms of consumer research such as focus groups, surveys or beta-testing. Nevertheless, consumerin terms of consumer satisfaction and experience saliency. The engines of Conversational Capital are interaction is essential, and this is where it comes in.there to help them through the process. Once a working prototype has been created, consumers must be allowed to use it and provide feedback. This is an important distinction, in that most marketing research compels us to test before2. the experience exists in the 3-D world. And yet most people aren’t that imaginative in the 2-D worldManipulate the Engines of paper, forums or online forms. Monitoring will allow all involved to see how well they have done in terms of creating saliencyUsing your story as a guide, carry out a series of creative workshops around the eight engines. For and satisfaction. If they have fallen short in any area, this is an opportunity to repair and adjust, usingexample, a team working on engineering Conversational Capital may be seeking to create RSO in the eight engines as a guide and measuring stick. If an outstanding reaction has been provoked, thea store. Like Abercrombie & Fitch, they may come up with the idea of having very loud electronic monitoring process can be used to spot opportunities for improvement.music, a unique scent and dark club-like lighting. A team working on a soft drink may come up with Conversational Capital challenges us to consider that the business of creating and marketingthe idea, like Corona, of placing a slice of lime into the bottle as a ritual. The same team may find a products isn’t a simple matter of routine, faceless consumption and easy categorization. Rather, it isway of making their packaging iconic by using a transparent bottle rather than standard green or amber part of a storytelling continuum in which consumers are asking us to become their partners in self-glass. By brainstorming around the eight engines, the team will create a very large set of options that, affirmation. It thus moves us out of the sphere of mere economics and into the formation of culturewhen strategically selected, form the basis for a rich and meaningful experience. itself. That’s a big responsibility; one which could be infinitely rewarding should we choose to accept it. Because the end result is a world richer in meaning, charged with saliency and driven by the unfettered3. power of creativity.Package The IdeasPackaging an idea means giving it flesh—putting it into a physical form that will make it easy foreveryone to understand. Doing so involves taking an idea out of the abstract, ineffable world of thoughtand expressing it in such a way that even the least sophisticated will grasp it. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — EXPLAINED - 20 - - 21 -
  12. 12. this interview tooK place in june 2008 with sjoerd KoopMan as Moderator. BC: Bertrand Cesvet TB: Tony Babinski EA: Eric AlperCONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW - 25 -
  13. 13. Tell me what the central message How do you see the book or You certainly seem to understand What Conversational Capital implores you toof the book is. subject evolving? how this book has impacted your own do is design the experience not simply for the six organization. How do you expect it to hours that a passenger is going to spend in thatBC: The central message of Conversational EA: Conversational Capital will affect change challenge those of other organization? seat, but also design it for its residual value; for theCapital is essentially that the world needs more not just in marketing departments, but across stories that are going to come out of that flight.intense and meaningful consumption experiences, business units—across human resources, research BC: I expect and, indeed, I hope that Conver- These stories are important to making yourand critically, that there is a means by which to and development, and operations. If it is to be sational Capital will challenge some long-held brand worth choosing. The storytelling requireddesign these very sorts of experiences that trans- impactful, Conversational Capital must trans- assumptions about what we do and why we do it. to give rise to these stories is a creative endeavor.late into a clear payoff—positive word-of-mouth. form the way we go about designing products For example—I hope we challenge the belief that So, to other organizations, I think the pri- I feel that the subtitle of the book, “How to and experiences because when our collective mis- marketers are seeking to create satisfaction. mary challenge is to become creative, to becomeCreate Stuff People Love to Talk About,” is very sion becomes rooted in giving people something One of the key premises of the book is that conceptual and most of all to become holisticmuch a good encapsulation of the topic. We go to talk about, our behavior across organizations product and experience design is fundamentally about how we think about experiences beforebeyond the well-treaded territory of speaking of must change; not just the message(s). In other short-sighted in its mission. Many people design they even begin and after they end so that we givehow word-of-mouth is transmitted to exploring words, we have to walk the talk. consumption experiences with the notion that consumers something to talk about.its origins. Ultimately that lays a clear path to consumers should be satisfied. We contend thatdesigning and engineering word-of-mouth into customer satisfaction is merely baseline; it is about TB: I think that if an organization takes itconsumption experiences to begin with. meeting consumers’ expectations and doesn’t pro- seriously, Conversational Capital is going to lead vide fuel for conversations. Thus the claim is that them to question how they bring products to to give rise to word-of-mouth, we should design market in the first place. I think often products or experiences that provide the artifacts necessary for services are developed out of expediency or conve- advocacy in the form of positive word-of-mouth. nience or in order to take advantage of certain That’s a paradigm-shift from either of the domi- changes in the market without really thinking nant perspectives that underlie product design, about whom the products are for or what they are namely a focus on engineering or operations. supposed to mean, much less what the shelf-life Of course this premise may seem abstract—it of the product is. In other words, in our consumer is best illustrated with a practical example: society I would say that the bulk of products are Pretend you operate an airline and you’re fundamentally soulless. And the products we designing a product; a service. Let’s call it an eco- celebrate in this book are soulful, they are full of nomy-class seat from New York to San Francisco. meaning, charged with the personal stake of the Right now you’re really concerned about what people who’ve invented and developed them and happens during the six hours of that flight—is the that is why consumers connect with them. plane clean; are the passengers fed and watered? CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW - 26 - - 27 -
  14. 14. Do you feel that Conversational The process of committing words to EA: In terms of whether I expect the public our own thinking. We invite them to participateCapital can have implications paper is one that opens your thoughts to challenge the ideas in this book, I think that and add to this philosophy. The conversationoutside the marketing world? to criticism. Are you expecting any is something that we fundamentally invite. in our view will take place online, in print, in particular commentary from the public? The title of the book, to restate the obvious, is any media that is interactive. And indeed, atTB: I think that Conversational Capital can have If so, what? Conversational Capital. What we expect to come conversationalcapital.com.a tremendous cultural impact because Conversa- out of it, is a conversation.tional Capital proposes that consumption isn’t BC: You’re absolutely right; to me the process of We wrote this book as a conversation between SID LEE has a deep well of creativean empty experience—that, in fact, consump- committing ones’ thoughts to paper is a challen- ourselves; as three guys sitting on a couch debating and strategic resources to draw from.tion of products and ideas is a fundamental hu- ging process. It’s one thing to think of something with the constant participation of members of How do people who want to embraceman activity. And yet, society at large doesn’t and keep it to yourself—it’s quite another to share our organization. We challenged each other, we the ideal of Conversational Capitalseem to recognize that. We lament conspicuous your thinking with the world. had other people challenge us. And that is my ex- but don’t have deep creative pockets,consumption and over-consumption. We tend Exposing your thinking involves an inherent pectation, that this book evolves into a conversa- go about doing so?to think of consumption as the enemy. And element of risk; risk that people will challenge tion, where others influence the idea as much as wewhile I can understand where that comes from, your thinking. Fortunately, we’re pretty open have. Ultimately, I hope that it becomes a conver- TB: I think that an organization’s ability tothe reality is that consumption has become people and we recognize that committing our sation on what we can do to affect consumerism leverage Conversational Capital will depend veryan identity-defining process. It is something thoughts to paper is an open invitation for readers and consumer experiences in meaningful ways and much on the organization itself. Some organiza-we take for granted as being a natural outcome of to participate, and, by extension, challenge and I think that’s a healthy conversation to have. tions that are, let’s say, entrepreneurial in scope—the freedom we enjoy—to choose. augment our thinking. that are driven by a single vision, may already be Conversational Capital has the power to cata- We recognize, too, that this isn’t a book for Can you tell us how you see that very rich in the engines of Conversational Capitallyze political movements; fuel the spread of ideas; everyone. In writing Conversational Capital, we conversation taking place? and find it very easy to leverage the insights intransform our communities, and make us, as in- have encapsulated a process that underlies what our book because they have unconsciously liveddividuals, more compelling and interesting. It is a had previously been an organic phenomenon. The BC: I think that’s going to happen in other peo- by them. For organizations that are larger, moreclarion call to the necessity of playing freely with process we refer to is as much art as it is science. ple’s organizations. I think that’s going to happen hierarchical and more mainstream, the challengeour collective imagination and creativity in the So if the reader opens the book with the expec- in any media in which people feel welcome to might be more difficult.realm of business and beyond. tation that they will be reading a 12-step recipe interact with us. Our view is that we need to be However, I think that the eight engines of to success or that it is the product of a group of generous in terms of fueling the conversation. Conversational Capital are very clearly demarca- study-obsessed academics, they might be disap- And our view too is that the examples that we ted. It is pretty easy to know what they are about. pointed. But ultimately, we wrote a book that we bring to the table should interest people. If that Conversational Capital is, in essence, a way of meant to get read—that means that we welcome proves to be the case, we invite them to challenge looking at things that is story-based. Every or- all the feedback that comes with making our thinking public. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW - 28 - - 29 -
  15. 15. ganization has a story to tell. Every organization In essence, this exercise is about understandingis distinguished from other organizations by the what is meaningful, what is salient for consumers,artifacts of its own stories. The engines of what is resonant for consumers. In my view, youConversational Capital help organizations mine don’t need a staff of 50 strategists or 50 creativesthe depths of their own stories so that they can to be creative and to be disruptive. It’s just abouttell their story not only to the public at large but finding references and multiplying ideas.also to themselves. The best any organization cando is come to a clear understanding of your story, Do you really believe thatits meaning and its effective transmission. Conversational Capital is something that one can learnEA: How do I expect organizations that don’t to develop, or is it innate?have deep creative pockets to embrace the idealsof Conversational Capital? The easy answer BC: I genuinely believe that there is a process towould be to say that they should come to us! But developing Conversational Capital. And whileto be less opportunistic, I think that there is some (very sentient) entrepreneurs have beenan innate creative sense in all of us. It is our job doing it organically for years, that doesn’t restrictas thinkers, as consumers and as experiencers, us from learning how to imbue consumption ex-which are universal qualities, to amplify that sense periences with meaning and intensity.in ourselves; to wonder what it is that we can do If you think hard enough about the eight en-to make experiences more enjoyable, stimulating gines and brainstorm about them and look at theand provocative. consumption experience or product with a little To make that happen, organizations have to do bit of creativity, you can do quite well. We don’ta few things. Namely, they have to think about claim that we invented Conversational Capital;experiences not merely from their own point of what we have done is observed it and extracted itsreference, but from those of others. That necessi- essence. To us, it seems pretty logical that anyonetates assembling enthusiasts or “prosumers,” mi- with a real passion for ideas and a penchant forning their frustrations and their motivations and, storytelling can do well at creating stuff peopleafterwards, gathering an enormous bank of ideas. love to talk about. CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE INTERVIEW - 30 -
  16. 16. THEAUTHORS
  17. 17. prime. The dot com implosion thrust the firm Bertrand directly into the maelstrom of instability sur- CESVET rounding interactive marketing. In a matter of days, Cesvet and his partners were forced to lay off half of the company’s workforce, and indeed, Chairman & Chief Strategist sustain themselves without pay. Thankfully, sound leadership, a committed team and the SID LEE enduring loyalty of a handful of clients helped Sid Lee weather the storm bertrand cesvet is chairMan and chief Emerging from that struggle was a lean firm strategist of Montréal-based creative hotbed focused on what was then termed “integrated” sid lee. over the past 10 years, he has helped communication. This was Cesvet’s early vision transforM a sMall, but proMising creative shop for the firm—to develop a consistent strategy into a leading purveyor of experiential design around marketing interventions, regardless of & coMMunication services for breaKthrough whether they flexed interactive, design or adver- brands. in doing so, he has earned the ear of Many tising disciplines. a c-suite executive who values the disruptive And so it continued, the firm resurgent, gaining insights he injects into their businesses. momentum and worldwide respect. Then some- thing happened that proved the harbinger of a Bertrand’s Story second tipping point for Cesvet and his partners. For someone who now defines himself at the inter- It occurred on a walk around Lake Léman in section of creative and analytical thought, the road Switzerland accompanied by Bertrand’s close for Mr. Cesvet hasn’t always been clear. As a stu- friend and associate, François Lacoursière. Sur- dent at McGill University, Bertrand obtained an rounded by Geneva’s splendor, Cesvet posed a Honors degree in Economics. His creative side was question that led to an epiphany—he wondered present even then as he pursued, unbeknownst to why “some people talk more about some desti- his parents, a second major in Art History. Imme- nations than others.” From that simple inquiry diately after the completion of his undergraduate began a three-year effort to understand the studies, Cesvet was offered a place in McGill’s antecedents of word-of-mouth. Armed with ex- MBA program, a path that later led to the launch tensive research, a wealth of practical experience of his career in the realm of strategy consulting. with the world’s leading brands and a team of At Mercer Management Consulting (later partners who challenged his ideas and injected Oliver Wyman), Bertrand Cesvet developed a their own, Bertrand Cesvet presented a philosophy reputation as a rigorous and analytical strategist he termed Conversational Capital. who formed disruptively elegant business inter- The essence of that notion was that word-of- ventions; Bertrand became known for his creativity. mouth was an invaluable currency that could not But alas, creativity and strategy consulting made only be managed, but indeed built into branded strange bedfellows and when the opportunity experiences, destinations, objects and indeed, arose to embrace life in more creative strategic personalities. From that idea and its components pursuits, Bertrand Cesvet took it. emerged a treatise that taught marketers and lea- Bertrand’s arrival at Sid Lee, then a nascent ders everywhere how to create stuff people love enterprise trying to exist as a communications to talk about. firm, signaled the arrival of strategic thinking to It was a philosophy that fundamentally trans- the upstart operation. The first realization of his formed the mission of Sid Lee—repurposing the team centered around the potential of interactive firm as a leading purveyor of experiential design marketing. Among the young leader’s intellectual & communication services for breakthrough realizations was to include the planning discipline brands—brands that now include adidas, Cirque within the realm of interactive marketing. The du Soleil, Red Bull, and MGM Mirage. first keynote client to prove the case was Cirque Mr. Cesvet lives in Montréal with his wife Josée du Soleil—a relationship that was as formative and their two daughters, Gabrielle and Emma. An then as it is today. avid gourmet, global nomad and music aficionado, The timing however, of Sid Lee’s big foray Bertrand Cesvet is nothing if not eclectic. into the Internet age was by most measures sub-CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE AuThORS CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE AuThORS - 34 - - 35 -
  18. 18. Tony Eric BABINSKI Creative Director ALPER Lead Strategist SID LEE SID LEE for as long as he can reMeMber, tony babinsKi eric alper, 22, first caMe to sid lee as wanted to be a writer. he suspects that this an incessant thorn in bertrand cesvet’s desire sprang froM the profound sense that side, refusing to leave without a job in hand. the booKs, stories and filMs he plunged into siMultaneously annoyed and aMused, froM earliest MeMory revealed a higher order Mr. cesvet decided to give the persistent of reality—and that the act of writing would young charge a try. and so it was that connect hiM to that delicious, dangerous, a fruitful collaboration was born. and electrifying source. how in the world did he end up in advertising?Subsequent encounters with MGM musicals, The screenplays and two television documentaries At Sid Lee, Eric serves as a Lead Strategist for A recent graduate of McGill University, EricBritish Invasion, Buster Keaton, and Orson Welles under his belt). projects addressing marketing communica- has since sought to attract a global cadre of talentfurther convinced him that music, comedy and Tony became part of Sid Lee in 2000, when tions, retail, hospitality, and experiential design. in the realms of strategic and creative planning,film were tributaries of the same spring, and so, af- he joined the team that pitched and won the He brings to these pursuits a rigorous, insight- while simultaneously training those in the acade-ter following the conventional path that leads one Cirque du Soleil account. Tony’s experience on based approach to crafting resonant consumer mic and business communities in the mechanicsto a B.A. in English at McGill University in 1985, the business led him to write the official history experiences that is realized at the interface of of building word-of-mouth directly into products,he started his career in the film business, as a Pro- of Cirque du Soleil, “Cirque du Soleil: 20 Years science and art. Eric has developed and proven people and places.duction Assistant, and later, Location Manager. Under the Sun.” his method to strategic planning with a global Oddly enough, Eric is fluent in Russian, hails Film production at its best is rigorous, and During his longish career, Tony was nagged by portfolio of clients. from Texas, and currently resides in Montréalmilitary in its efficiency. From that early start a sense that his work in advertising did not allow Together with Bertrand Cesvet (Chairman and where he has ample opportunity to practiceTony developed a down-to-earth problem-solving him to fully leverage the broader skills required Chief Strategist of Sid Lee) and Tony Babinski, he his French.approach to work and (he hopes) life. However, to write in long form. All of this changed when has co-authored the world’s first book to explainexploring Montréal’s nooks and crannies, nego- Sid Lee began to work in more experiential dis- the elements necessary to developing positivetiating and drawing up location contracts, while ciplines. He also began to develop a portfolio as a word-of-mouth from the ground up. Initially, Alpermore fun than you might imagine, wasn’t writing, director of online and other longer form projects. was asked by Bertrand to be a key collaborator onand Tony wanted to write for a living. Opportu- More recently, he has become a creator of live the Conversational Capital project, tasked withnity lay in public relations, and, later, adverti- shows. He welcomes Conversational Capital as an organizing, expressing and validating the substancesing. When Tony discovered, to his surprise, that opportunity to carry the discipline of storytelling of their collective ideas. Through his extensivecopy writers work with musicians and directors, even further. international travel, he brings with him a multi-and direct actors themselves from time-to-time, Today, Tony sits as comfortably as a restless tude of cultural and ideological references.he realized that advertising dovetailed with his creative can in his role as Creative Director atfilmic ambitions, so he stuck with it. Sid Lee. He still writes music and screenplays. Ever the restless entrepreneurial soul, Tony Oh yes, and as of 2008 he has been married forworked mostly as a freelancer, and briefly co- 20 years. His wife and three children don’t seemowned an agency of his own called H3B, which to mind that he often walks around in a distrac-operated for five years. At the same time, he ted state, talking and humming to himself (inbecame a writer, scorer and producer of award- both English and French, naturally, since he is awinning experimental short films, and eventually Montréaler by birth and inclination).a bona fide scriptwriter (with four feature film CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE AuThORS CONVERSATIONAL CAPITAL — ThE AuThORS - 36 - - 37 -
  19. 19. contact inforMationAteliers: Montreal 75 Queen Street, Suite 1400 Montreal, Quebec H3C 2N6 Canada Phone: +1 514-282-2200 Amsterdam Gerard Doustraat 72 1072 VV Amsterdam The Netherlands Phone: +31 (0) 206 623030 Paris 12 rue du Sentier 75 002 Paris France Phone: +33 (1) 44 88 83 90 Toronto 55 Mill Street Building 5 , Suite 500 Toronto, Ontario M5A 3C4 Canada Phone: +1 416 - 421-4200 Austin Suite D-102 3601 South Congress Austin, Texas 78704 United States Phone: +1 512 - 444-3533Websites: sidlee.com sidleearchitecture.com jimmylee.tv
  20. 20. Another fanzine