How to Live a Recommendable Life

I often talk about how in this era of digital and connected consumerism, we as organizations and individuals can live a meaningful, recommendable and shareable life. I’ve asked Paul M. Rand, President/CEO of Zocalo Group to share his recent commencement at Northwestern University with you here as it helps us see the world a bit differently…even if for but a moment. Remember the words of Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” The question I leave you with today is how can you change what you do each day to inspire how people experience “you” and in turn share recommendable experiences about you.

Before you embark on this next journey, I’d like to share a simple, yet incredibly powerful insight with you.

If you follow this insight, you will never go astray personally. You will become one of the best and most sought after marketers around.

If you follow this insight, you will have a roadmap for your life. You’ll save thousands of dollars in therapy. You’ll have a clear sense of purpose.

If you follow this insight, you’ll be able to develop precise and impactful marketing strategies. You’ll shape brands. And guide organizations.

Quite a build up, eh?

So, here it is: Live a Recommendable Life.

Let me say it again: If you want to succeed personally and professionally, live a recommendable life.

Let me tell you what I mean.

About a month ago, Nielsen published a compelling marketing study. The headline? 92% of respondents reported that a positive recommendation from a friend, family member or someone they trust is the biggest influence on whether they buy a product or service. In comparison, only 42% trust radio advertising and 58% trust editorial content.

Think of that. 92%.

Unfortunately, the opposite also holds true. In fact, 67% of consumers in another study report that seeing as few as three negative reviews is enough for them to not buy a product or service.

Recommendations and word of mouth, of course, have always been important. But in the age of social media, they are essential. One to one communication has become one to millions. Word of mouth is now on steroids.

This change, of course, is profoundly affecting the marketing world. How a product or service is talked about and recommended is becoming recognized as one of the most essential, if not the most essential, part of the marketing mix.

This change also affects our personal lives. Business Week recently ran an article titled: College Graduates’ Best Job Bet: Word of Mouth. At least half of all jobs, the article pointed out, come from referrals from friends, families and colleagues. What matters most, the writer concludes, is a positive recommendation.

Today, you must think of yourself as a brand – a brand worthy of a passionate recommendation by your friends, family, and co-workers.

Some of the most brilliant minds in business can argue incessantly about marketing strategy. But ask them how they want their product to be talked about and they get focused very quickly. That clear purpose should drive all marketing strategies. It most certainly drives search. It drives product differentiation. It drives people to buy – or not to buy. And it is extraordinarily measureable.

I can tell you that from working with some of the world’s leading brands that word of mouth success doesn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of a deliberate strategy and consistent day-to-day — and year-to-year — execution.

This same insight applies to each of our own lives. Chances are you counted on recommendations from professors and employers to get into the IMC program. Same thing for getting a job after graduation.

What’s most compelling to me is that the proven foundations and principles of driving recommendations for brands are almost identical to those that shape personal recommendations.

So, after many years of learning how influence, recommendations, and word of mouth work, I’d like to offer five key lessons.

Number 1: Develop a clear and purposeful story of how you want people to talk about and recommend both you and your brands

➢ It’s a simple question that needs to be answered: How do you want to be talked about and recommended – as a person, a son or daughter, a parent, grandchild, friend, partner, spouse, employee, child of God, business leader – whatever the case.

➢ Same thing, of course, applies to any brands you are marketing. Buyers have a staggering amount of choices. Why would someone recommend your product or service over another?

Number 2: Live Your Brand

➢ It’s as simple as that. If you want to be recommended as a thoughtful and caring friend – make sure you are always a thoughtful and caring friend.

➢ If you want your brand to be recommended for having the most advanced features and design – make sure your energy and focus goes into owning that role and not ceding it to competitors.

Number 3: Be Human, Transparent and Live Up to Mistakes Quickly

➢ Yes. We need to live our brands. But we are human beings. And our brands and organizations are run by human beings. So, we and our brands will occasionally veer off course and make mistakes.

- In this era of social media, consumer journalism and always on news, years of thoughtfully lived lives or well managed brands can be undone in astonishingly short order

- Own it when you or your brand goofs up. Fix what you can and ask forgiveness when needed.

Number 4: Stay engaging and interesting

➢ Ever been cornered by the party bore? They drone on about themselves. Don’t ask you any questions. And seem oblivious to anyone’s needs or interests beyond their own.

➢ Marketing success used to be defined by how well we could interrupt consumers and compel them to give us their attention. Success today, on the other hand, is based on how well we engage our audiences before, during and after the sale.

➢ This doesn’t happen by accident. We often talk to brands about following the 90/10 rule. Spend 90% of your time on your social channels listening, paying attention and engaging with your consumers on their terms. And 10% of the time talking about yourself. Not a bad approach for life either.

And finally, Number 5: Regularly evaluate and evolve – but stay true to your core

➢ People and brands must always evolve. Lives and markets change.

- Take time to be introspective and ensure that you are living the life – and being recommended – in the ways that you want to be. It’s good – actually it’s essential – to evolve, change and grow. Same thing for the brands we represent.

- But don’t let these changes happen by accident or get forced into them. Then it’s often too late. Take ownership of your life and your brands.

It’s a few years old, but many of you may have seen the movie, Saving Private Ryan. As the story goes, all of Private Ryan’s brothers had been killed in WW II. A team of soldiers, led by Tom Hanks, was sent to retrieve the Private before he too was killed – and his mother had no more sons.

After many dramatic encounters and lives lost, there’s a fierce final battle. Hanks is seriously wounded. With his dying breath, Hanks looks at the Private and says, “James, Earn This. Earn it.”

In the ending scene, Private Ryan is an old man. He and his adult children and grandchildren have gone to Arlington National Cemetery to pay respects to Hanks’ character. The Private looks at his wife and says, “Please tell me that I am a good man. That I’m a good husband and father. That I earned being saved.”

In other words, what he really wanted to know was whether he had lived a Recommendable Life.

Being recommendable is a very commendable goal for us. And essential for the brands we represent.

Congratulations, graduates. What you have accomplished so far is amazing. And I’m willing to bet you have just begun. Now go and create your own recommendable life.

Follow Paul on Twitter

Image Credit: Shutterstock

  • Dave Sachse

    Awesome post Brian! You are making me sound like a damn broken record but this might be my favorite post yet. This is social gold for businesses and brands :).

    What industry segments include some of the world’s leading brands that have word of mouth success?

    Keep hustling with great stuff! Thanks


  • Emmies

    I really appreciate this post and for me it is validation to keep at it to make a difference. Keep providing us with these insights they are greatly appreciated.

  • Les

    Pure truth….simple, timeless and the only way to live your life and brand. Thanks Brian!

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  • Paul Rand

    Brian – thanks for posting my commencement speech.  I
    enjoyed speaking at Northwestern University and hope all of your readers strive
    to live recommendable lives.  For anyone who’d like to see a video of the
    speech, you can visit the Zocalo Group Facebook page:

    • briansolis

       Paul, thank you. Also, Dave Clark left this message for you…

      I enjoyed reading the excerpts of your speech.  I hope all is well with you and Zocalo Group.
      Dave Clark

  • Anonymous

    Live a recommendable life…I love it…I am humbled by it.  Thank you Brian for introducing us to this commencement speech.  Thank you Mr. Paul Rand for taking the time to deliver a compelling message to the graduates at Northwestern University and now the world.

  • Andy Roach

    Great speech, Paul. Inspiring, indeed and also makes great parallels between brands and how we are perceived by others. Authenticity is the key to great brands as it is to great people.

  • Shanley Wright

    Once in awhile words come along that inginite something in a person and inspire them to make a change. This post couldn’t have come at a better time not only for our company but for me as well. Great words to live by! Thank you for posting Brian and thank you Paul for such a great speech!

  • Kimberley Hamilton

    Totally inspiring! Congratulations to Paul Rand for his brilliance and insight. I hope these students spread this message and live by these five lessons. The world will be a better place. Thanks Brian for sharing this. 

    • briansolis


  • Color Experts International

    Very inspiring and creative post. You have done really excellent job. I like your post very much. Thanks a lot for sharing !!

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  • suhail tufail

    It is an unique article I think. We need to a discipline life for healthy and success life. So it is very commandant for all. Thanks.

  • Becca

    You are remarkable. The ideas you’ve shared here are fantastic which will prove useful
    for online blogger and marketers. thanks for sharing.

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  • Dave Clark

    I enjoyed reading the excerpts of your speech.  I hope all is well with you and Zocalo Group.
    Dave Clark

  • Susie Anderson

    Such great advice for brands and company directors. I think being transparent is really overlooked these days…

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  • Ben Gustafson

    After many dramatic encounters and lives lost, there’s a fierce final battle. Hanks is seriously wounded. With his dying breath, Hanks looks at the Private and says, “James, Live Your Brand. Lead A Recommendable Life.”

    Are there really people who refer to their “brand” in polite company, other than borgs from Marketing department?

  • Patrick T. Boucher

    Very nice message. Thank you for your insight. 

    First time here, but after enjoying this excerpt, I will keep your site on my radar. 

    • briansolis

      Welcome Patrick…

  • Sai Alpha – Import/Export

    Thanks for posting such a article.

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  • Dave Delaney

    My mother always taught me that honesty is the best policy. Also, manners matter, but I digress. :)

    These are great tips for everyone. It’s not just about establishing your personal brand and gaining trust, it’s about reevaluating your brand, self-discovery, and adjusting your sails along the way. 

    Thanks for this Brian. Another brilliant post. 

  • Roger

    If you follow this insight, you will never go astray personally. You
    will become one of the best and most sought after marketers around.

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Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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