Book Review

Do You Need The Impact Equation? (Book Review)

When outlining how brands are built online, we often say that’s it’s through three things — conversations, content, and community. However, one underlying principle unites all three — platform. Whether a personal or professional brand, those making an impact online have mastered the act of building a channel. A new book from two of the social web’s more successful platform architects aims to break this down for the rest of us. 

The Elevator Pitch

The Impact Equation by New York Times best-selling authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith defies categorization in a lot of ways. In the most simple sense it could be called a sequel to their first outing Trust Agents, but that short-sheets it in a lot of ways. Through all of their pursuits — businesses, blogging, speaking, podcasting — Brogan and Smith have set out to explain the human side of doing business in the digital channel. This is no easy task. We give a lot of lip service to terms like trust, reach, and community but what do they really mean?

4 Big Ideas

Editor’s Note: In reviewing books I’ve started with an elevator pitch, then gone into the book’s big ideas, and then closed with my verdict — So Should You Read It? The opening and closing sections often write themselves while the middle has me regurgitating much of the book which isn’t fair to the authors or me (read: it’s a lot of work). Instead, I’m going to give you 4 Big Ideas. Why four? It’s more than 3 and less than 5+ which seems like overkill for helping you make a decision on whether or not a book is worth your time. If it is, the book itself will be much better than my Cliff’s Notes of it. It also lets me editorialize and pronounce a set number of key take-aways. Anyway, let’s give this a try.

Chris Brogan

Social Media vs. Human Business — There are many great books about social media. This is not one of them. Hold your horses! Before you start storming the comments section, let me qualify that by saying that this book is actually about something much bigger than social media. While social media has certainly made the process of having impact much easier than in generations past, as the authors note, saying The Impact Equation is a book about social media is like saying Moby Dick is a book about boats. In both cases the end result can’t be undercut by the tools used in achieving them.

With The Impact Equation, the focus is on the factors that drive success in the digital channel — concepts like trust, ideas, and community. Honestly, there’s not another book on digital business that digs into these factors. How does one build a trustworthy brand online? It’s not easy. Brogan and Smith dive-in with both feet, taking apart these complex concepts.

Formulas, Frameworks, & Structure — The authors frame many of these communication strategies with easy-to-recall acronyms like The Impact Equation itself — Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E) — which introduces the book’s core concepts of Contrast, Reach, Exposure, Articulation, Trust, and Echo. Before you get concerned that it’s too conceptual, all ideas are grounded with powerful examples of The Impact Equation in action with brands such as Dollar Shave Club and TED. Asides are also made illustrating impact factors at work in unexpected places like Pokémon.

Julien Smith

Idea Development — In many ways, business is driven by ideas. Not just any ideas but the very best, most clearly articulated ideas. However, so many of us — especially in the world of business — are terrible at idea generation and development.

The book’s core Impact factors, Contrast and Articulation, are given a lion’s share of the page count because of their foundational role in precipitating the other factors like Reach and Echo. Contrast and Articulation are rooted in razor-sharp, simple ideas pruned to be effortlessly communicated between members of a community. This is the hearty main course that will make The Impact Equation worth the price of admission for many.

Understanding Platform — Perhaps the biggest take-away in The Impact Equation is the book’s end result. In the communications business — whether on behalf of a celebrity, non-profit, or publicly traded corporation — channel matters. In the early days of the social web we used to say “everyone’s a publisher.” The more advanced definition offered here by Brogan and Smith posits that the brands that will endure are ones who are able to translate their ideas into a solid online platform.

Gone are the days when you can just dump a lot of marketing on something and get all of the shelf space, donations, and album sales you need. As the authors note, “hype dies, but the channel you build is forever.” They also state that, “platform is a an active experience, a verb, like the word love.” To master this action, you need to understand the difference between being a spectator and an actor in your own platform articulation.

So, Should You Read It?

Are you building a new brand or re-imagining an existing brand in the digital space? Are you a consultant, professional services provider, blogger, or speaker looking to add value and make your mark? If your answer to any of these was ‘yes,’ then The Impact Equation belongs on your reading list.

A word of warning: Don’t dive into this expecting a light read that you can casually flip through. The Impact Equation is a book of big ideas that merit careful consideration and thought. Simply blowing through the book won’t result in optimal impact for you or your brand. I’m a very deliberate reader and found myself slowly going through the book’s pages and re-reading to internalize Impact’s ideas. You’ll also want a Moleskine or Evernote (or both) handy for capturing concepts you’ll want to implement. The book also features a few interactive workbook-like activities that you may want to record for future use.

Again, this is not a paint-by-number social media 101 handbook. Rather, The Impact Equation is an advanced recipe book for building a trustworthy, human brand on a channel that by definition reduces our physical closeness to others. In short, if you are ready to get past the headlines and hype and create a more human brand, check out The Impact Equation.

Disclosure and a Cool Thing: I was sent an advanced review copy of The Impact Equation by the publisher. A fan of text over photos, Chris Brogan encouraged readers to take pictures and add the book’s big ideas as text using apps like Over. One of mine is above. You can check out others by searching Instagram and Twitter for the hashtag #impacteq. Not a bad way of practicing what you preach when it comes to impact, eh?