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Conversational Capital: RSO

Posted on February 19, 2009 and read 4,763 times

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Nothing is more powerful than when consumers make your brands story part of their story.

The best products and experiences owe their success to word-of-mouth communication. What follows is an explanation of the Myth & Relevant Sensory Oddity Engines described in greater detail in the book derived during memorable walks and epic conversations along Lake Léman and the streets of London, a great founding myth in itself.

Myths are the narratives that become part of the very fabric of a consumption experience, part of the folklore that tell us what the brand stands for, and why the brands’ stories should matter to us. They are foundation stories; the meta-narratives that shape and inform our culture. Myths are the stories that tell us who we are.

According to the authors, the source of myth can be both internal and external. By “internal,” the authors mean stories that were integral to how the experience developed (endogenously). External stories are originally outside of and independent of the experience, and then get absorbed into it (exogenously).

Relevant Sensory Oddity (RSO) is about brands challenging our senses with something extraordinary, marking an experience as unique. Consumers recognize the experience as special and thus are more likely to talk about that special experience with others. It’s that some-thing-out-of-the-ordinary experience, with relevant, surprising twists along the way.

Those products that most stand out in their very form and shape are those that command our greatest attention. One such product that stimulates the senses that gets people talking is the United Kingdom’s Innocent Drinks.

“The best thing was that we really didn’t know what we were doing.”

This quote pretty much sums up the magic that was the making of Innocent, a popular brand of all-natural drinks from the UK. The quote is from Dan Germain, Innocent’s Head of Creative, and there’s some truth to it. Dan didn’t come from a big-time advertising or marketing company to work for Innocent; he just so happened to be very good buddies with the company’s three founders.

Innocent was founded in 1998 by Richard Reed, Jon Wright and Adam Balon, three university friends who didn’t initially dream of going into the fruit smoothie business. They just thought up a way to help people get a tiny bit more fruit in their diet. After concocting what they thought was the perfect recipe, they purchased about one thousand dollars in fruit and set up a smoothie stand at a local music festival. What happened at the festival is truly the kind of cool story most businesses would like to have. Richard, Joe and Adam set up a big sign at their booth, boldly asking the question “Do you think we should give up our jobs to make these smoothies?’ Beneath the sign were two recycling bins, labeled ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ By the end of the festival, the ‘Yes’ bin was overflowing, and the very next day the trio quit their day jobs to officially start up Innocent Drinks. This myth, this warm story still feeds the brand today, well beyond Innocent’s launch.

Of course it’s rarely easy to get new businesses off the ground. “It was tough, definitely,” exclaims Dan. “We literally used to drive our little refrigerator van down to a store, walk-in with a couple of cases of smoothies and say to the person who ran the deli or café ‘would you like to sell these drinks?’ We just went and knocked on doors.”

“I think that that direct sales technique is a hallmark of a lot of decent entrepreneurs and start-ups,” he continues. “Of course we could have just sat around for ages and talked about planning, different ways to do it, who should we phone at the supermarkets, and all this sorts of stuff. But actually just going around and knocking on doors, sticking it in their chillers and saying ‘we’ll come back in one week and if that lot is sold then we’ll sell you some more.” And sticking the stock up there for free as well and just saying, ‘we believe it will sell and we believe it enough that you can have it for free and we’ll come by next week and you can have some more.” In the UK nobody really knew what a smoothie was so we had to give it away at the beginning just to make sure people understood what it was and enjoyed it.”

Generating conversational capital about the Innocent brand was done in different, unique ways. One of the most noticeable ways the brand received attention was with their delivery trucks. The exteriors of Innocent Drinks trucks are covered in real, growing grass and flowers. “The vans are a product of the early days, says Dan. “We didn’t really have any money, and we were just sitting there as a bunch of friends saying, ‘so what’s the stupidest thing we can do to this van that would make people at least look at it when we drive it down the street rather than just sticking our logo on the side?’ What started as an inexpensive way to get attention continues to this day.

The foliage-covered vehicles aren’t the only way Innocent has started and maintained conversations amongst consumers. The brand is also renowned for its very distinctive packaging. “Very early on, we decided to start writing on and changing the copy on the packs constantly from week to week to week because we found that we could, says Dan. “When we first went to print all the labels and everything, the guy who printed them didn’t really want to keep changing all the plates. We kept asking him and asking him, so eventually he did, and we would write different stuff continuously. We actually started to get emails from different people saying, ‘I always stop in the shop and I read all the labels, I don’t buy the drinks, but I read all the labels.’ We sort of started to have more conversations because of the labels, and created an ongoing dialogue with the people.”

Today Innocent Drinks employs about 250 and maintains nine offices across Europe, with plans to eventually reach North America. “Our success is kind of simple really,” exclaims Dan. “We just make a natural, healthy product that gets people talking. We could actually help you live longer! That’s quite a claim for a product to make, and we can’t really say that in advertising because the advertising board punishes you severely for claiming your product is life enhancing. If people drink more of it, it’s is going to make them healthier. And if they’re healthier they’ve live longer and better lives. The healthier you are, the longer you stick around, and the more money you spend on our products. Everyone wins!”

And some final words from Dan about how Innocent became such a beloved, talked about brand? “Intuition beats the stuff you get told. The fact that we didn’t know anything meant that we didn’t have any preconceptions of how these things get done. We just went out and did them. It also means you make lots of mistakes, which is great because every time you make a mistake, you learn.”

Conversational Capital: How to Create Stuff People Love to Talk
About, is a book about engineering word-of-mouth into brand experiences.

Bertrand Cesvet, Tony Babinski and Eric Alper began by deconstructing
the drivers of word-of-mouth. What they’ve put together in this book is
a collection of insights and observations about how positive
word-of-mouth is generated and how their concept of Conversational
Capital turns marketing on its head.

The books website –
– is an open invitation to take part in the process of defining what is
out there that truly has the power to make our consumer relationships
and experiences richer (there is also a lot video and links on the

Jay Thompson
VP of Stuff




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