Interview with Joseph Benson on Turning His Book into an Amazon Alexa Skill

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benson-test-3What is the origin of the Fifty-Seven Brand Haikus book?

CMOs are seeking a trusted source of knowledge about brand strategy that is concise, precise, and actionable. They sometimes want this for themselves as a creative catalyst and other times they simply want a tool to clearly explain to their teams and colleagues the rationale behind their strategic marketing decisions.

Several years ago I started to publish a series called Brand Minute, 60 Seconds, 60 Words to address this need. Much like what you now know as Brand Haiku, these were succinct nuggets of brand strategy wisdom that I have collected over my career from leading brand thinkers and through my own observations. When I circulated a compilation of these for a book length publication, my friend Joe Pine, a highly respected brand strategist, commented that they read like poems and suggested the name Brand Haiku. Haiku are known for brevity and thoughtfulness and that was the same ethos I had hoped to bring to the original Brand Minute. So, I adopted the term enthusiastically and compiled the content into the Fifty-Seven Brand Haikus book.

Taken individually, each haiku describes how to build and sustain a brand; how customers think, behave, and choose a brand. Considered collectively, the fifty-seven haikus convey the authority, competitive advantage, and value of owning a strong and favorable brand. The haikus may be read in any order. My hope is that their simplicity can help anyone become a more astute observer and steward of brands.

How did you arrive at the idea to make the brand haikus available on Amazon’s Alexa?

First, for those who prefer to read, there was the book Fifty-Seven Brand Haikus. Then, for those who prefer to watch, we created the Fifty-Seven Brand Haikus Videos. This was followed by the Fifty-Seven Brand Haikus audio Podcast for those that prefer to listen. Now, for those who prefer to interact with the content by voice, there is Brand Haiku just released on Amazon Alexa. There are now millions of people using Amazon Alexa and content wants to migrate to where the audience is spending time. It seemed like an obvious extension.

What did you know about Amazon Alexa before building the skill?

I understood that Amazon is one of a number of companies seeking to own the premier position as the gateway to the Voice Web.

What most surprised you about the voice-first medium that differed from traditional written, audio and video media?

I didn’t realize at first that the interactive voice experience would be so different from the more traditional audio experience that I was already publishing as a micro-podcast. That has been a treat to discover. Instead of a linear discovery model, the Alexa skill encourages users to jump around and consume the haikus in any order. And, it enables this navigation without any friction other than a spoken word or two. It opens up new avenues for consumer engagement and comprehension.

How do you expect Alexa users to interact with Brand Haiku?

Brand stewards and managers, those who are responsible for the future as well as the daily health of the brand, will conduct searches for the appropriate content. Consumers, seeking to understand how a brand compels and influences their purchasing behaviors, will browse through the content. Users can also learn a little more about me and my background which can offer some added depth to their understanding of brand strategy.

The Brand Haiku Alexa skill is the first known transformation of a book to an interactive voice experience. After going through this process, what advice would you offer to other authors?

Interactive voice technology prefers content that can be delivered in 30 to 45 seconds. It favors complete ideas that are succinct. It demands that the author appreciate how their customers remember and recall the information they provide. Not every author will be able to achieve this. It may depend on the nature of their content form. However, if they can supplement longer narrative with shorter passages that are easier to interact with, their audience will definitely benefit.

If you had to pick one brand haiku as a favorite, which one would you select?

Brand Haiku #1: Sustainable Differentiation.

Your competitor set is a primary source for sustainable differentiation.

However, too many companies let their customers determine the brands that they compete with. Customers create competitor sets based primarily on points-of-parity, rather than on points-of-difference.

You must identify what makes you different and then design a competitor set in which that difference is strong, favorable, and unique.

This is such a fundamental truth about branding and it is often overlooked. That’s why it is the first haiku in the book. I want every brand strategist to nail this concept and find out that every subsequent branding activity benefits from this foundation.

I know that you started your career in filmmaking. How has that origin influenced the way you look at brands?

Well, it’s pretty simple. Movies are stories and brands are stories. The key difference is that consumers choose brands because of their stories and then integrate them into their personal stories. In the movie business, you want to create a compelling story to engage the audience and create a memorable experience. In the branding business, you want that engagement to result in a purchase decision and a desire to loyally embrace that brand over time. It all starts with the story.

Note to readers:

To enable Brand Haiku on an Amazon Echo or other Alexa powered device, simply say, “Alexa, enable Brand Haiku.” Then go ahead and say, “Alexa, open Brand Haiku,” and enjoy the insightful nuggets of brand wisdom. To learn more about creating your own custom Alexa skill visit XAPPmedia.com.

About Joseph Benson

Joseph Benson is a brand strategist, author and filmmaker with over thirty years of experience. He defines and expresses the brand strategies for financial services, educational institutions, non-profits, healthcare, high technology, entertainment, and retail clients. Clients choose him when they are seeking to solve their most complex brand challenges such as preparing for an IPO, acquiring competitors, entering new categories, or building a brand portfolio. His films have appeared in over a dozen festivals and have been licensed to HBO. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1982. You can learn more at bensonbrandstrategy.com.